Unwelcome News

At dawn another blue vortex appeared near the camp, and deposited a familiar elf-maid onto the ground. She was dressed in an elaborate red gown that hinted vaguely of the orient, and her hair was done up in a gravity-defying style which (for anyone who knew her) was completely out of character for Elwynn Evindem. Her visage, usually devoid of unnecessary makeup, was covered in white face paint accented with red circles.
"No, really....I had a great time!" the elf-maid was saying as she turned back to look into the blue vortex. "No...really...any time you need a decoy, Ami, you just give me a call, okay? All right...well, I'll see you...okay...yes he's a cute kid....okay...okay...bye!"
As the vortex closed, Elwynn pulled her customary blue witch's hat from within her gown and, pulling out a few hair pins to let her tresses down, she placed the pointy chapeau on her head with a sigh of relief.
"I don't know how that girl puts up with these ridiculous outfits!" she said, as much to herself as to her friends. "This dress is so uncomfortable. Well...it's good to see you all again! How long have I been away? It feels like months to me, but time is relative, as my thesis advisor used to say. Did I miss much?"
"Not anything of immediate importance," Dwynn said. "We had a subdued night, and some unpleasant dreams." Some merriment was surely missed. "So I, for one, am glad you are back. Through I wonder if I'd regret asking what you were up to."
He rose at last, still confused deep in his mind about the nightmare, yet knowing that it WAS only that. When Elwynn popped back into their midst, he finally began to relax. Her attitude toward life, and her willingness to take it as she found it, had what he considered an unexpected lift that reached out to the party and made the living of it much more secure. His smile was sincere as the memory of the dreams nearly evaporated, "Good morning, Elwynn m'lady. Glad to have you back amongst us! Tell me -- what WAS all that about?"
"It's a long story." Elwynn replied. "Have you ever heard of something called parallel time? I'll explain it to you once I get myself back into my old gear. Anyway, let's just say I had to repay a favor to an old friend. If you will all excuse me for just a moment, I'd like to get out of this gaudy outfit and back into something more practical." So saying, the elf-maid walked over to the wagon to change clothes.
"Oh, " Dwynn looked around, "are Breannyn and Takayoshi back yet?"
At that moment, Breannyn walked into the clearing, tired--and alone. The rest of the group listened quietly as she related the night's events for her and Takayoshi.
They had backtracked alongside the path for a few hours, encountering nothing more than a few owls. But then they'd spied a campfire off to one side, and heard the sounds of an approaching rider. Quickly, they'd slipped off the road, silently working their way through the woods until they were--barely--within earshot. What they'd heard had been, quite frankly, a shock. The rider had come from Tyria, bringing word of their party to the patrol that was camped. The rider had told them what had happened in great detail--and they'd all laughed at the confrontation the mercenary captain Beya had had with Captain Groch--the captain of the *orcs*--over what to do about the travelers.
Brea and Takayoshi were very startled to learn that the mercenaries and the orcs were working together, not fighting. After a moment more, though, Tak had slipped on his ring of invisibility, whispering to Brea that if he didn't return within a couple of hours, she should return to the group. After hours of anxious waiting--and avoiding the watch the mercenaries had set with their camp, she finally heeded his words and headed back.
Garber listened soberly to Breannyn's news, slowly shaking his head. "There's more going on here than we know about. I think we'd better get going quickly."
"What about Takayoshi?" Linna asked, troubled at the thought of leaving him behind.
::We don't know where he went,:: Ceridon replied logically. ::And if we turn back to try to find him, they'll know something's wrong. We may even put him in more danger. What do the rest of you think?:: She glanced around at the others; her tone was polite, but there was a definite, impatient gleam in her eye.
Having heard the story of how Breannyn & Tak were seperated, his demeanor darkened. "I would like to go searching for him m'self, my friends. But with his damnable ring on, methinks he'd be hard to find, much less help. On the other hand, it would take a horrible miscue for him to be caught by the resident band of cutthroats. Perhaps we should 'attack' them by going onward?" A malevolent grin spread across his face. "Of course!" He grinned. "Let's leave them a trail a kindergartener could follow... right into a trap! That way, if Tak has been taken and is yet alive, he'll be with them right to us. If he has NOT been taken, he'll no doubt help us in time of deepest need when the battle is joined." The evil smile left no question about the fate of the cutthroats, should they fall into his hands.
"Did someone say 'trap'?"
Elwynn hopped out of the wagon and adjusted her hat. She was now wearing her customary blue wizard's robes and seemed much more comfortable.
"I've got a lot of really neat traps we could use." She said with a smile.
Pulling a large scrapbook out of her hat, she leafed through the pages with an eager grin.
"Let's see....oh here's a good one! Pit trap number 4."
Holding the book up to show the others, she began to explain the features of what appeared to be a very clever but complicated stone pit trap.
"The first fellow walks along here, and when he reaches this point, he falls through the trap door into a pit. But the floor is actually a big see-saw thingy, and so the next fellow behind him gets catapulted up into this room filled with mind flayers. Nasty, isn't it?"
"Aye, m'lady, 'tis a nasty contrivance!" He smiled. "Yet it occurs to me that we might have some difficulty finding a room filled with Mind Flayers, eh?" Which was then followed by an elaborate wink toward Dwynn.
{What is a mindflayer?} Dwynn wondered while returning the wink. {Let's get on to situation at hand.} "Forests and mountains are not my forte, but I agree that if we turn back now, they will only know something is afoot. That way we provoke an attack on their ground. We should, in my opinion, only attack those we are sure have captured Takayoshi. Much of this also goes for traps. So I would press on." Looking at Breannyn and remembering his intent to get closer to the rest of the group, he walked over to Breannyn to put a hand on her shoulder, and softly said, "I'm sorry it had to go this way. If you want to talk, I'll be there."
Brea's mouth opened and closed several times while the others voiced their opinions. Her thoughts were muddled with worry for her friend, but at the same time she was hearing many of them voiced aloud. First, Tak had a tendency to have a preference for doing things alone. Second, how do you look for an "invisible" man...who may not want to be found. Whatever he had planned, she was certain he felt he was doing what was best for the group.
When Dwynn finally approached and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, she gave him a wry smile. His words though were kind and she nodded in acknowledgment of his offer for a friendly ear. "Thank ye, Dwynn," she forced a bit more warmth into her smile and placed her hand on his, giving it a slight pat. "But..." a pause and a deep breath..."They're right though." She nodded to Sherwood and Garber. "We need ta continue on as if nothin 'as 'appened."
She thought for a moment and bit her lip. "I donna think Tak would'a been taken so easily...and 'e wouldn't 'ave used 'is invisibility without a plan. Wherever 'e is..." She took a deep breath and tried to sound more convincing than she felt. "He'll be back."
"Aye, well spoken, Dwynn--and Brea," Garber said as he paused from gathering his bedroll. "If nothing else, it would be better to get someplace more defensible. And we've no *definite* evidence that the mercenary group means us harm. Ogres, of course, are another matter--but even *they* haven't come directly against us."
Garber spoke calmly, but he had to fight to hide his uneasiness. Possible danger behind, possible danger ahead--their lack of knowledge about the situation was becoming more dangerous by the day. He was much more inclined to push on to Abydos, where the chances of learning what was going on seemed greatest.
He glanced sideways at Ceridon, who was stamping impatiently. Despite her deference before, she seemed ready to go on as well. She was pushing harder and harder to reach their objective--almost as if she felt there was little time left. Garber was willing--for now--to trust that instinct.
"Well, if we are going to move on, we'd best be about it." Elwynn said, replacing the book in her hat. "I agree that we should look for some good ground. A stream or a ford is a good place to set up an ambush, or perhaps some area that is thickly forested. We should be mindful, however, that we don't fall into a trap ourselves. Our trailers might be meant to drive us onward into an ambush of their own. I suggest we mount up and move on. I'll ride up front for a while and see what's in front of us. Hopefully there will be some promising spots today."
Spurred by Ceridon's impatience, the group packed quickly and set out on the road, Breannyn resting inside the wagon from her night's efforts. The peaceful, sunny morning, filled with brilliant birdsong, seemed only to accentuate the feeling of dread and nervousness that hung over them. They made good time, however, and by mid-morning had reached a point where the road diverged. One arm continued its northwestward trend toward the mountains; the other, looking much less traveled, turned east and disappeared into heavy forest.
Garber stopped the wagon by Elwynn, who had been waiting for them there. "This is the last crossroad," he told everyone. "The road itself continues on to Abydos. The other path," and he jerked his head in that direction, "goes to the keep where I met Hathor all those years ago."
Ceridon swung her head back and forth, looking up now one path, now the other. She stamped nervously, repeatedly--almost seeming to dance in place. ::The two sources of power I feel...:: she broadcast to everyone. ::Each road leads to one of them. It's...they're both of them *calling* me. I don't know which way we should go,:: she finished in a despairing tone.
Musing aloud, Sherwood mutters, "Maybe we end up where Fate requires, regardless WHICH path we choose, eh?"
"I should think our quest would take us on to Abydos." She peered down each path for a moment, a concerned look on her face. "I don't see anything untoward at the moment," she said at last, "but both of the paths sort of bend and twist through the trees. There could be danger either way."
[Takayoshi T.]
"...'That damnable ring of his', That is the reason why I love you guys. Always caring for your comrades, How sweet...", Boomed the rarely comical oriental's voice out from nowhere, "...Now, now don't you all come over and hug me at once will ya, you know I don't like that very much..." Smiled the ninja as he reappeared with his mask in his hand.
"...Sorry if I am late but I had a little run in with a couple of patrols on my way to and back from that keep. It seems to be that someone higher is either planning something big or planned something big that already happened and he wants to keep it mum..." He continued.
"...The reason I said that is due to the fact that even I couldn't get into the keep very well, but I will tell you all this. The place is sporting mercenaries, gnolls and other assorted creatures which I know that are in there but I am not positive as to what they are. I came back hoping we can go to Abydos together...there's safety in numbers right!?!"
The seemingly unhurt and unexhausted ninja smiled and awaited for their responses.
A grin spread across his face at Tak's return. "Hi, friend. Hale, and welcome back! We weren't QUITE sure when we'd see you again... errrr...," lowering his voice conspiratorially, "you heard that comment about the ring, eh? Sorry 'bout that!" The end of the stage whisper was followed with an ornery wink, confirming Sherwood's pleasure with the oriental's safe return.
"Well met, Takayoshi-san." Elwynn said with a smile. "I had no doubt at all that you would return to us. I did not think a few mercs and orcs would hinder you in the least."
Dwynn gave Takayoshi a nod of respect for beeing capable of returning despite the many patrols. {Takayoshi seems uncharacteristically happy while reporting bad news.} "So, if entering the keep is beyond reason we can only contignue towards Abydos. Which was our original and stated destination. With any luck we may still find unicorns there about."
"I agree." said Elwynn, "Abydos was our destination in the first place."
She paused, considering for a moment. "Not to cloud the matter, but if you are getting signals from both areas, Ceridon, it could be that there are unicorns in both locations."
::Perhaps...:: Ceridon replied absently.
::C'mon, Ceri,:: Linna sent privately. ::As Elwynn said, Abydos is our destination. The only thing we know that's waiting for us at the keep is trouble--too much trouble. Let's go on as we have.::
Ceridon caricolled in place a moment longer, then resolutely set her hooves on the path to Abydos. She wasn't sure of anything at this point, but she knew the others were right about avoiding the keep for now. That mystery would have to wait.
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