The elf maid had been directing Takayoshi and Breannyn in the gathering of five large boulders, which she had them place near the center of camp.
"That will do nicely." She said as the last boulder was placed. "Now step back everyone. A little further if you please...that should be fine."
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment as if clearing her thoughts, then opened them and stared at the nearest rock. Taking up her staff, she aimed it carefully at the boulder and uttered a word of command. The rock seemed to tremble for a moment before it suddenly exploded in a shower of dust and pebbles.
"Too much." Elywnn said. "Better use the number 3 staff instead." She pulled a smaller, thinner wizard staff from her hat and repeated the process. This time, the rock gradually heated until it became nearly molten. Shifting the staff from rock to rock, Elwynn warmed each of them in turn.
"There!" She said in satisfaction. "That should give us enough warmth for the night, and something to cook on. Which reminds me. Does anyone know any good campfire dishes?"
He had laughed at Linna's story, and then heard Takayoshi's recount with an occasional frown. But when offered a chance to help the group, he finally spoke up, "Elwynn, if you want something hot _or_ cold to taste good from under the wide open skies, you simply have to talk to a ranger!" His ready grin, lacking since the rockslide, tried to make a reappearance. "I offer my services, though I'll have to ask for some help on the "fetching & carrying" part of the meal preparation." He launched into a description on how to make almost any edible tuber taste like cinnamon candy. "Of course," he continued, "you have to have the cinnamon with you! Garber, if you get into my pack, you'll find a waterproof roll of pouches near the bottom. Bring them over, please?" When the spices arrived, Sherwood began sorting through them; their smell lazed heavily through the campsite, alternately reminiscent of mint, cinnamon, paprika, and curry. "Does anyone have a favorite flavor they'd like for me to try to duplicate?"
He slowly rose from the water after he saw the sun fall slowly into the night. He looked down at his wounds and redressed them carefully. He wasn't very keen on the idea of returning to the group. Surely they would have questions. How could they not?
No need in worrying about that now though. He shook his head slightly and began to dress carefully so as not to reopen the injuries he received earlier. He then looked over towards where the others had built a fire. As he slowly walked over to them, he had noticed the preparations of food. He knew he was hungry. He had not eaten in days. Though it was only through sheer habit that he knew so.
He walked past the others and sat beside Ceri. He didn't know why he did that. He had no clue as to why he even chose her at all to be near. The ability she and apparently the others shared to reach within people's thoughts bothered him greatly. But he felt he had to do so. He didn't question it. He only did what was in his nature to do. He smiled.
Ceridon, after a nod to DeMorte, went back to the clearing as the others prepared their meal. She also felt more comfortable about going to the stream for a drink, with DeMorte back with the others. The day's activities had famished her, but she still wasn't ready to eat in front of the others. Her appearance and her magical abilities lent an otherworldliness to her aspect in the eyes of others. But Ceri was afraid that seeing her in the common activities of eating--and excreting, she thought wryly as she did just that-- would make her condition seem more permanent and natural to the others. That was an attitude she did *not* want them to have.
When Linna told her their meal was almost done, she came back to the camp and settled down, flanked by Linna and DeMorte.
::First of all,:: she sent to them all, ::I want to tell you how sorry I am about what happened. I never envisioned that this journey would be so dangerous. If any of you want to go back, I'll understand.::
Brea sighed, then looked directly at Ceridon. "Go back? Why 'n Ifreann would we want ta?" She blinked, pausing a moment as she felt eyes turn towards her. "I'm not sure if I speak fer the others 'r not, but I'm sure most o' us...if not all o' us...knew the dangers b'fore we agreed ta go wi' ye." She didn't look around to see if any agreed or not, but set her jaw firmly and continued to look directly at Ceridon. "I fer one...am wi' ye till the end o' this. Be there danger or no. An' it isn't like ye were th'one ta make the rockslide, so ye shouldn't be apologizin' fer it." Her eyes sparkled with a deep fire as they gazed steadfastly at Ceridon. She finally looked away as Sherwood spoke up and blushed slightly at her own forwardness.
Surprised at the sending from Ceridon, he looked up from the campfire towards the Unicorn. When he saw her opposite the shimmering rocks, his vision of a dancing partner with a single horn growing from her forehead returned with a vengeance. He paled quickly, as though he had seen a ghost, "Ceri....," made it out of his lips before he lost his balance and tottered backward. He held himself up against a rock by force of will, and the vision faded. He looked at Ceridon closely and shook his head.
Dwynn had been drifting in and out of oblivion for a while now. His headache was back, but he didn't know if that was a good or a bad sign. He remembered people talking close by and :: ... I'll understand. :: echoed through his mind. He didn't.
He seemed to sense a rather glum atmosphere and that would not do at all. He wondered how Linna was. Had she come to see him or was she too busy? And Sherwood, was he all right? He opened his eyes and slowly raised himself off the wagon and walked over to the rest. Somehow the sadness seemed to come from Ceridon. "I hope we are not having gloom for dinner again? I?m hungry."
"That's a good sign," she said with a smile to Dwynn as she checked a pot of water that she'd placed on one of the heated rocks. She grimaced a bit, but poured it into a cup with a teabag anyway. "More mousewort tea," she said as she gave it to him. "It's only lukewarm, but it's better than nothing." She made two more cups of tea, handing them to Sherwood and DeMorte. Her mind, though, was focussed on the discussion, wondering if their group would stay together or not.
His eyes slowly moved over the cup that Linna handed to him, carefully tracing the edge of the rim with his fingertips. The act itself seemed more of one of habit than something that meant anything. He then took a slow sip from it and looked towards Ceri with an almost glowing smile.
"M'lady, thou hast no reason to fear thine comrades being anything but loyal to thee. And...." he looked down for a bit and then back to the unicorn with a solemn look to his masked face. "I also know what it is to be with curse. True friends will abide by thee no matter what the cost."
He looked around slowly and bowed his cloaked head, then let slip an almost melodious whisper, "Thou art truly blessed with the friends thou hath." He finished his tea and looked away into the forest once more.
"Well, *I'm* not going back," Garber said emphatically, squelching the niggling doubt still in the back of his mind. "I'm looking for answers too. It's about time I laid certain chapters of my life to rest. And if someone's trying this hard to keep people out of here, you're going to need all the help you can get." The thought of those two trying to travel through the valley alone frankly appalled him, so he knew he'd stick it out, no matter what. But would the others? He looked around, wondering what their commitment would be.
[Takayoshi T.] "Too late for me to go back now," the oriental spoke, "Besides, I almost never back down from a challenge." A big smirk adorned his face.
"Those darned Orcs are just too noisy..." Takayoshi commented out loud as he heard more sounds and cries coming from the plains. He then got up and walked over to the edge of the camp and sat down listening to the distant noises coming from the dark.
"I would love to kill ever one of those #@@#@ orcs," the ninja thought as he heard the distant noises faded and grew in the darkness, the ninja then mumbled something underneath his breath and a magically glowing Katana appeared in his hand. The magical light lighted his hands and lap, as he laid the sword down on his lap.
Its faint solid light became his focal point as he studied the blade and his dim reflection on it. The urge to fight and to let out his personal anger grew with him, but the hunger subsided as he continued to meditate in the blanket of darkness that surrounded his personal light.
"I just wish they were all right out there. Who ever is out there?" he thought to himself, "Don't worry we will save you from them, one way or another you WILL be free."
On that note the oriental got up and mumbled something under his breath and the sword disappeared in the darkness and once again the oriental was back in it. He then turned around and walked back to camp.
"I just hope whoever is out there is all right," the ninja continued to comment out loud as he approached the camp and his companions out from the darkness, "because it did not sound too promising."
His eyes furrowed as he listened to the wind. He had thought it merely his imagination that had deceived his ears before, but now he was certain. Something was there. But not an orc. Something much smaller. Mayhap a small animal.
He looked towards Brea and studied her slightly. He had thought she might be able to be taught the ways of the wind. She obviously had the ways of music within her. And with proper training, the ways of the voice could soon follow. He would talk with her of this another time.
His attention turned back to Ceri. He had not wanted to admit it before, but he felt a kinship towards her. Though he really didn't know much of her, the unicorn's eyes carried the same bleakened hope and sorrowful happiness that his own eyes carried. He didn't really know what to say to her other than the words of comfort his priestly training had prepared him to say. However, would she be willing to hear the words of a man from what was called the "heretic" tribes?
He thought it best not to find out as of yet. Instead, he took out his ocarina and began to play a song within each person's mind, as if each melody they heard was different from the other. And soon, the wind came to brush away the aches and pains they may have had.
He shook his head and stood up from the rock that had caught him. He finally _heard_ Ceridon's mental question, and his response, now that he understood, was immediate. Amidst his scowl, he declared, "Absolutely not. My arm is nearly healed, and according to our resident cleric my head will stop spinning soon. At any rate, I've faced much worse on my own. Until we determine the source of Ceridon's transformation, I'll not be turned! Just buy the hours 'tween now and dawn for me to recover, and I'll be good as new." He glanced round the fire to try to catch the tenor of the group, glad of both Garber's and the solid Oriental's support.
Dwynn looked at everyone in turn. "I think there can be no question as to the dedication of the people involved unless I am very wrong. If I am unaware of some turning point in events during my cerebral absence you will assuredly make me aware of such. But I can not conceive of any reason why I personally would not accompany Linna and Ceridon upon their quest." Waiting just long enough to get no reactions he sat down with some food.
Brea looked up and scanned the darkness. She had a feeling something was moving out beyond the camp in the shadows. Several thoughts came to mind and she looked around the camp a moment. She wasn't sure if any would approve or not, so decided not to say a word, but slipped away into the shadows.
The young rabbit was staying just a step away from her in the dark as the music started floating towards them from the camp. The rabbit stopped and turned an ear to the sound. Without the slightest hesitation, Brea leapt and as her knife flashed in the dark she finally stopped a moment to listen. She cleaned up her prize where she'd caught it, then turned to head back to camp...hoping at least a few of her companions would be thankful for the fresh meat. Without even knowing it, she began to hum the tune that floated out of DeMorte's ocarina, stepping through the darkness as if the music led the way.
Ceri waited until Breannyn returned with the rabbit. With a quick mental sigh, remembering how much she liked rabbit, she continued. ::I do thank you...though I hope we won't all regret it later,:: she sent wryly. ::But, since you are staying, there's something I need to tell you--something I discovered earlier today.:: She went on to tell them about the two anchors she'd detected, one powerful and one fainter, and that the powerful one was a pool of magical energy--one to which she had access. ::I don't know what it means,:: she finished. ::But I thought you all should know.::
The oriental looked kind of surprised when he saw Brea come back with the rabbit.
"I guess she's got it in her," the oriental thought to himself, "but I am certain the rabbit did not make all that noise and cries...However, come to think of it, I did hear some rustling nearby, but the cries came out from the center of the plains."
His eyebrows scrunched together as he continued to listen and think. A moment later they relaxed, but the silent assassin remained alert.
"...It is best that I do keep an ear out for them, and to be ready at a moments notice," the ninja concluded, and a serious look came across his face.
He smiled at Ceridon's wry comment/sending, and mused to himself, "Where the killing of orcs is possible, there _are_ no regrets!"
He noticed that Breannyn seemed preoccupied by something, then her quick movements netted the party some fresh meat. "A little small to feed the whole group," he observed as he smiled in her direction, taunting lightly, "but if that's the best you can do, we'll add it to the stew." The pot was boiling in earnest now, and the spice pouch he had opened earlier had yielded a great deal of potential flavor into the hot water. The meat, however, along with a few vegetables and buds, would make a brew that was both filling and healthy.
Linna helped Sherwood prepare the meal, slicing bread for everyone--even Ceri, finding bowls for the stew, passing out mugs for tea or water. She was finding these tasks soothing, actually--a little bit of normalcy in a very unreal situation. As she made these preparations, she listened intently, and soon she heard the sounds of the orcs die away. 'Sounds like they found something father afield to bother,' she thought, and relaxed a bit.
As she gave some bread to Ceridon, Ceri sent privately to her, ::Could you ask DeMorte to walk with me after dinner? If we go down to the river, the others won't hear my sendings to him.::
Linna nodded, and leaned her head close to his ear. When he heard her whispered message, he gazed intently at Ceridon, then at her. She shrugged and gave him a reassuring smile, hoping that Ceri could help with whatever was troubling him.
He was not certain as to what might be within the thoughts of the unicorn, but he was curious of it at least. He politely nodded to Linna and placed his meal down gently upon the ground. Although his stomach was beginning to tell him he was hungry with the sounds that it made, he was more interested in what was so delicate in nature that Ceri wished to speak with him out of earshot of the others. As a priest, he had an obligation to lend an ear. As a possible friend, he would do nothing else but.
He slowly lifted to his feet and brushed himself off. He looked to Brea and Sherwood. "I am one that can go long periods of time with no nourishment. Another can have my fill." He then bows once more and looked the other way towards the river. "I shall take my leave now. Call for me when it draws time to depart." He then departs the area.
A few steps away from the riverside, he stopped and knelt beside an old wooden stump and gently removed his mask. He sighed deeply and looked up at the stars. He had nearly forgotten how small all seemed to be under heaven's tears. He then waited under the blanket of lights that graced the sky's above for the other to arrive.
Ceri snorted softly, surprised at DeMorte's abrupt departure. She looked at Linna, who shrugged. 'No time like the present, I guess,' she thought as she followed him into the darkness.
The soft chirping of crickets surrounded her as she approached the riverbank. If she didn't feel so keyed up, she thought she could have enjoyed the evening-- brilliant stars, the quiet chuckling of water flowing over stones, the rustling of the grasses lining the bank. As she looked around, she spied DeMorte kneeling by a stump, staring up at the stars. She saw the clean outline of his face and realized that he'd taken off his mask. There wasn't enough light, however, to see any details, and Ceri didn't peer too closely.
She paced to the river's edge for a drink, and to give DeMorte a chance to recover his face, if he wished. Then she came toward him, stopping a few feet away. She felt a bit akward, since he was really quite alien to her, and she wasn't sure how to approach him. Finally, she sent, ::I've noticed you've been feeling...rather upset and depressed. I was wondering if...well, if there was anything I could do to help.::
The priest leaned back on the stump and looked back to the unicorn with a soft smile. "I am well, m'lady. No need to fear so much of the state of my feelings. They... in a since are all I have left of myself." He then felt her attempting to message him once more and he shook his head as if to stop her momentarily. "I...am not entirely comfortable with people inside mine own thoughts. The knowledge to speak is within thee...the ability is somewhat lost within this guise thou weareth. I shall...give the a gift for now."
His eyes closed slightly as he lifted to his feet and walked closer to her. He then opened his eyes and gently leaned his hands on her mane. The wind slowly moved around her long throat and caressed her insides with a delicate touch. He then leaned closer and kissed her on the bridge of the nose in a priestlike manner.
"There, for the duration of what thou hath wish to speak of here with me, thine voice will travel through thee as it would have if thine human guise had not been lost to thee." His eyes seemed to glow, as did his voice when he spoke. "To answer thine question, I am merely having emotions. Any will do. The moment dictates what I feel inside, but I cannot know when the emotion will go. There is much to me that is like thee. Kindred, thou and I."
He looked off to the sky and sighed. "I hath been alone for some time. When loneliness is all thou hath had for many years, it can be all that one remembers. All I can remember...is nothing."
Ceri started as she felt his magic work inside her. She opened her mouth and heard a voice croak out, "I...oh...oh, this *is* different."
Her thoughts whirled as she tried to wrap her brain around the concept of being able to speak as a human while still in her unicorn guise. Those thoughts finally came to an abrupt stop at the memory of his phrase 'inside my thoughts' and the feelings connected with it she'd sensed--discomfort/distaste/depression. ::Oh!:: she sent mentally as she made the connection, then shook her head and concentrated on using her temporary verbal skills. "I think I understand, DeMorte. Please understand--I can sense your emotions with some effort, and I *could* read your thoughts with a lot more effort. But I *haven't.* And I won't--I promise you, I won't do that without your permission."
She paused, gathering her thoughts. "When I speak mentally, I..."project" my mental voice to you. I don't get any thoughts back from you--or the others. Well, except with Linna, but we've got a special bond. She's the only one with whom I can really communicate freely."
She slowly extended her neck and softly nuzzled him on the cheek. "Your thoughts and memories are your own, DeMorte. I won't invade that privacy." She stepped back again and looked intently into his face. "And yes, we do have much in common-- isolation, especially. But I think we have to remind ourselves that we're neither of us as isolated as we think. There's a group of people sitting over there who, I think, would be willing to help you, just as they--and you--are helping me."
He looked closely at her and nodded his head with a slight smile peaking from his head. His sky blue eyes traveled within Ceri's and found her words true. "I... shall tell thee something, something that I am certain the others may hath found out within their observations of me. 'Tis my... curse, and my shame."
He lifted his hand gently to meet her cheek slightly. It was the softest of touches, but it seemed to still be hesitant. Almost as if he wasn't certain how to gauge how hard he was pressing against her. "Remember when thou did this to me?" He waited until she gave him some sign of understanding and continued, "I am without that blessing. I can feel nothing. Not the wind in my hair, not the grumbling within my stomach... not the touch of ones... I may care about, nothing. I can taste nothing. Smell nothing. Only sight and hearing are known to me."
He paused for a moment and looked away. He then walked closer to the waters and kneeled by them. With a quick stroke, he delicately hit the waters and caused a rippling within them. "'Tis why I was forced away from my only home. A past I fear to talk of, and one that I carry with me every day. I see people touching each other, tasting their food and smelling scents both fair and foul. They see things and look upon them as trivial." He turned back towards Ceri and fought back tears... and slowly uttered in a voice almost that of a whisper on the wind, "Nothing is trivial. I shall aid thee in any way I can, m'lady. I shall fight for thee with every breath I can take. Mayhap in curing thee...I can make peace with mine own demons. As well...find my own way within the world."
He looked closely to her and smiled. He then took out his ocarina and began playing a softer melody to drown out the sorrows of the night and head straight on 'till morning.
Ceri nodded silently, deciding not to push for anything more. He didn't seem used to revealing so much of himself to anyone; she wanted him to feel comfortable with it, and not regret it later. She simply said, fitting her words to the cadence of his music, "I'll be here for you, if you need me."
She walked back to the camp, feeling his magic melt away. Linna, hearing her coming through the brush, sent silently, ::Any success?::
::Mixed,:: Ceri replied. She knew Linna wouldn't push for anything more. Sharing so much, they were even more careful about the things they wanted to keep from the other. Linna merely finished her bowl of stew, gave Ceridon another piece of bread, and looked around at the others. "Seconds, anyone?" she asked.
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