Black Horn Pass

[Narration]

With such conversation, it wasn't long before they reached the entrance to the pass. The path there had been pleasant and peaceful, with no sign of trouble other than a general air of disuse. They emerged from the forest into a small open plain. At the other end, the mountains rose abruptly, sheer and rocky. A few precarious paths led to the gaping mouths of mine shafts, but no one appeared to be aboveground. The only things moving were two or three hawks soaring far above.
The main road climbed up to a gap in the mountains a few hundred feet above their present location. The road was steep, and was still muddy from recent rains. Sherwood scanned it, looking for possible trouble spots for the wagon. It would take some time, but the ascent would probably not be terribly difficult.
While they waited, Sherwood and Dwynn chatted some more about traveling in the wilderness--what to look for, how to survive. About half an hour later, the rest caught up with them.
Garber looked up and nodded, as if confirming the reality with his memories. He tied the reins to a leg of the wagon seat and swung down. "The rest of you should dismount," he said. "That will save your mounts--and Ceridon--some trouble." He bowed and smiled at Ceri and Linna. Linna smiled back and slipped off Ceri, walking up to help keep an eye on the wagon.
They crossed the plain and started the climb. The track was still somewhat slippery, but the bright sunshine was helping to dry it quickly. With everyone pitching in--leading horses, guiding the wagon--it only took a couple of hours to reach the top of the pass.
[Garber]
Garber paused at the top, shading his eyes and scanning the valley below. The road wound down through rocks and scrub, by cliffs and drop-offs, and eventually disappeared into the trees. Some distance off, a bit of hearth smoke was rising. "That's where Tyria is," he said to the others, pointing out the smoke. "And in the distance, you can just see the mountain range that contains our destination." He fell silent, letting the others take in the sight.
[Sherwood]
He gave Elwynn a respectful, yet sidelong glance as he led Shade up to her. "Miss Elwynn, do you have any special instructions for Garber & me? If not, it's about time to for us to head on down the mountain. Or, as the prophets say," smiling around the syllables, Sherwood continued, "make straight the way of the Lord... in our case, the way of the wagon."
[Takayoshi T.]
The ninja didn't say much during the travels. Only commenting once in a while on how nice it is to get out and to be one with nature. Yet, he also despised himself for not bringing his mount, as courser stone horse. Nevertheless, he did and has been enjoying his companions along the way.
"More mountains, go fig," the ninja commented out loud to himself, and then to the others, "So where do go, over through the mines or through them?!? Personally I would over the mountains, because there are a lot of nasty creatures that live in them!"
[Garber]
Garber grinned at Takayoshi. "Oh, we'll go through the mountains. There aren't many mines on that side of the valley, though there are a few natural caves."
[Breannyn]
Brea looked off into the distance with eyes round in awe. It wasn't so much that she hadn't seen anything much like what lay before them, she had traveled all her life and had seen a great deal. It was just that she was always and forever amazed at the grandeur of nature. She began to wish she had the time to sit and draw the pass for a bit, but she knew that their momentary stop was just that...momentary.
She glanced over to Takayoshi with a bit of wonder. He seemed to be in much higher spirits ever since the river, which surprised her more perhaps because she felt utterly miserable.
[DeMorte]
He slowly took in the events of the past few days. The sights that he saw and conversation witnessed had been nothing in the way of new, but more of refreshing. He didn't add much to any of the endless speech, but observed. He looked on as they chatted about color and the lay of the land. He often smiled at the banter from the friends, but he hardly spoke otherwise.
As they neared their destination, his eyes followed the trail to gaze at the open road. His thoughts were not really on the task at hand, but riddled with the past. He never forgot the joy he had with his home. Nor the sorrow he had as he left under the circumstances he did. How would the others feel if they knew of Averniaus? That his clan was often heralded as heretic and that their religious beliefs were often shunned by everyone but the people who called it home. He had often wondered if anyone ever looked to his people with open eyes rather than a closed heart. He never received an answer. Only more to question.
He quickly dismissed the thoughts roaming within his mind, thinking that there may be some who may not allow his mind to be left alone and have a stray listener within then. He slowly watched as Breanynn's face showed that she was not in good spirits. He shook his head, smiled and leaned closer to her. "One so fair should not wear so displeased a face." His words were still with the same hypnotic like manner as before, only this time it seemed more...soothing. Almost as if he reached inside her and pulled at the purist thoughts of happiness within her.
His genuine smile reached her and his words also continued their bizarre affect. It nearly began to do much the same with the others as well. "We have much to do I would assume. And there is one here who is in need of us, but we must never lose who we are within. And thou hath a stern manner, as well a pure spirit. Ne'er lose that. It will help guide thee in the coming years."
[Dwynn]
Dwynn walked over to Linna and gently took her hand savouring first the expectation and then the actual feeling of her warm hand. {It's all new again. And so much more exciting the first time.} Guiding her eyes towards the panoramic view he whispered, "Does so marvelous a sight not please my Lady?"
[Linna]
Linna blushed as Dwynn took her hand, but she left it in his possession. "It is beautiful," she replied consideringly. "But looks can be deceiving. There seems to be a brooding feeling to it. I think we'll have to be careful down there."
'The brooding isn't all from the valley, though,' she thought to herself. The bond between her and Ceridon was fairly humming with it, and she could feel Ceri's eyes boring into her back. What was wrong with her?
[Elwynn]
The elf-maid scanned the distance with her elvish eyes.
"Eww! There's an orc picking his nose about forty miles to the southwest. Well, he can't do us any harm over there."
She dismounted and said, "I think that this would be a decent spot to take a bit of a provision break. Just a light snack and a bit of a rest before we continue. There aren't any good resting places after this until we reach the end of the pass."
She grabbed her water bottle and took a long sip. "There's a fresh spring just around the rocks over there." She said, pointing to a large pile of boulders on their left. "We might want to refill our waterskins before we go on. Any volunteers?"
[Linna]
"I'll do it," Linna said quickly. She felt she had to do *something* to break the tension of the moment. She grabbed a few half-empty waterskins and brought them over to the boulders.
[Dwynn]
Momentarily disappointed, Dwynn turned to give Ceridon a long considering look. {Is she trying to interfere? Trying not to? Linna probably picks up her feelings in any case. Whatever they may be.} He decided not to say anything, collected any leftover containers and went to help Linna.
"Alas, that something as ephemeral as an oppressive atmosphere should deny us a lovely moment's fair viewing. Trouble will be ours soon enough, miss Elwynn espied an orc and though he is not in our path he is not likely alone either." So saying he filled the bottles and watched for her reaction.
[Linna]
"Aye, I suppose I shouldn't be borrowing trouble before it comes," she replied with a smile. "And I certainly won't mind having a meal with such a view." She closed the last of the full waterskins and brought them back to the wagon.
[Elwynn]
The elf-maid had moved over to the wagon and was distributing sandwiches to the rest of the party. "I had these made up special. We have turkey, ham, chicken, and veggie burgers. My, what a lovely view!"
As the food was handed out, Elwynn sat on a rock and munched on her sandwich, gazing down at the farmland below. "That little orc is gone," she said casually. "I don't see much of anything else. There's a few birds circling off in the distance, but I can't tell what they are. Some traffic on the road we're going to use but not a lot of it." Looking back at Ceri, she said, "Ceri is there anything we can get you?"
[DeMorte]
He smiled to the maid handing out the food. As she slowly neared him with the sandwich she had, his gloved hand moved out to meet hers. Gently retrieving one of them and smiling in turn back. He lowered his cloak and looked to the others. There seemed to be a great amount of history between them all. And yet the one he had was not one he wished shared, at least not yet. He did not remove his mask, but he did bite down into the morsel of food he was given. He chewed slowly... matching the others who ate with his movements. And also swallowed in tune with each one's manner. He always kept his head low to keep his motions secretive and elusive. As well he always looked over to the unicorn that first invaded his thoughts, as if to see if she would do so again.
[Ceridon]
::No, thanks. I'll be all right,:: she sent to all of them. That was a *bit* of a lie, as she was starting to get hungry. But the scrubby grass up there wasn't very appetizing, and she was still somewhat shy of eating in front of others. She also had some serious thinking to do, so she moved away from the others a bit and stared out across the valley.
'What's wrong with you?' she asked herself, thinking back to her reaction when Dwynn took Linna's hand. 'Could it be I'm jealous? But why? I'm not attracted to him--I hardly *know* him.' She ranged through her thoughts and feelings, trying to track down the source of this disturbing emotion, until a touch on her shoulder started her back to the present.
"We're ready to leave," Linna said softly. Ceri nodded and looked around. Garber was in the wagon, one hand on the reins and one on the brake, ready to ease it down the trail. The others were grouped around it, leading horses or standing by to help with the wagon. Ceri and Linna joined them and began the downward journey to the valley.
They wound their way through the rocks and cliffs, carefully keeping the wagon away from the dropoffs that occasionally lined the trail. Ceri looked down one, seeing the tops of trees at a dizzying distance below them. Still, the chilly, pine-scented air was invigorating, and she found her spirits lifting.
They didn't stay lifted for long, though. As they came to a tricky part of the path-- cliff on one side, sheer dropoff on the other, and a narrow trail between--she heard a rattle above them. She looked up, and sensed more than saw the weight of rocks shifting, starting to fall down the cliffside to bury them.
::Look out!:: she mind-yelled at everyone, as the rumble of the falling rocks grew to very audible proportions. She aimed her horn at the first rock she saw and, with a toss of head and magic, sent it flying over them to crash down into the trees far below. She did it again, but the third rock she used that technique on crashed into another one, sending it flying at Sherwood.
[Sherwood]
The talk of Orcs in the neighborhood had Sherwood pushing his eyes to the utmost, trying to discern its intention. He knew better, of course. No merely human eyes could see as well as any elf, especially not one in her prime. He strained, though, even past the point of hearing some gawd-awful noise beginning to rain down on him. A bit belatedly he smiled, and as he fell off Shade his last thought was, "And Schellerinly never thought I could maintain my concentration."
[Linna]
Linna gasped as Sherwood was knocked out of his saddle by the rock and sent rolling toward the edge of the path. Quickly, she reached out a mental hand and grabbed the lip of the earth nearby, yanking it upward like a rug. She curled it up and over, keeping Sherwood from rolling over the dropoff. Once he was safe, she replaced the lip of earth and turned around, ready to help Ceridon in her efforts to deflect the rocks.
[Dwynn]
At the mental shout Dwynn took one quick look in the direction of the rumbling crescendo. He could see only disaster. Piles of rocks half-seen through clouds of dust tumbling down. Hardly any cover and nowhere to go. He considered jumping under the wagon, but it did not seem enough protection if one of the bigger rocks hit. "Flat against the wall!" he yelled as he kicked his horse in the direction of safety, drew his large axe and took his own advice. Of those closest to him Ceridon seemed well able to handle herself. Linna was saving Sherwood from certain death at the bottom of the cliff, but in the effort appeared not to notice the bolder about to knock her out. Using the axe like a hammer he jumped towards her and deflected the rock over the edge. Coming down he grabbed hold of Sherwood and rolled both of them towards the rockface. All in all he was lucky that only one rock hit him in the head before they took what little cover there was.
[DeMorte]
He looked up at the noise he heard and winced slightly at the impending danger. 'Damn, not now. They know not this of me,' kept creeping within his thoughts that they could almost be heard aloud. He instinctively raised his arms out and held firmly his metal staff up towards the rubble that was coming closer to them. His eyes closed slightly and a small prayer was uttered that was barely audible to any near him, yet the harmony of the voice was more hypnotic than ever before. Wind suddenly gusted hard up the base of the cliff and held back some of the fallen debris, but it came a bit too late as some of the rocks collided hard with the group, a few hitting the priest hard and knocking him from the trail.
[Elwynn]
When the rockslide hit, Elwynn had been sitting astride her horse, munching on an apple. She was barely able to get a shield up to partially cover the wagon when she was forced to abandon her mount. A large rock sent her diving off the horse and over the cliff. She managed to utter the command words for 'featherfall', which slowed her descent but still made her a target for the rocks that were coming down off the mountain. Finding a convenient ledge, she adjusted the arc of her fall to land on it and huddled against the cliff as the rockslide subsided.
[Ceridon]
Ceri heaved a mental sigh of relief as she saw Linna's rescue of Sherwood. She was startled when a strong gust of wind blew up the side of the cliff, holding back some of the rocks. 'Where did that come from?' she wondered.
::Ceri! Link and shield!:: came the quick thought from Linna.
Ceri hesitated a second, worried that she might make another mistake in her actions. But she realized that inaction would be even worse, so she opened her mind to Linna. Together, their minds took the wind and swirled it around the group members who were still on the trail. Under their magical direction, the air solidified, shielding them from the last of the rockslide. Once the rattle and crash of falling debris had stopped, they carefully dissolved the shield, making sure the rocks that had piled up against the shield stayed on the edge of the path.

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