Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: Going "Home"


"The winds and tides have been good to us. We'll reach the harbor before noon."

The report by the navigator was received with good cheer among the rest of the ship's crew. The sailors were more at home subject to the fickle mood of the ocean. And the elven passengers lived so long that an hour or two hardly made any difference to them. However, the joys of land were welcome after so many months at sea.

Sea travel between the Aldehersian Empire on the continent of Lyrial and the Elven Kingdoms of the Verdant Coast was regular. The shipping routes were well documented, the weather relatively mild, and travel was safe. The worst most could expect on the three-month journey was sheer boredom. Or in Fa Wen's case - sheer terror and anxiety.

"I still don't see why I couldn't stay back in Lissia. I wouldn't even be alone. Grandma and Grandpa live in the countryside. Aunt Merrin lives in the city. I could have stayed with them," she said for the second time today. Never mind how many times she had complained about this during the last three months.

Even her mother who was a fountain of patience gave an exasperated sigh. "Wen Wen - Your father is an ambassador of the Moonlight Alliance. Things are expected of you. Like attending a school befitting of your station."

"I could have gone to the Imperial Academy next year! Johanna Trisch is already there. I'd be in the same year as Grace Arnhem."

"Sweetie, I know you miss your friends. But think of this as an opportunity to meet new people and broaden your horizons. You're an elf after all - won't it be nice to connect with your roots?"

"I'm only half-elf. You of all people should remember the distinction. You are the reason I am what I am after all," Fa Wen said carelessly before she looked up and saw her mother had pursed her lips shut in an attempt to put up a stoic and calm front. "Oh no, mother, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that - you know that right." Fa Wen walked over to her mother and held her hand.

Her mother squeezed her hands back softly. "Our family is different from most others. I will probably die before you look thirty. And your father? He will most likely outlive his own daughter by two or three centuries. We of all people need to stick together and cherish our time together."

'You say that, but Father spends most of his waking time obsessed with politics and his career,' Fa Wen wanted to say. But all she could manage was a simple "Of course, mother."

When the ship finally made landing at the port of Xihai, Fa Wen was swept into a flurry of activity. Before she had fully realized it, she was swept away on a carriage to a dress boutique in the middle of town. Her travel tunic and pants were switched out for long flowing light green robes embroidered with darker emerald green scales and gold horns of a Qilin - a dragon-scaled horned equine creature. Her robes pooled at her feet while her hands were lost in her long sleeves. Meanwhile, her loose hair was braided into the most elaborate and complex layers of braids she had ever witnessed.

"You cannot expect me to walk around like this," Fa Wen said as she tried to get her hands out of the multitude of layers for the umpteenth time.

"This is the height of women's fashion among the Elves," her father who wore his similarly long robes said. "Come, let me have a closer look." Her father walked up to gently put his hands on her shoulders and smiled. "Beautiful. Old-fashioned or not - you would put any Elven princess to shame."

She reluctantly smiled back. After all, no one disliked being called beautiful. Even if it felt dorky to have her father say it at her age. "Well, can I at least change into something more comfortable for now."

"For now? What are you talking about - we're dropping you off at school now."

"" Fa Wen asked with a dumbfounded expression.

"Why yes. The Chen Insitute of Poetry and Mysteries is between here and the capital city of Xinyang. We'll drop you off and have a carriage pick you up to bring you to our new home after you're done," her father said as though this all should have been obvious.

Fa Wen's head spun. "We were on a ship for three months, and you're just now telling me that today is my first day."

"Well, obviously we didn't know exactly what day your first day would be. We just happened to be lucky that we arrived early in the morning so that we can drop you off today."

And that was how Fa Wen found herself standing in front of the doors of the Chen Institute of Poetry and Mysteries. Her father and mother had quickly kissed her, gave her a letter of introduction, and gone on their merry way. This was absurd even for her father's complete obliviousness and disregard for the timing and social conventions of the "youth".

She walked up the stone steps before her - which was much harder than it may have initially seemed due to her constantly stepping on her dress - and through the double set of red and gold painted doors. Stone statues of lions gazed at her as she passed through and entered into the inner courtyard. A lake covered with lilypads and lotus flowers dominated the center. Small islets with beautiful gazebos and lounging areas dotted the lake. Behind the lake sat the main hall of the school which sat over dozens of streams cascaded down the rocky slopes and fed into the lake. Roofed hallways stretched from the main building and ran east and west to different wings of the school.

The school was massive. And the number of attendees matched. Fa Wen had always been under the impression that elven populations were relatively small compared to humans. But what she saw suggested anything but that.

A little overwhelmed by the scale of the place, she spotted what seemed to be another student. A girl with long beautiful black hair along with a much more appropriately form-fitting, qipao-like, single-piece dress.

"Excuse me - ah - I'm new here. Is there like an administration office or something around here?" Fa Wen asked.

The girl blinked at her. "Ah - sorry - no speak Lyrian," she stuttered in broken sentences.

Fa Wen stared back. "Fuck."