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2008-10-10 22:33:15
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Champion’s Tournament, Round 4 – Page 1






Moderator: ([iippo])

Contestants:

[NamelessMerc] - Contestant I – bio A Tethis Ironfold

[itoe] - Contestant LXIX - bio A Carrik "Mad Monkey" Ferguson

[thoughtfox] - Contestant LXXXI - bio A Eresth Derennor

[Grengo] - Contestant XXVII - bio A Rei'zel Armada

[Lerune] - Contestant LXVI - bio A Melinkale




 Start date: 28th May 2008   





The morning slowly turned to midday in a peaceful little grove of trees. The radiant sunlight beaming above was distilled through the foliage of birches and elmes. Insect buzzing was everywhere, and the soundscape of the forest was dotted with birdsong - it almost felt that music was ringing through the grove.

Five displaced figures were asleep under the foliage, so far undetected by a fair teenaged boy making his way slowly through the shady woodland. He seemed anxious, and strangely unsure about where he was headed: his stroll was erratic and he kept glancing in all directions, as if seeking something he might recognise. The boy was still a fair way away from the five figures, mostly out of sight behind the trees and the rocks.

Rei snored next to a bush as he slept, though the rustling of the wind in the leaves neutralized the sound well enough to prevent the Ignean from being heard far enough. As he was dozing along, a particularly violent dream came along and caused him to suddenly sit up, wide awake. Disoriented for a couple of seconds, Rei blinked a few times before realizing he wasn't in a near deserted landscape like last time. "Wuh...?" He mumbled to himself as he shakily got up and gazed around at the scenery, "Duh' hell? Wut' 'appened to the lizard n' those otha' chumps?"

Eresth forced his eyes to remain closed as he awoke. First, listen. Pareel ears could reveal more of the world than Pareel eyes, and betrayed less. The strange growling accent of the speaker. The deep breaths of others, a few more. And urgent footsteps somewhere, still somewhat far. But there was more. Eresth could feel slight signatures of magic. Not too strong. but also one signature that he knew too well, that resembled his own. Something born of the fire element was near. Keeping his own breaths deep he opened his eyes. Immediately they locked onto the red hair of the only other one awake. Quietly he raised his head to look at the rest. He thought he recognised the fighter, though he was not sure from where, from some time long ago it seemed. The two cloaked ones, probably the magicians he sensed, were new. He lay his head down and looked at the redhead.

Carrik slept fitfully, tossing and turning in his tattered mauve robes, dreaming mad and comforting dreams of red magery gone awry, of rampaging monkeys. He snored loudly, and a faint smiled touched his lips and flashed across the yellow face of his emotistaff.

Meanwhile, Tethis had awoken, taking care to sit up slowly after opening sleepy eyes. Unsure of how he came to be asleep, especially as the last thing he remembered was being in a rather dangerous gladiatorial contest, Tethis dismissed the past as a possible dream. That still begged the question, though; where was he? The place was once again unfamiliar, odd trees and shrubbery surrounding what he came to realise was a group of other, recently-sleeping forms.
Checking his armour and weapons, for the two who had roused were merely sitting, unthreatening, Tethis serruptitiously inspected the figures surrounding him. The two who had awoken seemed odd; one was far too tall, and what Tethis could see of his ears were oddly shaped, whilst the other seemed to have horns protruding from beneath his hairline. The first seemed learned, maybe a mage, whilst the second reeked of ferality, probably a barbarian. Of the two who slept, Tethis noted that both seemed to be magic users of some description. Great, he mused, I'm travelling with three, possibly four, magicians. Hiding his distaste with aplomb, Tethis stretched, relaxing joints which ached from his rest upon solid earth.

Initially unaware that he wasn't alone in the little forest, Rei stretched his muscles and continued muttering some unintelligible words as he checked to make sure his equipment were all intact while keeping his ears open for the sound of any sudden intruders. While not a particularly observant fellow, he was experienced enough in quite a few years of battling and traveling alone to always be prepared for unexpected occurrences. N' this, he smirked somewhat bitterly to himself, is one uh' them, nuh' doubt. As he thought to himself, the Ignean slowly walked about and did a customary scan of the surrounding area before blinking once in startlement, letting out an "Uh!?" upon seeing what appeared to be a very, very tall and scrawny..... Rysallean human mixed with Eolan Planetarii? He couldn't really identify the person, and so stomped toward the seemingly sleeping individual, growling aloud, "'Ey! 'Ey yuh' overgrown louse! Get up!"

Eresth sprang up to his feet, in his clasped hands an flame white with intensity. His eyes dark with anger he stepped up to the insolent beast. With the horns and the fangs and the claws - and his brilliant hair - it was probably more a beast than a man. Eresth didn't care. He demanded respect.
"I beg your pardon," he snarled.

The sudden exchange of words caused Melinkale to stir from his sleep. He blinked his crytal blue eyes slowly, drinking in the sights of the forest first. He thought for a moment that he had fallen asleep in the thicket near his house, but he distinctly remembered the feel of his own bearskin rug beneath his body not long ago. Still...this place was pleasant, and one thing he loved about dreams was where they would take him. He sat up, the shimmering royal blue of his velvet robes laying in a pool about him on the grass as a long, slender finger made to pluck a few twigs from the midnight blue that was his hair. His graceful ears perked curiously to make out the words of those near him, as well as the forest sounds that came from many distances, but he spoke not a word. This was clearly a time for more quiet observations.

Carrik rolled over in his sleep, lodging himself with a root in his side. He snorted, and his emotistaff changed to show "><". "Stupid scoongë!" he shouted in his sleep. "I'm rolling to see if you go bald!" Carrik flailed his arms wildly, but lacking dice, the spell was wasted. His movements dug the root into his side, and the resulting pain jarred him awake. Blinking, he pulled himself into a sitting position and stretched. He looked around, spending a few seconds studying each of his companions: a tall noyn, a short noyn, some kind of demon-thing, and a warrior of sorts. "Fabulous."

Speaks mah' language, does 'e? One less thin' to worry 'bout then. Rei thought to himself as he stared.... up at the irritated looking individual in front of him, quickly glancing down at the fire the unique looking fellow summoned before staring up at him again. "Nice trick", he sneered none too politely before continuing, "but ah' ain't lookin' fur' a fight... not yet, 'nyhow." Feeling the presence of a few others, the Ignean noticed the appearance of two nearby, one being an obvious mage, considering the robes and pale complexion. He looked quite a bit like a Dah'kin. Rei frowned a little at this while turning his attention briefly to the other individual, a fairly short, disheveled looking human. Not a familiar face among any of them, he noticed, as he growled aloud, "Any uh' yuh' chumps know where we are?"

Eresth extinguished the flame and stepped back. He'd keep an eye on the redheaded savage, but there was no need to worry too much about him. Just another scum, like any he'd met underground or in a pit. Just one who looked a bit less evolved. As for the two mages, Eresth was glad to see them. The elf reminded him of a girl he knew, back in college. She also had that air of serenity, and blue eyes. As for the human, he'd bring comic relief. He looked back to the savage, grinned as he thought of a witty response. No. Better not to provoke him for the time being. He tried to listen for the urgent footsteps he had heard before, keeping his eyes on the four.

Carrik scowled at his companions. "Could you all go away to wherever it is you came from? I was enjoying my old dream. I was about to shave Scüngebel'l'lar."

Tethis tried, unsuccessfully, not to snort with laughter at the short man with the odd staff, making a mental inventory. The tall one was definitely a magic user, then, while the short one was definitely a.) not human and b.) not from his own plane. The realistation of just how far from home he was sobered him quickly enough though, and he stood up, glancing around. Keeping his own counsel, Tethis wandered over to one of the trees and examining them before saying, rather softly, "We're somewhere isolated, with a decent elevation to account for temperature, thick vegetation which may or may not be dangerous, passingly high humidity that's going to make anyone not used to coastal summers sweat to death and, unless I'm mistaken, no food to speak of. I'd say no matter where we happen to be, we're screwed.

The fair youth was now only thirty paces away, but he still hadn't detected the mixed group. He stumbled to a spot between some young trees, and stopped abruptly. He relaxed noticeably. He looked around with a gentle smile, and knelt down on the forest floor, bowing his head. The undergrowth of the forest reached him to the chest as he knelt, and from the distance he looked like a strange plant with a soft blonde flower. He was muttering to himself, as if in deep prayer.

"We are ever grateful for the report, professor," Eresth snapped. "I heard urgent footsteps that undermine your theory of isolation, now if you could all just shut up - " Eresth pricked his ears. Nothing.
"Forget it," he muttered.

Melinkale had since stood and dusted off his soft robes. He took in the surroundings with as much glee as a curious kitten would, thoroughly fascinated by the motley assortment of individuals that were gathered around him. He couldn't remember what he had eaten before he had fallen asleep, but he'd have to make a point to find out. Depending on how this dream went, it was possibly a food he'd either avoid or avidly keep around for late night in the future.

He glanced from face to face, in an attempt to politely acknowledge each seperate person. His elegant ears perked up and those deep blue eyes glistened happily as the one gentleman recounted his take of their situation. He seemed quite learned, and this amused Melinkale. Perhaps, they were all quite scholarly, and the theme of this dream would be some sort of philosophical discussion. It had been some time since he'd had a dream like that.

He chose to finally speak when Eresth, whom he could only assume was a race of elf that his eccentric mind had created for this dream, mentioned hearing something.

"I am afraid all I heard were your voices," he spoke smoothly, with a polite bow, "though, I have always had quite a keen sense of smell, and I have to agree with the gentleman here," he paused, smiling at Eresth before closing his eyes for a brief moment to take in a deep breath through his nose, "there is someone else not too far, but not too close. His (or her) scent is on the air."

"Keh..." Rei uttered moodily in slight disappointment that the tall scrawny whatever-he-was did not reply back to him. It was when the (much) shorter, pudgy looking human spoke up about everyone going away did the Ignean finally shift his full attention to the others. "Ah'd luv' tuh' get out n' mind mah' own business if ah' could, chum." He said to the grumpy-sounding individual, though his focus was on the curious looking staff that he held. Rei had never seen anything quite like it before and approached the bedraggled looking fellow, pointing a claw at the item, "Duh' 'ell is that yelluh' thing on yer' sta- uh?" He had asked before being interrupted suddenly by the arrival of another new presence that he was unaware of, and the sudden entrance of yet another person.

Carrik stared at the demonthing that was talking at him, slowing working through the unfamiliar sounding words. It was obvious he was gesturing at the staff. "You don't want it," Carrik said. "It's rather worthless. Made of pine. Though it does display its wielder's emotion as some arcane symbol." The staff shifted to show "*~*".

Eresth tilted his nose to pick up whatever the elf had scented, then dropped his head. He smelled nothing, but he never had a good sense of smell. He didn't show it.
"So some urgent footsteps, and it's not far off," Eresth mumbled. His immediate instinct was to prepare for an ambush. With the birds still singing it was difficult to guess at this. There wasn't that silence of a trap. But there was a tone, like a prayer, like a class incantation. Or it was nothing, a droning bee. Eresth wasn't sure. He hissed at the two to keep quiet.

Whilst everyone was otherwise occupied, tethis made his way over to Melinkale, introducing himself in hushed tones so as not to disturb the tall stranger, "I don't mean to be rude, but has this happened to you before?" He enquired of the man, "only this seems to be happening to me quite a lot, suddenly appearing, or waking up in this case, somewhere I find unfamiliar." He didn't particularly notice as his speech shifted from the gruff mercenary's tone to the noble courtier's, the change as natural to him as the intonations themselves were. Though one probably wouldn't notice, Tethis's diplomatic facade was slightly marred by his right hand, which rested not-so-lightly on his rapier. Something wasn't sitting right and, if the tall elf (he made a mental note to try and be more specific about that, if the opportunity to question him arose) was correct, there was something nearby; whether friendly or not, Tethis didn't want to be caught off-guard.

Melinkale turned to face Tethis, with a slight, polite bow of his head, his face bearing a look of absolute delight at having been spoken to directly, at last. He noticed the man's apparent relaxed, but observant nature and scanned his surroundings briefly as he replied, "Aye, it does seem to be quite a frequent thing for myself as well. A bit too much pipeweed before dinner, I fear," he paused to chuckle a bit as he pulled an elaborately carved pipe from the many folds of his robes, "it does make for quite interesting journeys, if only in dreams."

He kept his senses alert, but pulled out a pouch of dried greenery, then looked quite surprised and slipped it back into his pockets, laughing a bit nervously as he gave a sly smile to the gentleman beside him. He rummaged around for another pouch, and seemed pleased when he pulled this one out, taking a pinch from it and stuffing it into his pipe. With a slight flick of his long fingers, there was a tiny flame, and the dried herbs were soon smoking, a strong, yet pleasant odor wafting about as he took a long draw, then politely offered his vice to Tethis as well.

"No, this has happened to me as well," Eresth gave up his investigation. "Unless our beautiful elf is a solipsist or we all had a bit too much in the pipe last night, something is awry." He looked over the warrior. "I'm sure we've met before. Makes no difference I suppose. Could I take a puff?" he turned to Melinkale.

Carrik frowned upon hearing the others' conversation. His staff shifted back to "><". "I had hoped..." he mumbled. Then, louder, he said, "I'm already tired of this." He leaned back into a comfortable position against the tree, laid his staff across his lap, and closed his eyes.

Tethis politely declined the pipe before Eresth walked over, then having the same peculiar feeling that he'd met the person before. Deja vu, he mused, how can that be possible somewhere I've never been with people I don't know...?
Putting the thought aside, for it served no apparent purpose, Tethis instead changed his attention to the demonic-looking one of the party, the one with red hair and horns. Excusing himself with the grace of a king's courtier from the others, he walked over to this figure and, once again, introduced himself.

"Uh?" Rei uttered, both at Carrik's response to him and at the others' mentions of their prior encounters. N' here ah' thought ah' dreamt' the 'ole thin'. He thought to himself, scratching his hair with a claw in puzzlement. What he couldn't figure out was how he got from fighting a giant lizard thing in a near deserted landscape with a bunch of strangers only to find himself in some little forest with a different pair of strangers. Illusion magic, maybe? The Ignean did recall hearing stories about highly powerful mages. "Ah'right..." he growled aloud to the others, "any uh' yuh' chumps know 'ow to shake off illusions or any uh' that kind uh' shit? Last ah' recall ah' was in some wasteland fightin' monsters n' now ah'm 'ere. Must either beh' some mighty strong teleportin' or that hocus pocus kinda' magic."

"Of course, magic is as simple as that," Eresth sneered. "Hocus pocus, and illusions and teleportations come and go. Just say the magic word, Rusty, and poof! You'll be back home with a nice leg of lamb in your bowl at the kitchen table." He plucked a leaf off the bush, charred it, and inhaled its redolent smoke. "No illusion is this convincing," he exhaled. "I'm getting tired of this empty chatter. I'm finding some way to get out of here. You're welcome to follow."

In the direction where the boy was kneeling, something odd was happening. There was a very bright light in the sky, but it was somehow coming from a wrong angle to be the sun. It was right above the teenager, and the light seemed to be gradually descending. When the boy noticed this, he looked up in amazement, shielding his eyes with his arm. The light was getting brighter and brighter, and it sieved through the trees, casting freaky moving shadows throughout the forest. The intensity of the light made the rest of the forest seem darker and more foreboding than before.

Eresth spun around and crouched, a fireball ready in each hand. From the slow movement of the light it didn't seem a foe of any sort. He glanced at the others, wanting them to investigate first.

Carrik could tell the light had changed through his closed eyes. He was not concerned. His more ambulatory companions would likely notice anything worrisome if it came about. If they started yelling or screaming, then he'd be concerned.

Rei seethed in barely restrained anger at the other's response, and nearly raised a claw to attack the taller Rysallean-looking fellow. Shortly afterward he decided against it, however, when the latter continued speaking. Grudgingly, Rei admitted the character did have a point, and so held off on causing problems, deciding to follow suit in looking for some recognizable landmark or anything of the sort. Not too long after he started searching was the humanoid Ignean startled by the emergence of an intense light coming from a bizarre angle. Whipping his head toward the source, he could barely make out the presence of yet another individual some ways off, though the light caused him to squint and not make out any particular details. A stout believer in action over words, Rei stomped toward the presence of this new party, yelling out, "'EY! 'EY CHUM!WUT'S GOIN' ON!?"

Drawing his broadsword, feeling that refinement was the lesser of two choices here, Tethis turned towards the light as it started to descend. It reminded him of miracles he'd seen performed back home, when priests would call down the good goddess, Setha, in er lesser forms. Hoping that this was something similar, not malevolent, Tethis matched Rei's step as he made his way towards what Tethis could now discern as a young-ish male. The light was too bright to see anything else so Tethis kept his sword to hand, just in case, letting Rei do the talking for him. He preferred to let others do it anyway, not being much of a talker himself.

"Oh, what's the beast seen now," Eresth muttered under his breath. He stalked behind the two fighters, curiosity taking the better of him. As the light descended he saw a vague outline.
"Ah, a lad," he sighed. "Wonderful theatrics."

Melinkale had graciously shared his pipe, even offering to refill it a bit while the lot talked. He loved listening to their theories of what may be happening, or what might have happened to get them here. He almost chuckled to himself, in his life he had learned that the simplest of answers is usually the right one, but he much preferred to let them discuss their ideas and such without tossing this possibility out there. 

The sudden change in their surroundings was enough, of course, to snuff out the conversation at hand. Melinkale reached for his staff, out of habit, only to find it had not come with him. Odd that he would be in a dream without it. Not that he used it, really, but...it was something he carried around. Strange, indeed...

As he pondered on this very queer happenstance, he turned his attentions toward where the others were peering, quite inquisitively, into the wood. He, too, could make out the form of a young man, but found it harder and harder to focus on him, due to the growing intensity of the light.

"Mother Moon, that's bright..." he said quietly.

The boy stared up towards the light, as if hypnotised. Rei's shout reached him as a slow, muddled noise. He felt like he was moving in slowmotion, as he turned his head towards the noise, but he was unable to see anything but dark shapes. He turned his head back up towards the light and yelped "help, I am encompassed about by demons!" The light was still descending, and in the midst of it there seemed to be something standing; or maybe it would be more accurate to say that the light itself was a standing figure.

Carrik cracked open an eye, curiosity finally catching up with him. At the sight of the descending light, both eyes snapped open. Staff still showing "><", he hauled himself to his feet. Light-induced nausea rolled over him, and he sagged back down. Coughing, he pulled himself back up. Carrik looked rather green as he leaned heavily on his staff and tried to shamble forward, making it only one step before nausea stopped him. The staff fluxed between "><" and "-o-". Carrik stared up at the light, frowning, trying not to vomit, and trying to discern exactly what was descending from above.

Eresth froze and considered the change in the light. It wasn't in him to leave a little child to its death, but it wasn't in him to put himself in danger to save one. He snapped a branch off a nearby bush and set the tip alight. Be armed, but stay back. Hopefully the two fighters would engage first.

"Uh!? Demons!? Whur'!?" Rei exclaimed aloud in surprise as he wildly looked in in every direction, initially unaware that the now.... Rysallean-looking boy (Rysalleans always did look pale and frail, and with ears different from other races of humans) was referring to him and the others. Upon finding nothing around him, the fiery Ignean stood confused for a few seconds before the words finally registered into his head. At this, smoke exhaled out of his nostrils as he stomped over and attempted to angrily lift up the child, growling, "Who the 'ell are yuh' calling demons, yuh' paper thin scumbag!?"

When Rei entered the sphere of the light, his movements became sluggish, as if in slowmotion. Seen within the light, the youth appeared calm and strangely beautiful. His hair flowed gently in the air, and his clothes were white and loose. The sense of peace radiated from the source of the light and reflected onto the boy, who was still knelt down on the forest floor. The presence of the being of light pressed down upon Rei, in what felt like a disapproving manner. Rei could hear a still small voice speaking clearly and audibly to him, reprimanding him, chastising him. Rei's anger was matched with an overpowering sensation of sadness as the consequence of his rash actions threw him out of the light's circle and back to the group. He landed with a heavy thud, and laid amongst the underbrush, limply.

Tethis, having made his way forward with Rei, stopped as he realised what was happening. Hearing the voice, for he was also within the sphere, Tethis tried to think. This really was like a summoning back home, but he found it difficult, for some reason, to concentrate. He assumed it was something to do with the figure before him, a serene young boy from all appearances. Deciding to play it safe as Rei was thrown from the sphere, he lowered his blade to a purely defensive position and tried to back up, looking nervously at the boy.

With his free hand Eresth lifted the savage to his feet.
"What did you see in there?" He asked. He saw the fighter move closer and closer to the sphere, without the same rejection. Eresth stepped back, pulling the redhead with him. "Well?"

"Gruagh.... urgh...." Rei groaned, shaking his head as he felt someone pick him up but not really noticing who it was. As he began to recover, an unexpected feeling of depression suddenly kicked in for no particular reason, causing the Ignean to half-heartedly reply, "Saw some kid in there.... din' seem tuh' care that ah' yelled at 'im. Then ah' 'eard somethin' from 'oo knows where.... shit, ne'er felt this duh'pressed in mah' life."

The still small voice continued to speak within the circle of light. It spoke of peace and harmony, of eternal unity between all things that ever existed. The boy was clearly in awe, tears were slowly running down his cheeks. 'This is your brother' the voice whispered in Tethis's native language. The air - or perhaps the light - was pressing down on his neck and knees, beckoning Tethis to kneel next to the teenager. His sword was heavier than ever before.

Carrik grimaced as the fire-haired creature landed hard not far from him. Carrik sagged back to the ground and decided to stay there for the moment. His right hand maintained a white-knuckled grip on his staff while his left hand went to his belt for his Certified Scree Pouch. It felt lighter, but Carrik couldn't remember what he had been doing recently that would need scree. No matter. He hoped he had enough if he needed it, though he wasn't sure what he would do if it came down to action. He wasn't sure he'd be standing for a while.

"Hm. Funny," Eresth released the redhead to stand on his own. He stepped closer and thought he could make out the fighter kneeling. He conjured a fireball and prepared to throw it - no. Who knows what would happen. Better not to provoke it. Just a quick picture of what's inside, he thought. He smiled to himself. He had not used his most magnificent spell in months, and he now could not resist it. Releasing the spirit, he found, in whatever form, was addictive. He jumped behind a bush, making sure his body would be safe. He focused on the image of a phoenix being born within him, felt its warmth spread through his limbs. Not too much power, this phoenix needed to be small, gentle, and swift. The magic shot from the depths of his body to his head and out - Eresth exhaled with the sense of peace and freedom. Then he shot at the light, a quick glance, a flight in and out, and back to his body. He felt terror rise within him. Every emotion was stronger without the physical body to cushion it. But before Eresth could consider it he was already too near to the light.

Melinkale had watched all these happenings, quietly observing, as was his way, puffing away on his pipe quite absently. Fascinating....it was fascinating. The light he saw was beautiful, this he could not deny. He had always found comfort in the moon's beams and this was somewhat similar. It was quite shocking, however, when poor Rei had been completely tossed from its seemingly sanctimonious haven. Had he been a person with less than his fair share of eccentricities, he would have shown Rei that he truly was concerned about his well-being, but he was so fixated on the light and its origins...and Rei seemed alright. Quite a scrapper, that one, he thought to himself with a chuckle.

As soon as that chuckle left his throat, his flighty attention span turned to the people around him and their reactions to all these events. Had anyone asked him why he chuckled, he probably could not have told them. Still puffing away at his vice, he turned his long ears toward the sweet, tinkling voices that he could hear on the air. Like butterfly's wings, or even the small chime of wee bells, it was interesting, to say the least. And quite intoxicating. Perhaps...his dream would not only be one where he would converse with great philosophers, but also where a grand revelation would be shown to them all. He glanced down at his pipe once more, pulling a pinch from the first pouch he had originally hidden and stuffing it into the bowl.

Ideas and theories were forming, this was certain, he was sure that a very enlightening debate was on the docket for later. He could tell from the stances around him that not everyone felt comfortable, however, but it had been his experience in the past that not all revelations were painless. It was to be expected. He frowned to himself for a moment, reaching again for a staff he had not brought with him, then moved a bit closer to the light. Truly, a very odd occurrence, and he much desired to know more.

Tethis had, by this point, partially succumbed to the power of the voice around him. The sword in his hand was held only marginally, between thumb and forefinger, whilst his knees were firmly in the grass below him. There was a sense of harmony all about him, as if all the anger and pain of the world had been leeched away...
But that couldn't be right, could it? The voice had spoken in the King's Tongue, one he hadn't come across since he left home, a complicated language that many races would not learn because of it's density. Also, Tethis knew his brothers to be dead. Struggling to raise his head, he tried to peer into the light, feeling some of his strength return as his doubts did, "Who are you, to speak my language?" He said, the King's Tongue rolling from his lips effortlessly, "And why call this boy my brother?"
As he said this, his hand tightened upon his sword; not threateningly, but as a solid grounding to the world around him. It almost seemed like Setha herself was before him, but he couldn't understand why she would be so far from Bilymas.

Carrik watched as the warrior relaxed his grip on his sword and sank to his knees, a strange reflection of Carrik's own collapse. Carrik now knew two things: whatever that light was, it was powerful, and he felt no need to get any closer. His curiosity demanded he watch, even as the brightness turned his stomach. He gritted his teeth and stared at the light, the child, and the warrior, determined not to miss what happened next.

Melinkale was instantly drawn to the words Tethis spoke, as he didn't recognize a single one of them. He took a long, deliberate draw from his pipe, his face frowning in thought. He loved languages...he loved learning languages, and this one was unlike any he had heard before. He spoke the tongues of many elves, humanoids and animals, even -- old languages, forgotten by man and beast alike. But this one, this one was completely new. He was only able to think on this for a brief moment, as the light kept dragging his attentions back to it. He waited with fevered anticipation for something to happen: some amazing, startling enlightenment, or maybe an explosion of sorts. Regardless of what it was, he was fairly certain something was going to happen.

"Pipeweed?" he asked, politely offering his pipe to the nearest individual ((whom I assume to be Rei, but you can run with it)) while squinting his eyes at the growing intensity of the brilliant, white light.

as Eresth penetrated the sphere of light he could hear Tethis speaking, first in an unknown tongue, but as he entered and focused on what he could perceive inside, it seemed that he understood, perhaps just the gist of the words. The whiteness seemed full of emotions, as though they flowed instead of air. Or that was what his phoenix form felt. He raised his head with a phoenix's song.
"Friend, I am frightened, can you hear me?" he put into the phoenix's voice to test what he thought. He forced the expression of his emotion.

The voice replied calmingly, lovingly to Tethis in the King's tongue: "as you have been loved, so should you love." The fair youth at his side looked over to Tethis with his eyes open wide with amazement and repeated "thank you, thank you" over and over again. There was a sweet melodic birdsong in the air, that Eresth heard as a soothing reply to his question: "Be not afraid, I am well pleased in you." The light source had descended fully now and was standing on the forest floor, moving closer to where Carrik, Melinkale and Rei were. As a result the sphere of light moved with the figure, and it was closest to Melinkale, almost touching him too.

Melinkale was wide-eyed at this point, absolutely engrossed in the moment. Never in his long years had anything so absolutely perplexing, yet significantly understandable happened to him. With his left hand, he held his pipe absently, his dark blue eyes peering into the light, which was still bright, but he no longer felt the need to squint at it. nearly blinding, it was, yet somehow, quite soothing to his ocular senses. The sphere of light moved closer to him, and for a moment, he forgot his fanciful notions of this being a dream from which he would awaken and write about later. No...perhaps, she was speaking to him: Selune, the beloved Goddess of his people. He had always served her faithfully, always loved the luminous beams of her grace...perhaps, she had come to impart some gentle words to one of her faithful. If this was the case, then he was truly blessed among elvenkind.

Somewhat hesitantly, he extended his right hand forward. It was not out of fear that he slowed his touch, but out of respect, out of humility that he should be deemed so worthy. Bathed in light completely, Melinkale Isilme, seeker of knowledge and traveler of many worlds, dared to reach out, to at last understand the meaning of this vision, and his purpose, perhaps, for this sweet moment of promising peace.

In the sphere of light Melinkale could hear the soft voice addressing him: "Blessed are you Melinkale my friend, for diligently seeking the unperishable treasures through your travels," the voice hummed to the elf, "well met."

The light was coming closer. Carrik didn't like that at all. His staff settled on "><". His stomach still revolting, but his resolve building, he fished in his Certified Scree Pouch for some pea-sized pieces of scree. He screwed his courage (to the sticking-place) and popped the scree into his mouth. A forced swallow sent them down to his roiling stomach. A violent lurch later, the scree and everything else in Carrik's stomach was coming back up. Carrik wiped his mouth after his improvised emetic did his job. He felt better, not great but better and able to stand. He hauled himself to his feet, using his staff as a prop. He watched the coming light engulf the smaller noyn, and his conviction was renewed. Reluctant to break eye contact with the light, he took a few hesitant steps backward before wrenching his gaze away, turning, and running blindly away in abject terror.

Recovering from his unexpected depression after some time, Rei paid attention once again to his surroundings and noticed the approaching light coming closer to him and the others. His old temparement having been restored, the Ignean stood his ground and glared angrily at the light, not knowing what was going on. He inwardly questioned why some of the others seemed.... happy? To go up to the light whereas the shorter human with the funny stick ran off in fear. "Keh!" He growled aloud as he took a slow step forward, "Ah' dun' care 'ow many times yuh' will strike meh' back, scumbag, but ah' ain't backin' down! Ah'll prove it tuh'!" Stomping toward the light once again out of stubborn pride, albeit less threateningly, Rei attempted to enter it once again.

Melinkale smiled as the tinkling words reached his ears, could it really be? Had she chosen to speak to him, after all this time he had praised her beauty and wisdom? He found it harder to focus on the others and their actions, he was so enticed by the velvety voice that embraced his senses.

"Unperishable, indeed," he spoke quietly, "and a journey that will know no end. Knowledge is ever-increasing, ever-growing...there is always more to be found."

Something...nagged at him for just a moment, something in the recesses of his mind. He had allowed himself to abandon all cares and all concerns...and this was quite unlike him. He frowned for a moment. To turn his face from the Lady of the Peaceful Dark, if that is who this truly was, would be an insult he could not bear to be responsible for, but...then again, if it was, she would surely understand. If it was her, then she knew him, and she knew his curious mind.

Something, felt amiss to him, whether it truly was or not. It could have been any number of things from the pipeweed he kept dipping into to the fantastic mushroom bisque he had made himself the night before. Still, an odd feeling crept up his spine, and he slowly turned his face from the light, with a low and respectful bow, to glance back to the place he had come from, almost as if to reassure himself that it was still there.

At the same time, Tethis felt the power of the light diminish as he left it's circle of influence. There was a residual feeling of harmony, a peaceful presence within his mind, but something else which came to him, much as it had to Melinkale, that struck wrong. He couldn't place it, but knew that Setha did not have the ability to alter peoples' emotions by common consent between herself and Malkior, the god of Chaos. For her to be using such a power was outside of her lawful ways and, while not impossible, impressed upon Tethis that this situation may not be what it seemed.
Tethis tightened the grip upon his sword, placing the point onto the ground and levering himself up with it. His legs felt heavy, almost leaden before the irresistable urge coming from some corner of his mind to obey the light, but he couldn't blindly follow it; if something was wrong, then his compliance could land him and the boy in danger. The others could do what they wished, in his opinion, but he would be hell-bound before he would allow an innocent child to come to harm.

Although the strange voice was soothing, it annoyed Eresth. I was talking to the fighter, he thought. Evidently he hadn't heard him. He didn't know what to make of all of it. There was a halcyon quality that Eresth tried to be annoyed with, a small boy calling demons and yet showing no sign of concurring with what he said, and a voice that seemed to know all of them, that engulfed them.

A pang of emotion struck him. I am well pleased in you. Only one person had ever said that to him, his pyromancy tutor. That was years ago, perhaps around his third-last year in school. Since then no one was pleased with him. No one was proud of him. He was hated, feared, shunned, and was welcome nowhere. And no one was ever pleased with his phoenix strike although it had reached pinnacles in the magic of fire that spired far above anything else. His spell was refined steel compared to crude stone weapons of all else, even his own instructor. Eresth resurfaced from his memories.

"Show yourself!" he shouted in the phoenix's voice. "If we have nothing to fear then stop hiding behind all of this. What is this?" the mystery irked him. The drawing of nostalgia as well. He just wanted simple clarity and a suitable explanation. Enough games.

Carrik was wheezing now. Athletics were never really his thing. With his lungs on fire, his legs feeling like lead, and his stomach still not well, the massive tree that must have just leaped out in front of him was a blessing in disguise.

As Carrik crashed into the tree, a dark mist enveloped the place where he fell. In a blink of an eye the mist was gone and so was all trace of him.

The air continued to hum pleasantly, but the voice changed. It seemed to be coming from every direction, from the sky and from the earth; it sounded like a rush of wind and like a rumble of thunder. "The time is nigh. Time and universe must be reunited." The figure within the light knelt close to the teenager and spoke again, softly as before "you have accepted the task given to you. Remain strong, my servant, and many wondrous things shall come to be. These have been led to help you, so help you them in return." The figure within the light knelt closer to the boy, the light surrounding it withdrew its sphere and gathered round the boy, intensifying around him until it was but a pin-prick and then even that disappeared, leaving nothing in sight but the youth still kneeling on the forest floor. He trembled, and looked up at the people around him. "Help me," he pleaded quietly.

Tethis stared at the boy, open wonder on his features. Never had he seen such a display; the sheer enormity of the scene had left him speechless and, more to the point, completely defenceless. His body registered this fact before his brain, years of military training throwing his body into a purely defensive position, his rapier joining his broadsword in a cross-guard of the Old-Style, the form of fencing which Tethis practised. Looking at the boy, he felt his wits returning, albeit slowly. "Boy," he adressed the teenager, his gravelly voice hoarse, though he couldn't fathom why, "What in the seven hells was that?" He didn't know if the child before him could tell him anything, but he couldn't understand it himself. The lad's plea moved him, but until he knew whether the boy wanted help in his 'mission' or to be saved from the power which seemed to have enveloped him he resolved to keep his distance.

Melinkale's attention had been brought back to the light when he realized the voice was coming from all around them, and there was nothing readily amiss in the woods behind them. He squinted a bit, craning his neck to try and make out the figure within the light. To say he had seen her, even in a dream...what an honor, to say the least. He watched in awe and amazement as the light blessed the boy, then left; he bowed reverently for a long moment, before the still, small voice of the child called to them all for help.

Melinkale made his way over to the lad then, somewhat cautiously, but courteously all the same. He knelt before him, placing a hand on his shoulder, his dark blue eyes scanning the boy's face curiously.

"Are you alright, child?" he spoke quietly.

Seemingly being ignored, Rei steadily relaxed his disposition as his animalistic instincts had yet to ring any warning bells as of late. While being slow on the uptake, the humanoid began to realize that these other strangers so far did not appear to be enemies in the making or have any secret agendas, allowing him to warily let his guard down a little further. Reminds meh' he thought to himself while generally staring all around him, ah dun e'en know any uh their names yet. His thoughts were soon interrupted by the sudden booming of a voice from every which way, causing him to nearly jump in surprise before he slightly hunched and stretched his claws out of habit. He later blinked in cluelessness upon seeing not just the boy he noticed earlier, but another figure which promptly disappeared. After these events, Rei could only think to himself that he needed to pay more attention to what was going on.

The boy shuddered a bit. "I... I think it's best I tell you everything," he said at last, reluctantly. "My name is Joseph, my father has a farm not far from here, and I and my brothers and sisters help him in the daily tasks. I... I had this recurring dream that I was a hero, destined for something greater than just being a farmer. I asked my father to let me go for an adventure, but he forbid me. Instead of following his counsel, I asked the Great Spirit, who has supreme reign over this land, to help me realise my dream. My uncle is a Servant to the Great Spirit, you see, so I got him to describe to me how to plead to the Great Spirit, how to make the Pledge and the Promise. And that is what I came here to do. I didn't even see any of you until the Great Spirit showed me everything that I had pledged to do and that you would all help me..." The boy shuddered again. "I didn't know what I was asking for, and I saw... I saw..." He couldn't finish the sentence. "Anyway, you heard him, right? Reuniting time and universe. That's what I pledged to do. I am but a farm boy!" He said exasperatedly, burying his face in his hands.

Eresth glided over the boy. He seemed simple and honest, in his words particularly. Eresth never put much into religion: he had in college looked into the world of fire, controlled some of its denizens with a simple spell; here he was having absorbed one of the greatest creatures of the elemental realm, putting himself into its form - what separated him from deities? But he saw what he saw, and the boy, the fighter, the elf, the redhead, would stand witness. And he heard what he heard. Time and universe must be reunited. All Eresth knew about temporal and spatial magics was that it was a near impossible class with a tutor as old as he was boring, and a beard as long as his classes seemed to last. There was something about the relationship between space and time. Something counterintuitive that sparked fierce debate. The two could manipulate each other. Curved around each other. Time as Eresth knew it was simple and linear, with lunch following breakfast, but in that class there were bends, which were caused by certain movements of objects, such that a proper crystal pendulum could actually create time... no. It was the other way round. The entire spatial universe was all an illusion, and actually was time condensed, but that made no sense... Eresth shook the thoughts out with a strong flap of his wings. He almost got 100 in the course: he got the two zeros. Eresth felt himself fall. He flapped his wings to regain his position, but he was growing weak. He had left his body for too long! Eresth panicked, flapped wildly. He couldn't exhaust himself now! He turned and dived for his body, too tense to just let go of the spell, and let his spirit return as it was. But he felt his fiery form grow colder and colder, felt the flaming tail and feathers fade and disappear, and just before the bush that shrouded him the form disintegrated completely; the spell ended, and his spirit was drawn back to the real body. He forced his eyes open, lifted his hand to the energy potions on his belt. He had overstayed his limit by far. He had no strength. maybe I can trust them he decided, and his eyes closed, and his head slumped.

Melinkale took the boy's words to heart, listening to his gentle plight. He took note of the boy's emotions, his facial expressions, his body language, hand gestures, everything. It all seemed in sync, the child seemed sincere. What he said did not make sense to Melinkale, however, as time and universe coexisted together eternally: time was affected by the changes in the universe and the changes in the universe were brought about by the never-ending spindles of time. Regardless of this odd logic on the boy's behalf, Melinkale reminded himself that he was a child. Perhaps even a young man in the eyes of his own people, but a youngling in the eyes of one with such longevity.

"Perhaps, you are but a farm boy," he spoke quietly, but clearly, "but you must have had faith in yourself to have made such a promise, such a pledge. Such a thing is not done lightly, and had you not thought yourself worthy or capable, you'd have not had the fortitude to see your quest through to the plateau on which you now stand."

He ended his words with a kind smile.

Also smiling, Tethis laid his broadsword flat on his shoulder, the rapier sheathed now. Nodding towards Melinkale, he laid his hand on the boy's head, ruffling his hair, "Well, if it's a quest, then I guess I'm in for the ride. Innocent little lad like you needs looking after, I'd guess. Plus, I don't know any of the others, so I'm not about to leave you alone with them. I'm Tethis," he added with a wink, "Renowned swordsman of a place you've never heard of and servant of a king you've never met." There was a slight chuckle, the absurdity of this moment finally getting the best of him.

"Huh.... suh' that's it 'en?" Rei grunted nearby as he listened to the boy's story. It seemed genuine enough to his ears, and he could think of no real reason why the boy would lie to them or even be here otherwise in the first place. He stared at the other three fellows near him, it seemed the short eccentric human disappeared on them, wondering what their responses were going to be. Wut's wit' 'im?, he thought to himself as he noticed the tall character's head suddenly slump, though shortly shrugged and thought back to the situation at hand, none uh mah' business 'nyhow. He turned his head upon hearing the warrior looking fellow utter his name, the first he's heard thus far. "Tethis, eh? 'Least there's a name ah kin' remembah'" he said aloud before shifting his focus on the farm boy in front of him, "Ah'right, kid. Not sure wut yur' crazy self beh doin' out 'ere lookin' fur' dreams, but if ah'm 'ere n' s'posed tuh help yuh, well.... that's that, un. Name's Rei'zel Armada, Rei fur' short."

Melinkale looked suddenly quite embarrassed. A name was the simplest of things he could have given to these people, and he had allowed his absent-minded curiosity to rob him of his manners. He stood straight, his sapphire robes fanning out quite elegantly about him as he then bowed very low.

"My sincerest apologies," he began, especially to both Tethis and Rei who had already given their names, "seems the strange happenings have made me forget my manners, which is most tragic. I am known as Melinkale, Isilme, which is to say 'of the moon' by my own people. 'Tis truly an honor to be in your dreams, or to have you in mine, however the case may be," he ended with an amused chuckle.

Joseph smiled softly at their words, forgetting his exasperation for a while. He was beginning to get over his initial shock of what had happened, and his thoughts were clearing as he listened to the somewhat normal conversation. "You have all travelled from afar," he noted out loud. "We have had many strange travelers come recently, it has been awfully confusing. There are rumours of ancient heroes being sighted, and such outlandish things you wouldn't believ-" he glanced at Rei, and blushed. "Not that it matters what people look like, right?"

Tethis smiled at the boy, but inwardly he was far from at ease. If there were old heroes appearing, abominations too, did that mean something magical had gone awry? No student of the art, he couldn't begin to guess, so instead put the question to Melinkale, believing he might know more about it than himself.

Melinkale rubbed his chin in thought at Tethis' query, blue eyes narrowing a bit in quiet contemplation before he opened his mouth to speak.

"One would assume," he began, "that if we have indeed been 'carried' here by unseen means, and we are not dreaming, that...it would also stand to reason that more unsavory characters could also have been brought to other places by the same fate."

He paused for a moment, appearing to concentrate intensely for a brief moment.

"The Weave is present here, which means there is magic in this place, however," he ended with a frown, "the magical threads within the Weave are unfamiliar to me; its nature is perhaps different from what I am used to, which raises many, many questions. It is quite possible that normal magics as I and others may know them, could very well be altered here..."

He may or may not have made sense at this point, continuing to think aloud to himself.

Joseph listened in amazement. "Magic? Here?" He was puzzled, but continued: "Sometimes when the traveling fayre comes to town they have gypsies and magicians with them, but they only show up around harvest time. My dad says that's because they are too lazy to work for themselves, but he says that even about the servants of the Great Spirit..." He realised he was rambling, and allowed the sentence drift out. He was wondering what should happen now. He was on this quest with these new friends, but he had no clue where to start. How does one begin to unite time and universe?

Rei grunted at the farm boy's earlier comment, though made nothing more of it as he turned to the Melinkale fellow. "The 'ell's the Weave? Ah've nevuh 'eard of it before" He asked before looking over at Joseph, "As fur' yuh, chum, where duh yuh plan on 'eading? Ah' dun know squabble 'bout this land n' dun wanna be 'ere much longer so's the fastah we do this, the 'appier I'll be." He finished this with a rolling of the shoulders as he gazed about the area once more, growing fairly bored with the sights, and later eyeing the last person who has yet to reveal his name, the seemingly sleeping tall fellow. Pointing a claw at him, Rei growled aloud, "Wut 'appened tuh this chump?"

"He appears to be sleeping," Melinkale said quite simply, "but in regards to your earlier question, the Weave is sortof an...unseen force. It encompasses and connects all things together, and for those of us who still remember the old ways, it can be touched, even manipulated. The Weave is everywhere, and it is, essentially, all magic, no matter how seemingly insignificant, all spun together in a sortof...celestial veil, if you will."

His thoughts trailed off as he glanced back over at the "chump" that Rei had mentioned. His flighty thoughts did a complete derailing to another path, and he found himself speaking quietly, more to himself than to any one person at all.

"Perhaps, the chap is narcoleptic," he mused, "I remember reading up on that some time ago. Think the book may still be on the shelf by the bed. Fascinating read, it was...would be interesting to see the condition first-hand..."

Joseph's mind was racing. "Excuse me, Melinka was it?" He spoke timidly to the elf. "Are time and universe within this Weave as well?" He gathered his courage and explained his odd question. "Y'see, I've seen my mother weave before, she makes the threads cross to make a whole cloth, and making different coloured threads cross at different ways makes a picture on the cloth, right? And if you break the threads or pull them, the whole picture gets skewed and broken. So... what if this, this weave you mention has had some threads broken, and, and, and that's why time and universe are, you know, separated?" He paused to catch his breath a little bit, and finished his thought. "Maybe we need to find a patch for the Weave."

Tethis quirked an eyebrow at Joseph, impressed; whether the boy was correct or not, from what Tethis knew of the art from his sub-commander Anthony would hold true with the lad's theory. Whether it was, in fact, what Melinkale believed was a different thing entirely. Whilst waiting for Melinkale to answer, he thought for a moment about the repercussions, Maybe, if this is the reason we're jumping around all over the place, sorting everything out will send us back to our own time... Hopefully I won't turn up in the middle of a fracas, though that would be preferable to turning up in another time altogether... Is that even possible? he thought, finding the prospect distinctly unattractive.

Melinkale's eyes shone brightly as the boy spoke. He did love to share his vast knowledge with others, especially when they were willing to listen. Sometimes, people didn't want to hear what he had to say, and that was never quite as enjoyable...

"Well," he began thoughtfully, "your questions have much merit, and certainly, the likeness between the Weave and actual weaving is right on. Hence, the name, I believe. The Weave represents the threads of all things, woven tightly together -- those who know the old ways were taught that it shows us how all things affect each other, how even the smallest change in any one thread can affect the whole. Magic is eternal, youngling, it touches all things, everywhere, in all times. Within the Weave, there is strong Time magic, as well as Travel magic. They are woven together along with the elements, illusionary disciplines, necromantic and holy magics -- all things loop through and around each other."

He paused for a moment, taking a draw from his pipe, which he quickly realized he needed to refill, and began to do so before continuing.

"If it is true that we do need to repair the threads that represent time and universe, you must understand that these threads are separate threads within the Weave, representing different things. If there truly is a problem with them, then yes, we must figure out a way to repair them. If you are familiar with weaving, then you know that there are some threads that are stronger: those provide support to the more intricate threads. Time and Universe provide support to the other magics I mentioned: time magic supports necromantic and healing disciplines, universe would shelter the elements, which also house such disciplines as pyromancy, naturalists or hydromancers."

He looked a bit embarrassed as he realized he had rambled a good bit.

"The task you are setting before yourself is not a small one, and I commend you," he ended with a smile.

Eresth remained in deep sleep. His breathing was slow, slight, hardly visible. Slowly, as his energy replenished and as his spirit lodged itself firmly in his body again, his warmth gently increased. But his muscles were still, and stiffened.

Tethis looked at Melinkale, totally non-plussed. Whether that was an abridged version of Melinkale's knowledge he was unsure, but whether it was or not Tethis couldn't follow. "So... We need to find the source of this problem, put a stop to it, and then repair the damage? Oh, if that's all, I thin we should be home by tea-time," he went on, sarcastically. If one of his close friends had been there, they would have understood his sarcasm as a reaction to worry; as it was, he realised he just sounded obnoxious.

Joseph's eyes had glazed over a little when Melinkale spoke. He realised he had joined up with some rather important people, men of great strength and wisdom. He mustered all his brain-power that he could to formulate his next question. "So all things... are connected to the Weave, yes? And so... if the Weave affects, say, this forest, and by manipulating the Weave one could manipulate the forest... might it also work the other way round, use the connection to the other direction and manipulate the Weave... through things, such as the forest?" He fell silent to run through the whole sentence in his mind again as to double-check that he's said what he meant, after which he nodded slightly as to affirm to himself that he'd managed to verbalise his question.

Rei, not being particularly gifted as far as patience and intelligence went, comprehended a little bit on what Joseph and Melinkale were discussing about. Nevertheless, he was itching to get started with whatever it was the group had to do, and made it very clear with a grunt and a "Ah'right, suh we're connected bah' some magic thingy. Got that outta' the way. Les' get moving tuh wherever n' kill something now." He once again eyed the tall sleeping fellow with some wariness before spitting on the floor once and deciding to shake him awake with his foot, "Yuh've slept 'nough, chum. Get up."

Melinkale chuckled a bit at Rei, quite amused by this character in the very best of ways. He was also quite amused by the comment Tethis made. And it got him to thinking...tea. It was well past time for a good cup of tea. He frowned to himself and inwardly wished he was back home for a moment, at least long enought o fix himself a steaming kettle of herbal tea--

And then it hit him.

His face changed immediately with that unmistakable expression one gets when they just realized something completely obvious. He glanced around to the lot of them, then stood and dusted his robes off. He scratched his chin in thought for a moment, pacing somewhat in a small circle, as if he needed a mere moment to ping-pong this thought around in his mind. After a minute's contemplation, he finally spoke.

"Well, of course time and Universe are out of sync," he said, shaking his head, "we are here. Each of us quite out of our own time and space."

He sat back down to ponder this though some more.

Eresth was dreaming the usual dream of fugitives, that of being pursued. Rei's foot felt like the cold bar of an executioner, the night-chilled hand of the watch, a spark of the magical bind spell. He jolted. His eyes opeend. The cold calm that it was a dream, and nothing more. Eresth sighed. Then the pains of exhaustion. He had hardly had enough rest. His muscles screamed for it. He winced and reached for an energy potion on his belt. Sipped it. He didn't need too much. No need to waste. Took another sip. Savoured its tangy sweet taste. Its warmth spread quickly through his body, like alcohol. He exhaled, imagining a long string coming from his mouth. Seeing how long he could make the string, the wisp of smoke of his mind's eye. Another sip. His muscles ached, his body complained, but he was in control now. He looked up to Rey. Said nothing. Felt for the ground. Pushed himself up to his feet. Looked at the group. At the boy. Said nothing. He would watch for now.

Tethis glanced at the tall being, before resting his gaze over towards the clearing they'd all started in,"Well, now you've woken up, it seems we're all out of sync with our universes and we have to help him," at which point he indicated Joseph with his thumb, "get it all back on track. By the way, I noticed the impressive magic you used earlier, but is it worth it if it tires you out so much?" Tethis scratched his head, deep in thought, "Seems like a brilliant use of power, but to be so drained afterwards... That's a real liability, no?"

Eresth cursed and muttered his response. A final sip of the energy-potion, then he sealed the cork and shoved it back into his belt.
"I'm ok," he mumbled. "I'm ok," he said louder. "You shove your spirit out of your body and force it to burn magic like that and we'll see you stand afterwards." He flicked up a quick flame for Tethis's favour. "I'm fine." He walked up to the group and looked over the boy.
"Listen, I know nothing of this firshis time and space nonsense," he said, using the common profanity of his home tongue. "If you need anything to do with fire, though, I'm your man. Why, I've travelled to the universe of fire myself, without the help of anyone. Anything like that, I can help you." He looked over the group. He still had a headache from thinking about the mixed events that had happened. A morning at an inn, a bizarre contest, and now this. "And I guess we've got as much in it as you do, so I won't even charge a price." He looked at Tethis. He looked like the sort that could lead. "What's the plan?"

Tethis stroked his chin, a common habit when he was thinking hard; it didn't occur to him that the mage had just deferred to him, he was so used to being in command that it simply didn't register. "Well," he began, "I think we need to figure out a direction to head off in, for starters, but I'm open to suggestion on this one. If anyone has strong feelings one way or the other, then it's likely from the number of magicians present that you're feeling a tug of some sort, as I understand it. At least, that's what my sub-commander used to say when he felt the urge to do something that didn't make sense at the time.
"Past that, we have no real idea what we're heading into so I'm not really too sure. As a default, I'd say we need to get out of this bloody forest and onto some high, or at least flat, ground. That'll give us a clearer picture of where we are and, if one of you says we need to go in a certain direction, we'll be better able to see what we're getting ourselves into."
The mercenary captain frowned, unsure of his idea, "Unless someone has anything better to suggest?" The question was plain, a genuine enquiry for a better plan of action if one was available. Blast it, he thought, I have no idea what's out there. It's like walking into battle blindfolded.

Melinkale gave Tethis his complete attention for a moment as he spoke. He had to admit, he was also at a loss as to where to start, but traveling, that sounded nice. He stood once more, reaching for the staff he always had with him, but...remembered he had not brought it. Why on Earth had he left it? He'd certainly have to get used to functioning without it; he didn't need it at all, but he was quite attached to it.  Time and space indeed -- where in the nine hells was his walking stick?!

"Perhaps," he said absently, as he looked around for a suitable stick -- something that might serve as a decent replacement, "we should converse more with the youngling here. Seeing as how he is the most familiar with this area, it stands to reason he might know where our troupe should head next."

"Perhaps, a temple or something to this deity?" he questioned as he eyed a few low branches.

Joseph jerked his head to look at Melinkale wide-eyed as he was referred to. "Err... well, maybe, we should, well, head to the village? There is a chapel there." He said hesitantly, thinking ahead to what his new-found friends would think of the little huddle of buildings that acted as the local hub. "It's about a mile that way," he pointed, and took a step in the direction.

"Then let's go," Eresth marched in the direction that Joseph pointed. "I'm not staying in this stinking forest anymore. Besides if we need to unite the time and the universe, or what have you, seems silly to waste it." He strode briskly, with no hesitation.
"Come on, lad," he said. "Lead the way. Let's hurry about this."

Tethis moved towards Eresth, eyes scanning the forest before them. He didn't expect trouble, but the first rule in his camp when in enemy territory was to be vigilant at all times; whether this was enemy territory, per se, he didn't know, but erring on the side of caution kept both himself and his men alive where many had failed, so it seemed ridiculous to abandon his practice now. However, he did spare a moment to speak with Eresth, "Give the boy a moment; I don't know about you, but I've never had a burden like that thrust upon me and I figure I'd be about as shocked as he is. By Setha, he's been conversing with a god, which is something I don't think happens often here."

"Ah!" Melinkale exclaimed, pulling a dead branch from the low forest. He broke off the smaller twigs and dried leaves still attached to it; once it was clean, he gripped it sternly. It was a bit more twisted than what he was used to, but it would satiate his rather eccentric need to actually walk with a stick. He turned back to face the others.

"A mile, you say?" he spoke to the boy, "sounds like a lovely stroll. The woods are quite inviting here, I must say, but I fear I have been still for far too long. Idle hands become the tools of Shar if we allow such a thing," he paused, righting his new walking stick, then smiling kindly, "we've a long journey ahead of us, no doubt, and it only takes a single step to begin it."

"Let him walk it off," Eresth shrugged, not losing pace. "And the pretty elf, too." He looked over his shoulder. "Bring the boy and come! Idle talk won't solve idle hands!" He ducked under a thick bow and broke off a loose branch in his way.
"Honestly, the sooner we finish this, the better," he said. "I can't say I have a jolly life to return to - you'd kill me for describing my life in front of a kid - but I can't say I need adventure, or any rubbish like that, like some people." Eresth clutched a thick branch before him. Roasted it with a flame. Snapped it off violently. This could all be a ploy by his college. His father. He almost laughed at the thought of his old temporal professor playing games like this, but it could be. Already he had put himself at the mercy of the others once, and now again, he was letting the fighter get too close. He wanted to tell him everything. Just stop with it all and talk to someone, and this soldier was a respectable sort, unlike most. That made him the most dangerous in the group. His cautious eyes showed his experience.
"Let's move on," he grunted. "If a boy can make it this far in a forest, there's nothing that can harm us here."

"The sooner, the better, eh?" Melinkale asked absently, pausing before the boy to graciously motion that he would follow him, "Not always true, not always false, but in all honesty, the destination is only the end. It is the journey that means the most."

He might not have even been heard. he wasn't really speaking to he heard, which was something he did quite often, much to the irritation of others. He offered a kind smile to the boy, then to the rest of them and righted his walking stick, ready to follow Eresth's lead.

Tethis, on the other hand, still felt uneasy. This all seemed well and good, but for the group to just appear in the right place at the right time to meet with some deity's Chosen One was far more than good luck, in his opinion. However, he figured that he couldn't change it now, so had no option but to follow on.
As he walked, he considered the others; the barbaric-looking one with the horns wasn't unlike him - in the heat of battle, blood-lust took any man, but this one seemed more feral than that, animalistic even. The older mage, the one with the new stick to walk with, seemed a nice enough sort, if a little prone to droning. He smiled to himself at the thought; Anthony's favourite pastime was boring him with lectures on metaphysical poetry, the nature of the universe, anything that would send him to sleep really. The old mage reminded him a lot of Anthony. The other mage, though, the one who could summon the fire-bird; he was a quandary. There was obviously a lot of pain there, something Tethis didn't really relate to. He felt cautious around the man, for his explosive temper appeared to match his prodigious talent. Tethis decided that the tall one was definitely one to keep an eye on.

Joseph's face flushed at Eresth's harsh words about needing adventure, but he tried to hide it by starting to walk as well and looking around, pretending to be alert. He caught Melinkale's smile, and felt a little bit more at ease. "I don't believe there is anything to be afear of here," he said trying to sound assuring. "Wild beasts of course, but my father always taught that if you don't bother them, they don't bother you."

Having said all he needed to say earlier, Rei had simply grumbled and eyed the others as they came to a decision on what to do. Not particularly bright, being purely a fighter and hunter for as long as he could remember, the Ignean never was one to come up with a specific enough plan and so left that part for the others to decide. Thus, he merely stood silently by until a course of action was then made and the others began to move. "'Bout time weh' gettin' somewhere. A whole lotta' progress weh' did standin' like trees" he said aloud as he took up the rear, partly because of his rebel mentality and partly due to his keen senses allowing him to find out if anyone or anything tried to sneak up on them.
While he followed behind the others, he eyed each of them once again, not really knowing what to make of the group. Rei did not like to judge others positively until they proved themselves in some way, whether it be in battle, leadership, or otherwise. In that end, he knew that he wouldn't be of much use himself unless it came to tracking, hunting, fighting, or intimidation, and so kept his normally fiery personality subdued. He'd prove his own worth when the time would come about anyhow.

"Fascinating topiary," Melinkale commented as they fell into step, "reminds me a bit of the Tethyr Wood back home."

He looked from side to side, admiring the larger trees, noting their size, gauging the age of forest by them. He patted Joseph on the back as a friendly gesture, taking the time to smile at him and anyone else who might have paid attention to him as he continued to prattle on. He loved to travel, and rarely had the good fortune of having company with him when he did so.

"Of course," he continued, "the Tethyr Wood is a fair bit older than this one seems to be, and deep beyond its glades and meadows lies the Sacred Oak Grove, a hallowed santuary for Silvanus, the God of the natural order. The Sylvan elves, or Wood elves, guard it very closely. It is truly a sight to see."

"That does sound beautiful," said Tethis over his shoulder, "and from what you say, the forest of... Tether, was it? ... sounds a lot like the forests of Yyrgrad back home. There's no sacred grove there, but the city of Yyrgrad within that territory is as close to heaven as one man may hope to see in his lifetime." Memories of a short sojourn in Yyrgrad came floating back to him lazily, creating a lump in his throat. No, now is not the time, he thought to himself, plenty of time for brooding later. However, a dark cast had come over his features against his will, a visible heaviness to his steps that he could not control. To try and lleviate this, Tethis asked of Melinkale, "I have noticed several similarities in different places I have visited lately, both in the people and in the locations themselves. Is it possible, friend mage, that there are links? I feel I am not of this world, yet these trees can all be found in Bilymas... It is strange."

Melinkale smiled and nodded as Tethis spoke.

"Fundamentally," he replied, "civilization is the same the world over. It begins, it growsn, it advances, it evolves. It may devolve from time to time, but it does continue to lurch forward, sometimes slowly, sometimes at alarming rates. One thing I have noticed is that usually, nature and humanity are existing together in different stages of growth. Both seem to continue on, assisting each other from time to time, symbiotically.

"And not only that," he continued, "but in my travels, I have always been fascinated with the religions and cultures of allt he places I have seen. I have a dear friend who is a priestess of her diety, Chauntea, who is the Earthmother. Along my journey, I have heard people refer to this singular being as many different names: Beory, Obad-Hai, Frey, but all essentially representing the same being. 

"There is a bit of humor in how we all strive to be so different, and yet, we are all the same at the core," he ended with a wink.

Tethis smiled wryly at the old mage, "That is definitely something I have noticed, old one. In Bilymas we have no 'Earthmother', but I have met people from other lands far from my home who hold belief in such a being. For myself, I am content with the three Gods of the Beginning; Setha, Venith and Malkior." He looked slightly troubled as he mentioned the last name, making an odd sign above his brow that seemed to be a warding against evil spirits, "I did think, at first, that this entire adventure was merely a prank on behalf of Malkior, for he is renowned throughout our history for his spite and I recently did him a dis-service..."

Melinkale took note of his seemingly superstitious gesture and nodded as he surveyed their journey. Already, he quite liked this chap; he seemed quite easy to speak to and willing to share things he knew. Melinkale was quite sure there was much they could all learn from each other, but felt this especially where Tethis was concerned.

"A dis-service to a God is not an easy thing to live down," he said thoughtfully.

"You don't say," Eresth muttered. "Well, while we're wandering about, perhaps tell us more of this great spirit, or whatever we are working for." For a moment he wondered if what he said was offensive. He glanced at the boy, then back to his path. If anyone had a problem with it, they had their own tongues. He saw gods as little different from people, just with a lot more power and a crueler sense of humour. What annoyed him were the super-devout, who were either weak, scared little sycophants who would bow down to a bookcase if it could fall down on them or delusional maniacs who thought that they were just one step below the object of their devotion. Ironically, he had turned to both for refuge on many cases. As much as he hated them, they hated the college and the idea of magical studies, what they saw as "playing God". They weren't that wrong: the professors in the college really thought that they were gods. And maybe Eresth thought no less of himself.

"I don't think I can explain it very well," Joseph said. "We believe he organised the world from chaos, he gives life to everything and keeps life in balance: so there is birth and death, summer and winter, good and evil. He is the source of everything, and he is everywhere." He paused to think. "My father always thinks it's all too vague, and that he doesn't really care, and as long as the Great Spirit does his job, my father will happily go on and do his..." He grinned, and added: "I suppose the Great Spirit isn't doing his job very well right now, is he?" He was about to continue, when his attention was drawn to something ahead. Something large was moving in the distance, the sound of heavy footsteps and breaking underbrush was getting closer, and soon between the trees they could see a gigantic human figure, about 12 feet tall. It was mostly naked, with an apron covering his front, and he was holding a huge hammer. He looked angry and disoriented, like a wounded beast.

Tethis instantly readied both of his swords, staring at the beast. It was more than twice his own height, and the way it moved was odd, but Ttehis knew better than to let down his guard. From the side of his mouth, he whispered, "Joseph, is this something dangerous, or a local fixture?" He knew it sounded silly, but if this turned out to be the loveable village idiot, Tethis didn't want to be the one skewering him.

Eresth froze when he heard the footsteps, and readied two fireballs. He held them up threateningly, watching the hulk's confused movement. He stepped back until he was farther from the figure than Tethis and Rei'zel.

Joseph stared at the creature in horror. "What-" he tried to say something, but the sound died in his throat. He simply shook his head to Tethis's question. The giant noticed them, it fixed its eyes on the group, and walked towards them, its hammer raised slightly, ready to strike.

Eresth sighed and smirked. It would be a pleasure to get rid of this misfit. He threw the first fireball, aiming for the giant's eyes. The second at his chest. He stepped back again, glancing quickly around for dead or dry wood he might wish to use.

As Eresth launched his second fireball over Tethis's shoulder, the mercenary began to advance. The broadsword was held in front, the rapier above his left shoulder in the Old School stance of Bilymasian fencing. Intending the heavier blade for defensive work, he knew that he could quite easily transfer his weight into the blade and use it as a formidable slashing weapon. The question became, then, would he be able to deflect a blow from such a giant, even with his un-natural strength, or would he even need to, having felt the heat radiating from the two globes of flame racing before him at the horror in the undergrowth. Hoping for the best, yet preparing for the worst, Tethis readied himself to charge forward if necessary, intoning a blessing to the God of Balance that his own mission be greater than that of the giant, and so ensure him victory.

Melinkale> moved instinctively between the boy and the giant -- he had thought for a moment that it might have been one of the Wood Giants, but quickly saw that its size was much too massive to be that of the nimble, agile creatures he knew from his homeland. He watched the reactions of the others, but focused on the giant, itself. From the boy's reaction, this creature was quite out of the ordinary, or at least out of place. He hoped communication wouldn't be out of the question, and also hoped that the common tongue of giants from his own lands would suffice, if he was given the opportunity. He stroked his chin for a moment, then debated on whether it would be wiser to hypnotize the beast, or simply charm it...

The giant dodged his head out of the way of the first fireball, but the second one hit him square in the chest. His apron absorbed most of the impact, being a blacksmith's apron and intended as protection from burns, but it still hurt the giant. He took two-three long strides and swung his hammer at the group in rage.

As the giant raised his hammer, Joseph was overcome with a strange feeling, as if someone was talking straight into his head. "We need his hammer," he said with a distanced voice, eyes glazed over. "He musn't fall holding his hammer."

"What are you on about?" Eresth snapped. He turned to Melinkale. "Get the child out of the way!" Carefully aiming over Tethis, he tossed another fireball, strafed, and threw another, trying to work his way around the giant.

Melinkale glanced back to Joseph, eyes narrowed for a moment in thought. He ignored Eresth's outburst, knowing full well that he, himself, was between the boy and whatever harm was up on them at the moment. He was well-protected.  There was much more to this boy than perhaps he (Joseph)even realized. Melinkale had seen the Gods work through mortals, and likened this scenario to just that: if Joseph said the beast must not fall with his hammer, then he would not fall with his hammer.

He stretched out his left hand, very quietly chanting, and even though his voice was whispered, it could be heard quite clearly by his intended target, though those around him might have strained to hear his words. His voice was soothing, relaxing, and seemed to crescendo and decrescendo on the winds, beckoning the giant's attention. Whispy swirls of pale mist curled and danced their way from his fingertips to the giant, encompassing his senses in a calm feeling of trust. Whatever attack may have landed at that point from other hands seemed very easy to ignore, forget. ((This is how the spell is supposed to work, and how he would think it was working -- just felt the need to interject that I am not, in any way, trying to dictate what this NPC is doing.)) Still, Melinkale's voice called to him, even though he may not have understood the words, their meaning was very, very clear:

"We are but travelers, seeking a way back home -- we meant you no harm. Lay down your hammer at my feet, friend, and we will learn to help each other."

Tethis, meanwhile, had moved forward and ducked under the giant's swinging hammer. Knowing that such a weapon was effectively useless, at least to his own troops, at such short range, he took advantage of the creature's long reach to push himself well past the 'danger zone' of the giant's swings. The rapier lashed out, more of a warning than anything particularly dangerous, at the giant's leg, aiming below the apron which had absorbed the impact. Hopefully, this would either make the giant jump away and gain them time, or score along the calf muscle, hindering it's movement.

The giant roared in pain as the fireballs and Tethis's strike hit him. He stumbled back a few steps, and tried to regain his momentum, bringing his hammer around again. Then the soothing voice of Melinkale's spell came through to him and as if in slow motion it took its effect, and his grip on the hammer's handle loosened mid-swing, causing the weapon to fly off towards the group. The giant shook his head a few times and after immense struggle managed to come round again as the pain brought him back to reality. He leapt at the group again, now unarmed but still a formidable enemy. 

Melinkale tugged Joseph out of the way of the flying hammer, keeping him protected behind the now-hypnotic blue of his velvet robes. Keeping one hand protectively on the boy, he did notice that his spell had managed to affect the giant, if only slightly. He sighed, they needed information, and this creature could well give them that -- he was sure he could extract some sort of knowledge from him, if only given the opportunity.

"Incapacitate him if you must," he called out, "no knowledge will be gained from his death!"

And he attempted once more to hypnotize the giant.

Cursing in his own language, Tethis dodged the hammer by mere inches as it almost sauntered past his nose; heeding the elf's words, Tethis dropped both of his weapons at once, the rapier falling with a thud against the floor whilst his broadsword fell straight into the ground, wobbling for a few seconds as the point of the blade sank into the earth. With grim determination, the mercenary leapt forward to meet the giant in mid-stride, his open palms mirroring the Black-Belt fighters of his own homeland as it darted towards the giant's midriff with the power of a raging bullock. Tethis's expression was almost zen-like for the entire time, as a strategy evolved in his mind, If this thing is as strong as a man blessed by a goddess, I'll have to try another tack, but just maybe the fire-mage can weaken it enough to give me an opening to bring it down in one hit...

Eresth threw himself aside to avoid the hammer, crashing into a tree. He rubbed his throbbing shoulder. He conjured a fireball glowing with his ferocity. Quenched it.
"Incapacitate?" He called to Melinkale. The idiot! Fire doesn't incapacitate! Fire kills! Fire destroys! At best, fire cooks! What was he supposed to do? His glance was caught by Tethis's swift movement. Was he suicidal? No, he's a fighter, Eresth reminded himself. Too much of what he was about to repeat was the reason they were so half-witted. Eresth rubbed his hurt arm and skirted behind the gargantuan. He caught a glance from Tethis. All right, he could provide support for him. Eresth grinned at the shrewdness of his plan. Silently, he conjured up a flame, hot and large. He moved as close as he dared to the wrestling gargantuan. Aimed cautiously. Sent the fireball to strike the small of the giant's back. Even if his resistance kept up, it should sting him enough for Tethis to knock him out.

The warhammer hit Rei in the side of his head at an angle and kept going a bit further until it landed with a thud. The planetarii slumped on to his knees and then fell forwards between the underbrush. It seemed that his fall raised a cloud of dark mist, but it was there only for a split second before it was gone - and so was he. Joseph had followed the hammer's flight with his eyes, and saw Rei disappear. He saw the hammer land, then turned his attention back to the giant.

The giant crashed against Tethis as if in a grotesque embrace of friends. The mercenary's strength stopped the giant's advance almost completely: the giant leant forwards and over Tethis almost exactly when Eresth's fireball hit him in the back. The giant ended up doing an awkward somersault over Tethis, the momentum of his leap continued to his new direction of going down. The giant landed on his head from its mighty height with a gut-wrenching crack, and crumpled on top of himself - and halfly on top of Tethis. As the giant sprawled to the floor, he was briefly shrouded within a dark mist, which covered him and then he too was gone.

Spluttering as the mist enveloped him for a moment, the mercenary took stock as he lay on his back, effectively flattened beneath the giant's weight. Checking himself over for breaks, bumps and bruises, he remained prone for a few moments, trying to remember how to stand up. "Well, that could have gone worse... And a hell of a lot better," he mused, talking generlly to the air but somehow indicating that Eresth was his main addressee, "Thanks for the help, think I bit off more than I could chew just there." He then promptly lost all sense of here and now, feeling a wave of pain crash over him as the adrenaline in his system leeched away. Mumbling incoherently, he clutched his head, that being the fulcrum for the giant's momentous fall.

Melinkale frowned a bit as he became aware that the giant had completely disappeared. It was possible that he'd have had some information they could extracted for the betterment of them all, but that seemed a moot point. He glanced around to the group, most a little shaken, a few with bumps or bruises. He saw that the boy was alright, which was his main concern, then reached into one of the many pockets on his robe and pulled out a small pouch.

"I have some elixirs that I carry about," he offered graciously, "designed to help ease pain or cure injuries. I am afraid it is a far cry from the delicate touch of a priest or shaman, but they are available to any of you who need them."

He glanced briefly to the fallen hammer, then back to his unlikely comrades.

Eresth brushed off his robes and studied his arm. His tunic was torn just below the shoulder, revealing the silver of his scale-mail. His arm throbbed with pain, but nothing was broken. Maybe there was a bruise. He'd be all right. He shook his arm, then flexed it.
"I'm all right," he said. "Maybe give some to Tethis," he turned to the mercenary. "You really did bite off more than you can chew. I never understand you fighter-types."
He got up and walked around the spot where the giant had disappeared. He looked about. The red-headed monster was gone, too. He sat down next to the boy.
"Well, this is quite an interesting turn out of events. Can you say anything about this? Or shall we proceed to the temple?"

Melinkale offered Tethis an elixir. He looked around again, finally taking note of the fact that the one chap...what was his name...was no where to be seen.

"Now, where did that lad go?" he asked, as much to himself as to anyone around him, "that fiery chap -- the scrapper. Kept referring to me as a woman for some odd reason..."

He ended that statement with a shrug of his fragile shoulders, adding a bit of unintentional humor to the situation.

Joseph wandered over to the hammer the giant had dropped, and picked it up. It was very heavy and he struggled a bit to lift it, but being a farm-boy he was used to carrying heavy tools. He brought the weapon back to the group for all of them to see. It was rather plain: a smooth wooden handle with a sturdy well-used iron hammerhead. There was an inscription near the end of the handle. Joseph laid the hammer on the forest floor amidst the group, and with a slight apologetic shrug said "I just got this overwhelming feeling that we need this hammer. But I'm not quite sure why."

"No apologies are needed, youngling," Melinkale smiled, "we should always follow our intuition."

He patted the boy on the back reassuringly, then glanced down at the hammer that had caused them so much excitement. He noted the state of the thing: it was well-worn, and had seen much use. It looked as if it would be fairly heavy, and he thought to himself that he probably would have had a difficult time lifting it. Hopefully, he'd not even have to, but if he did, there would definitely be jokes at his expense. He chuckled lightly to himself at the thought, then his eyes fell across the inscription on hammer's handle. He blinked a few times, quite unsure of what he saw there, then knelt down for a closer look.

Long, slender fingers traced familiar lines and contours of words that were etched deep within its handle. He spoke quietly at first, reading it aloud to himself for sheer understanding. This was truly an interesting turn of events...

"Ilumë" he said, then looked up at the others, "the inscription reads ilumë, which is to say 'always' in the tongue of my fathers."

Eresth held out his hands to receive the hammer from Melinkale. The weight tugged at his arms. "It forces me into a tree, it strikes an ugly fellow out of existence, and says... 'erren'. Where do you read 'always', friend?" he looked at Melinkale. "'E', 'rr', 'en'," he trilled the rr sound. "Steady. or 'erren-aa' if there's the rounding vowel. Steadily. 'Erren-aa erred errendrel areen.' A proverb that says one should be patient." He repeated the tongue-twister to himself three times, marvelling that he had not lost the skill. He hadn't spoken Faria - the Pareel language - since his early years in college. "Well, I suppose there's not much difference, always, steady. I don't know what else to make of it."

Melinkale looked positively gleeful as Eresth spoke in his own language, taking note of the words, inflection and pronunciation that he used, tucking it away in his memory for later. Ih-loo-meh, he spoke again to himself, marveling for a moment at the possibility that one runic inscription could speak its heart to those of different walks of life, different faiths. It was like finding a glistening star in the clouds on the sea at night to guide the way. He glanced inquisitively to Joseph, and then to Tethis.

"And what of you, málos," he asked, motioning toward the inscription, "what do you make of the words upon its face?"

Having accepted the elixir, Tethis was reading it over and over to himself. Quite ignoring the others, he read the word belari in High Bilymasian. The script itself was odd, but a pang of homesickness gripped him. Returning reluctantly to the matter at hand, he muttered, mostly to himself, "Constant, without pause... Why would such a beast carry this? Was he Bilymasian?" He then realised that the others had been talking about the word, apparently understanding it in their own tongue. "To me it says belari, gentlemen. What of you, Joseph?"

Joseph read the inscription in the hammer. "It says mahtuk," he said, struggling a little as his literacy nearly failed him. He double-checked the text, and said "yes, mahtuk. It means 'still' in the language of my people, but it also means 'mountain.'" He looked around puzzled. Something had sounded familiar in what the others had said. "Belari... ilume... erren..." he repeated - mispronouncing the words that had been mentioned, listening to the words. After a moment of rolling the words around in his mind and thinking, he said "Mahtuk arren aa belarilumay" and looked up smiling at the others. "The green mountain past the clouds," he translated, and pointed to a distant peak visible beyond the forest. "Hill Meralle is the only peak here that touches the clouds, and guess what we mine there? Jade!" He smiled triumphantly for a moment, then he realised that it probably didn't make sense to anyone else, so his smile died and he looked at the expressions of his companions, trying to interpret their reactions.

Melinkale was positively delighted.

"What a most splendid little riddle!" he exclaimed, "Fascinating!"

His smile was completely genuine, and he didn't quite understand why the boy had stopped smiling. He had figured out what appeared to be a cleverly hidden riddle, nestled away within the everyday. Melinkale was absolutely amazed at this new revelation and quickly decided he would have to be more attentive. There could well be mysteries tucked inside of everything he took for granted here: the leaves on teh trees, the grass beneath his feet -- even the walking stick he had fashioned for himself. It certainly made the prospect of his strange journey here even more entertaining.

"And jade, you say? I do love jade. It's quite easy to enchant, really -- holds onto magical enhancement a bit easier than some precious stones," he rambled on and on to himself a bit, a mixture of theorizing and idle prattle concerning gemstones.

Tethis nodded along, not really understanding much beyond the answer to the riddle. As Melinkale began to talk more to himself, Tethis interjected quietly to the boy, "So, this mountain where you mine jade... Is it still in production? Where I'm from jade has been out of production for over a century. A handful of raw, unprocessed jade could keep my mercenary company in business for several years..." Then the reality of the situation hit him, and he began to think more like the battlefield tactician than the mercenary leader. It could be that the mine was still in business, but that meant if it was then they were, apparently, stumbling into a hostile situation with jealous miners. If not, then what lurked in those mineshafts could be even worse.

Joseph was relieved when he saw Melinkale get so excited about the idea of the mountain. He felt strongly that they should head to the mountain, even though he wasn't really sure why. Joseph nodded to Tethis when he asked about the mine, but didn't quite catch his drift. "Some of the mined jade is traded raw, some is bought by the jewelers and artisans in the bigger towns, as supplies for their work. So I suppose it does keep companies in business, in a way," he said, missing the point of the mercenary's words. 

Melinkale had missed the exchange between Joseph and Tethis, but he had stopped babbling to himself. Instead, he chose to babble aloud, and coherently, where the rest of them could hear.

"I have never seen jade pulled raw from the rock," he said, "though I am familiar with it. The dwarves of my homeland believe that it has special properties, and that it is not only monetarily valuable, but spiritually as well. Possession of jade, even in the smallest amount is said to bring vitality and creativity to the bearer. It is highly sought after by artisans for that reason, and even the miners who pluck the jade from the earth sometimes carry a tiny piece of the raw gem in their pockets for luck."

His eyes fell across the hammer, and he realized they had been officially sidetracked, but at least they had a clear direction now, so it was not all for naught. He knew they should continue to move on, and that they should probably take the hammer with them. He also knew, he'd not be able to carry that thing for more than a yard or so. He was strong of mind, but muscle was quite a different matter, indeed.

"I believe we should continue on, if we are all up to the journey," he began again, "and it would probably be wise to take the this namba with us...and it does not embarrass me at all to admit to you gentleman that I am nto capable of carrying it for any distance at all."

Nodding at Joseph, then in turn at Melinkale in recognition of their words, Tethis looked at the hammer. From the look of it, he'd carried heavier, the broadsword he carried being a perfect example, but who knew what, if any, enchantments it carried? He already knew that it could represent the same word in multiple languages, who was to say it wasn't enchanted against anyone else wielding it. It was uncommon, surely, but not unheard of in Bilymas. "Melinkale, Eresth, would one of you possibly be able to scan the hammer before I try to lift it? I'd rather not be shocked or crumbled to dust for picking it up, if it's all the same to the rest of the group."

Eresth paced about while the others spoke of the jade mountain. Of all the stones, Eresth knew the least about jade. It had no effect on fire magics, and it wasn't one of the great ten. Maybe Melinkale was right, and it brought vitality and creativity. Perhaps it helped slightly against poison.
Well, it was a precious stone, and it would fetch a price on the market. If he could find a decent library, he could look it up.
"Perhaps we should go to the mine, then," Eresth said. He thought of his powerful assault spell, Implosion. Let anything happen there, and he could unleash apocalypse if it was necessary. He considered the hammer.
"Perhaps the philosopher Melinkale would be better at the task," he rubbed his hand about the handle gently, trying to pick up any enchantments. "I find nothing wrong with it."

Melinkale bowed respectfully, indicating his acceptance of said task. He eyed the hammer carefully, running his fingers over its surface, merely a hair's width above it. A pale blue glow seemed to surround his hands momentarily and his face looked to be a mixture of stern concentration, and genuine appreciation. It only took a moment for him to look back up at his comrades and shrug softly.

"I do not sense any harmful magics within," he said, quite thoughtfully, "actually, I sense very little magic within it, indeed, which is odd, considering its revelation to all of us with but one word upon its face."

He lifted the hammer with a bit of difficulty and handed it to Tethis.

"I believe it will be safe to carry, malo," he nodded.

Tethis accepted the hammer, swinging it experimentally, then threading it as well as possible through his belt by the handle. It didn't strike him from the face of the earth, so that was a plus. However, as he took the hammer from the mage, his brow creased in confusion, "Malo? I don't believe I know that word." As he said it, his eyes narrowed; not aggressively, merely in question, as his eyebrow, rather ponderously, lifted.

"Ah, my apologies," Melinkale said with a expressive wave of his hand, "the word malo means...friend, of sorts. A comrade, if you will. The term does not refer to a loved one, or close friend, but more of a compatriot. I've always thought the word was pleasant to the ear. I admit it one of my odder quirks, I suppose...it has been pointed out to me in the past that I do that more than I should: supplying words from my own native tongue when I prefer them to the common tongue. I try not to do that, but...it appears I have slipped again."

He ended his statement with a very impish grin.

Tethis thought on this for a moment, then shook his head, grinning wryly, "I'm not too bothered by it, I just wondered what it meant. Lord knows, I sometimes supply words from my own tongue... Though, come to mention it, do you remember learning the language we're conversing in now...?" The man's eyebrows creased, a frown taking up residence on his features. He knew he was talking the same language as Melinkale, or at least was understanding what he said, but it had only just occured to him that Melinkale didn't know his tongue, nor did he know Melinkale's.

"Indeed, no," Melinkale chuckled, "but such a thing is quite common for me, you see. I am sure it has not gone unnoticed that I am...as my elders would say, somewhat istima, or learned. I admit I have had a fascination with knowledge and learning for as long as I can remember, which is quite a while. I have learned the tongues of man and beast, some long-forgotten by mortal races, some never known by them. I speak over eighteen languages fluently, and dabble in countless more. I suppose, I could be considered a linguist, in a way," he paused for a moment to pull his pipe from his pocket again, "I am always meeting new people, and this is not the first time they have spoken a language I had forgotten I knew."

He ended with an amused little laugh as he flicked his finger across his pipe again, a small blue flame sparking for a mere second before the bowl began to smoke again.

Tethis nodded along, then interjected, "Maybe so, but how do you account for our friends Eresth and Joseph? We both understand them perfectly, yet I doubt they speak the same tongue as either of us. I believe this to be another plane of existence from my own, friend Melinkale, and so the likelihood of coming across several other people who may converse in my own tongue, yet know nothing of my homeland, strikes me as rather remote..."

"Quite true, quite true," Melinkale mused as he puffed away on his pipe, "and I am sure there is a very simple, possibly overlooked reasoning behind this whole thing. In my life, I have found that the very simplest of answers is generally the correct answer. Now, that being said," he paused thoughtfully, "I have traveled many other planes of existence, some from the very strange to near mirror images of my own. Some people tend to think of planar travel as outlandish, no pun intended, or complete fabrication. However, I have seen them for myself, and there really isn't much that is simple about them. I visited a place once where all inhabitants were instantly turned into animals. No queni, or people, were allowed to live in that world, as it was distinctly primal in nature. Perhaps...this place is somewhat similar, in that all inhabitants have a vocal understanding of each other, regardless of background? Stranger things have been known to happen."

"I speak the common tongue," Eresth shrugged. "At least in my world, all peoples speak it to some extent or another. It's no primal language, it's an imposed one. If you intend to do anything of value in our world, it must be known. If you study, you study in the common tongue alone. If that's not the answer to our question, then I can think of one test for Melinkale's theory." He paced out of the group, and stood before it. "Where do I stand in this group? Or, if it is the common tongue that unites us, then let me ask in my childhood language, mesa thire eskarro tye?" It was the same question, where he stood in the group, but the ambiguity was clearer, for thire meant status as much as it meant geographical position.


((OCC from the mod: I've been labouring under the assumption that you ate the universal translators the fat man gave you in the first round. Remember? Yeah. If you need to, you can work that memory into your posts. Otherwise we are moving on nao))


Joseph had meandered a few paces along the path towards the green mountain, and was surprised as he turned around to see that the others weren't moving. "Hello?" He called back to them. "Is anything the matter? I believe we should be moving along for day time is precious for travel, and I don't think we should be in the forest at night fall." His voice betrayed his age: clearly he had been told warning ghost stories about the forest at dark.

"Oh, yes, yes," Melinkale said, moving to follow the boy, "I do suppose we could converse while walking, no?"

He tossed a good-natured smile toward Eresth and Tethis and quickly fell into step beside Joseph, toward whom he was surprised to realize he had an almost paternal instinct.  He'd have patted his shoulder then, but one hand was filled with walking stick and the other with pipe.

"Oh, I quite prefer the woods at night," he mused, "some distance from my home in the forest, there is a peaceful fresh-water lake. I often sneak out there under cover of night for a nice swim."

Eresth shrugged and followed the others. He rubbed his head. Too much change, in too short a time. He remembered something about a fight, and something about a strange inn, and that was it. Let it be that they could understand each other. Thank the dragons for it and leave it.
"Night swims are schoolboys' dares," Eresth muttered. He smirked. He had done many himself, right under the noses of the college watchmen. "We have work to do. Where are we going? To town? To the temple? To the mines?"

Joseph grinned and nodded faux-knowingly as Eresth spoke of night swims, and replied: "I reckon heading to the mountains is most appropriate. After all, mountains are probably the oldest thing in these parts. They say that long long ago, at the dawn of time when this place was very young, there was a big flood that changed the entire landscape except the mountains." He continued: "They say that we descended from the mountains, and that... that the mountains are kind of like the staircase to the place where the Great Spirit lives." He looked down embarrassed. "Well, I used to think that last bit as a child. It's a bit silly though, isn't it? I mean, you can't reach the sky no matter how high you climb... can you?" 

"Quite the contrary," Melinkale shook his head, "you can, indeed, reach the sky, but the sky does not stop at the inky black or vibrant blue that we see from the ground. There are infinite worlds out there, lad, endless possibilities. Civilzations beginning, ending, lost and newly forming. And all of them stand or have stood on their own ground, looked up at their skies and wondered if they could touch them as well. Few realize that, to touch the sky is to open another door...expand the horizon you already thought was endless enough."

Melinkale's words made Joseph stop abruptly, and he stared at the elf with his mouth slightly open.

Melinkale noted the boy's pause, and tilted his head to the side with a slight chuckle.

"A bit much to take in, especially all at once?" he asked, "I assure you, it is the truth. There is more out there to know and experience than even we could all imagine together, if we combined all our wildest dreams."

tethis ruminated on this for a few moments, but the force of the giant's fall still made his head ache, so he abandoned the discussion of other worlds above the sky rather quickly. Instead, he focused on Joseph's comment about the 'Great Spirit', in relation to the mountains. To no one in particular, he began to talk, more to hear himself speak of home than anything, "We have a legend like that," he said quietly, "Except our's is rather more... Dramatic. It's said that when Setha made to world, he had not the energy to create life. Thus he took a mountain and rent his own wrist, and where his blood fell, the first race was born. They were the Elvish, but nothing like the elves there today. They were cruel, wild things uncaring of law and order, who tampered with nature to create both dwarf and human, as slaves and soldiers in their constant wars with one another... The city Setha built for them still resides at the Celestial Knife, a ruined monolith, testament to their vindictive ways..." As he finished, the mercenary's eyes welled up, but he blinked back the tears. Now was neither the time nor the place to remember such things.

"Fascnating," Melinkale mused, ushering them to continue on, "in my home world, the elves have always been perceived as mystical, and some of the most cultured beings in all of our history. The more feral of my kin, the Sylvan, have always been the guardians of the natural world, seen by some as a bit standoffish and strange, but completely dedicated to their cause of maintaning the lands as Corellon gave them to us. The Gold elves, known to us now as the High Elves, have always been great magisters and craftsman. But even the strongest of their mages have always paled in comparison to the Grand Mages of the Moon Elves, my people. The greatest of us was the Srinshee, who departed from our world long ago, leaving the great city of Cormanthor to devour itself as its people fought for power..."

He paused for a moment, then his overly eccentric mind turned from the topic as quickly as the wind would change direction on a balmy day. 

"You know," he said quite suddenly, "we should really be mapping this out..."

He paused a moment, then reached again into one of many near-invisible pockets on his soft robes and pulled out a bit of blank parchment and a small quill. Realizing he would need at least one hand for the endeavor, he begrudgingly blew across his pipe, tiny flecks of ice and cold in his breath as he did so, cooling the tiny flame that had been within the bowl. He then slipped the pipe into yet another pocket, and balanced his walking stick on his foot, nestled in the crook of his arm and continued on with the group, scribbling furiously as he did.

Eresth watched Tethis. Perhaps the two had something in common. People are animals, he wanted to say. My own race is supposed to be civilised. But if you know what truly happens among the families...
He opened his mouth and shut it. He could not say this to anyone! What if this soldier was a mercenary, hired by the College to lure him out? As long as he was silent, he was safe. He could not utter a word to anyone.
No person could be trusted.

They walked like this for a while, sometimes conversing, sometimes falling into silences, but constantly advancing. The terrain was slowly rising, until they reached the edge of the forest. The sun was beginning its slow slump to touch the land; it was roughtly the end of the afternoon when they cleared the woods. Joseph peered ahead at the sloping grass that turned rocky ahead, and, locating himself in the area, he pointed slightly to the left. "The entrance of the mines is towards there," he said simply, and kept walking, assuming that they would just continue onward.

Melinkale nodded, citing this on the crude map he was sketching and continuing to follow on. He was curious as to where the journey lead, and noted the terrain changes. He took in each detail he could, from the sounds and sights to the taste of the air. Musing to himself then, he spoke aloud for the rest of them to hear, but as usual, it was not of ground-breaking importance.

"To the southeast of where I live in Tethyr, there is a huge dwarven settlement cut into the very rock of the mountains there," he began, "fascinating little people, they are, with an incredible knack for masonry. I commissioned those gentlemen to fashion some grand marble stepping stones once, and they turned out to be the finest in Amn."

He stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment, then directed his question to Joseph.

"And what manner of creature can we be prepared to encounter in these mines," he asked curiously.

Joseph listened to Melinkale in ashtonishment - the elf was most certainly the most fascinating story-teller he had ever encountered. He replied: "err, miners, probably. And ponies, I think they have ponies." He shrugged. He started to think that the home worlds of his companions were far more exciting and interesting than his, and this made him resent his home slightly.

Ducking under the final boughs as they left the forest, Eresth felt fear rise in his stomach as they approached the mine.
"Tell me, how big are the passages?" he asked, rubbing his neck, sore from avoiding low branches. "Ah, yes, and are there explosive gases? I mean, are torches a problem?" He thought of waiting outside. But that wouldn't do. He wouldn't let the others get rich without him. And certainly he was too nosy.

Tethis, instead of questioning the lad, felt that the others were covering every point he'd wish to discuss and so left them to it. If necessary, he could always ask Joseph a question they'd missed: Instead, Tethis began searching himself for any amount of gold coin with which to buy the jade, if they came across someone willing to sell. He was almost feverish with anticipation! Though there was also, at the back of his mind, a small niggling doubt about this mine; how could it be so straight-forward if the way they came to be here was by reading an enchanted hammer left by a defeated giant that disappeared in a puff of smoke?

"Well, if torches are a problem," Melinkale interjected, "we'll have that covered. I have my own way of lighting passageways that does not require flint or tinder. And if there are active miners there, I am sure they have found their own ways of lighting the tunnels. Or at least, one would hope so. Mining in the dark seems less accurate to me..."

He jotted a few things down on his map, which, on closer inspection was as much footnote as map. Seemed he constantly jotted down little things they talked about in the margins, for whatever purpose.

"Are the workers of the mine human?" he wondered aloud.

Joseph felt slightly overwhelmed by all the questions, and he tried to keep up with his companions inquiries: shaking his head to Eresth, nodding to Melinkale and at times shrugging helplessly while glancing sideways to find either the right answers or an exit. He suddenly realised what it must feel like for the Sunday School teacher when he and his friends try to outwit their teacher with a bombardment of questions, and Joseph made a small mental note to never do that again, knowing now how uncomfortable it was to be the target of such an inquisition. He was hoping that his teacher were with him - he always seemed to have the right answers... And whenever the boys asked him how the teacher could know something, he always said that the Great Spirit had revealed it to him. Joseph wished sulkily that the Great Spirit would reveal truths to him, too.

The group rose the hill and came to a river bank that had previously been hidden by the forms of the landscape. "Drats," Joseph exclaimed. "I'd forgotten about the river." The river wasn't hugely wide - a bit over 10 meters at where they stood - but it was deep and the banks were steep.

"Oh, delightful!" Melinkale exclaimed, sketching out a rough river on his map, "Can we all swim?"

He asked this question to the group as a whole, while silently uttering a few words to himself. It was an ancient spell, taught to him by the most unlikely of people, but he mastered it all the same. That being admitted to himself, the spell wasn't particularly powerful, from a certain perspective, it was merely done to satiate his own curiosity as it would grant him a limited form of clairvoyance for a moment or two, allowing him to further absorb the area, from the speed of the swirling water to the creatures that might live within its depths. He concentrated a moment, keeping one ear, so to speak, on his comrades, and the other to the wind. And in the middle of it all, he silently hoped someone couldn't swim. He had a million tricks up his sleeve to get them across.

Without realising it, Tethis answered Melinkale's question with a slight groan, "I can swim, but not wearing this gear... I'm going to have to throw the broadsword over to the other bank and hope nothing steals it while I cross; it'll take me a while, too, wearing this armour." Silently cursing whatever passed for this land's deity of fortune, Tethis began unbuckling the sword, muttering under his breath about "damned rivers" and suchlike.

"Oh, no, no, malo," Melinkale said with a pleased expression, "there's no need to lay down arms, I assure you. Magic seems to work here as is intended, so I have several methods for getting us safely across without getting anyone wet or rusty."

"That is," he added as an afterthought, scribbling out the last of the river's path on his messy map, "if you trust me to do so. I understand, of course, if you do not, as we have only recently met."

Tethis looked at the mage dubiously, thinking quickly, weighing up the pros and cons. Eventually he seemed to reach a decision, rebuckling his sword. He cast a doubtful eye at the river, evidently unsure of his chosen course of action. "I'm willing to try magic, but I would ask that you perform the bare minimum. It is my understanding that part of the reason I'm here is because of a spell gone awry when upon my home world. Not that I distrust your ability," he added quickly, "merely that my experience of magic is generally that the effects are less than expected... either that, or far more."

"I have an alternative," Eresth looked down at the river. "Pyromasters do not get wet." He considered the shape of the hill and the slope of the banks, and hunted for a good landing spot on the other side. He approached the bank and splashed some water onto his face. Taking, several strides back, he focused on the spot from where he would leap and the direction, and gathered his magical energy. Focused it into his feet. He kicked with his left foot.Blue flames of magical energy spun about his ankles. He dashed ahead, and before the bank became too steep, he lunged for a clear area beyond the river.

Melinkale chuckled as he shook his head and turned to face Tethis.

"The bare minumum is usually all that is required, my good man," he glanced across the riverbank, "while generally impressive, grandiose displays of power are more for personal satisfaction. I have a simple solution that will get you across, I assure you."

He bowed low to Tethis, thanking him again for the gift of his trust. With a few simple hand gestures and even fewer strange words, Tethis soon found that he felt much lighter than he did before. Slowly, he rose from the ground and hovered a few inches above it, comfortable and without loss of balance. It was simply as if there was a cushion between the rocks and his feet.

Melinkale still stared intently at him.

"As long as I concentrate on you," he began slowly, "you will be able to move around freely, but your feet will not touch the ground, or in our case, sink into the water. You may feel a bit wobbly at first, but I assure you, it is only the illusion that you are walking on air that does it. Your may move around as freely as you did before the spell was cast."

Staring over the water in horror, Tethis tried to master his emotions. Rallying surprisingly well considering he now considered himself well into the realm of birds, Tethis took several tentative steps. Releasing the air in his lungs in a single great burst, he laughed; exultation overtook his horror and he slowly began to walk across the water, smiling to Melinkale as he passed. It did indeed feel like he was walking on the ground, but a more cushioned, springy turf that didn't alter when he stepped over the water. Amazing... I wonder what else this man is capable of, if this is a parlour trick?

Joseph was standing a bit to the side of the group, staring in awe as Eresth leapt across, and Tethis began to walk across the river. He buttoned his shirt back up which he had began to unbutton with the prospect of having to swim. He was completely enthralled with the strange abilities of these people.

An ear-ripping roar from behind caused Joseph to spin around and he saw a huge mountain lion charging towards him. In alarm he threw himself backwards to avoid the lion ramming into him, and he fell into the river.

Tethis, only a meter or so over the water when he heard the lion's roar, span in midair and, in several strides, interposed himself between the floundering boy and the beast. As he moved, he drew the broadsword and held it in both hands, letting forth a bellow to match the lion's in ferocity, if not volume. Without breaking eye contact with the lion before him, Tethis called to Melinkale, "Drop me! Get the boy out of the water!" In an abstract moment, glaring at the lion, he wondered if Eresth would be able to help him from the other side of the river.

Melinkale never broke a sweat, as soon as Tethis was close enough to touch ground, he could feel the springy barrier between his footing and the ground just disappear, allowing his feet to firmly touch the ground again. No sooner than he had done so, Melinkale turned his attentions toward where Joseph had been tossed into the river. A bit louder than before, he chanted some strange-sounding words and made some odd gestures with his long fingers, as if he were simply beckoning the boy to return to him. Anyone watching would have seen Joseph slowly rise out of the water, as if suspended on the strings of a marionette. Melinkale brought him from the water and sat him down carefully beside him, smiled reassuringly, then brought his focus back toward Tethis and the fray.

Eresth looked on and growled. Now what? He could not go on without the others. The kid almost drowned. And there was little he could do from this bank. He prepared a fireball and tried to get a clear shot. See how the cat likes fire. Then a second thought came to him. Lions hunt in prides. He conjured a second fireball and looked around his side of the river.

Joseph came to the surface after his surprise-dive and treaded the water to stay afloat until he felt Melinkale's spell lift him from the water. He found it a very disconcerting experience to be floated, and he closed his eyes, hoping that it would be over soon.

The lion spied Tethis and pounded on him as a flurry of claws and teeth. Its speed and size left the mercenary no time to react and for a moment they were a rolling, struggling mass of fur and heavy armour. The muddy bank of the river gave under the weight of the pair and the man and the beast fell in the water with a gigantic splash. They sank under the water, and for seconds that felt like hours there was nothing to be seen but bubbles. After a moment the lion was seen floating downstream, motionless, and a dark mist floated above the river surface where Tethis had fallen under.

"By Corellon, did he..." Melinkale paused a moment. Everything had happened so quickly, even he did not have time to react. His gaze rested on the mist that hovered above the water's surface. He perked his long ears, listening for something, anything, but there was nothing to notice. As quickly as it came, the lion was gone, and so was Tethis. Melinkale felt a little uneasy, then remembered the boy. No doubt, he felt equally as confused.

"I am sorry, lad," he said sincerely, "I do not make it a habit of practicing magic on those I have not yet asked permission. I was worried for your safety; I do hope I can gain your forgiveness."

He then raised his voice, calling across the bank to Eresth:

"We should be more wary of our surroundings," he began, "the beast was a male, which means we invaded his territory."

He focused for a moment on the stretch of water between he and Joseph and Eresth. Crossing it would be easy...but...

"I wonder what fate befell our friend?" he mused quietly.


"No, it's... it's fine," Joseph said trembling to Melinkale, also looking at the river where the mercenary had disappeared to. He felt greatly out of his depth in the face of these mind-blowing events, and didn't quite know how to take it all. Were all of his new companions going to vanish to thin air, he wondered. He promised to himself quietly in his head that he would not let that happen.

Melinkale looked to the boy with sympathy is his blue eyes, all this was a bit overwhelming, no doubt. A quick survey of the area showed nothing else to cause alarm. He called across the river to Eresth again.

"Stay put, malo," he yelled, "we'll be straight across to join you."

He turned back to Joseph with a mischievous gleam in those crystal eyes. He was determined to ease a bit of the tension the boy was feeling. He tapped his chin in thought.

"We have to cross, hina," he began, "but there is no reason why it cannot be fun. Why, enjoyment and merriment should be the very core of who we are. Now, if you had your choice of how you would cross this river, if there were endless possiblities, would you soar over it on feathered wings," he added to his description by making a arcing motion with his hands as he spoke, "or would you swim through the water with the speed and accuracy of an otter," he ended snaking his hand around in illustration of a tiny creature cutting through the waters with ease.

"Cross now!" Eresth roared at Melinkale. That was fast. Too fast. A flash, and the mercenary was dead. Eresth's heart pounded, his sweaty hands shivering. He crouched on the steep bank, forming a wall behind him. He conjured two roaring flames and held them before him. Perhaps fire could scare them. He hated the wilderness! He hated having to live like a beast! He thought quickly to the river. Perhaps this mercenary could have been trusted. He had his own issues. Eresth shook the thought out and focused on his defences. Death came to all, but with wit it could be delayed. He glanced past the river at the elf and the boy.
"Well?" he shouted.

Joseph nodded in a daze to Melinkale's words, and after a moment realised that he was presented with a choice. "Err, swim," he said with his voice low and on the brink of breaking. He started to unbutton his shirt again, preparing to go into the water. He was hoping the familiar act of swimming would calm his nerves a little bit; after all, his brothers and he used to go swimming quite often, and he was confident enough in his ability to get across, even though the flow of the water was quite strong.

"Now, now," Melinkale said quite calmly and quietly, yet somehow his voice reached Eresth as if he were standing right beside him, "we are on our way, and out of danger. Too much of a rush only makes us miss detail that later bites us in our rumps, or knocks us into a river..."

He ended his statement somewhat sadly, but focused on the boy. With a few soft words and even softer gestures, Joseph found himself slowly shrinking, though the entire process was quite painless and felt very natural. All his effects changed with him, his clothes becoming his fur, his hair shortening, any bags he had been carrying changing to the appearance of a pudgy belly. Soon, in the water's reflection, he could see he had completely changed into a chubby little otter, and suddenly knew he was an expert swimmer.

Melinkale chuckled.

"Dive right in, swim over to friend Eresth, I shall be right along behind you," he smiled to the little Joseph-otter.

And as for himself? He had yet another trick up his sleeve. Seemed he was quite knowledgeable about river crossing. With but one word, followed by an elaborate swirling motion with his hands, the winds picked up around him, blowing him toward Eresth, tumbling and turning on the current as if he were a mere feather. He dallied along this breeze a bit, keeping a close eye on the boy, making sure he was safely across before he landed.

The otter slipped into the water from the steep bank, and beelined for the other side, swimming smoothly and fast.

Once the little otter was safely across, Melinkale landed with a graceful spinning drop to the ground, then smoothed his robes and waved his hand toward Joseph. Again, a very natural-feeling process as he found himself beginning to slowly grow back to his own true size and height, his hair lengthening again, his belly fat reverting back to the bags he carried, his fur returning to its true nature of skin and clothing. 

"And not a drop of water to show," Melinkale exclaimed, "the otter was a good choice, in that their fur is quite resistant to being wet. You should be as dry as when we started," he smiled, extremely amused by the whole occurrence, and hoping he had provided a little comfort to the lad.

"So, we continue on, I suppose...?" he trailed off, quietly, with one last glance toward the water.

Joseph shuddered as the last traces of otterosity departed from him. He looked over to Eresth and nodded. "Yes, lets keep going." He continued up the sloping land.

"Showoff," Eresth grunted. He turned his back to the river and marched up the land. Perhaps the fighter had the bravado typical of his class, but he knew the ways of the world. Now he was going into the narrow tunnels of mines, with a boy and an absent-minded wizard who could have gotten them killed while he thought of the prettiest way to cross a river.
But he would tolerate it. Eresth knew better than to start fights on petty issues. He shook his head. This was no petty issue. If they were traveling together, if they were out upon this bizarre quest, then he would like to know that he had support that would not ponder whether to change enemies into lambs or frogs while he was overwhelmed.
"I don't suppose you did magical economics when you were schooled?" Eresth finally forced the words out.

"Magical economics?" Melinkale questioned, either missing or ignoring the aggravation in Eresth's tone, "I do not believe I have heard of such a subject. I have studied every subject know to man, and even a few forgotten by them. The Great Library of my world is a near endless expanse of knowledge, and I have read every book in its walls. "

"Magic is not a subject to be studied, really," he continued, "it is a Force to be felt. Magic surrounds everything we do, see, encounter, or are. Economics is cold, hard fact...magic is not so much the same, so combining the two would just be silly, " he paused to chuckle a bit, "I will say, that out of the two, magic is my favorite: all-encompassing, covering every spectrum, as whimsical as it can be powerful."

He ended with a wink and a grin.

Eresth groaned, his gaze rising to the sky.. He'd come across that sort of attitude often, but mainly from small-time magicians spinning tricks for their supper, or useless thaumaturgists and mystics who couldn't tell you the time of day if given all the bells of the clocktower. But Melinkale was none of the sort. He actually could do magic, and powerful magic. Maybe he was a true warlock, a person studied in the magical arts but not in its discipline. Or maybe he had dabbled for a long, long time, and though never pressed to use his magic, kept on developing it.
"Listen," he forced himself to be calm. "Magic is a wonderful feeling, I know. Maybe I haven't read whole libraries, but I've been to the plane of fire. You saw my phoenix. That's mastery of fire magic. I created that spell with heavy practice. But if you're not sparing with its use, and if you're not swift in its use, magic can't help you. That's what magical economics is about: making the most of your spells with as little effort. Have you ever really been pressed to use magic? As in duelling I mean. Battles. You know. Real world matters?" He kicked at a loose rock and surveyed the plains around them.
"How far are we to the mines?" Eresth asked.

"Ah, yes, the phoenix," Melinkale nodded as they walked, "quite impressive, I will admit. And yes, I have been very hard-pressed to use magic many times in my life, and then and only then will I employ the strongest..." he paused a moment, then continued, "some of the strongest of the magic that I know. It is evident to me, malo, that we come from different backgrounds, indeed. My people, they are magical in both creation and nature, taught from the beginning to accept that which is our birthright, and that is to wield, control, understand and respect that magic that essentially binds us to our world. Elven magisters are some of the most powerful on any plane, and we become that way through lifetimes of strict discipline."

He wore a very serious expression, then. The whimsical lines on his face completely faded, replaced by hard lines of wisdom, and hard knocks. A life of lessons learned by watching the failure of others was evident in his stride then, and he continued.

"Magic is amazing, and you seem to understand this. And since you wield the phoenix, then you also understand its power, and how dangerous that power can be. The story of the phoenix teaches us that, from the ashes of destruction, all things are born anew, through flame, which can be taken literally or figuratively. And it is a lovely bedtime story to soothe small children to sleep. But as masters of the arcane, malo, my people have seen and orchestrated magics of such destruction that rebirth is not possible, and it is a scar that mars the face of our world even now. We learned, the price of our knowledge was great, but we learned more respect for the magic we wield. It does not take grandiose displays of power and strength to be a "good" magician. It takes fortitude of will, and the knowledge to know when your strength and destruction are needed...and when simpler means will get us the same results.

"Knowing how to, and when to humble your abilities, this is the mark of a true master."

He smiled politely after his little speech, as the words Melinkale spoke were rarely ever meant to offend. He did think that Eresth had posed a good question, however, and turned to Joseph, after scribbling some more on the map he was keeping.

"Yes, a good question," he agreed.

Eresth recoiled at Melinkale's words. He had effectively responded that he knew, hinted that Eresth was in the wrong, and in all the beauty of a diplomatic tongue. He opened his mouth twice, but closed it twice, knowing his response was too harsh. He couldn't separate himself from these two so easily.
"Listen, malo," he finally gathered himself, "I don't know what sort of magics your people have dealt with. I don't know how magic worked where you come from. In my world it's quite straightforward. There are spells, you invest energy, and you get effects. A spell's power is graded by the energy it taps. I've seen powerful ones in action. Maybe not ones that could destroy something as you say, but close enough - I mean, I opened a portal to the fire planes - that's bending the universe! I've heard of professors distorting time so that they could manage their deadlines. The school of archmagics has stuff I can't even begin to understand; weird transmutations and distortions. They might not destroy things, but they do worse than that - I saw a man..." Eresth shuddered, sickened, "they boosted his nerve cells up a thousand times, until they sizzled out..." Eresth shook the image out of his head.
"Look, I don't know what it is for you to transform people to otters," Eresth stopped and stared Melinkale in the eyes. "For us that's a pretty high-level spell. And certainly uncalled for when someone's been killed by a feral animal and there's no knowing who's next - especially taking so much time to decide what you're going to do, ok? And I don't appreciate you saying that about me - there's definitely no comparing sparking up a little magical energy for a jump to transforming a kid into an otter."

If Melinkale was bothered at all by Eresth's rant, not even the most astute could tell. Always alarmingly calm, no matter what the situation, he merely smiled politely as the man continued his heated tirade, glancing apologetically toward Joseph from time to time. When it looked as if Eresth were quite finished, he replied to him, quite as nonchalantly as one would if asked the time of day:

"I am of the belief that persons belonging to different cultures and places can learn from, and teach each other," he began, "especially in the field of magic.  I would be glad to tell you of the horrors of magic gone awry, how it completely destroyed a civilization and nearly wiped an era out of remembrance, but we are lacking the time."

He wanted to add that he doubted Eresth would even listen to him, that like the fire he wielded, his temperament was too explosive to actually learn any type of lesson, but this was a harsh judgement, and perhaps even false. Melinkale had always considered etiquette to be of the highest importance when dealing with others, and so he chose, instead to speak of another topic. While he felt in no way at all that he had to explain himself to anyone, it seemed Eresth needed an explanation to grasp what he had done.

"And as for otters and such," he continued, "while I think the loss of our friend Tethis was quite sad, I am sure you've noticed that it keeps happening as we progress, and there is nothing we can do about it. I am sure this is quite upsetting for the youngling here, as he has trusted us with his life and ambition, and we are one by one being plucked away from him. Tethis was attacked by a male lion, had it been a female, I'd have been more concerned. Males are territorial, and there is only one in a given area for that reason. Being observant also teaches us what magics we can use. I saw the sadness on the boy's face and sought a way to lighten his mood, if only for a moment, and so I did."

He paused for a moment, realizing they were both rambling entirely too much about something they would more than likely never agree upon. It was like trying to talk to Lester back home about why it was wrong to sell magics to people when, in all fairness, they should have to work to understand and earn them. He sighed heavily.

"We agreed to come to help the youngling," he said sincerely, motioning toward Joseph, "and we should do so. Respect and learn from the differences at hand and continue to keep to our word that we will do what we can to assist him in his journey. We did not agree to make his journey more difficult by bickering."

"My apologies," he ended with a humble bow toward Joseph.

The elf's calmness was infuriating. This was something Eresth knew well enough. People who were calm did so on the assumption that they were better than him. In this case Melinkale was wrong. It was like he had taken a few puffs too deep of his pipe! Eresth clenched his fists, glared at Melinkale, and turned around. It was not worth it. Even so, Eresth was on the edge.
"Yes, sorry, kid," Eresth muttered. "Back there at the river we lost a warrior who seemed pretty adept. Now you're left with two magicians, one with his head in the clouds, and the other with a head about to explode! Damnit! Here we are, heading to a bloody mine where we know bally what to expect, two wizards and a child!" The emotion was out. Eresth took a deep breath and stepped back, then rocked forward.
"Look," he said. "We don't know what to expect. So far we've been attacked by a mad giant and a lion, been approached by a bizarre light, and jumped through worlds three times!" He muttered: "and he wants to make the kid laugh by turning him into an otter." He pulled himself together. Knelt beside Joseph.
"Listen," he said. "I can put down a fighter any time. I've knocked out a thousand of the meanest underground thugs. Whatever that warrior could knock out, I can do twice as fast. But he was instrumental. And he seemed a fair bloke. And I don't like to see fair blokes - even fighters - die. Sure, it happens. kristh happens. But I'm not welcoming it." His irritation rose. He snapped up and paced a bit.
"We are getting nowhere," he said. "I'm just out for a safe place to sleep. So let's finish this journey. Joseph, lead the way. Let's go. Quickly. Enough of this idle chat. And Melinkale," he turned to him, forcing his fury down. "Get your head out of the clouds. None of this is anywhere near natural. If that stupid tree attacks us I'll not be surprised." he flung his hand at the tree, gave it a second glance, and marched forward. "Let's go!"

Melinkale chuckled: a deep, heartfelt chuckle. The most sincere of any chuckle that has ever been chuckled in the history of chuckling.

"My head out of the clouds? Ah, that truly is humorous," he said then, wiping a tear as he followed the insanely irate little man, "I am not sure if YOU have noticed, my good fellow, but I have been keeping quite a detailed map of this trek as we travel. I have taken notes in the margins concerning all the flora and fauna we've seen along the way, and let me add, there are a fair bit of restorative herbs within the woods here, should we need them, though I hesitated to pick them, unsure of what would happen if we did so. Regardless, if we are in dire straights, they are there. The current setting of the sun indicates that not as much time has passed as it feels like, and from the wind currents and wisps of cloud, I can tell you it will rain in a few day's time here. The grasses here are wild, meaning they are not grazed often by herd animals, which makes me curious and a bit worried as to what the predators prey upon when they seek food."

He paused only to scratch his chin in thought at that, then continued, "I can tell you exactly how far we have traveled and pinpoint every single place where we lost one of our friends, I can tell you what they were doing when they were lost, but I cannot pinpoint any similarities among their disappearances so as to give us a hint as to when it could possibly happen again and to whom. My head in the clouds? Quiet observation is not the same as fool-hearty bliss."

He sighed heavily. Strangely, he was becoming slightly agitated and contemplated saying so, but it was bad form. Eresth was fiery and explosive in temperament and he should show him proper respect by not pointing out his flaws, even though he seemed to enjoy doing so for Melinkale, which would not have bothered him, had his accusations been legitimate.

Once more, he cast a very apologetic look toward the boy as Eresth stormed on ahead. 

"As we walk, Joseph, would you be so kind as to hold my staff?" he asked, "I should prepare for our journey into the mines, and in one of these pockets," he motioned toward his side, "I have a few gems that will provide us with light, which we may well need."

Eresth said nothing. As the elf explained all the fine details he had picked out, he felt a slight fear rising in his stomach. Firstly, Melinkale knew more than him, and that irked him. Secondly, no commoner paid so much attention to the environment. He was well-trained and acted like he knew exactly what was going on. Just like the elite enforcement group of the college, the advocates. Eresth glanced at him from the corner of his eye. He was too light-hearted. He couldn't be one. In either case, an advocate would have killed him long ago. Maybe there was something going on. Maybe this quest was important. In the meanwhile he would have to keep his eye on Melinkale, and his distance.

Joseph had trembled during the exchange. He felt oddly at fault for the two adults to be fighting, like it was his fault. He wanted to run away from them, to shout or do anything to stop them arguing - but did none of that. Instead he walked in awkward silence, and with relief accepted Melinkale's staff as the situation diffused. They had travelled quite a bit during the exchange, and shortly arrived at the entrance of the mine. It was quite late though the sun wasn't down quite yet. There was no one about. Either this shaft of the mine was abandoned or it was a less used side. Joseph stopped in front of the cavern entrance, wondering what they should do. Entering the mine seemed like the sensible course of action, but he had no idea what they expected to do once in there. "Should we just...?" he asked hesitating and motioning towards the cave.

"Ah, ah," Melinkale began, waving his hand cautiously, his face bearing a heavy look of concern, "we should gather what information we can from outside the entrance, then venture inside very cautiously."

He handed a small gem to Eresth first, then to Joseph; he had mentioned earlier that they could provide light to them, should they need it. He surveyed their surroundings, looking for any signs of past activities, since it was quite evident that this particular area was not heavily used. He took a deep breath and calmed himself, stretching out through the magic that ran through his veins to try and sense as much as he could about the area: his long ears perking to catch every sound, his bright eyes straining to catch each sight. He turned to Eresth after a brief moment.

"The paths to the underground are oftentimes inhabited by the foulest of creatures," he explained, "we are in agreement that we are both quite out of our own elements here, but in my experience, underdark creatures are most often affected strongest by flame and the bright light caused by flame. I pray," he paused a moment, glancing toward Joseph, "that we will not have need for such force, but if we do, it will be up to you to light the mining tunnels as brightly as you can. I can use and have used fire, but I concede that your abilities are greater than mine in that area, as it is your School. What's more, if the corridors are very narrow, my assistance will be futile, as firing around you could endanger you."

He waved his hand thoughtlessly across the air, breathing life into the gems they each held, causing them to glow like pale moonlight in the hands of their possessors.

"In my world, there are creatures who wield magic so dark, that it encompasses soft light," he continued, "such creatures may not even exist here, but to be on the safe side, remember one thing. If these gems stop glowing, be on your guard, for only dark magic can douse their light. I think it probably best if the boy travels between the two of us, then he is protected from all sides."

He ended this with a hopeful glance toward Eresth, the carefree whimsy all but gone from his features.

Eresth was reluctant to take the stone from Melinkale. He held it between his fingers, examining it carefully. When the elf activated it, he shaded it with his hand and studied it. He made to return it, but saw the change in Melinkale. He was serious. To see a person who was willing to take time out to play with magic after someone had been killed by a lion become so concerned suggested something serious. But more frightening was the command the elf exercised. He knew he had time then; he knew to be careful now. He studied the stone again for any magical trap. Found nothing. Maybe the elf really was sincere in admitting that Eresth had the superior fire magic.
"All right," he said. "I'll take the back, as the tallest. Let me just see..." Eresth pocketed the stone and slid his head into the cave, his eyes closed. He focused magical energy into them. Counted, one, two three. Opened his eyes, now glowing a pale red. Every feature was illuminated in the tunnel. He judged he had sufficient room to walk, keep his head up, and cast spells, although the tunnel was perhaps a bit narrow. He smelled only stale air. Nothing that would be a fire hazard, although his spells could be less powerful. There appeared to be no threats. Just rocks and some mining equipment. He let the magic dissipate from his eyes before removing his head.
"looks all right," he said. He took several clumps of long, dry grass and shoved them into his belt. If only there was a dry branch around as well. He considered the mine entrance again.
"One way to be absolutely sure," he formed a small fireball and launched it into the tunnel. He watched for shadows and listened for sounds until the fireball disappeared.

"It feels right," Joseph said, looking at his companions if they agreed or not, then tried to explain: "I mean, like the right place. Like... like I've been here before, to do this before and it's what I should do. Doesn't it?" He walked around the entrance glancing around as if also exploring the surroundings, but soon gave up as he couldn't see anything special about anything nor did he even know what he was supposed to look for. He walked to the entrance of the cavern, and stood poised, ready to go in.

Melnikale nodded his head. There was much to be said for intuition and gut feeling, in his opinion, so he stepped lightly in front of Joseph to begin entrance into the mine. With staff in one hand, he muttered a word or two and the gem he held in his other hand levitated a few inches above his hand, freeing it should he need it. The light from the gem was pale, illuminated about as well as bright, moonlit night. It was plenty of light to see by, but the farther they trekked into the opening, the less sunlight could filter in and the more they needed to rely on the glow of the stones.

Melinkale thought it odd that there was no sign of life or activity here, but he trusted the boy's need to be here. The smell of dry, yet musty air from deep within the ground lingered heavily within the tunnel, causing Melinkale to crinkle his nose slightly. He took in every sound he could, every smell, every sight. He couldn't particularly say that he felt as if there was something amiss, it was simply something he had learned the hard way...he had read much about the things that lurked in the dark places, cut off by the Sun.

He was bitten for a moment by a twinge of worry. He had allowed himself to assume that Eresth, since he seemed to be somewhat elven in nature, shared the same ability that he took for granted in himself: infravision. Melinkale could see heat in a way that most others could not and he found himself extremely worried for a moment that they would encounter something, and Eresth would be forced to light the caverns with flame...which could temporarily blind him. He wanted to speak of this, but found that the silence of the deepening dark a difficult thing to penetrate.

Eresth stepped lightly behind Joseph, cautious not to disturb the silence. He had enough room, but the tunnel was narrower than any he had been in before. He kept a close eye on everything around him, especially behind him. The deepening quiet and darkness began to creep up his nerves, freezing his blood, making him tremor. He would feel more comfortable with a flame at hand. Melinkale's stone glowing in his left hand, he formed a small flame in his right. It burned bright for a moment, and dimmed into a deep orange. Eresth extinguished it. He could too soon use up the air in the room. He deepened his breath, forced himself to be calm. The tunnel struck him as strangely empty. If this was a mine, where was the equipment? Perhaps his initial thought on mines was wrong. Everything could be neatly kept away. But there was no sign of life at all, and it worried him.

They traveled the tunnel for - how long? The monotony and quiet around them made time itself disappear. Their footsteps fell into sync and the echo of their treading almost sounded like the eons were ticking past them. The feeling of timelessness affected the group strangely, almost making them feel weightless too. Then there was a slow gradual change in everything: there was a dim glow in the distance, the air was charged with an almost sub-sonic hum and the air was getting fresher too. But they still felt that they were deep within the mountain, so it couldn't have been an exit. As they got closer, they could recognise a voice within the hum, a familiar voice. They couldn't distinguish what the voice was saying, only that it was a voice, soft and small, just like they had heard back in the forest when they first met.

Joseph's eyes filled with tears. "Finally," he said, feeling more relieved than he ever had in his life. It felt like he had arrived home. He wanted to run, and he rushed right up to behind Melinkale, wanting them to move quicker, wanting to rush past him. 

Melinkale strained to see the light ahead. He thought of dousing his stone, but decided against it, as he had learned over time to always err on the side of caution. As they drew closer to the light and the voice, he was reminded of the moment that he had heard the voice of Selune when he had first roused to waking on the forest floor. This voice, this soothing, velvety voice was very similar, the air was very similar...he felt, comforted again.

Melinkale had never been comfortable deep within the tunnels of the world, but he had never really said much about it to anyone, however, he found himself light-hearted again. He felt relieved, welcome...as if he had once again found something he had forgotten he had lost. He realized how much this mine shaft was similar to the one he stood in when he had spoken with Overmaster Ironjaw about the design of the marble stones he had commissioned for the walkway of Trendall's church.

And then, he thought of Trendall.

As Joseph moved to urge him onward, Melinkale understood, he nodded briefly to the boy and took his arm, so they might pick up a bit of speed together. He motioned for Eresth to follow as well, and then his mind returned to Trendall's smiling face once more. It felt as if it had been so long since he had seen those cascading, honey-colored locks, peered into those soft, baby blue eyes or smelled the fragrant scent of her skin. The closer they drew to the light, the better he could see her, hear her laughter, almost touch the softness of her skin. He thought for a moment on how much his heart truly ached to see her, but...he remembered his promise to the boy: his promise to help, to share what he knew with another. That was his true duty in life. Memories of endless hours pouring over old tomes and manuals within the confines of his modest little home only further embedded this in his resolve. 

"Duty must come first, my love," he whispered to no one, still inching closer to the light and voice, his feelings and memories of home stronger than they had been since he found himself in this strange setting.

Eresth stared blankly after Joseph and Melinkale. He felt light, but relaxed. A feeling he had not had for so many years... from childhood, perhaps. He forgot all his concerns and approached, recognising the voice but not wishing to consider it. In his mind he remembered the early days in the college, when he was so young, when anything could have happened. He remembered his first days at pyromancy classes. He could hear Mrithrish, his mentor's applaud. One day you'll be an unchallenged pyromaster, Eresth. You'll tame the beasts of the fire realm. The scent of love potions that he and his friends laboured so hard over, for girls smart enough to avoid drinking them, but still accepting them. Ayshi, her sweet, gentle voice, and the herbs she collected in her room.
He didn't remember how it all came to an end. The memories surrounding him were too thick. He could not fight the tears. He would have collapsed on the spot, but the memories pulled him on, closer, behind Melinkale and Joseph. He made no effort to wipe his tears.

As they reached the source of the light around the slight bend in the tunnel, it had diminished slightly, but still lighting the cavern. The tunnel widened to a kind of a huge room inside the mountain, with the light touching every nook and cranny. The stone was glistening and pink here at the heart of the mountain. It was quite clear that this was no longer a mining tunnel carved by human hands - but it had a strange air to it, a wrongness about it. Here the light pulsated, or fluttered even, as if struggling to keep itself steady. "Well met, my friends" the soft voice spoke to their ears, at the same time in each's native tongue, which in effect sounded like a chorus of language: more felt than understood clearly. It continued "thy valiance will serve not only thyselves but all of thine bretheren throughout the known universes. Valiance... and sacrifice," there was a sad knowing tone to the last word.

Joseph nodded, and asked "what must we do?"

There was a delight about the being of light. "I commend you for your directness, Joseph son of Joseph." Then it addressed them all with all seriousness. "You have arrived at the Center. As you can see, there is a problem: there is no Center - there is just a hole. There is a lack of matter at the core, which has caused instability throughout the multiverse. And Joseph," the voice addressed the youth, "do you know what is special about matter?" Joseph shook his head wide-eyed. "Matter cannot be increased. It can only be transformed. If you were to apply the most powerful magics known to sentient beings and apparently create something out of nothing - it is still abiding to this rule and replacing matter from somewhere else to that place. And someone took matter from the Center." The voice had a hint of irritation about it as it spoke the last phrase. There was a silence while it's throbbing flickering stilled. Then it asked: "did you not bring the hammer?"

The hammer. Kristh. The last Eresth saw of it was on Tethis's belt. Meanwhile, the voice worried Eresth. He hated archmagics. He couldn't remember anything about a "center" from his studies, not that he remembered anything. And he did not like its tone. It was not the same soothing voice as before.
"No one said that," Eresth cleared his throat. "Why do you need the hammer?"

The voice replied with a patient tone: "The hammer is the cause of the cavity. The foolish lords of a world not far from here created it as a tool to create a kind of olivine out of thin air. That substance is very valuable in their world, and sadly they are a powerful yet immature race of beings, so they were able to construct the hammer. Not only are they most likely going to destroy their own world, but they have also caused great grief to the entire array of existence. Including our current predicament, for their actions with the hammer extracted olivine from the Centre itself, causing everything to become unstable." It continued: "Using the hammer here, at the Centre itself would return the balance. The smith who had formed the hammer was brought to this world - a dangerous interference but it was a risk that had to be taken - carrying the tool. I know you intercepted him. I only hope that the hammer didn't fall with him back to his dimension..." The end of his phrase was raised as a question.

Joseph nodded. "We took the hammer after he fell. But... I believe it may have fallen into the river..." He frowned apologetically. He was worried they would have to travel back to search for the hammer.

"The boy is right," Melinkale spoke up, "five of us there were that awakened on the forest floor, yet only two stand before you now as escort to young Joseph. Another traveller, Tethis, he was called, he carried the hammer, but was lost to us in the river. Sadly, wer were wrapped up in other...matters...after this happened, and I take the blame for our failure to remember the hammer and the importance we were lead to believe it held."

He bowed low, as an humble sign of his sincerity. He silently cursed himself, and felt a fool for letting Eresth get to him earlier. All it had done, in the end, was make Joseph look bad, and Melinkale was very ashamed of that fact. He searched his mind for something he could do to remedy the situation. The voice came from a being who possessed great power, Melinkale knew this, but he also knew that it was important to own up to mistakes made as an individual, and not assume that something more divine would fix it in one's stead.

"If you would permit me," he began, pulling out the map he had been keeping during their jounry and pointing to a spot on its face, "friend Tethis was lost to us here. If the hammer truly is so important, I would honor the opportunity to rectify our carelessness by finding it for you. I could scry on the area, and hopefully see where the hammer fell -- I would imagine it rests on the river's bed. Once found, I could teleport to the area and retrieve it."

He looked up once more, rolling up his map, then adding, "So far, all of my magic has worked as intended here, so I am quite confident in saying that I could accomplish this task."

The voice had been silent while Melinkale spoke, then hummed approvingly at his suggestion. "Do what you can, friend," it replied.

Melinkale nodded and took a few steps back from them all, laying down his staff and map. He cradled the lighted gem in the palm of his hand, then raised it to where it sat parallel with his heart and let it go. It floated gracefully there, as if he had placed it on an unseen hook. With both of his hands free, he raised them, swirling through the air around the glowing gem as a sculptor would mold his clay subject.

"Remember the river," he spoke quietly, his words reaching both Eresth and Joseph, "remember every detail you can. The more memories we have of it, the more detail we'll be able to see. If we all three focus our will, we will be able to create a crisp, sharp image."

His voice was soothing, as if awakening something deep within them both to remember, to recall: draw on the confusion, frustration, sadness, hopelessness...any emotion they might have felt by the river's edge. Slowly, an image began to surround them - it was intangible, wispy, but it was there. The sights and sounds of the river came into focus, it was as if they were flying over it, descending upon it, and as they descended, they found more and more detail forming around them, almost as if they truly were there again.

"Tethis was lost to us there," he said, not pointing, but directing their attentions with his words, "let us see what we can find within the water's cool embrace..."

They were hovering over the water, then were soon submerged completely beneath it. Every memory they had collectively helped to bring the image to life more and more. Once their sights plummeted beneath the water's surface, Melinkale found himself quite grateful that young Joseph had chosen the otter's way...his memories and the sights he had seen with an otter's improved vision would be invaluable to them as he scanned the muddy riverbed, searching for a glint of steel.

Eresth felt an impassive fear under Melinkale's spell. This was mind control, he knew, but the emotions were irresistable. He felt fear, and sorrow at Thethis's loss, and anger at Melinkale, all the while unable to act. He did not know if they had been teleported to the river or given an illusion of it. He bit his lip as they were submerged. Any physical fire he created would be doused in a flurry of bubbles. He gave it another thought. The flame would be doused, yes, and the water would absorb the impact of his spells. But it could still have force. He surveyed the muddy river bank. A hammer as heavy as that would have sunk deep. He motioned the two to swim back with him, and looked Melinkale in the eye. If this is an illusion, tell me now he gestured, forcing the thought to the top of his mind, unwilling to open his mouth while submerged. He gathered the magical energy for an implosion spell strong enough to shock the river-sand aside, letting Melinkale see his intention. If this was not an illusion, such magnitude would destroy them all.

Melinkale was impressed himself at how crisp and clear the image was that the three of them had managed to create together. It soothed him a bit, and showed him that both Eresth and Joseph were fairly observant, as they were able to recreate the sights and sounds...as well as the smells of the fresh, churning water. He had almost lost himself in the realism of it all, and he felt Eresth's confusion touch the air about them, causing him to speak, very soothingly, so as not to break anyone's concentration.

"Peer through the illusion," he whispered, "you will see that we are still physically within the cave, malo, it is only our minds that travel now. Our memories gave us the pathway, and what we see before us now is real, it is the riverbank as it is now. We will not be able to interact with anything we see...only observe, and hopefully, discover."

As he spoke, he felt the vision before them waver a bit, as he did somewhat break the stern concentration all around, it was inevitable. Slowly, however, the vision reformed itself, regaining its strength as they were once again able to blink away the cloudy water to see clearly beneath its surface. He hoped what light there was would reach the riverbed, and grant them at least a sign that the hammer had not left this world with Tethis.

"Ok," Eresth said, his lips tight. He let the energy dissipate from his hand. He scanned the river bed. Tethis must have been quite heavy, particularly with a lion atop him. Even if time had passed, if they struck the bed, it should have left some mark. But he struggled with the water, his vision was slightly blurred. He could make out some mounds and trenches, none too deep. The sand must have shifted too easily. He needed magic.

He dove to the river bed and glanced back to see that Melinkale and Joseph were some distance away. The contours were sharper there. It must have been here that they fell. Eresth gestured for the spell, imagining the magical energy gathering. He put all his attention to it, a powerful fireblast, the strongest implosion spell he had ever formed. On land it could possibly breach a castle wall. Under water, it would fizzle in a swarm of bubbles and a shock of warm water. That shock could shuffle a fair amount of sand into the river. The image strong in his mind, he crouched, have the blast as close to the river bed as possible. He aimed at a tall mound fairly close. He cupped his hands and blew, hoping for enough of a bubble of air to initiate the spell. He gestured out, hoping that his imagined spell could impact the illusion of another.

As Melinkale had stated, Eresth was not able to interact with the wispy surroundings at all. Since spells generally require somatic movement, casting was impossible, as he was not physically there. Melinkale made a mental note to explain it to him later, if he wished to understand, as he had once tried to cast through a scry, and felt fairly foolish when he realized why he couldn't do it. Of course, verbal spells...that was different, and highly possible... He remembered a half-finished thesis covering that very theory that was sitting on his nightstand, then he silenced his wandering thoughts and focused again on the scene ahead of them.

Something caught his eye then. In the dim light, a faint glimmer could be seen. On closer inspection, a familiar hammer rested quietly on the river's bed, its head lodged beneath the edge of a mossy stone, which easily explained how Tethis had managed to disappear without it. Melinkale noted the location, and as quickly as they had journeyed to the place, they were all quickly pulled away from it, sights and sounds and smells all fading to reveal the stone room and the soft, pulsing light that had been there all along.

"I am indebted to you both," he said, bowing to Eresth and Joseph, "your memories made that much, much easier. The hammer is waiting patiently for us, we need only to retrieve it."

He doused the lighted stone and slipped it in his pocket, retrieving his map and staff. As he leaned against his staff, he continued:

"I can teleport to the riverbank, and as long as this room is kept exactly the way it is right now, I can teleport back. It is important that the room stay exactly, precisely as it is when I leave it, otherwise, I could teleport back into something...or someone, and I assure you, that is quite the mess."

"Perhaps it would be recommendable then," the voice spoke, "that we leave the room and enter the corridor, and you may call us back once you have returned?" It suggested. The light in the room concentrated and withdrew from the vastness of the room until it was only the size of a person, and then it seemed as if this person had turned away and the light was completely out. The feeling of peace that had emanated in the room earlier was gone. Joseph shivered. "Is he... gone?" He asked, looking puzzled. Only the glowing gems Melinkale had given them were giving light now, and the dungeon seemed a lot darker and colder. Joseph headed towards the corridor they had come through. "If we wait in here...?" He said, echoing the words spoken earlier.

Eresth shook his head fiercely upon being phased out of the illusion so suddenly. He was embarrassed at how silly he must have looked in trying to cast the spell. And at the end of the day, Melinkale found the hammer! He was angry at himself for that.
"This is too much, too fast," Eresth muttered as the voice and the light disappeared. Hu rubbed his temples. Took a deep breath.
"All right," he said to Melinkale. "Let's do this, and quickly. Teleport us there, you grab the hammer, we come back here, and we'll finish off at the nearest tavern - no - this has all been such a bally nightmare, I deserve a bally whore." He reached into his belt, took a sip of an energy potion, sloshed it around his mouth and belched after swallowing it. He put the bottle back in his belt.
"Let's go."

"I'll only be teleporting myself, malo," Melinkale explained with a friendly smile, "to teleport us all would require a tremendous amount of energy, and allow us much more room for error. I would ask humbly that you stay with the boy."

He was uneasy about leaving them, and he knew it showed on his face. They didn't have the best track record for staying together, as they had all noticed. He tried to take comfort in the fact that the Light, and whatever it represented would be with Joseph and Eresth, but he still worried. He gave Eresth and Joseph both a wistful glance, then hardened his resolve and reached into yet another pocket that seemed to manifest itself out of nowhere.

What he pulled from the hat was the most outlandish-looking hat any of them had probably ever seen. It was wild and flamboyant, and completely out of character for the calm, resolute man that they had grown to know on their journey. It was wide-brimmed and made of striped animal fur, with an elegant, over-sized feather jutting merrily out from it. Melinkale donned it without a moment's hesitation, having grown used to the looks he'd get when he had to use it. He closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment, then ran his finger down the feather on the hat and was gone.

He found himself standing by the river's edge almost immediately, having been sucked through space quite quickly and redeposited to the spot they had seen in their vision. He took a deep breath, then dove into the water, silently wishing he'd had his staff with him...swimming was much easier in almost any other form imaginable. He swam swiftly to the hammer and wrapped his hands around it, extremely grateful that he did not have to actually lift it. With a tug on the feather in his hat, he was instantly ported back to the spot he had been in before, with the others, only now, he was dripping wet, he had a muddy hammer at his feet, and the gaudy, macabre feather had lost its shape completely and hung messily in his face as he peered around, hoping he had managed to make the trip successfully, and that all was as he had left it.

How Eresth hated the power that this wizard had! With a strange hat disappearing so abruptly, and returning before he could think of anything to say to Joseph, the hammer at his feet.
"All right, well done," he muttered. "You've shown us your glory. Now, how do we get that - thing, that spirit, whatever it was. It said to call it?" He walked up to the hammer, but hesitated to touch it. If this thing was enough to threaten the universe, there was no saying what it could do to Eresth.
"Well, we have the hammer," he called out. "You can come back. Let's finish this." He felt silly calling out into the air, and so punctuated it with a flourish of magical energy, sparkling between his hands as he flung them apart. He stepped away from the hammer, trying to see that his distance was only slightly further from Melinkale's, but opposite him. As the tunnel's silence chilled him, he conjured a small flame for comfort.

"Hardly glory," Melinkale replied, shaking his head and motioning toward his once-stately robes, now dripping wet and quite shabby-looking, "but I did manage to save us a fair bit of time, which was my sole intent."

He began to wring out his long hair, allowing the hammer to rest at his feet as Eresth called out for the being of Light to return. He thought of asking for a bit of flame to help him dry off, but decided Eresth barely liked him anyway, and doubted very seriously he'd oblige. No worry; he'd dry in time. He waited patiently with the pyromancer as silence embraced them both.

Eresth stared at Melinkale for an eternal minute in the silence. As the elf shivered he felt sorry for him. All right, so he was a showoff. Maybe he was an advocate, but there was enough reason to doubt that he was anything but what he was. Obviously as powerful as he was his magic was domain-specific - otherwise a whole range of spells could have dried him off. In the cold dark tunnel he would die before his clothes would dry off. He kept his eyes on him. Eventually he sighed.
"You know, a fire-shield would have you dry in ten seconds flat," he told Melinkale. "I can do that."

"It would be much appreciated," Melinkale said gratefully, "perhaps these robes can be saved, which would be nice, as they are my favorite. As for the hat," he glanced up at the terrible-looking mess that was perched atop his head, "it will be fine on its own. The item it quite magical, and seems to bounce back from whatever horror I put it through."

He slipped the hat off and shook straightened his hair a bit, shivering slightly at the dampness of the room, something he hadn't considered before doing what he did. He thought only of their need for the hammer and how to best retrieve it quickly. He hadn't thought at all of his personal well-being afterward, such was his vice.

"Dirty as it may be, it is at least here now," Melinkale said, a bit louder, "as am I, it is safe to return to the room now, and my sincerest thanks for vacating it in the first place."

"The clothes will be fine," Eresth grumbled. He thought it rather impertinent that the elf would dictate such terms to him upon a favour. Nevertheless, Eresth trudged to him and placed his hands above Melinkale's shoulders. The elf smiled harmlessly at him. He smirked. He was right in his power. Conjure two roaring flames and his head would be roasted off his neck. Or form a single superheated point - a seething point - would pierce through the elf's shoulder, lung, heart, guts, and cook the marrow of his bones to his ankle. Eresth bit his lip and clutched his fingers. that was enough. Just to know that the elf was under his power now. And maybe give him a little warning.
Eresth concentrated on his aura, imagining its field pattern. Let the magical energy take its form. He stepped closer to Melinkale. Eresth gritted his teeth against the fear of having someone too close, in the aura. Having an enemy there. With a faint buzz of energy, the air around him began to warm. Eresh focused on maintaining the warmth. Increasing it. The air stirred, releasing a gentle blow that strengthened and howled through the tunnels. Wiping the sweat off his brow, Eresth watched Melinkale. He kept the air at a temperature just above comfort. The dry air of the cavern dessicated Melinkale's robe, and soon the heat penetrated to sting the elf's skin. Before the elf's clothes would catch alight, Eresth brushed away the magic, and the heat dispersed. He stepped back and studied Melinkale. The robes were dry and crisp, with the smell of heat. Whatever mud was on them now baked in, leaving faint streaks on his robes and a massive stain on the hat. Eresth nodded, smirking ever so slightly.

Melinkale watched Eresth closely as he stepped forward to offer is services. Never once taking his eyes from him, he allowed this favor of sorts to be put on the table. As Eresth smirked at him, Melinkale watched indecision flicker in his eyes. He returned the smirk with one of his own. He did not trust Eresth, and watched his Weave closely. As a descendant of the last of the Moon Elf High Mages, he had been taught when he was only a child the ways of the Weave. The Weave was the pattern that must be made for any magic to work properly, and knowledge of those patterns enabled the watcher to know what spells would be cast, as they were being cast. It was often a helpful thing, but Melinkale had rarely used that knowledge against someone...as he did to Eresth at that moment. One slip-up, the slightest thread within the Weave turning violent and he'd be forced to do what he had promised himself by the river he would not stoop to doing. Eresth was getting in over his head, but he didn't know that, and Melinkale had no desire to tell him so. Boastful behavior was quite unbecoming of a gentleman, and it was more important to him to set a good example for the boy, not prove to some hot-headed, ill-tempered Outlander that he was a powerful. He silently wished Eresth would let go of his need to be the best, or at least better...and focus on the task at hand.

Once Eresth's work was done, Melinkale relaxed. One thing he had taken to doing was preparing a shield spell in his mind...he had been doing it since the first person disappeared, but was even more concerned about it now that he and Eresth were directly responsible for the boy's safety. It was one of the most powerful spells he knew...a prismatic sphere that would protect them all, if needed...or protect him and Joseph from the wild fire wielder...whichever became necessary.

His clothes looked a mess, but he was not concerned about this. They were his favorite robes but they were only robes, and he had more than one set of them anyway. He cared very little for their current state, but the amusement in Eresth's eyes piqued his curiosity. Very interesting gent, he was. Regardless of the messy state of his dress, he bowed respectfully to Eresth, content to let him continue to believe him an old, ignorant overly-trusting fool. Melinkale was generally harmless, and held no ill-intent toward anyone...but Eresth's smart remarks and general lack of patience and ettiquete were starting to gnaw at him just a wee bit. He hoped above all hope that it would pass so that they could better accomplish what they set out to do.

"You have my thanks," he spoke to the pyromancer sincerely, "I hope to be able to return your kindness soon."

He looked about as he slipped the hat into his pocket, the massive, flamboyant hat already beginning to slowly reform its original shape and gaudiness. The hat slipped right into the same pocket it had come out of, but the pocket never expanded. How many of those pockets DID he have? And what all was in them? 

"I wonder why the being of Light has not returned?" he asked quietly, suddenly a bit concerned, "Joseph?" he questioned, voice echoing through the room.

"Many thanks," the voice spoke, but there was no sign on the light. Joseph stepped back from the tunnel into the cavern they were all in, with a disturbed look on his face. "As ye have helped me, I shall help thee. Eresth Derennor, step forth. Wield the hammer of Thalstein and strike at this here place, the core of the universe and ye shall be returned home," the voice adviced, sounding different from before, echoy and ancient like the language of mountains and rushing waters, not still and small as it was earlier - and the light did not return.

Melinkale's paternal instinct kicked in once more as Joseph finally emerged; he was concerned. Something did not feel right, something felt different. He motioned for the boy to stand beside him, and listened intently as the voice spoke to Eresth.

Eresth kept his eyes on Melinkale and bit his lip. If the elf had felt the heat Eresth had put upon him, he showed no sign of it. He watched the hat disappear into his pocket. The power and the impassive nature of the elf now alerted him. He heard the voice return, different, and without the light. He looked suspiciously at the hammer. He hated to think what home would be. If this was a trap, Eresth had no more choice. He would have to fight his way out. Against however many advocates there could be. if the elf and the boy were innocent, there would be one way to show them. If they were not, Eresth could bring down the tunnel on them.
Eresth gathered his magical energy, but kept it from being visible as best as he could. His face darkened, and he puffed himself up. He stepped back, looking around for the voice.
"Where is home, tell me?" Eresth called. "Will you take me back to the college? That was home. I had a wonderful time there. That was as homely as it ever was. Will you take me back there?" Deftly he pulled the glove off his hand, revealing his tatoo to Melinkale and Joseph.
"Since a day after my graduation this tatoo has been red. That's years now. Is this what you're looking for?" He made no attempt to hide his anger.

Melinkale watched Eresth closely. He couldn't blame him at all for being agitated -- and it was evident that he also felt the difference in the air. At first, Melinkale thought it might have only been in his mind, but as Joseph had not spoken yet, and seemed shaken himself, he could only fear for the worst. His mind raced more than normal, it was something he was used to. There was far too much knowledge crammed in there to be contained in one mind, but he was able to recall, once more, the spell he had carried just on the verge of casting for hours now. If things went poorly...he knew he could defend all three of them. He did not completely trust Eresth, but even so, he was also here out of circumstance and through no fault of his own.

He tried to catch Eresth's attention to give him a reassuring nod, to hopefully communicate with him that he was there, that he was ready, should events fall ill. Whether he saw him or not, Melinkale could not be sure, and whether or not he would even understand the message, he could also not be certain. Regardless, the gesture was made, which was all that could be done. Indeed, the voice spoke to Eresth and Eresth alone, and any words spoken from Melinkale's mouth would be completely and utterly rude at this point. Besides, the quiet gave him more opportunity to watch, to take in every detail his keen senses could detect, and to be able to react, in whatever way the situation demanded.

"I am with all living things and of all existing things. But I have no power over the balance of the universe, for that is an eternal principle beyond anyone's control" the voice replied to Eresth. "This balance was upset by the foolish lord Thalstein who displaced matter from the center of the universe to his world by the power within his hammer. This balance must be returned. Ye must return to thy worlds, and the core of the universe must return here. An exchange must be made, by the same tools that caused the imbalance in the first place. Strike this cavern with the hammer, Eresth Derennor, and ye shall return to the world ye belong in."

Eresth looked to Melinkale and to the hammer, then to Joseph and about, at the invisible voice. He sweated, his left hand tingled with its exposure. It was now all or nothing: either these were advocates, or they were not.
"No," he said. "Suppose I don't trust any of this. Suppose I don't want to be involved in any of this. I don't know where by kilsch I am, and I'm definitely not fiddling with the core of the universe." He turned to Melinkale. "You go first. Don't you also want to return home?"

Melinkale glanced at Eresth, then to the hammer, and lastly to Joseph. He had been waiting patiently for his turn to speak, and as the voice had not yet acknowledged that is was alright for him to do so, etiquette dictated that he would continue to wait. Eresth seeemed very distressed, and Melinkale could certainly understand his reasoning. He sighed very quietly. For as much as Eresth had managed to crawl under his skin, he still wished no ill will upon him.

"I am afraid the voice speaks now to you, malo," he said, sounding almost apologetic, "though, I would like to make it known that I have a few questions, when it is appropriate for me to ask them. Preferrably, before friend Eresth strikes."

He ended with a polite nod. He was concerned about the boy, mainly. Leaving him alone in the cave if this was truly the end of their journey. He was concerned for their safety as well, knowing the nature of magic and how fragile it could be. He was in awe of the power of the Being that occupied their present company, but...as was his nature, his mind needed more, needed tobe fed more knowledge to satiate his need to just know.

Joseph was baffled. They were so close to fixing the universe, but now the adults were making it all confusing and he couldn't understand. He made a mental note to himself that if being a grown-up was so difficult, he never wanted to grow up. He marched up to the hammer, grabbed it, and managed to lift the hammer up to his knees before letting it drop to the floor. There was a deep thud, much deeper than would be expected, as the hammer hit the cave, and immediately the black mist began gathering around the cave. It approached Joseph and swirled about him, but somehow didn't manage to attach itself to him. Joseph kept frantically thudding the hammer against the floor and soon you could see that the room was getting smaller around them. The stone was growing back like scar-tissue filling a gaping wound. The mist seemed to give up on Joseph and started swirling about the nearest other person: Eresth. Soon he was completely enveloped by it and he disappeared out of sight. But Joseph kept pounding the hammer against the floor in a strange frenzy. And the voice was silent.

Melinkale hung his head. There was madness going on around him...he saw Eresth disappear, but he could not take his eyes off of the boy for long. He seemed so driven, mad almost in his attempts to right this wrong, to mend this tear in space and time: the culmination of their entire journey. He wanted to offer to help, but he dared not interrupt. Instead, he called out over the madness, his voice nearly swallowed up by the hammering that filled the room, but surely heard all the same.

"Will he be safe?"

It was all he needed to know. It was the only question left on his mind -- all the rest could be dwelt upon in quiet contemplation on rainy days. But the boy...the boy he would worry over, and never truly know the answer. Knowing now that Eresth had gone, he assumed he would be next...but before he left, he hoped above all hope that the powers that be would grant him one last answer, and then he could peacefully fade out of where it was that he had never belonged, and return to the warm embrace of his priestess...and his home.

Joseph seemed oblivious to what was going on around him. He just kept at his frantic task. As the black mist approached Melinkale, the light returned and as an intense being of light it encircled Joseph, standing behind the boy, and the voice spoke: "Melinkale my friend, you have done well and you will return to where you belong. Your service here has been invaluable and so shall your rewards be to you. Joseph belongs here - not only here in this world, but also right here in the centre of the universe. This is his choice." The voice spoke softer than ever before, almost apologetically, trying to console Melinkale's worries as the mist gathered round him. Joseph was finding it more and more difficult to swing the hammer anymore, so instead he began to pick it up vertically and drop it straight down to the floor. The growing walls of the room were pushing him and Melinkale closer together. Joseph glanced up at the elf between his strikes, and grinned confidently, in his heart hoping that Melinkale could be proud of him.

Melinkale nodded, pleased with this reassurance that the boy would be safe, the boy had chosen his path, and he could leave knowing the path was set before him. As he caught Joseph's gaze, he returned his smile with one of his own: a genuine, bright smile that lined his soft eyes with delicate wrinkles that one only attains from smiling many times over the course of a long life. He nodded...he was proud. He was so very proud of the young man who stood before him. There was much he wanted to say, but there was no time. He hoped the unspoken words that lingered in the air would be enough...

...and as the mist enveloped him, the words faded away, lost in the dark with the smile, leaving nothing behind but the memory, which would hopefully never fade.

The last thing Melinkale saw as he disappeared in the mist was the being of light pressing its face to Joseph's cheek and whispering "thank you son, your sacrifice will never be forgotten." And the rock closed in on Joseph, encapsulating him as the centre of the universe.


End.

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