The Strain Begins to Show

The elf-maid led the party down their chosen path, her sharp eyes on the lookout for any possible signs of ambush. As they made their way through the forested landscape, she spoke at length about the perils of near- immortality, picking up the threads of their earlier campfire discussion. She began telling a tale about one of her mage friends who had grown bitter after only a few hundred years of living.
" I said to her, 'Babs, what's happened to you? You were so cool back at Hogwarts! Now I hear you're terrorizing Russian peasants and living in a hut with giant chicken legs!"
She pulled an old yearbook out of her hat and flipped it to a dog-eared page. Holding it behind to exhibit the pictures, she continued her story.
"That's her there. She's the cute blonde standing between me and Bigby. See the inscription? 'Baba Yaga, voted most likely to be anything.' And when I found her four hundred and sixty-seven years later she'd become this bitter old hag who spent her time terrorizing passing merchants. She used to like collecting irises. The kind you find in eyeballs, not the flowers."
Elwynn shuddered with the memory. "It's a sad thing when old friends turn evil on you. It's sadder still when you have to take 'em down for the sake of public safety. But that's what I did."
Sherwood's countenance changed during Elwynn's, his eyes suddenly coming to focus on his pommel, followed by a quick shake of the head. He wondered silently, "Elves are known for their ability to spin a tale well enough to hypnotize, and Elwynn's well-practiced. I'll have to be more careful when she speaks!"
To the group, he asked grimly, "What is our pleasure, then? Shall we set up an ambush, or push on toward Abydos?"
"Push on, I say. We might want to scout ahead a bit, but it is time we finally found out what is going on around here. I wouldn't mind taking a look at this Abydos. I've never been there."
"We definitely push on, to my mind. In fact..." Garber looked back at the three who were walking. "DeMorte, Brea, Takayoshi--why don't you climb up? Let's see if we can't put some distance between us and them."
No longer held to a walking pace, the group made good time, with the mountains that formed the northern edge of the valley getting noticeably closer. They pushed on, in fact, well into sunset, with Garber making for a clearing he remembered as having a convenient spring. The cart horses were definitely showing some signs of strain as they finally stopped in the gathering dusk. Garber made sure, as the others started setting up camp, to give them a good rub-down and some extra grain from the supply he used to supplement their grazing.
Dwynn's thoughts had strayed during the day's journey. {I'm not doing so well connecting. I like Linna well enough, but I'm not sure she will take me seriously. She can't tell if I am after her or Crystal. I can't even tell myself half the time. God, I miss her.}
{I tried with Breannyn, but I have to let her come to me now and she needs to spend some time with Takayoshi. Elwynn is a blessing to have around, but she's way out of my league. And I don't even want to think about Ceridon.} Dwynn stared ahead for a while with unseeing eyes.
The elf maid gathered the group together for a moment to cast a True Sight spell upon the party. "I'm going to set a few snares and booby traps around the perimeter." she said. "This spell will let you see where they are." So saying, she spoke a few words of power and casted the last light of the sun onto each of the party's faces with a magic mirror. Then she set about the task of preparing some nasty surprises for any enemies who might happen upon the camp.
Somewhat blinded, Sherwood blinks back a tear and asks, "Lovely Elwynn... next time you cast that PARTICULAR spell... mayhap you'll warn us ahead of time, eh? Yet I thank you for the ability of finding those traps. Er... is there any way I can help while still maintaining the enchantment?"
After receiving Elwynn's spell, Dwynn unpacked methodically. He could feel the magick inside tingle at the touch of the external energy, but he just didn't care. Unconsciously, he put his bedroll close to Linna's. But when he was done, he walked off to sit alone with his back to a tree. {I should do something, but what?} Absentmindedly, he picked up a piece of dead wood and started carving it with his knife, while his eyes followed Linna's movements through the camp. A trickle of blood spilled from his thumb unnoticed and spiraled down the wooden horn that was slowly forming out of the wood.
Linna had been busy gathering the makings for dinner. The provisions seemed to be holding out well, though they hadn't had time to supplement them with hunting. She brought some journey bread wrapped around dried meat and a mug of tea over to Dwynn. "Here, this should do for now. We've got some stew going and--"
She broke off as Dwynn dropped the bit of wood he'd been whittling and she saw the blood on his thumb. She tsked softly. "Why didn't you say anything?" Reaching into a belt, she drew out a rag and a bit of green paste carefully wrapped. She cleaned the blood off, smeared the paste on the nick, and deftly bound it.
"Oh, it's..." {nothing} Dwynn started to say, but he stopped to let her attention wash over him and said no more afraid to dispel the moment.
"There," she said. "It should be fine in a couple of days, but no use in taking chances with infection."
Linna tried to tell herself, as she slipped back to the fire, grabbed some bread and tea for herself, and came back to sit by Dwynn, that she wasn't being any more kind to him than to the others. But she knew, deep inside, that that wasn't true. She wasn't sure yet how strong her feelings for him might be, but there was, despite his past, a sweetness about him that drew her to him, as well as pity about that past. She could also feel Ceri's confused feelings sweeping down their bond, but she resolutely shut them out.
"Thank you. ... It was only a tiny wound. I did not even notice." Dwynn looked at the spiraled wooden horn he had made and presented it to Linna. "Would you like to have this? Or you could give it to Ceridon if it would help."
After a long pause he added, "Did you have a talk with her yet or know what the problem is? Keeping my distance this way is really out of character for me, and it's hard."
"No, she's still being rather touchy about the whole thing," Linna replied, her tone half acerbic and half teasing. She meant the comment to shake Ceridon up a little--but she wasn't prepared for the wave of emotions that surged down their bond. Jealousy, anger, shame, confusion--so strong that she wondered how Ceri was bearing up under it all. She gasped and reeled a bit.
The flood was immediately cut to a trickle. Linna looked up to see Ceridon staring at her, real fear in her amethyst eyes. After an awkward silence that seemed to go on forever, Ceridon sent to her, ::I'm...I'm going to go off by myself for a while.::
::Are you sure you don't want me along?:: Linna replied. ::I could bring some food with me for you.::
::No, I need to do some thinking. Why don't...why don't you tell them about Matthew and Marta? I know you've been dying to,:: Ceri sent with something of her old humor in her mental tone.
::What about your robe?::
::No, I don't need it. I'll be back later.:: Ceri quickly stepped away from the campfire and disappeared into the gathering night, keeping their bond closed as much as possible. Linna looked after her, unshed tears in her eyes.
"What's wrong?" Dwynn said emphatically as he took Linna gently in two strong hands. Following her line of sight he watched Ceridon leave. "I don't like it if she keeps on hurting you like that. Maybe I should just have a talk with her." Sounding angrier, "if she does anything like that again I definitely will have talk with her and she can explain precisely what is going on." He looked Linna in the eyes with an imploring expression.
"No, I'm all right," Linna said hastily, laying a forestalling hand on his arm. "Truly. She's--she's just having a difficult time right now. After all, she hasn't had to deal with new people for years." Linna hoped that would satisfy Dwynn for now. The last thing they needed was real trouble between the group members--and Ceridon's behavior was driving them towards that. 'I just hope she can figure this out soon,' she thought. 'In the meantime, I think I will tell them that story after dinner--give them all, especially Dwynn, another view of her. Show them the person *I* know.'
Sherwood missed the mental exchange & the looks that followed between Ceridon & Linna. When Dwynn reacted to Linna's sense of exclusion, he was surprised. As Ceridon marched out of camp, he turned to Dwynn and Linna. "What's going on N O W?" he asked, confusion clouding his face.
"That's what I'd like to know. But it seems that--" At this point he raised his voice. "Ceridon has something to think about." In a normal voice he continued, "and we will all have to wait for it. But come join our meal, and let us have some friendly conversation with our food."
An uncertain smile teased at the corners of his mouth as he replied, "Don't mind if I do... but I'd SURE like to know if her attitude is because of her form or," whispered conspiratorially to Dwynn only after glancing around for acute ears, "if it's because she's a _she_. And if it IS because of her gender, I wonder what she's concerned about even more?!"
"I just don't know. And I just don't know how to act, anymore. I just hope she figures out what the problem is and lets me know. So that I know were I stand. But, I have got enough of even trying, so join us and let's talk about something else."
"It'll be all right," she said to Dwynn and Sherwood. "I'm sure it will. She just needs a little time and patience." Somehow, she felt calmer now, sure that it really *would* be all right. She couldn't have said where that reassurance came from... 'Except, perhaps,' she thought, 'the seventeen and more years I've known her.' She looked around at the somewhat subdued group, ready to try to cheer them up soon with another story of their adventures on the road.
Ceridon trotted through the darkened forest, letting the sound of her trotting drown out her thoughts. The effortless stride and speed filled her with a pleasure she had rarely felt in this guise. After a timeless time, she came across a small clearing created when a mammoth tree had fallen, taking out other trees in the process. She shifted to human guise and sat down against the rough bark, bringing her legs up to hide her naked form. Arms encircling her legs, silver-blond hair curtaining her face, she leaned her cheek against her knees and let her misery take her.
As she sniffled up the last of her tears, she realized that this wasn't solving anything, though it had been a relief. Wiping her tears dry, Ceri repositioned herself so that she was sitting cross-legged. She closed her eyes and began slowly breathing in and out, bringing on a meditative state.
'Ashtara,' she thought. 'Lady of Earth and Sky. Hear the plea of thy servant. I no longer know myself; I cannot understand my thoughts and reactions. Thou who dost know all, who can see into my innermost being, please guide me.' With this heartfelt prayer, she tried to clear her mind.
Her mind stubbornly refused to clear, however. She found her thoughts constantly ranging back to that fateful day, when the change had come on her. The words of the discussion she and Linna had had echoed through her mind.
'Oh!' She opened her eyes abruptly. 'So *that's* it!' She frowned a moment later, though. That day and conversation held part of the answer, but not the whole of it. She closed her eyes again, trying to use her new-found insight to track the rest to its lair.

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