Reacting to Linna's scream, Dwynn saw how Ceridon saved his life from the fourth wolf he had not seen. As the wolves retreated, a rapid fire of emotions went through him now that he let go of his internalized anger-calm. Relief that he was alive, anger at his failure, relief that Linna seemed unhurt, anger at Ceridon for saving him. Anger at owing her. ::I am all right. And thank you for saving me there.::
"I'm well enough, lass," replied the ranger, "though I seem to have snagged the brute's teeth on my forearm." He held up the arm to the firelight, inspecting a one-inch gash that was bleeding freely. Then he sat down heavily.
He laughed belatedly... "'Bad wolf? BAD wolf?' Elwynn, sometimes your eloquence surprises even ME!"
Elwynn stifled a chuckle. "I'm sorry, Sherwood. Sometimes I get a trifle carried away. I hope that pup didn't chew you up too badly. Give me a moment and I will check on your wound. I don't think those wolves had rabies, but you never know."
The elf-maid whistled in the direction of the three fighting cats. "Josie! Melody! Valerie! Here girls!"
The three felines sauntered back towards the elf, tails held high, their paws and mouths streaked with wolf blood.
"Thank you for your service, ladies." Elwynn said, "That about squares it with us. I release you from your bonds. Return to your original plane and form of existence."
With a wave of her hand, the elf-maid dismissed the trio of cats. They began to fade away in a swirl of magical energy, their forms twisting and changing as they did so. In a moment they had lost their original form and almost seemed to shape themselves as humanoids, but then they were gone, returned to wherever reality they had come from.
Elwynn pulled a bottle of antiseptic from her hat and began treating Sherwood's injury.
"I'm all right, too. Just a bit tired." She smiled weakly at Ceridon. "Thanks for your timely entrance."
"I'm all right as well," Garber said with a nod to Ceri. "In fact, I'd say we were pretty damn lucky things didn't get worse."
As she finished up with Sherwood's wound, Elwynn turned her head to look around the campsite. Her face took on a slightly perplexed look.
"Does anyone have the feeling we're being watched?"
She pulled a wooden wand with a clear crystal mounted on it and held it in front of her. The crystal began glowing dimly.
"Somebody is scrying us!" The elf-maid declared.
She turned around in a slow circle, using the intensity of the crystal's light to try and locate the direction of the scrye.
In the not-too-distant forest, more screaming howls of wolves echoed about, for several seconds then silence.
Near the campfire, the rustling bushes caught the attention of anyone who noticed it. At first, nothing came through, except of some dripping blood coming out of nowhere.
"I hope you guys didn't miss me!", an oriental voice came across the campfire, as its bloody and bleeding owner appeared out of thin air. He looked about and was downright impressed with their combat ability, his and everyone else.
With a big smile, the newly scarred, bloody and clothes-ripped body sat down next the fire and spoke out loud, "Don't worry, most of this is not mine...and no I do not need any tending, thank you anyway."
With that he laughed and began to clean his blades and to clean himself up, all with a certain happy and jovial aura about him. As he continued to clean his body of the wounds he suffered on his arms and chest, he looked up to see Elwynn using some crystal wand talking about spying and scrying.
"Sorry I really don't feel as though we've been watched..." the former ninja smiled still and shrugged his shoulders"...it's just that I have been a watcher my whole life, not one who has been watched upon."
He looked down and started to lightly whistle an old oriental melody he learned when he was a kid...
"It has been ages since I whistled that tune, what has it been--nearly what ten years...", the jovial ninja thought, as continued to whistle the melody, of which its meaning has been lost in his lifetime.
"You don't suppose the scrying had anything to do with the wolves' attack, do you?" he asked Elwynn. "This band was NOT acting 'normally', as you well know! In fact," Sherwood arose, testing his forearm's patch job, "I really _should_ go see if any of the pack can be helped... ummm... providing they've regained their sanity, that is." He reached for his pack, and prepared to shoulder it on his way out of the firelight. Over his shoulder, he offered, "anyone care to accompany a lone ranger on a dangerous mission?"
"Scrying, huh?" Garber commented with a grimace. "I was wrong. We weren't lucky, and things *are* worse. Can you tell where it's coming from?"
"Hang on, I've got the bearing." Elwynn said. "Give me a moment to get the exact location."
She held the wand tightly in her grasp, and focused her eyes on it's crystal. Suddenly a round magic window appeared before her, edged in blue fire. Within the window there appeared a view of the countryside, moving quickly as if seen from the point of view of a swift bird. The scene moved over the landscape until suddenly it settled on the image of a dark, foreboding stone keep. The image passed through a window and for a brief moment one could almost see the image of a man hastily waving his arms as if to dispel an incantation. Then the image and the magic window disappeared.
"He's cut the connection." Elwynn explained, lowering the wand. "Didn't get a good look at him either, but I hope he caught that image of me sticking my tongue out. Anyway, he's definitely somewhere in that keep."
Sherwood had paused to hear Elwynn's report about the scrying attempt, but he was QUITE sure she could handle anything in the realm of magic. His main concern at this point was the wolves. They might need medical aid to save one or two of the worst ones. He gazed at the group again, mindful of their need to rest, shrugged, and walked out of the firelight, tracking the pack by the blood on the ground as well as the wails they still occasionally still made. Rummaging in his pack he removed an oddly- shaped thing that might have been mistaken for a rock and pushed it part way into his ear. He thought to himself, "It's too bad I didn't have this at-hand when they attacked -- we might have averted some of their blood being shed." Then he paused in mid-thought, and mumbled the prayer for wounded friends to the Forest Goddess that the Elves had taught him.
"The keep?" Linna said with trepidation. "Garber, do you think it could be *Hathor* behind all this?"
"That's looking more and more possible," Garber replied grimly. "Though it beats me as to why. I think we're really going to have to start moving, though I will help you, Sherwood. Best that no one goes off alone."
::I agree,:: Ceridon sent to them. ::Though we really need some rest right now. We can, at least, get rid of those.:: She gestured with her horn at the few visible corpses of the wolves.
::Tomorrow, however, we really need to move, and I might be able to help then. We're close enough to the large source of power I've been sensing all along, that I have nearly unlimited access to it. I can shunt some of that energy to the horses, keep them going at a faster pace for longer.::
"Garber, I would welcome the help! Though, to tell the truth, we'll have our hands full when we finally do get to the pack. I hope," the Ranger added tiredly, but with a grin, "we get a chance to rest before daylight. I _really_ hate trying to sleep on horseback. In truth, I am in hopes the pack may be willing to help us. If we can convince them that this debacle was neither their, nor our doings, we have a chance."
"I'll take the first watch." Elwynn said. "It will give me some time to set up a few wards to keep our peeping mage from looking in on us. We'll need to make a few modifications to the wagon, though. Would anyone care to volunteer to help?"
"I'll help you, Elwynn." As she stepped forward and started working with the Elven woman, she kept shooting glances over toward Ceri. She seemed a bit uneasy, but it was more like she wanted to bring something up, but didn't know how.
Dwynn pondered his newfound grudging respect for Ceridon. 'She was very effective against those wolves. They fear her and she covered my back and probably saved us all. But I really hate how she keeps coming between Linna and me. I'm going to talk to her.'
::Ceridon? There is something I've got to say.:: Dwynn moved closer to Ceridon so that they could see each other clearly.
::I owe you one for what you did just now. But I also resent the way you keep getting between Linna and me.::
::I know,:: she said with a gentle, even shamed, tone. ::In fact...:: she broadened her sendings so that everyone could hear her, ::I think I owe everyone here an apology, but especially Linna and Dwynn. I've been behaving rather abominably lately, but now--finally--I think I know why. I *am* jealous, though not specifically of you two...well, I am and I'm not.
::Linna, do you remember our conversations on that fateful day when I changed? Especially just before and just after it?::
"Yes, I do," Linna replied. "We were talking about our future, and you said you were thinking about staying at the orphanage and helping teach the children. And later...you called what had happened a curse, since it kept you from normal relations with people...because you wouldn't have a chance...to get married, or have kids."
Ceridon saw the growing comprehension in Linna's eyes, and nodded. ::Right now, Linna, you have a chance to explore matters of the heart. I don't. If this doesn't work, I may *never* have that chance. *That's* what I'm jealous of. Unfortunately, that jealousy has translated itself into some rather rude behavior, and I apologize to all of you for that.::
Linna stepped to Ceri's head and gave her a hug. "I'm so sorry. I hadn't thought how this might be affecting you. Would you want us to...I don't know...tone it down some?"
Ceri snorted. ::Of course not. This is *my* problem, not yours. And now that I know the problem, with your patience and Ashtara's help, I can combat it.::
At Ceri's sending, Sherwood paused, dumbstruck. "Ceri, you silly ass... er, I mean, unicorn...er, whatever!" He turned, blushing, and grabbed Garber's arm. "Let's get out of here before we all start bawling!"
Dwynn looked Ceridon straight in the eyes and in a gentle voice said, "I can understand how you feel and why it would be worse for you, but any of us may never get that chance." ::And there is hope for you having a family yet.::
Raising his voice he continued, "Linna, toning it down is exactly what we have been doing. And it has me very frustrated. I like to pursue my goals with a passion or else find some other goal. Right now my passion is for you.
"Ceridon, I am happy to forgive everything that happened and have patience, even help, but I want your permission to pursue Linna romantically, and I want Linna to know it.
"And Linna, I want you to stop holding back as well. Shielding Ceridon from it will be next to impossible, because you are so close. It would be better if we all just accepted it. Then maybe Ceridon and I could become friends. If you keep on protecting her, it will never work."
Looking at Linna with hope and frustration mingling in his eyes, he whispered, "I guess you have a choice to make. Your reaction will tell me what you have decided."
Linna blushed furiously at Dwynn's words, though she kept her eyes on him. "I'm very flattered, Dwynn. And I do feel something for you. Whether it's truly a love that we can build on...well, I'm still trying to figure that out. Besides," she added with a wry smile, "this might not be the best time to pursue things too far, given that we can't be sure we'll even survive this trip. But if we do..." she trailed off, blushing again.
"You're right, Sherwood. We'd *better* get out of here." He followed Sherwood away from the clearing, though he forbore mentioning that his feelings were tending more to being slightly sickened than weeping. He'd had female partners and companionship aplenty, but never the sort of lovesickness he was seeing from Dwynn and Linna. And, as with all those uninitiated in such love, he didn't have a lot of patience for it.
Dwynn walked closer to Linna and said in a soft voice, "I will not just drop this, my Lady." He tried for an encouraging smile. "But perhaps we should sit quietly by the fire and talk it over. There is a lot I have to say." With that he took her hand to lead her off to a little more privacy. ::Ceridon, it's up to you if you want to be physically present.::
::Oh, no,:: she replied with just a hint of a teasing tone in her mental voice. ::This is entirely between the two of you. I'll go see if I can help Elwynn with the wards.:: She trotted over to the wagon, where Elwynn was putting the finishing touches on the wagon.
As she headed toward the fire, Linna glanced keenly at Ceri. ::That wasn't the *whole* of the problem, was it?:: she sent privately.
::Never could get anything by you, could I?:: Ceri sent back ruefully. ::But I still trying to figure out the rest of it. I'll talk about it later.:: Linna nodded and sat down by the fire with Dwynn.
Ceri gazed after her and sighed inwardly. How could she tell Linna what she was only just beginning to understand--that she was most upset about Linna and Dwynn because she *wasn't* as jealous as she thought she should be. Given who she'd been and how she'd felt three years ago, she should be absolutely seething with anger and jealousy. But, though she was upset at the thought of possibly losing the close relationship she had with Linna to someone else, there was, underneath that, a sense of relief-- a feeling of "better her than me."
'I really *have* changed,' she thought with growing dismay. 'Not just physically, but emotionally. But I don't *want* to change,' and she stamped petulantly. 'I *like* who I was!' But, despite such thoughts, the feelings persisted--gladness at being unencumbered with love matters, excitement with her unicorn abilities, and desire to learn all she could about her unicorn guise. In the familiar surroundings of the orphanage, those feelings had been subsumed with the longing to return things to normal. In these travels, though, she truly was becoming more comfortable as a unicorn--and that both frightened and exhilarated her.
As Dwynn and Linna moved off, Elwynn busied herself on the other side of the wagon. She had produced some magic paint from her hat and had begun applying it to the canvas covering. The symbols she painted were designed to provide some protection against future attempts to scry on the party.
"Leave it to romance to complicate matters," she said to herself.
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