A wood elf stepped into view several paces off the path. Tall, a few heads taller than me, slender like a young tree, spindly arms and legs. Brown gray skin that blended with the bark of nearby trees.
“Hello,” I called out, “I am looking for someone to talk to.” It stared back with black unblinking eyes. I cupped my right hand over my ear, lowered it to waist high and turned it palm up flattening it as I did so. Its head twitched and it blinked once. I hoped my sign had read as I meant it to even if my form was a little messy.
Two more elves stepped out onto the path. “Hello,” I said again, “I am Elva Landwalker daughter of Rolinda Shaleclimber daughter of Feyla Jadeaxe. I wish only to talk.” I repeated the peace sign my aunt had taught me.
“Hello dwarf,” the one on the right said its voice raspy and hoarse but still friendly, “I am Grel matriarch of the Yotarles Woods.”
I bowed and said, “I am honored to meet you.”
She lowered herself into a squat, arms and legs sticking out from her body like a grasshopper’s. “There is no need to bow,” she rasped, “You honor me with your greeting.” She cupped her hands by her head, lowered them and flattened her hands palm up. “This is an old gesture born from the time the leaders of Elves and Men wore crowns. They removed them to meet not as rulers but as people of the lands.”
“I did not know that. Thank you for that knowledge. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Have you traveled far your burrow?”
I dropped my pack and sat on it. “I am five days from the mine entrance. I was sent out to explore the nearby land. We have tunneled far hoping to find safe land.”
“No land is safe. The demons and the dead roam all lands. We have protected our woods but they gnaw at our roots,” she gestured upward, “Wyverns have begun to darken the sky. Soon we too shall fall.” Her hand passed over her face before returning to its resting spot on her hip.
I nodded and sighed heavily, “I have heard the same every time I am sent out.”
“What will you do now?” she asked.
I stroked my beard counting the previous days travel, “I have one more day of travel before I must return and then we will collapse the surface tunnel and keep going underground.”
“Where will you go?” her eyes widening.
“We are headed east to the underground city of Hortak’d,” I said knowing how foolish it sounded.
“It will take you many many years to tunnel to it,” she said gravely.
“We know but it’s the safest way we know to travel these days.” There were so few of us we could not risk losing anyone on a dangerous dash across the surface lands.
“I bid you good journey,” she said straightening up to her full height. I stood as well to be polite. “If you ever pass this way again return as a guest.”
“I thank you for talking with me,” an elven saying popped into my head, “I pray your woods remain ever green.”
Grel’s lips splitting her face in half with a smile that looked more like a grimace. “Thank you but our woods will soon wilt and burn I fear.”
She spoke then in her native tongue. It sound like whistling wind, crunching leaves and snapping twigs. Then they stepped off the path back into the woods. I watched as they walked among the trees disappearing as they crossed out of my line of sight. Above me a branch rustled and a bird flew from one branch to another.
I sat back down on my pack and pulled out my pipe and pouch. Almost empty but a meeting like that deserved a short smoke.
Author note: This is part of a small collection of stories set in a fantasy world that has fallen to a great evil.