Despite Garber's pessimistic assessment, the rest of the day passed quietly. Though there were signs of orc depredations everywhere, and of varying ages, none were fresh enough to cause much concern. The day continued bright and sunny; it was warm, but not hot enough to be uncomfortable. All in all, it was as perfect a traveling day as one could wish for.
They managed to put twenty kilometers between them and Tyria before they stopped at a stream-filled clearing that Sherwood had scouted out. The horses grazed and drank, grateful for this bonanza at the end of the day. Ceridon, too, quickly ate her fill, though she again did so out of sight of the rest of the group.
Said rest were setting up camp and preparing their meal. By unspoken agreement, their conversation was limited to directions and suggestions to finish their tasks. Even when supper was ready and they gathered around the fire, they kept their talk on innocuous subjects at first. It was started by Linna, who had been studying Elwynn off and on for much of the late afternoon. Finally, she said shyly, "Elwynn, though I've never met an elf before, I've heard that they live much longer than humans. Is that true?"
Elwynn had remained uncharacteristically silent throughout the passage through the town and much of the rest of the day. She had kept a low profile primarily to keep her identity a secret. A well-known mage traveling with a wagon-load of strangers would certainly have tipped off any suspicions the guards might have had. She had carefully observed the reactions of the locals they had met and kept quiet, looking for anything that might prove helpful to her party.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Linna," she replied, coming out of her reverie, "I was just considering our situation. Yes, actually, we do live quite longer than humans, although contrary to popular belief, not all of us are immortal. Most of my people live to be around two thousand, give or take a century. As for myself, a rather unfortunate accident arrested my aging process, as well as that of my cat companion, Icarus. Believe me, though, going through life looking two hundred and sixteen (that's twenty-two in human years) isn't as much fun as one would think."
The oriental smirked as he thought about his elven friend, and boss, King Axl, who was pushing 142 years old, and by what Elwynn said.
"Funny, that is still fairly young by elven standards," joked the rarely jovial 39 year old oriental, "Come to think of it Elwynn, you don't look one day over 120!"
The oriental laughed, as he took in the sun hoping that Beya would make her move...or for something to relieve his hidden desire for some action.
"Why, you are in a lofty mood! With us so glum and all. I am not sure I would hang on to this life if there were somewhere better to go after."
Linna whistled, suitably impressed by the figures Elwynn had given them. The thought of living so long excited her in a nebulous kind of way--mainly with the realization of how much more she could learn with such an extended lifetime. She studied Elwynn again, wondering how old she truly was, but she realized she wasn't likely to get an answer to *that* question.
So it was Ceridon who replied, but her mental voice sounded troubled. ::How... how can you *stand* it?:: she sent to everyone. ::I mean...you're friends with humans and people of other races, most of whom aren't so long-lived. How can you stand knowing that you'll outlive them by centuries?::
The elf maid shrugged. "Why do you people keep small rodents and cats and dogs as pets? You love them for as long as they're around, and grieve them when they pass on, and go on with your life."
Linna opened her mouth to say something, then let her breath out with a laugh. "I hadn't thought of it that way before," she said with a teasing glance at Ceridon, who was standing behind her.
Ceridon, however, was unconvinced. ::Well, pets are one thing. People are another matter.:: She bent her neck down to nuzzle Linna's cheek.
Ceri was more troubled than she let on, though. There was a part of her that was even more excited about the thought of living so long than it had been for Linna. But another part of her was appalled at it--seeing so many changes, losing so many people, delaying the return of one's soul to Ashtara for so long...
::And would two thousand years be so much different to a *goddess?*:: Linna sent, startling Ceri. She hadn't realized she'd been sending her thoughts down her link with Linna. ::You got me there,:: she sent back privately. ::But still--::
::Ceri, we all lose people we love to death, whether we live fifty years or five hundred. But so long as we remember them with love and honor, do we ever *really* lose them?::
::That's true,:: Ceri replied thoughtfully.
::Besides, this whole argument is academic for us anyway. So sit down and relax. Aren't you the one who's supposed to be the spiritual councilor for our pairing?:: Linna teased.
::Well, it's about time you started carrying your own weight,:: Ceri retorted. As she settled down, though, she still felt troubled. She had never felt so much at war with herself, not until this group had formed and started on their quest. 'Maybe it's because I haven't met so many new people for so long,' Ceri thought. She puzzled over it for a moment more, then sighed and brought herself back into the stream of conversation around her.
Sherwood had sobered by the time they stopped for a meal. He had given their situation some serious though, and to the rest of the group, he suggested, "We should keep especially sharp eyes out behind us for the next couple of days. Even though we did nothing particularly offensive at the town, I have a distinct feeling that the guard captain won't soon forget us and definitely does NOT trust us! If I was her, I would detail a few discreet, er, 'escorts' to see we stayed on the route we indicated."
"Very astute, Sherwood." Elwynn said. "Hmm, perhaps one or two of us should double back tonight and see if there is any sign of pursuit. What say, Takayoshi-san?"
Dwynn cast an apologetic grin at Takayoshi. "Would they not feel more safe, more confident, if we acted as if we were aware of no pursuit?"
Garber shook his head. "I'd rather know and be prepared," he said to Dwynn. He then turned to Takayoshi with a grin. "Would you and Breannyn be willing to give up some sleep?"
Throughout the past day and a half of travels and travails, Garber had been studying is companions, noting their reactions and relations. He'd seen the ease and familiarity between Takayoshi and Breannyn, and came to the conclusion that, despite Tak's desires for some action, they were a pairing he was more than willing to have guarding his back. That they may well have more than a little regard for each other...well, one should enjoy such things when one could, and Garber didn't mind facilitating that for them.
"Perhaps that's the core contrast of urban versus rural survival. I'd rather *not* know and be prepared. Would you mind if I come too? Sleep is not really what I need right now."
He had been sitting a little bit away from the conversation that had been taking place. He felt that not really knowing much of the people he would be a bit of a hindrance to any of the conversation. Though he felt the slight bit of confusion as well the way they looked at each other they seemed to be in something deep.
He looked over to Ceri ... the only person he had opened up to here ... and wondered what it was within her mind that had her troubled. She had been there for him in his time of need. He frowned at that thought. He had known that any type of conversation of his past would incite some type of emotional reaction. He had not wished anyone to know of it. It was burden enough that he knew of it himself.
He turned away from his friends and stood up. He walked over to the wagon and retrieved his staff and cloak ... then walked along the path for a bit to overlook the road. As he stood there ... he recalled the past few days, and nearly wept.
"Well I'm not all that tired myself." Elwynn said. "Since it's my idea I suppose I shall go along as well." Picking up her staff and adjusting her hat, she stood and dusted herself off. "All right." She said, "Who's coming with me?"
"Why not," the oriental said, "I have always been a night owl."
The oriental grinned as he stood up and put on an empty scabbard around his waist, hoping he would see some action after all. He whispered a word in his native tongue. Instantly, a magically glowing katana appeared in his right hand.
"When do I start?" he said smiling, as he sheathed his personal companion.
"Very well then," Elwynn said, "Let's...."
Before the elf-maid finished a strange beeping sound emitted from the general vicinity of her hat. Doffing her trademark headgear, Elwynn reached in and pulled out a peculiar-looking device, about the size of a flashlight.
"Rasafrats! I was afraid of this. Tak, you'll have to take the others out. I'm afraid this little beepy thingy means I've got to attend to other matters. I'll return as soon as I can. Don't confront the wizard until I get back!"
So saying, Elwynn pressed a button on the strange control device. Instantly a swirling whirlpool of light appeared before her. Looking back over her shoulder, she hollered one last quick word of advice.
"Don't attack the orcs if you spot them, Tak, just come back and let the others know. I'll be back sooooooooooooooooooon!!!!!!!!"
With her last word the elf-maid hurled herself into the vortex and was gone.
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