"I hope this works," I groaned, letting Corstelis carry me from behind, her arms around my chest. "If it doesn't, I'm going to kill you."
She laughed. It sounded like a bark. I gulped as we looked down at the Moarte. I bit my lip. Corstelis' legs bent. I docked a bow and aimed for the Moarte's head.
"Are you ready?" she growled.
"One... two... three."
She leaped forward just as I loosed the arrow. It landed between its eyes and Corstelis dropped me just as she sank her nails through its throat. It let out a long scream and blood poured from it like a fountain. Corstelis jumped onto the forest floor, watching, until the body shivered up and eventually faded.
As if sensing the death of their leader, each Moarte stopped fighting. Panting, I looked around. Elves, humans, and werewolves were all standing with blood dripping down their bodies. The dead had been moved.
"No mercy," I said and, one by one, the Moarte fell to our weapons.
I wiped sweat off my forehead and looked around. Corstelis was on her hands and knees, Bryan kneeling beside her. He was saying something and I approached. I put my bow and arrows down.
"He's here, Cori," Bryan said and she lowered her head.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
Bryan sighed. "She's scared and a little embarrassed."
I frowned. "Why?"
"Because of her transformation," Bryan said.
I sighed and sat beside her, nodding once to Bryan. He got up to check that the Moarte really were dead, making sure their bodies faded. I put my hand on her back and she lowered her head even more.
"Keep that up and your neck will break," I whispered and she laughed a little. "Don't be embarrassed. You saved a lot of people today."
She shook her head. "I look hideous, Wren," she whispered.
"Let me be the judge of that. Look at me."
She hesitated but eventually did. I smiled. "You look beautiful to me."
I looked around but there wasn't anything reflective. She had turned back to normal, though. I helped her stand and showed her the result of the battle. She leaned into me.
"Look," I whispered. "You've-"
But she had fallen asleep. I was about to take her back when I heard a groan behind me. My heart skipped a beat.
"Bryan?" I asked and he came over. "Will you get her somewhere she can rest without being bothered? There's... someone here I need to speak with."
He looked curious but nodded and I passed Corstelis to him. I then jumped into the tree where we had put my mother's body.
I almost fell out of the tree. She was sitting up, rubbing her head.
"Where am I?" she mumbled.
"Mother?" I whispered and she looked at me.
"I'm sorry. Do I know you?"
I jumped onto the branch across from her. I had her green eyes and I waited, knowing she'd figure it out. She blinked a few times and then reached out slowly to me.
"Wren?" she whispered. "Is that you?"
I smiled and laughed. "Yes, it's me."
She cried and threw her arms around me. "Oh, Wren! I was so scared!"
I hugged her back tightly, shutting my eyes.
"It's okay. You're safe now, Mother. Let's get you home."
"Where is your father?" she asked as I jumped down to the ground.
I sighed. "I'm sorry, Mother."
She cried on the way back. She was too weak to walk so I picked her up and carried her. As we crossed the Bridge, the Queen Mother cried out.
"Elyon?" she breathed, rushing over to us. "Is it you!?"
She smiled weakly. "Hello, Queen Mother. It's good to see you again."
"But how?" she whispered.
"I'll explain," I said. "But I need to get her somewhere she can rest. And I think she'd love to see Ryllae."
"I would," she said quickly.
I took her to Ryllae's house. The door was open. I went in and sighed loudly. Ryllae and Onvyr jumped apart, both red in the face. Ryllae saw our mother and nearly fell over.
"Mama?" she breathed and my mother held her hand up.
"You two are the spitting image of your father, you know," she said. She yawned. "How long has it been?"
I put her down on Ryllae's bed and answered, "Fifteen years."
She gasped. "That terrible creature had me for that long?"
"I'm afraid so," I said sadly. "Get some rest and we will swap stories. I need to check on Corstelis."
She closed her eyes and was asleep in seconds. I looked at Onvyr. He was staring at me nervously. I approached him and Ryllae bit her lower lip. Onvyr stepped back but I held my hand out.
"Make sure you don't hurt her," I said and he smiled a little, shaking my hand.
I hugged Ryllae and she sobbed into my shoulder, slapping my back.
"Don't you ever do that again!" she yelled. "I was so afraid! I thought you were going to die!"
I rubbed her back. "I'm sorry. I won't do it again."
She sniffled and I kissed her cheek before leaving. Corstelis' door was open, too, and I poked my head in. She was lying in bed, still in her ripped gown. Her mother and father were standing beside her. Rosebud was sobbing into a handkerchief and William was holding her in his arms tightly. I cleared my throat and they looked around.
"May I?" I whispered and they looked at each other but nodded.
I bowed to them then sat beside Corstelis. I sighed and shook my head at the state of her gown. I'll have to get her cleaned up when she woke up. I held her hand and kissed her fingers. Beside me, Rosebud gasped a little but I ignored her. At the touch of my lips, she stirred. I smiled at her and she sat up.
"No, stay," I said, pushing her back down. "You're back in your hut. I'm here and so are your parents."
Her eyes turned to her mother and father. Rosebud sobbed and shoved me out of the way to hug Corstelis. I stumbled over my feet. Annoyed, I picked myself up off of the floor and brushed my pants off. I didn't say anything, though. William was staring at me with a strange look on his face but I looked back at Corstelis.
Her hair was back to blond and her eyes were the normal white and black. She had also returned to her normal size. William pulled Rosebud off to give his daughter a hug. Rosebud was glaring at me a little and I clenched my jaw. I wanted to shout at them but I stopped myself for Corstelis' sake.
"Come here," Corstelis said and I sat back down beside her. "Mother, Father, this is Wren." She glanced at me for a second before adding, "I'm in love with him."
Rosebud gasped, covering her mouth. William just frowned at me.
"And I am in love with her," I said softly.
She grinned at me and I kissed her fingers again.
"But he's an elf," Rosebud whispered fiercely.
I shut my eyes and Corstelis squeezed my hand. I tried not to get too upset. After all, I shared the same prejudices about her and William.
"So were you at one time," Corstelis said. "You and Father have a strange union."
"And look what became of it!" she yelled. "I know what happened to you while you were here!"
"Relax, Rosebud," William said, putting a hand on her shoulder. Her hair was flying about her head. "Hear her out."
"Wren and I were meant to be," Corstelis continued, "just as you and Father were. You and Father were two completely different races. Wren and I share the same race. At least a little bit." She sighed sadly and looked at me. "But I can't stay here."
"I know," I said. "I was going to come with you if your parents would allow me."
William was shocked. "You're asking for our permission?"
"Of course I am," I said. "It's our way. I would like permission to stay with your daughter, wherever that takes me."
William was now giving me the same look I had given Onvyr. Tentatively, I held my hand out. The moments passed in silence until he finally accepted my hand. I managed a smile and he smiled back. Rosebud, on the other hand, was not happy.
"And what about my permission?"
I laughed. "I definitely did not forget about yours. Will you allow me to stay?"
Rosebud's eyes shot between the two of us. She looked incredibly conflicted. William squeezed her shoulder and she sighed.
"You truly love him?" she whispered to Corstelis who nodded. "And you really do love her?"
"With all my heart," I assured her.
She sighed and shook my hand but very briefly. I smiled and Corstelis yanked on my arm, pulling me in for a kiss.