"What happened?" I asked, gaping at Bryan.
He nodded, accepting the water from Wren. Wren sat beside me and another elf brought some food for him.
"You heard right, Corstelis. It left me alive."
I stared out at the forest. When I had heard he was ill, I rushed down to the tables to meet with them. Now it was me, Ryllae, Wren, and the Queen Mother. At first I thought Bryan would be afraid but he was more curious than anything else.
"When are you going back in?" I asked.
"Tomorrow," he answered. "The Queen Mother wants me to take the evening off."
"We'll go," Ryllae said.
"Hold on," I said quickly. "She'll be there in a second, Wren."
He just nodded and walked off, staring at the ground with his hands behind him. I thought back to what the she-elf had said about him. Despite his grumpy exterior, I at least wanted to be his friend.
"I spoke with someone today," I said quietly. We were following after Wren. Ryllae turned pink. "It was just a she-elf who tried to teach me how to play the flute; I'm not very good at it. Anyway, the rumor is that Onvyr has his eye on a she-elf. The problem is, she's a creature hunter."
She gasped. "Really? Is it-Is it me?"
I smiled and nodded. She threw her arms around my neck. Then she blushed and cleared her throat.
"I have to go catch up with Wren." I nodded and she started to jog after him. She stopped, though. "Hold on. Hey, can I ask you for one more favor?"
"Sure," I said, folding my hands in front of me.
"Wren needs a friend," she whispered. "He won't admit it, but he does."
"Bryan seems to like him," I said, watching as Wren walked into the forest.
"That's not what I mean," she said. "The she-elves here... they all fancy him but he's so cold."
I blushed. "So you want me to... get to know him romantically?"
"He's spurned all other women," she said. "I want him to laugh with a female that isn't me, you know? Besides, you haven't found your mate, right?" she asked and I nodded. "It's perfect!"
I lifted a brow. "Are you telling me you're trying to pair Wren and I together?"
She beamed and winked at me before chasing after her brother. I frowned. Why would she want me to be with her brother? Bryan came up beside me, handing me a cup of sweet water.
"What was that about?" he asked.
"Bryan, what do you know about Wren?"
"He's very dedicated to his job," he said with a shrug. "He really doesn't give himself time of other things. That could lead him to a dangerous place. I can tell he's pretty lonely after their mother disappeared. He also has-" He stopped and narrowed his eyes at me. "Why are you asking me?"
"No reason," I said quickly.
"Cori, are you... interested in him?"
"Just as an elf," I said. "He's a mystery and you know how I am about mysteries."
He sighed and shook his head. "Don't you dare get too close. We're only here for two weeks." His voice got softer. "And you know you can't stay forever."
"I'm going to visit the waterfalls," I said, walking away from him.
I watched Corstelis walk off, frowning. Did she like Wren? I couldn't see how it was possible. They had been very cold toward each other. But Cori, whether she realized it or not, had a very big heart. I wondered if her real intention was just to get him to open up and be his friend.
I sighed and went back to the cabin where I was staying. I wanted to go back to the forest but I had been forbidden to. I sat down and pulled out some paper and charcoal. Slowly, painstakingly, I sketched out what the creature had looked like. I did my best not to smudge the charcoal until I was able to find a quill.
I went out and saw a he-elf leaning against a spade and staring at the sky with a frown.
"Excuse me?" I said and he turned. For some reason, he glared at me. "I'm looking for a quill and ink."
"We don't have human monstrosities like quills. Don't you know where quills come from!?"
I couldn't think of a response other than, "Then do you have anything I can sketch with?"
"Sketch? We don't sketch. We paint, Human."
I glared back, tired of his tone. "Hey, ease up there."
"I don't know why the Queen Mother has brought you and that-that-that abomination into our realm," he said, pointing to Corstelis who was standing at the falls.
"Watch your mouth," I snapped. "I may be a human, but you will not insult my cousin."
"She's an abomination," he snapped back, dropping his spade. A few elves were starting to notice and whisper. "Her mother is a whore!"
"Watch your mouth!" I shouted firmly, my hands balling into fists.
"I best she's just like her mother. I wouldn't be surprised if she found a werewolf to cuddle up with."
I reached back but a hand grabbed my arm.
"Don't, Bryan," the Queen Mother said quietly. I hadn't realized she was there and, judging by the look on the elf's face, he hadn't either. "Leave this to me. Corstelis would be most upset if she knew you were about to strike someone."
"Queen Mother," the elf said, "this human has been assaulting me with words of-"
"Do not lie to me," she said coldly. "I have witnessed everything. He has a name and you will all address him by it." She looked around at everyone. "His name is Bryan and hers is Corstelis. I will no longer tolerate you calling him 'this human' and I definitely will not accept someone calling my granddaughter 'abomination' and 'whore'. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes," the elves muttered.
I stormed off.
I traveled through the trees, looking for the creature he had described. The description was exactly what we saw when they first arrived in the forest. He said it was near the entrance on the elven side. I slowed down and kept my eyes focused on the ground.
I didn't see anything and then I heard the horn calling us back. I groaned and turned. When I was about to leave, I thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I froze and turned my head. Something grey was fading into the shadows.
"Come on, Wren!" Ryllae called. "I'm hungry!"
"Coming!" I called back and followed reluctantly.
She waited for me at the Bridge. "You okay?"
"I thought I saw something," I said. "I want to go back after dinner, Ry."
"No," she said firmly. "Come on. Cori has invited us to sit with her and Bryan again tonight."
"Corstelis," she clarified.
She sighed as we walked over the Bridge. "Wren, give her a chance. She's a really great person."
"She's not normal," I mumbled.
"Neither are you," she snapped. "Do I need to remind you of our father?"
"No," I snapped back. "And no one else needs to know. Only the Queen Mother does and that's more than enough."
She sighed again. "Please, Wren? Go on a walk with her this evening."
"Why me?" I asked.
She shook her head. "She and her cousin were insulted today."
That took me by surprise and I stopped walking.
"By whom?" I asked.
"Some garden elf," she shrugged. "But he said some pretty awful things and, well, just look at her."
We were standing near the table. Corstelis was smiling but I could see the sadness in her eyes. Bryan still looked angry from whatever the elf said, but he didn't show it as the chef elves placed food on the table.
"All right," I said and she hugged me.