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Old 10-07-2003, 10:11 PM   #91
Lady Vulpix
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Let the new chapter reveal itself

Chapter 17: Revelations

The night was quite uneventful, to the group's benefit. Actually, the only thing that caught anyone's attention was the fact that, by the time Erin woke Timper up, she was wearing a thick woolen coat. When the shifter took a look at her, she quickly told him it was getting cold.
"Did you pull that out of your air bag?," he asked her.
"Don't be silly, only my sword can be stored that way," she replied.
"Then where did you get it from?," Timper kept on inquiring.
"It was in a pocket on Eric's pack," she explained. "Most of my stuff is there."
The answer seemed to satisfy the explorer, until she turned her back on him to lie down, and he saw the coat had an open space around her wings and a little above them, and a vertical row of buttons below. The upper button was left open to make room for Erin's wings. The coat had clearly been made for someone whose wings were placed on a slightly higher point of her back. Most likely not a faerfliye, as the members of the same species tended to have their wings on the same place.
"You couldn't get one that fitted you?," Timper investigated.
"I could, but I preferred this one," she replied sarcastically. "Of course I couldn't, I left Shantar empty-handed."
"Oh. Sorry."
"No problem."
"Where did you get it?"
"You're beginning to sound more and more like Eric. That's scary. I'm tired and it's your turn to watch now, so goodnight."

With this, Erin went back to sleep. Timper let her go, but he kept on thinking. From what he knew of her history, she'd had no chance to get that coat after she left Shantar. Unless she'd got it from a neini village, but neinis had thinner wings and would need a smaller opening for them. A dassel's wings were further apart from each other, so the hole would have been wider, and they weren't so high up the back either. And there were no other winged faeries in the area where she'd been living. Something just didn't make sense. Unless...
Timper began to formulate a theory. It was crazy, but he'd seen stranger things (Timper himself being one of them). He began to test many things he'd seen and heard from this new point of view, and things that had been impossible to comprehend suddenly began to make sense. If only he could prove it! He had the means, but he was not supposed to do that. It could cost him the trust of those around him, including Erin's, which he'd worked so hard to earn. He didn't want to take that risk. Some things were more important than professional achievements.

A period of calm followed. That, added to the fact that Mariel was more certain at each passing moment, was a clear indication that they were on the right path. They wished they knew exactly what they were looking for, but Mariel was sure she'd know when she'd found it, and the others trusted her with that. That was until she lost track of the energy she was following.
"What does that mean?," queried Eric as soon as he heard the news. "Is the resistance point gone?"
"I don't know," Mariel replied. "I just don't feel anything anymore."
"Anything good or anything bad?"
"Both. Neither, I mean. There's nothing at all."
"We weren't transported somewhere else, where we?," asked Pura, flying around to make sure everything was in the same place as it used to be.
"I think I would have felt it," Mariel replied. "But how can I be sure? If I don't feel the point, I could be missing anything. I don't understand what's going on, has my magic stopped working?"
"Don't despair," Erin told her. "Something's going on, and we'll find it out. We just need to be careful."
"Your magic has never failed you and it has no reason to start now," Timper added. "My guess is that either something is blocking it, or magic doesn't work here for some reason. I've heard of places that were protected against magic. Like ancient temples, or places where treasures were hidden. This could be one of them."
"Yes, I've heard that too," Gallead agreed.
"Then I think we should keep walking in the same direction," Eric suggested. "If that's where we last knew the point was, it must be still there. We'll pass by whatever it is that's blocking Mariel's magic and she'll be able to feel it again."

As nobody else could think of a better plan, the group followed Eric's suggestion. They kept on walking until the scenery around them changed abruptly. They were no longer in the forest under the cloudy sky, but inside a large room with golden walls and columns.
"Oh, no, not another transporting spell!," Eric complained.
"Transporting spell?," an undefined voice echoed out of nowhere and everywhere. "Not quite."
"Who are you?," Eric inquired.
"I'm the gatekeeper," the voice responded.
"Show yourself!," the warrior demanded.

An image began to form in front of the group. It was completely transparent, and about Eric's height. Exactly what it was, was unclear. But it had arms and legs, and an oval head that seemed too big for the body that held it, with no face.
"You needn't be so impatient," the figured said.
Now the voice clearly sounded as coming out of the transparent creature, and it sounded male, though it was low and still had a slight echo.
"What are you?," Eric asked, puzzled.
"I'm my own creation," came the even more puzzling reply. "I have no name for it yet. But I do have a purpose, and it is to safeguard the path to Twocastle. Only those who manage to bring the two keys can proceed to the sacred fortress."
"Twocastle?," Eric turned to Mariel. "Do you think that's the place we were looking for?"
"It could be," the elvin replied. "It does sound like it."
"Are the six of you up to the challenge?," the gatekeeper questioned.
"We are," Eric replied decidedly, without turning to look at his companions' expressions. "Where are the 2 keys?"
"They are behind these doors," the figure answered. At that moment, 2 doors appeared on the wall behind him. They were both red, with golden arabesques on them. One of them barely surpassed Eric's height, while the other measured only 20 centimeters (or about two thirds of a foot).
"Of course, it's not as easy as crossing the door and picking up a key," the gatekeeper warned the group. "You'll have to look for them, and there will be obstacles in the way. Also, no more than 2 can cross each door. Otherwise the keys won't show themselves."
"Sounds like an interesting challenge," Eric judged. "Alright, Mariel and I can go together."
"That won't be possible," the gatekeeper said.
"Why not?!," Eric questioned, no longer liking the whole idea.
"Because your friend is taller than both doors."
"She can lower her head to pass."
"It's a rule. To pass through one of these doors, you must be shorter than it. You won't get to Twocastle by disobeying it."
"It's a stupid rule."
"It's alright, I'll go with you," Pura offered. "I'm good at searching and avoiding obstacles, I can help. Let's do things the right way."
"Yes, listen to your guide. She's wise."
"How did you know that she was his guide?," Mariel questioned. "And how did you know I was Mariel, when we never gave you our names?"
"He looked at you when he said your name," the gatekeeper explained. "And I assumed she was his guide because lurians are known to guide young merials on their first journeys."
"Risky assumptions, but correct ones," Timper pronounced, still thoughtful. "If Pura goes through the larger door, I guess that only leaves me and Erin to pass through the other."
"Assuming the faerie by your side is Erin, that's right," the figure replied.
"What will Mariel and I do?," Gallead inquired.
"You can wait here until your friends return with the keys."
Nobody seemed too sure about the sense of the whole thing, but they agreed to try it out. The gatekeeper suggested both pairs headed off at the same time to make things faster, and so they did as soon as Mariel asked Eric to take care, and he promised to do so.

The 'large' door led to a corridor with beige walls and floor. After walking a few steps, Eric and Pura found more corridors sprouting from the sides.
"It's a maze," he sentenced.
"I can check all the paths and see which one's the right one," Pura offered.
"What about the obstacles? There could be traps."
"I can fly and I'm fast. I'll avoid the traps easily."
"What if you get lost?"
"I also have a good sense of direction. It's a requirement to be a guide. Don't worry, I'll be fine. If I don't find anything in 5 minutes, I'll be back."
"Ok."

Pura zoomed out, and Eric sat down to wait. Every now and then, she saw her pop out of one of the corridors and dash into another. After a while, she stopped in front of Eric.
"Second one on the left," she said. "I didn't find the key, but it leads to a hall full of mirrors, while the others lead to dead ends or back here. I didn't find any traps except from some spikes and arrows. The arrows were nasty, but I dodged them all. I guess most traps must be activated by stepping on certain spots, so you should be careful."
"Thanks, Pura. You've done a great job," Eric commended her.

The merial followed his guide's indications, and slowly walked through the corridor. He could soon see a pile of arrows lying on the floor. They had to be the ones fired when Pura had passed. She tried flying through that area again, but nothing happened, so the two concluded it was safe to walk through. Then came a section where no traps had been activated. They reckoned it was the best place for a weight-triggered trap, so they both examined the floor with caution, watching out for any tiles that weren't tightly fixed to the others. That way, they managed to evade all threats until they reached the hall of mirrors Pura had mentioned.

"We'll have to be careful not to get lost here," Pura warned Eric. "All paths mirror each other. If we split up, the multiple images may confuse us. I do have a good sense of direction, but I'm not completely sure I'd pass this test on my own."
"Let's not split up, then. Stay close to me, I'll leave marks on the floor with my sword so that we know where we've already been. We'll keep looking down and ignore the mirrors."
"But what if there are traps behind the mirrors?"
"Then we'll evade them. What choice do we have?"

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

In the meantime, Erin and Timper had to explore another maze, only that this one was sensibly colder than the other. It looked as if the white walls were absorbing all the heat from inside.
"Are you alright?," Timper asked Erin, who was pressing her arms tightly around her chest.
"I could be better. Have I mentioned I don't like this place?"
"This is the first time. I was actually wondering why you hadn't yet. Want a better coat?"
"Do you have one?"
"Not exactly."
"Oh, no, don't you dare! Don't tell me you're not feeling cold yourself."
"As a matter of fact, I am. I'm trying to think of a form that can endure the cold, and walk through this small corridor at the same time. I wouldn't have that problem if I were a coat and you were carrying me."
"Of course you wouldn't. I'd be doing all the work and you'd be enjoying it from the most comfortable seat. Not to mention the other implications. No way."
"Who said anything about implications?"
"You don't have to. You're male, that's enough."
"You offend me. You know I respect you more than anything or anyone. I'd do nothing that would make you feel uncomfortable."
"Remember that next time you're about to ask me a question I'm not supposed to answer."
"Have I done that many times?"
"A few. My own secrets are mine to keep or reveal, but those of others I just can't tell."
"I respect that. That's one of the things I like the most about you."
"How so?"
"It means you can be trusted. And as you must know, that's a quality you don't find everywhere. And a very valuable one."
Those words managed to pull a smile out of Erin's mouth. But that smile was soon blurred by her shivering.

"Can't you make a fire or something?," Timper suggested.
"Not one that could follow us as we walk. Unless you'd like to transform into a torch."
"No, thanks. I'm not too keen on getting scorched."
"Well, maybe there is something we can do."
Saying this, Erin lifted her arms and let her sword appear in her hands. She instructed Timper to place his hands near the sword, without touching it. When he did so, the air around the blade raised its temperature, warming up the hands of both.
"How does that work?," Timper queried.
"This is an incandescent sword, it's made to amplify heat. In large proportions if you use it correctly."
"Wow! So that's how you did that!"
"How I did what?"
"When you were training. You heated up the air around your sword to disperse it and give you impulse at the same time, right?"
"Busted. I knew you'd figure it out sooner or later."
"That's an amazing sword. I've never seen any others like it."
"I think they only made them in a few places, and most of those places no longer exist. Jor has a spade which works the same way. At least as far as storage is concerned. It must be some kind of amplifier too, the ones who made these weapons never left anything unfinished so it has to be good."
"Why would a weapons expert make a spade?"
"They made weapons and tools, anything that could be used to take advantage over the enemies. Except that they sold the same weapons to both sides, so they didn't really give anyone much of an advantage. It was more of a loss if you didn't have them."
"Some way to do business! Didn't anyone ever turn against them for working for both sides?"
"Many wanted to, but at the end of the day, they liked their weapons too much to live without them."
"I see."

The heat of Erin's sword allowed the two to keep walking, but the air around them kept getting colder. They expected to find some obstacles, but hadn't foreseen that their surroundings as a whole would be one. They advanced through a long, freezing corridor until a wall came to their encounter. No openings could be seen to the sides, and they'd already seen everything they'd left behind. Erin could barely keep her arms stretched enough to hold her sword, and Timper wasn't doing that much better.
"Please, tell me this is not a dead end!," Erin begged. "We must have missed something. The key has to be somewhere!"
"I could see no fissures on the walls," Timper replied. "But for some time now the floor has been sounding hollow. I guess all we can do is break it and see what's below."
"Whatever it is, I hope it's warmer than this place. Let's see how hard this floor is."
Erin dug her sword on the floor, which immediately let out some steam. She shook it, but the material didn't crack beyond the width of the blade.
"We need a spinning sword," Timper sentenced.
"What's that?"
"It's my own creation. Useful for opening trap doors and making holes on a hollow floor like this one. It wraps around the material as it cuts through it and, when you pull up..."
"Don't tell me, show me. I'll listen to how it works once we're out of here."
"Alright."

It didn't take a second before Erin could see the sword in front of her. Its blade described a spiral much like a corkscrew, only bigger and much sharper. The hilt was a simple black cylinder, separated from the blade by a circle of black wood.
"And this is supposed to work? How?," Erin questioned.
Actions were the sword's reply, as he began to spin around, digging deeper and deeper into the frozen floor, until the sound of falling rubble below revealed that he had reached the other side.
"Oh, I see. I guess I'm supposed to pull you back now, right?"
"If you don't mind. It would be a lot more effective," the voice came rather muffled from the floor.

Erin couldn't figure out how it was possible for a sword to speak, but she preferred not to pump his ego by asking him. Instead, she just took the handle in her hands and pulled up, taking out a large chunk of the floor along with the sword. Timper began to turn in the opposite direction from which he'd been spinning in order to detach himself from the material. Once free, he took his normal form and made a funny reverence.
"Now, what was that for?," questioned Erin.
"Don't artists do that when they finish an act? Nevermind, now you know why I'm an explorer and not an acrobat or something. But it worked, didn't it?"
"Yes, good job. Sorry if I don't applaud, but my hands are freezing. Let's get down there. Whatever we find can't be worse than this place."
"That depends," noted Timper, kneeling down to look through the hole. "What do you prefer? Cold or water?"

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

While Mariel and Gallead waited at the hall, the gatekeeper talked to them about unimportant things like how the winter was coming; and when the guests asked why they hadn't seen that place before entering and why Mariel couldn't feel the presence of Twocastle from there, the guardian answered, showing some pride in his still low voice, that the Temple of Trials was enchanted with many spells. Finally and inevitably, the sorceress asked the gatekeeper who had made the rules about the doors.
"A merial wrote them," the creature replied. "Does that irritate you?"
"Do you want it to irritate me?," the elvin shot back.
"Hmm... Not particularly. I was just wondering, since there's this rivalry going on between elvins and merials. I figured an elvin like you wouldn't like the idea of abiding by a rule a merial wrote. But then again, you and your friend seem pretty close, so maybe you two feel you're above that conflict."
"I don't like the sound of this," Gallead commented. "Gatekeeper, why are you harassing her?"
"I'm not. When have I done or said anything offensive?"
"It's the tone in which you speak to her. Has she done anything to you, or are you the one who has prejudice issues?"
"You're ready to jump at me and defend your friend. What for? I have done nothing. How well do you know her anyway? You can't possibly know her well enough to fight for her."
"How would you know that?"
"Calm down, please," Mariel asked them. "Both of you. We were just talking. Gallead, I appreciate your help, but I can defend myself. And you... You are angry for some reason, aren't you? I don't think I've done anything to trigger your anger, so what is it? If anything's wrong, maybe I can help."
"Not everything works that way," the Gatekeeper told her.
"Can I at least try? Do you have a grudge against elvins, or is it me in particular? Or is it something else?"
The gatekeeper's transparent body was shaking like a bubble about to break.
"Of course you think you can sort it out," he spat out. "Why wouldn't you? You're an elvin. You're wise and knowledgeable and powerful beyond anyone else's comprehension, right? Or not, even more. You're even wiser than most elvins because you're above even their prejudice against merials, and you're a source of pure goodness, so how could there possibly be a problem you can't solve?"
"Why are you attacking me?"
"I am attacking you?! I'd done absolutely nothing to you until you came by and decided to ruin everything!"
"Ruin everything?," Gallead questioned. "The only thing she did was walk in like the rest of us and talk to you!"
"Oh, my!," exclaimed Mariel. "He's not talking about today! It's a trap!"
"Oh, well, you've found me out. Took you long enough, didn't it? You don't seem to think too clearly when your pretty connection magic is blocked. Too bad it's already too late to help your friends. This will be just between you and me."

Gallead had never seen the merial sorcerer named Kharchek, but from what Eric and Mariel had told him, and his own experience at the cave of illusions, all evidence pointed to him. He took his sword, trying to be ready for anything, but before he could even start casting his agility spell, a lightning bolt came his way, straight from the gatekeeper's hand. He barely managed to avoid it by throwing himself to the ground. He rolled over, trying to get up, but another bolt came and he was forced to fade into the air as the only way to avoid it. At that moment, a hole opened in the ceiling, and the air in the room was abruptly sucked into it. When the hole closed itself, the only things that remained of Gallead were his bag and his light sword, lying on the floor.

"What part of 'just between you and me' didn't he understand?," the transparent one roared.
Mariel stared at him, trying her best not to show fear while holding her shield firmly with both hands; she had taken it out during the rumble.
"What have you done to him?," she inquired.
"Oh, don't worry. He's much better than you will be soon. Can't hurt the wind, can you? With such a defense, no wonder he'd eventually use it. But I expected him to wait at least a little longer! I didn't even touch him with my bolts. Of course, if I had, odds are he wouldn't have been there to try his little trick anymore. Either way, I'd win. That's the way I like it."
"You..." Mariel began, but another thought took precedence. "What have you done to yourself?"
"Oh, this? It's a long story, and I'm not planning to tell it to you of all people."
"Did you destroy your own image to get stronger? You'd give everything up to get more power, wouldn't you? Even your essence."
"You think you know me. You have no idea what you're talking about. Anyway, soon, none of that will matter. I can't believe I have to go into so much trouble over a little girl."
While he spoke, Kharchek slowly picked up Swift from the floor.
"I thought Eric was your enemy," Mariel questioned him, keeping an eye on the sword.
"That little kid would be weeping over his father's body if you hadn't come to his rescue. I have eyes everywhere, I know how things happened. He's the one who has a grudge against me, not the other way around. But don't worry, I'm not leaving him alone to mourn you. I'm working on getting rid of him as we speak. Bah, this sword is too light. Can it really cut through things? There's not enough metal to channel lightning here, let alone anything else."

He tossed away the light sword, announcing he'd do things the old-fashioned way. He charged up an unusually large sphere of light and aimed it at Mariel, but the elvin's shield absorbed all the energy and sent it back, to the shock of both the attacker and Mariel herself. The sphere passed through a jelly-like substance, spreading all over it with flashes of light, before finally reaching back into the air, split into rays of different colors which blasted against the walls. Kharchek was shaken, but still standing.

"You're not as fast as you used to be," noted Mariel, trying to hide her surprise about the effectiveness of her own deflection spell.
"But I am much more resistant now," her enemy replied. "And I'm bound to this place, so I control everything here. You're in my territory now, so there's nothing you can do... other than say your last words."

Quiet followed; the calm that comes when the important things are progressing in a plane that's not visible. Mariel could hear the wind blow fast through the columns, and feel a spell brewing around her. After her experience with the teleporting spell, she knew better than to track it down. But she still tried to figure out what kind of spell it was by inspecting the domains she was familiar with. Her first attempt was the charm: Connection. It made sense; as far as she knew, it was the domain Kharchek used the most. It was also the one she was best at handling after Light, so maybe she still had a chance after all. Her shield wouldn't help, because a connection spell was not a direct energy attack, but she still had plenty of magic to resort to, and a magical enhancer given to her by the mermaids. She hoped to get down to the root of the spell and neutralize it before it was completed, and if that failed, she could try a new trick and see if she could pull out a disconnection spell. The latter would be hard, so she put her hopes into succeeding in her first try. It looked like she still had time to act... But then again, why? What kind of spell could take so long to be performed? Unless... Unless Kharchek was tricking her again, trying to make her focus on something while the real action was somewhere else. It was time to snap back into reality and look around for any possible threats. But why was something that simple suddenly so hard?

"Connection trap," Kharchek's old voice whispered inside her mind. "As usual, you've figured it out, but too late. I thought it would be best if you knew the name of the spell that killed you."

Mariel couldn't hide her fear anymore. She hadn't been more scared in her entire life. Something was about to kill her, and she wouldn't even see it coming. It could be anything: a lightning bolt, a spell from her own domain, the roof falling on her, or even Gallead's sword. She couldn't see. She couldn't hear. She couldn't even feel her own body. All she could perceive was Kharchek's presence all around. He was having the time of his life. It felt almost as if she was inside him. Everything had his mark on it. Well... almost everything. Far behind, she could feel a faint spark of something her mind represented as light. It was falling, and all of a sudden it wasn't. It was safe, it was stunned, it was happy, it was aware. It was the one best thing she could hope to feel in a moment like this. It was Eric's presence. And he could feel her too.

When Kharckek saw Eric and Pura come back through the 'big' door, he just couldn't believe it.
"How?!," he exclaimed, too shocked to keep up his act. "You couldn't have possibly survived the maze! And even if you had, you wouldn't have returned without the key."
"Was there even a key inside?," Pura questioned.
"How did you know? And how did you come back so fast?"
"We have our own questions first," Eric declared, looking at Mariel's immobile figure. "Why are you doing this? What have you done to Mariel and where's Gallead?"
"You haven't even figured it out, have you? I won't be the one to tell you."
"You're right," Eric accepted. "It won't be you."
Saying this, he swung his sword against the nearest column with such strength that it made a hole in the gold-painted stone. Wind came out at high speed from the hollow inside, and circled around Swift, lifting it up before holding it with a greyish hand.
"He's Kharchek," Gallead warned Eric. "He's connected to this place and controls everything."
"He can't control everything," the merial argued.
"Why not?"
"Because of everything he didn't see and everything he didn't do. I say we test how connected to this place he really is."
Eric stuck his sword into the floor. Kharchek tried to stop him with a thunderbolt, but the metallic sword absorbed the electricity, sending it down to the earth. At the same time, a shockwave made the floor ahead of Eric shake, and the electricity somehow powered up the earthquake. Gallead rushed to Eric's side as a hurricane, carrying his Swift with him, but Kharchek had no way to move to the safe side, the tremors being implacable on him. His transparent body shook as much as the floor did, and soon he couldn't hold his concentration enough to keep Mariel trapped.

The elvin was delighted to regain contact with the physical world, but the scene she found told her it wasn't time to celebrate yet. She quickly addressed each of her comrades.
"Eric, I love you! Will you please keep that up for as long as you can? Gallead, Pura, could one of you bring Erin and Timper back? We need to get out of here fast! Whoever stays, try to destroy whatever you can, I think it will hurt him."
She didn't even stop to think of the effect her words would have. Her mind was deep into the battle she and her group were fighting, and the excitement of being free again. As Pura blasted off through the small door and Gallead hit everything he could with both his sword and his gusts of wind, she channeled her energy towards Eric, to help him keep up the earthquakes.

It didn't even take a minute before Erin and Pura emerged from the door, the faerfliye realizing how much faster she could move once the cold had receded and she knew where she was going. A small spider crawled out of Erin's hair, and leapt down to the floor assuming Timper's form. By that moment, Kharchek's attempts to attack had become weaker and scarcer, and the foundations of the building had begun to crumble.
"We need to get out of here," Gallead reckoned.
"How?, we can't go back the way we came without stopping the earthquakes and getting past Kharchek," Eric pointed out. "We'd give him the chance to recover and attack us."
"The ceiling has two layers and at least the first one is quite thin," Gallead said. "If we can open a hole in them, I can lift you up. Erin and Timper can take Mariel if Timper transforms into a faerfliye, and Pura can fly through."
"You got it," Erin nodded, flying up and hitting the ceiling with her sword until rubble started falling.
Kharchek tried to stop her, but with all the damage done to the building, he could barely stand up, let alone aim his spells against his opponents. Once she'd got through the first layer, she dug down to widen the hole. Then came the second layer. This one took longer, as it was harder and thicker, but the tremors cracked the stone and helped Erin with her task. In the end, light came down through the hole, and Erin returned to her friends' side to complete the operation.

Everything worked out as planned, and everybody got out. They landed on the back side of the crumbling Temple of Trials, and watched as it slowly imploded, turning into an enormous pile of rubble. Even after that, they waited, to see if Kharchek or anything else came out. Nothing happened.
"Is he dead?," Eric finally ask. "Have we killed him?"
"I don't know," Mariel said. "I can't feel him, but he was good at hiding his presence. I don't think an elf could survive that, but he was not an elf anymore. I don't know if it's even possible to kill him."
"But wasn't he connected to the temple?," Gallead pointed out. "If the temple was destroyed, then..."
"We can't have killed him!," Eric cried out. "We're not killers! I'm not a murderer!"
"He brought it upon himself," Erin tried to calm him down. "Was he even alive at all? He was a... thing. A shadow of what he used to be."
"He was alive," Eric contradicted her. "He could think and feel. He was evil, but he was alive. I caused the earthquake that brought the temple down. I killed him! And what is worst, I wanted him to die! I'm not better than him in any way."
"That's not true and you know it," Mariel told him. "You saw what he did to me. You're not a killer. You saved my life. I don't know if he's still alive or not, but suppose he isn't. Would you rather I had died in his place? Because I would have if you hadn't come to stop him!"
"I... I just wish things could be different."
"We all do," Erin said, in an understanding tone Eric had never heard from her.
"He's not dead," Pura suddenly declared.
"How do you know?," Mariel asked her with both fear and hope.
"I don't know, I just felt it. I don't know how, but what I felt... it must have been his presence. It's the same thing I felt in the cave and today at the temple. And it was... Taken away or something. It went somewhere, somehow."
"You can feel presences too?!," Eric inquired, his expression suddenly changing from beaten to astonished.
"I... I don't know. It seems I can, but I swear I didn't know it."
"That too?! Makes me wonder how many surprises you still have inside you!," Eric exclaimed.
"What?! Don't tell me you told him!," Erin scolded Pura, struck by the reason of Eric's comment. "I've been putting a lot of effort in protecting your secret since we left, and now you go and tell the biggest mouth in the world?!"
"Hey!," Eric yelled.
"There was no other way," Pura defended herself. "I can't keep a secret if it will cost me the life of the one being I'm meant to protect. Besides, I trust him. He has his heart in the right place and won't do anything that could endanger me or my people. He promised not to tell anyone, and I know he won't break his promise."
"I won't. But can there please be an exception?"
"There we go. Before a day passes, the whole world will know it. Remember when your crops were burnt and you said 'screw us'? It seems you've just granted yourself your own wish."
"I didn't even remember I'd said that. Give the boy a chance, will you? What is it, Eric?"
"Can I please tell Mariel? I know she won't tell anyone, and I wouldn't like to be keeping secrets from her."

Pura paused for a moment to think.
"Alright," she said in the end. "But only Mariel, and only because of what she said to you today. And go somewhere else to tell her. Some place where nobody else will hear you. Preferably at night."
Eric agreed to Pura's conditions, while the explorers couldn't help but feel left out and made the secret promise to tell the other as soon as either of them found out the truth.

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

That night, Eric and Mariel took the two middle shifts together to talk. They walked into the forest, always keeping an eye on the camp, and after Mariel told Eric what had happened in his absence, it was Eric's turn to speak.
"I was really surprised when I felt you and knew you needed me," he said. "And then when I saw you, I was really scared. Until I knew you wanted me to make a hole in the column, and then I knew you were still with me, and you'd be fine. But we've had experiences like that one before, haven't we?"
"Yes, we have. And I hope we have more of them... just under better circumstances."
"Yeah, me too," Eric laughed. "So, that was surprising, but not shocking. What was really shocking was what happened before."
"What exactly happened?"
"Well, Pura and I went through a maze filled with traps, and then another with mirrors, which was really tricky because we couldn't know what was there and what was a reflection, and then it became darker and Pura tried to shed some light, but the mirrors reflected more than we expected, so the place became too bright. It blinded me for a moment, and right then stones began to fall from the ceiling, so I had to run with my eyes closed and Pura serving as my eyes. We nearly got lost after that, but we made it into another chamber with no mirrors, and I thought we were almost there. Just a few hops over a few holes on the floor and the key had to be on the other side. But as soon as I touched the floor after my first jump, the stones gave in and I began to fall. The whole floor fell with me, so I had nothing to hold on to!"
"Oh, no! What happened? How did you save yourself?"
"I didn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I was falling down what seemed like an abyss, and suddenly something stopped my fall. I looked at what was holding me, and I couldn't believe what I saw!"
"What was it?," Mariel asked, excited.
"It was a faerie. Only a very big one. Bigger than me, about as tall as you are. And she had blue eyes. Like yours, but a bit darker. And pointy ears and lilac hair falling in curls down her shoulders. And her wings were big and transparent. Much bigger than Erin's, even in proportion. And pointy at the ends. She had a green dress with something like flowers made of cloth, and there was this bright light around her, the same color as her hair. And the look in her face... she looked worried, but she smiled when I looked at her. It was the smile of someone who cared for me a lot."
"Was it... Pura?"
"Yes! It took me longer to realize that because... well, I couldn't believe it. I didn't understand anything of what was going on. All I could say was 'how' and 'why'."
"And then?"
"And then she said 'what's a secret worth if I can't save you, little big guy?'"
Mariel burst into laughter.
"Yes, she still calls me that," Eric laughed with her. "But then she told me not to tell anyone and everything. When I told her you needed me, she took me back to the door so fast I couldn't even see where we were going. Then she left me on the ground and became small again before I opened the door."
"But if she has that power, why is she keeping it a secret? It could help her so much if she was free to use it whenever she wanted to!"
"I asked her the same thing while she was holding me. She said lurians have been keeping that ability a secret for ages in order to prevent enemies from attacking them. They think they'll be safe as long as nobody sees them as a threat, and nobody knows how to hurt them either. But Pura has been doubting that ever since their crops were destroyed."
"I see."
"I have one question now."
"What is it?"
"When you were freed from Kharchek's spell, before telling me to keep sending magic to the ground, you told me that you loved me. Did you just say that to encourage me, or was it the rush of the moment... or did you really mean it?"

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

Previews Time!

"It would be too optimistic to suppose that, simply, no one lives around here, right?," interjected Pura.
"We're on the right path," Mariel assured. "I can still feel Twocastle ahead, if that's its real name. But I think something has happened here. I don't know exactly what."
"Something bad?," Eric asked.
"There was magic involved," Mariel explained. "There are some remnants of energy from it, but it's a kind of magic I'm not familiar with, so that's as much as I can tell."

"I don't think they're with her," the female said to the male. "They would have attacked us by now. Miranda doesn't converse with the villagers before destroying their homes."

"Well, you seem to like mysterious and dangerous women with a dark past."

She hated when things went wrong. That forced her to reflect and look inside herself, and that was the last thing she wanted. There was too much pain and confusion inside, and someone might find out that she was just another lie.

"What does he have in mind?" queried Pura.
"I wish I knew that half the time," Erin shook her head. "I just hope he doesn't get in trouble... one way or another."


All this and more in the 7 pages (unlike the 10 this chapter had) of Chapter 18: "Miranda".

Poll for chapter 17: I could ask for your impressions, but you'll post them anyway, so the poll shall be... What do you think Mariel's answer will be? And what would you like her to say?
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Old 10-13-2003, 12:25 PM   #92
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Great chapter. ^_^ One thing, though: Timper... Can he transform into things he hasn't even seen before? I mean, he said he "created" that drilling sword.

As for the poll, I'd give my impressions, but you're going to give us the answer anyway. [/mimic]
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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 10-13-2003, 01:12 PM   #93
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Thanks for replying, though your respons to the poll was less than cooperative.

Timper can transform into any solid objects as long as he can picture them clearly in his mind. It's harder with living beings, because they're a lot more complex, but a simple combination of wood and metal with a particular shape isn't that hard, so he can transform into it even if he has never seen it before.
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Old 10-16-2003, 06:42 PM   #94
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Brilliance, sheer brilliance... *Is in aw* So many things to say! @.@ Anyway, at first we were being introduced to a new race, with the shadow guy, but I guess not. Timper's sword rocked *wishes he had one* What did Pura turn into any how? I wasn't really sure...Anyway, as for the poll...er...I want it to be true, but I have a fealing some monsters going to attack right when she's about to answer ^^; lol. again, great chappie!
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Old 10-16-2003, 08:47 PM   #95
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This whole fic Quest of Twelve is an excellent fic on the whole LV. The plot in itself is as solid as concrete, and the use of language here is sublime.

The fact that a fantasy fic can have so many replies shocks me. I never achieved that success. :-(. Anyways, ur a very very good writer. ^__^
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Old 10-17-2003, 11:09 AM   #96
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Wow, thanks for the praise! And for replying.

Fireguardian, Pura didn't actually "turn into" anything, she just got bigger. A lot bigger. As for the new races, there are still more to see. And some old ones will be revisited.

HLSOE, keep working on your fic. If you give it your best, everything will go well.

----------

One of the subjecs I'm taking is killing me, or at least trying to. I have an exam, a presentation and 2 reports to hand in, all next week.
So I'm trying to survive in the best possible way. That means I may not be writing these days, even though there's nothing I want more than to keep writing. I hope you can understand and be patient. In the meantime, if you feel like it, you can browse back to chapters 6 and above to find hints about Pura's secret which has been revealed on the latest chapter.
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Old 10-29-2003, 10:31 PM   #97
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Happy wooooooooooooowwwwwww

Finally, i read all the fic..... And i must say: It's a great fic. The last chapter got me eating my fingers... they were cought by that magician!
The answer to the poll... well... i see a lot of love between them... i supouse i hope that too...

Really, Gabi, you've caught me.
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Old 10-30-2003, 10:42 AM   #98
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Wow, your first post on that account and you post it here! I'm honored!
Are you The Lazy Snorlax, or anyone else I know?
I'm afraid I'm still extremely busy, so the next chapter will have to wait, but don't worry, I'll post it as soon as I can.
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Old 11-09-2003, 06:33 PM   #99
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Chapter 18: Miranda

"I wish I could explain the state I was in," Mariel said after thinking for a while. "It was all about feelings because there was nothing else."

"Does that mean you didn't mean to say that? Was it true or not?," Eric insisted.
"Well, it was rushed... No one has ever taught me what love is and I've never felt it before. That kind of love, I mean."
"Love can't be taught, Mariel. It's something you feel. Do you feel it? I need to know because, if you don't, I don't want to imagine things anymore."

Mariel was stunned. Eric was being more mature than her! But then again, when wasn't he surprising? She thought carefully before giving an answer. Eric had always been open to her; he deserved the truth and not the ramblings of confusion and fear. Fear! What was she afraid of?... Betting her feelings and losing, maybe. Losing everything she and Eric had built together, something too big to even give it a name. It was a risk she wasn't sure she could take... but wouldn't she be throwing it all away if she said 'no' to Eric right now? She had always trusted herself and Eric for everything, even for things others saw as impossible. And so far she'd always been right. That had to mean something; that, and the connection the two shared. She'd have to trust that connection once more.

"When we're apart, I reach for you instinctively until something brings us together," she began. "When I'm with you, I feel safe even when everything else says I'm not. We've known each other for less than 4 years, yet I can't imagine what my life would be like without you. And I don't want to imagine it. The world changes when I think of you, and I'd like it to stay that way forever."

"I... I didn't know that," Eric confessed. "But... It makes sense. We've talked about changing the world together, haven't we?"
Those words helped Mariel relax a little. Maybe Eric felt the same way about her. She smiled and, as if playing a game, she dared Eric.
"Now you tell me how you feel about me. It's only fair."
"Well, I'm not as good with words as you are, but... I'd do anything for you. I've learnt that today. I'd even kill for you if I had to. I mean, I really hope I never have to, it would crush me. But if I have to choose between your life and the life of someone who wants to hurt you, then there's nothing to think about."
"Let's hope it never comes to that again," swooned Mariel. "I'd rather keep you in one piece."
"That's what you've been doing all this time."
"What?," asked Mariel, startled at the change of context.
"Keeping me whole."

Mariel smiled and rested her head on Eric's shoulder. She felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from her.
"Do you think Pura knows it?," she asked.
"Well, maybe. I guess she does, she's more perceptive than I am."
"I mean... She let you tell me her secret and not the others. Maybe she knew before even we did."
"Yes... I think Gallead knows too. He told me something that got me thinking when I was trying to rescue you, before you ended up rescuing me."
"Now, which of the many times we've rescued each other would that be?"
Eric laughed, and Mariel joined him.
"When you were tracking the transporting spell and disappeared," Eric clarified.
"Oh."
"Do you know what's great?"
"What?"
"That after all we've been through, we can still laugh together like when we were kids."
"Well, I don't feel like a kid anymore," Mariel said. "But laughing like this is something I hope I never have to give up. If I'm turning into an adult, I'd rather not be as bitter and grumpy as those in the council."
"You know? You should be in the council."
"What?!"
"Really, you'd teach them a thing or two, and make Ayrus a better place for everyone. You'd help them stop arguing and do things for a change. You'd get to fix all the things that have been getting at you since I met you!"
"I'd never thought about it that way. I guess it would be a good idea, but I don't think the council would take me into account that much. They never have."
"Because you haven't proven yourself to them. And because they've always thought you were too young. But time passes and things change. You're growing up fast and you're saving the world. That has to mean something to them!"
"Maybe... You know, if they saw you, I think they'd start seeing merials in a different way."
"They'd have to do more than just see me. I don't look any different from other merials. But if I could convince them that intelligent thoughts are not floating 160 cm off the ground, and the merials at Harland could see how brave you are, maybe that meaningless grudge could end once and for all."
"And you said you weren't good with words? I wouldn't have thought of that metaphor," Mariel laughed.
"What met-... Ah, the one about the height. Hey, you don't mind my being shorter than you, do you?"
"Why would I? We don't choose our heights, and they don't make us better or worse. Do you mind my being taller than you?"
"Not as long as every centimeter of you stays with me."
"I think we'll have a lot to talk about. I don't know where we're supposed to go from here."
"Neither do I, but I suppose we'll find out together. Right now, I think we should go back to the camp. We're not doing a great job at watching."
"Oh, you're right! Let's go back."

Fortunately for the young elves, the camp wasn't attacked that night. Even the following day was uneventful, against everyone's expectations. Some began to doubt whether they were really on the right path, while the more suspicious ones thought they could be heading straight into another trap. The group remained alert, but everything around them seemed to be quiet. Maybe too quiet.

"Shouldn't we have come across a village by now?," Gallead questioned. "I heard many populations had settled in this region, but it's been a long time since we last saw anything moving other than birds, insects, spiders and rodents. And even those were few."
"That's true," Timper agreed. "It's strange that we haven't come across anyone since we left the fake temple. I hope this doesn't mean our enemies have already taken control of the whole region, or caused everyone to evacuate it."
"If they had control over this place, why would they let us walk freely through it?," Eric argued. "Why haven't we been attacked yet?"
"It would be too optimistic to suppose that, simply, no one lives around here, right?," interjected Pura.
"We're on the right path," Mariel assured. "I can still feel Twocastle ahead, if that's its real name. But I think something has happened here. I don't know exactly what."
"Something bad?," Eric asked.
"There was magic involved," Mariel explained. "There are some remnants of energy from it, but it's a kind of magic I'm not familiar with, so that's as much as I can tell."
"A kind of magic you're not familiar with? That sounds bad," Pura moaned.
"I actually handle just a few domains," Mariel told her. "I still have a lot to learn, so the fact that I don't know what kind of magic was used here doesn't mean it's too dangerous for us to cope with. It just means we don't know anything about it yet."
"Not even whether it's bad or not?," Pura queried.
"Not even that, I'm afraid."
"I guess we'll have to be ready for anything," Eric concluded.

The scenery didn't change for some time. The travelers were almost getting used to the emptiness of the area, and were already engaging in small conversations liked they used to. But the quietness didn't last much longer. After a group of thick trees and large boulders suggested that a small turn would be the easiest way to go ahead, the group ended up in front of what, to most, would look like a dense group of bushes with exceptionally big leaves. The explorers and Pura, however, knew what that place was.

"A neini village!," the lurian exclaimed. "So this place wasn't completely deserted after all!"
"How can you tell there's a village in there?," Eric asked her.
"Only neinis build this kind of vegetal cloaks to protect their homes and what's important for them. They have a way of making plants grow thicker and closer together, and they also make leaves grow bigger to hide what's below."
"You seem to know a lot," Timper commented.
"Hey, I'm a teacher, I'm supposed to know these things. Besides, there were some neini villages near Urthum, where I grew up. I even visited one of them once."
"Really? With your school?," asked Eric.
"Not exactly. More like... With a visitor."
"A visitor?"
"Long story. Why don't we go in there and see if there's anyone home? Maybe they can tell us what's going on."
"Not all of us can go in there," Eric pointed out.
He was right. If the size of the bushes was an indicator of what was below, he, Mariel and Gallead were too big to fit in the village.

"Ok, the 3 of you can wait here," Pura suggested. "Hmm... Maybe Erin too, otherwise the neinis could get nervous."
"Are you serious? Who will save you when you get in trouble?," Erin half-joked. "Why are you so excited anyway?"
"Come on, even you should appreciate the chance to talk to someone other than us after all this time. Besides, being in a neini village brings sweet memories."
"Will you tell us about them?," Eric asked her.
"Maybe. But later. Right now I want to find out what we're dealing with."
Saying this, she disappeared into the thick vegetation.
"She'll get in trouble. We should follow her," Timper said to Erin.
"I couldn't agree more," she said, and so the two penetrated the forest within the forest.

The reception wasn't as friendly as Pura had expected. The village was there alright, with all the small houses stuck to the branches like snails under the large leaves, but all the doors and windows were shut, and no one came out of the houses to greet the visitors. Neinis were known to be gentle creatures, but if there were any left in this village, they were too afraid to come out.

"You don't think picking a door and knocking on it would help, do you?," joked Timper.
"Maybe if we told them that we're here to help," Pura suggested.
"Do you even know what their problem is?," questioned Erin.
"No, but I'll help if I can."
"Is anyone here at all?," Timper wondered.
"I think so," Pura said. "I have a feeling we're not alone here."
"Your psychic abilities again?"
"If only you'd stop making fun of me, Erin! I'm serious!"
"Ok, it just feels strange that you've suddenly developed this sixth sense or whatever it is."
"It's nothing like that. And I didn't 'suddenly' develop it. I've only just started to pay enough attention to it. I didn't think my hunches meant anything, until they started to become clearer... more like certainties than hunches. It's like they've found direction."
"When did that happen?," Timper asked her.
"At the cave, I think," Pura reflected. "When I channeled Mariel's connection magic. I didn't know I could do that, but once I did it felt natural. I think that's when my own connection found a way to manifest itself."
"So you learned connection magic by channeling Mariel's magic?"
"I wouldn't go that far. I'm nowhere near Mariel's abilities, but I do think she awoke some potential I wasn't fully aware of. So please, when I tell you I have a feeling, don't tease me, ok?"
"I've never teased you," Timper said.
"I know, you're nice. I was talking to Erin."

Before Erin could think of a good comeback, Pura's perception was proven right. One of the nearest doors opened, and two young neinis came down. They were a male and a female, both with slender bodies, pointy ears, green, leaf-like wings and equally green hair.
"Who are you?," the male asked.
"We're travelers," Timper told him. "We've been on the road for a long time, and for some days now we have seen no villages and hardly any creatures. Until we arrived here."
"Are you explorers?," the female neini queried.
"I'm an explorer," he replied. "We all have different professions, but right now we're just passing by. We'd like to know what's going on here."
"If something's wrong, maybe we can help," Pura added.
"How do we know you're not with Miranda?," the male inquired.
"You have as many reasons to trust us as we do to trust you," Erin said. "On the other hand, you do sound reasonable for a change. I've spent too much time surrounded by beings who were too innocent for their own good."
"You wouldn't be including me in that group, right?," Timper tried to make sure.
"No, not you, don't worry. You're not too innocent. You're just... strange."
"Is that a good or a bad thing?"
"Just a strange thing," Erin avoided compromise. "Now, who's that Miranda you just mentioned?"
"I don't think they're with her," the female said to the male. "They would have attacked us by now. Miranda doesn't converse with the villagers before destroying their homes."
"Let me guess, is she someone who's been attacking the villages in this region?," Erin tried.
"She's a plague," the female neini said. "She destroys everything that crosses her path. Nobody sees her coming until it's too late. We've remained hidden and watched other villages fall. She usually floods them, though sometimes she just stomps on them."
"Yes, and she makes sure that everyone who survives knows her name. I've heard that, after every attack, she's said 'My name is Miranda; remember me'."
"Seems like someone is crazy for attention," Pura commented.
"Or just plain crazy," Erin said. "Why are these maniacs sprouting everywhere all of a sudden? And what is she? You said she floods villages; is she water elemental or does she use magic?"
"Both, actually," the female said. "She's a quirran, so she has great control on the water. But the things she does can't be just natural. We'd be able to take down an ordinary quirran easily, but somehow she has managed to evade all attacks. When they're about to get her, she dives into the water and seems to disappear. Then she comes out at any corner, crushing houses or anything she can find."
"Strange. I've heard of creatures who can blend with the water, but quirrans are not among them," Timper said.
"That's why we believe she uses magic," the male neini explained. "Before disappearing, she makes the water muddy enough to cloak whatever's below. And when her opponents try to reach her, she's no longer there. They have tried everything, even absorbing the water with the roots of the plants. But she always manages to produce more. Her resources never seem to end."
"How do you know all that?," Timper asked him. "Were you there to see it?"
"No, but I've talked to many who have escaped from her attacks. She's left lots of neinis and other creatures with no homes to return to."
"If she's so powerful, why did she let them go?," Erin questioned.
"I have no idea."
"Maybe she doesn't want to kill them," Timper said. "Maybe she just wants them to know her power and be afraid of her. It could be some twisted way of gaining their respect."
"Too sick and twisted, if that's the case," Erin commented.
"Yes, but it makes sense. If she tells everyone to remember her name and makes such a huge display of power without actually killing... maybe all she wants is attention. Maybe we're just dealing with someone with serious issues, but not truly evil."
"What do you mean she's not truly evil? She's destroyed entire villages!," The male neini questioned his judgement.
"We've been chasing Jor for less than that," Erin agreed.
"I was just contemplating a possibility," Timper defended himself.
"Or is it because she's female? Maybe that's why you're suddenly so understanding towards her," Erin suggested.
"Hell, no! Whatever gave you that idea?!"
"Well, you seem to like mysterious and dangerous women with a dark past."
"No, I like one mysterious and dangerous woman with a past that's not as dark as she sees it!"

Silence followed that statement.
"I mean..."
Timper tried to fix it, but it was impossible. The words were out.
"Maybe we should leave you guys alone," Pura suggested.
"It's not the time for that," Timper said, both to Pura and to himself. "We have an emergency to deal with."
"Are you really planning to confront Miranda?," the male neini asked. "She's too dangerous. Three alone won't be able to scratch her."
"We're not alone, we have friends outside," Pura said.
"And maybe you and your people could help too, since your homes are at stake," Erin pointed out. "Besides, she's water elemental, right. As strong as she is, you should have the means to hurt her badly."
"But we're not warriors!," the male neini complained.
"Neither am I, but I fight for the things that matter to me," Pura told him. "If you stay motionless, how long will it take for her to find you and destroy your homes? Hiding won't keep you safe you forever. Believe me, I've learnt that the hard way."
"You lost your home?," he asked.
"No, but we were attacked when we least expected it, and it will be hard for my people to recover from everything we've lost. That's one of the reasons why I'm here. The other is to protect and guide a young warrior."
"Where's that warrior?," the female neini asked.
"He's waiting for us outside," Pura said.

By that time, several neinis had come out of their homes and gathered around the strangers. They were all whispering to each other. Finally, one male neini who looked older than the first two stood out from the crowd.
"We've heard everything you said," he told the newcomers. "You must understand that what you're asking us to do is... complicated, to say the least. Will you please go back outside and let us discuss the matter?"

The three agreed and left the village. When their friends asked what had happened, they told them everything, answering all the questions that came up, and then the whole group sat down to await the neinis' decision. After an hour, Eric began to doubt they were really discussing what to do.
"I'm not surprised they're taking so long," Mariel told him. "Important discussions can take many hours... Even days. Especially if the whole village is involved."
"They wouldn't expect us to wait here for days, would they?," Eric asked, hesitantly.
"If they take longer than a day, I guess they'll first come to a temporary solution. Like giving us a place to sleep in the meantime. And maybe some food, so that we don't run out of vitals while we wait. That happened once in Ayrus when a stranger came to ask for assistance from the council. They gave him everything he needed for 3 days until they reached a conclusion."
"3 days?! What did he want that was so hard to decide?"
"I don't know, they wouldn't tell me. I was too young."
"Same old story again," Eric shook his head. "Makes me feel glad I'm not still at home."
"So you'd rather risk your life than be told you're too young for something?," Gallead checked.
"Well, if you put it that way, it doesn't sound too sensible. But here I'm doing what I know, and I know it's worth something. And you all see me as someone important, not just a kid who will eventually grow up to be someone. So that's what I like. It was time for me to get out and see the world... to be myself. Of course it would be best if the world wasn't in danger while I'm seeing it, but getting the chance to do something to make things right is great. It's all I've ever dreamed of!"
"It's good to see someone's enjoying himself," Erin grumbled.
"Maybe you should follow his example," Timper suggested.
"Can you picture Erin having fun? She just wouldn't be herself!," joked Pura.
"Don't be rude!," Mariel told her.
"It's ok," Erin said. "Pura wouldn't be herself if she were nice to me."
"Nice counterattack," Timper commended her. "But what's troubling you?"
"Why do you think something's troubling me?"
"It's in your face and the tone of your voice. I think I've become good at reading you."
"Then you should know the idea of confronting a being who has an incredible control over water isn't exactly a bright perspective for me."
"Well, it's not a walk in the park for me either, but none of us is alone. Even if they decide not to come with us, I think the 6 of us have proven we can face just about anything and come out on top."
"You're scaring me. You've been sounding like Eric a lot today."
"Well, maybe the boy is right about a few things. And I think you agree with him to a point. After all, why would we be here if we didn't think we can make a difference?"
"Is that why you're here? I thought..."
"Hold it. Who says I'm not trying to make a difference right now as we speak? I'm not only talking about the battlefield. Though yes, I do think we can make a difference there too. Otherwise I would have tried to convince the group to give up and take a nicer and safer route. But no route would have been safe in the end."
"You're full of surprises."
"Thanks, I'll try to live up to that."
"That's all really cool and I wouldn't like to ruin the beautiful moment," Pura interrupted, "but do we really have the time to wait until they make a decision? The forces of evil are growing stronger as we speak. I don't think we can afford to sit around and wait for 3 days."
"Those were exactly my thoughts," Gallead seconded her. "I think we should give them some time, but we shouldn't let them hold us back for too long. Otherwise our enemies may come to us on their own terms."
"How much longer do you think we should wait?," Eric consulted the group.

Fortunately for everyone, they didn't have to set a time, nor wait as long as they'd expected. At that moment, a delegate from the village came out with news.
Unfortunately, the news wasn't the best they could hear.

"We have agreed that we're not ready to go to war," the delegate said. "We're grateful for your offer to help us free this region from Miranda's siege, but none of us has any combat experience, nor even the proper training, and we're not willing to embark ourselves on what would certainly be a suicide mission, at least for some of us. All we can do is give you food and equipment for your journey, and reward you should you come back safe and sound."

The situation wasn't the best, but there was no changing it. The group couldn't drag the neinis into battle against their will, and in any case they wouldn't be helpful if they didn't believe in what they were doing. So there wasn't much of an agreement. The neinis gave the travelers some food and ropes (the only things in their possession that could be on any help in a long journey), while the others didn't swear to keep the village safe, but promised to confront Miranda if they crossed paths with her - which, by the way things were going, was virtually a certainty.

As the group left, few comments were made. They'd already had enough time to discuss the situation. Mariel made a remark about how they'd never known the names of the villagers, while Erin was deeply concentrated on her own thoughts, half trying to come up with a plan, half worrying about how to stay focused after Timper's declaration, how he'd dared say that in front of Pura, and how she'd eventually have to make a decision about the subject... one she'd never thought she'd have to make. Come to think of it, that perspective was scarier than a battle against a powerful quirran.

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

Not much further to the north, a blue-skinned woman with pink hair and a tight skirt and muscle-top, sat on a large rock, persistently hitting it with a stone the size of her hand. The stone wasn't as hard as the rock, so the constant beating was causing it to crack, and small pieces of it bounced away every now and then. The scene wouldn't have made much sense to anyone watching. Luckily for this woman, nobody was watching. Otherwise they might have seen the pain, confusion and frustration in her face. She didn't want that. That was why she'd cut herself off from her crew, to discharge her anger without being seen.

Sometimes not even she could keep the facade up. In spite of her whole life being a lie, something true remained hidden inside her, threatening to come out, and she dared not destroy it. Her feelings, although locked away from the outside world (the world was no place for the truth to show), were the only real thing she still had. That and her name. She wouldn't give that up easily; she wanted to keep the illusion that it was her doing something with her life... That while this was just another play which would end like all the others, something would be left when she got down from the stage to face the merciless crowds. That she would still be herself. As stupid as that might sound, it was all she had. She had been promised the world; she knew too much about lies to believe the dream would last, but power was a nice feeling. Being on top, on the giving end, was somehow rewarding. When things went well, that was. Barely an hour ago, she had been forced to stop and turn back. The guardians of Twocastle were too strong, and had a powerful combination of fighting skills and magic, topped with a dangerous quota of fearlessness. She hated when things went wrong. That forced her to reflect and look into herself, and that was the last thing she wanted. There was too much pain and confusion inside, and someone might find out that she was just another lie.

A strong hit, and the stone was cut in half. She looked up. It was time to go back. Crushing another village would be relieving, and then she could try to think of a new strategy to break through the defense line of Twocastle. After all, they didn't really know anything about her yet.

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

Once the group got back on their path, it didn't take long for them to find trouble. The first to detect it was Mariel, who warned the others that magic was being used, mere seconds before water began to slide towards them from the front. The water got mixed with the earth it crawled on, turning brown. Erin took off from the ground, and she and Pura flew up to see what was ahead beyond the trees.

"It's a quirran. It must be Miranda," Pura announced, descending first.
"Why would a quirran use magic to produce water?," Gallead questioned. "They can make it naturally."
"Maybe that's not what the magic was for," suggested Eric.
"I'm trying to figure that out," Mariel said, but the attacker didn't give her much time. Before she could detect exactly what the magic was doing, the quirran stood in front of them.

"Who are you, and what are you doing here?," the attacker spoke in a demanding tone.
The water was already up to her knees, and Timper had been forced to shape-shift to prevent the last wave from smashing him. He was now floating in the air in the form of a neini, the first flying creature without a water weakness that came to his mind.
"Are you Miranda?," Eric responded with another question.
"So you have heard of me!," the quirran replied with surprise and a certain satisfaction. "Yet you defy me by walking into my territories?"
"This place isn't yours. Others live here!," Eric told her.

"Let me do the talking," Erin advised her young friend. Then she turned to Miranda. "I don't know what you want with this place, but you're blocking our way and we won't have that. So back off or face all of us."
"Are all faerfliyes so cocky?," Miranda rolled her eyes. "You're the third one I've seen and you're all the same. Ready to jump into a fight whether they do or do not have a chance of winning. Which in your case, you don't."

Erin was startled at her recognizing her species immediately, but she wouldn't let that intimidate her. She'd just have to be careful. Miranda had the element advantage and knew it, but there was no reason to suppose she'd also know Erin's fighting style. She still had a good chance. Plus she was not alone, while Miranda was.

Before anything else could be said, Miranda gestured with her arm and a brown wave was launched in Erin's direction. The faerfliye evaded it, and dashed forward. She expected the quirran to block her attack, but all Miranda did was put her arm between her and the faerie, which caused her cubitus to nearly break from the blow. Erin reckoned she might have overestimated Miranda's combat ability. But then a column of water towered towards her while Miranda was instinctively holding her forearm. The water pushed Erin back, proving that her current opponent was still a puzzle.
"How did she do that?," Erin wondered.

But before anyone could think of an answer, water began to sprout from everywhere, hitting each of them like whips. Seeing that things had become serious, Erin, Eric and Gallead unsheathed out their swords. Mariel and Pura, in the meantime, did their part by attacking Miranda with light balls. But the constant waves pushing Mariel from one side to another made it hard for the elvin to aim, and Eric finally ceased attacking to protect her.
"I'll be fine," Mariel said when Eric held her and stopped her from falling into the water. "Go help the others."
"I will if they need me," he replied. "Now I'd rather help you."

The attacks didn't stop. They came from everywhere. Gallead did his best to reach for Miranda, but the water kept pushing him back. He had to give up trying to make direct contact, and start repelling the water attacks with gusts of wind. There wasn't much Erin could do either; the attacks giving her no pause, she tried to make for Miranda as she evaded them, but wasn't getting very lucky. When she saw Timper, who was also evading attacks but seemed to have it much easier than her for some reason, she asked him why he wasn't attacking.
"If I try to attack, I'll become a target and be in the same situation you are now," he replied, trying to keep up with her movement. "I think I'll be more useful if I keep thinking. I'm trying to figure something out."
"What is it?"
"Something's not right. I've been trying to understand her actions and see a pattern, but some things just don't make sense."
"Just like you."
"Thank you very much!"
"You're welcome."
"No, really."
"Uh?"
"I have a theory. Hey, Pura!! Fly over her fast and release a light rain!"
"Done!," the lurian replied, immediately following Timper's command.

Only Pura was fast enough to reach Miranda and attack her before the columns of water could stop her, and since she was airborne, the currents didn't affect her. She released a shower of light on Miranda, who covered from it by diving into the muddy water. The attacks kept coming, if now at a lower rate, but the attacker was nowhere to be seen.

"What happened?," Pura asked.
"That's what I'd like to know," Erin supported her. "Timper, what was your plan? Do you know where she's gone?"
"Did she cast a teleporting spell or something?," Eric tried. "Or maybe one for hiding herself."
"I couldn't sense any magic," Mariel said. "She only used magic when she arrived. She could have set a portal, but that would have swallowed the water."
"Let me figure this one out," Timper said, diving into the water.
"What does he have in mind?," queried Pura.
"I wish I knew that half the time," Erin shook her head. "I just hope he doesn't get in trouble... one way or another."

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

Previews go here.

"You're right, I do think you're crazy. I know what frustration is, and I'd never even think of going around destroying villages and threatening everyone."

"Erin, no!," Timper stopped her.
"Now what?!"
"Give me a chance."
Timper's eyes were looking straight into Erin's. His appearance was still that of a massenn, but his eyes were his own, open and sincere. They spoke more than words could, letting Erin decipher the two meanings of his most recent phrase.

"I haven't found anyone yet," she said. "But I've found something incredible!"

The rest of the group didn't intervene in the conversation. They knew this was something Erin and Timper had to sort out on their own.

Timper was somewhat scared by this sudden outburst, but it also made him feel better in a way.


Quite a lot of tension for only 6 pages. You'll find out more on Chapter 19: "Miranda, Act II".

Poll for chapter 18: what do you think Timper has in mind? And what's going on?
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Old 11-17-2003, 06:33 PM   #100
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Oooh! Sweet! You're right; it's a lot for so few pages. Nice chapter, Gabi. As for Timper, I have no idea what he's planning to do about Miranda. x_X
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Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
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Old 11-18-2003, 02:52 AM   #101
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Was that only 6 pages? I thought it was longer than most chapter I had read recently!

Pretty good chapter. Thes tart was sweet, and had quite the intended effect; and it was a totally different atmosphere throughout the rest of it. Cool. One thing you might do, though, would be putting spaces between the paragraphs, becuase it's easier to read, especially when it's not just a 3-page shortie or something.

I think what Timper's planning has somehting to do with shapeshifting.
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Old 11-18-2003, 11:54 AM   #102
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Well, he usually does that, but only as a means to achieve something. What that something is will be one of the surprises of the next chapter. As for the paragraphs, I'll take that into account. And I'm glad you liked the beginning.

Thanks for your comments, both of you. And for reading.
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Old 11-18-2003, 09:16 PM   #103
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You've did it again!

You're making me eat my nails... and fingers! And, for the "kids": Why didn't they kiss each other? Come on! It's time to show they are more than just friends! And for Miranda... what a strange being. For the poll.... well, the only thing that cames to mi mind (and is not a smart thought) is that Timper understands what Miranda had been throw.

Thanks for let us enter your world!

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Old 11-19-2003, 01:54 PM   #104
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De nada.
Por ah va la cosa (you're on the right track).

As for Eric and Mariel, they're only just starting to see each other as more than friends, neither of them would feel ready to kiss the other yet, and they're not the kind to rush things like that.

And Miranda... Well, there's more to her than she has shown. As I said before...

"In spite of her whole life being a lie, something true remained hidden inside her, threatening to come out, and she dared not destroy it. Her feelings, although lock-sealed away from the outside world (the world was no place for the truth to show), were the only real thing she still had."
She wouldn't show her true self without being pushed, but you'll find out more about her in the next chapter.
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Old 12-25-2003, 03:22 PM   #105
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Sorry for the delay, but I've finally made it!

Chapter 19: Miranda, Act II

Knowing he would have to stay in the water for a long time, Timper took the shape of a small fish -a barb- to be able to breathe underwater and go unnoticed for as long as possible. He looked back to make sure he wasn't being followed, and was half glad and half disappointed to see no one was trying to go after him. "Better this way," he thought. "Any of the others would be too noticeable. She'd find them before we found her." He wasn't really sure what exactly his aim was and, as he moved through the water, he began to realize how improvised his actions were. He was acting on a hunch, driven mainly by his own curiosity. If he didn't find Miranda, she would escape and maybe attack again later, but not much else would happen. But what if he did? Would he be able to stand up against her on his own? He was no warrior. He could get lucky and outsmart her, but it wouldn't be wise to count on that. So why was he there?... Because he needed to know. He just couldn't leave a puzzle unsolved.

While he was swimming, the currents around him changed and he was suddenly caught in a whirlpool. "Too late for second thoughts," he said to himself, trying to devise a plan to escape the whirlpool and confront Miranda. Little did he know he'd mistaken the identity of his captor; but he found that out soon enough, when a male heerynaut stepped forward from behind a large rock. Some pieces began to fall together.

"What's a fish doing here?!" the heerynaut yelled. "Did anyone pull water from the river without looking what was in it, or do we have an intruder?"
"Ask our commander," another heerynaut emerged from a hole in the ground. "She insists on summoning water with magic. That's not the way and everyone knows it! Who knows what freaky consequences magic can have?"
"You weren't so biased against magic when you insisted on going for the pearl," the first one accused the other.
"And look where that's brought us! We used to be free to do our bidding, now we follow orders from a bunch of overly powerful clowns. And our commander is the worst of all."
"Then why don't you rebel against her?" Timper suggested, interested in the turn things were taking.
"It speaks!!" the first heerynaut shouted.
"I told you. Magic is no good," said the other.

The water around Timper stopped spinning, setting him free.
"If we rebel, they'll destroy us," the second one said. "If we follow their commands, we'll be a part of what's coming. We'll be feared, and we'll take whatever we want from whoever we want. What are you, anyway? Where did you come from?"
"There's a simple answer to that," a female heerynaut came from behind.
Timper hadn't seen her coming, nor noticed any other possible hideouts nearby. But there could be a simple answer to that as well. Her voice, the look on her face... everything led him to believe that both explanations were one and the same.

"Where the hell did you come from?!" the first heerynaut exclaimed. "You're not one of us!"
"Now, now, easy. I'm with you," she told the others. "Though seeing how intelligent you are, things like these aren't worth explaining."
The two male heerynauts didn't reply, unsure of whether they'd just been complimented or insulted.
"Why are you doing this?" Timper questioned the female.
"Why?, why? Everyone has questions. It's not really worth asking, you know. Whenever you get an answer, either you won't like it, or it will be a lie. Or maybe both."
"You seem to be under a lot of pain," Timper told her.
"How would you know?"
"Your way of speaking... The look in your eyes. It's the look of someone who has lost all hope."

Timper wasn't expecting what came after his words: a direct punch on his stomach. The water cushioned the impact a little, but the blow was extremely accurate. Timper took the form of a heerynaut to level the grounds, and caught his opponent's arm in his hand, avoiding another blow.

"I thought a fish's stomach would be hard to find," he commented.
"Just like everyone else, you underestimate me. I would have expected better from someone like you, but that proves you can never expect anything. I know a fish's anatomy by heart; I studied it thoroughly for 'The Royal Conflict'. I take my parts seriously, but nobody cares, do they? All they see is a liar and a cheater."
"The Royal Conflict? Wasn't that a play?"
"You've seen it?"
"No, but I've heard of it. I missed it by two days when I visited a kindam village. The company had left when I arrived, though I heard it was great."
"Really? They said that?" her expression was beginning to change.
"Yes, they did. One or two did make some nasty comments that led me to ultimately leave the village to avoid starting a fight, but they all agreed that the cast did a great job. Were you in it?"
"You're trying to confuse me."
"Why would I?"
"Because I'm your enemy."
"You don't have to be."
"You two..." she said, turning to the heerynauts. "Leave."
"Who are you to give us orders?" one of them complained.
"I'm your commander, you idiot! Now leave before I mince you to pieces and feed you to the real fish!"

As she spoke, she assumed the shape of a shark and showed her subordinates three rows of sharp teeth. The heerynauts fled in fear, and Miranda was able to go back to her previous form and continue speaking.

"I'm surrounded by idiots!" she groaned.
"Why are you doing this?" Timper asked again. "You don't seem to be like Jor and Kharchek."
"Why not? Because I'm a shifter like you?"
"No, because you're talking to me instead of finding ways to kill me. Because you seem to be looking for understanding rather than causing a massacre. You haven't really killed anyone, have you? From what I've heard you've been scaring villagers and destroying their properties, but you haven't taken a life."
"That's my problem, not yours."
"Why is it a problem?"
"You know what? I'm fed up with you. I'm fed up with being analyzed. At least the others just scorned me and left me alone, but your pretense to help me and look so innocent and uninterested is killing me. Just go away!"

Saying this, Miranda held her breath and transformed into a massenn to deal another blow, this time considerably stronger. Timper would have to learn to predict her reactions if he didn't want to turn into her first real victim. When he regained his breath, he moved fast and grabbed Miranda by her neck, lifting her up. He took her all the way up to the surface, where he also turned into a massenn and took the fight to the air. At that point, the others saw them emerge. Most of them merely watched, but Erin joined him.

"What's going on?" she asked, blocking Miranda's fist as it headed in Timper's direction.
"Long story and I'm still missing half of it," Timper said. "Stop her attacks, but don't hurt her."
"Why?!" Erin questioned, looking at Timper as if he were crazy.
"I need to talk to her."
"Is she your relative or something?"
"No, just someone who shouldn't give up on the world just yet."
"Cut the lecture, will you?!" roared Miranda, launching a kick at the same part of Timper's body she'd been hitting all the time.
She could have aimed for a worse point, but Timper didn't know how much longer he'd be able to hold on if she went on like that.
"Stop it!" shouted Erin, mimicking Miranda's previous move, only with her as the target.

While Miranda was recovering from the blow, Erin rushed to hold her arms. Miranda tried to kick Erin back, but Erin blocked her with her own leg.
"I need an explanation," Erin demanded. "What's going on here? And why shouldn't I give this bitch what she deserves?"
"You'll need to do worse than call me names to get to me," Miranda told her. "I've heard them all, they don't faze me."
"I don't think you understand the position you're in right now," Erin replied.
"Yes. A position I can easily escape from."

Erin felt Miranda's arms slip from her hands, as her enemy's body got smaller and darker. Two of her wings changed their angle and the other 4 disappeared into her now hairy back. Her arms and legs transformed into thin and spiky appendages, and two extra limbs grew between them, out of the now iridescent abdomen. Her eyes grew bigger, and divided themselves into many cells. And so, the fly made her escape.

"Cursed..." Erin began, but she stopped herself when she saw Timper. Instead, she asked him: "what's with you and her?"
"What?!" the question left Timper startled.
"I'm not so naive as to believe you're protecting her because she's one of your own kind, so why do you want me not to hurt her in spite of everything she's done?"
"You'll think I'm crazy, but I don't think she's truly evil."
"No? Then what would you call her?"
"I don't know. She seems to be really frustrated and taking it out on the rest of the world, but she hasn't killed anyone. She limits the damage she causes. I think a part of her still wants to give life a chance."
"You're right, I do think you're crazy. I know what frustration is, and I'd never even think of going around destroying villages and threatening everyone."
"Not everyone reacts in the same way. Some are stronger than others."
"You're lying!" the fly exploded, transforming into a faerfliye and kicking Timper in a much worse place than before. "You want something from me! I can see it now. Why else would you pretend to care about me? You don't even know me!"
"That's the way with Timper," Erin replied.
She stretched out her hands and her incandescent sword materialized in them. A sign that she was taking this fight seriously.
"He seems to be attracted to troubled females, even if he doesn't really know them. He tries to help, even if he's not asked to."
"That's not true!" Timper shouted, but Miranda ignored him.
"Then he'd better drop it while he can," Miranda warned her opponents. "The only one who really did care for me is dead now. Everything I touch is cursed with pain and misery."
"Then how about I put you out of your misery?"
Erin held her sword down to Miranda's level, and flames erupted from her hair.
"Erin, no!" Timper stopped her.
"Now what?!"
"Give me a chance."

Timper's eyes were looking straight into Erin's. His appearance was still that of a massenn, but his eyes were his own, open and sincere. They spoke more than words could, letting Erin decipher the two meanings of his most recent phrase. The flames died down.

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

Back where the others were, the water attacks had slowly decreased in frequency, and had now come to a stop. The level of the water was descending, as if the battle was over. But nobody had seemed to do anything to cause that.

"What's going on?" Pura was the first one to ask.
"It seems Miranda's focus isn't on us anymore," opined Eric, who had began to watch his friends since the attacks to his group stopped. "But there's something I don't understand. Is that shifter Miranda? And if she is, how can she control water like a real quirran?"
"Magic," Mariel answered. "She used magic at least twice. But not for the attacks. I think she must have got help for that."
"I didn't know shifters could use magic."
"Anyone can as long as they have the potential and patience to learn. Timper and Erin have never learnt to use magic because it's not their thing, but other shifters and faerfliyes can."
"So, who has been helping Miranda?" questioned Gallead. "And where are they now?"
"I'll look around," Pura offered, setting off to just about everywhere.

She returned about three seconds later.

"I haven't found anyone yet," she said. "But I've found something incredible!"
Pura's comment attracted everyone's attention, and they all followed her to an area where the water level was the lowest. Huge, magenta-colored flowers were blooming out of the water. Each of their soft petals were as large as one of Mariel's hands, and the stalks -counting the part that was still underwater- were about 30 centimeters (or about one foot) tall.

"Heyiamar flowers!!" Mariel exclaimed in amazement. Her eyes were glowing with joy.
"I've never heard of them, but I take it they're something really good," Eric deduced.
"I'd never seen one before," Mariel told him. "Except in books, that is. They only grow in places where magic has been used persistently for several days, or in places with a very strong magical aura. They can heal any wound as long as they're fresh. Even mortal ones."
"I've heard stories about creatures regaining lost limbs with the help of those flowers," Gallead added. "I don't know if they're true, but in any case, finding one is a great achievement to say the least. And we have three here! It's amazing!"
"Is there any way to cut them and keep them fresh?" asked Eric, hoping the flowers could help them along their journey.
"I'm not quite sure," Mariel told him. "I didn't think of that before because I didn't really think I would find one. Let me check my books."
While she began to take off her backpack, Gallead answered the question.
"They can live for years while their roots are buried in the ground, but they die quickly when you cut them. If you keep their roots intact and with enough earth around them and enough humidity, you can keep them alive for a few weeks. Maybe a few months if you also use magic to preserve them."
"Wow, you know a lot!" Pura complimented him.
Gallead's cheeks turned a bit less pale than they normally were.
"Thanks. Well, I think I'm supposed to. It's my job after all," he said with a smile.

At that moment, the water receded instantly, and the conversation was interrupted by a loud scream. It came from the place where Erin, Timper and Miranda were fighting. The group hurried back to see what was going on, and found the female shifter lying on the ground, blood flowing out of her torso. She no longer had wings, and the fire-red hair she'd had as a faerfliye had now turned golden blond. Her eyes were closed, and there was no water left around her. Erin and Timper were still in the air, showing some bruises and red marks, but not nearly as hurt as their opponent. They looked as shocked as the others were. After looking at each other, the group's attention turned to a small pond -or a large puddle-; the only place where water could still be found.

"There they are!" exclaimed Pura, finally noticing the presence of the so-called helpers.
"What happened?" Gallead asked the fighters.
"We were half talking, half fighting, and then suddenly all the water towered through Miranda's body," Erin explained. "She was in the shape of a faerfliye, so the effect was even worse. Seems to me that she messed up and was betrayed by her own group."
"She had some heerynauts helping her," Timper said, descending to Miranda's level to check on her. "She called her idiots. I guess they didn't like it."
"No, you fool..." Miranda spoke out with a thin thread of voice, opening her turquoise eyes.
Timper was slightly relieved. She was still alive, and conscious. But barely.
"Any moron can take an insult," she continued. "What nobody can tolerate is deceit. Yet, everyone deceives everybody else. I lied to them, just as I lied to you. My whole life is a lie. It's ironic, the only times when I felt I was really myself were while I was acting. But the audience thought I was cheating even then."

She let out a long sigh, and tried to catch her breath again. In the meantime, the little water that remained disappeared. Mariel noticed a portal opening and shutting down in a second. The heerynauts had left.
"There's no peace for us, Timper. I'm not sure there's peace for anyone. I don't know how you did it, but... You must be deceiving yourself too. I did once, and lost everything."
She sighed again.
"It doesn't matter," she concluded. "I guess I'll find peace now."
With one last sigh, her eyes closed again.

"We can't let it end like this!" Eric blared.
"I know, it isn't fair," Timper agreed.
"Many things in life aren't," Erin told him.
"But it doesn't have to, does it?" Eric said. "She's still alive, isn't she? If we can take her to the flowers, she can heal and then she'll be fine."
"What flowers?" Timper's head rose abruptly.
"Pura found three heyiamar flowers not far from here."
"Really?! This is a miracle! Then we do still have a chance!"
"Are you sure that's what she would want?" Erin questioned.
"Let's at least give her the choice, " Timper said.

Still in his massenn form, he carefully lifted Miranda's body. Her breath was fainter with every passing second.
"We need to hurry. Where are the flowers?"
"Follow me," Pura told him.
"We'll regret this one day," Erin sentenced. But Timper pretended not to listen.

Once Timper reached the flowers, he placed Miranda on the center of the nearest one, returning to his normal form. The petals closed around her.
"This will take some time," Gallead said. "She has serious wounds. They won't heal easily."
"Right now I'm more concerned about the wounds this flower can't heal," Timper replied.
"We should go before she wakes up," Erin suggested. "We don't know what will happen when she gets out of there. I wouldn't count on her wanting to make friends with us, she'll still be the same bastard with one more frustration to add to the list."
"Expecting such a sudden change would be asking for too much of a miracle," Timper admitted. "But I hope she sees that not the whole world is as rotten as she got to believe."
"And what do you gain from that?"
"What is there to gain from anything?" Timper asked back. "From everything we're doing... What do we get? Satisfaction, peace... knowing that at least one little thing in the world will be better thanks to you... It may seem like nothing, but it's a lot. And for her, if she does eventually decide to give life another chance... it will mean everything."
"You're weird," Erin told him.
"Considering what your concept of normality seems to be, I'll take that as a compliment."
"Wasn't there anything personal involved?"
"Well, I must admit I did go through some of the problems she's had. Only I've had it a lot better than her, and I have more inner strength to handle those things. No one close to me has died, so I don't know how that feels. No one has ever been that close to me before anyway. Not until a short time ago. But I've seen you overcome some of the worst things, so I knew it was possible. I couldn't just turn my back on her when there was a chance I could help her and change her life."
"I should have guessed," Erin laughed. "You had to be a hero. Anything less than that would be too little for you."
"Well, at least you got your laughter back!"
"Am I on the same level as Miranda?" she questioned.
"Huh?"
For the second time that day, Erin's question startled Timper.

The rest of the group didn't intervene in the conversation. They knew this was something Erin and Timper had to sort out on their own. In the meantime, they took the two remaining flowers, being careful not to break the roots and to leave enough earth attached to them. Mariel enveloped the flowers in fresh pieces of cloth she carried for the most delicate herbs, and put in practice the vegetal magic she'd been learning to help them stay moist and healthy. Then, she placed them in a special compartment in her backpack.

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

A heerynaut entered a large chamber. It was the same who had originally attacked Timper. Haggaus was sitting on an armchair on the other side of the room. He looked down to meet the heerynaut's gaze. The water creature shivered, but tried to hide it.
"You called, sir?" he asked formally, preparing himself mentally for whatever might come.
"Yes," the elf replied. "Your group sent the distress signal and were transported back. However, your leader hasn't come with you. Why?"

The heerynaut hesitated, trying to measure the consequences of each phrase he could possibly utter. This only irritated Haggaus.
"Why?!" he roared.
"She was a liar!" the soldier finally said. "A deceiver! She was not a real quirran. She was a shifter!"
"And don't you think I know that, you idiot?!"
Haggaus's eyes looked like they could pierce through the heerynaut's thick skin and cut right through his heart.
"I'm sorry..." he tried to apologize. "But... if I may ask... Why weren't we informed of that?"
"You're informed only of what you need to know," Haggaus said. "You're executors, not generals. We make the strategic decisions and you obey. Now, where is she?!"
"She..." he began. He hesitated for a moment, but realized his silence would only make the elf angrier. "She received a fatal wound during a battle."
"Does that mean she's dead?"
"Most likely, sir."
"Most likely is not an answer. Is she dead or alive?"
"I... I don't know, sir."
"You don't know! And yet you left her alone to save your sorry lives?! Go back to where she is and bring her back! And if she's dead, I'll hold you personally responsible!"
"But..."
"But nothing! You have failed to fulfill your responsibilities. This is your last chance to redeem yourselves before I feed you to the Orb of Souls. Now get out of my sight!"

"Looks like one more of us has screwed up," Wilson came in through the back door when the heerynaut left through the front  one.
Haggaus didn't know how long he had been listening, but he wouldn't ask.
"I wouldn't count those things among 'us'. They'd better bring Miranda back alive and well. They're the most unreliable creatures I've seen. Even more so than Kharchek."
"I told you so."
"I thought your view of them was biased."
"You should know better. I've killed my own friends, my thoughts and actions are never biased."
"I may still feed them to the Orb even if they do bring her back," Haggaus said, still thinking about the heerynauts.
"Oh, please do. My army could use some extra raw power."
"Really? How would you use it?"
"I've been thinking... I think I have what it takes to get rid of Twocastle once and for all."
"Interesting. I'd like to hear your plan once Jor, Day and Night report back. And Miranda, provided she's still alive."
"Why are you so interested in getting her back? Can't she be replaced?" Wilson questioned.
"Once you find the perfect clay and manage to mold it to suit your needs, you don't want it ruined," Haggaus explained. "Besides, the winter has begun and we're still six even with her. We need to be twelve before spring, we can't afford to lose a valuable associate."
"Don't our armies count?"
"Brutes won't turn the balance. We need a solid group where each one of us can make a difference."
"Alright. Just one question."
"What is it?"
"While I plan the way to bring Twocastle down, Day and Night cut the access to it from the north, Miranda takes care of the south and Jor looks for new recruits, what are you doing?"
"I'm working on eliminating another potential threat."
"The ones who defeated Kharchek?"
"No, they'll come to us. We just need to make sure we're ready for them. No, I'm talking about a small meadow, many days south from Twocastle. There's a powerful magical field protecting that place, and I'm going to bring it down along with the people who cast it."
"And how will that help us?"
"I find it strange that you're asking. We'll gain unrestricted access to the southern part of the forest and prevent our enemies from growing in numbers. Just as we're halfway onto our goal, so are they. We must make sure we get there first."
"Are you sure it has to be that way? Twelve versus twelve by the equinox?"
"I am. It has always worked that way and the symbols on the Orb confirm it. Ease your doubts, Wilson. You're not used to relying on magic, but it's never failed me before. We will get that power. We know the rules of the game. They don't. We just need to make sure we make the right moves."

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

Erin rephrased the question to make sure Timper understood it.
"Do you see me and Miranda in the same way?"
"What?! How can you possibly ask that question?!" he replied, offended. "After all I've said and done... All we've been through together... How can you even think of that?"
"She's jealous," Eric explained, right before getting a warning from Pura not to intervene.
"I'm not jealous!" Erin yelled. "He can have babies with her for all I care! But he'll make a big mistake if he tries to get close to her."
"Erin, please, calm down. You're not so irrational."

Timper was somewhat scared by this sudden outburst, but it also made him feel better in a way. Erin was jealous. She tended to hide her emotions until they exploded; this wasn't the first time. This meant that, despite what she'd been showing so far, she did have feelings for him.
"You should trust him, you know he'd move the world to be with you," Gallead tried to temper her.
"And who said I wanted the world moved?" she blared.
"Gallead, please stop. I know you mean good, but you're making me look even worse," Timper told him.
"It must be an explorers' disease," Erin said.
"What?" asked Timper and Gallead in unison.
"Trying to mend things that either can't be sorted out or don't need to be."
"And what's the case now?" queried Timper.
"The case?"
"Yes, all this. You and me. Can't it be sorted out, or doesn't it need to be?"
Erin's face changed, a smile forming on it, almost letting a giggle escape.
"If you don't know the answer to that question," she said, "then you don't know me well enough."
With this, she took off, flying above and ahead of the group, keeping distance, but staying close enough to be seen. Timper didn't go after her. He just observed her, and admired her.
"I have a feeling I'll really enjoy learning more about you," he whispered.

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

On the next chapter, for a change, there will be no battles. Well, maybe an attempt of a battle, but that's all. Here's a little of what you will find.

"I tried to do something good and you made fun of me. And you're always rude to me when we talk."
"I'm not rude to you. I've actually been nicer to you than I've been to anyone else."
"Well, it's true that not everyone has seen you smile, which is quite sad. But not everyone has had your sword pointing at their hearts either."

"It seems you've been the target of as many attacks as we have," Timper noted. "Why?"

"I really wish I could be that optimistic," Seren said.

"Consider yourselves forgiven!" Pura blurted out. "As long as you show us around and we get the chance to talk."

"Lights on the sky, music and some surprises. Everyone's invited to participate or watch. We always have shows on special events."

Those words had worked wonders. Even Timper was fooled about Pura's intentions.

"Do you have a problem with that?"
"I've never done it before!"

At first, it had been just random, chaotic attacks; but now it was getting worse. Now a group was prevailing, and getting organized.

"You'd spent too many hours without bragging. I was starting to get scared."

So literally, that night had been a dream come true. And it wasn't over yet.


I hope some of those extracts make sense. If they don't, they will once I've posted chapter 20: The double fortress.

Poll for chapter 19: were you expecting things to turn out like this? What are your thoughts about Miranda now?
__________________
~~ Lady VulpiX ~~
___________________________



Owner of the Necessary Unown Trophy
Keeper of Karin's Zealous Unown Trophy
____________________________________

Knight of the I.N.D.E.E.D. after waiting for about 3 years to get a reply.
And how did this forum get into my sig?

Last edited by Lady Vulpix : 12-27-2003 at 05:39 AM.
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