*You guys know we talked about doing a shared world. We went with a whole continent so that Dave can have his jungle and I can have my big city with diners. We’re working on a contract which we should have in a week or two (and yes, we’ll post it for your enlightenment although we haven’t decided yet if anyone not in the group can play. OTOH if it’s very successful, we’ll inevitably enlarge it. For now, here’s the second chapter of Elf Blood, book one of Risen Atlantis. And for now it is ©Sarah A. Hoyt 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy, distribute or otherwise disseminate without the author’s name, and a link to this page. You do not have the right to alter it. You do not have the right to claim it as yours. For permission to do anything other than quote it for review or recommendation purposes, email Goldportpress@gmail.com. This is a work of fiction, all coincidence between it and real people place or events is assuredly imaginary.*
Previous chapter here.
The “something respectable but cheap” I bought to wear to the party was not so cheap it wouldn’t be usable again. It was cheap for the man who carried a thousand magus in his pocket, but it was really just an update of my little black dress which had grown a disreputable brownish color with age. Taken care of, this would see me through formal and semi-formal occasions for many years to come.
I was mildly satisfied with that – if with nothing else – as I took a taxi to the Parthalan compound. It was at the top of one of the seven hills, which figured, since all the best enclaves were atop one of the seven hills – scoured clean by the submerging of Atlantis, and emergent again, millennia later with only the remnants of the temples that had once stood on them, they were now landscaped, sculpted, and covered in the best mansions in town. Far above the smog and the crowd, they had the advantage of being close to everything while yet being isolated, each of the hills almost a small town onto itself, high above Pomae.
Before I set out, I’d determined that the Parthalans lived in a compound – a maze of gardens and buildings, a world onto itself. This did not prepare me for the size when we pulled up in front of it. The wall outside seemed to go on for ten city blocks, and that was the size of block on this hill, known as the golden hill. I thought that Mudhole would fit three times over inside those high, white-marble walls.
From behind the walls came the sound of laughter, the tinkle of glasses knocked together, and I thought that the driver could go on through the drive way that unrolled from the gate inward, beneath trees that gave a good impression of being centenary, though I was sure they couldn’t be. Old Ciar must have demolished ten or twelve mansions to get this place built, no more than fifty years ago.
But just as I leaned forward to tell the cabbie to drive on inside, something ran in front of the gate, across the drive. I can’t swear to it, but I thought it was a unicorn. The cabbie pulled his hand brake and turned around and looked at me, “If you were thinking I might drive on in, Miss, you are wrong. One of those things slamming into the side, my cab would be gone and it’s my livelihood. And I know better, I do, miss, than trying to take elves to court. I wouldn’t go in there for enough money to keep me without working the rest of my life.”
I didn’t say anything, just nodded and got out and paid him. Before I turned away to enter the gate, he said, “I’d be careful in there, yourself. You know they do unspeakable things to young women, they do. Their long life is purchased at a price, but they get jaded in all that time, and they do things…”
I’d never been sure if this rumor was true, though it stood to reason that yes, elves would become jaded with normal pleasures. And it was a known thing they had different tastes than humans anyway – more… broad or perhaps more cruel. But none of this was something I knew for a fact, and I also knew the things they said about half-elves, and none applied to me. Oh, I had my own suspicions about elves, and you couldn’t convince me to marry one, any more than you could convince me to — No, forget that. I was going to visit this hill for good or ill.
The guards at the gate stopped me, but I said I’d been invited by Ard Parthalan, and that I was considering the post of secretary. They traded a look over my head, which I was quite sure I didn’t want to analyze, but they let me through.
There must have been a mile between me and the house, and by the time I got there, I was feeling it. It’s stupid to do a mile in high heels, only of course, I hadn’t known I’d be walking that far. There were scenes of merriment all around. In what might be an ornamental lake, but then again might also very well be a pool, a group of people were swimming around and laughing. They looked very young and I almost swear I saw one of them lift a fish tail. I did not stop.
Further on in a glade, a beautiful, blond elf maiden was languishing in the arms of a pan-creature who had almost got her dress off. She was saying “Yes, yes, you big hairy beast,” so I presumed it was consensual and I walked on.
Other party-groups looked more conventional, like the group of people dancing beneath lights wound through the tree above them. The music was beguiling, but I walked on.
On all the way to the house, with its broad marble stair case. From inside it came more music, more laughter, the sound of voices, and the sound of silverware and dishes.
I was walking up the steps, when I met with Ardghal Parthalan coming down. Here, in his father’s house, he looked more at ease, or perhaps he simply put on a good party face. He was wearing evening attire, but the way elves wore it. I didn’t know how much of it was real and how much was glamour, but if it was real, he was wearing enough wealth to buy the city of Pomae in the diamonds forming fantastic dragon motifs all over his pale blue jacket.
He said, “Miss Smith!” and extended both hands to me, as though we were long lost friends. “I’m so glad you came.” He looked around. “Where did you park?”
Apparently he thought I had a car, though arguably he’d given me enough to buy one if I’d gone used and small. “The cab dropped me off at the entrance,” I said.
“Oh,” he said, and looked conscience stricken. He looked up the drive. “You mean you walked? You should have had the guards call me. I never meant for you to do that.”
I shook my head. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Well, I’m glad you are here. I was going to– But never mind that, let me introduce you to my father and get you some food and drink.”
He took me by the arm, as though we’d been old friends, and I could practically see the rumors forming as we walked in. I tried not to mind too much. If they thought I was his mistress, they wouldn’t think I was a detective. And it’s not rare at all for full elves to keep half elves as mistresses. We have the advantage of being a lot more fertile than pure bloods, and sometimes elves don’t care, so long as they can have children, each generation becoming a little less Un’ uruh as they mix with purer blood. Again, if they thought I was his mistress, they would be a lot more relaxed in front of me.
I found myself pulled through a press of people, human and elf both, all impeccably attired, introduced here and there casually with “This is Miss Smith. I’m hoping she’ll become my secretary.”
Some people winked or grinned, but only two leered, and only one – an elderly elf who was probably hiding satyr legs beneath his pants and hooves in his shoes, not to mention horns under his carefully styled hair – said, “I just bet you are, dear boy.”
Ard took me near where an elf-couple was holding court, standing in the middle of a circle of friends. I could tell they were middle aged, which for an elf might mean a couple hundred years. Most wouldn’t be able to, but I knew elves. Yes, they both looked as young as Ard, as young as myself, but there was a staidness to their gestures, a way of looking out at the world that proclaimed their age.
“Father,” Arden said. “This is Miss Smith. I told you about her.”
His father, who looked a lot like him turned around, captured both my hands and, before I could stop him, gave me a resounding kiss on each cheek. “Well, welcome to the family my dear.”
Ard looked startled, then pained. “No, father, I mean to hire Miss Smith as my secretary. We’re not…”
“That’s what I meant,” his father said and gestured broadly with a cocktail glass. “Our little family of employer and employee, and all the merry troop, right? Welcome Kassia, Miss Smith.”
I realized this was one incredibly drunken elf, and I wondered how. Most of them have no reaction at all to our alcohol. It would take being far more Un’uruh that even I was to get that completely gone on alcohol. But Ciar – though I couldn’t do a scan of his power here in this crowded environment – couldn’t be Un’uruh. He couldn’t. Not and be the king of his hill.
But Ard had managed to extricate me from his father, and was presenting me to an older elf lady, a slim creature with dark hair and beguiling features. It took being as much elf as I was to see she was past her first bloom. “And this is Xenia, my step mother.”
A cool hand was put forward for my squeezing and a cool look raked me over. Then seemed to dismiss me as being of any importance. “Very welcome, I’m sure.”
Apparently marrying good forest elf stock was a thing in this family. And of course she knew I wasn’t. Marrying Un’uruh might be all right since he could probably buy her hill ten times over, but it didn’t justify paying too much attention to un’uruh without the advantages of wealth or place.
Ard dragged me away, procured me something that tasted like fruit punch but had an edge of alcohol, and a plate of little rolls and littler cakes. “You can eat, of course,” he said. “It’s all safe for mor– for normal people tonight, since we have several friends of the family in.”
“It would be safe for me, anyway,” I said, and he raised an eyebrow, but said nothing.
Instead, he waited, making small talk while I ate, then said, “We’ll introduce you to the family, now. I was going to look for Chara, for my wife, when I bumped into you. But I’ll try to introduce you to my brother Flaith – Flaithri, if we can find him – and to my sister. Her name is Treasa. You’ll like her.”
He dragged me out into the cool perfumed night. The compound was very extensive, well beyond the things I’d glimpsed from the path, and they must have done something with magic to have exotic flowers growing here, in the climate of Pomae, and all of them blooming at the same time.
We found his brother dancing in a clearing not far off. There was a band playing the thing they call elf-jazz, though how you can have a sensual and deep music, that cleaves your soul in two, when the instruments used are mostly flute, I’ve never understood. I suspect glamour. But then I always do.
Flaithri was as tall as Ardghal, but dark. It was clear his mother was Ardghal’s step mother. He responded to the introduction with a wolfish grin and said, “Well, I hope you decide to give Ard a chance. He rather needs someone to keep track of him. Chara—” He shrugged. “It doesn’t do to speak ill—” He stopped again. “Well, my partner is waiting.” And he went back to his dance.
We found Treasa walking the path towards the house, carrying her high heels. She smiled and nodded at the introduction and said she was very happy to meet me, but I said nothing. You see, she was clearly the elf-woman who’d been with the pan-thing back there.
“Did you see Chara?” Ardghal asked. “I thought she’d be by the pool, but she wasn’t.”
“She said something about wanting some time for herself,” Treasa gave a weird malicious smile, as though this should have meant something more. “I saw her walking that way.”
She pointed down a winding, narrower path leading deep into the forest.
“Ah,” Ardghal said, his brow clearing, as though all were explained. “The warm pool.”
We walked down the winding path, under many-colored lanterns, in the scent of flowers. One thing you could say. The Parthalans treated their guests right.
But after a while I thought I detected a weird scent beneath the flowers. It didn’t exactly disturb me because it was hard to pinpoint, but when the path ended in a broad clearing with another of those might be lakes or swimming pools, the smell became unbearable. Blood.
“Blood,” I said.
I wasn’t speaking to anyone. Ardghal had let go of my arm. He ran into the clearing and knelt by what I at first took to be a bundle of sodden rags. “Chara! Chara!” he screamed.
The bundle turned out to be a dark haired, olive-skinned elf-woman. In life, she must have been very beautiful, bit it was hard to judge because she had been stabbed multiple times, her clothes were torn, and there was blood everywhere. To make things worse, it looked like her chest and part of her side had been eaten.