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Old 03-19-2003, 10:44 AM   #46
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Finally got caught up. Keep up the great work. And where the poll is concerned, I like previews, personally. Well, i have leave soon, but hopefully i'll talk to you later.
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Old 03-24-2003, 07:52 PM   #47
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Thanks, Amy.
I tried to write today, but no ideas came. I think I need to discharge some energy...
Well, here it is! Chapter 9!




Chapter 9: The pearl of Asyrann

The search for the pearl began with Mirna and Mariel seeking for signs underwater, while Eric, Erin and Pura followed them on the shore. Eric asked why they had to go underwater, and Pura explained that energy spreads in all directions under the water and it would be easier to feel the magic from the pearl that way. As it took time for them to find anything, Eric decided to check his book for information on the heerynauts.

"It doesn't say anything about the screeches Mirna mentioned," he commented after a few moments.
"That book is quite incomplete, if you ask me," Erin remarked.
"The book can't say more than the author knew," Pura pointed out. "Maybe the author didn't get to hear that sound."
"I thought those books were written by professional explorers," Erin said.
"But sometimes not even an explorer gets to see everything," Pura noted. "For example, what would an explorer say about you?"
"Nothing," Erin replied. "I would kick his butt before he got to write my name on a book. If I can't talk him out of it, that is."
"See what I say?," Pura chuckled.
"You're getting worse by the minute!," Eric complained. "Are you sure those evil forces are not affecting you?"
"Don't worry, I'm clean," Erin responded. "I was just kidding about the butt-kicking part. Pura and I have made it a habit of testing each other's limits. Right, Pura?"
"Well, you can put it that way," Pura conceded. "It's true that I'm not mad at you anymore, and I don't think you will do anything to hurt me intentionally. And you can say the same about me."
"Yes, you're too blatantly honest for your own good, but you know how to keep a secret if you have to. I'll just make sure not to give you too many secrets to keep," Erin commented.

"Hey, I've just noticed something!," Eric exclaimed.
"What is it?," Pura asked.
"We're 5 now and I'm the only male!"
"We should give your boy a prize for his observational skills," Erin joked, directing her look at Pura.
"I'm sure he didn't mean he's only just noticed that," Pura defended him.
"No, I knew, but... why am I surrounded by females?"
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?," Pura asked him.
"Don't worry, I'll never act like a typical female, so you're safe," Erin assure.
"What does a typical female act like?," Pura dared her.
"Like the stereotype. You know... all sweet and corny and defenseless... always waiting for a brave guy to save her," Erin described. "Just like... you know."
She pointed with her head to the water, where Mirna was swimming.
"Why do you have to be so aggressive?," Eric questioned her.
"Sorry. It's nothing personal, but I feel disgusted by that kind of attitude. I think everyone should have the means and the courage to do something for themselves. What kind of life would you have otherwise? Just float wherever the river takes you and hope that you won't crash against a rock on your way?"
"I still think you're being unfair," Pura argued. "You barely even know her. Give her a chance. Everyone has something good to offer."
"Not everyone, but I can't blame you. I used to think that way too, when I was younger," Erin confessed. "It feels better to think that. The world looks nicer and simpler."
"How old are you?," Eric inquired.
"2 years older than I was the first time you asked," she said.
"But you didn't tell me that time," Eric reminded her.
"Then what makes you think I'm going to tell you now?"
"Well, we're friends now," Eric pointed out.
"Ok, friend, I'm older than you and Mariel and probably older than Pura, but that's all you're ever gonna get, so please stop asking."
"You have an incredible talent for responding to questions without answering them, did you know that?"
"Thanks, I'm flattered," Erin smiled.

Fortunately for everyone, the argument came to a stop due to Mariel coming out to the surface, followed by Mirna.
"I've felt something," Mariel announced. "Powerful magic. It must be the pearl, or maybe what's holding it."
"Great!," Eric exclaimed. "Where is it?"
"A few steps ahead, there's a tunnel going down from the left side of the river."
"On the other shore, you mean?"
"Yes, under the shore. That's where the energy's coming from."
"Oh, great!," Erin exclaimed sarcastically.
"What's the problem?," Eric asked her.
"Nothing, nothing. Let's go and get this over with."

Mirna handed out the bubble leaves and everyone took them in and got into the water. Erin stayed behind for a moment, fighting her own thoughts. Her muscles tensed when the cold water touched her skin, but she knew she couldn't allow herself to be slowed down by a minor annoyance. If she was going to reach the center of the web, the 'core' as she called it, then she would have to endure much worse than whatever she'd find now. This was only the first test. She had an air supply to last for a day or more and the chances of the tunnel collapsing were small unless someone caused that intentionally. She'd have to make sure that didn't happen. And yes, the water would offer resistance to her moves, but she had the physical strength to counter that effect. Her friends wouldn't be so lucky, but she'd help them if they needed her. The only problem left was her sword. But she'd deal with that when the time came.

The tunnel was long and silent. Too silent. The only sounds they could hear were the ones they made while swimming and releasing the worn-out air from their lungs. Until Mirna heard something, and stopped. The others, who were behind her, stopped to look at her.
"They're close," she informed them, being the only one who could speak underwater.
Erin got closer to her, but didn't find a way to get more information. In the end, she took the front and swam forward.
Erin and the others began to hear the sounds a few seconds later. Many voices, all speaking at the same time. It was impossible to make out what they were saying. Not long afterwards, they took a turn and found an opening. The walls of the tunnel parted from each other, forming a spherical area the size of a small house. Many small, blue-skinned beings were gathered inside, chatting loudly. A white light came from behind the crowd. It had to be the pearl. Naturally, they couldn't stay there contemplating it. Light travels in all directions, and just as the group saw the heerynauts, the water creatures spotted them. Of course, that would have had to happen sooner or later, and there would have been no way to discuss a plan underwater. There are times when you just have to improvise.

The heerynauts stopped talking and looked at each other, confused. Apparently they weren't expecting an intrusion. Finally, one of them came out from the crowd, floating right in front of the furthest wall, and issued a command.
"Get them!"

The heerynauts turned to the intruders and closed their fists together in front of their mouths. Not the kind of action the pearl seekers were expecting. Actually, no action seemed to follow. This was really awkward. Until Mirna began to scream and cry. The others looked at her, and saw she was covering her ears with her hands and twisting her body uncontrollably. That explained many things. Among the creatures who inhabited the forest of Lumms, mermaids had the most acute hearing. Probably the explorer who had written Eric's book hadn't been able to hear the heerynauts' sonic attack. But that wasn't the time to think about those things. It was the time to act.

Eric took out his sword and launched himself forward towards the heerynauts. The blue creatures were caught by surprise, but reacted fast, clinging to Eric's arms and legs and hindering his moves more than the water could. Mariel and Pura began to shoot light spheres at the heerynauts, trying to open a path in order to reach the pearl. They were succeeding. Well, at least until a dart was shot at Mariel's back. She fell, and when she tried to stand up again her body was all covered by heerynauts pressing her against the ground, like ants on a fallen piece of fruit. Pura moved up, and kept shooting her light balls at Mariel's attackers, but they were too many for her alone. That was when Erin came in their aid. Her fists managed to set enough heerynauts apart for the elvin to stand back on her feet. However, Mariel tumbled and immediately noticed that something was wrong. She took the dart out of her back and looked at it, worried. She couldn't smell it under the water, but she didn't have to. She was already experiencing the dizziness and clumsiness that came as the first symptoms of poisoning with several substances that Primrose had taught her about. She didn't know what kind of posion it was yet, but she knew she had to heal herself before she fell unconscious. If that happened, it would most probably be too late. Luckily for her, elves had a natural resistance to most toxic substances, so her body would be able to fight the poison for a while unless more darts came her way. She walked slowly, trying to make for the pearl.

Erin instantly recognized Mariel's condition and her intentions, and made it her task to protect her from further attacks. Of course, that was easier thought than done. She could have easily blocked attacks with her sword, but there wasn't enough air to summon it. It was incredible how something so valuable could be taken for granted most of the time. She looked around, searching for the heerynaut with the darts, and found him in time for stopping him from taking another shot. She moved faster than she'd ever thought she could under the water, and broke the heerynaut's blowgun in two with her bare hands. The heerynaut seemed to be as surprised as she was; but the shock didn't last long. The blue-skinned being opened his hands, stretching out the membranes between his fingers, and a strong current of water blew Erin down, sticking her to the ground. She tried to get back up, but more heerynauts surrounded her and the water began to press harder. She couldn't move; and what was worse, the pressing stream didn't leave enough room in her neck for the little air that came out of the bubble leaves to pass. The only thought that crossed Erin's mind at that moment was "I knew something bad would happen".

Eric had his hands full with heerynauts attacking him from all directions. He used his sword to blow away their attacks, but there was only so much he could do. And, all his old friends being out of sight, he couldn't turn his back on Mirna, who now lay immobilized on the ground, her eyelids tightly closed and her hands pressing against her ears. He couldn't begin to imagine how much the sound was hurting her. He had to find the heerynauts who were still making it, and stop them.

Mariel had almost made it. She could already see the pearl in front of her. Its pure, beautiful light invited her to get closer, giving her the strength to walk the next step, and the following one... but the heerynauts surrounded her before she could reach it. Before she knew, she was trapped in a whirlpool, spinning out of control. She was in pain, and the dizziness forced her to close her eyes. Although inside the whirlpool she would have seen nothing but blurs anyway.

"I can't let them win," she thought. "I'm so close, I have to do something!"

She felt a strong pain run up her spine. As a reflex, she let her shoulders and head fall forward. One second later, an idea came to her mind. She stop struggling against the water, letting her whole body fall.
"She's out," one of the heerynauts said. The water around Mariel stopped spinning, and instead deposited her slowly on the ground. The elvin lay motionless, confirming the heerynaut's thoughts. The water creatures closed in, ready to deal the final blow and get rid of her forever, but all of a sudden an intense light came out from the apparently inert body, blinding them. The light pierced through their flesh, or at least that was how they felt it. All the cells in their bodies began to vibrate. It was a kind of energy they weren't used to, and they couldn't stand it. The ones who were closer to Mariel fell unconscious. The others fled as fast as they could, leaving the elf alone. Mariel opened her eyes, letting the light guide her, and slithered on the ground. "This is the last effort," she told herself. "Then everything will be fine."

Pura watched everything from above, trying to come up with the best course of action, her own mind being her worst opponent.
"I can't be so worthless," she scolded herself. "How did I ever get to graduate? I wasn't that bad at the practices, but I'm useless when real trouble comes. My friends cannot count on me when they need me the most!"
Her thoughts were beginning to irritate her more than her enemies ever could. If she didn't react to them, she would sooner or later react to her own rage against herself. She could launch herself against the heerynauts just to shut her thoughts up. Of course, that wouldn't help much. She would have to control herself or else the heerynauts would be onto her in no time.
"Now that I think of it, why haven't they attacked me yet?," she wondered. "They have seen me, and they have felt my attacks before, so why didn't they react? Do they consider me too little of a threat to worry about me, or is it that they haven't figured out how to hurt me yet?"
Those thoughts sounded promising. In either case, she had an advantage. Whether she was being underestimated, or thought invulnerable, she stood a chance to go back into the battle without receiving any attacks, at least for some time. That should be enough to do something helpful once and for all. Sometimes it was good to be a lurian.

She crossed the battlefield trying to find the place where she was needed the most, and soon found Erin, who was still being crushed by the water attacks. She did her best to make her light balls stronger than ever, and shot them at each of the faerie's attackers. The heerynauts were thrown off-balance, allowing the winged warrior to get up and swallow the air contained in her mouth. She would have thanked Pura if she'd been able to speak. But things being as they were, she contented herself with dealing some bone-crashing blows with her fists, repaying the favors she had received.

Eric finally managed to reach the screeching heerynauts. He was learning to handle himself in the water, and it didn't take him long to neutralize them. All he had to do was pin his sword into the ground and send a shockwave through it. The earth below the heerynauts ascended, hitting them and making them fall. That didn't really hurt them, as the water cushioned the impact, but at least it was enough to make them stop screeching. Now Mirna was able to get back up and swim towards the pearl. She was a really fast swimmer. More heerynauts tried to block her way, but they were pinned down by Pura's light balls. The lurian had turned out to be a better fighter than she'd given herself credit for. Eric followed the mermaid, and soon encountered Erin on the way. Once together, both warriors set themselves to block the way for any attacking heerynauts. They had already assembled themselves as a team. No words were needed.

When Mirna reached the pearl, she noticed the wall in front of her was undulating. She wondered what was going on, but she knew she didn't have the time to investigate it. She took the big pearl in her hands, and its light became stronger.
"I am now protected by the Pearl of Asyrann," she declared. "There's nothing you can do to hurt me."

She then noticed Mariel lying on the ground, and brought the pearl down to the elvin's hand. Mariel touched it, and felt its life-giving energy surge through her. It felt as if time had stopped to help her heal. Everything was silent. Soon, she was able to stand up. She offered Mirna her most grateful smile, a poor gesture for the help the mermaid had offered, but the only thing she could do at that moment. Then she turned against the heerynauts like her friends.
"Leave now," Mirna ordered. "And never come back."

Erin shook her head, unbelieving. Could Mirna really be so stupid? Well, maybe she had an excuse. Maybe she had lived away from any threats all her life and had never learned about the danger of the words she had just pronounced. That was, unfortunately, a lesson that could only be learnt the hard way.

Most heerynauts were already out, but the ones that remained weren't quite eager to comply with Mirna's command. They launched their most powerful currents of water at her, pushing her against the waving wall. The mud began to pull her in. She made her best effort to come out and to keep the pearl away from the wall, but the wiggling mud was too strong. Erin rushed to help her, and caught one of the mermaid's wrists in her arms. She began to pull with all her strength. Eric helped her pulling the other arm, and then her shoulder, while Mariel and Pura used their light attacks to stop the heerynauts. Mirna finally made it out of the wall, and swam for her life when the whole place was engulfed in a huge whirlpool. She embraced the pearl firmly, and Pura clang to her hair. Eric and Mariel held each other's hands and struggled to get out, while Erin pushed them to make them move faster. The water lifted up all the fallen heerynauts, and caught even the ones who were still swimming, pulling everyone and everything into the undulating wall.

"What's going on?," Mirna shouted, holding the pearl with all her strength.
No one could reply, but even if they had been able to speak, that wouldn't have helped much. They were all clueless. All they knew at that moment was that they had to get out. They held on to each other firmly and pushed forward with everything they had. Eric requested the soil to help him, using the little earth magic he could muster. After minutes that felt much longer than they were, the group finally made it to the tunnel where the currents were weaker. Once there, Erin began to hit the walls around the opening to cause them to collapse. Just the opposite of what she had originally thought she would be doing. Everyone had to swim away from the falling walls, but soon the opening was sealed. They swam out of the tunnel as fast as they could, and once in the river they rushed to the surface.

"That was close," Eric sighed, as soon as his head came into contact with the atmosphere.
"Tell me about it!," Erin retorted, flying out of the water and shaking her wet wings.
"Why didn't you use your sword in there?," Eric inquired.
"Remember what I told you about the bag of air?," she reminded him. "I can't form it under the water, so it was impossible to take my sword out."
"Why didn't you tell us before?," he complained.
"I'm not keen on showing my weaknesses," she responded. "That leaves others the chance to exploit them."
"But we're friends!," Eric claimed. "I would never exploit your weaknesses. I would only use my knowledge to help you."
"I trust you, Eric, but there's no way to know who else can hear us," she said.
"Don't you think you may be getting a bit paranoid?," Mariel remarked.
"Don't hold your thoughts, I know I must look like a complete nuts to you many times," Erin stated. "But you can feel evil forces lurking. You have seen some of them in action by now. The heerynauts didn't know much about us, and that helped us a lot. It may have even saved our lives today. Still, there was another force at work down there. That strange wall and the whirlpool... the heerynauts were trapped by it, which means they didn't cause them. There's still too much we don't know about our enemies, so let's make sure they find out as little about us as possible. Oh, that reminds me. Thanks for helping me out down there, Pura."
"You're very welcome," Pura replied.
"I think we should all thank each other," Mariel suggested.
"Well, thanks everyone," Eric laughed. "I really thought I could hold myself better in the water. I never thought it would be that hard."
"Maybe one day you will learn to listen to me," Erin scolded him.
"But we found the pearl," Mirna pointed out. "And we got it back. Now will you please follow me to Asyrann to help me take it home safely? It's not far from here."
"I'm not putting one more bubble leaf into my mouth," Erin declared.
"You won't have to," Mirna assured. "You can follow me from the air until we get to the lake. Then I'll call for a sorcerer to cast a spell to help you breathe underwater."
"If there are sorcerers in Asyrann, then why didn't they go for the pearl?," Erin questioned.
"They had to stay to protect the city," the mermaid explained. "They couldn't leave their people when they needed them the most."
Erin sighed.
"Ok, let's go," she accepted. "Let's put an end to this whole thing so we can continue on our journey."


`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

And here are the previews!

In...

"I'll do it," Mariel offered. "I have a song I wrote on the day we parted. I've never been able to sing it before, so... it may not be very good, but I'll be happy to share it with you."

"These are the corniest creatures I've ever seen," Erin declared.
"Well, you may not like the lyrics, but you must admit her voice really is something!," Pura remarked.

...and out

During Erin's turn, she spotted a pair of eyes watching her from a tree. She first looked around, to make sure the camp was safe, and then flew close to the tree to see who the eyes belonged to.

"That plant wasn't here before," she denounced.

Erin was acting too strange. Even more than she used to.

"Hey, hey, easy! Don't kill me with that look!," he begged.
"I see your clothing's not the only weird thing about you," Erin commented. "I would have thought you'd find my sword more threatening than my look."
"That's because you haven't seen the way your eyes look now," he retorted.

"You don't strike me as someone who can live inside a shell for ever. And when you come out, you'll amaze even yourself."


Chapter 10: "In and out"! Duh.

And the current poll is... What do you think will happen in the next chapter?
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Old 03-24-2003, 11:44 PM   #48
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Whoa! Thrilling chapter, to say the least, Gabi! The whole Erin-Pura thing is becoming priceless! Good to see Mirna taking a stand for once. And poor Eric, surrounded my women. I have that happen to me so many times it's scary. But it's okay the last few times!

As for the next chapter, I think Erin will stumble onto something major, but she won't be able to understand it just yet, while the rest of the group will think she's going crazy.
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Old 03-30-2003, 12:23 PM   #49
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Thanks for your comments, Ryan and Tara! (Tara made her comments on AIM). I'm really flattered!
It was great to talk to you both on AIM. And on the same night to boot!
I've printed chapter 4 of your fic (TPM was down this morning when I tried to read it, then I got distracted and then I no longer had enough time to read it, so I printed it). I'll read it ASAP.
Chapter 10 will be up tomorrow and I'll do my best to keep writing. Things keep getting in the way between me and my fic, but I have most of chapter 13 planned and I'll write it as soon as I can.
Once more, thanks for your support!
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Old 03-31-2003, 11:07 PM   #50
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I'd better post chapter 10 while it's still Monday

Chapter 10: In and out

As soon as the group made it to the lake, Mirna dived into the water with the pearl to emerge, minutes later, with another mermaid. This one had silvery blue hair, adorned with a crown of small, star-shaped stones, and her irises were golden.
"So you're the brave warriors who rescued our pearl," the mermaid praised them in a sweet, soothing voice.
"Technically, two brave warriors, a sorceress and a teacher," Pura noted, immediately getting stared at by her friends. "Oh, sorry," she apologized. "As you can clearly see, I'm the teacher. We're all very glad we could help."
"Thank you for all your help," the blue-haired mermaid replied. "My name is Nuray. I'm a sorceress. Will you please come down to our city to receive the gratitude of our people? It would mean so much to us!"
"It will be great to see an underwater city!," Eric cheered.
"It will be an honor," Mariel considered.
"And a pleasure," Pura added.
Erin simply sighed. All her friends were so excited... it wouldn't have been fair to go against them. Plus she was running out of good arguments to reject that kind of invitation. The fact that she had nearly drowned a few hours earlier didn't sound like a powerful enough reason; they wouldn't be in danger in Asyrann, and if she let the thought of the recent events stop her, then she'd never be able to put her head under the water again. Not that being underwater could ever be an important part of her life, but she hated the thought of being hindered. To her, that was the next worst thing to being useless. So she accepted.

Nuray took her hands out of the water, revealing some kind of silvery powder contained in them. She spoke some words the travelers couldn't understand, and blew the powder at them.
"It is safe to go down now," she announced. "The spell will work until you get out of the water."
With that, she disappeared into the water. Mirna followed her, and after her went Pura, Eric, Mariel and finally Erin. The water of the lake was warmer than the river, and as they went under the reflective surface, they found that it was also clearer. It took the group some time to get used to breathing. The water was denser than the air, and it felt strange to take it in. But after a few minutes, it felt almost natural. Mirna and Nuray allowed them the time to get comfortable before leading them to the city.

The lake was much deeper than it looked from the outside. Barely any sunlight reached its depths. But, as the light from the sun disappeared, a new source of light took its place. Following it, they discovered the hidden city. Its crystalline constructions were a sight to remember. Nearly everything was built out of white stones that reflected the light from the pearl, which now lay in the center of the city, providing even the most remote corners with perennial light. Right behind the pearl, there was a construction that resembled and amphitheater, with white columns forming a semi-circle that delimitated the stage. That was were Nuray headed, and the others followed her. Mermaids and mermen came swimming from all directions, gathering curiously around the crew. Nuray did her best to organize the crowd, directing them to the seats, and then spoke to them about the brave heroes who had saved their city. Now Erin was not the only one who felt slightly embarrassed, but fortunately the speech was short. An old merman floated out of the crowd and instructed everyone to bring their best foods to make a banquet for the heroes. Erin said they didn't have much time, but Mirna pointed out that they would have to eat anyway, so why not let the Asyrannians express their gratitude?

The banquet took less than 10 minutes to be formed. Everyone brought the best dishes they had, which consisted mainly of fish and algae, some other water plants, a few crustaceans and some small round berries. The travelers tried a bit of everything and nobody complained. It wasn't the kind of food they were used to, but it wasn't bad. And it was offered to them with such passion that rejecting anything could be seen as an offense. In the end, Mariel concluded that they would have to thank the Asyrannians now, for the treatment they had received. That was when the lake people decided a celebration was in order.
"I think it's time to go," Erin suggested.
But then music came from everywhere and Nuray started singing. Her voice was too beautiful to turn away from it.
"Did you know that mermaids had such a wonderful voice?," Mariel asked Pura.
"It's one of their best attributes," Pura replied. "They have used it as a tool to avoid confrontations; though it doesn't work when their opponents are truly determined. It is said that they can also kill air-breathing beings by luring them into the water with their voices, but I haven't heard of any real cases."
"Just like magic," Mariel concluded. "It can bring bliss or torment, depending on how you use it."

Mariel closed her eyes. Nobody noticed it, but the concentration of salt in the water around her face raised slightly.
After Nuray, other mermaids sang, including Mirna. When she left the stage, she swam straight towards her new friends and asked them if any of them wanted to sing.
"I can't sing," Eric said. "I have a terrible voice."
"I heard that elves had beautiful voices," Mirna claimed.
"Not this one," Eric insisted.
Mirna turned to Erin.
"Forget it!," the faerie turned her down. "I've already had enough for today, singing would be too much. Besides, I'll do you all a favor by staying quiet. I don't know what Eric's singing voice is like, but it can't be worse than mine."
"Don't ask me," Pura said. "I'm too shy to sing to a crowd of mermaids. And I can't think of any good songs right now."
"No one will criticize you," Mirna assured.
"Still," Pura insisted. "I only sing to myself. I'm not ready for such an audience."
"I'll do it," Mariel offered. "I have a song I wrote on the day we parted. I've never been able to sing it before, so... it may not be very good, but I'll be happy to share it with you."
Mirna smiled with satisfaction. She had always wanted to hear an elf sing, and the audience would certainly be delighted at having one of the heroes sing to them.

As Mariel stood on the stage, silence fell all around. She warned the audience that her voice wasn't as sweet and inviting as the voice of a mermaid, and that the song had been written by a young elf who still had a lot to learn, but none of that diminished their eagerness to hear it. So, she began to sing, and a soft, sweet music came from around her, like magic, accompanying every beat with perfection. And so, she sang.

Magic's all around us;
every place I reach.
I hear its voice, it's telling me
to fight for what I need.

Now it's time to take the chance.
Find the strength within.
Take my hand and don't look back.
We'll share an endless dream.

Look inside your heart,
you'll see.
Magic's all around.
Trust me.
With our wills unfurled
we can change the world.
All you need is to believe.

Look into my eyes,
reach me.
We do have a chance;
believe.
Set your soul to fly;
aim it for the sky.
Call my name and I'll be here.

Let's chase our dreams.
Let's make them real.


"It's corny," Erin commented.
"It's beautiful!," Eric swooned.
"She has a lovely voice!," Pura commended her.
The lake people seemed to agree with the last statement. They were, indeed, delighted by the sound of her voice. They surrounded her and complimented her so much that her face turned red.
"Thank you! It means a lot to me coming from you!," Mariel thanked them.
"These are the corniest creatures I've ever seen," Erin declared.
"Well, you may not like the lyrics, but you must admit her voice really is something!," Pura remarked.
"Thank you so much for everything," interjected Mirna, directing her words to Mariel first and immediately to the others. "We'll never be able to pay you for what you did today."
"You already have," Eric told her. "I'd never been treated this way in my whole life! And thanks to you I got to see another bright side of Mariel I didn't know. How many virtues can a single being have?"
Mariel heard him, and her blush became stronger than ever.
"You tell me," she said, turning to him. "You've already shown more than I could count."
"The last thing we needed!," Erin ranted.
"Oh, come on, they're so cute!," chirped Pura.
"If I see one more sign of cuteness today I'll faint," Erin declared.
"Even you must have a soft side somewhere in there," Pura confronted her.
"If I do, I hope I never find it," was Erin's reply.
"Take this as a token of our gratitude," Nuray offered, facing the group again and handing Mariel a crown of stars just like hers. "And I must tell you, you have a wonderful voice."
"Thanks," Mariel smiled, taking the crown in her hands. "Thanks so much!"
"The crown isn't just for decoration," Nuray informed her. "It will also help you focus your magic abilities and increase their power. I take it you're the sorceress of the group."
"Your assumption is right," Mariel said with a smile, placing the crown on her head. "Thanks again. You have all been great to us."
"You're the ones we must thank," Nuray replied. "I hope we meet again."
"We will," Mariel assured. "We will come back to Asyrann after our mission is complete. Will you be alright?"
"We will be more careful from now on," Nuray affirmed. "We'll be working on protection spells to shield ourselves from sonic attacks and prevent the pearl from falling on the wrong hands again. We'll also take other defensive measures. Don't worry. We'll be fine."
"I guess this is goodbye," observed Mirna. "The river ends here and I can't move freely out of the water like you, so I'll see you when you return."
"You've been great company," Eric assured.
"I know I've been nothing but a heavy load to you," she contradicted him. "But thanks. It's good to know you care about me enough to try to make me feel better."
"Don't forget you were the one who reached the pearl," Eric reminded her. "And you saved Mariel's life. Nothing I could do would be enough to thank you for that."
"You would have done better without me," Mirna assured. "But it was a pleasure to be with you."
"It was great to be with you," Mariel told the mermaid. "Take care, and stop bringing yourself down."
"I'll try. Good luck on your journey!"

The good-byes were long, but before night came the group was back on the road, figuratively speaking. They made up for the lost time by staying up late, Pura and Mariel providing the light to see where they were going. At one moment, they heard something moving among the bushes, but it turned out to be a mouse. Having found no threats, they set their camp when they were too tired to keep walking, and took turns for keeping guard, as usual. During Erin's turn, she spotted a pair of eyes watching her from a tree. She first looked around, to make sure the camp was safe, and then flew close to the tree to see who the eyes belonged to. She was half relieved and half disappointed when she found out it was an owl.
"The kids may be right," she thought. "I may be getting a bit paranoid. But better safe than sorry."

The four travelers got up with the sun and resumed their march. Everything was alright, or so it seemed. At least until Mariel made a curious remark.
"Have you noticed that eagle has been flying above us since we left?"
Everybody looked up and saw an eagle hovering right above their heads.
"I hadn't, but thanks for pointing it out," Erin told her. "It seems I was right last night, we're being watched."
"By an eagle?," Eric questioned.
"Things aren't always what they seem," Erin remarked.
The eagle described a circle in the air and then turned right and flew away.
"It's gone now, I think you were jumping to conclusions," Eric suggested.
"I think it was too much of a coincidence that it left just now," Erin observed.
"I second her on this," Pura told her charge. "We should be careful."
They were about to leave the place when Erin turned around and stretched out her hands. Her sword appeared between them, pointing at a short cane.
"That plant wasn't here before," she denounced. "Show yourself, shifter!"
Much to the surprise of Eric and Mariel, the cane took the form of a small man, about Erin's height or a centimeter taller. He had shoulder-length black hair, brown eyes, white skin though not as white as Mariel's, and he was wearing quite unusual clothes: straight, black trousers and black boots, a sleeveless black jacket with golden lines on all its borders and high shoulder plates, which left the long sleeves of a tight, white shirt visible. The small man was lifting his arms to the level of his head.
"Hey, hey, easy! Don't kill me with that look!," he begged.
"I see your clothing's not the only weird thing about you," Erin commented. "I would have thought you'd find my sword more threatening than my stare."
"That's because you haven't seen the way your eyes look now," he retorted.
"He doesn't look dangerous," Eric stated.
"I am," the strange guy corrected him. "But only to those who want to cause trouble."
"You're quite cocky for someone who has a sword pointing to his chest," Erin remarked.
"I can always turn into diamond," he told her.
"I wouldn't give you the time," she shot back. "Who are you?"
"I'm Timper Wayworth. I'm an explorer. The best you'll ever find. And a shifter, as you have already noticed."
"Why were you spying on us?," Erin interrogated him.
"I wasn't spying on you!," he claimed. "I was just... observing you."
Erin made a slight pressure with the point of her sword on Timper's chest.
"Well, you must admit you're an interesting sight," he said. "I mean, you all, as a group. You're quite an unusual crew. An elvin, a merial, a lurian and... I must admit I haven't figured out what you are yet."
"Let's leave it that way," Erin suggested firmly.
"Your temper doesn't match your looks," Timper told her. "But who am I to say that? Anyway, I saw you come out of the lake yesterday and that attracted my curiosity. And hearing you speak drew me in even more. I've been on exploratory journeys for nearly all my life and not many things have caught my attention the way you all have. I heard you say something about being careful, and I've heard some awful things have happened lately, especially in the north. I thought you might know something about it. I was going there to find out what was going on and see if I could do something to help."
"Why would and explorer want to help strangers?," she questioned him.
"What else does an explorer live for?," he replied. "Well, apart from seeing the world and everything. The life of an explorer is lonely. Sometimes too lonely. You get to know lots of beings, but you never stay with them for a long time. That kind of life would be meaningless if I couldn't at least do something for others."
"He seems honest," Mariel observed.
"I am," Timper affirmed. "I can prove it to you. I'll tell you everything I can do, so you'll have nothing to fear from me."
"How can we know you're not keeping secrets?," Erin pointed out.
"Strange question coming from someone who won't even let me know her species, but you'll have to trust someone some time. The price for closing yourself from everyone is too high. You may think you're protecting yourself, but you might end up with nothing to protect. Fear and suspicions can consume the strongest spirit. I've seen that happen to some beings I've met."
To everyone's surprise, Erin made her sword vanish.
"Thank you. I'll make sure you don't regret it," Timper said, relieved. "As for my abilities, as a shifter I can turn into any living being or any solid object; but if I turn into living creatures I can only do it well if I've already seen the species before. Otherwise I'd have to put too much imagination into it and it wouldn't come out right. When I transform into something, I gain all its physical properties, but not other special abilities. So if I turned into a heerynaut I would be able to breathe underwater, but not control the water around me. Now, as an explorer I have great knowledge of this area, I adapt easily to my surroundings, I am a good observer and I'm good at improvising. And personally, I like inventing things, I don't know a thing of magic but I can find ways to defend myself against it, I have a good memory and I'm a fast learner. Well, generally, at least; it didn't work when I tried to learn a magic spell, but nobody's perfect."
When he saw the faces of the group, he added: "I know modesty is not one of my virtues. If it were, I'd be practically perfect."
He winked, making the elves laugh.
"Well, it seems we're going in the same direction," Eric pointed out. "If you want, you can come with us."
"I would be good to have an explorer in the group," added Pura.
"It would be a pleasure to join you," Timper accepted. "If you don't mind, that is," he turned to Erin.
"Whatever," Erin replied, expressionless.
"Welcome aboard," Mariel greeted him. "Please excuse Erin. She may seem rude, but she's actually a good person. I'm Mariel, he's Eric and the lurian is Pura."
"Pleased to meet you," Timper responded. "And don't worry. I trust that there's more to her than meets the eye. Erin, right? Getting to know you will be an interesting challenge. I just hope you give me that chance. And to the world too."
"Don't set your hopes too high," Erin warned him. "You could be disappointed. Even if you do succeed."
Timper was puzzled. Actually, everybody was. Erin was acting too strange. Even more than she used to.
"I have the feeling you're the one who's going to be surprised," Timper replied. "You don't strike me as someone who can live inside a shell for ever. And when you come out, you'll amaze even yourself."
"You don't know what you're talking about," Erin sighed. "But come on, start walking. We're missing the day's best hours."
And so, Timper joined the group.

`,,`,, ` ,,`,,`

Previews (chapter 11 will be longer than usual, so many previews are in order):

"Are you planning to name all species until you hit mine?," Erin tested him. "Yes, I'm as strong as all those you mentioned, so you can stop now."

"It's complicated. I might get in trouble if you transform into a Lurian, so please don't do it."
"Does everybody here have secrets?," Timper inquired.

"How did it get so dark?," Eric asked, turning to look at Mariel. She wasn't there. Neither were Pura, Erin, nor Timper.

He could only think of one being who would use that kind of magic against them. His suspicions were confirmed when his image appeared right in front of him, as if his thoughts had been materialized.

What an awful way to reveal one of her carefully concealed secrets!

"Mariel!," Eric shouted, losing her to the darkness.
He fought hard to get her back, straining his mind to the limit, holding to the thought of her.

"Connection magic isn't hard to use if you're being guided. If we all work together we'll break the spell."

She stood on the red monster's chest and prepared her sword for the final strike, but at that moment she hesitated, against all her expectations.


And there's more to come in chapter 11: Making connections!

And now the poll for chapter 10: what are your thoughts on Timper?
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Old 04-01-2003, 01:14 AM   #51
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Lovely song there! Poetry is always a good thing. I think Erin is concealing something from the group because it would damn her, and that Timper is very close to figuring it out. Timper seems like the devil in disguise to me. I think he's an agent who's come to split the group via exposing Erin.
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Old 04-01-2003, 09:58 AM   #52
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Wow, I didn't expect a reply so soon!
And I must admit I really was afraid you'd find the song too innocent for your liking. But well, that's what Mariel is like.
Is it me, or are you looking for the devil in disguise everywhere? It's true that not everyone is exactly what they seemed to be (moreover, one of the characters has experienced betrayal), but there are good people out there too. Though it's true that he does want to know Erin's secret. And Erin is not the only one who has secrets, by the way. The current preview could be misleading, but a small secret will be revealed to the readers next chapter.
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Old 04-02-2003, 12:44 AM   #53
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Sorry.

Blame it on 24.

There's one character that has earned my eternal hate in the last 2 hours of the show. I seriously hope Jack gives her a slow death. Andy knows who I'm talking about. Because it's no more than she deserves. And no, Gabi, it's not Nina Myers. Nina was angelic compared to this she-devil. Yes, you don't know who to trust on 24.

And also because of the dirt that Erin gets dished on her. Everyone thinks Erin is the one most likely to be the devil in disguise. But she's not, she simply has far more life experience than the others, and that scares them, because life isn't as pretty as they think it is. It's something they're gradually learning, but for Erin it's a boring hehash of everything she already knows.

And I think Timper's got an ulterior motive. He wants something.
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Old 04-02-2003, 01:47 PM   #54
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You're right about Erin. As for Timper, I can't say you're wrong, but I think you're far from guessing what his ulterior motive is.
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Old 04-07-2003, 06:31 PM   #55
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I may have to start taking longer to post new chapters. Many things are taking too much time and I haven't been able to finish chapter 13 yet. Still, here's chapter 11. I hope you like it.

Chapter 11: Making connections

As the travelers moved on, a conversation took place among them.
"What does shape-shifting feel like?," Eric asked Timper, curious.
"It's natural to me," the shifter replied. "Just like walking or kneeling down. It doesn't feel like anything in particular. Normally, I keep my original shape, unless I have a reason to change it."
"But when you walk you feel the pressure of your feet on the ground, and the weight of your body change from one foot to the other," Eric pointed out. "When you kneel down you feel it in your knees. You must feel something."
"Well, yes, you feel your body adjust to the new shape, and sometimes get harder or softer, but that's all," Timper replied. "It only feels different when the shape you assume has a noticeably different perception, like an eagle's sight or a mermaid's hearing."
"And what if you transform into a plant or an object? What are your senses like, then?," Eric queried.
"They don't change," Timper replied.
"Where are you from?," Mariel asked him.
"I was born in Passing Port, by the river Bell, but it's been long since I've last been there. Very long," Timper answered.
"Why?," Eric inquired.
"No one ever stays there," he responded. "It's just a small settlement for explorers who don't like attachments. They stay there for a few days to rest and eat abundantly until their energies are restored, then leave. I was born there only because my parents happened to be near the place when I started trying to come out. Then they decided to stay until I was capable of surviving by myself, which was more than many others did. They taught me the basics to become an explorer like them, and then they left too. They sad I would never reach my full potential if they took me by the hand all the time. They may have been right, but I must admit I missed them. Then, when I was 10, I left too. My first exploration trip. I got back a year later, but the place had changed completely. No one I knew was there."
"That's so sad!," Mariel exclaimed.
"It's life," Timper sighed. "I have learnt to be alone just like hundreds of others have. An explorer can't afford staying on a fixed place, and I really don't want that either. I love travelling and seeing the world. Though it feels best if I have someone to travel with."
"Has that happened before?," Pura joined the conversation.
"A few times," Timper answered. "Never for too long. It's easier to meet others when visiting towns and villages. I've sometimes spent weeks in one place where I felt welcome. But I've always returned to the wide world. I've never found a group like yours before. What brought you all together?"
"Don't tell," Erin warned her friends.
"Hey, what's the problem?," Timper complained. "Why don't you trust me?"
"You have no fixed shape, no fixed home, no fixed friends..." Erin began. "How can we trust your loyalties to remain in one place?"
"You offend me, miss," Timper claimed. "I am honorable and loyal. And you already know much more about me than I know about you, so I should be the one complaining. This has happened too many times. So many tend to associate shape-shifting with falseness and say we shifters can never be as good as the real thing! Well, you know something? I'm as real as anybody else, and I'm fed up with that stuff!"

Eric and Mariel didn't know much about shifters, but seeing someone confront Erin was a sight to remember.
"Sorry, didn't mean to hit a nerve," Erin replied in a half-smile. "You're quite a strong character."
"You're a strong one too, that much is clear," Timper responded.
"Oh, she's strong indeed," Eric remarked. "Not just her character. Her body too."
"You mean strong as in strong faerie?," Timper inquired. "Like massennes, faerfliyes, nassukuns...?"
"Are you planning to name all species until you hit mine?," Erin tested him. "Yes, I'm as strong as all those you mentioned, so you can stop now."
"Are all those names of strong faeries?," Eric inquired.
"I've heard of massennes," Pura pointed out. "They're non-elemental faeries. They live on the east."
"Yes, and they have 3 pairs of wings, unlike me," Erin added. "I've heard of them too."
"I've seen a few," Timper said. "The only race of strong faeries I have seen face to face. I heard faerfliyes were stronger though."
"Fireflies?," Eric asked.
"Not fireflies!," Pura laughed. "But... they are fire faeries, right? I think I read about them once. They're from the... north?"
"How come you're a teacher and I know more than you about most species?," Erin questioned her. "They're fire faeries, true. Their hair turns into flames when they release fire."
"Indeed," Timper confirmed.
"And what about nassukuns?," Pura queried. "Please excuse my ignorance, but I've never heard about them before. I want to learn and do my job better. This is my first trip too."
"It's understandable that you don't know them," Timper conceded. "They're light faeries, but they're linked to the opposite polarity, so we could say they're darkness faeries. They live in dark caves or in underground tunnels and never come out during the day. It is said that the light hurts them. Their eyes are very sensitive, and they see very well in the dark. I guess the presence of a lurian would repel them. They're quite rare, I once met an explorer who claimed to have seen one, but I never have."
"I thought you'd said you were the best explorer around," Erin reminded him.
"I am," he affirmed. "Though maybe not the luckiest. Finding a nassukun has never been my priority anyway. I'm more into enjoying what comes to me rather than tracking something down. But if I really want to find something, it doesn't take me a long time. Normally."
"You were right about something," Erin admitted.
"About what?," Timper wanted to know.
"You tend to brag a lot," Erin retorted. "How did you become the center of attention?"
"Did I? I thought that was your role," Timper laughed.
"Very funny," Erin told him, her lips not arcing up in the least. "Why don't you change to a faster shape now? You're slowing us down!"
"Sorry, I'll move faster," Timper apologized. "I'll keep up with the rest of you and shift if I get tired. I can use some exercise for now."
"Watch what you wish for," Erin warned him. "Stick with us and you'll probably be getting more exercise than you can handle."
"Well, at least it seems you'll be giving me a rest now," Pura commented.
"For as long as you manage to remain silent, fair Pura," Erin replied.
"Wow, I'm surprised! I thought it was just me you treated like that!," Timper exclaimed.
"No, it's not just you," Erin answered. "Pura and Eric have been trying to figure me out since we first met. So far, all their attempts have failed, and I doubt you'll be any luckier. At least Mariel knows enough to let me be."
"I'm careful not to hurt you," Mariel responded. "But I do wish you were more open. Perhaps I could help you if you let me."
"So it's the world against me," Erin sighed.
"I'm not against you!," Mariel claimed.
"No one is," Timper assured. "Ok, I get it. I won't insist. I don't wanna hurt you. But for your own sake I hope you learn to trust others one day."
Erin sighed, and soared past the crowns of the trees.

Nobody went after the flying warrior this time. They thought it would be best to let her be alone for a while. She ended up coming down on her own, about half an hour later. Her only words as she descended were "it's going to rain."
Everybody looked up to the sky. Timper assumed the shape of an eagle once more, took into the sky, and got down after a few seconds, turning back into his old shape.
"Looks like a heavy storm's on its way here," he announced. "It could be a thunderstorm, we'd better find shelter."
"I'll check if I can find a cave or something," Pura offered. "I'll be back soon."
The Lurian flew away like a flash, and came back only 5 seconds later.
"I've found a cave!," she announced.
"I'll have to learn to do that," Timper decided.
"Could I ask you not to do it before we have a little talk?," Pura said to him.
"Sure, but why?"
"It's complicated. I might get in trouble if you transform into a lurian, so please don't do it."
"Does everybody here have secrets?," Timper inquired.
"I don't," Eric assured.
"Neither do I," Mariel concluded. "Well, at least none for you, but I did tell my parents I was just going on an exploration trip."
"Few know what we're after," Eric explained.
"And I'm not among them yet," Timper pointed out. "What are we after?"
Mariel looked at Erin and, receiving no reply from her, she answered.
"An evil sorcerer named Kharchek and the source of all the recent attacks. Though we don't know if they're related or not yet."
"Then you've heard of those attacks too. That means we're not only going in the same direction, but we're also doing it for the same reason," Timper deduced.
"Where's the cave?," Erin asked Pura, changing the subject abruptly.
"Oh! Follow me," Pura instructed the group.

The travelers followed the violet light until they found a large wall of earth and stone. The ground level changed from that point, as if it were a step on a giant ladder. There was a hole on the wall, big enough for an adult elvin to fit through it. The sky was already dark, and thunders were making their presence noticed.
"Let's go in," Eric suggested.
"I don't like this," Mariel warned him.
"What don't you like?," he asked her.
"I don't know. Something just feels wrong. Like... I can't tell exactly what it is. Something feels wrong, and I could say it feels almost familiar, but I'm beginning to get confused. I know it doesn't make sense."
"If something's wrong here, then we're on the right place," Eric told her. "We'll sort it out. Don't worry, I'll be with you."
Mariel nodded and smiled, following the others into the cave. She was still unsure of her own perception, but she couldn't wish for better company than she had. Erin and Timper looked experienced and knowledgeable. Pura specialized in giving everyone surprises. And Eric would do anything for her. Just as she would for him. They were a team that couldn't be set apart. Together, they could do anything. Just like her song said. Her song... Magic's all around... magic...
"Hey, wait!," Mariel shouted, noticing the undeniable presence of magic inside the cave, which couldn't be darker than it was now. She heard no reply but the echo of her own voice. She looked around and saw nothing but darkness. She tried to grasp Eric's hand, but it wasn't there. She was alone. Alone. And afraid. She summoned a level 2 light sphere and made it float in front of her, hoping that it would reveal her surroundings, but the light shone empty in the middle of the blackness. Still, Mariel didn't let it fade away. She needed to have at least her small light by her side, even if nothing could be seen behind it. At least, with the light, she didn't feel completely alone and helpless. It reminded her that there was still something she could trust.

"How did it get so dark?," Eric asked, turning to look at Mariel. She wasn't there. Neither were Pura, Erin, nor Timper. It was so dark that he couldn't even see the mouth of the cave. He gave a few steps back, probing the space behind him with his left hand, hoping to find any of his friends, the exit or at least a wall. Any point of reference would be better than nothing, which was what he had now. His steps didn't seem to lead him anywhere, but his mind did get somewhere in the process. He finally began to make sense of the last words Mariel had spoken. The fact that she had been confused about it puzzled him, but he knew so little about magic... maybe it was more complicated than he thought. In any case, this was clearly dark magic. And now he had used the word correctly; it couldn't be darker. He could only think of one being who would use that kind of magic against them. His suspicions were confirmed when his image appeared right in front of him, as if his thoughts had been materialized. He looked a bit taller than Eric remembered him, but it could be a visual effect caused by the surroundings and his own anxiety. His pointy chin, black hair and green eyes which looked almost red with hate, his macabre smile, were unmistakable. Many times had Eric dreamed of his encounter with Kharchek, but he hadn't expected it to come so soon. And he hadn't thought he'd be alone either. What would he do now?

The others weren't having a good time either. They were also separated from each other and surrounded by the same impenetrable darkness. Each of them was kept occupied by a different opponent. Erin found a big red demon with a large spike on its right hand, who moved swiftly and evaded most of her blows. Timper had to face a floating ball of fire, which shot energy projectiles at him. How do you fight pure energy? He just did his best to evade the attacks until he thought of something, but he soon realized he'd need a faster shape to prevent the shots from reaching him. Mariel soon came face to face with a horrible zombie, who kept a thick and sharp sword pointed at her and moved much faster than she ever could. Her light balls were a poor protection, as the zombie easily cast them aside them with a move of his sword. As for Pura, she had to face a living skeleton with incredibly sharp-looking claws who, much like Mariel's opponent, somehow managed to dodge all the light spheres she shot at it. It looked small at first, but that was an advantage. A big creature was most likely to miss Pura or, even better, to dismiss her. A small one could get a better aim at her and, if it managed to see past her light, it could even slash her to pieces. Things became even worse when the small skeleton kneeled down and changed... transforming into a huge spider. What would it do now? Trap her in a web? Shoot acid at her and dissolve her little body to nothing? What an awful way to reveal one of her carefully concealed secrets! She was not invulnerable. No lurian was. There was more to her than a spot of light. She could be hurt. She could even be killed. If the word was out, it wouldn't be long before Urthum and Isthum were attacked. She would be indirectly responsible of the doom of all those she cared for. No, she couldn't let that happen. She had to fight. She pushed her light out to make it more intense than ever, and pulled out a new light attack she didn't even know she was capable of.

Erin was finally managing to measure her opponent. It moved fast, but in spite of its appearance, it wasn't very strong. Its spike was its main weapon, accompanied only by the ability to blow strong gusts of wind at her. She was caught off-guard the first time and was blown against a wall, but she could endure much more than that. She flew below the next current and reached the demon's back, dealing a strong blow at it which made the monster lose balance and fall. Her enemy rolled over and got up soon, but she was already aiming at its spike. With a quick move of her sword, the long pointy weapon was sent away, leaving the monster disarmed. But then, things changed. The once solid demon suddenly disappeared into thin air. The spike floated up, lifted by a small tornado, and in a matter of seconds the demon had rebuilt itself.
"This might be an interesting challenge after all," Erin spoke out. But her opponent didn't hear her. It just stood there, pointing at her with its spike, waiting for her to make a move.
Mariel was being overwhelmed by the zombie's incessant attacks. She made a desperate move and blocked his sword with her backpack, which was instantly torn apart but its content saved by the shield inside it. She had been working on a spell to increase the shield's protection. It seemed to have worked at least partially. The shield took some damage, but it didn't break. She used her chance to try her glare spell. She wasn't sure if it would work in such a dark place, but it was worth a try. Releasing all the light she could muster, she ran around the now blinded zombie and shot a light sphere at its back. Surprisingly, the zombie stopped moving.

Timper's new arthropod form didn't help him escape from the light storm that suddenly fell upon him. countless needles of light were launched to the ground at an incredible speed, some of them piercing through his body. He had to turn into a silver stone in order to deflect the rest of rain of light. When the rain stopped, Timper used his chance to shift back and escape. He needed a safe spot while he came up with a plan. And he needed to find his friends.

Pura's enemy suddenly vanished from sight, so she did the only thing she could think of. She made use of her best physical attribute and dashed away right before the spider came back into scene. She didn't know what threats she would find deeper into the cave, but she would at least escape the current one and maybe find Eric and the others. Much to her surprise, the spider didn't even try to follow her. It turned away!

Eric had thought of asking questions to buy some time, but he had to scratch out that plan when Kharchek released a light attack at him. The light was dark purple, but it moved just like all the other light balls he'd seen before. Too fast for anyone who wasn't experienced in fighting them, but that wasn't Eric's case. Apparently, Kharchek didn't know much about him. He was beginning to agree with Erin that one of their biggest strengths was the little knowledge their enemies had of them. He avoided the first attack reflectively, just like the following ones. His sword deflected the light balls to the sides, just like it had done in his many training sessions with Mariel and the lurians. It was easy. Too easy. Kharchek didn't move nearly as fast as he had expected. He barely managed to avoid Eric's sword. Until Eric tried aiming the sword straight to his chest and something blocked it.
"I knew it couldn't be that easy," he thought. "He's playing around. But why? Wouldn't it be easier to just use his strongest attack and get rid of me? Is he measuring me or what? And where's his sword? Something's wrong here."
Eric's suspicions were confirmed when a blinding flash forced him to close his eyes. He took too long to guess the following step, even though many of his practice sessions had ended that way. It only made sense once he felt the energy ball hit his back right between his scapulas and surge through his chest. He immediately stopped attacking. It was the only thing which he thought could work. The only thing that would make Mariel become aware of the trick just like he had now.

Mariel was even more confused that she had been when she entered the cave. The monster who had attacked her now stood motionless in front of her. She watched him carefully and, against the warnings of her senses, she tried to establish a connection. She needed to understand what was going on. She needed something to make sense. She felt the magic barrier and finally understood its nature. It was a mixture of light and connection magic; how ironic, the two domains she could handle best. The first move her opponent did was slow, and no longer unexpected. He lifted the arm that held his sword, but only to put it back into its sheath.
"How could I have been so blind?!," she exclaimed, finally greeting the one sight she's longed for the most.
"I can't blame you," Eric's voice replied. "It happened to me too. If you hadn't acted so much like yourself, I wouldn't have reacted."
"Good thing you know me well, then," Mariel smiled. "Another zombie?"
"Worse. Kharchek," Eric replied. "I can't believe someone set us a trap like this."
"I can feel his magic," Mariel told him. "He's involved in this."

All of a sudden, the connection was broken.
"Mariel!," Eric shouted, losing her to the darkness.
He fought hard to get her back, straining his mind to the limit, holding to the thought of her. He didn't know how to use connection magic, but he had to find a way to reach Mariel again.
"Look into my eyes, reach me," he whispered.
"We do have a chance; believe," Mariel grinned, resurging from the darkness enveloped in an aura of light. "Thanks for being there. And for remembering."
"What happened?," Eric asked.
"I'll tell you later. Now we need to bring the others back and cancel this spell."
"How?," Eric wondered.
"I'll try to set a connection. Just follow me. Connection magic isn't hard to use if you're being guided. If we all work together we'll break the spell. Kharchek isn't here anymore, so we should have no opposition for now."
"How do you know he's not here?," Eric inquired.
"I felt him leave. I mean, he wasn't physically here at all, but a part of him was. Then he left when you and I found him out. Now help me and concentrate on the others, please."

One by one, they were called. Pura was the first one to respond, already suspicious of what her senses showed her. Once more, she proved to be better than she gave herself credit for. Knowing nothing of connection magic, she channeled its force like an expert and boosted it incredibly. That way they reached the large spider who soon took the more familiar form of Timper Wayworth. Timper joined the group, not without publicly admitting he felt like a fool for having fallen for a trick like that.
"Don't blame yourself," Mariel told him. "You didn't know much about us, and you said you didn't know how to use magic, so we should all congratulate you for snapping out of it."
"So only Erin is left," Eric pointed out.
"That will be a tough one," Pura sighed.
"Don't give up now," Mariel encouraged her. "We've almost made it! I can feel the confusion magic fading away as we speak."
The group focused their thoughts on Erin, doing their best to reach her. But she was absorbed by the fight she was in. No one could penetrate her. She swung her sword from one side to another, making her opponent lose his weapon again. And before he could dissolve, she launched herself into him, bringing him down with a slam. She stood on the red monster's chest and prepared her sword for the final strike, but at that moment she hesitated, against all her expectations. At that moment, Eric's voice finally reached her.
"Don't do it," the Merial begged.
The demon disappeared from under Erin's feet and turned into a strong gust of wind that pushed her up to the roof of the cave. The impact blew the air out of her lungs, but only for a moment.
"Tell me why I shouldn't kill that monster," she demanded, still lost in the spell but reaching for Eric.
"It's all an illusion," he said. "A spell. You must stop fighting it and come back to us, to reality."
"It hits too hard to be an illusion," Erin told him, evading a new blow of the quick sword. Was it a sword? It had looked like a spike before. "Well, maybe something is wrong."
"We were made to fight each other," Mariel informed her. "You may be fighting an innocent who was trapped in the cave just like us."
"Try to reach for him," Eric advised her. "Whoever he is, he'll probably be easier to reach than Erin."
"Anyone would," Timper commented while Mariel began to seek for the stranger.
"I heard you, shifter," Erin shouted out.
"Really?! That's great!," Timper exclaimed. "I thought it wouldn't work, but if you heard me, then you can fight the illusion and come back to your senses."
"I don't like the way you worded that," Erin told him. "Maybe I should leave this opponent and fight you instead."
"I'm beginning to believe you have a sense of humor hidden in there," Timper smiled. "Though I've seen your last moves, and I'd rather have you on my side. I've already received some awful light attacks today. Of a kind I hadn't seen before, even."
"Sorry," Pura apologized. "I don't know how I pulled that out. Nor how I managed to channel Mariel's magic. But I'm glad I achieved the latter and sorry about the former."
"Pura pulled out a new trick? I wish I had seen that!," Erin exclaimed, turning around and facing her friends. "Ok, good job all of you. I'm no longer being attacked, so I'm guessing your spell worked. And yes, 'real guy', you can be proud. You brought me back. But don't make it a new subject to brag about."
"Never, Milady," Timper smiled making a funny reverence.
"It's giving way," Mariel announced.

A few seconds later, the walls of the large cave were visible, as was the being who stood right behind Erin. He looked like a young boy, not much older than Eric and Mariel. He had light gray hair and pale greyish skin. Even his clothes were a light tone of grey, nearly white, and he was carrying a white leather bag. Only his eyes didn't match the rest of him. They were dark brown, with a touch of purple on the borders. He was holding a light sword in a superficially wounded right hand, and looking at the group in astonishment.
"Who are you?," he asked them when he found it safe to talk.
"We're a group of travelers," Eric told him. "Two warriors, a sorceress, a teacher and an explorer."
"I'm an explorer too," the stranger revealed. "My name is Gallead."
"A ferwill," Timper noticed.
"What's a ferwill?," this time it was Mariel who asked.
"An air-elemental creature," explained Pura. "They can summon wind and transform into wind themselves."
"I could see that," Erin confirmed. "So, Gallead, how did you get caught in this mess?"
"I was trying to find shelter from the storm and I was suddenly attacked by a flying creature who blew the hardest punches I've ever felt."
"Come on, I didn't hit you that hard!," Erin claimed.
"'I'm sorry' would do better," Eric told her.
"Ok, I'm sorry," she complied, faking indifference.
"Your hand is hurt, let me heal you," Mariel offered.
"It's ok, I can do that," Gallead said. "I know a couple of physical enhancement spells, but thanks."
"Physical enhancement," Mariel repeated. "Interesting. That's a domain I haven't explored yet. I use direct healing spells for that. I also use light and connection magic, and I'm trying to work on protection but it's not working as well as I hoped it would. Maybe I should find a way around it from another domain."
"Why don't you just publish a book telling everyone what we can do?," Erin complained.
"Wow, that's a lot!," Gallead exclaimed, ignoring the last comment. "I can only use spells to boost my agility and heal myself."
"That's more than I can do," Timper pointed out. "But I have other ways of boosting my agility."
"Yes. Some scary ones too," Pura remarked.
"Why should you be scared?," Eric asked her.
"Nevermind," she replied.

"Where were you going?," Mariel asked Gallead.
"Nowhere in particular," the ferwill replied. "I'm just out to see the world and hopefully write a book someday. Though for now all I've managed to put on paper were some illustrations."
"You draw?," Pura asked, excited. "I'd love to see your drawings."
"I have some here," Gallead said, opening his bag and taking out some sketches. Mariel held them in her hands and showed them to everyone.
"They're amazing!," she commented.
"Easily some of the best drawings I've ever seen, and I have seen many," Pura stated.
Timper turned into a neini to fly above the drawings and take a look at them. The green wings made him look weirder than usual.
"Wow, if I could draw like this, I wouldn't need words to describe what I've seen!," he exclaimed.
"If you could get such a compliment from a braggart like him, you must be something," Erin declared. "Let me take a look."
She flew up to Timper's side and examined the drawings.
"Not bad," she concluded. "Not bad at all."
"Then we all agree," Eric stated. "If you ever get tired of being an explorer, you can have a good life as an artist."
"Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you appreciate my drawings. I just needed to let them out. But I'm not planning to give up my way of life for now. There's still much I want to see, and I haven't found a place to call home yet."
"Does that mean that you don't want to be an explorer for the rest of your life?," Timper inquired.
"I don't know. I guess time will tell. I like traveling and seeing new places, but I'd also like to have a place to return to. And call me crazy, but I'd like someone to share my experiences with."
"I guess I understand you," Timper said. "Though to me, the world is my home."
"So our two explorers are quite different from each other," Mariel concluded.
"Oh, no!," Erin scolded her. "We're not taking in another explorer. Let alone a romantic one. We already have more than enough. It would be... redundant."
"He can help," Eric told her. "The more we are, the better our chance will be to defeat our enemies."
"Enemies?," Gallead queried.
"The sorcerer who enchanted this cave and some others. We don't know who they are yet, but I've been feeling the presence of evil magic lately... well, for the last year. And there have been many attacks already."
"Shadows?," Gallead asked.
A tingling feeling run up Mariel's spine when she heard the word. She remembered it well.
"Not that we know of," she responded. "Why? Have you heard of any attacks by them?"
"I heard some cities had been attacked by shadows years ago. When I left the Valley of Winds, I was warned not to go into that area because shadows still lurked there, and no living being could be safe from them. I heard they could do horrible things."
"Like strip someone's soul out of their body and occupy it, yes, I've heard it too," Mariel replied. "I guess it's more than a myth, then."
"We should be careful," Timper said. "If they're a part of the problem, we're probably heading right into their nest. We must be prepared."
"We will," Erin assured.
"Will you join us?," Eric asked Gallead.
"If you didn't think I was crazy before, you will now," the ferwill replied. "But I will. If there's something I can do to stop others from causing suffering, then I will do it. Some of my people have gone to the wastelands and never returned. I'd always wanted to do something about it, to help them or at least stop others from being hurt. But I knew I couldn't take on the shadows on my own. Maybe with you, we will stand a chance."
"Maybe you should be a warrior, then," Eric suggested.
"I don't think so," Gallead disagreed. "My Swift sword is the only weapon I can wield, and I'm not even good enough with it. I think I'll make a better explorer. Or an artist, eventually."
"I can help you with your sword if you want," Eric offered. "We can train a little during our stops."
"While the rest of us make lunch or dinner?," Erin said sarcastically.
"I'm not a good cook," Eric admitted. "I'd better do something I can be more useful at."
"I can help you cook if you want," Gallead offered. "That way we'll be even. I know some special recipes with herbs which are original from the Valley of Winds. You've never tried anything like them."
"I know why Gallead and I are so different now," Timper reflected. "Apparently he did grow up in a decent place."
"Yes, your past can make a difference," Erin sighed. "But now we're here to forge our future."
Timper didn't reply. He'd already learnt to recognize the moments when Erin was best left with her own thoughts. He contemplated her in silence, while the others finished making the proper introductions and welcomed Gallead to the group.

Poll for chapter 11: how many do you think will end up joining the group?

I owe you the previews for now. I have to go to university. I'll post them as soon as I can. I still think chapter 12 needs a few fixes before I can properly choose its previews.
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Old 04-08-2003, 02:11 AM   #56
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Hey, don't worry! This chapter will fulfill readers for quite a while!

Erin vs. Timper. Delicious! As in the innuendo and the arguing and all that. So cool. The battle scene was really cool. You've used a very powerful fantasy writing tool here, Gabi and I applaud you. Illusion battles are the best because they completely turn people upside down and someone else gets the credit for figuring it out.

Hmm, group's getting a bit big. But I guess they need one to take on Kharcek. I think another man and woman each will join at least. Strange that two explorers suddenly join the group without any real questioning and Erin takes the fall for everything.
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Old 04-08-2003, 10:51 AM   #57
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I'm really glad you like that, Ryan.
The thing is that Erin is the only one who doesn't like the idea of adding more members to the group. The others think they'll be stronger if they're more (except for Timper who studies everyone carefully), but Erin can't trust everyone and she thinks the group is building up too fast.
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Old 04-10-2003, 08:55 AM   #58
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Hey i read it and my net hasnt corrupted yet! Yay! Basically that was an awesome chapter I really like Erin now. She's the character with the most spunk out of them all, she's really unique and defined. Thumbs up to Erin.

I think that you should have perhaps two teams on this quest. Like and those two teams of people competing against eahc other and they all add up to twelve or something. Then when they face the biiig evil moster person ^_^ im 2 lazy to type real names u get what im saying tho - then they should have 2 merge together.

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Old 04-10-2003, 09:58 AM   #59
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The thing is, I had most of the story in my head before I started writing this, and that includes all the main characters. I may make some touches to the details, but nothing too big. Though the idea of two competing teams sounds good; maybe we could include that in another fic.
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Old 04-16-2003, 07:21 PM   #60
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Oh, I finally get caught up! Wow, this is getting even better. I know I said I liked Erin and I still contend she's my favourite, but Timper's grabbing me attention too, now. I think they make a great double act! And as for the most recent poll... hmm, call me weird and all, but given the title of your fic and all, the party wouldn't happen to end up having twelve members in all, would it? :p
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