The Journey Begins

[Garber]

Garber set his pack in the back of the wagon and stood by it, waiting for DeMorte to come back. He wasn't entirely sure that Ceri had made the right decision in letting him come along. 'Still,' he thought, 'she's right in saying he could be useful. I just hope she's also right about his desire to help us.'
At this point in his ruminations, Melyda joined him by the wagon. "Here's the atlas I told you about," she said, handing him a hardbound book. He flipped through it, scanning each map.
"Yes, this covers the Tyria valley. Hmmm...it looks a little outdated--I know there were more roads than this within the valley when I was there. Still, it's not too bad. How much do you want for it?"
"Keep it," she replied. "It's my contribution to your expedition." Garber smiled his thanks and watched as she walked away for a last word with Linna and Ceridon. Perhaps, when he got back... 'Time enough to think about that when you actually *get* back,' he told himself as he followed her to Linna.
He showed the relevant maps to Linna, tracing the route they needed to take. "The map stops at the edge of the further mountain range, and the village is another two, three days journey into the mountains," he said. "But at that point, there's only one road--or, at least, there was only one when I was there. So we probably don't have to worry. You should keep this with you, in case we get separated." Linna nodded and tucked the book into one of the saddlebags.
[Elwynn]
"All right." Elwynn said at last. "Is everyone here and ready? Last chance to use the privy! Everyone remember everything? Weapons, armour, toothbrushes? Last chance! Very well."
She stepped into the triangle formed by the three crystals and motioned for everyone to do the same. Once this was done, she raised her arms skyward and began the spell.
"I invoke the powers of relativity! Of time and space, which are one and the same. Let the fabric fold to speed us on our journey!"
With that the three crystals began pulsing with energy. Bolts of power shot out of each, outlining a pyramid around the travelers. Elwynn took a deep breath and cried out the last phrase of the spell.
"Bibbity Bobbity Boo!!!!"
There was a flash of light, and everyone within the triangle saw, for a moment, the world around them melt, like a watercolor picture caught in the rain. The colors swirled, whirled, and reformed to present a new picture, then came the sudden perception that they were not where they once were.
SPLASH!
They found themselves standing in cold stream water which reached halfway up their calves. The stream ran from a mountain range which rose up ominously to their west. To the east they could see the stream wind away down into a peaceful looking valley. To the south was a trail which wound along the mountainside before cutting back to the east into the valley. To the north the trail continued into a small town.
"Rasafrats!" Elwynn cried, looking around. "I was trying to get us to Barretsford, that small town over there. It's the gateway to the Black Horn pass over these mountains." She indicated the mountain range to their west. "But we seem to have landed in Barret's Ford, which is of course the ford that the town is named after. My mistake. I apologize for the wet landing."
[Sherwood]
Hearty laughter bubbled out of Sherwood and threatened to engulf them all. "Ms. Elwynn, you _are_ a wonder! You've just saved us a week of travel, landed us in a stream of water (which we should make use of at any rate!), and now you want to apologize? My, my! You are precious. Just remind me, however, not to have you transport us anywhere its cold enough for ice & snow... you may end up setting us down in the middle of a glacier!" His laughter slowly came under control, but the merriment rode his eyes like golden lightening, ready to strike at the least provocation.
[Dwynn]
"Yes!" Dwynn emoted just before he fell facedown into the cold water. He lay still a moment before he got up to let the cold water numb the crazy aftertingle. {It was stronger than most magics I shifted, but it feels like all the prickle of at least an hour compressed to one moment.} Dripping he looked around to see where they were. "Uhm, I hope I didn't interfere with your targeting. So, what about Barretsford? I have a feeling I will return here some day."
[Garber]
Garber, who was driving the wagon, kept a tight hold of the reins as the world melted and reformed around them. He started as he heard the splash, and the horses pranced and plunged a bit as they suddenly found themselves in the middle of cold, running water. He was able to calm them down, though, and let them drink from the stream as Elwynn explained what had happened. 'Magic,' he thought with a roll of his eyes. He shook the reins and guided the horses and wagon out of the stream and onto the path.
[Ceridon/Linna]
Ceridon snorted and danced as the shock of the cold water hit her legs. ::Brrrr,:: she sent privately to Linna as she shook off the disorientation of the transport. ::Let's not do *that* again anytime soon.::
::I agree,:: Linna replied as Ceridon quickly followed Garber and the wagon. She looked back over her shoulder at the others. "Come on, Dwynn," she called cheerfully. "You'll dry out faster if you get moving."
[DeMorte]
There was no pain nor the slightest feel of discomfort in the priest's eyes as the steam rose from his person. It was as if he did not feel the cool and sharp temperature change on him as he went from the warmth of the sun's touch on the air to the chilled waters that they now resided in.
As he moved closer to the river's edge and looked back to the others, he was secretly praying that none about had noticed this lack of reaction from him. He was not ready to explain why or how that was to be. He then turned around and gently touched the earth. His eyes flashed for a moment and several sticks of wood and brush flew to the to a rather abundant pile and settled in one spot near the bank. He then pushed back his cloak from his head, closed his eyes and then kissed the pile with tender lips. As he leaned back, fire erupted from the stock and he said another silent prayer.
He turned back and whispered on the wind, "There is now fire to warm those who wish it." Oddly enough, they all heard it although he barely bid his voice above a whisper. He then lifted up and grasped his metallic staff. He outreached his arms and began to dry off. And he waited...
[Takayoshi T.]
"Please not the Nine Hells, Please not the Nine Hells,.." the ninja thought as he could the powerful magicks swirl about him. "I beg of you, not Nine Hells..."
SPLASH!!!!!
The ninja felt the cold water rushing around him.
"Oh thank the lords," the ninja relieved to say out loud, "it isn't the Nine Hells!"
The ninja jumped for joy, splashing all around him.
As quickly the joy came, a big smile arose, as he stopped the splashing and headed for the dry land.
"Barretsford, Barret's Ford, what difference does it make? As long as we are still in the Prime Material Plane, it doesn't really matter," the ninja kindly commented aloud.
[Elwynn]
"Just so long as it's not the Nine Hells, right Takayoshi?" Elwynn said with a smile. She led her grey mare out of the stream and over to the fire the priest had created.
"Nice pyrotechnics." She said to DeMorte, bowing slightly. "My compliments to your Higher Being."
After giving the group some time to dry themselves by the fire, Elwynn got them organized into a proper marching order. They filed into the town slowly, taking their ease while they could. The town itself was little more than a meeting of two cross roads and a few buildings, including a hotel and a general store and other services. The main industries seemed to be logging and mining. The population was mixed human and dwarven. Many of the townspeople cast suspicious or worried glances at the party as they passed. It has been some time since they had seen any large party of travelers heading for the pass.
"There's not much to offer in this town." Elwynn commented. "I don't think we need to stop for anything. The entrance to the pass is about an hour's ride from here. I suggest we keep moving."
[Ceridon]
Ceridon nodded her now-hornless head. When they had moved away from the fire, she had cast an illusion spell on herself. She now appeared to be a bay mare of good, but not exceptional, quality. ::No need to advertise my presence yet,:: she had sent to everyone by way of explanation.
[Sherwood]
"I heartily agree!" Sherwood gathered Shade's reins in his hand and advanced toward Elwynn. "With your permission, m'lady, I'll be glad to ride ahead. Give me about 15 minute's head start. Listen for the horn. If anything is amiss, I'll give it a good, long blow while I head back down the trail."
He paused to make sure the group agreed with him. While there were no fools in the party, there might still be one or two who would like to come forward with him while they were in relatively safety. This would be a good chance to see what forestry skills they had. He hoped silently to himself that the troupe wasn't overly clumsy and noisy.
As an afterthought, he added, "Should you hear the horn blowing 1 long and 2 short, be sure to hide the wagon beside the trail and wait in ambush."
[Dwynn]
Dwynn was grateful for DeMorte's fire for he was drenched, but he said nothing. "We haven't yet journeyed more than half an hour. We need not tarry.
"Sherwood, I would accompany thee, but my outdoors experience is of the in-town kind and any stealthy endeavour on our part would be annulled by the shod feet of my horse. What say thee and Mistress Elwynn, who has so unassumingly turned the respect due her and our gratitude for the personal involvement of so momentous a persona into effective authority?"
[Elwynn]
The elf maid considered this last statement for a moment, trying to figure out if it was a compliment, a statement, or a veiled insult. At length she shrugged and said, "Well I'm confident that Sherwood can handle things for now. Actually, we probably won't run into any difficulty, at any rate until we reach the pass. Which reminds me, Sherwood, make sure you wait for us at the entrance to the pass. It's marked by a big sign and two brockleberry bushes. You can't miss it. Just wait there until we come up. I don't want anyone going through it by themselves."
[Sherwood]
He paused at Elwynn's remarks. "Aye, I'll wait for you. And I'm honored by your faith in my ability to stay out of trouble," the last tinged ever so slightly with cynicism. "But just to satisfy my curiosity, is there any particular reason why I need to wait for the 'Thundering herd'?" A genuine smile followed up this question, and he leaned back into his saddle like he had all day to hear the reply.
[Elwynn]
"Oh it's much more for our sake than yours, really." Elwynn said. "The first part of the pass, the incline, is particularly difficult and I think we shall have to take turns helping the wagon up, that is if we don't want to tire our mounts. The incline is actually more or less straight, anyways, with sparse cover and very steep sides. It's not well-suited for an ambush. Then there's a resting place up top, and then a winding path down with lots of rocky terrain. If someone is going to try and lay for us it will be there, so you two can move back ahead and scout after we've left the summit. Does that seem sensible?"
[Sherwood]
"Aye, m'Lady, that's sensible," he replied to Elwynn. His smile was genuine this time, as he admitted, "In fact, its more sensible a reason than I expected." He looked at the Elven woman with a bit of respect, and nodded as well.
[Garber]
"Sounds good to me," Garber replied. He paused a moment, thinking back to his travels through this land. "Even with the wagon, we should make it through the pass today. After that, it'll take about three days to cross the valley, then another two or three days into the mountains to our destination. Of course, that's assuming there are no delays, which I rather doubt we can count on. Still, it shouldn't take much longer than a week to get there."
He looked around and decided to continue with a short lecture while everyone was still there. "The valley itself is heavily forested, mainly by pines and firs. It's pretty sparsely populated--the only sizable village is Tyria, which we should reach on the second day. The main industries are logging, hunting, and tanning. There is some mining on the fringes of the valley, but the better mines are on this side of the mountains. There's plenty of wildlife in the forests--birds, small mammals, as well as deer and elk. The largest predators are wolves in the valley and pumas in the mountains. Anything else you want to know?" he finished with a grin.
[Dwynn]
"So Sherwood, why don't you show me how to sneak around on horseback through the country. Trees never seem to have any corners and while we're at it you can tell me what a brockleberry bush looks like." So saying Dwynn gave Elwynn a quick nod of respect, gave Linna a wink and rode off to follow Sherwood.
[Linna]
"I think that'll do us for now," Linna replied with a smile. She and Ceridon took their place behind the wagon, with Brea and Takayoshi behind them. DeMorte, after a moment's pause, walked to the side of the wagon near Garber. Garber clucked and shook the reins, and the party began their journey to the pass at an easy pace.
[Sherwood]
As they rode off together, Sherwood began a discussion of the color 'green'. "The shade varies from near black to almost yellow and near to blue. The plant we're looking for lies between that of a water lily and a blue spruce." More details follow, followed by, "...and the color, along with the distinctive fan pattern of the leaves, marks the brockleberry bush. Well, that and the 2-inch, poison-tipped nettles that adorn its stem." The ornery smile which crossed his face at that point was difficult to interpret.
[Dwynn]
"Alright, we are out of hearing distance now. So you can stop chatting up the bush and tell me why we are really here." Dwynn said with a fake grin. "I suppose you are in charge at least until we reach the pass. But who do you think will be when we reunite with the others?"
[Sherwood]
A quizzical expression planted itself squarely in the middle of Sherwood's face at Dwynn's question. "Do you mean leadership of our 2-man party? Or leadership of the _entire_ party? As far as the two of us goes, I'm willing to lead us to the pass, but only because I seem to have more outdoor experience. If you mean of the whole party, I do not," once again a smile crossed his lips, "lead the group. That seems, at this point, to be Elwynn's job. As it should be. She seems to be the eldest, and has the entire wisdom of the elven race to uphold her."
[Dwynn]
"Exactly and I'd like it to stay that way. That's all."
[Sherwood]
Once again a questioning expression crossed his face, "But if you mean why are we out ahead of the group...?" he paused, inhaled, sighed, checked the trail, then continued, "The REAL reason we're out ahead of them is because I like travelling apart."
He ducked his head, clucked to Shade, and tapped the mount's withers to get up a little more speed. "If we don't push our mounts for a couple minutes, our head start won't amount to more than a few hundred yards."
[Dwynn]
"I like to be alone and on the prowl once in a while too. I'll race you to that tree, just left of the road." saying that he set spurs to his horse and galloped off in that direction.
[Sherwood]
Without a word, Shade's flanks feel Sherwood's heels as the body in the saddle tenses to absorb sudden acceleration. Even though Dwynn begins with a body- length head start, the short 1/2-mile dash to the tree Dwynn pointed out ends dead even. As they bring their mounts up short, Sherwood is smiling, but cautions, "If you do something reckless like that and stir up unexpected trouble, you had better not plan on me bailing you out." Sherwood, still smiling, winks at Dwynn. "I'm glad you still feel young enough to race about, though -- I enjoy fun m'self.... when it's not dangerous."
[Dwynn]
"Thanks." Dwynn smiles back sarcastically. "It's good to have friends again. We should have put enough distance between us and them. So let's keep our eyes open and see what's ahead. Show me how to scout around the country." So saying he fell silent and became intently aware of his surroundings while appearing lazy and indifferent.
[Sherwood]
"Good enough, Friend Dwynn. Today's first 'lesson' assumes we are travelling on an established path. We need to order our awareness," Sherwood suddenly sat up straight in his saddle, fighting the oncoming attack of a smile and adopting the tone of a school marm, "thusly:
"First and most important, stay vigilant within the distance 5-50 yards ahead. Most attacks will come from within that distance, therefore it is the most important.
"Next, notice that game paths intersect our trail. Examine _each_one_ briefly for signs of something other than game using it. After all, the game use the game trails precisely because they are the easiest way to travel between two places. Intelligent demi-humans (orcs, goblins, etc.) will tend to use them as well.
"Easy to say, but difficult to do, watch for things out of place. Snagged clothing, food wraps, and discarded or broken pieces of equipment are just a few examples of 'man-made' items. But also be aware, especially at greater distances, of animal sign: too much & not enough; unusual quiet; startled and/or loud birds; running animals of all sizes; sounds are important too. This list is endless, and is best described as simply knowing 'that which _doesn't_ belong here'.
"Intense attention to details while living in an area a couple years can teach you enough that you can walk up to the local animals without spooking them. Lack of that attention gains you an arrow in the gullet from the first orc patrol that passes through."
The nasal recitation complete, Sherwood finally let the crooked grin beat back his defenses. He relaxed once more into his saddle, while his eyes began scanning the trail in earnest.

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