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Old 04-29-2003, 03:50 PM   #61
Lady Vulpix
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O_o Busted.
I'm really glad you like what's going on between Erin and Timper, Ade. I hope you'll like the way it will develop in the following chapters.
I came to a halt for some time due to university, and also partly because chapter 12 didn't quite convince me, but now I've finished chapter 13 and written the last 3 pages of chapter 14 (I still have the beginning to entertain myself with whenever I'm not doing uni work nor writing my Battle Range story which, by the way, I've also started today). The bad news is I'm late for my tai chi class, so I'll post chapter 12 tomorrow. Please put up with it until I've posted chapter 13, it gets more interesting from then on, at least from my POV. You'll see a few turns on chapters 13 and 14 (and a few others afterwards), and also important information will be revealed (including the meaning of the title). All this after chapter 12, so please keep that in mind while you're reading it.

Oh, and Jay, I hope you get to catch up soon. If you notice some PI locations on this fic, I'll have no choice but to say 'busted' again. I designed Pixie Island at a time when the possibility of turning this story into a fic hadn't even crossed my mind, so I thought my self-plagiarizing would go unnoticed. But well, now you'll be able to know where the Valley of Winds came from, and also the Infinity Stream once I get to that part, in a probably distant future.
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Old 04-29-2003, 04:27 PM   #62
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You know what? On second thought, I'm missing my tai chi class. I was already too late for it anyway and, while tai chi does me well, writing makes me feel much better. So I'll use this chance and post chapter 12.

Chapter 12: The earth trap

The group continued their steady march, one member stronger. Hours passed without them encountering anyone, or anything other than plants and rocks. This gave most of them a chance to relax and engage in light talk, but Mariel stayed out of the conversation. Her mind was wandering through places she'd rather not go to at all, and that showed in her face. It looked unnaturally pale, and devoid of her usual heartwarming smile. Eric noticed this, and asked her what was wrong.
"I'm worried," she replied.
"Well, I'm not saying you don't have reasons to be worried," Eric conceded. "But why now? I mean, things seem to be ok right now, we're moving and no one is stopping us. What has changed? Are you sensing evil magic or something?"
"No, it's not that," she told him. "It's..." She looked up and then continued. "Do you remember that moment at the cave when our connection almost broke?"
"Yes, but it didn't," Eric replied.
"It didn't. But something happened at that moment."
"What was it?"
"I heard Kharchek's voice inside my mind, right before he left," she revealed. "He let me know it was him. He knows about us; and he's not afraid of us. He said: I am only one of many; you kids will never prevail."
Mariel lowered her head and Eric put his hand on her shoulder, comforting her.
"You shouldn't be worrying like that," he said. "We're strong and we'll get stronger. We're together and nothing can set us apart. You said it, we can change the world. Whatever's wrong, we'll sort it out."
"I wish I could be so confident," she sighed. "I don't want to be pessimistic or anything, but I felt his power at the cave and it was strong. I'm not sure if I would have made it without the crown the mermaids gave me, and I do know I wouldn't have made it without the rest of you. If it wasn't for you, Eric, I would be still trapped in that cave, confused by Kharchek's spell."
"But you were with us," Eric reminded her. "And we'll always be there for you. I'm not stupid, I know we're up against something big and none of us can quell it on their own, but none of us is alone. We'll work together. Know this, Mariel: I'll never leave you alone; not for a second. You can always count on me."
"Thanks," Mariel smiled, recovering her colors. "You know how to make me feel better. Everything you've just said goes back to you. You know that, don't you?"
"I know," he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. The gesture only lasted a few seconds, as they needed freedom of movement to keep advancing through the forest.

"The vegetation is growing thicker," Gallead observed, looking at the others. "We'll have to slow down, and maybe cut a few branches to make our path broader."
"We could stop for a while," Eric suggested.
"What for?," Erin inquired.
"Well, we've been walking steadily for days and we haven't stopped for anything other than eating or sleeping. But now with all these trees and bushes all around, I don't think anyone will spot us for a while. We could use this chance to have a training session."
"Hmm... it doesn't sound like such a bad idea," Erin reflected. "It will slow us down a little, but we'll also be better prepared for whatever comes to us. We should get to know each other's abilities and improve them, so that we can work together when we need it."
"So you're going to participate too?," Timper tried to confirm.
"All of you have seen me fight," she told him. "I'll watch for now; but I may join later if I feel I'm needed."
"So much for learning to work together."
"Watching you will help me know you better and adjust to you. I'll see more if I watch from the sidelines than I would if I were in the middle of it."
"Whatever you say," Timper conceded. "I still think you're unfair, but have it your way, it will probably work best for you."
"Why do you think I'm unfair?," Erin demanded.
"You expect from others what you're not willing to give them yourself," he sentenced.
"You don't know me well enough."
"You won't let me!"
Erin meditated for a second.
"Go ahead," she concluded. "I'll join you later. I have some things I need to think about right now."

By that moment, the others had already began their training. They had divided in pairs. Eric and Gallead were testing their skills with their swords, while Mariel and Pura were trying to make the best of their light attacks. It took Pura some time, but she managed to summon her Light Rain again. Mariel had to resort to her shield to block the incoming energy, and only a second later she decided to end her part of the session.
"You've just given me an idea!," she announced, walking away from the training field. "Thanks, Pura!"
"Umm... you're welcome, I guess," the lurian replied. "Tell me when you're done, I'd like to see what miracle I have inspired."
"You'll be the first one to know," Mariel promised.
"Lost your partner?," Timper approached Pura. "I can train with you if you want. Let's make up for the embarrassment we caused each other in the cave."
"Sounds good to me," Pura accepted. "Just don't..."
"I won't turn into a lurian, don't worry," he interrupted her.
"I was going to ask you not to throw acid on me, but thanks."
"I can't throw acid on you," he informed her. "I'm not carrying any. Anyway, this is just training so we won't cause any serious harm to each other."

Things went well between Timper and Pura. He evaded most of her blows, and she was too fast for him to reach her without breaking his promise. Plus he couldn't use any long range attacks, so Pura was untouchable. That was until she shot a light ball at him and Timper, instead of blocking it, transformed into a mirror and returned the attack to its owner.
In the meantime, Gallead was fast becoming overwhelmed by Eric's dexterity. He could only avoid the merial's closest attacks by turning into wind and materializing beyond the reach of his sword. He could barely get a hit in. After a few minutes of watching this, Erin decided to intervene.
"That's embarrassing!," she shouted. "Gallead, you're swinging your sword the wrong way, no wonder you always lose it."
"I don't always lose it," he defended himself. "And I'm an explorer, not a warrior. It's natural for you and Eric to be more skilled with your swords than me."
"So when your next enemy slashes you to pieces, what will you do? Tell him it was natural?"
"Erin, I can't believe how rude you can be!," Eric yelled. "I know you mean well, but you were just way too aggressive. Gallead is doing his best."
"Apparently his best is not enough, but that can change; that's exactly what training sessions are for. I can help you if you want."
"Will you apologize?," Eric asked her.
"Did my words hurt you?," she asked Gallead.
"They didn't exactly make me feel comfortable," Gallead told her.
"Ok, sorry, then."
"No problem. Perhaps I can help you improve your skills with words while you help me get better with my sword."
Erin laughed.
"What a bunch I've run into!," she exclaimed.
She gave Gallead a few instructions which the ferwill didn't take too long to assimilate. He was clearly not a warrior, but after an hour he was able to block most attacks and look for uncovered spots on his opponent's body, though Eric didn't give him many. After that, Eric and Erin had a match of their own, and everyone else sat down to watch them. They were both good, but in the end the faerie prevailed.
"It was a close match," she commended him. "You're tough for your age. When you reach mine, you'll probably be better than me."
"And what age is that?," Eric inquired.
"You never give up, do you?," Erin guffawed.

When the group resumed their march, the vines and branches forced them to go slower than before. Those who had swords used them to form a path they could walk or fly through. Timper turned into a sword himself, having Mariel hold him in order to help with the task. The elvin's arms weren't very strong, but he added his own force to the impulse she gave him and that, added to a sharp blade, did the trick. Night fell soon, and they advanced with magical light until most of them were too tired. Taking turns to watch had become easier now that they were six. Each of them kept guard for a little over an hour, the first and last shifts being longer than the others to make up for the annoyance of interrupting their sleep. Though, since Eric and Mariel didn't need much sleep, they didn't mind taking the middle shifts.

In the morning, the group reached a large clearing. It was comforting to see the sunlight at its fullest again, and to finally be able to advance without restrictions. But at least one of them didn't like the idea of being in the open. Erin kept advising the others to get out of there as fast as possible, so that no one spotted them.
"It is true that we're more visible here, but we make more noise when the vegetation is thick," Timper pointed out. "So we're actually safer from most attackers here."
No sooner did he say that than a rumbling noise was heard in the distance. It became stronger, as if getting closer, and the ground below them began to tremble.
"What's that?," Erin shouted.
Everybody looked in the direction the noise was coming from.
"Some kind of animals," Eric finally said. "Many of them. Brown fur, more than 4 legs, I think. They move too fast to see them clearly."
"Let me see," Timper said, growing up to the size of a merial. Some of his features changed slightly, especially his eyes and ears. Anyone could have taken him for a merial, but to those who knew him his personal characteristics were unmistakable.
"Trasks," he declared. "A stampede of them. They're not usually so furious. Something must have made them mad. We'd better get out of here before they reach us or we'll be in trouble. They're earth creatures. Light attacks have very little effect on them and it's impossible to calm them down when they're enraged."
"Not even with connection magic?," Mariel asked.
"They don't have the intelligence to understand words," Timper told her, "nor to change their minds. You can either try to fight them or get out of their way, there's no other option. And they're strong."
"Let's get out," Pura urged the group. "I've read about the trasks and we don't want to fight them. Not if we can avoid it."

The group moved faster and made it out of the clearing, but the tremors only became stronger.
"They're following us," Timper deduced.
"But why?," Mariel asked.
"I don't know, but I wouldn't try to ask them if I were you."
"Let's get ready for the fight, then," Erin suggested, turning around. "They may be strong, but they're stupid. We should be able to take them down rather fast."
"I don't think stupid is the word," Gallead told her. "They perceive the world in a different way. They don't need words to communicate what they feel or need. Would you call birds stupid too?"
"Whatever, just watch out," Erin warned him.
"I won't let them touch me," he said. "I can handle earth creatures. They can't hurt the wind."
"Ok, then. Do what you see fit. Eric, have your sword ready. Pura and Mariel, take cover. Timper, if you have any form that can kick Trask butts, we could use it now."
"How about this one?," Timper asked growing 3 pairs of pointy, transparent wings and shortening his sleeves and trousers to make room for bigger muscles.
"Massenn. Not bad," Erin accepted. "Do you know how to use those muscles?"
"Of course. I take my work seriously and explore all the capabilities of each species I encounter."
"Alright, then. You can take the front with me. Eric and Gallead, protect the girls."
"I was supposed to be Eric's guardian, not the other way around," Pura complained.
"Maybe if we have to fight in the water again, which I hope doesn't happen," Erin told her. "For now stay away from the trasks unless you have another new trick which can help against them."
"Stay with me, Pura," Mariel asked her. "No one can do everything. We may be able to help, but not by fighting."
"How then?," questioned Pura.
"I don't know yet. I'm thinking."

The trask stampede arrived. Eric opened a breach in the ground to stop them, but the 6-legged creatures closed it with no effort. Their size wasn't impressive: they barely reached Eric's shoulders when standing on their 6 limbs. But the effects their race was causing on the ground suggested that they were much heavier than they looked. Mariel and Pura hid behind a group of trees, while the others did the best to stop the trasks from pouncing on them. Eric's shield proved to be quite useful against their claws, and Gallead didn't have problems evading them, though his Swift sword could barely scratch their thick skin. Erin and Timper flew from one side to another using their fists as weapons. When Timper asked her why she wasn't using her sword, she told him that she couldn't make full use of its attributes against this kind of creatures.
"Why, what kind of sword is it?," he asked, evading a set of claws from a trask's front leg while hitting another with his elbow.
"I thought you were the one who knew everything," she retorted, punching a trask's stomach. "Don't tell me you've never seen a sword like mine before."
"To tell the truth, I haven't. But I'll do my best to find out."
"Good luck!"
Saying this, Erin charged against a trask but was stopped by a wall of stone that suddenly erupted from the ground.
"What?!," she yelled by reflex.
"Don't tell me you didn't know about the trasks' earth manipulation capabilities," Timper mocked her. "I guess we're even now."
As he was speaking, a trask caught him from behind and smashed him into the ground.
"Timper!," Erin cried out.
"I'm... fine," the shifter replied lifting up the trask's paw. "A little bruised, but I'll live. I guess we'd better not talk while we fight."
"What am I going to do with you?," Erin wondered.
Timper refrained from letting out any of the answers that crossed his mind. It wasn't the time for jokes, nor for putting more strain on the faerie's evidently battered soul.

Eric was wearing out. He'd tried to use earth magic, but the trasks' control over that element was too powerful. He managed to repel most attacks, but they kept coming, and he couldn't stop one of them from slashing his side while he was trying to prevent being trampled by another. Even Gallead was hurt while he was trying to blow a group of trasks away. After pushing away some of them in his wind form, he came down and attempted a stronger attack. He managed to summon a strong current of wind, but he had to remain solid to maintain its strength; and that left him vulnerable to attacks from behind and from the sides. Now most of the trasks were directing their attention to him and Eric... Until something distracted half of them and they turned away. When Eric was given the chance to look, he saw his own image jumping from one side to another. For a moment, he was confused. But then he understood who was helping him, and he kept fighting. It was hard when the ground below him wouldn't hold him and was making efforts to bring him down; but at least the illusion was driving some of them away. He was impressed. He didn't know Mariel was capable of doing something like that. But then, as the trasks scattered, one of them reached the spot where Mariel was hiding and attacked her too. She shot a light sphere right at the creature's eyes and blinded it, but the trask kept attacking. It tried to scratch her and its claw got stuck in her dress. She thanked herself for not listening to Erin's advice of using less noticeable clothes. The lower half of the dress was torn apart by the trask's claw, but the elvin was unhurt. However, the attack forced her to drop the illusion, which required a lot of concentration and Pura's channeling help to remain visible.

"We must flee!," Pura shouted, while shooting as many light balls as she could in an attempt to slow down the trask.
"Where?," Mariel questioned. "There's nowhere to run."
"I don't know, we should find a river or something. Lure them into the water where they can't attack."
"Is there a river nearby?"
"I only know the one we left 4 days ago, but I heard there was another in this region. I can look for it."
"Go, then!"

But even before Pura could acknowledge Mariel's agreement and leave, everything went black. Literally. This caused the trasks to become as confused as their opponents, and they stopped attacking. Everybody stood still. A deep voice came from the distance and pronounced words which were unknown to the travelers. When things became visible again, a barrier of darkness was encasing all the trasks, and a tall white-haired man was standing in front of them. He was wearing shiny white clothes, and there was a small aura of light around him.
"Who are you?," Eric asked, covering his wound with his hand.
"I'm Jor," the stranger replied. "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
"I'm Eric Eatan. These are my friends: Erin, Timper, Gallead, and back there are Mariel and Pura."
"This place isn't safe for anyone," Jor warned them. "Why are you here?"
"We're heading to the north," Eric explained.
"You know, it would be best if you refrained from telling our story to every stranger we came across," Erin told him.
"What's the matter? You don't trust me?," Jor asked.
"I don't know anything about you," Erin replied. "I have no reason to trust you yet."
"Well, what do you want to know? I'm a shakast, a being of light. I have been exploring this forest for the last few years, learning its secrets."
"So you're an explorer?"
"No, I didn't say that. I like to explore, but I also cultivate the art of fighting and magic."
"That sounds hard to believe," Erin commented. "No one can do everything."
"And neither can I," Jor told her. "But as long as I live, I'll collect as much knowledge as I can. After all, knowledge is power."
"In that case, do you happen to know what caused those trasks to attack us?," Timper asked him.
"It must have been something they ate," Jor said. "I've heard strange things are happening these days. Why don't we walk away from here so that the trasks don't get to us if they manage to release themselves? I'm good with barrier spells, but I can't hold that many creatures forever."
"Alright," Eric acceded. "Ow... Mariel, do you have any healing herbs left or enough magic to cast a healing spell? This wound's starting to hurt more now that I've stopped fighting."
"That illusion spell wore me out," Mariel said. "It was a level 4 connection spell, and I had to add some light to make it more believable. Connection alone wasn't working. I had to use what I learned at the cave, and Pura helped me channel it; so now I can barely use any magic. Maybe a sphere of light, but that's all. I'll give you my herbs, but I'll have to process them first. Can you hold on for a minute?"
"Sure. But tell me, why did you put so much strain on yourself?"
"You were in trouble," was Mariel's reply. "You needed help. I did the only thing I could do."
"Maybe you're not strong enough for this kind of challenge yet," Jor suggested. "Why don't you go back to your homes? The route to the north only gets more dangerous. Where are you trying to get anyway?"
"We're trying to get to the bottom of all these attacks," Eric told him. "It is important. You can come with us if you want. After what you've done today, we'll probably be much safer with you."
"Speaking of that..." Mariel said while pressing some green and yellow leaves together. "How did you do that? What kind of magic was that?"
"Reverse light magic mixed with a barrier spell," he said. "Quite an effective combination."
"The barrier spell... which domain did you use to cast it?"
"You don't expect me to reveal all my tricks, do you? I worked hard on achieving this power. You should do the same."
"If we're going to work together, sharing our knowledge would help all of us," she told him.
"Well, share your knowledge, then. What domains can you use?"
"Light, connection and healing," she responded. "And I'm trying to explore others too. So, what was it?"
"It wasn't any of your domains," he replied. "You won't be able to cast that spell for now. Leave barriers to me."
Mariel wasn't satisfied with the answer, but she did not insist. She finished mixing and treating her herbs and applied them on their friends' wounds in order to heal them. When they felt better, the group headed to the north again.

As they walked, Jor and Mariel kept watching each other without saying a word. Eric wished he could know what was going on between them. The whole group remained unusually silent. The merial had an uncomfortable sensation. He had grown used to the constant chatter, and even the arguments.
"Why isn't anyone talking?," he finally asked when night was already falling.
"I guess we're tired," Mariel answered, but she didn't look at Eric as she spoke.
"Well, let's stop then," Eric suggested. "If we're too tired to talk, we can't expect to be ready to confront any dangers."
"Wise decision," Jor complimented him. "I'll dig a hole on the ground, it's the safest shelter in this area."
"I'll help," Erin offered.
"Can you use magic?," Jor asked her.
"No, but I have a good pair of arms," she said.
"I can see that. Ok, then, I guess you can help."
"What did he mean by that?," Timper wondered. He spoke in a low voice so that only those closest to him could hear him, those being Eric and Mariel.
"Eric, can you come with me for a moment, please?," Mariel asked. "I'll change your compress. Timper, you can help me."
Timper and Eric followed her to a silent corner.
"What's going on?," Timper asked her once he'd become sure they were away from everyone else's hearing range. "I know you don't need my help to change a compress you've made yourself."
"That's true, you've been acting strangely today," Eric agreed.
"It's Jor," Mariel confessed. "There's something about him. I don't know what yet, but when he used that darkness spell, and then the barrier... I got the feeling that it had all happened before. And then he asked so many questions..."
"I ask questions all the time," Eric pointed out.
"Yes, but it's different. You're as open as you're curious. Jor keeps to himself even more than Erin does."
"And that's saying a lot!," Timper commented. "But do you have any reasons to be suspicious? I mean... you've never distrusted Erin, nor me or Gallead."
"She has a talent for knowing who deserves her trust," Eric told him.
"It's just intuition and perception, enhanced by my knowledge of connection magic. Though it failed me at the cave."
"It worked in the end," Eric reminded her. "I'd trust your perception with my life. If it's telling you something's wrong, then something must be wrong. We'll find out."

Mariel nodded, and that was the sign for the three to rejoin the group. Jor directed a look at Eric when they returned, and then continued his digging work. Gallead was now helping him too. They were using their swords, their arms and a shovel Jor had hidden somewhere in the forest. Pura was watching from above. Eric, Mariel and Timper decided to help. Being there more workers than tools, Timper decided to do the job of a second shovel.
"It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it," he joked. When Eric felt strong enough, he used his earth magic to finish the job.

Jor got inside the hole to measure it. He walked from side to side, testing the walls with his hands.
"This will do," he diagnosed.
Then he got out and invited the group to try it.
"Are you sure it's a good idea?," Mariel asked. "I've never been inside a hole like this before, but it looks quite uncomfortable."
"It's good once you get used to it," Jor assured. "I've spent many nights in holes like this."
"Ok. Come with us, then."
"Now you don't trust me either," he claimed. "What have I done to earn your distrust?"
"Why are you so sure I don't trust you?"
"You didn't change your friend's compress."
Mariel realized her mistake, and was ashamed. She should have done what she'd said she was going to do. Changing the compress would have left some marks on Eric's clothes. Marks someone would have to pay attention to in order to notice them, but Jor evidently was watching them closely. What was he hiding?
"Don't worry, I'll prove myself," Jor offered. "I will enter the shelter first."
He walked into the hole and sat against one of its walls. The rest of the group followed him.
"I guess we can take seven turns now," Gallead suggested.
"Or maybe two of us can keep guard together," Erin said. "I'll take the last shift with Jor."
"I'll take the previous one," Mariel offered.
"And I'll take the one before," Eric said.
"If no one wants the first shift, then I'll take it," Timper decided.
"What do you like best, Gallead? Second or third?," Pura asked.
"It's the same," Gallead replied.
"Then take the second, so I get to wake up the little big guy."
"Okay, second then."

They got organized and spent a not too comfortable but still bearable night. Nothing relevant happened during the first 5 shifts, but when Mariel left her post to curl up inside the hole again, she couldn't get to sleep. She stayed awake as Erin and Jor got out, and heard what they spoke.
"Where did you get that shovel?," Erin inquired.
"I bought it during one of my trips. Do you like it?"
"It's not bad. Though some of its traits are wasted on a digging tool. I'd never seen anyone carry one on a journey before, I don't see why they'd make a self-storing shovel like that one."
"There are many things you haven't seen yet."
"Don't be so sure."
There was silence for a while.
Jor finally broke it.
"I heard the cities of Shantar and Holtar in the north were destroyed a year after my visit. It was a pity; they were homes to brave and powerful warriors."
"I wouldn't use that word lightly," Erin replied, avoiding his eyes.
"Which word?"
"Warriors. Nor brave. Those cities had been engaged in a pointless war for generations. No one even knew what they were fighting for, but still they continued. There were some exceptions, but most of their inhabitants were closer to street fighters than true warriors."
"Oh, so you know," he said. "I wouldn't judge them so fast. They were all working hard on improving themselves and gaining more power. I find that admirable. Don't you? From what I've seen so far, I can tell you have it in you. But it seems their attackers were more powerful in the end."
"You know nothing about me," Erin snapped. "You know nothing about anything at all."
"Why the sudden outburst?"
"That's me. I have sudden and unexplainable outbursts. But I care. I wouldn't make comments on a massacre as if I were talking about a wedding. The others may be immature at times, but at least they show respect for life. What are you doing this for?"
"I guess I made a mistake with you. I'm sorry."

Silence fell over them like lead. They didn't say a word for the rest of their shift. Tension kept building. When the sun rose, Erin turned around without thinking twice and got into the hole to wake up her friends.
Jor used that chance to cast a new spell. The hole became dark, except for the dim light Pura was shedding.
"What?!," Erin yelled. "What are you doing?!"
"Sorry, miss," Jor's voice came from outside. "I've seen you're not going to help me and I won't allow you to interfere with my goals. I've heard enough to realize your little group can become a major annoyance, so goodbye. Enjoy the rest of your life while it lasts!"
"Repulsive bastard!," Erin yelled, hitting a barrier while trying to come out. Her shouts woke up those who were still sleeping.
"What's going on?," Eric asked.
"He tricked us, that's what!! Mariel, undo this spell now! Get us out of here."
"I can't," Mariel told her. "I can't even cast a spell like this, let alone undo it."
"Then what? We can't stay here forever!," Eric complained.
"I know, I'll try to find a way."
Pura dashed against the barrier many times trying to break it, but it was in vain. Not even her light could come out. All physical attacks were also useless.
"The worst thing is I should have realized earlier," Mariel scolded herself. "I guess I was caught by surprise yesterday, but that's no excuse. I should have recognized that energy signature before he cast a spell on us."
"What are you talking about?," Eric inquired.
"This magic... it has the same pattern as the traces I found at the lurians' field. It was Jor who burnt the crops."
"Oh, no! And I've told him practically everything about us!," Eric scolded himself.
"We've all messed up," Erin shared the blame. "But I won't let that happen again. This bastard deserves to be crushed twice. He rejoices in the suffering of others."
"Remind me to never trust appearances again," Pura asked the rest.
"Blaming ourselves is not going to help," Timper remarked. "We need to find a way to get out of here."

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

Previews (let's see if they make any sense):

A part of her tried to cling to her dreams, but couldn't. She tried to remember what had happened. Only the last phrase that had resounded in her mind before she awoke was still there, words spoken by no voice in particular, with no certain origin or purpose: "one day can change the rest of your life".

"In the light. The sunlight, I think. And then the air. The air was disturbed, but it brought something sweet and pleasant. The light was... extremely confusing."

"I don't know that much about barrier spells, but I don't think brute force is capable of breaking them," Pura commented.
"Oh, shut up!"

"You've been maturing this, haven't you?," Mariel joined what felt like an interrogatory to Erin. "You've been thinking about it all the time, not wanting to talk to anyone else... not to get us worried? But we already were worried, and any information you shared with us would only help us. You're not alone in this, Erin. We can help. It's true, we're young and inexperienced and all, but we wouldn't be here if we didn't believe we can do something."

"He was testing me," she said. "He wanted to know which side I was on. I guess he didn't like the answer."


...And that's not even up to the 1st half of chapter 13, so please don't miss it.

Poll for chapter 12: how do you think the group will get out of this one?
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Old 05-12-2003, 07:39 AM   #63
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Gabbi I finded your fic! lol the reason why I didnt reply was because I was off the net last week and sort of wondered where your fic went. Now I finded it I reply.

And theyre caught. Eric shouldn't tell other people everything you know. I think that maybe one of those mysterious people that nobody knows about will come and save them and keep himself hidden but folow int he shadows. And maybe try to convince them that he's on their side but then right at the end turn against htem. Like Professor Moody from Harry Potter.

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Old 06-05-2003, 09:14 AM   #64
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Thanks for replying, Tara. I hope you read this when you get back. I think Eric has learned that lesson the hard way, but it could have been worse. As for your suggestion, wasn't that what happened with Jor?
And thanks, Mew Trainer Rose, for following this fic and encouraging me to post a new chapter.
New chapter on next post!
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Old 06-05-2003, 09:19 AM   #65
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Chapter 13: The witches of Shadowy Meadow

Jamie Wilmslow woke up with a start. The first rays of the sun were coming in through the window right beside her bed. A part of her tried to cling to her dreams, but couldn't. She tried to remember what had happened. Only the last phrase that had resounded in her mind before she awoke was still there, words spoken by no voice in particular, with no certain origin or purpose: "one day can change the rest of your life". Right after 'hearing' that phrase, Jamie had felt something. That had been what woke her up, that much she was sure of. But exactly what it was she had felt was even more unclear than the meaning of the words. She tried to focus on it; made an effort to understand it. She knew it was important. She sat up in order to think more clearly, and the feeling came again. This time she managed to get a firm enough grasp of it to know it came from the outside, and it wasn't good. Or was it? She had mixed feelings; it would be hard to untie them and make sense of them. It was as if the best and the worst had suddenly come together. It was too hard for her to sort it out on her own.

Luckily for Jamie, she was not alone; or she could stop being alone the moment she wanted to. Mildred, her sister, was sleeping in another bed, only a few steps away from hers. Mildred's sleep, while not as light as Jamie's, was never too deep either; it wouldn't be hard to wake her up. Jamie crouched down next to her sister's bed and moved her body as gently as she could from side to side. The reaction was immediate.

"Hmm?," Mildred hummed, pressing her eyelids tightly.
"Wake up," Jamie told her.
"What time is it?" Mildred slowly opened her eyes to look through the window across the room. "It's sunrise. What's the hurry?"
"Didn't you feel it?," queried Jamie.
"Feel what?"
"I take that as a no. Are mom and dad still sleeping?"
"How should I know? I was sleeping only a few seconds ago."
"You didn't feel them in your sleep, did you?"

Now Mildred sat up and stared at her sister firmly.
"I was sleeping," she said. "Just sleeping. It's something most people normally do, you know. It's good for your health."
"I know, I know. I guess I'm too attached to this world to ever leave it completely."
"Yeah. When you die you'll come back as a ghost and wander on this world forever."
Both sisters burst into laughter.

"You said something about feeling... something," Mildred recovered the subject. "What were you talking about?"
"Oh! Outside. Something's going on, but I just can't tell what. I felt something really bad... but something really good too! I can't make sense out of it."
"Ok, ok, let's go slowly. Where did you feel it?"
"Outside."
"More precision, please."
"In the light. The sunlight, I think. And then the air. The air was disturbed, but it brought something sweet and pleasant. The light was... extremely confusing."
"Let me check," Mildred said, getting out of her bed to kneel down on Jamie's and look through the window. "Darn, I missed it. Whatever the light was carrying, it's gone now. But it's true that the air has something peculiar today."
"I'll check it out," Jamie decided, taking off her night dress and picking a black dress from her closet.

It was a tradition in the Wilmslow family to wear black clothes most of the time, in order to be more receptive to the energies around them (black was a receptive color by nature). White was a color they wore when they felt they needed protection (absorbs nothing, reflects everything). Many times Jamie thought that might be the reason why she, who had shiny black hair, could feel the invisible forces around her better than her brown-haired sister could (times when Mildred would invariably point out that she had more common sense than Jamie, which was probably true).
"Alone?," Mildred stopped her. "It may be dangerous. The forest has been uneasy lately and now this is here... really close and-"
"And we must do something about it. Besides, I somehow feel that I won't be alone."
"You can't live your whole life based on hunches."
"You can come with me. We'll split up to cover more terrain and if any of us needs help, the other will be just one scream away."
"One scream away. You're already thinking of screaming, yet you make it sound like there was nothing to be afraid of."
"I don't know if there's anything to be afraid of or not. I'm already confused, so please don't add to it. Will you support me, or shall I go out on my own?"
Mildred strode to the closet and picked up a dress from the other side.
"I'm with you."

*************************

"I can't believe I fell for such a stupid trick!," Erin roared, delivering punches at the impenetrable blackness above.
The group had already tried looking for a counter-spell, sending light into the darkness, digging a tunnel... but none of their attempts had worked. The barrier was all around them. They were trapped.
"I don't know that much about barrier spells, but I don't think brute force is capable of breaking them," Pura commented.
"Oh, shut up!"
"You know... fighting isn't going to help either," Eric pointed out.
"What do you want me to do, then?," Erin asked. "Stop going through the things that won't help and please tell me something that will."
"I wish I'd managed to conquer the domain of protection," Mariel sighed. "If I had, then I could have a chance of breaking this barrier. It was made by combining the domains of protection and light. But for some reason, I can't seem to connect with that domain. I've also tried to mix light and protection to cast a spell on my shield -that was the supposedly brilliant idea I had during the practice-, but it didn't work."
"Don't get so worked up, it's not your fault," Pura told her. "No one can master all domains of magic. Many live their whole lives without being able to harness any. And some, like me, can use only one. You're already good at 3 domains, so you should be proud."
"Good at 3 domains..." Mariel let out another sigh. "Connection is one of them, and still I couldn't read Jor fast enough to know he would betray us. I just felt there was something wrong about him, but that was all."
"Jor is very skilled with protection magic," Gallead pointed out. "He could easily protect himself from any readings. The fact that you actually found out that something was not right with him says a lot about your skills."
"Talk about saying a lot!," Erin shouted, failing to contain her rage. "He knows so much about us! Now we're really in trouble!"
"We should go after him when we get out of here," Eric suggested.
"He could be on the other side of the world by then," blared Erin.
"Then are we going to the wastelands?," Gallead asked.
Erin turned round and stared at him.
"We know that evil is concentrating there," the ferwill said. "I took it that was where we were going."
"No, that's too obvious," Erin said after thinking for a few seconds. "Jor wants us to go there. It can only be a trap. We need to find where the core actually is. It must be somewhere in the north, because its influence extends from north to south, but not exactly in the wastelands."
"The core?," Eric asked. "What's that? You'd never mentioned it before."
"The source of all the attacks," Erin explained. "What we've been after all along, and if Jor is as important to it as I suspect, then it's after us now."
"Where did all those thoughts come from, Erin?," the merial inquired. "It doesn't look like something that has just come to your mind."
"You've been maturing this, haven't you?," Mariel joined what felt like an interrogatory to Erin. "You've been thinking about it all the time, not wanting to talk to anyone else... not to get us worried? But we were already worried, and any information you shared with us would only help us. You're not alone in this, Erin. We can help. It's true, we're young and inexperienced and all, but we wouldn't be here if we didn't believe we can do something."
"Get out of my head!," Erin yelled.
"What? I'm not reading your thoughts!," Mariel told her. "I can't do that, and even if I could, I wouldn't. Thoughts are private."
"Then how did you know all that?"
"I've been travelling with you for weeks. And I've known you for a long time even before that. I've been trying to understand you ever since I first met you. I just didn't ask questions because I saw you didn't like them."
"So everyone is trying to decipher me?"
"We're not! We're trying to be your friends!"

Erin came down and sat on the ground. She meditated on Mariel's words. Maybe the elvin had a point; maybe she had been too hard on everyone all along. She'd set up her defenses so high, she'd ended up hurting those who cared for her. Maybe it was time to decide who she had to protect herself from, and who were safe company. Mariel was clearly the latter; she wouldn't even step on an ant. Next to her, Eric was probably the most innocent creature on the planet. Gallead looked clean, though she didn't know him well enough to be sure yet. As for Pura and Timper... those were hard ones. Pura was the most open lurian she'd ever met (though she was aware of the oxymoron in that phrase), and had an extremely developed sense of protection; it could be safe to trust her, but then again... she was Pura! Opening up to her would go against her principles. And Timper... he had admitted to trying to figure Erin out. He had confronted her at times when no one else would have dared to, and today had been awkwardly silent during the recent conversation; just looking at her. If there were any signs that could tell her not to trust someone, Timper had them all written on his forehead. But then again, he'd told her everything there was to know about him just to prove a point, he had allowed her to her touch his chest with the point of her sword without offering resistance, he had respected her feelings and even her need to withdraw to herself like no one else had and he seemed to honestly care for her! And the others thought she was the most undecipherable creature ever? No way! Timper was!

"Can I ask you a question and hope for you not to be offended?," Mariel probed Erin.
"Sure you can. I cannot guarantee your hopes will come true, but I'll try."
"I had trouble falling asleep after my shift last night, and I overheard your conversation with Jor. Still, I didn't make much sense out of it. Why did he suddenly start talking about the wastelands?"
Erin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she let it go.
"He was testing me," she said. "He wanted to know which side I was on. I guess he didn't like the answer."
"Is that why you say he wants us to go there?"
"Yes. Either that or leave us trapped here until we starve to death... or die from lack of oxygen."
"Now that you say it, how come we're still breathing normally?," Timper wondered. "This hole is not that big. We should have began to notice the decrease in oxygen by now."
"I share your thoughts, Timper," Mariel said. "It seems that the air hasn't changed one bit. I've been examining the barrier to find a breach, and I'm practically certain it's letting air pass. Maybe he wants us to linger for a long time before we die."
"Are you serious?!," Timper suddenly broke his silence. "Though that would explain why we could still hear Jor's voice after he trapped us. I thought it had been telepathy or something."
"If that's true, I guess I've overestimated our enemy," Erin smiled for the first time that day.
"That's impossible! Someone so powerful would know better," Gallead refused to believe Jor's plan had such a huge loophole.
It was now clear to all the group that at least one of them had a chance to escape.
"Maybe he didn't consider you a threat," Pura suggested. "Those things often happen. Being underestimated can give you a lot of power."
"You can learn that from Pura," Erin remarked.
"Now you shut up!," Pura yelled at Erin. "Some of us have reasons for what we do."
"Are you saying I don't?"
"Oh, did I ever said that?"
"Stop it, please!!," Eric shouted. "I thought we could finally have a rest from your arguments."
"Changing the world would be easier," Erin laughed.
"I'm not the one who doesn't cooperate," Pura remarked.
"Stop. Please. Now."
"Alright...," the lurian accepted.
Erin's silence was taken as an agreement.

"Can you get out of here and look for help?," Eric asked Gallead. "Any kind of help."
"I'll do my best," Gallead said. "I still find it hard to believe that air can get out. Will you be fine till I return?"
"We'll be alright," Eric assured. "Good luck. I hope you find a way to break the spell."
Gallead was still unsure. It was a really hard task he had to take on.
"You can do it," Mariel said, placing her hand on Gallead's shoulder. "Trust yourself, and you'll make it. That's the way life works."
"We're counting on you," Eric told him, shaking Gallead's hand.
The ferwill nodded, and vanished from sight as a strong gust of wind ascended from the bottom of the trap... to the surface.

If anyone had been on that place at that moment, and felt  the fast curling wind that rose up into the sky and then forward into the first direction it could turn to, they would have easily felt that the wind was happy. Though most would have immediately thought that that made no sense, and discarded that feeling. Still, in this case it was true. Gallead was thrilled to see the sun again, to feel the treetops shake as he passed by them... to be free. But he didn't forget his mission. He knew his friends were counting on him, and he'd never be able to enjoy his freedom again - nor anything else - if he failed them. He needed to find something... anything... that could help him break the dark barrier.

During his flight, Gallead found many kinds of birds nesting on the treetops, many varieties of plants, a few clearings and even a river, but none of that was likely to be useful at that moment. Until he saw a dark figure moving slowly across the forest. Gallead couldn't see the figure clearly while flying at such a high speed, so he decided to land (which implied becoming solid again) and hide behind a group of trees to watch closer. What he saw then, was a being unlike any other he'd seen before. It was a female, that much was clear from the curves of her body, which also revealed that their owner was physically mature. Although, unless she belonged to one of the non-aging species, she was still young. She was wearing a long black dress, tight around the chest and torso, and loose below the hips. Her straight, black hair fell down to her chest, plaited in two pigtails. Her light-colored skin seemed to have low pigmentation, as it revealed the tint of the blood running below it, especially on her cheeks, and her lips were of an incredibly perfect ruby shade. She reminded him of an elf in some aspects, but there was something different about her; something Gallead could not put in words as much as he tried. She somehow seemed... closer.

The mysterious being brought her walk to a halt and turned round. Now her eyes were facing Gallead. They were medium brown, the same tone as an infusion Gallead used to prepare back at the Valley of Winds... only the color looked so much better on those irises! They were clearly not the eyes of an elf, but they weren't any less beautiful. The deep, round pupils matched the smooth features of her face, especially the small round nose. If he'd been trying to draw a perfect face, he wouldn't have been able to imagine a better one. She turned around completely, now her whole body facing the trunk that was sheltering Gallead. The ferwill turned away, placing his back on the grey tree-trunk to hide. He needed help, but he couldn't turn to the first creature he saw without being sure he could trust her. He couldn't afford running into another Jor.

"Who's there?," a soft female voice spoke.
How had she found him? Could she see through solid objects? Did she have an extremely acute sense of smell or hearing? Or maybe a psychic sense? Or had he just been too careless and revealed his position while being hypnotized by her image?
"You can come out, I won't hurt you," the voice assured.
A warm and comfortable sensation enveloped Gallead, inviting him to cast his worries aside. It reminded him of the moment when Mariel first reached out to him inside the cave. He somehow felt he could trust her. He slowly turned around and came out from behind the tree.

An expression of astonishment formed on the mysterious girl's face as she saw the ferwill. She took a deep breath with her mouth, her eyes wide-open, and the warm sensation Gallead was experiencing suddenly faded away, and was replaced by a great sensation of curiosity.

"Was that magic?," Gallead asked.
The girl closed her lips and nodded.
"Don't be scared, please," she begged him. "I only want to know you."
"I'm not scared," Gallead said with a smile. "Not of you, in any case. You're the most comforting sight I've seen in a long time."
The girl blushed.
"Are you a magical creature?," she asked him. "Sorry, of course, you must be. It's just... I've always heard of beings like you, and I knew you were somewhere in this forest. I felt your presence, but I never thought I'd actually see you one day."
"You felt my presence?," Gallead asked, confused.
"Well, I felt yours only this morning, but I felt others before. When I was little I dreamed of meeting one of you. You must think I'm crazy."
"I wouldn't call anyone crazy for dreaming," Gallead assured. "But I must admit I don't understand you. Who are you?"
"Oh! Sorry I didn't introduce myself. I'm not usually this dimwitted; it's just... today is a strange day. I'm Jamie. Jamie Wilmslow, from Shadowy Meadow."
"I'm Gallead from the Valley of Winds," he replied offering his hand.
Jamie's hand approached Gallead's slowly and caressed it gently before holding it with firmness. The back of her hand was softer than her palm and fingers, but her touch was pleasant. Her hands were small, but firm.
"Valley of Winds..." she repeated, almost in a whisper. "I've never heard of it before."
"It's among the mountains, north-east from here. It's a ferwill village. It's quite small, but it's a nice place. Especially for the children."
"Then you must be a ferwill," Jamie deduced, and a nod from Gallead confirmed it. "Can you really yourself turn into wind like the books say?"
"Yes, I can," Gallead replied. "But what about you? I've seen many creatures in my journeys, but I've never met anyone quite like you before."
"Really? I... No, I can't believe it. You must have seen other humans before."
"Human? Is that what you are?"
Gallead's expression changed all of a sudden when Jamie gave him an affirmative response. He now looked serious and reflective.
"This is strange. I've heard stories about humans, but I guess they must be just rumors."
"Stories? What did they say?"
"You wouldn't like to hear them."
"I've already heard so much, nothing you can say will scare me."
"Well, I've heard that humans were very dangerous and deceitful. That they had no respect for other species and hardly any respect for their own kind, and that they destroyed everything they touched. But, if it helps, I don't think you're like that."
"It does help," Jamie smiled. "That must explain why you're the first magical creature to ever show himself to a member of my family. I've heard rumors about your kind too. Rumors that said you were naughty and liked playing tricks on people, and other things too; but I never wanted to believe any of it. I wanted to see for myself. I know how misleading a rumor can be, and what awful things it can cause. That's the main reason why my family lives away from the rest of the society."
"Why? Have others hurt you?," Gallead asked, worried.
Jamie sighed.
"Many humans let their lives be ruled by fear, and they're afraid of everything they can't understand. And what they fear, they try to destroy. In that sense I guess the stories you heard were true, at least partially. My family... We're witches. We're constantly dealing with things other people don't understand. That's why the others didn't want us with them. That's why my parents decided to move into the forest as soon as my sister and I were born; to protect us and let us grow safe and practise the craft without anyone trying to ruin our lives. I guess they made the right choice, but sometimes... Sometimes I just feel too lonely."
"I know what you mean..." Gallead said. "Well... except for one thing."
"What thing?"
"What is a witch?"

Jamie looked at Gallead with surprise in her eyes. She had never expected anyone not to know what a witch was. She tried to explain it in the best way she could.
"We dedicate ourselves to exploring magic and the ways of the universe."
"So you're like a sorceress?"
"Hmm... I guess so. Yes, you can call me that."
"That's strange. In all the populations I'd found before today, sorcerers were highly respected."
"I guess we're rather odd... So you're not afraid of me?"
"Why would I be?"
Both Jamie and Gallead smiled, and they both felt something warm and pleasant. Only this time it wasn't magic. At least not the kind of magic a sorcerer can cast.
"I have a question," Gallead said. "If you're the one who works with magic, why did you call me a magical being?"
"Aren't you one? I mean... you can turn into air."
"That's a trait of my species, but as far as magic goes I can only use two spells, and only on myself."
"Which spells?"
"Agility and self healing."
"That's interesting. I've never thought of using a spell to boost my agility. I know some protection and connection spells, and I've been exploring light and healing lately. I have the feeling I'll need them soon; for some time we've been feeling something's wrong with the forest. But we haven't been able to find out what it is yet."
"Something's wrong indeed. Entire cities have been destroyed and many others were attacked. I'm an explorer and I've heard many stories which I wish were just rumors. I met some friends a few days ago; they were trying to make things right, so I joined them. But we were attacked and now all the others are trapped. I was the only one who could escape. Now that you've said you can use protection magic, I think you could help them. Mariel said the barrier that's holding them was made with light and protection magic."
"Mariel?"
"One of my friends. She's a sorceress, but she hasn't been able to open the barrier. Will you please help us?"
"Why didn't you ask earlier?"
"I was... Well, at first I wasn't sure I could trust you, and then I... I was stupid, I guess. Being with you, talking to you, looking at your eyes... it all felt so good, I think I didn't want that moment to come to an end."

Jamie was confused. Too many unexplainable things had happened that morning, and the day was only starting. The one thing she was sure about, however, was that she'd never felt so flattered in her entire life. And, while she couldn't quite make sense of her feelings, something was clear: this was, indeed, a day unlike any other.
"One day can change the rest of your life," she whispered to herself, starting to interpret the words of her dream.
"Do you think today is that kind of day?," Gallead asked her.
Jamie gasped. She hadn't expected Gallead to hear her.
"I was just thinking aloud. I'll do my best to help, but I may need help from the rest of my family. Do you mind if I call them? At least my sister, Mildred. She and I work best together."
"I'll trust you," Gallead said.
"Trust her with what?," another female voice came from behind Jamie.
The speaker showed herself. She was slightly taller than Jamie and the dress she was wearing was very similar to hers. Long brown locks fell below her shoulders, and her wide smile was much like Jamie's. The shape of her body was also quite similar, while the rest of her features were a bit sharper and her eyes had a color between brown and green. Her skin was white (at least what humans call white), but not as light-colored as Jamie's. The pinkish cheeks were present in both.
"There she is," Jamie smiled without turning. "Hi, Mid! How did you find me?"
"If I had been trying to find you, you wouldn't have got away for one second," Mildred affirmed, walking to her sister's side. "I see you've found a new friend. What's his name?"
"Oh. His name is Gallead. Gallead, this is my twin sister, Mildred."
"The one who got the brains," Mildred joked. "Just kidding."
"Mid, Gallead's friends need help. They're trapped by a barrier made of light and protection magic. Will you come with me and help them?"
"Sure!," Mildred accepted. "That must be what we were feeling this morning. What kind of friends are they?"
"Magical creatures, I guess," Gallead said with a smile. "At least according to Jamie's definition. Two elves, a shifter, a lurian and a strong faerie who won't reveal her species nor her background, but I can tell she's good."
"Let's go," Mildred suggested. "If the barrier spell was what woke you up, they have been trapped since sunrise. We shouldn't waste time."

Gallead led the witches to the spot where the barrier was. A wide hole could be seen there, but their eyes found nothing inside - only blackness. The place was silent. Gallead began to wonder if his friends had found a way out, but when he got closer to the hole he heard Mariel's voice calling for him.
"Gallead, is that you? Who's with you? Did you get help?"
"Gallead's here?," Eric's voice joined hers.
"I'm here," he confirmed. "And I've brought help. Jamie, Mildred, what do you think? Can you break this barrier?"
"The spell looks strong," Mildred judged. "But there must be a way to break it. Both types of magic are blended in quite an unusual way, though."
"We must find a way to untie the threads that brought those two kinds of magic together," Jamie remarked, kneeling down on the border of the hole.
"If you manage to make a breach, I can help you untie them," Mariel said. "Are you good with protection magic? If you are, you can hold back the protection part while I pull out the light part. That way we'll keep them separate while each of us undoes a part of the spell."
"That sounds like a good idea," Mildred agreed.
"Is she the sorceress you mentioned?," Jamie asked Gallead.
"Yes, she is," he replied. "She's Mariel. She's an expert in light and connection magic."
"Connection? That will help too. Ok, then. We can make a connection bridge so that we can work at the same pace without interfering with each other. It will also help us see the threads of the spell more clearly."
"True, but it won't work until we make a breach," Mariel said from inside the hole. "I've already tried that. The barrier repels connection magic just as it repels everything else other than air and light. It absorbs light and lets air pass through."
"Thanks for telling us," Mildred said. "We'll try to work with that."

Mildred and Jamie began to whisper words that made no sense to anyone else - not even Mariel -, but whatever they were saying seemed to work. Soon, energy began to build around them. Neither Gallead nor most of the occupants of the hole understood what was going on, other than the fact that the 3 young girls were casting a spell, or rather, trying to revert one. It took them about 2 minutes to open a breach through which connection magic could flow, and another 10 to completely undo the barrier. That seemed like an eternity for those who had missed the first rays of the sun, but an air of celebration filled the place when the morning light made its way into the hole, and those who had been trapped finally came out.

What came afterwards was a mixture of introductions, exclamations, remarks and silence (the latter only from a few). Mariel was impressed at the way the human witches had been able to tap into Jor's spell and break it, but Mildred and Jamie weren't any less impressed by her. Feeling her magic in action, making the task infinitely lighter, and now seeing her in person, brought amazement to both of them.
"Your eyes..." Jamie commented. "It looks as if a powerful light emanated from them."
"Should you be surprised?," Gallead said, getting closer to her, "when the most amazing light is hidden behind yours?"
Jamie blushed.
"Now where did THAT come from?!," Erin exclaimed.
"Note to self: never try a poetic approach," Timper half-joked.
"We should go now," Eric said. "We've lost too much time, Jor could be anywhere by now."
"You don't have to go yet," Jamie told the group. "We can help you. I mean... we've been feeling things lately... maybe we can help you find out what direction your enemy took, and we can also offer you something to eat and a place to recover your energies for a while."
"Why would you do that?," Eric asked her. "I mean, you've already helped us so much today! We'd never be able to pay you back."
"To think I'd always believed that if I ever saw an elf, I'd be the one with the pay-back problems," Mildred commented. "We'll be honored to help you as much as we can. You don't have to do anything for us. Though it would be great if you could tell us what's wrong with the forest, and help us sort it out."
"It would be great if we could all work together," Gallead suggested. "Can't you two come with us?"
"Sorry, we can't," Jamie responded, shadows covering her face. "We need to stay here and protect Shadowy Meadow. If things can get as bad as I think they can, we'll need a strong focal point for good magic. And we'll need to stick together. Our family, I mean. Shadowy Meadow is a spot of energetic confluence; a place where light and darkness come together. If there's anything we can do to prevent the balance between them from breaking, we'll only be able to do it here. But you can stay with us for as long as you can. I'm sure our parents wouldn't mind."
"Could you please translate what she said?," Eric whispered to Mariel.
"Later," the elvin said.
Gallead sighed and shook his head.
"I'm not a sorcerer," he said. "I wouldn't be of any help here. I don't really know what we're dealing with, nor why so many beings have suddenly risen to destroy everything in their wake, but whenever we find out, I'll have to deal with it in the way I can. However, if everything goes well and we make it back, I'll be honored to accept your invitation."
"Take something to eat, at least," Jamie urged the group. "You do eat, right?"
Gallead chuckled.
"Yes, we do."
"What's with those two?," Erin grumbled.
"I think I know, but I have the feeling you wouldn't like to know," Pura giggled.
"I'm not stupid, Pura. But I mean... they've only just met!"
"I tend to think logically," Timper said, joining the faeries, "but I do know logic doesn't work in all cases. Some things simply... are."

*************************

Elsewhere, a secret meeting took place. When the shakast arrived, a small transparent-winged being was sitting on a rock, waiting for him. He had short, straight red hair, and his short beard was just as red. The clothes he was wearing were clearly fire-themed, as if he was trying to give others a warning of what they'd get if they ever got in his way. He was small in size, true, but Jor knew better than to misjudge him. This fiery creature was a dangerous threat to anyone who opposed him, and he had proven that in the past. He combined strategic proficiency, physical strength, knowledge of weapons and firepower in a lethal way.
"What took you so long?," the faerfliye inquired.
"I have traveled a long distance," Jor responded.
"You're always so serious! But that could be a good thing. Someone like you is bound to take the job seriously. Actually, you turned up earlier than we expected. Did you get anything?"
"I don't like the tone you're using," Jor warned him.
"Which tone?"
"A tone of superiority. As if you considered yourself to have some degree of authority over me."
"Me? Oh, no, I always talk like that, you should know me by now. You've proven yourself just as I have. We're together in this. Partners."
"That will have to do," Jor accepted.
"Why so much harshness?"
"I don't like your kind."
"I'm one of a kind. You won't find anyone like me. I think the way I put an end to a millenary war proved that."
"I must admit I was delighted when I saw that. You must have sacrificed a lot. After all, one of the cities was your own, wasn't it?"
"It's not sacrifice unless you lose something that's important to you, and I only lost the things that made me weak. So, let me repeat my question: did you get anything?"
"For a moment, I thought I had. But I seem to have found quite the opposite of what I was looking for."
"That could be a good thing too. We need both polarities for things to work, or so says Haggaus."
"What do you mean?," Jor inquired. "How does he know that? Has he made any progress?"
"He has read the signs," his partner announced.
"Finally!"
"Yes. Finally. We have until the spring equinox."
"That's only a few months from now. Why?"
"A matter of balance of light and darkness. You should understand it better than me, you know magic's not my thing. But he says it's the moment when they both have equal strength. '12 hours of each on that one day,' he said. So, if either side manages to shatter that perfect balance, that side will gain unparalleled power."
"But why this equinox in particular?"
"I'll go on with what he said. Normally any equinox would have done, but now forces have been set in motion and they can't be stopped. It's now or never. 'Twelve must confront twelve,' that's what Haggaus said. So maybe what you found can serve us. It will be good to identify our opponents. We can be better prepared."
"How many are we now?"
"3 fixed, 2 in trial and I think I've found another promising pair. We need at least 5 more."
"Will Haggaus get out and start recruiting now that he's done with the readings?"
"He's one step ahead of you. He's already been working with the candidates, exploring their potential."
"I know one. Who's the other?"
"I heard that it's a she, but I've never seen her. Haggaus says it's essential that we don't disturb her right now."
"And you follow his commands?"
"I don't know if interrupting her treatment would ruin things or not, but it will be better to play his game until we know more. So tell me, who did you find?"
"They were just six, not too well organized, though very determined. Two seemed to share a strong bond, but those were young and inexperienced. Two others didn't seem very dangerous, just a lurian and a weird air creature; but the remaining two were smart and shouldn't be underestimated. I have an idea of what they're weak against based on recent experience, but I suggest we try all elements to be sure."
"Why just the elements? We can do better things," the winged one suggested.
A smile formed in the mouths of both.
"We'll try everything we have," Jor decided. "That way we can test them and our own group at the same time. We'll kill two birds with the same stone."

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

Next chapter will be long, but the previews will be short. I don't want to post any spoilers.

Once on the other side, he followed the fire to its source, and his eyes met a scene he'd only seen illustrated on old books.

"Ok, since it has come to this, explain yourself and I'll tell you what I've been hiding all this time. A secret for a secret. That has to be fair."


Poll for chapter 13: 2 secrets will be revealed in the next chapter. What do you think they will be? And who do you think the last quote belongs to?
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Old 07-21-2003, 11:45 AM   #66
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Sorry to double-post. I just don't want this topic to be pruned away. It would be great if you could make any comments. Even if refer to things that should get better about this fic, or even if it's to say the chapters are too long for you to keep your interest. I'll understand, I just want to know that someone has taken the trouble to read it, because it has taken me a lot of time and effort to write each chapter and I'd like to know if keeping it up would be worth it.

Also, if you could reply to the last poll, it would be great. I'd like to know what you people think.
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Old 07-22-2003, 05:26 AM   #67
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Well...I've read the whole thing but I don't think I've replied before. I really like this story; it is my favorite along with Rhapsody in Red. Though you don't seem to like the word said very much. Oh well...

I'm positive one of the secrets is about Erin (I hope) but I can't think of anything for the second (perhaps belonging to the other person in the last quote.) As for the last quote, I believe...Pura says it! Yup: Pura.
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Old 07-22-2003, 10:58 AM   #68
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Thanks for replying, Antiguy! It means a lot!
I like the word 'said' just about as much as any other word, I just try not to overuse any, and to be as specific as I can. Maybe sometimes I'm a bit too specific; I'll watch out for that in the future, thanks.

As for your guesses, one of them is right. You'll find out when I post the next chapter. Now that I know that someone is reading this fic and actually likes it, I know I will post it. So, thanks a lot!
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Old 07-22-2003, 03:58 PM   #69
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Hey Lady Vulpix, I just started reading, since I began writing a 'fantasy/questy' fic not to long ago. I came here for inspiration, because I knew this fic was pretty big and sucessful, and judging by your response, I hope my fic does as well.


12 seems like a LOT of people, but each individual person has a great personality! I like Erin, personally. She's the kinda person you just warm too...lol. The kinda person who'd win Big Brother! ^^

Keep up the good work!
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Old 07-23-2003, 11:48 PM   #70
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I just finished reading this story, and I am impressed. You have created a great fantasy story which describes everyone's different personalities very well.

When reading about Eric, he has made me think of Link from the Legend Of Zelda video game series. They are both young boys who are highly skilled swordsmen especially for their age, show great courage, and want to rid the world of evil.

I love long chapters. The story is too interesting to lose interest because of long chapters. The longer the better. Just like the Lord Of The Ring.

About the poll, I think the last quote is Pura talking to Erin. The secrets will be Erin explaining more about her past, and Pura will tell about the secret she has been hiding (probably having to do with not being totally made of light; what she was afraid of anyone finding when Timper wanted to turn into a Lurian, and when she was in the cave scared of the spider).

Keep writing. This is a great story. You are doing a good job.
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Old 07-25-2003, 04:54 PM   #71
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Thanks for giving me such pleasant surprises with your replies!

ShinyMarill, I wouldn't have imagined you'd seek inspiration here. It's an honor, especially since this is my first fic and I was afraid you might destroy it if you saw it. I guess I was wrong.
By the way, if you laughed when you made the statement about warming to Erin, wait to see chapter 14 and find out how much warmth you can get. ;-)

Master Kirby, you've noticed each of the clues I left about Pura! Congratulations! However, though Pura is keeping several secrets from the group, Erin is the only one aside from her who already knows them, so she'd have nothing to bargain with. It's someone else who would give anything to find out more about her. But I won't say more or else I might be revealing all the secrets right here.

I've already got started on chapter 15, so once I've finished it, chapter 14 will be up. Thanks for taking the time to read this fic and post your comments. They're worth a lot!
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Old 07-27-2003, 04:41 PM   #72
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"Twelve must confront twelve." Aha, so the final pieces of the title's puzzle fall in. The quest of the twelve on the good side is to confront and defeat the twelve on the evil side when the spring equinox comes.

Whee, I've finally managed to catch up. Not bad, huh? Two days for all your wonderful, long chapters.

[EDIT]: Er, my sentence didn't make any grammatical sense. I was in the middle of one thought and I typed up another. "The quest of the twelve on the good side must confront and defeat the twelve on the evil side when the spring equinox comes"? Sorry, it's fixed now. ^_^;
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All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.

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Old 07-28-2003, 04:01 PM   #73
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Thanks, Karin! It took me 3 to catch up with yours.
And yes, you got that right.
I wish I didn't have to leave soon. I'd finish writing chapter 15 and post chapter 14. I'm getting fed up with my thesis work. Well, I'll do that as soon as I can.
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Old 07-31-2003, 12:20 PM   #74
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I'm not capitalizing the names of races anymore

Chapter 14: Burning feelings

The Wilmslow twins convinced the group to stay at Shadowy Meadow for a few hours, arguing that a pause and a good meal would help them face their journey with renewed energy rather than being a waste of time. Gallead wasn't hard to persuade; he wanted to know more about Jamie and the way she and her family lived. And Mariel was very interested in the way they handled magic, which had many points in common with her ways, but also had many differences. She wanted to find out if they were just differences of form or if there was anything she could learn from the ways of witches that could be useful for her. Plus, she wanted to find out how two human girls who were merely a year older than her had developed such great skills in protection magic, when that domain was so elusive for her. This led to a long conversation between her and the whole family, and the conclusion was that, since not everyone had the same potential to accede to each domain (and that was the main reason why there were many spells which could be cast in different ways), mastering protection magic would be harder for Mariel. That didn't mean it would be impossible for her to achieve that; she had time on her side and was perseverant enough to eventually accomplish any goals she set for herself; but it would be best for her if she started investigating other domains first. In this respect, when she informed the sisters of her failed attempts of enhancing her shield, and showed the protective weapon to them, Jamie suggested she used light magic to turn it into a reflective shield and make it deflect any energy attacks or even have them bounce back. In return for this, Mariel told the witches many of the things she had learned from Primrose and Selinur. There was no time for anyone to learn new spells, but in the end they all had more knowledge and ideas than they'd had before.

When the time came for the travelers to depart, Jamie asked them if they would return after their mission was complete. To which Gallead promised that at least he would, and asked her to stay safe and protect that part of the forest until then. Finally, the group left. Though Gallead didn't stop looking back until Shadowy Meadow was nothing but a shadow in the distance. Only then, Erin broke the silence.
"Now, will anyone explain..."
"Why we trusted them?," Timper interrupted her.
"How did you know what I was going to say?"
"I'm getting to know you. Besides, I actually have the same question. I know that Mariel trusted them and she seems to have a powerful intuition about who deserves her trust. But I agree that everything went too fast to make any sense. I wouldn't have opened up so fast to anyone, and I'm the one who told you everything I could do on the way we met."
"That doesn't make sense; in which way didn't you open up?"
"In the way Mariel did... Or Gallead."
"There was something special about her..." Gallead said in a way that showed more evocation than self defense. "The way she looked at me, the way she talked... It was as if I could see through her. And I loved every bit of what I saw."
"Now you'll say you could get lost in her eyes forever," Erin laughed.
"It's possible," Gallead replied.
"Oh, I can't believe this!"
"I don't expect you to understand me," Gallead told her. "Though it would be great for you if you could. But you and I are very different. I'll never be such a good fighter as you are."
"Just clear this out for me. Do you fall in love with every pretty girl you meet?"
"No, of course not!"
Gallead shook his head, sighed and then continued.
"It's not something I can explain. It had never happened to me before. I don't know what it means, if it means anything at all. Our races are not even biologically compatible, and I don't really know if I'll get to see her again. I could die in this quest for all I know. But..."
"But?," now it was Eric who asked, proving that their conversation had exceeded the limit of the small group who was carrying it out.
Gallead paused for a moment, thinking.
"But I really want to believe I'll see her at least once more," he finally said. "Ever since I left the Valley, I've dreamed of having a place to return to after each journey. Now I feel I've finally found one. It could be an illusion. Maybe she doesn't feel the same way and she was just surprised that she found creatures she hadn't seen before. But something inside me tells me otherwise and I want to believe it. Call me crazy if you want; I have no way to show I'm not."
"You're not crazy," Eric told him. "I think I know what you mean."

The air was filled with silence, while the minds of the travelers were anything but. Mariel, Eric, Gallead, Erin, Timper... even Pura. All of them were too concentrated in their own thoughts to utter a word. Until the silence was finally broken by the cracking of a heavy tree branch, which shot itself to the ground, nearly smashing the smallest ones. Luckily for the group, they all reacted fast enough and evaded it.
"Umm... what's the chance of that being an accident?," Pura wondered.
"Normally, high," answered Erin. "These days, I'd say close to null."
"I'll look around," Timper said, taking the shape of a small bird.
"Me too," Pura decided, flying in the direction where the branch had come from.

It turned out Erin had been right, but it was neither Timper not Pura who found that out. The attack revealed its nature when the trees around the group began to close in.
"Dassels?," Eric asked no one in particular.
"Too powerful," Timper responded from above. "Either we're facing hundreds of them or we're up against something bigger."
"Please let it be something bigger," Erin yearned. "A hundred Dassels are more irritating than a hundred flies."
At that moment, one of the tree roots rose from the ground where Erin was standing. The faerie flew away from it and lifted her arms, pulling her sword out of the air.
"I've never enjoyed gardening, but I guess it's time to do some," she announced.

Erin began to swing her sword and slice the attacking branches as if they were made of paper. Eric and Gallead did their part, while Mariel, Timper and Pura tried to locate the source of the attack, each in their own way.
"They're driven by magic," Mariel finally sentenced.
"Then try to find who's causing it," Erin told her.
"I'll watch your back," Eric offered, getting closer to her in order to stop any trees from reaching her while she was concentrating.
It was easier said than done. The trees wouldn't give the group a break. It was as if the whole forest was against them. They attacked with their branches, roots and trunks, and they also used their bulks to restrict their mobility, not missing a chance to surround one fighter and isolate him or her from the rest of the group. The first one to be trapped was Gallead, whose sword wasn't as thick and hard as those of Eric and Erin, and needed more blows to get the same job done. Gallead managed to cast his agility spell before the trees started pressing him, but couldn't find an opening that was big enough for his sword to pass, and the trees didn't allow him the time to create one with his weapon. He had no choice but to escape through the treetops, leaving his sword behind. When he materialized again, he encountered a 6-winged, thick-muscled Timper, who soon became aware of his predicament.

"Something's making them stronger and more resistant," Timper said. "sheer strength won't bring them down. You'll need a good sword to cut them and stop them. One like Eric's."
"Eric's sword is too heavy for me," Gallead replied. "I could lift it, but I can't fight with it."
"With Eric's sword, maybe. But with a sword that helps you, you'll do a great job."
Saying this, Timper stood on Gallead's hands and assumed the shape of a reinforced steel sword. Gallead decided not to ask any questions, and to try out Timper's plan. Timper was heavy in this form, but Gallead's agility spell helped him swing him faster, and the false sword added the extra impulse Gallead needed to slice the tree trunks and make them fall. Things were beginning to look good for them.

Pura was the next one to be surrounded by thick trunks, but the trees could never press hard enough to prevent her from sliding through small open spaces, and the branches could never move fast enough to hit her. All they could do was try to block any possible openings before she detected them, but it was still easy for her to get out. Staying out was the hard part. She was beginning to tire from flying so fast without stopping for even a second. And she wanted to do something useful, not just keep escaping until her friends could put an end to the threat. So she did the only thing she could think of: she soared above the treetops and made a rain of light fall on the group of trees that had been trying to get her. Most of their leaves sizzled and burnt from the excess of light, but the wood was unaffected. Realizing there was not much else she could do, she decided to look for Eric and help him detect any unseen threats. But before she could find him, she spotted something else.

At that point, Erin had been left alone. She would have had no problems getting rid of the trees, if not for the fact that they kept coming, no matter how many she cut down. They had managed to push her away from the rest of the group, and now she could see no signs of any of her friends. Moreover, it looked as if a half of the forest had gathered around her and was trying to crush her. Well, half the forest would be an exaggeration, but there were easily 40 or 50 trees dedicated to her alone. They were closing in... getting too close for comfort. Too close for their own good. No sentient being could be found anywhere around. Erin was on her own. No friends, no witnesses... no constraints.

When Pura found Eric and Mariel and informed them of her discovery, they all made their way to the spot she indicated. They arrived too late, though. By the time they reached it, the shining point on the ground that Pura had seen had lost its brilliance and turned into a simple puddle of melted glass. The attack had ceased, the earth around the glass was dry and most of the trees of that area were burnt. When Gallead showed up, they asked him if he had any idea of what had happened, and he told them that he had only seen a huge fire. He had blown strong winds to encase it and stop it from spreading, until it had eventually died out. No one knew what had caused it, except maybe for the two members of the group who were still missing.

Timper had been separated from Gallead a few minutes earlier, when, while trying to cut down a tree, another tree had hit the ferwill and pushed him back. Gallead had got up quickly, but the trees had moved to block his way and, when he got to the spot where he'd left Timper stuck in a tree trunk, the shifter had disappeared.

"We need to find him!," Eric urged the others as soon as he heard Gallead's story. "And Erin too. They could be in trouble."
"The magic is gone," Mariel informed him. "I think it was this glass thing that was controlling the trees. I can't believe it caused so much damage to the forest. I wonder who or what is responsible. In any case, I don't think Erin and Timper are in danger right now. Maybe they're just lost."
"Timper doesn't strike me as being the kind who gets lost," Gallead said. "I'm sure he'll find us before we can find him and Erin. I think we should all stay in one place, to make it easier for them to locate us. We'll miss each other if we move."
"What if they're hurt, or unconscious?," Eric suggested, concerned.
"We're talking about Erin here," Pura replied. "I'm not sure if there's anything in this world that she can't endure. And Timper seems to be quite tough too. We should give them some time to find us before we start looking for them. They can't be too far."

*************************

Jumping back a few minutes, Timper was pinned to a tree trunk, while several branches were trying to beat him up and break him. He was too hard to be easily broken, and he could get harder; but that wouldn't stop the trees, nor help his friends. He was worried about them. They were all out of sight, and at least one of them was unarmed. He decided to take the risk and look for them. So, he shook his metallic blade to break loose, let himself fall and regained his original shape.

Evading the trees in the best way he could, Timper initially followed an erratic path marked by the available spaces. But then, the unexpected smell of smoke and burnt wood determined his course. Suspecting that yet another threat had risen, he decided to investigate the source of the smell. For that, he turned into a luysher: a small, semi-transparent air being, and the fastest form he could use without breaking a promise and unleashing a possible tragedy (as unlikely and senseless as that sounded, he didn't want to be responsible for the consequences if Pura's words were founded). He managed to avoid most attacks and endure the few that connected, and as the air got hotter and harder to breathe and the sound of flames became clearer, the trees ceased their movement. Timper didn't understand what was going on, but he had the feeling that the fire had something to do with it. The flames soon became visible, as they embraced a wall of trees right in front of him. He stuck to the ground to avoid being burnt, and walked past them. Once on the other side, he followed the fire to its source, and his eyes met a scene he'd only seen illustrated in old books.

There it was, the origin of the fire. It was a faerfliye, with a head crowned in orange flames and a short golden dress that shone in different tones, reflecting the oscillating light. A female faerfliye, with a pair of transparent wings that were definitely a lot more resistant than they looked, and a pair of legs that... no, no time for that kind of thoughts. She was still releasing fire; she could burn everything in the area if she didn't stop, and she didn't seem to be in a state in which the idea of stopping would come to her mind. This uncontrolled display of power was a proof of that. Flames burst out of her hands with the fierceness of a beast being unleashed after years of captivity. And Timper could be wrong, but that beast didn't seem to care about who or what stood on its way. It would advance and devour, and if it went too far, guilt would consume its creator more than anything ever had. For, though much about her remained a mystery, especially now, he did know her that much.

"Please, stop! Don't do this to yourself!," Timper shouted, but the fire faerie could only hear the sound of her own flames.
He tried to think of something that could make her stop, but every idea he could think of would either be useless or make her hate him. Finally, he came out with a very risky, crazy plan. He transformed into a neini, a creature most vulnerable to fire, and pushed the air with his green wings to ascend to the faerfliye's side. When he was in her range of sight, he urged her to stop once more.
"It's over," he said. "The threat is gone. Now please stop!"

The flow of fire was cut abruptly, and the flames on Erin's head died down, her orange-ish golden hair falling back on her shoulders and her body sliding down at a slow pace. Her eyes showed nothing but shock. Timper followed her to the ground, returned to his normal shape and contemplated her in silence. Until she finally spoke.
"Timper..."
"Are you alright?," he asked her.
"No, I'm not!," her attitude suddenly changed. "What are you doing here? You... you could have died! And what... why... What the hell are you doing here?!"
"I trusted you, I knew you wouldn't hurt me. And you're welcome."
"What am I supposed to thank you for?"
"I stopped you from burning the whole forest."
"Burning the whole forest? Don't be ridiculous! I was going to stop as soon as the trees stopped attacking."
"They stopped about 5 minutes ago," Timper revealed.

Erin paused for a few seconds, reflecting.
"You've seen me," she finally said. "You know what I am."
"A faerfliye," he confirmed. "What's wrong with that? You know what I am too."
"You don't understand!"
"Then help me understand."
She made another pause, then shook her head.
"I can't. Just... just leave."
"Erin, please. I want to understand you. That's all I... Ok, since it has come to this, explain yourself and I'll tell you what I've been hiding all this time. A secret for a secret. That has to be fair."
"You have a secret?," Erin questioned him. "What are you talking about?"
"You were right about one thing when you met me. I wasn't being completely honest. But I had to keep something to myself. If I hadn't, you would have sent me away immediately."
"And now you'll reveal your secret because...?"
"Because I have nothing to lose anymore. If I don't speak, odds are you'll kick me out of the group to protect your secret. If I do, there's a chance you may understand me."
"Don't jump to conclusions about me. Speak."
"Ok..."

Timper took a deep breath and paused for a moment, trying to find the words and the strength to say them. "The truth is that, when I met you, I wasn't on a quest to help the people from the wastelands. I'm in this now, 100%, but back then I was debating whether it was best to go there and check what was going on or head elsewhere and wait for things to calm down. But when I saw you, things changed."
"How did they change?"
"I can't explain it. There was something about you that drew me in. You were a mind-blowing puzzle, and -sorry, I must say this- a beautiful one at that! The more I saw you, the more I felt the need to know you better."
"Let me get this straight. Are you saying you decided to go on a quest that might cost you your life... because of me?"
"I had to try. My life would be worthless if I weren't willing to take a risk when it's worth it. That's the way the greatest discoveries are made. What kind of explorer would I be if I turned my back on something like this?"
"'This' being?"
"Pardon?"
"'This' being me, the quest or the mental challenge you get from having me around?"
"Everything, actually."
"I can't believe this," Erin shook her head and laughed.
"I'm sorry. You must think I'm a fool now. In my defense I can say... it was worth it; for as long as it lasted. Everything I found out about you was a delightful surprise. You have even more in you than I originally thought. And call me egocentric, but I think it helped you too. You've opened up a lot since I met you, and shown sides of you I'm not even sure you knew about. And they all made me wish I could stay by your side."
"I never said you can't," was Erin's unexpected reply.
"Pardon? Did I hear well?"
"I must admit this is a bit... unsettling, but now I know you can keep a secret, and... I don't want to say anything I'll regret later, but I do feel having you around is doing me well."
Now Timper's eyes couldn't be wider.
"Don't take me wrong," Erin clarified. "I'm not going to go Gallead any time soon... Not ever, in fact. But I've lived many years and no one has ever treated me the way you do. And, for some reason, that allows me to do and say things I wouldn't have before. It's like I can be myself around you and it won't matter. I somehow feel... free, or at least a bit closer to being free." She paused for a moment and then added: "now I guess I am a fool."
"Why are you always so hard on yourself?," Timper asked her, walking one step closer to her, still refraining from touching her.
Erin sighed.
"I guess I'll have to tell you. Let's do this: if you haven't changed your mind about me once I've told you what you want to know, you can stay with us. But there's a good chance I'll only bring shame to myself and you won't have any desire to be anywhere near me again."
"I really doubt that's a possibility, but please go on."

"Ok. As you may already have figured out, I'm a wastelander. Only it was not a wasteland when I lived there. I grew up in Shantar, one of the two faerfliye cities that were constantly in war against each other."
"The other was Holtar, right?"
"Right. Then, if you've heard about those cities, you must know that the war went on for many centuries. This resulted in Shantar and Holtar making some of the best weapons in the world, but it also made life very hard for those who lived there. I was one of the kids who lost their parents in the war."
"Sorry, I didn't know."
"It's ok. That was a long time ago, and too many things have happened since then. I was raised in a community house with other orphans and the whole city looked after us. They gave us everything we needed, including a huge dose of physical training. No wonder almost everyone ended up growing into warriors. I was never the most sociable creature, but I had two good friends in the house: Allen and Wilson were their names."
"So, what happened?"
"What happened was that finally the 3 of us ended up joining the army because that was the normal course of things, but the closer we got to the battlefield and the more news we got about the war, the sicker we all grew of it. I was all for fighting for what I believed in, but all I could see there was meaningless slaughter. And there were no signs of either side having a chance to win, so it would probably go on forever. Allen saw this and deserted. He ended up being arrested, and they made Wilson lock him in until he decided to rejoin. He was a bit crazy, you know. When he came back, he said it had been nice to have a friend watch over him."
"That's weird."
"That's nothing. There was one night when things changed drastically, and for the worst. I couldn't sleep, so I decided to get some fresh air and fly around a little. I was only a few meters off the borders of the city when I found two suspicious shapes. I hid myself to watch, and found Wilson talking to a guy from Holtar!"
"A secret meeting between both cities?"
"Sort of. Or so I thought. There turned out to be outsiders involved, but back then I didn't know what to make of it. I intercepted Wilson when the other guy left and asked him what that was all about, and why he hadn't told us about it."
"What did he say?"
"He said he'd found a way to end the war, and told me to trust him. Something didn't smell good, but he was a friend, so I let him go and only decided to watch him closely. That was a huge mistake, but my biggest mistake came later."
"Why? What happened?"
"Well, a part of what happened, you already know. We were invaded. Both cities. An army of creatures we'd never known came in and, while we fought to repel them, we were missing too much information to succeed. Most of them turned out to be shadows. You'll never imagine what it feels to see those you know fall helplessly, their very essence stripped away from them. I hope you never get to see that. And then the shadows took their bodies and attacked us, like zombies. Few things could be worse than that, but there was something worse. Among the attackers was Wilson. It was not his body taken by a shadow; you could see the difference in their eyes. It was him, acting by his own free will. He kept raving about ending the war once and for all and destroying those who caused it... he had turned against his own people. Even against his friends."

A tear slipped down Erin's eye. Timper had the feeling there was something she hadn't said yet, but before he could do anything, she dried her face with her hand and continued.
"Allen tried to stop him, but in the end he failed and Wilson killed him. I couldn't take it anymore and I... I..."
"What?! What did you do?!" Now Timper was starting to get scared.
"I flew away," Erin revealed. "I was too scared and confused and horrified. I couldn't even think. I just escaped before Wilson could see me and flew for hours... days... weeks. I really don't know how long, I wasn't even thinking. Later I scorned myself for that; now I think I would have lost if I had fought, I was strong, but I couldn't defeat an army of shadows on my own. But still, I shouldn't have saved myself and let my city fall. I'll never forgive myself for that."
"So, what would you rather have done? Died in a futile battle, making your death the only change in the result?"
"The way you put it, I would have been pathetic no matter what I'd done."
"No way, Erin. Your life is worth too much to waste it like that. The fact that you're now fighting to make things right proves it. There was nothing you could have done back then, but there's a lot you can do now. And you're doing it."
"I can't believe it. I thought you'd be ashamed of me by now, but instead, you're praising me."
"I only give praise when it's deserved," Timper said. "...And every now and then I give a little extra praise to myself too."
Erin chuckled, unbelieving. She would have never guessed she'd be able to laugh after letting out what had been burning her from the inside for 8 years. What powers did Timper have?!
"Are you sure you're real?," she asked him.
"Absolutely. That's my motto, remember?"
"Oh, yes, I'll never forget that."
"So, what did you do for the last 8 years?"
"Well, after I escaped I flew straight until I collapsed... It turned out I fell in a restricted area in the middle of Isthum, a lurian village. When the lurians tried to lift me up, I woke up and saw something I wasn't supposed to see. So the lurians took me in. They said they'd help me recover from whatever it was I'd been through, though I knew they only wanted to make sure I wouldn't let out their secret. Still, it was good to be a part of a community again. The lurians learnt not to ask questions and gave me everything I needed, and in return I offered them protection and helped them with the heavier tasks. I spent most of the time out in the forest, training to take the uncontrollable emotions out of my system, and hoping I'd eventually get strong enough to take on Wilson and the shadows. Some time later I met Eric and Mariel, and then the massive attacks began and I knew it was time to go back and finally make things right. You already know the rest of the story."

"Wow!," Timper exclaimed.
"No, don't tell me I've left you speechless because I wouldn't believe it. You always have something to say."
"I guess you've thrown more at me than even I can find a good reply for."
"Well, it's relieving to know you don't hate me after this."
"Never! Trust me, Erin, one day you'll learn to see yourself as you really are. And that day nothing and no one will be able to stop you."
"We'll see. I hope you're right. So... what shall we do now?"
"That's a tough question." Timper stopped to think for a minute. "Ok, I don't know what we'll do when we have to face the rest of the group, but first would you please allow me to find out something? Consider it professional research."
"Do I want to know what you're trying to find out?"
"It's simple. I want to know how strong faerfliyes really are. Is it true that you're stronger than massennes?"
"Oh, so that was it!," Erin laughed. "Yes, we are, at least in average."
"Would you mind if I checked how strong I can be as a faerfliye?"
"Go ahead, if it helps you do a better job as an explorer. Actually, it would be interesting to see what you'd look like as a faerfliye."
"Alright, then. There I go; I hope neither of us gets disappointed by this."

Timper's jacket opened behind his back, to make room for the new pair of transparent wings, while his hair began to turn from black to bright orange. No other change occurred.
"Not bad," Erin sentenced. "Though your clothing still looks rather awkward."
"I usually change my clothes when I have to fit in, but that's not the case now," Timper said. "The thing is... I don't feel any different. Except for the wings. The wind is tickling them a little. Did I do anything wrong, or is this the way I'm supposed to feel?"
"I don't know," Erin replied. "You're the shifter, not me. Why don't you try lifting a rock or something? That way we'll know if you did it right."
"Good idea. Too bad I won't be able to shoot fire, that would have been nice. You looked awesome, by the way. Hey, wait! I have a better idea."
"What's gotten into your mind this time?"
"I can test my strength against you."
"Are you sure? I'm a trained warrior, not to mention I've been a faerfliye all my life. Even if I've been hiding it for the last 8 years."
"Not in battle. A game. We can get that trunk over there and hand-wrestle. Let's see how much of a fight I can put up."
Erin chuckled again.
"You're getting weirder by the minute."
"Relaxing once in while is good for health. Come on, it won't hurt you."
"You're a lost case... But what gives? Let's do it."
"Shall we do it with our left hands? I'm ambidextrous, I'll have more of a chance if I'm up against the hand you don't hold your sword with."
"I can hold it with either hand if I have to, or with both at the same time. But no, let's do it right and use our right hands. I'm not willing to have everything your way, you know."
"Whatever you say."
With that, they both took their positions and the competition began. The struggle lasted for about 2 minutes, and there were moments in which it wasn't clear who would win. But in the end, Erin prevailed.

"Alright, I accept my defeat," Timper sighed. "Just please don't start that old speech about the copy being unable to defeat the real thing and all that stuff."
"The real thing?," Erin laughed. "You know... the difference between reality and illusions is that real things are much more complex, harder to understand, challenging... usually harder to deal with. But when you become aware of reality, you fight hard in order to never be trapped by an illusion again. As far as I can tell, it doesn't get more real than you are."
Timper couldn't believe what he was hearing. Had that been a compliment? From Erin?!
"But you'll have to learn how to put those muscles to good use," she continued, standing up. "Or else you'll never stand a chance against a trained warrior."
That was more like the Erin he knew. He would have been scared if she had changed drastically all of a sudden.
"That will be hard," he answered, getting up from his position and reverting to his original form. "You wouldn't want me to transform into a faerfliye in public, right? That could give away your secret."
Erin paused for a moment to think.
"You know... I think they already know my secret," she finally said. "Jor has to, at least. There's no other explanation for the things he said, and he has seen the place where I was born. I guess keeping it from our friends will only hinder us. It's already been giving me trouble. I believe it's time to stop holding back. That is if you can tell the others what they need to know without having them hate me for that."
Many kinds of thoughts circled inside Timper's mind at that moment. While he was wondering how anyone could possibly hate Erin, he was also appalled and flattered at her sudden decision to trust him. But the thought that won his mouth was...
"What?! I've gone through so much trouble to find the truth about you, and now that I've found it you decide to let it out?!"
Erin laughed. It was an honest, clear, heartfelt laughter; the kind of which Timper had been dreaming of hearing come from Erin's mouth. It was literally a dream come true.
"What can I say? It seems I'm real enough too."
She turned around and started walking away.
"Where are you going?," Timper asked.
"To get the others, of course. And you'd better help getting the group back together. We're on a quest, remember? There's no time to waste!"
And with this, she took off.

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

Next chapter is also a long one. Previews here.

"Why didn't you tell us before? Were you afraid of us?"
Erin shook her head.
"Leave it to you to make annoying questions. I should have known you'd make one."
"And I should have known you weren't going to reply," Eric stroke back.


"If anyone has any secrets, that being is likely to blow them on their own anyway," Erin replied.
Not many understood what Erin was going on about. Timper had some suspicions, but he decided to trust Erin. He wouldn't get anywhere if he didn't.


"Good travelers, will you please help me?"


She followed the trail. Something told her she had nothing to fear about the user of that magic. Moreover, as both seeking spells intertwined with each other, the resulting pattern began to seem familiar.


"How can we stop what we can't see?!" Eric growled, frustrated.
"They're not gone yet?!" Gallead joined him.


And now... poll time!

Poll for chapter 14: How do you think the events in chapter 14 will affect Erin and Timper?
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Last edited by Lady Vulpix : 10-26-2003 at 12:45 PM.
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Old 07-31-2003, 11:18 PM   #75
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That was a great chapter. That was a big surprise to find that Erin is a faerfliye. I knew she had secrets, but didn't suspect that she would have that background.

That was an interesting story of the war. That got me thinking about Wilson. Could he be the faerfliye from one of the previous chapters who is one of the twelve on the evil side? The one who was meeting with Jor and the shakast when they where talking about the equinox.

Can't wait to read the next chapter.
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