Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Etude 20: (names are for the weak!)

I just had to include the flute scene as soon as I thought of it. I've been waiting for chapters for a good place for it. :P

Etude 20

Sarah stopped along the trail, trying to fan herself with a broad leaf. "Is it just me, or is it getting really hot in here?"
Armand stopped, and considered. "It is getting kind of hot."
"Nice and warm! Just like home! Yay!"
Sarah blinked. "Armand, did you notice leaving the forest?"
"No." He spun around to look behind him. There was only a vast expanse of desert, with no sign of a forest anywhere. In front was more desert, and a wall made of a glowing, shimmering substance in the distance. "I guess this is on the way to the Eyes."
"I guess."
"Real sand!" exclaimed Quickling. He happily burrowed down a little way, and then started frolicking in the stuff.
"Hey, watch out! You're getting sand all over us!"
"Oh. Sorry, Armand." Quickling stopped playing.
"Just be a bit more careful."
"Any idea what this place is," asked Sarah.
"Let me see if it's mapped. Armand searched through his pack until he found the worn, creased map that one of the Mound Folk had given them. It was not nearly as readable or well-made as the one from the Butterfly People, but it was serviceable. "Hmm."
"The only desert I see listed there is the Wailing Desert, which is where the Eyes are."
"I don't hear any wailing."
"It could be a metaphor or something."
"I don't think anything has been metaphorical here."
"Oh yeah. But it still might be something you only hear sometimes."
"And... I don't know, I guess I feel like it shouldn't be this easy to reach the Eyes."
"I guess." Sarah strained her eyes to make out the shimmering barrier. "You want to see what that thing is?"
"Okay." They trudged on through the sands, with only Quickling enjoying the heat.

After a short time they came to a circle of stones in the desert. The stones were smooth and glassy; black with sparkles trapped within. They were arranged around a central stone. On the rim of the stone were twelve cups, each filled with a different liquid. One of the outer stones had an inscription that was unreadable until they got closer. [insert cool poem here about choosing the liquid that brings life and calm. insert part where they manage to figure out which one it is.]
"So, um, what do we do with this?" Sarah swirled the liquid around in its cup, staring into its depths.
"Well, there's that hole in the center. Maybe we need to put the cup there? Or pour the liquid in or something?"
"I can't see anything! Why do the stones have to be so high?"
"Shh, Quickling. When you grow up you'll be taller than they are."
"But then I won't be able to move!"
Sarah patted him absently with the hand not holding the cup. She reached for the center, trying not to overturn any of the other cups, but couldn't make it. She handed the cup to Armand. "You have more reach than I do."
He nodded, and moved some of the cups aside so they wouldn't get in the way. Stretching, he managed to put the cup into the central hole. Its dodecagonal base fit exactly in and settled with a satisfying click. The cup disappeared in a soft glowing haze and a shower of blue sparks. After the haze cleared, they could see a large bowl, also filled with liquid. On top of it was a flute. Armand tried to reach for the bowl, but it was too heavy to move easily and he had no leverage to speak of. "Argh," he said conversationally.
"It's too far?"
"If only we had a hook or something."
"We're not fishermen."
"No, but... Oh! How about if you push it to the otherside with your sword? That should put it within arm's reach."
"That's a good idea." Armand unsheathed the Sword of Peace and started to extend it across the stone. He stopped midway.
"What's wrong?"
"There's some kind of resistance. It's like trying to push it through rubber or something. I can't get it in any farther."
"It was a good idea."
"Do we have to get that bowl?"
Armand blinked. "I don't know. It's obviously here for some reason."

"Yeah, but maybe all that we had to do was make it appear."
"But the poem mentioned something about using the results of our labors."
"Oh yeah. Umm." She looked at the stone carefully. It wasn't all that high -- just about as high as a balance beam. "What if I just stand on this thing and walk up to the bowl?"
"I don't know. I never thought of that." He looked a little embarassed.
Sarah gripped the edge and pushed experimentally. "I can get up on it." She clambered on to the stone. There was no resistance. "Cool! I'm up!"
"Yay," said Armand dryly.
"Let me get the bowl." Sarah walked across to the bowl and picked it up. "Whoa, this thing's heavy." She looked at the flute perched on the rim. "Hmm, it's set into the bowl somehow..." Slowly, she made her way back to the edge, and set the bowl down. Then she climbed back off the platform. "Whew, that felt weird."
"Did it seem dangerous?"
"No, just hot. The thing's been baking in the sun for who knows how long, and my shoes aren't that thick."
"Ahh." He looked at the bowl. "Hey, there's another inscription."
"What's it say?"
"Hmm..." [insert cool poem about how drinking the liquid gives the drinker power to extend calm]
"That, uh, makes no sense," said Sarah.
"Well, I think we're supposed to drink the stuff."
"Sarah? Armand?"
"What is it?"
"Umm... Are there supposed to be flames everywhere?"
"Flames -- what?" Sarah looked up, startled. "Eeek!" The shimmering barrier that they had seen earlier had come closer, and proved to be a web of vigorously dancing flames. The flames were coming closer and closer, from all angles. They seemed unable or unwilling to enter the circle provided by the stones.
"Sarah, I can't get this flute off the bowl."
"What? Oh." She turned back to him. She could feel the heat now, although not very much; the circle of stones seeemed to shield them from the extreme temperature as well. She looked at the bowl. "Oh, I'll bet it's one of those things... If you drink from the bowl, you'll be able to pick up the flute."
"Here, let me." She reached for the bowl.
He glared at her. "Can you play the flute?"
"Um, I can play a recorder. It can't be that different."
Armand looked at her, vexed, and tilted the bowl to his lips before she could stop him. He drained the thing in one large gulp, grimacing at the taste. "Ugh! That's worse than medicine!" He picked up the flute -- it came away easily in his hands -- and started to play.
Sarah stood there gaping for a while. Armand was playing the flute easily and expertly -- it was some piece that sounded vaguely familiar to her but that she couldn't place. And, incredibly, the flames seemed to respond to the music. Their dancing changed to a slow swaying in time to the melody issuing from the instrument. "Armand, they're responding to the music!"
He nodded absently, then closed his eyes and segued into a different tune. This one was more spritely and was definitely a dance of some sort. The flames began to dance. The sight was beautiful, and Sarah just watched it for a while. It was like staring into a fireplace on a cold winter's night, but even more so. Then she realized that Armand was moving, and doing his best to beckon her with jerks of his head. Quickling was already following him. Looking at where he was headed, she realized that the flames had opened a path. She followed quickly, a little nervous. Once they left the protection of the stones, she felt a sudden onrush of heat, but then the melody changed again, more subtly, and the heat was gone. Armand kept walking, playing the flute, until they had left the flames far behind them. Then he collapsed limply onto a nearby dune and let the flute drop. He was panting.
"Huff... I haven't played that long in ages."
"I didn't know you played the flute."
"You never asked." He shrugged. "Not something I advertise."
"Why, was it your mom's idea?"
"Yeah. Her other friends had their kids on pianos and violins, so she made me take up the flute just to be different." He grimaced. "Argh, just need to get my breath back..." He looked in the direction of the flames, which were now retreating. "I sent them away."
"How did you know what to do?"
"It's... The flute is a little like the Sword. It prompts you to do what needs to be done. It might do even better with a proper awakening, but I didn't think of that." He held it out to Sarah.
She took the flute from his hands, and then yelped as she dropped it. "Whoa! That thing's heavy!"
He looked at her curiously. "Hmm."
Quickling crept up to the flute and poked at it with some rocks. "Oooh, pretty."
"Don't eat it."
"I won't! I know better! It's kind of like me, anyway."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"It touches the ground. It's meant to touch the ground unless it's forced not to."
"You mean gravity?" Asked Sarah.
"Never mind." She turned to Armand. "Is your breath back yet?"
"Yeah." He picked up the flute again, looked around his clothes, and stuck it in one of his pockets, next to the Sword.
"Weren't you going to try to awaken it?"
"Oh yeah." He took the flute out of his pocket, looked at it blankly, blinked, and put it away. "I'm not sure now is a good time."
"Where are we?" Asked Quickling.
"Um, I was hoping you would know," said Sarah.
"We're in a desert!"
"Yeah, I think we figured that part out."
"There's something over that way, I think." Armand pointed at a dark shape on the horizon. He shaded his eyes to look at it. "I think they're mountains of some sort."
"What does the Sword say?"
"Hmm." Armand drew the Sword of Peace and closed his eyes. After a while, he opened them. "It says that those are the Sudden Mountains, and we are probably very far from the Eyes of the Whirlwind."
"Why are they called Sudden Mountains?"
"Umm... Give me a moment." He got that listening look on his face again. "Because they appear suddenly and without warning, even if you were somewhere else before."
"Oh. I guess that's why we didn't notice them earlier."
"Well, the Sword says we can probably get to the Eyes through them, so I guess that's the way we're going."

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Monday, December 20, 2004

Etude 19: Allegramente Capriccio

Etude 19, posted at last! There's an underlined section that makes very little sense; I wrote it while falling asleep. Literally. I'd close my eyes and still be trying to type and be in that doze-y half-dreaming state and then I'd open my eyes and there'd be words. I woke myself enough to make sure they were proper sentences, but that was all.
Also, I was trying to go for an H.R. Geiger-esque setting with the Shrine of Winter. Jut because.

Armand felt a very slight tug leading off to the west, so there they went. Richsoil had explained to them that the geography of Farelle changed based on the need and desire of those travelling. Two travellers might head for the same place at the same time, and they might end up in entirely different locations once they reached the border of the current region. That said, there were some rules about what regions could border what, and so the directional pull of the Sword of Peace was meant to lead them along the shortest route to retrieve it. Nothing had been said about whether or not it was also the safest route.
"Armand?" Sarah sounded a little worried.
"It looks like we're back in the Forest of Winter again..."
"The Forest of Winter? I've heard of that! It's cold all the time!" Quickling spun excitedly.
"Um, Quickling, it's not a very nice place..."
"That's okay. Who would want to harm meeeee?"
"Well..." started Sarah.
"There might be people who don't want to hurt you but are happy to hurt us," said Armand.
"Ohhhh. That's not nice."
"No, it's not." Sarah turned to Armand. "Is the Sword this way?"
He nodded. "Well, it kind of makes sense, since this is where we were when we lost it."
"I wish it didn't."
"Yeah, me too. Do you see any of those reaver things?"
"So far, not yet."
"Good." He stopped for a moment, then re-oriented himself. "That way."

They trudged on in silence for a while. Finally Sarah spoke up. "Does this place look familiar to you?"
Armand looked up and through the trees. "The Shrine of Winter is pretty close, I think."
"Oh, is this where we got ambushed?"
"Maybe. Or somewhere nearby, at least."
"And let me guess. The Sword seems to be in the Shrine?" Sarah sounded hesitant, as if she hoped that her guess was inaccurate.
"Yeah, it's that way."
"I want to see the Shrine!"
"You'll get your chance, Quickling." Sarah turned to Armand. "Why is he with us again?"
Armand shrugged. "Richsoil thought he might be useful. Although personally I think he just wanted us to keep Quickling out of trouble."
"I heard that! And I don't get into trouble!"
"Are you sure? What about that story your grandfather told us about the time you sneaked off --"
"He was exaggerating!"
"Or the time you nearly caused an avalanche on your brothers and sisters?"
"It wasn't an avalanche..."
Sarah shook her head, smiling amusedly. "Anyway. Be careful. If you see any black shapes flitting through the trees, warn us immediately."
"Okay! You mean like that one over there?" Quickling bounced towards the direction.
"Hah hah, made you look!"
"Aww, you're no fun anymore."
Armand sighed and shook his head. "Sorry, I'm just nervous about this place. It's giving me the creeps."
They were much closer to the Shrine of Winter now, and could see its spires clearly. They were sharp and jagged, reaching towards the sky like a large, taloned claw. They also seemed to be shining in the winter sunlight -- a bright harsh gleam running over their surfaces. "Damn it, still that way."
"I don't like the looks of that place."
"No, I don't either."
"It looks fun!"
"Quickling!" They both said at the same time.
"But it does!"
"Never mind," said Sarah as Armand was about to tell Quickling off. "I don't think he'll learn."
He looked at the little mound travelling with them. "No, probably not. Come on. I think the entrance is that way."

The trees around them were as bare as the others, but these ones seemed to have lost their leaves to something more than the winter chill. The branches were blackened and twisted, and most of them looked quite dead. Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah thought she could see one of the trees reaching out with its branches, and she shuddered. There were fallen branches by the wayside, and skeletal bushes that looked about as cheerful as the trees did. The growths eventually gave way to a clear path that led straight up to the shrine. The tree branches stretched over the path, hiding the sky even when the path below was clear. Slowly, the shrine came into view. It gleamed in the wan winter light, the light caught in the intricate traceries that patterned its entire surface. It was made entirely out of metal.
"Um... Is the shrine supposedly to look like that?" Sarah sounded worried.
"I don't know. There's not much metal used in Farelle..."
"It's so shiny!" Quickling darted forward towards it, but Armand managed to snag his back.
"Wait, it might be dangerous."
"Oh... Fiiine."
"Is the sword in there?"
Armand closed his eyes. "I think so. The pull is very strong now... And straight ahead."
"So we do get to go in there!"
Sarah looked at Quickling, slightly amused. "Yes, we do. At least we don't have to look around for the entrance." She pointed at the gaping hole in the metal structure. It was surrounded by ridged tubes that almost looked like tentacles.
Armand looked at the two of them. "I guess I'll go first." His mouth quirked with distate at the thought, but he led the way along the path. Nothing met them as they approached the shrine. No shapes jumped out of bushes to surprise them; no black cloaks fluttered at the edges of vision.
"Is it just me, or are you getting nervous since nothing's happening?"
"I'm nervous," said Sarah, chewing on her lip and trying not to think about what might happen.
"I'm not!"
"Yes, we already know you're immune to fear or something."
They were at the entrance. Sarah looked anxiously up at the tubes framing the entrance. From close up, they looked even more like the tentacles of some strange, bio-mechanical monstrosity. She swallowed, hard. "I don't like this."
"But the Sword's in there."
"I wish it weren't."
"I do too. Come on." And Armand led the way in.

Sarah wasn't sure what she'd expected of the inside of the temple, but it was not what she saw. There was an insistent thrumming that came from the floor, and there were strips of glowing light along the walls. The strips were bright enough to see by, and were a sickly yellow-green. Everywhere on the walls were pipes and tubing, crammed into such labyrinthine arrangements that they seemed to be the guts of some living thing. The floor, at least, was flat, except for the occasional ridge running along the center of a corridor. Something seemed to be moving just underneath the ridge, pulsing with a dark blue light.
"This doesn't look very winter-like," said Sarah.
"No, it doesn't."
"Look at all the tubes on the wall!"
"Um, don't touch. I don't think it's a good idea." Sarah pulled Quickling away from the walls
"My pods feel funny. I'm not sure I'm supposed to be walking on floor."
"Or maybe the floor is just funny and we're not supposed to be walking on it either," said Armand wryly.
Sarah stopped suddenly and knelt down to look at Quickling. "Armand?"
"What is it?" He stopped and turned back to them.
"Quickling doesn't look right."
"I feel like everything's moving... It's kind of like after spinning except not." The child Mound was quivering slightly in a very un-rock-like way, and his mouth was opening and closing like a fish.
"What's happening to him?"
Sarah shook her head. "I don't know. He looks kind of greenish..."
"I'm not supposed to be green!"
"Hush, I know. Do you think I can uproot and carry you or something?"
"Maybe... But I don't think I'm supposed to be uprooted, either."
"Hmm... I don't know what to do. Armand, how far is it to the Sword?"
"The Sword? Uhh..." He concentrated for a moment. "I think it's pretty close, but I don't have an exact fix on distance."
"Quickling, do you think you can hold out for a bit longer?"
"I - uh - I think? If you need me to."
"I'm not sure I want to leave you alone outside."
"Oh. I think I'll be okay then."
"That's a brave boy." She petted him affectionately. "Stay close to me. Maybe if you stay away from the walls it will help."
They continued on, Armand increasing his pace as the Sword's pull grew stronger. Suddenly there was an odd, moist noise from the ground. Sarah looked down. Quickling had stopped and seemed to be oozing some thick, green substance.
"I don't feel so good," he said.
"You're oozing!"
"There's bad stuff here! It's bad!" Quickling's rocky features were in an array of distress.
"Hey, he's on one of those ridges on the floor! The ones that look like they're conduits of some sort."
Sarah looked at the floor. "You're right! Quickling, can you move to the side a little bit?"
"Okay. Ooohh, that is a bit better..."
"Quickling, have you had much experiencing purifying things?"
"Me? No. Big Sister is much better at it. Also she's bigger than me. I just get to make sure the water doesn't have too much dirt in it."
"Well, I think your body is trying to purify whatever's going through those ridges in the floor. And that's what's making you sick."
"Ooohh... Bad ridges!"
Sarah smiled a little at that. "Do you think you'll be okay if you make sure to avoid them?"
"I don't know... But I think I'm better now. A little. Can we get out of here yet?" Quickling did look a little better; he was no longer oozing toxins -- those had collected in an acrid green puddle on the floor.
"We're almost to the Sword," said Armand. "I think... Just beyond this next corner."
"Yay!" As they moved on, Quickling turned around to glare at the puddle of ooze. "Mean!" And then they were off.

After turning a corner, the corridor opened up into a larger chamber. At the far end were what looked like reavers, although they were not moving as quickly as before and seemed odd in some way. After a moment, Armand realized what it was. They, too, were metallic; their tattered robes were now dark meshes of woven metal and the chance-glimpsed limb was bright and shining. But that was not the biggest surprise. In the center of the chamber, in a standing transparent cylinder, was the Sword of Peace. Its blue glow flickered wanly, as if being drowned out by the sickly green light in the room. There were wires and tubes connected to the cylinder and leading off it. They were pulsing in time with the sword and seemed to glow from within.
"Um, that doesn't look good," whispered Sarah beside him.
"No, it doesn't."
"This place feels bad!"
"I know. Are you still okay?"
"I'm staying away from the ridges and the lights and it's better but I still feel not so good."
"Well, we can get out of here as soon as we figure out how to get the Sword out of there," said Armand. "Any ideas?"
"Umm... No?"
"I wish those things at the far end would leave so we could just go in and take the Sword."
"I have a feeling that it probably won't be that simple."
"Probably not. Got any tricks to pull up your sleeve?"
"I don't think so."
"They're doing bad things in there... They're making something pure into something not pure and it's making me feel sick."
"I guess that's what they're doing with the Sword of Peace." Armand looked annoyed.
"Armand, can you make the Sword come to you?"
"What?" He thought it over. "I don't know. I don't know even half of what the Sword can do..."
"Well, it's not something that matters much until the reavers are gone -- those are reavers, right?"
"I think you had a better glimpse of them than I did.
"They look... They're to the reavers what the metal butterflies were to the Butterfly People."
Armand grimaced. "That's not good."
"No, it's not."
"We need to distract them from the sword somehow."
"All I can think of is to make a noise so that they chase us, but that's not very helpful..."
"No, it's not. But -- hmm..."
"How come none of them have come this way down the corridor? We haven't met a single reaver and we've been in here a while."
"Oh yeah." Worriedly, Sarah looked behind her. "Okay, there's nobody behind us. I was worried there would be."
"Hey, there's something happening up there." Someone else -- someone other than a reaver -- had entered the far end of the room, and seemed to be giving orders to the reavers that clustered there. Unfortunately, they blocked Armand's view, so he couldn't tell who the person was. Then the reavers stalked off to wherever they'd been told to go, and Armand could see a young man with black hair. At least he seemed like a young man; it was too far to really tell, but he didn't move like an old person. Something was naggingly familiar about him.
"Who's that?"
"Looks like he's in charge."
"Bad!" Quickling had huddled up against the wall, and was starting to ooze again.
Sarah looked at him, startled. "Quickling!"
"I'm not on the ridges. It's that man. He's not pure. He makes things not pure. This place is not pure. I want to get out!"
Armand was about to pat Quickling reassuringly, then remembered that the young mound was oozing toxins of some sort and drew back his hand. He looked into the chamber again. "The man's messing with some of the tubes there... Damn it, it doesn't look like he's going to budge any time soon."
"Oh, great. How about we just run in there screaming and hope we can make off with the sword before he catches us?"
Armand looked at her, a little suprised. "And I thought I was supposed to be the impetuous one."
"It's called sarcasm."
He shrugged. "At the moment, it's about as good a plan as I've come up with."
"Well, my idea involved you and Quickling running in there screaming while I went for the Sword and tried to free it and get its wards up in time to save you two from getting hurt."
"Quickling's really sick. Anything we can do quickly is better than nothing."
He smiled a little at her concern. "Okay. Quickling?"
"I heard. But I can't run!"
"Who told us he was the fastest of the Mound Folk?"
"I did... But I feel sick. And that man will make me more sick."
"Maybe you could go up to him and throw all of that toxin in his face?"
"I don't know how."
"Can you collect it somewhere safe?"
"I... maybe?" Quickling hunkered down and flattened himself. "I think I can do it, but not for very long."
"Can you spit it back out once you've collected it?"
"Yeah. Can we do this quickly?"
"Yeah. Come on, Quickling, let's make a distraction."

Sarah raised the eating dagger she'd been given by the Mound Folk and rushed into the room, yelling in true Xena style. Quickling followed on her heels, reaching the man and circling him. Armand rushed in behind them, crawling as fast as he could until he reached the Sword. He heard the sounds of someone spitting, and someone else screaming. Quickling must have spit back the poison onto the man. Armand's knees burned from the rough floor, even through his pants. He couldn't tell what Sarah was doing, then tried to focus his attention back on getting to the Sword. He heard another sound of spitting -- Quickling must have absorbed enough venom for a second round. Finally, he reached the sword. It was encased in a cylinder of some smooth, transparent material. It didn't feel like glass. He tapped it experimentally. There was no way he could break it with his hands. He fished around for his dagger and tried scratching the surface. The dagger made no impression on the cylinder at all. Oh no! What is this stuff? He tried jabbing it into the side of the cylinder. The blade sunk in, and Armand could see the substance denting around it as if it were stretchy plastic or rubber. He spared a quick glance up at Sarah and Quickling. The man -- whose back was to Armand -- was now advancing on Sarah, who looked like she was panicking. Quickling was trying to tangle himself up in the man's feet, but seemed to be weaving unsteadily -- probably from the effects of the venom he was purifying. There must be some way to break through this stuff. He looked at the cylinder again, and all its connections. He heard Sarah shriek, and tried to ignore it. There was one tube that led straight into the cylinder, rather than into its base. There was a strange light pulsing through it. He tried nicking the tube with the dagger; it gave a little bit, but not all the way -- the material was too thick to be easily pierced. He started sawing away at the tube.
"Get away from me!" Shouted Sarah.
"I will make you pay for this dearly. You and your little Mound friend... Oh yes, I have a use for your friend."
Armand sawed more frantically. The material was starting to give way. He started worrying at the slice with the point of his dagger, twisting and turning it like a drill.
"You're not doing anything to him!"
"Oh? And you're going to stop me?"
"Yes!" Armand felt the sudden increase in tension. "Stop!"
Armand jabbed the point of the dagger into the tube as hard as he could, and was gratified by the sensation of the dagger sinking in. Belatedly he realized that cutting into a tube carrying a probably noxious substance might not have been a good idea, but the pressure in the tube had already caused it to break free. It sprayed a foul-smelling gas over Armand, and he started coughing violently. The smell made him gag, and he would have emptied the contents of his stomach if his last meal hadn't been several hours ago. Tears streamed from his eyes, making it impossible to see. He tried to reach out to the hole where the tube had entered the cylinder and force it open, but he couldn't tell what he was touching. He heard Sarah shriek and realized she must have lost her hold over the man. Somehow he managed to grab the hole, and he pulled. The material stretched thickly, and he groped around blindly inside for the sword. He felt its sharp blade cut into his hand. He grabbed it and tried to draw it out through the hole. The gas was making him shiver uncontrollably. He nearly lost his grasp on the sword. Please. Help me do this, he begged the sword. I have to do this... I can't leave them at the mercy of that man. He tried to awaken the Sword again, felt it thrum in his hands disturbingly. Instead of its usual steady hum was a series of sharp, irregular vibrations. He spread his blood on the sword, hoping it would calm it down. His head was spinning, and it felt heavy... He wanted just to lie down and rest for a while. The nausea and coughing were gone, replaced by a spreading icy numbness. It was hard to feel his toes anymore, and the only reason his fingers were still warm was because of the Sword. He couldn't hear anything going on anymore. It seemed like the only thing in his universe was the Sword of Peace, which was not responding. It seemed to throb reluctantly in his hands -- or maybe it was just confused from what it had been through. He thought he heard a soft, small cracking sound. Warmth rippled through the room, washing him in the scent of flowers. There was a moment's comfort, and then he fell unconscious.

Sarah held her breath as she walked over to where Armand lay, clutching the Sword of Peace. She'd noticed the noxious gas surrounding him, and seen the blood he so liberally applied to the blade. Quickling dashed ahead of her, burbling happily that most of the "not pure-ness" was gone. He stopped by Armand. "Why's he lying on the floor?"
"I think there was poison gas..."
"Poison! Mean! I think... I think there's still some. I can clean it for you!"
She smiled. "Thanks, Quickling. But are you sure you're up to it?"
"Yeah! Big Sister never cleaned this much up by herself! Granddaddy will be so proud of me!"
Sarah laughed, and let Quickling do his work. Soon enough, the air lost its nauseating quality and Quickling spit out a small stream of vile liquid into the corner where he'd dumping the rest of the toxins. She knelt by Armand, and shook him gently. "Armand?"
"It's safe now, I think."
He opened his eyes blearily. "My throat hurts."
"You were breathing in something poisonous. Quickling's taken care of the last of it."
He coughed a little. It sounded painful. "Do you have water?"
"Yeah." She handed him her waterskin, which he took and drank from eagerly.
"Ahhh... I'd ask for cough drops, but I think I'd be pushing my luck. He smiled weakly."
"If you feel good enough to joke, you must be in pretty good shape."
"I think the Sword's helping, now that it's free." He looked over at the room. The floor was now covered in various kinds of plants and flowers, some of them quite large. "What did you do?"
"Seraiel gave me a nut before we left. He told me to open it when I was in big trouble."
"The man's unconscious. I think the poison Quickling spat at him ate at his face. Some of the plants are holding him down for now."
"Okay." Armand sat up gingerly. He reached out with a hand to steady himself. "Ow!" He snatched his hand back from the floor and looked at it. "Oh yeah. I grabbed the Sword blade first." He examined it carefully. The Sword was glowing a more healthy shade of blue than it had been when it had been in the cylinder, and it seemed to be thrumming contentedly. "I think the plant life is good for it."
"Probably. Can you stand up?"
"Hmm... Not yet, I think. I'm still kind of woozy from whatever that gas was."
"I'll check on the guy."
Sarah moved back to where the strange man was lying on the floor. Several plants had grown tendrils over him. Some of them had even flowered afterwards, so he looked like a flowery mound. He still seemed to be unconscious. Curious, Sarah looked around at the corridors to see how far the plant life reached. It didn't go very much beyond the chamber. But in the chamber itself... She stared at one of the walls. Previously, it had been covered with pipes and tubing and wires in a rather sinister way. Now, though, some of the vines had creeped up onto it from the bottom, and where they touched, the mechanical elements gave way to natural ones. At the base the wall was made of an intricate weaving of branches that looked quite pretty. The cylinder where Armand had rescued the sword seemed to be going through some sort of metamorphosis. As she watched, it shrank and grew wider, until it formed a relatively normal-looking altar made out of stone and dried tree boughs. The altar had six sides and a snowflake design on the top. The transformation was spreading throughout the chamber, but it reached an impasse in the corridors. She heard a noise, and looked at Armand. He was slowly getting to his feet, helping himself up with the altar beside him. She rushed over to help him.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." He tapped the altar. "Pretty."
Sarah grinned. "Yeah, it is."
"How's your head?"
"My head? Oh!" She looked surprised. "It doesn't hurt at all."
"Maybe you gave your headache to me." Armand groaned.
"Should you be sitting on the altar?"
"I don't know." He stood up, a little shakily. "Quickling?"
"I'm here! I'm fine now! Mostly fine. It's still bad out that way." Quickling gestured towards the side of the chamber where the man had entered. "But the other way is happy."
Sarah looked back the way they'd come. She realized that whatever was in the tubing had been flowing away from the cylinder with the Sword on that side. So now that the corrupting influence was gone, it was reverting to its natural state. "That's good."
"I wonder where everybody else is. That guy sent the reavers away... I wonder what they're up to?"
"Dunno." Sarah looked over at the guy. "Hey, I think he's waking up. Want to talk to him?"
"Okay!!" Quickling spun excitedly. "I can tell him what a bad Mound he is! Doing the kinds of things that would make Mama all sick..."
"Well, I wouldn't miss that demonstration for the world," said Armand, grinning.
Sarah was already by the man's side. He still seemed to be sufering from the pain. Mindful of the dangers of touching any of the poisonous substance directly, Sarah poked him with her dagger. "Hello in there."
"That's not very nice."
"Let me go."
"I don't think that's a good idea.
Armand came up behind her. "And besides, you're so much more decorative as a flowerbed."
The man uttered a curse of some sort, which failed to affect either of them. He glared at them behind a ruined, half-melted face. "There will be a reckoning for what you have done here this night," he said quietly, his voice dripping with menace. "Oh, yes, there will be a reckoning."
"Reckoning with who?"
"Hah! You expect me to fall for such a simple techqniue of interrogation. Let me tell you this: I will not be tricked so easily."
Sarah backed away a little, surprised at the vehemence of the doctor's reaction. "Well, I guess I'll leave it to my friend to get information out of you." She turned to Armand. "How about you?" She asked sweetly.
"Of course you can request mine aid at any time," Armand said sarcastically. He knelt down beside the flower mound. "So. Are you the guy responsible for putting the Sword in the cylinder and manipulating situations so that you'd get a chance to use it?
The man refused to answer.
["Oh, great, we've got a guy here who either has no clue what's going on or has every clue and no intention of letting us know what's going on."
The man still refused to answer. Armand was getting tempted to kick him. Instead, he just said "I don't like this guy. You try." And backed out so that Sarah could try her own methods.
"What? Me?"
"Shh, no displays of weakness in front of the interrogatees."
"I guess." She did her best to conform herself to the standard, and faced the man in the flower mound again.
"So what exactly were you doing here?"
"Raising a garden, what else?"
"It's better than idiocy. You should try it sometime. Oh wait, you can't -- you're an idiot!" The man seemed to find this insanely funny.]

Eventually, they managed to convince, cajole, and trick the man into telling them what was going on. He wasn't the mastermind of the plan, just one of the higher-ups. He didn't know who exactly his boss was, he'd just get visions telling him what to do. His boss was the one who put the Sword in the Shrine; he was just taking care of it. After finding out nothing more useful, they left him under the flower mound.
"Do you think you can do any more purification?"
"I don't think so." He looked ashamed, his rocks drooping with disappointment. "Sorry!"
"It's okay." Sarah petted him. "You've done plenty for today." She looked back at the Shrine. "I just don't want to leave it like this... It feels like unfinished business."
"It is unfinished business. But I don't know what we can do. I guess the Sword might be able to do something, but it's still recovering from the corrupting influences."
Sarah sighed. "Okay, then. Shall we head for a safer part of the Forest?"
"I'm not sure there is such a thing anymore."
"What? Why do you say that?"
"Well, if whoever this guy is who got the Sword -- probably Abenath -- managed to corrupt the Winter Shrine, he probably had his eye on the other three shrines as well."
"Oh yeah."
"So are we going to visit the other shrines? Yay!"
"Quickling, they might be as bad as this one."
"Oh." His face caved in. "Not so yay." Then he brightened up. "But we have the Sword now! It can fix things!"
Armand's mouth quirked at the edges as he tried not to laugh. "Yeah, but we need to save it for the big things that need fixing."
"If the reavers have already been corrupted, do you think the Butterfly People are okay?"
"Yikes! I forgot about that... I don't know."
"Well, I guess we'd better try to get to the Eyes of the Whirlwind again, since that's what we were initially sent to do."
"Which way do you want to go?"
Quickling bounced excitedly. "That way!" He was indicating the livelier area of the Forest of Seasons, away from the Forest of Winter.
Armand shrugged. "Okay then." And they walked off.

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Friday, December 03, 2004


So, um, yeah. I made 50,000 words, and verified it and everything. Yay! For a while after verifying I was just wandering around the house not believing that I'd actually managed to do it. Later on I went out for dinner to a place with really good chocolate cakes to celebrate. :)

Anyways. I'm not exactly finished with the novel. I got bogged down in the final confrontation, skimmed over some of it, and now need to write the happily-ever-after. I'm also looking into a PDF printer thingie so I can save my 20-odd RTF files as a single PDF for people to read.

But... Yeah. That was crazy. I can't believe I managed to write that much! But... Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

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Friday, November 26, 2004

Etude 18: still too lazy to name this one

So... I stopped in the middle of the sentence cause the time ran out. It also makes me more eager to return for the next session. Or something.

Edit: Put in the rest of the etude.

     Rocky greeted them in the morning with a friendly rumble. "I have had a chance to talk with the elders here, and they have promised to help you."

     "Really? Great!"

     "Is there any other news?"

     "Yes. Apparently there have been some troubling events occuring... Incursions of wolves where there should be none, and some of the more peaceful folk have reported that some of their member have become strangely metallic and insane."

     "Uh-oh," said Sarah. "Were any of them of the Butterfly People?"

     "I have heard nothing about them, but it is possible that they are too far away at this time."

     "Ahh." She turned to Armand. "Do you think Lysshander is all right?"

     He shrugged. "I don't know. You were the one who had the dreams."

     "Yeah... I wish I knew what to do."

     "Well, we can at least try to find the Sword of Peace. Or the Eyes of the Whirlwind. Or both."

     "You sound like you want to find the Sword first."

     "I'm worried about it. I don't think the burden of debt lifted when I lost the sword, so that means that we will be struggling against it without the help of the Sword. Which sounds like a bad thing."

     "Okay then." She turned to the ceiling. "Rocky, when can we meet the elders?"

     "Now, if you wish. I will let you out, and you can find your way to them. The largest hills are the elders. The one with the stand of trees growing out of him is Richsoil. You should talk to him." Rocky paused for a moment. "All of them are awake, so you will not need to use your talents to speak with them."

     "Oh, good."

     "My head still kinda aches from yesterday."

     "You may have a little more of the farris root, but too much is not good for you."

     "I know. Seraiel taught me about it."

     "Then I can trust you to do what is necessary. I am still recovering from my unnatural movement, I am afraid, so I will not be of much help."

     "You're still a great host."

     "Thank you, young ones. I would be a poor specimen of my race indeed if I could not still provide basic hospitality."

     Armand finished chewing on his breakfast vegetables. "Sarah, are you ready to go?"

     "In a bit. I want to let the root take effect first so I'm not walking around with a migraine."

     "Okay. Should we take our stuff?"

     "Yeah, might as well."

     "I'll check the packs." He moved off to their scavenged supplies and started going through them, making sure that they had everything they would need.
"Everything there?"
"Yeah, they're good."
"Yay. My headache's going."
"Let's go then." He stood and handed one of the packs to her. "Here."
"Goodbye, my friends," rumbled Rocky.
"We'll see you again, probably," said Sarah.
"Thanks for the stuff." And then they were off.

Outside was an area that looked somewhat like the Living Hills, but smaller. The Baby Hills, perhaps. Everywhere were small mounds, some of them darting about excitedly and apparently chasing each other and playing tag. There were a handful of full-sized hills around. One of them, the largest, had a stand of trees on it.
Armand pointed. "That must be Richsoil."
"Yeah, let's go."
As they walked, one of the little mounds came up to them and put itself in their way. "Hello!" It squeaked excitedly, its voice a high-pitched version of Rocky's deep rumble.
Sarah bent down to greet it. "Hello! What's your name?"
"I'm too little to have a proper name yet, but since I'm so fast, they call me Quickling! See, look at me go!" And it zoomed in a circle around them.
Sarah laughed. "You really are very fast, aren't you."
"Uh-huh!" A little crevice on the mound opened in the shape of broad grin. "What are you here for? I heard there's bad stuff going on and I know Rocky's not supposed to be here because he's too old and he's not one of the Elders who take care of us."
"There is some bad stuff going on. We're going to see Richsoil about it."
"Richsoil's my granddaddy! I'll race you there! Zoom!" And it zoomed off.
Sarah turned to Armand. "I'm not racing that kid."
He shook his head. "Me neither."
Quickling paused and turned around. "Slowpokes!"
"We're just lulling you into a false sense of security," shouted Armand.
"Yeah, right," muttered Sarah, giggling.
He elbowed her. "Oh, and I suppose you can outrun him?"
"Nope!" She shifted her pack. "Come on, I think Quickling's getting impatient."

After only a little more time, they reached Richsoil. Richsoil seemed to deserve its name, as not only trees, but grass, bushes, and flowers grew in profusion over the Mound Person's body. Quickling insisted on accompanying them, frequently running about them in circles and yelling for them to hurry up. At one point Armand dared him to spin in circles for a count of 30, after which Quickling was very dizzy and started weaving around unsteadily. After he recovered, though, he gleefully did it again.
"That is one hyperactive kid," said Armand.
"He's cute."
"I guess. Come on, we're here." He turned to the mound. "Richsoil?"
There was a low, soft, rumbling. "Are you the two that Rocky spoke of?"
"Yes, we are."
"You have brought bad news with you..." The mound shifted in what appeared to be a sigh. "But then, it is better to know of bad news and be able to prepare for its consequences, than to never hear it until the consequences have manifested themselves." It paused for a moment, thinking.
"Granddaddy!" Shouted Quickling gleefully, having just recovered from his last spin.
The mound shifted again. "Ahh, there you are, Quickling. What have you been up to?"
"I've been walking with these strangers. They're funny! The taller one told me to walk around in really small circles, smaller and smaller and faster and faster and then when I stopped I got this weird feeling like the world was still moving around me and it was fun!"

[getting bored with this... they talk to Richsoil and find out more about what's going on and get their supplies added to and they go off and Quickling follows them. end chapter.]

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Etude 17: the also unnamed

So, um, yeah. Couldn't think of a name for this one either. And, um, it's kinda weird and doesn't make a lot of sense. But it's NaNo, so it's okay. :D

     The rest of the day managed to pass relatively quickly. Rocky insisted that Armand tell him more stories about their world, and they both asked Rocky to tell them the stories he'd heard from travellers. They also went through the rest of the things that travellers had been left behind, and managed to come up with enough for some rather barebones travelling packs. Someone had also left the set for some sort of game. It looked a little like chess, except with stranger pieces, which moved differently. Rocky explained the rules to them, and they had a go at it. They were both abysmal, but it was very relaxing to worry about something other than life-threatening dangers. It was nearly dusk when the visitor arrived at Rocky's mouth.

     "Hello in there!" The voice was definitely female, and it sounded slightly familiar.

     "Um, who is it?" Sarah called back.

     "It's Rosemary! I'm glad I've managed to find you two!"

     "Rosemary? But..." Sarah turned to Armand. "Didn't Rocky say that she was the Starlight Traitor?"

     "Yeah. Rocky, can you close your mouth?" But the rumbling of his movement had already begun, and the opening to the outside closed.

     "That is a very dangerous person outside," he said.

     "Yes, you've warned us."

     "Can she hurt you," asked Sarah.

     "I doubt it. I am very old among the Mound Folk, after all, and very difficult to affect."

     "Oh, good." Sarah breathed a sigh of relief.

     "Armand? Sarah? The Mound has closed its mouth and I can't get in."

     "Where have you been? Why did you disappear?"

     "It was not my doing! I rested for only a moment, and then when I awoke, you were gone. I have been searching the Mounds for you since."

     "Is she telling the truth?"

     There was a moment of humming, and then Rocky answered. "She has indeed been wandering among my kin, but she has not talked to any of them."

     "What are we going to do? She's not just going to go away," said Armand.

     "Maybe she will if we wait long enough?"

     "She waited a very long time in the cave... She probably has a lot of patience."

     "Oh yeah."

     Rosemary's voice came drifting in again. "What are you two doing in there?"

     "Should we tell her we know who she is now?" Asked Armand.

     "I don't know..."

     "Wait... She's the one who suggested that we ask the Mound Folk for help. And she should have known that any of them would know about her and what she is, and would probably have told us. So... What's she doing now?"

     "There is something disturbing occuring outside. I have not the senses to accurately perceive it, but I believe there is a raising of some great magic."

     "Something going on outside... Wait, what if she wanted us to hole up in here so she could do something to the Mound as a whole?"

     The walls began to vibrate. "There is something terribly amiss," said Rocky.

     "What's happening to you?"

     "I think... What is happening? I am being uprooted!"


     "No, I cannot allow this to happen. I am sorry my friends, but I most protect you..." And the walls began closing in around them, and the floor shifted under their feet.

     "What are you doing?"

     "I cannot act and keep you safe with you so close to the surface. I am moving you further into my body." With a horrible grinding sound, the floor moved more quickly, and the ceiling began to come down on them.

     "Oh my god, we're begin swallowed," said Sarah.

     Armand gulped and looked up. "Rocky?"

     There was no response from Rocky, which was worrying. A piercing hum was being emitted from the walls.

     "How is she uprooting you? Is there anything we can do?" Asked Armand

     There was still no response. "We have to do something!" Said Sarah.

     "I can't tell what's going on outside."

     "Neither can I."

     "Wait... Maybe if I can contact him again, like I did the first time, I can help somehow."

     "That might work. I don't know how long I can keep you slowed down, though..."

     "I know."

     "I'll do my best."

     "And I'll do mine." He leaned against one of the walls that had stopped moving, and closed his eyes. He tried to breathe slowly and deeply and push the thoughts of danger from his mind. More quickly now, he was able to sense the living pulse of the rock. It was much faster than it had been the first time he'd tried to contact it. Of course, he's awake now. "I don't think you have to slow me down, Sarah."

     "Good. But... Do we have enough time to do this?"

     "I hope so." He closed his eyes again, and reached for the pulse. Soon there was an answering sensation of fire within, and he touched Rocky's mind.

     Sarah stared at Armand, who was lying, apparently unconscious, against the rock. "I wish I could do something other than sit here uselessly..." She looked around. "I wish I knew what was going on outside. Bleah." She leaned back against the opposite wall. "I need to do something... This is driving me nuts." She got up and started pacing, trying not to disturb Armand. She checked his breathing; it was still going, although it was rather shallow. "At least I don't have to worry about him dying on me." She had a sudden temptation to kick the wall, but that wouldn't be good for Rocky. "I have to do something!" She shouted. Finally, she stopped pacing and hunkered down beside Armand, then stuck her tongue out at him. "Nyeah!" She shook herself and sat back down. Suddenly, there was a sound of rock grating on rock. She began to hear a howling wind outside, where before she hadn't heard anything. Armand was still working on whatever he was doing, but she was beginning to doubt that they would have enough time to complete it.

     Time... We need time. We don't have it. Wait, I can give them enough time... At least I think I can... Damn it, I wish I knew how I did this! She closed her eyes and concentrated, trying to build up the tension that she now knew was the prelude to her manipulations of time. Nothing happened. It eluded her. She couldn't quite remember how she'd managed to do it last time... I don't think I did anything special. I never do anything special, it just happens... How do I do it? She squeezed her eyes shut and tried again. Still no results. The howling of the wind outside grew louder, and she was afraid it was growing closer. She had a sudden intimation of danger, and the walls around her seemed to be closing in. I am not claustrophobic, I am not claustrophobic... The Weeping Cave didn't bother me, so this shouldn't bother me either... "Eeek!" She let out the exclamation as she felt the wall move. "Damn it, I am not going to take this quietly! I am not going to sit here and be helpless and useless! I will not!" And as her anger built, she felt the tension rise, coiling like a spring within her, and then she released it. And the howling of the wind stopped.

     Through Rocky's awareness, Armand felt the stirrings of enchantment around the Mound. There was the feel of a great, unnatural wind blowing, threatening to wear them away to nothing and blast open the Mound. He began speaking to the rock of Rocky's body, felt its inner fire begin to awaken and flow, coursing through Rocky's veins of stone.

     "Yes, excellent, Armand. Thank you."

     "You're welcome." The fire leaped within the Mound, and everywhere the ancient stone stirred to life.

     "Amazing... I think I may be able to move again."

     "Away from here?"

A pause. "No!"

     "What is it?"

     "The spells of unbinding... The wind comes from their weaving. If they are completed, I will become dust. And I think they will be completed soon. We need more time..."

     "Sarah should be able to do that."

     "Of course... But we cannot communicate with her while our awarenesses are turned inwards like this..."

     "I think... I think she'll manage to do the right thing."

     And the howling of the wind stopped.

     [stuff about how they got away]


     "How are you feeling, Sarah?"

     "My head huuurts..."

     He made a sympathetic sound. "Thanks for doing that thing with time. Rocky said that someone was casting the spells of unbinding, and if they'd had time to complete them, he'd have been turned to dust."

     "I'm glad I could do something." She smiled at him weakly, then winced as a spear of pain shot through her head. "Owww..."

     Armand handed her a root. "Rocky says this should help you with your headache, but it's very bitter."

     She took it. "Like most medicine." She bit into it, and screwed up her face in an expression of disgust. "Definitely bitter. Uggh! How much of this do I have to eat?"

     "Just a few mouthfuls, I think."

     "So what did you two manage to do?"

     "Run away, pretty much. Rosemary managed to partly uproot Rocky, and then what I did restored his ability to move. Just not very quickly, since he is a pretty big hill. So when you sped us up, it gave us time to escape."

     "So where are we now?"

     "In the birthplace of the Mound Folk. The Living Hills are kinda like the elephant graveyard, I think. Only the old-timers go there."

     "Ahh." She bit into the root again, chewing with distaste. "How fast does this work?"

     "I don't know. Rocky's kind of tired since he hasn't moved anywhere in a long time."

     "Well, at least we did it."

     "Yeah." He smiled at her. "Both of us together."

     "We're safe now, right?"

     "Pretty much, yeah."

     "Good. I think I'm going to sleep... My head is still pounding. You should probably sleep too, if your reaction is anything like it was last time."

     "I was about to, but I wanted to check on you and give you the root."

     "Thanks. Good night."

     He walked over to his bed. "Good night."

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Etude 16: Adagio Calmato

Yay, more stuff. Don't ask me why an entire race seems to exist for the sole purpose of hosting travellers. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As did the name "Rocky". >_>

     Armand wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, but it wasn't what he saw. Inside the mouth was a cozy-looking cave with moss carpeting the floor and phospherescent fungus lighting the walls. There seemed to be several depressions in the sides of the cave which he realized were beds. He led Sarah over to one of them, and she sank into the soft moss gratefully.

     "If being a nexus means I get these headaches all the time, I want to give it up."

     "Well, trying to awaken things makes me dizzy."

     "I guess we're even then." She lay back her head, then stretched. "Aaahhh, that feels good."

     "I'll go see about some food." He turned away and walked towards the center of the room. "Rocky?"

     "Is everything good in there?" The Mound Person's voice echoed from the walls.

     "Can I get some food?"

     "Oh, yes, of course." The walls shifted around, and another opening appeared. "Go in there. You should be able to recognize what's edible."

     "Thanks." Armand headed for the opening, which led into a smaller cavern. There were various plants growing inside it, and most of them were indeed edible. He recognized a few from Seraiel's lectures on the subject. Sarah probably would recognize more, but for now there was enough for a quick meal. He gathered some leaves and berries, then dug up a tuber and went back to the main room. He picked another of the beds and sat down on it, and started munching. He would have liked to cook the things, or at least heat them up a bit, but he remembered Rosemary's warning about the Mound Folk and fires. I wonder where Rosemary is... Did something happen to her? Or did she abandon us? I wish I knew... Well, at least her advice about the Mound Folk turned out okay. I'm glad Sarah and I were able to work together to talk to Rocky. He stared at the walls, absently munching on the tuber. It was crisp and somewhat turnip-like, but with a slightly spicier flavor. It also seemed a little saltier than a turnip, and not as sweet. He swallowed the last of it and started on the berries. I wish I knew where the Sword of Peace was... I don't want to know what the debt payment for it would have to be if I can't find it again to return the Spring Flower. The berries were surprisingly sweet, much sweeter than he'd expected. They had the tang of strawberries, but were filled with little seeds like raspberries. They were also bright blue-green. At least the food is good... I really do feel much better now that I've eaten. I guess I hadn't realized how hungry I was. I'll bet anything would taste good to me right about now. Finally, he sucked the juice from his fingers and lay back in the bed of moss.



     "Thank you very much."

     "You are welcome. I can tell you are tired now, but tomorrow you can tell me all about your travels."

     "Sounds fair. Good night." And he closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

     Sarah woke up confused. She was in a softly glowing place on what felt like a soft bed. After a little while blearily blinking around and rubbing her eyes, she remembered where she was. We're in a cave of some sort... Oh yeah. It's that Mound Person's insides. What's the name? Rocky. She sat up and stretched her legs, then tried to touch her toes. Still can't do it. Oh well. I'm hungry though... It's been a while since I last ate. She looked around. Armand was in the niche next to hers, and he'd left some plants in front of her niche. She recognized them from her time with Seraiel. She happily picked them and started nibbling away. She'd never had the tuber raw before, but she remembered liking the way Seraiel cooked it. He'd baked it under the sun with a sauce made of crushed herb seeds and a touch of honey. The thought made her mouth water. The tuber tasted good anyway. It's been forever since I last ate... Mmmm, yummy. She started taking bigger bites. Before she realized it, the tuber was gone, so she started nibbling the greens. I remember these ones. Seraiel said they're often used as flavorings, but the leaves can be eaten alone. She bit into the stalks, working her way up to the leaves. They were a little more bitter than she would have liked, but not too bad. They were a little like one of those greens that end up in Chinese food sometimes... She chewed thoughtfully. Well, at least we have a safe haven for now. And I guess we try to find the Eyes of the Whirlwind again after this... I wish I knew what we were in for. She felt more refreshed than she had in days. Of course, I've slept an awful lot recently... Even if some of it was being trapped in dreams and most of it was due to exhaustion. Finally, she got to the berries, which had been her favourites. "Mmm, dewy berries." She happily popped them into her mouth. The juice spilled out the sides, and she wiped it away quickly with a hand before it stained her clothes. After a bit, she lay back happily. I like it here. It feels safe, like the Butterfly Realm did. I wonder how they're doing... I hope Lysshander is still okay. After a bit, she got up and started walking around the area. There were only two openings that she could see. One led outside, and the other led to a smaller room with plants in it. She could see the marks of fresh digging. This must be where Armand got the stuff. I need to remember to thank him when he wakes up. She glanced back at him. Why do I have the feeling that he's not used to getting thanked for anything? She shook her head and walked back to the center of the room.



     "Thanks for the food."

     "You are most welcome. Was there something else you needed?"

     "Oh. Yeah. Umm... Is there somewhere I can, um, perform the necessary functions?"

     "Ahh, of course." The walls rumbled a little bit, and another opening appeared. "In there. Do not worry about poisoning me; it will go to fertilize the food plants in the other chamber."

     "Thank you!" She walked to the new opening. Inside she saw what were recognizably sanitary facilities, even if somewhat strangely organic looking. With relief, she used them, and saw that there was water running through a passage and into the hole, washing it out. She rinsedher hands in it, then took a sip. It tasted fine, so she took a longer drink, then splashed her face. Finally, refreshed, she went back to the first room.

     "Was that satisfactory?"

     "Yes it was, thank you so much." She settled back into her bed comfortably.

     "I have something to ask you..."

     "What is it?"

     "Could you be so kind as to tell me the story of your travels?"

     "Oh! Of course. That's no problem. You see, we're newcomers to Farelle... There was some complicated stuff mixed up with Armand getting possessed and we ended up here somehow."

     "Outsiders? Oh, most, most interesting! I have only met outsiders once in my life... They are very rare now, although my father said that they used to be more common. Do tell me about your own world."

     So, to pass the time, and because Rocky was really rather pleasant company, Sarah did.

     "It seems your companion is stirring."

     Sarah peeked at Armand's bed. "Yeah. Hey, Armand."

     He yawned and stretched. "Hello."

     "I was telling Rocky about our world."

     "Oh, good. He said that was the kind of thing he wanted in exchange for hospitality."

     "Sarah has been a most entertaining storyteller," said Rocky gently.

     "Good." He yawned again. "Umm, is there anywhere I can --"

     "Over there," said Sarah, and she pointed. "There's a bit of a tunnel and a bend so I won't be able to see you."

     "Thanks." He scrambled out of the niche and headed for the comfort room. After a short time, he came back with his hair dripping wet. "Ahhh."

     "Thanks for getting food for me last night."

     "Oh. You're welcome." He looked a little surprised.

     "I picked some breakfast-y things for you." She held up some more berries and some sort of bulb, then handed them to him. "Here. Seraiel uses these in salads sometimes, and for ill people in broth."

     "So I'm ill?"

     "No, it's just particularly nutritious. I had some myself."

     He smiled a little bit, and then bit into the bulb. "Yikes! Why didn't you warn me it was spicy?"

     "Oh yeah. Um, I forgot?" She looked a bit sheepish.

     "It's okay. Just... surprising." He continued eating the bulb, a little more gingerly. "This is so going to give me bad breath."

     Sarah laughed. "Well, you and me both. But we need the vitamins and minerals."

     "Fine." He took a seat next to her. "So what are we going to do next?"

     "Continue looking for the Eyes of the Whirlwind, I guess."

     Armand gestured with the bulb. "We'll need to find some way of carrying supplies with us... And we should really try to get our stuff back."

     Sarah nodded. "Yeah, there was a lot of stuff in the packs that would be really useful."

     "Not just that..." Armand bit into the bulb and swallowed hard. "We need the Sword of Peace back. Really need it."


     "Because it wasn't given to me as a gift."


     "It's a loan from the Spring Flower. She said that she thought its usefulness would outweigh the dangers of debt."

     Rocky rumbled. "You are the bearer of the Sword of Peace?"

     "Yes. Or at least I was until I lost it."

     "The Sword of Peace is never given outright. It is kept safe by the Butterfly People for the times when it is needed, and then it is lent to the proper bearer."

     "Ahh. So that's why. Still doesn't help much now."

     "Has the sword acknowledged you as its bearer?"

     "Yes. It was talking to me."

     Sarah turned to Armand in surprise. "It talked?"

     "Only to me. And not out loud."

     "If you were able to forge such a bond with it, then you should be able to find the sword."


     "You should have a sense of which way to go to reach it."

     "I should?" Armand sounded skeptical.

     "It grows fainter the further away you are... You may be very far from it indeed. You will need to meditate and clear your mind in order to sense the pull."

     Armand sighed. "Well, at least that gives us something to do."

     "Rocky, what about the Eyes of the Whirlwind?"

     "They may be nearby. The realm of my folk often opens into the Wailing Desert, which is where the Eyes of the Whirlwind are found."

     "If they don't connect to the desert, then where do they go?"

     "They may connect to the Vale of Tears instead, and down the River of Memories. Following it, you could seen reach the Forest of Wishing and the realm of the Butterfly People."

     "Well, that's good news. I think," said Sarah. "Thank you very much for sheltering us, Rocky."

     "It has been my pleasure, quick ones. Your world sounds most interesting, although I doubt I would want to visit it."

     "No, you don't want to visit it. You'd probably get shot at or something since you're a talking hill." Sarah shuddered at the thought of the most likely reaction.

     "Well, my days of wandering are long since over, so I doubt I will even try."

     "Days of wandering?" Asked Armand.

     "Oh, yes, when I was but a little mound I would wander over Farelle. The Mound Folk are welcomed almost everywhere, for we can purify things of toxins and make them safe."

     "Was it fun?"

     "Most certainly. I do not regret that I can no longer wander, though. I am much older now, and larger, and it is simply too tiring for me to move. I am happy with the visitors I get, and the dreams that come to me as I sleep."


     Sarah picked up another large fruit and nibbled on it. "Since you've wandered around... Have you heard of the Weeping Cave?"

     "Yes, I have. It sometimes appears in this area, although it is more often found in the Forest of Winter. It is a dangerous, accursed place. Many have entered it and died."

     "Ahh," said Armand. "The guy we met before... The one I told you about who tricked us about his hospitality. He tied us up in there."

     "Oh? And you have managed to escape from it, I see. That is something I have never heard of happening before."

     "We stopped the cave from weeping."


     "There was a girl inside -- she said she'd been imprisoned there because she'd betrayed her husband --"

     "You spoke to the Starlight Traitor?"

     "The what?"

     "She was one of the most dangerous of the old races. She did indeed betray her husband... And then she betrayed her entire race afterwards in his name. For that she was imprisoned in the Weeping Cave."

     "Um... Not anymore." Armand sounded sheepish.


     "Um, that's how we got out of the cave. We were tied to the rock right next to her, and, um, when I freed us I free her as well."

     The walls rumbled warningly. "That is very bad news... I shall have to tell my kin of this."


     "It was not your fault... Raminas was known for her trickery and cunning. She probably convinced you that she was an innocent, and since you are a stranger to Farelle, you would not know differently."

     "Yeah, that was about right. She was crying all the time and seemed so useless."

     "That was how she managed to trick the elders of her race."


     Sarah patted Armand's shoulder. "Well, there's not really anything we can do about it now."

     Armand sighed. "I can't think of anything." He stood up and walked towards the entrance of the cave, then stopped and walked back. "I guess we can at least look for the Sword of Peace."

     Sarah shrugged. "Sounds good to me. She looked up at the ceiling. Thank you so much, Rocky."

     "It was my pleasure, young ones. However, you may wish to wait a little before you leave."

     "Huh? Why?"

     "I have called for a gathering of the Mound Folk. You have brought me serious news which must be discussed. And you may be able to convince one of the younger Mound Folk to accompany you in your search."

     "Oh, that's a good idea," said Sarah.

     "How long will we have to wait?"

     "Perhaps a few days. We do not move very quickly, as you might expect."

     "Uhh, yeah. Is it okay if we stay here then?"

     "But of course! I would not expect you to leave."


     "Now, Sarah only told me about how you managed to get to the Butterfly Realm, and how you left it. What have you two done since then?"

     "Well, we were walking through the forest, and we got attacked by some wolves..." Armand quickly sketched in the details of their travels through the Forest of Seasons, ending when they met Abenath and followed him to his cottage.

     "Something in your description of Abenath seems familiar. You say his cottage appeared larger inside than outside?"

     "Yeah. It was weird. And the door on the inside was different, too."

     "When he took you through the door of the cottage, he may also have transported you to a different place... Perhaps his real home. Hmmm." The rocks hummed deeply as Rocky thought. "I do not remember hearing that the Weeping Cave had a keeper."

     "Weird. Anyway, Abenath offered us food but without the proper oath of guesting. He kept saying that it 'would be okay'. I didn't eat. Sarah did --" He glared at her.

     "I was hungry and he seemed nice!" Armand shrugged.

     "And then when I tried to open the door to get out, something shocked me and I fell. Then he said something about Sarah having eaten prickle berries and then he sprinkled some sort of powder on me and I blacked out."

     "Prickle berries are used, rarely, in medicinal preparations. They can cause dizziness in unconsciousness in great quantities, but also act to relieve pain. However, most healers feel that the risks outweigh the benefits."

     "But he made them into jam," protested Sarah.

     "Yes, that is how they are usually used. Not jam as such, but a preserved form, mixed with sugar to hide the bitterness."


     "As I said, it is rarely used. This Abenath must have been a serious practicioner of the medical arts."

     "Ahh." After that, there didn't seem to be anything more to say. Sarah went into the other room and apparently managed to bathe herself in some way, because she came back sopping wet.

     "Oooh, it feels good to be clean... Wish I had fresh clothes, though."

     "What did you do?"

     "I splashed the water on myself until I was thoroughly wet. I managed to get my hair under the spout." She made a show of wringing it dry.

     "I may have some clothing and other supplies left by previous travellers," said Rocky gently.

     "Really? That would be great!"

     "Hmmm..." The rocks hummed again, and finally another opening appeared in the walls. "Those are the things I could neither digest nor use."

     Sarah headed for the small opening. Inside were what must have been the left-overs of several centuries of travellers. They were remarkably well-preserved. They were also, obviously, what people must have forgotten or lost in some way. There were various small items, especially coins, that must have rolled away and been lost. There were actually some clothes, most of them in very odd and mismatched styles. She looked around for a while before finding enough to make two sets that were about her size, and some for Armand as well. She ducked out of the cave carrying them. "I found these."

     "Oh, good." He caught the bundle she tossed him, then unrolled it. "Ummm..." He stared at the baggy, bright pink pants and the tunic with ridiculous dots and curlicues all over it.

     "If it makes you feel any better, this was all I could find for me." She held up a skirt that was a nauseating swirl of greens and purples and had long tassels hanging from it. The shirt was tamer in terms of color, but was far, far, too frilly to be taken seriously.

     "Ahh. Umm. I guess you can change in the rest room first."

     She smiled at him. "Thanks." She went off and returned in a fairly short time. The skirt and shirt were both fairly loose and sagged down. She looked like a child who'd dressed in her mother's clothes. She stared down at the clothes, then grinned and twirled around. "So don't I look fabulous?"

     Armand found himself grinning in return. "Oh, definitely. You might even make it into clown school."

     "Clown school! I at least demand admission to clown college!" At that, they both broke down giggling.

     "That really wasn't that funny," she said, still laughing.

     "Yeah, but it's just... On top of everything else..."

     "Yeah." She managed to stop laughing after a while and just sat on the ground, beaming happily. "So do you think you can stand cooperating long enough to get out of here?"

     He looked at her for a long moment, then smiled. "Yeah, I think so." He leaned against the wall for a bit, then sat up straight. "And, hey. I'm sorry about insulting you all those times."

     "Thanks." She stretched her hand out to him. "Partners?"


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Etude 15, as yet unnamed

So, what I've been doing is writing in 15-minute spurts with short breaks in between. In the interests of not breaking my momentum , I didn't give this chapter a title. (I have to consult my handy-dandy list of musical terms, mull over the choices, and pick the right one, which all takes time when I could be writing more.)

     She had the sudden feeling of falling, and sharp pain, and it snapped her out of the dream. She realized she was tumbling down the rock face, the ropes flying loose around her. Then, suddenly, the rock reached up to catch her, and she landed with a soft thump. Her arms ached from the impact, but she was mostly unhurt. She looked up, in time to see Armand descending slowly from the rock, with Rosemary floating beside him.



     "What happened?"

     "I Awakened the rock."


     "It was very nice of you to set Rosemary free."

     "It came with the rest of the rocks."

     "But it was still a great kindness on your part, Armand. I did not realize that you were the one Renath had sent..."

     "I don't even know who Renath is." He finished his descent, and dusted off his clothing. "Now, how do we get out of here?"

     "This is the highest point within the cave. It does not so much go down as into a mountain."


     "Um, I'm kind of scared of heights..."

     Armand glared at her. "You would be."


     He looked pale, even allowing for the strange light of the star metal. "Are you okay?"

     "I've only just escaped from being drowned to death in a cave. Of course I'm okay."

     "No, it's not that, it's --" Armand stumbled suddenly, and fell, gasping with pain. Sarah could see that he'd hurt his hands somewhere... They were raw and scraped and bleeding, and he'd automatically stopped his fall with them.

     "Your hands!"

     "Rock isn't exactly the softest thing."

     "But --"

     "Just shut up and let's get out of here, okay."


     He glared at her and continued onwards, clutching his hands to cushion them.

     Armand didn't want to tell Sarah, but he was feeling really dizzy. He still didn't feel quite as if he were back in his body, which was why he'd tripped. He had a feeling that he was still suffering the after effects of Rosemary's tears. Thankfully, the star metal of her shackles was glowing quite brightly by now. He still wasn't sure what had happened, but he'd manage to awaken... Well, pretty much everything in the area. At least I didn't manage to awaken our clothes. That would have been too embarassing. He shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness.

     "Is something wrong?" It was Rosemary. She looked concerned.

     "Dizzy," he murmured.

     "It was a great awakening you performed there."

     "Yeah. Right."

     "It must have drained you to do something so difficult."

     "Ha, and here I thought this was supposed to be easy."

     "You should rest."

     "I think I've had enough rest, thanks to you."

     "I am sorry."

     "Right. You sound just like Sarah." And he stomped off ahead. At the moment, Sarah seemed like better company than Rosemary, who still did not entirely believe that she was free. At the very least, Sarah was wise enough to keep her mouth shut. And, amazingly, she didn't snicker when he stumbled again, ramming into the side of the cave wall. She just quietly helped him back up. Maybe she's learning...

     It was a long time before they emerged from the cave, and it was not where they had entered. Gone was the forest and the quaint cottage; now they faced an expanse of brown hills that stretched on for miles. In the distance, there seemed to be some black structure with a hint of red.

     "Okay, Rosemary, where are we?"

     "These must be the Living Hills."

     "Living Hills?"

     "Yes. They are not really hills, just the oldest of the Mound Folk who have decided to give up moving around and rest quietly."

     "That's not reassuring."

     "I am sorry, Armand."

     "Yeah, you would be."

     "I think I need to rest and catch my breath," said Sarah. She turned to Rosemary. "Do you know where it's safe to stop for a bit?"

     "It should be quite safe here. The Mound Folk are not terribly picky, and the older they get, the less sensitive they become."

     "Okay. I'm stopping." She sat down. "Ahhh... I never liked caves. I'm really glad to be out of that one."

     "As am I."

     "Well, you were in it a lot longer than I was."

     Armand sat down heavily. He wasn't about to admit it, but he was very glad of the chance to rest. Whatever he'd done had been much more difficult than he thought it had been at first, and he really did feel like sleeping again. Or eating. "Sarah?"


     "Abenath took our packs, didn't he."

     "Oh!" She sat up. "He did! How are we going to survive?"

     "That had our water and food, didn't it. And you've eaten more recently than I have." He glared at Sarah.

     "I'm sorry about what happened back there... I don't know what came over me."

     Armand leaned back. "At least we managed to get okay. So. Rosemary. Any ideas how to get food or water out here?"

     She blinked at him, surprised. "Ask the Mound Folk. They are usually quite kind to travellers, as long as they do not light fires or try to dig into them."

     "But what do they have to eat?" Asked Sarah.

     "And I don't think we have anything to pay them with, either."

     "You are an Awakener and a Nexus. You can easily exchange services for anything, if the Mound Folk do not decide to gift you outright."

     "What about you, Rosemary?"

     "I am a creature of the air. I do not need to eat."

     "Okay. After Sarah's rested up we can go find one of the Mound Folk and ask for help."

     Sarah leaned back again. "Good. I'm hungry." They sat for a while in a rather companionable silence. Eventually, lulled by the peace of the hills and exhausted from their adventures, Sarah and Armand fell asleep.


     "Yes, Raminas?"

     "I have the two of them. They have escaped the Weeping Cave and are in the Living Hills."

     "Good. Very, very good, my dear. You may yet make up for your mistakes."

     Armand awoke from a deep, dreamless sleep. Strangely, he felt more tired than he had when he first lay down. He stood up and started pacing, trying to shake off the sleep. Sarah was still asleep. He realized, after a moment, that Rosemary was nowhere around.

     "Rosemary?" He called out. There was no answer. He started walking around the side of the hill. "Rosemary?" He went back to where Sarah lay, and shook her awake. "Sarah!"


     "Rosemary's gone."

     "Oh." She turned away to go back to sleep. Then her eyes slammed open and she sat up. "Rosemary's gone?"

     "I can't find her, and she won't answer when I call."

     "That doesn't sound like a good thing."

     "No, it's not."

     Sarah started looking around muzzily. "Is this the same hill we were at earlier?"

     Armand said, "Huh?" He started looking around. "The cave entrance isn't here. I can't tell if it's the same hill or not..."

     Sarah frowned. "I don't think it is. There was a rock jutting out that I remember almost tripping on as we were leaving, and it's not here anymore."


     "So... no supplies, no map..."

     "We could try talking to the Mound Folk like Rosemary suggested."

     "I guess."

     Sarah looked at the hill beside them doubtfully. "Do you think this is one of them?"

     "Probably." Armand started circling the hill. "Any ideas how we're going to know how to talk to it?"

     "Hello, Mound Person?" Sarah yelled. There was no response. She shrugged. "I guess not that way."

     Armand looked back at her for a moment, then continued circling the hill. As far as he was concerned, it looked like a perfectly normal hill. "I don't see anything special here."

     "Maybe it's asleep and we need to wake it up."

     "Wake it up?"

     "Yeah." She poked Armand. "So get to it, Awakener." She giggled a little bit.

     He glared at her. "Okay." He sat back down on the ground, and put his palms to the hill. I wish I could remember exactly what I did last time... He tried to blank his mind, feeling for any hint of tingling or vibration. For a while there was nothing. And then, as he relaxed further, he began to feel the faintest hint of movement. He did his best not to rush for it, but to let it grow slowly and fill his awareness. He was aware of the hot sun above and the smell of dried grass, and the rough rock beneath him. Is that a pulse in the rock? After a moment, he confirmed it. It was a pulse, but a very slow one. He reached for it, inwardly, and tried to match his own pulse to it. The tingling sensation grew stronger. He could feel the consciousnes of the rock, the slow patient watching as the centuries rolled past, the flickers of the living things that moved and passed over it. He thought he was able to touch a mind, wake it from its slumbering. But then there was blackness everywhere, and he could no longer feel his body. And then suddenly, he could. It was being shaken. He snapped his eyes open. Sarah was shaking him, looking slightly panicky and worried.

     "You fell over and stopped breathing."

     "Oh. Um. I think I found the Mound Person."

     "Is it awake?"

     "Maybe. I think we move too quickly for it to really notice us... I was trying to match its rhythms to speak to it. I almost had it."

     "You were almost dead."

     "Oh." Armand looked sheepish.

     "But... If it's a matter of being slower... Maybe I can help. Rosemary said that I since I'm a nexus, I can manipulate the flow of time. So maybe I can make you slow enough to communicate with the Mound Person."

     "Hmm." He looked surprised. "That's a good idea."

     "I've never done this before. I'm not sure how."

     "Well, you've managed to stop things without knowing how. That sounds like it should be harder."

     Sarah nodded and swallowed. "I don't know how long I can keep this up."

     "What if you slow both of us down, so that you're only maintaining it for a short time?"

     "I don't know if I can affect two people at once."

     "Okay then. Whatever." He leaned back against the rock again and closed his eyes.

     "I'll try my best," said Sarah nervously. Armand tried to ignore her, tried to reach the same place that he had before where he'd just barely contacted the consciousness of the mound. He felt a sudden tension rising around him, and then it crested. He had a sudden feeling of being mired in a bog, sinking in quicksand. She must have succeeded. Now I have to do this... And probably quickly, too. He tried to breathe evenly and deeply, and felt his awareness of the rock grow. This time he was able to sense the pulse far more quickly, and it was faster as well. Still not as fast as his own, but fast enough. Hopefully. He reached it for it, and felt the spark of contact. He was speaking to one of the Mound Folk.

     "Who disturbs me?"

     "A traveler in need of aid."

     "Ahhh. It has been a very long time since any travellers passed this way. But how are you speaking to me now?"

     "I am an awakener."

     "Ahh, yes, of course. It has been a long time since I communicated with one of the quickling races... A moment."
And then the contact was gone, and he felt a shocking rush as he speeded up again. Sarah lay on the ground, apparently exhausted.



     "I did it."


     "I'll let you rest." He looked back to the hill and saw bits of rock moving around, sliding this way and that. A shower of pebbles fell, shaken loose by the adjustments. He jumped in front of them to protect Sarah. Then the initial tremor was over, and he was facing a large face in the rock.

     "Greetings, travellers."

     "Greetings. Um, what should we call you?"

     "You may call me Rocky." Armand almost laughed at the name.

     "Okay then... Rocky."

     "What kind of aid do you need?"

     "We're lost and have no more food or water."

     "That is certainly a difficult situation. Hmmm..." The rock moved again, and the face acquired a pensive look. "What do you eat?"

     "Eat? Umm... Meat, vegetables, plants..."

     "Ahh, one of those. I was afraid you might be of the Jeweleyes."


     "They look much like you do, but they eat crystals and gemstones." A tremor passed through the rock. "They can be a very nasty folk when they decide on Mound guts for dinner..."


     "Nnng?" It was Sarah.

     "Is that your companion? It looks ill."

     "She's just tired. I think."

     "Sarah?" He tapped her lightly on the shoulder.

     "Huh?" She blinked awake, looking muzzily at Armand and then at the rock face. "Hello rock person."

     "Greetings, quick one."

     She turned to Armand "So you did it. Yay. I want to go back to sleep." She lay her head back again.

     Armand looked at her a little worriedly. "Oh yeah. Um. Do you know anywhere we can stay for the night that's safe?"

     "Why, inside me, of course."

     "Inside you?"

     "Yes, that's usually why travellers seek us out. You'll just have to remind me not to sneeze."

     "Oh, um, okay." He just sat there for a while, looking at Rocky. "Um, we don't have anything to pay you with, for food or shelter."

     The rock quivered a little, bit a few more pebbles bouncing loose. Armand realized that Rocky was laughing. "No fear, no fear. It has been far too long since I talked to one of the quickling ones. You can tell me what is going on in return for my hospitality." The mouth of the rock face gaped wide open, wide enough for Armand to walk in. "Come in, come in."

     "Are you sure it's safe?"

     "Yes, of course."

     "I... I want your oath. The last time someone offered us hospitality he didn't, and he ended up imprisoning us in the Weeping Cave."

     "Ahhh... Tut, tut, such a bad host. But very well then. I swear by the Lord of the Stars and the Lady of the Moons that you will come to no harm through any action of mine, and that I give to you the guest-right of food and shelter."

     Armand breathed a sigh of relief. The oath was correct to the word. "Thank you." He turned to Sarah and tapped hero n the shoulder again. "Sarah?"

     "Wha?" She sounded a little annoyed.

     "Rocky says we can take shelter inside of him. Why don't you move in so that you're safe?"

     "Oh, okay." She got up slowly. "My head hurts. Uuuugh..."

     Armand reached out to steady her. "This way." Slowly, they made their way into Rocky's mouth.

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