His eyes slowly opened and the light from the sun hit them as he awakened. He blinked instinctively and sat up straight. As he looked around, he noticed that they had begun to move once more. He frowned a bit and looked over to Linna and Ceri. He didn't know how long he had been unconscious. But it didn't frighten him to whether he was harmed or not. Only that they might have been inside his thoughts, his memories. Places no one but he had ever been. And now, he was afraid that they had found out some of his secrets. He looked down to his bound wounds and looked more inside his cloak. The sage was gone. Not even one strand had kept in place. A soft sigh escaped his lips as he looked out over at the trail they were now following. He knew he was hurt and that any sudden moves he made could reopen the wounds he had. He looked back to Brea and Linna. They seemed to be well enough. Sher would survive. The others would be fine as well. His hands raised to his cloak and he pulled it heavily over his face to hide his discontent. He felt alone once more...and he did not know if he should be here among the living with a heart that was slowly dying inside. His hidden face only mirrored slightly what he felt inside. Desolation...and loneliness.
Ceri sighed as she paced carefully down the trail. She tried to keep alert for any more danger, but it was hard to keep from dwelling on what had just happened. Only half a day on the road, and already three people with serious injuries. And who knew what might be ahead of them?
With some trepidation, she opened her empathic senses a bit, trying to feel the tenor of the group. Elwynn was certainly composed, but Ceri guessed that she was always rather imperturbable. Takayoshi and Brea were shaken, but that was understandable. Sherwood and Dwynn seemed to be asleep. And DeMorte...Ceri was surprised to feel the depths of his depression. It seemed to be more than just his injuries. 'I'll have to talk to him when we camp,' she thought as they continued their descent to the valley floor.
Brea watched the back of the wagon as they moved down the path once again, keeping an eye on the three injured men. Suddenly a tune popped into her head and she began to wish she'd brought her old guitar. Then remembering something she'd picked up just before entering Montfort, she began to frantically check her pockets. Finally she found what she was looking for and pulled out a small silver harmonica. Then, placing the slightly tarnished instrument to her lips she began to play a soft, soothing tune. Her mother had played it for her once when she was a child to sooth her fears after a terrible nightmare, and she thought perhaps...just perhaps...it might help to sooth the men in the wagon.
The oriental heard Breannyn's music, bluesy yet uplifting. He'd heard that kind of instrument before, being played by his good friend King Rose. However, this was more soothing than his elven friend's was.
"Do you really think the Orcs caused that landslide?" the oriental queried upon Elwynn, "Personally I think they did, those fricking animals are quite territorial, you know."
He paused, waiting for a reply.
"I just think we should keep our eyes open and weapons handy, just in case..." the oriental paused, and looked over at the elf maid, and sighed.
"...just in case," he thought to himself.
Asleep, Sherwood's anonymous dreams began to be woven by Brea's melody into a pattern of dancers whirling through a mist-shrouded room. But the image wasn't typical of most dreams -- the dancers were gay, and dressed in bright colors. All in all it produced a wonderful, uplifting feeling, and his heart beat just a little quicker with the exertions of the dance in his dream. He turned and saw a beautiful young woman, dressed in a gown woven in a spider web-like fashion. Oddly, a horn growing out from her forehead seemed to belong there, and drew no special attention from anyone.
"I agree with you, Takayoshi-san." Elwynn said. "The landslide could have been natural, but where there's one orc, there's probably at least a tribe of about thirty."
The elf-maid led the party down through the pass until at last the road leveled out into foothills and gentle slopes. The rocky ground gave way to grassy hillocks dotted with copses of trees and woods. At length the path widened to a hard packed dirt rode, and for another couple of hours they rode without incident. The road led them to a steep rise which led down a gentle slope. Before them they could see the countryside for miles ahead.
"This is not good." Elwynn said.
Far ahead of them they could see what appeared to be a trail of devastation which cut directly across the road. From their right to their left they could see the ground had been trampled, trees had been cut and left lying on the ground, farmland had been burned, and other mayhem had been inflicted upon both natural and artificial structures. The path of destruction was narrow but definite, cutting right across the road and terminating in the distance to the left of their view. At the terminus of the swath of wreckage they could see a plume of foul black smoke rising slowly into the air.
"Orcs." Elwynn said. "Must have been hiding in the forest earlier. I'd say from the trail maybe a small band, about a dozen or so. The guy I saw must have been a scout or something."
"Still, I don't think we're in any shape to handle even a dozen," Garber said, feeling more than a bit apprehensive. "We should push on as far as we can today. Hopefully they'll be too busy having fun to notice us."
"True, but you can never know when we will be invited to their party," the calculating oriental commented as he stared at the far reaching cloud of smoke and the orc tribe.
He looked back at the wagon and his injured comrades.
"IF they do ask, I'll give them a party that they will never forget, but in the meantime, I hate to be a crasher. If you get my drift," the silent killer smiled with bloodlust and continued, "however, you are right Garber, we should avoid them at all costs, BUT we should still be ready IF anything happens, especially at night. In the meantime, we should steer clear from them."
"As much as I would love to get some practice in on them, my comrades need me by their side," the killer thought to himself as his bloodlust faded away, "need to protect Brea, Linna, Ceridon, Garber, Dwynn, and DeMorte." His smile disappeared and was quickly replaced with a serious one.
Brea's dark green eyes followed the spiral of the dark smoke as it rose into the air, then turned back to those in the wagon. She stopped playing them for a moment and tested the air. She sighed slightly with relief when she found the slight breeze was actually blowing away from the point of destruction before them. It wouldn't do them any good to have the orcs hearing her music floating to them on the wind...or the sound of their voices for that matter. At least with the wind going the way it was...their party should hear the orcs before the orcs heard them...a VERY good thing. She returned to her playing, but softened the sound a bit and turned the tune to something a bit more cheerful... AND she began to pay VERY close attention to the direction of the wind.
"Very well." Elwynn said. "Normally I'd drop some napalm on the little squeakers, but that takes time and effort and petrochemicals. We'll camp on the reverse side of this slope. That way we can keep an eye on their progress. No fire tonight, I'm afraid, although I might be able to heat up a few rocks to warm up our supper."
They set up camp and took turns keeping the orcs under observation. Elwynn stepped into the wagon to check on the wounded while the others pitched the tents.
"How are we all feeling?" she asked, to nobody in particular.
He listened silently to the melody that Brea had been returning to the air. 'This one hath potential for great wind works...' he thought to himself. His people knew much of the wind and its many uses. And the first lesson is the power of the voice. He also heard the words Elwynn had spoken and nodded his condition slightly in a silent response.
He shook his head slightly as he dismissed the thoughts he had of her abilities for a moment as he looked to the lining of his cloak. The sage was no more, and they were not close enough to a town to trace down more. He had figured the need would be great soon. 'Why taketh a chance?' he whispered in his thoughts.
The priest slowly took off his silver mask and placed it neatly on the ground next to his cloak and his silver battle staff. He then lifted up slowly and bowed slightly to Brea and Ceri. "I shall taketh my leave for an hour. I shall return soon. Should thou needeth me, I shall be here when called."
He then walked into the brush behind the small band of misfits and followed the path to a nearby stream of clear mountain spring. His eyes scanned the area for anyone and listened with his keen ears. No one was around and it seemed as no one had followed. He slowly pealed away his torn battle gear and exposed his bared skin to the air. He lost track of time as he leaned into the water and bathed away the smells that had acquired from the travels he had commenced upon. He wished he could get his mind off of his past, but he couldn't. He was so used to being alone that he barely remembered what it was like to have friends. And now, he was in a group that needed more than his strength, they may need direction.
He continued washing as he thought of these people. He did not like that his thoughts and memories he had deep within him. The desolation had become even more dramatic as he looked down into the water to gaze at his reflection. He saw the sorrow in his eyes. And he did the only thing he could... he smiled.
Ceri watched as DeMorte walked away into the brush. She wondered if he should be up and about so soon, but decided that he must know what he was doing. ::I'm all right,:: she replied to Elwynn's question. ::In fact, if you could get Sherwood out of the wagon, I'll give him another healing session.:: She watched as Garber and Takayoshi carefully lifted him out and set him on a blanket.
Roused by Takayoshi and Garber's gentle handling from his unusual dream, he smiled at his pals. "Hi, Garber. What's new?" With the explanation that Ceridon was to heal him some more, he tried to protest. "But look here, my arm's almost completely healed!" He began to stand in order to swing the recently healed arm about in demonstration, and nearly fell over. Embarrassed, with a glance toward the Unicorn he offered, "Ummm, maybe if you could do something to this bump on my head?" As Ceri approached, his face reddened, though not, apparently, from pain or effort. He muttered, "At least I'm not seeing double any more."
A few moments of work, and she stepped back with a satisfied air. ::You'll be sore for a while, Sherwood, but that arm should be usable now. A good night's rest should clear up the last of your concussion, too. And now if you'll all excuse me, I'm feeling more than a little hungry.:: She walked a little ways out of sight, found a small, grass-filled clearing, and settled down to her meal.
She kept a light touch on Linna's mind as the rest set up camp. Even with Elwynn's efforts, the conversation was desultory and the mood somber. ::We really need to cheer ourselves up a bit,:: she sent privately to Linna.
::We should tell them about some of the things that happened on our trip to Montfort,:: Linna replied with a chuckle. ::Do you want to tell it, or shall I?::
::You do it,:: Ceri sent as she paced back to the camp. ::You're a better story-teller.::
Linna looked around at the group and agreed with Ceri's assessment. They had things to discuss, but it would be better to do so in a more constructive frame of mind. "Let me tell you about something that happened on our trip to Montfort," she said, gathering everyone's attention as Ceri joined them.
"This happened in a city called Jopha, which lies about halfway between Thracia and Montfort. It was a rather large place--it was the largest city we saw until we got to Montfort--and it was evidently very prosperous. The houses were large and well built; everyone we saw was richly dressed--even the servants had elaborate uniforms of cotton and wool. And into that we came--me in a simple linen dress, and Ceri spelled to look like a spavined old mare. Oh, the looks we got! And the whispers that followed us!"
::"Country bumpkin" was the *best* thing they called her,:: Ceri interjected.
"I went into a couple of taverns to try to get some supplies, but the prices were *outrageous,*" Linna continued. "And the tavern keepers were just a rude as the other townspeople. We decided rather quickly to move on and buy the supplies elsewhere. But just as I was mounting up, Ceri's illusion spell failed, and I ended up sitting on a unicorn.
"When the townspeople saw that, they went *crazy!* They flocked around, singing and chanting. Some were crying and asking for our blessing. And *everyone* wanted to touch Ceri."
::And Linna, though her appearance hadn't changed by a hair, went from "country bumpkin" to "avatar of the god."::
Linna rolled her eyes and grinned ruefully. "It turns out that, in the prevailing religion of that area, the god's avatars and angels all ride unicorns. We found that out later, of course.
"So there we were, surrounded by people ready to escort us to their temple in a joyous precession. And we knew it would only be a matter of time before they started asking for miracles." Linna sighed with remembered exasperation. "It wasn't easy, but I managed to convince them that we were on an important, holy mission, and we really couldn't stay. But before they let us go, they loaded us down with offerings--garlands of flowers, bottles of perfume and incense--"
::No food, though. Avatars, of course, do not eat.:: Ceri's mental voice was acerbic.
"No money, either, which would have been more useful to us. We managed to get to the edge of town before they turned us into a walking flower garden. But before we made our escape, I did give them one piece of advice." Linna smiled modestly. "'Show compassion for those less fortunate than you. You never know when you'll help an angel unawares.'"
Linna heard a chuckle from Garber. "What did you do with your offerings?" he asked.
"The flowers, we dumped in the woods," she replied. "We hated to do it, but there really wasn't much else we *could* have done with them. We sold the incense and perfume, and either bought supplies or gave some money to the poor. Though if we'd known we were going to acquire so many followers, we'd have kept more of it," Linna finished teasingly.
The oriental listened randomly to the girls' story, as he thought about his friends back home, and how the situation with the drow elves continuously got worse.
"Must find some allies or find some weapon that could help us in our aid against the drow. Furthermore, Axl is back home without my protection!...Who am I kidding, Axl can take care of himself, the darned elf is a ranger for crying out. I am still surprised on how he won the tournament, and took the hand of Guinevere!" the oriental laughed to himself and slowly shook his with a big smile on his face, "And his son Prince Phaeton, what in the Nine Hells has gotten in to him lately. Granted, he is a good fighter (a Cavalier!) and all, but his arrogant attitude has got to go."
King Rose's Personal Bodyguard looked up at his travelling companions.
"First this was a vacation, and now it has turned into an adventure," the oriental said out loud, "that is how I ended up here. Not much has happened to me and my friends back."
He paused, "Of course, that not true, I am here because of two things. One, I wanted a long needed vacation, and two, I am on a mission to find any advantage my world and my friend's kingdom can use in our insuing war with the drow!
"It all started about ten years ago when my friends and I followed and found a powerful relic called the Hand of Morlac. You see the relic was powerful enough to allow ANY magic user to cast ANY spell from memory at will. However, the relic was stolen at first by a powerful wizard, comparable to you, Elwynn, if not more, named Grendel Sindaryo. Of course, that was not all, his BOSS was an unknown Lich with an unknown name. Obviously, a battle erupted and both Grendel and the Lich died. Of course we had a lot of help with from a Charm of Favor, that an old Martial Arts companion of mine had."
He looked around at the eyes of his companions, and continued.
"Anyway, after we destroyed the Lich, we came back and realized that King Rose's wife and son had been kidnapped. It took us at least a year to find them. When we did, we also stumbled upon the royal families of half the world, all stuck in suspended animation. To make matters worse, they knew where were coming. So as we arrived we were MAGICALLY brought in to this huge chamber with all the royal families.
"We were then forced to witness 5 drow High Priests/Wizards and one high elven Wizard (all powerful mind you) using a Combine spell along with a Gate spell. They wanted to open up a realm to bring about the Son of the Devil. For some reason, Oklan, a paladin friend of mine, came loose from his magical hold, and with another Charm of Favor, he called upon his Christian God.
"The God destroyed the portal and sent the Devil's son back to Hell. He then let King Rose realized that High elven priest was his brother, and in rage and hatred the King killed him. To make a long story short, the other High Priests died by our hands, and with that the world was saved from their evil."
Takayoshi looked around to see if anyone fell asleep, upon seeing no one, he continued.
"More recently, we found out that many kingdoms started to have plagues and famine. So we all set out ask the Delphic Oracle three questions, however we had to pass its three tests. Luckily, we all passed, and asked our three questions.
"We found out that our man Grendel was ALIVE! and better yet we knew from our other two questions how and where he was. It turned out that a High Drow Priestess resurrected him and let him stay in her city Lolthianu. Imagine, roughly 3 million+ drow in ONE city. Nevertheless, I headed a small party into the city and its temple, and we took out both Grendel AND the High Priestess!
"Our guess was that one of the High Priestess's henchman figured out it was us. Because the next night, many of our mountain villages were burned to the ground. Thus, war was informally declared, and THAT is the main reason for me coming to Montfort, and the Dragon's Inn."
He stopped and listened to the night. Faint sounds could be heard in the distance.
"The Orcs are at it again," the oriental said out loud, "If you don't mind Elwynn, I'll take the first watch tonight?"
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