[Next Morning]<--Back Forward-->
Dawn came all too swiftly. His eyes opened slowly and he knew it was morning only when he saw sun's radiant glow reach through the inticing and beautifully ornamented window of the room he stayed in that night. He quickly rose and washed as best he could in the rather small bathing area in the room's so- proclaimed wash room. He was careful to be sure to catch every curve of his body before he dried himself and then went to dress himself. As he placed the clothing on his scarred and well-toned body, he looked over to his cloak and saw that some of the sage that lined the interior had began to wilt a bit. He frowned, knowing that he must replace it soon, as he laced each black, leather- clad boot with grace and care. He then leapt to his feet and placed his mask and cloak onto his body to go downstairs once again.
With the steps down the walkway, he instinctively acted as if he sniffed the air for any aroma that may be about. He then walked down into the dining area and took a seat at a secluded area there. A rather full figured waitress came over and asked him what he was having to eat. His soft eyes and pleasing smile gazed at her through the fearsome mask and he replied, "I shall have whatever thou seeth as a fine meal to dine upon. I trust in thine judgement and will be pleased at whatever thou bringeth." His voice was melodious... as if a sweet lullaby played upon the wind, sensuous and hypnotic. Though he was not attempting to make it so, the woman nearly did not leave in hopes of hearing his voice once again, but decided to do so and went to prepare his meal.
Dwynn discovered he had somehow got up, dressed himself and was walking down from his room before he made the mistake of waking up. Looking for as quiet a spot as he could find he sat down. As a melodious voice drifted over to his table, he looked up. The strange black clad man seemed to use words in a way Dwynn aspired to but as he listed he feared he would never come close. What he avoided for fear of overdoing it seemed natural and what he though to plain, this man made elegant. Or was it the voice...
His eyes followed her temporarily and finally looked around at all about once again. He then softly slowly reached into his well-layered tunic and retrieved a silver orcarina. He lifted it with swanlike gracefulness and began to play a tune that had more sheer beauty than his voice and manner. His eyes closed and he became lost in the music. He didn't know or care if any about heard the tones that escaped the instrument's lovely melody, only that he was content for a few moments... for he really didn't know if he would be so again for a long time. The sleep had taken away the feeling he had the day before of happiness... and had brought with it a new feeling he knew all too well. He was alone.
He arose at the birds' first outburst of song in the predawn, donned breaches & tunic, and set out for a brisk workout. True, it could not be the exhausting pace through which his elven tutors often pushed him in times past, but now, in the fullness of manhood, the discipline learned at their hands allowed him opportunity to reach near to their methods -- excepting only the portion they termed "surprises on the path".
As he turned his lanky body back toward the Inn from 3 miles out, he cocked his head and held his breath momentarily as he seemed to hear an unearthly strain of music fill the air between.
Brea stepped down the stairs slowly, mesmerized by the sound of the music floating up from below. She frowned slightly and berated herself for not having brought her old guitar with her from the Hall. Then she thought of disturbing the player of such a beautiful tune and was suddenly glad she hadn't brought it. She finally found her way to the bottom of the stairs, eyes widening in wonder as she realized the stranger from the counter the night before was the very one playing the music. She walked straight to the table and stood watching from the opposite side, doing her best to memorize the haunting melody.
DeMorte's eyes slowly opened as the music faded from the wind. He smiled and lowered his magical instrument and looked into the woman's eyes before him. His smile shown though the silver half skulled mask he wore. His face, what could be seen of it...gave her a pleasant feeling, as if he were giving her strength to speak.
"Good day to thee, miss. From the expression thou hath upon thine eyes, twould seem as if mine music hath caused a pleasing tune to thine ears." His voice was soft and still quite hypnotic. He leaned across the table and folded his gloved hands together and leaned his chin to the knuckles. "I am DeMorte, priest of Averniaus. A true pleasure it is to view one such as thyself. Might I inquire the lady's name?"
Brea blinked, then smiled. "Breannyn O'Connor, apprentice Bard at yer service." She bowed regally as she spoke. "Pleasure ta meet ye, DeMorte, Priest of Averniaus." She smiled again and sat down. "Oh, mind if I join you?" She signaled to Sera for some breakfast and made herself comfortable at the table. "There's magic in yer music. What kind o'instrument is that? I've n'er seen one, nor heard the likes. Are ye from round here? I'm not, only been here a couple o'weeks. Will you be stayin here long? I play an ol' guitar myself, was a gift from a friend o'mine. If yer round later maybe we could play a lil' tune together. Ye think?"
She stopped a moment, then added with a slight frown. "That is, when I get back from the quest I'm goin on. Only been here a couple o'weeks an' already on my second adventure. Most fun I've had in a long while though. Great way ta meet new people too. An' make new friends." She stopped then as Sera brought her the food she'd ordered and dove in with a passion. Then some what as an afterthought she asked, "Where's Averniaus?"
The priest smiled at his curious new companion. She was something he had witnessed before, but not quite as lively as this time. "Tis a true pleasure to meet thee, m'lady." He smiled even more as the endless tirade of questions came from her. The waitress soon came with the meal he had ordered and set the plate down in front of him as gracefully as she could. He looked up to her and smiled as if to say 'Thank you.' The waitress blushed a bit and hurried on her way, reluctantly, back to her duties. DeMorte then turned slowly back to his new companion and smiled.
"The instrument I played upon is an orcarina. Tis something quite similar to a flute, but not quite as restricted." His voice was even more entrancing than before. Although it seemed as if he wasn't trying to, it had a calming effect on some of the patrons who were happening to listen in. He slowly removed his hood and his mask. His face was well tanned, almost indian in nature, and had long and straightened white hair. There was a curious tattoo over his right eye. He moved into his meal with the equaled grace of his voice and then looked back to his companion.
"Averniaus is a place far from here and is filled with magic's truest intrigue. Tis a home worthy of the gods themselves." He took in a bite of the eggs that had been prepared as he tried to fight back a frown at the mention of his home. He then looked back to her after chewing a bit and got a somewhat curious twinge in his eyes. "An...adventure? Might I inquire...what of?"
Brea sat with her fork poised a few inches from her mouth, eyes wide and a smile playing across her lips. She looked as one listening to an enchanting tune. Finally she realized he'd asked a question and was awaiting a response. "Hmmm...?" she asked dreamily. Then finally she snapped back to reality. "Oh, the adventure?" She thought a moment, not sure she should actually tell the stranger. "Maybe you should join us for breakfast and let the others fill you in. It's rather a long story." She noticed Dwynn just then at another table and waved to him.
He shook his head, as though to clear it of cobwebs. "I must be imagining things!" he smiled, and began a quick trot back toward the Inn. Facing into the stiff breeze made the trip longer than he expected, yet as he loped into the courtyard, his breathing could hardly be described as 'heavy'. Yet he paused again, with head cocked, seeming to listen again for the unearthly melody. Feeling a bit uncertain even yet, he walked to the Inn door and paused, trying to sense a premonition of what might happen when he opened it. The smile returned to his lips in a moment, though, as he mused to himself, "Silly fool, you're too old to be seeing ghosts in the bright light of morning," and let himself in. He looked up to find two companions at table, and a third he barely recognized from the night before. His smile refused to falter as he asked, "Hi there, Breannyn, Dwynn. What's for breakfast?" Seeing Dwynn was alone, and respecting Breannyn's privacy, he approached Dwynn's table. "Mind if I join you?"
"Good morrow. Miss Breannyn has just graciously invited me to join with them, so let's not disappoint her. Besides, I'd like to know what lies behind all that charm." He got up and yelled for some breakfast for two and approached DeMorte's table. With a bow he introduced himself. "I am Dwynn of little consequence and this is my friend Sherwood. I hope you would not be adverse to our company this day's virgin meal?"
As he approached Breannyn's table behind Dwynn, Sherwood murmured, "Very good, Dwynn." And, while introductions were made, he looked over DeMorte. "Good to meet you, sir," he said. Not quite able to eliminate the sense of a ghostly presence, he mentioned, "Interesting instrument you have there. I hope to hear it some time."
[Zekk the Apprentice]
A short, slightly rotund youth, dressed in the blue tabard of the Bards Hall, stepped into the inn. Red-faced, sweaty, and somewhat out of breath, his eyes scanned those nearby until they rested on Breannyn. Stumbling over to her, he stood breathing heavily for a moment before speaking.
"Uh...App...Apprentice Zekk....Freshman....Freshman Year, Ma'am.....The... the...Chief...Ad..Admin...uh....Elwynn...wants you and your party to come to the Hall....after breakfast."
So saying, the exhausted Apprentice fell to his knees, gasping for air.
Garber chuckled as he took a seat at the table, pulling the gasping apprentice onto a seat. "I don't think the message necessitated *that* much speed, youngling," he said. He ordered breakfast for himself and a mug of water for the youth, then nodded to the others in greeting. His gaze lingered on the stranger, wondering why he was there. He waited, though, to see if someone would introduce him.
Dwynn looked at the apprentice. "Zekk, why don't you wait with us while we finish our breakfast? Then you can bring us directly. I have a feeling mistress Elwynn is anxious to get started." Shifting to DeMorte he continues, "I apologize for this interruption, I would have liked to thoroughly make your acquaintance, but it appears time is short. Breanynn, is this gentleman coming as well?" He looked from face to face while making considerable headway with his breakfast.
"Dwynn, I agree completely!" As he smiled at the group, Sherwood wondered at the newcomer's presence. Then he started at his lack of grace, and offered a hand. "My name's Sherwood. Hale, and well met!"
The oriental woke up from a nightmare-free night. Feeling refreshed and clear-minded, and after his short prayer to exact revenge on his parents' killers, the former ninja packed his only bag, and headed out the door.
"Hey, where's the fire?" the oriental angrily thought to himself as he narrowly sidestepped a running rotund man.
"I wonder what his hurry is?" the former ninja thought, then he realized that the rotund man was heading for the Inn. Not thinking much of it, he too headed toward the common meeting place.
A short while later, the 6' 200+ lb. well-built oriental made his way through the door of the Inn.
"Hey Brea, Dwynn, Garber..." the oriental hesitated when he saw the black clad man from last night, a look of suspicion and caution came across the oriental's face before he continued, "...and who might I be talking to, sir?" Takayoshi finally addressed him.
"And another thing, who is this?" Takayoshi motioned, and without looking, his arm toward the rotund man, not keeping his eyes off the dark man.
Brea looked the freshman apprentice over a moment, wondering why he was calling her ma'am. Then she swallowed the food that was in her mouth and nodded to Tak. "This is DeMorte of Averniaus," she gestured to the stranger. Then gesturing to her oriental friend she added, "This is Takayoshi." She turned to the rotund apprentice finally and pointed her fork at him. "And you...the name is Breannyn O'Connor. Ye c'n either call me Brea or Breannyn. Don't need ta call me ma'am. I ain't no one special."
With that said she took a long draught off her cup and dove back into her breakfast. She ate with a passion, shoveling the food into her mouth like a starving man and finally cleared the plate of even the smallest crumb. Then she looked around at the other plates to see where everyone else stood.
The portly youth dressed in the garb of a Bards Hall apprentice had hauled himself into a chair and was slowly gulping down a second mug of water. "Sorry sir!" He said to Tak, "My name is Zekk. Uh, Apprentice Zekk. I'm one of Master Quinn's music students? I play the Oboe. Miss Evindem sent me to deliver a message. She wants you all to meet at the Hall after breakfast."
The apprentice spotted Hugh leading a party of servers towards the group, their arms filled with plates piled high with flapjacks, sausages, breakfast rolls, fruit, nuts, three kinds of eggs, fresh syrup, apple butter, and other morning fare. Zekk eyed every item as it was set on the table with longing eyes.
"Compliments of Miss Evindem," Hugh said. "She ordered the special Traveler's Breakfast Feast for you all. Dig in while you can. You may be subsisting on trail bread and stream water before your little adventure is over."
The cloaked man slowly arose to his feat and smiled warmly to all about. "As I stated to this fine woman before me, I am the priest DeMorte. I am from the clans to the far north called Averniaus." His voice was melodious, as was his manner. It was pleasant as well as gentlemanly, but well hidden as well. "She also spoke of an adventure thou all partaketh in. If there is room for a holy man within these travels, I would join with thee. I hath no home as of yet to call mine own. I travel without purpose and wish to be involve myself within something to give my long travels some purpose." He slowly moved to Breanynn and smiled. His demeanor was slightly hypnotic, though he didn't mean to do so. "What say thee, m'lady?" He turned to address them all. "What say thee all?"
"It's all right w'me." Brea shrugged, not really sure if she should be inviting the priest along or not, but figuring his presence wouldn't hurt. Her eyes went wide, as did her smile, as Hugh and his servers brought out the other plates of food. Barely had the plates touched the table, when she started refilling her own. Noticing Zekk's wide-eyed stare at the food she pointed to the plates with the serving fork. "Well, help yeself there Zekk. Don't be shy." Then she set to once more as if it really would be her last meal, which as far as she was concerned every meal very well could be.
"Well, I think it'll be up to those who invited us on this journey," Garber said. He looked keenly at the priest, feeling a bit dubious of the man's charming, almost hypnotic manner. 'Still,' he thought, 'I doubt it'd hurt to tell him a few things.'
"Why don't you join our meal?" he said to DeMorte. "While we eat, I'll tell you something of the story." As they all made inroads on the food-filled plates, Garber told DeMorte of the spell that had fallen on Ceridon, and of his own encounter with unicorns nearly two decades ago.
"So we're going back to that village," he concluded, "to learn...well, whatever we can learn. But you--all of you--should know that there will be risks. A part of the road we'll have to follow has gotten an evil reputation among the merchants in the past few years--floods, bandits, wild animals, and other things I'm not sure I should credit. We *should* be able to handle whatever comes, but I wanted to make sure you all know this will be no pleasure jaunt."
"This breakfast has surpassed my meagre abilities. I suppose we should let Linna and Ceridon decide, but that means this gentleman should accompany us to the Bards Hall. I'll go ready my horse and see you outside."
The priest's eyes followed Dwynn as he went out the doorway into the open air. He then turned back to Breanynn who had seemed to be engrossed with everyone's actions in detail. Her every motion was that of a curious child to him and he smiled wondering if she even knew it. His stare then turned to Tak. There was something familiar about this one. He couldn't place it, but it was there.
He shrugged, not fully knowing where his feeling of deja vu had come from. He then slowly retrieved his mask and placed it upon his face. He then pulled his cloak over his head and looked to all about. "I know not where this road will lead, but I hath many things which may be of use to thee. Though no furnishings or the sort, I hath a wealth of knowledge at thein disposal and the will of the gods is upon me. I am thine if thou will hath me. If not, I shall be on my way and shall swallow no foul if it is to be." His voice was almost mesmerizing...but honest as the day is long. His manner was as hypnotic as his voice. He turned back to Tak and he studied him more. Where had he seen him?
He pushed back his plate as Dwynn made his way outside. "Whew! I haven't eaten a breakfast like that since b'fore I made Elf friends!" A contented smile was overthrown by a brief frown, and thoughtful silence, as he reflected once again on his life's ebb & flow. Then he looked round the table at his newfound friends, and his mood lightened again. Although he couldn't read each person's inner thoughts, he sensed real concern among the group. Except for this new fellow, DeMorte. His brows knit again as he considered DeMorte. It was obvious DeMorte had an unwholesome influence on some in the group, and _that_ made Sherwood's spine itch, deep down between the shoulder blades where you just couldn't reach. "I believe," he thought, "I'll keep a _close_ eye on that one." Seeing the mask make an appearance, he forced a smile and asked, "DeMorte, what's the story behind your mask there?"
He looked to the man who had asked him of his sacred mask. His thoughts turned to days of past fury for a bit and quickly refocused his manner towards this man called Sherwood. "Tis a mask of mine people's protectorate. A show that one is a warrior priest of Averniaus. I am but one of many." He smiled warmly as he thought of how it might seem to them for a priest of any type to wear something that seemed so fearsome. His smile continued to grow as he looked back towards the curious bard he had come to know at first and how she reacted to his playing. And how he enjoyed her smile as well.
Nodding, he met DeMorte's eyes. "Aye, I know Priests wear something of their God. But this is the first time I've ever met one who wore," smiling, finally, "a mask. As to your question about joining these folk here, I too would leave the final approval to Linna and her companion.
"Well, if you'll excuse me sir, 'tis time to make final preparations." With that Sherwood rose, bowing to the lady, and made his way to the stables.
Garber sighed and pushed his empty plate away from the edge. "My thanks, Hugh," he called to the innkeeper. "That was a fine a breakfast as I've had in a long time." He stood up and grabbed his back from under his seat. "We should get going," he said to the assembly. Waving a jaunty farewell to Hugh, he walked out the door, then paused. He wasn't sure if anyone else besides Dwynn needed to get horses or gear, so he decided to wait outside for everyone else to catch up.
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