Alternate Walants Universe 7
We will start with Astra 7....
She had been captured while trying to gain the final token that would have allowed her entry into the Daughters of the Hunteress. While hunting, the hunter had become the prey, and then a bait for OTHER prey. Her target, who's scaley hide would have guaranteed her admission into the Sisterhood by showing her skilled as a huntress, instead of killing her outright, had chained her to a wall and slowly stripped her....over the course of days and weeks.....of every article of clothing. Spells had kept her muscles from atrophying as she was bound, while other spells had removed the grime and mess associated with long bouts of being unbathed (a lure that smelled gamey was not worth anything, as Vellus the dragon had said on occasion). Then , after being rescued by Fred, after he had slain Vellus, both had been teleported into the Calamari desert to die by a vengful Minestus. Only by luck did they escape that fate.....and then luck seemed to turn again against the Amazon warrior and the brave (but somewhat frustrating) Lord Fred.
Fred had been seriously injured, and then "repaired" by the eccentric Dr. Vincent.....but leaving him in a freakish state with scissors for hands. Fred and Astra had convinced Vincent to undo the "improvements" to Fred, but at a critical point in the spell.....she'd sneezed and thus had been teleported away and recaptured by Minestus, the dragon mage.
The dragon had cursed her with the form of a demifox who had been in season, and then released her to let nature take it's course. Fred had been the first person she had sensed (his scent had carried in the wind), and the instincts of the fox had taken over.
Fred, after Vincent had cured his scissorhand condition, had then gone out in a quest to find Astra. He had been searching the forest for hours, and had found no trace of her, so had set up camp for the night when the instinct controlled demifox had come into the campsite with only....er....one thing on her hormone clouded mind. Fred had mistaken her for on of the recent arrival of Kitsune from Nippon, and had yielded to the vixen's demands (for to refuse a kitsune, alone in the woods like this, would be suicidal). Thus, Fred was infected and subsequently transformed into a demifox as he slept after ministering to Astra's demands.
After striking a bargain with the mysterious rogue dragoness Malachi, Astra and Fred were left with the dying words of Malachi (who had been fatally wounded in the final confrontation with the vile) that a dragon gem called the Crystallic held the secret to a cure for their demifox curse. They were to take the gem to a werebear mage known as Synizn, in the infamous town of Walants, and give it to him. Synizn would be able to cure them.
However, through an incredible set of circumstances, the demifoxes had found themselves at the mercy of a corrupt Walants barrister and his dwarf lackey as they seemed to be doomed to ferry themselves back and forth between Walants and the lair of Minestus, forever trying to get to the dead dragons treasure Hoard. Yes, they had somehow managed to cure themselves of their demifox curse, by DRINKING the Crystallic, but......
Things got worse, when it didn't seem possible.
First, through the barrister toying with the Crystallic, Astra had been changed into ebony (and I mean EBONY) beauty who's parents wouldn't even recognize (nor believe if told) as their daughter. Bad enough that the lawyer, Mater Rifts, was blackmailing her into cooperation (threatening to reveal to her parents about conceiving children out of wedlock.....which would lead to her loss of her inheritance as princess and subsequent banishment from Aqualaria).
However, now Astra could see that the odds of that NOT happening would have been long indeed, even without the machinations of Rift.
See, even if she could bring the children to term anonymously (difficult indeed since her natural form bespoke of her identity.....with towering over the rest of the rabble at 6'1" and having flame red hair......a sure indicator of her Amazon heritage and her being.....who she was). There was the fact that......she couldn't join the Sisterhood (no non-virgin's allowed), and she couldn't hide from the Sisterhood's Elder's her sudden....er....change in status (they had ways of telling....let's just say). Oh, she could lie well enough about what had happened (thank Minerva that she finally had been able to overcome that tendency to scratch her nose whenever she tried to tell a falsehood), but there still remained the matter about her and the duties of her station.
There had been several avenues available to her in fulfilling them, but she had chosen the Way of the Huntress to fulfill the need to join, for a time, the ranks of the priesthood before truly becoming worthy of higher office.....of her Station in life (author's note: this was inherited from the Amazon's interaction with the Romans of long ago....who the same custom.) She had intended to join, and thus forever devoting herself to her goddess, and any question of who would proceed her after her death as Queen would be decided by the War Council). She'd already declared her course of action, and was bound to it. But she couldn't follow it, because.....she was no longer a virgin.
She then suffered mentally and emotionally over what had happened. The vow she'd broken.
Broken through no fault of her own, in my opinion.....
Anyway finally getting near the treasure hoard, the strain was starting to get to Astra....as this dream she told Fred about......mayhap induced in part by the stress of what had happened before she fell asleep.....?
Anger's flared, then smoldered. They were strangers and couldn't afford to provoke anyone. Rift accepted a room while Tarin accepted the responsibility of guarding their two "partners." Fred and Astra made their beds of blankets and straw and all the while a torrent of thoughts, of hopes and anxieties, roiled within the heart and mind of the warrior maiden. There was little talk that evening as the dwarf smoked his pipe and Fred tied knots on a counting rope. The strong odor of roast and ale reminded them of Rift's whereabouts. Outside, the night advanced in quiet. Fred knew not how to console his friend. There she was, dark as coal, her skin looking almost burnt. The innkeeper had mentioned the word 'demoness' and Fred could see why.
As the stars shined in the late hour and only crickets played their fiddles, Astra and Fred lay their heads down to sleep. Before their eyes closed, however, a new sound was heard drifting in the night air.
"My woman stands at her window,
Curved lines 'gainst square glass.
'Gainst sunset red and golded --
Come to me...
Come to me, warm arms of my lass."
Astra lifted herself and remembered. She remembered days frolicking in the woods and nights dancing round the pole; she remembered her many sisters and the fun they all enjoyed. She thought of her sisters --would she ever regain their company?-- and she felt a keen loss. Hearing the song of the lover outside, she turned her face from the knight and the dwarf, and in the starlight only the crickets witnessed the tear upon her cheek.
Dreams and other creatures of the night.
It was funny how much things could change in just a few of days, thought Rift. He lay back in his soft bed and imagined all the riches that would soon be his. And the power and comfort that would come with it. And not only riches awaited him; he now had an Aqualarian princess caught in his grasp. Astra was perhaps the greatest prize he would gain from all this. Events had certainly changed dramatically since he first set eyes on those two insolent demi-foxes [#1699]. At that time he had only thought of them as guides to a dragon's treasure. And all he wanted to do was take that wealth and use it to rise through the ranks of Walants' bureaucracy. But now he realized that the opportunity that had been handed to him was so much greater than that. Astra had become the key that would make all his dreams come true.
And to think, he might have simply let her go after she had led him to the dragon hoard. But Lady Luck had chosen to be kind and Rift had grasped who she really was. And that changed everything. She was now his obedient slave, and oh how Rift felt good about that. And Fred? Well things had changed for Fred as well. Rift couldn't very well just let him go on his merry way any more. No, now that Astra had become an integral part of Rift's future plans, Fred was a very real liability. Too bad for Fred.
Fred had had a hard enough time falling asleep as it was. The night seemed filled with the sounds of darkness. And most were nowhere near as soulful as a lover's song. Wolves' howls and the rush of bats' wings filled the mid-night air. Rats and other unclean things scurried through the barn's woodwork and burrowed through the heaps of soiled hay. Fred was no tender boy or soft merchant, he was not unused to less than perfect accommodations; but still, he would be glad when he finally reached home. And at some point he could not remember, Fred finally closed his eyes and slept.
Until he suddenly woke up. As if from a dream. The night was still black, the moon still floated above the horizon. But something had changed. It took a moment, but Fred finally realized what it was. A new sound had joined the dark rustlings of the night. Laughter.
Astra was softly giggling within the folds of her wool blanket. To Fred's ears it sounded almost...crazed. There was no happiness in the sound, rather it was filled with a frantic anticipation. And an undertone of desperation. Fred closed his eyes, praying that the giggling would stop. "Freddy?" Astra's voice softly called out. "I know you're awake." Her voice was eerily calm and almost child-like. Fred found it rather unnerving. Earlier, Astra had been crying, and then came the strange laughter, and now this. Fred knew that when a woman was with child that she was prone to mood swings, but he wondered if there was more to all this. He wondered if Astra had somehow lost her mind.
"I'm free, Freddy," Astra whispered. "My dream told me I'm free." There was a giddiness in her voice. If she hadn't spoken so clearly and convincingly, Fred would have thought she was tipsy. He almost laughed, picturing Astra as a drunk, a tankard of mead sloshing about in her hand. But this was no time for laughter. Indeed, Fred wanted the laughter to stop. "What do you mean, you're free?" he asked, hoping the question would quiet her down.
"I had a beautiful dream," she said. "I was standing in front of mirror made of white water, but my reflection was coal black. Which was strange because I wasn't. My skin was as it had always been, my hair just as red. And then the reflection spoke to me; it asked me who I was. 'Astra', I answered. And then the reflection asked me who it was. And then I woke up." Astra broke out into another bout of giggles, and now more than ever Fred feared she had fallen into madness.
"I....had that same dream...and I think that that was me you were seeing, sister." Astra 5 said, looking at the stunned Astra 7. "Well met."
Astra 7 sees only welcome in the other Astra's eyes....and feels herself shiver. The miraculous turnabout today still was sinking in....but she was still very much on the ragged edge of an emotional collapse. Fred 7 leaned over and whispered comforting things into her ear, and Astra 7 felt her heart slow...and she leaned over and kissed the brave knight tenderly.
Fred 7 had given Astra 7 a shoulder to lean on....and his heart. Astra 7, who's life had been turned upside down sighed and found that this.....was good.
A duet was stronger than a solo....
179 continued were he had left off on this tale....as only a Rule (and perhaps a few other entities) could view things in it's entirety.....
"Don't you see, Freddy?!" she cried, "if I'm Astra then the reflection can't be. But if I am the reflection then I can't be Astra! And if I'm not Astra then Rift has no hold on me!" Astra again descended into a gale of ferocious laughter, but this time Fred did not think she would stop. He reached out across the darkness and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. He shook her, once, twice and yet again, until her mad laughter subsided and only hoarse breathing and the shuffle of horses filled the cold stable.
And then her little girl voice spoke out once again. "You wonder why I sometimes call you Freddy, don't you?" she asked. Fred nodded in the darkness. "When I was a little girl I had a playmate named Freddy. He was a boy of the household. A mischievous little one, he was. I liked playing with him."
Astra was unprepared for what Fred said next. "Why did you want to join the Paine Gang?" he asked.
"You don't remind me of that little boy, Fred," she laughed, ignoring his question, "you're too damn serious. He's older now of course, but he's still full of laughter and tricks. Sometimes I miss the fun we had together." Fred heard her sigh; a breath of melancholy and heartache. "I don't know what I expected, Fred. But I had hoped to free myself of my bonds and then free you."
"They would have killed you if you had tried. And then me," Fred answered.
"Yes, but I would have died in combat, and not like a trussed up pig," she said, any hint of childishness suddenly gone. "Perhaps then, the gods would have pardoned me my sin."
"Sin?" Fred asked, uncertain of what she meant.
"The life I carry in my belly," Astra replied.
Fred was surprised by this; he found Aqualarian society quite baffling. "But I thought you said you were unmarried. Where then is the sin?"
"Can't you see!" she cried out in frustration. "Married, unmarried, that is of no matter. But I am a Daughter of Artemis! I have given my life to the Goddess of the Hunt. But now my vows lie shattered and my soul is forfeit. When a woman becomes a warrior she binds her fate with the Virgin Huntress. I swore on my soul and my life that I would be chaste!"
Fred now began to understand the gravity of Astra's situation. "And so, if Rift sends word of your...conduct, then your House will be dishonored. And you will be..."
"Cast out," Astra finished. "Exiled."
"But as long as your condition is kept secret, known only to me and Rift and Tarin," Fred continued, "then there is hope that you can avoid such a disastrous outcome?" Astra nodded her head, "Yes. My family need never know what has happened. It is only the Goddess that I would have to appease. I must offer the child to her, in the proscribed manner. It would be raised by priestesses in the service of Artemis. I then will have to bear whatever punishment Artemis places on me." "Your gods are strict," Fred said, "to punish you for an act you had no control over. You were bewitched, and did not even know what or who you were." Astra sniffed haughtily, "The gods demand much and without equivocation, as all true gods do." Fred disregarded Astra's rather arrogant reply. She had never really spoken to him of her faith. If she deemed it a private matter, then so be it. But it was obvious now that she was very dedicated to them. Still, Fred preferred his own gods. While they could be just as demanding, they were never this particular.
"But if you enter into service with your priestesses and suffer punishment at the hands of your god, won't your parents notice?" Fred asked. "My mother knows all that happens within Aqualaria," Astra answered, "but the dictates of a god's will, even a divine punishment, is a secret that cannot be revealed except by the gods themselves. She cannot intervene nor even inquire. It would be just between me and Artemis."
"Well that's a relief," Fred said encouragingly. And then, lowering his voice, "Then the sooner we break Rift's hold over you, the better. But how shall we do it?" "There's no need to whisper," Astra said with a touch of anger. "That little monster, Tarin, can hear your every word. And though your face is hidden in shadow, the darkness hides little from his dwarven eyes." Fred's face turned red with embarrassment. He had forgotten all about Tarin. And even though in the Great Kingdom dwarves were more rare than an eclipse of the sun, even he had heard of the superior capabilities of the diminutive race. Deciding on what to do about Rift right now was obviously out of the question. But there was one other question Fred felt he could ask. And Tarin might be the one to answer it.
"But now that Rift has discovered your situation and knows that he can...push you around, what will he do with you? What does Rift want from you?"
Rift got up from bed. He was restless and unable to sleep. He just couldn't wait to get back on the road. The treasure should already have been his, but the fates seemed to be playing games with him. Like a man lost in a desert, chasing phantom oases, every time he got close to the lair, something would happen to keep it out of his reach. First the bandit gang and then that black knight. But this time nothing would stop him from reaching that treasure. Rift took a deep breath, walked to the small cupboard and poured himself a brandy. Perhaps that would calm his nerves.
He took a small sip, letting the warmth of the fluid flow down from his mouth into his body. It tasted wonderful. He took another drink, and relaxed as the amber spirit spread to his anxious bones. Sometimes life was good, he smiled. But sometimes it wasn't. Rift thought of all that he had endured during the course of his career, and his eyes darkened. He was tired of his life. He was tired of biding his time, diligently working his way up the BMC ladder. He was tired of taking the crap that all those above his station were wont to throw his way. He was tired of just being a cog in a very small wheel. And for what? Medical benefits and a pension fund? With unlimited wealth, who needed health insurance or job security? And why should a man of his obvious quality just settle for an under-secretariat or a burghership? Why not make a play for the BMC itself? A partnership with one of the Ruling Concerns? Before he met Astra the thought of rising to such a great height would have been ridiculous, but now...
The hard part was getting the big boys' attention. Well, he would soon have the financial wherewithal to make them pay attention, and once he was let into the game he would play Astra as his ace-in-the-hole. 'Ahh, Astra. You have changed everything for me', Rift smiled and took another drink.
The Cult Masters of the BMC would dearly love to open up Aqualaria to their particular services. To date however, their market share was less than half-a-percent. But not due to lack of trying. Rather, Aqualaria kept its borders closed up tight and had blocked all of the BMC's attempts to move in. The amazons were a less than friendly people, and in fact stayed isolated from most of their neighbors. But Rift was betting Astra could change all that. She wasn't just some she-warrior with a tiara, she was a member of the Royal household. One way or another he was sure that she would open a great many doors for him. Whether she wanted to or not.
Oh there was risk, of that Rift had no illusions. But the payoff was absolutely worth it. He put the empty glass down and suddenly flinched. His hand had accidentally brushed up against the pouch that held the Crystallic. Rift did not like the thing, especially after what had happened when he used it on Astra. But if Astra's motherly condition was what had placed her within Rift's control, then it was the dragon's magic gem that would keep her there. Like it or not, the thing was a part of his life now.
Rift lay back down on the bed and quickly drifted off to sleep. Snug as a bug and with all his worries laid to rest, the middle-aged barrister dreamed only happy dreams. Sometimes life was good.
Considering the fact that Tarin Gazin doublecrossed him eventually and Astra 7 forced him to lose the Crystallic when she rebelled....Rift was in serious trouble. He may make it back to Wallents....but it's a long way by foot....and with little to no money and supplies he better look out for Orcs.....
To make a long short, Orcs attacked. Fred fell foul to a hole in the ground, and while he survived it and even found his worlds version of the Flamebane armor....oh...don't try to go toe to toe with a guy named Zerm with it....he made it.....and he knows the weaknesses of the Armor....as Astra 2 can well tell you.....
While Fred was getting deadly needed equipment to fight the Orcs in order to have a prayer at living and rescuing Astra 7 from this fowl place, Astra had rebelled against Rift, and made him lose his Crystalic. Rifts got the hell out of their while Astra fought many orcs with a discarded shield and battle ax. She was able to defeat the Orcen leader in mortal combat....but she was gravely injured and fell unconscious. This caused the Orcs to flee, but the stress of battle caused her to also go into premature labor...and the infants died....for a time....The slaves that Tarin used on her made her appear dead.
With heavy heart, Fred buys Tarin's ruse....and thus makes his way home....with some unwelcome Dwarven company....to supposedly keep Fred safe....but to really keep Fred from interfering....
With heavy heart, Fred buys Tarin's ruse....and thus makes his way home....with some unwelcome Dwarven company....to supposedly keep Fred safe....but to really keep Fred from interfering....
After a disastrous run through some haunted woods, where some of the dwarves lost their lives and a sword got rather attached to Fred (let me see it after this, Fred...it's a very evil thing!).....Fred and the others came across Lady Rowane....Fred's sister.
A flashback to several weeks ago:
Within the Great Kingdom, a regal girl lay weeping as a handsome youth consoled her, "Do not cry fair Lady. Yes, your brother shall not be coming back, but his name will live on..." 
But the Lady Rowena D'Honaire could not accept his words. Though her elder brother had been gone so long, she refused to accept that he was dead. The following day, she went to consult her father's magician, a member of the Order of the White Hand . "I'm sorry, My Lady," he said. "If we could by magic have determined whether Lord Frederigo was alive or dead, do you not think that we would already have done so?" "But surely there must be something that you can do?" The mage looked all about him, as if someone might be hiding behind the ornate tapestries that decorated the walls of his chamber. Then he asked: "Can I rely upon your discretion? What I am about to tell you could get us both into big trouble." Rowena looked startled, but then she nodded. "Of course, so long as it does not involve a threat to the D'Honaires or to the realm." "It does not. There is nothing that can be done to find your brother using white magic, but that is not the only sort of magic. Now, we talk about white magic and black magic as if there was a sharp dividing line between them, but in fact it is far less clear-cut than that. There are a number of spells that lie near the borderline. Over time, the Order has - in response to public demand - grown more cautious, so that some of those spells are now classed as black magic and therefore are forbidden, when once they would have been allowed. I am old enough that I learnt them when they were allowed. There is one particular spell, now classed as 'black' because it involves the shedding of human blood, that I think will not only tell us if your brother is alive, but if he is alive will indicate in which direction to go to find him."
The mage produced an ordinary compass an inch or so across. Within it, a magnetised needle floated on a bed of liquid, and always aligned itself north-south. He explained: "If a drop of blood from a blood relation of the person to be found is dropped into the liquid, and the appropriate spell enacted, then if the person is alive the needle will always point in their direction. If they are dead, then the needle will spin aimlessly. Will you let me prick your finger, My Lady?" As he spoke, he levered off the glass lid of the compass. "Off course." The mage pricked Rowena's finger- tip with a pin, squeezed a drop of her blood into the compass liquid, and then replaced the lid.
Rowena looked at the needle, floating in the now slightly red-tinged liquid. "It hasn't worked," she said disappointedly. "It's still pointing in the same direction as before." "I haven't cast the spell yet. You have many blood relatives, and the spell is needed to attune the needle to the correct one. Now, you must realise that it is far more likely that your brother is dead than that he is alive, so fortify yourself against being disappointed."
The mage held the compass in his hand and said a lot of what sounded like gibberish to Rowena, in which she could only recognise at one point "Lord Frederigo D'Honaire". When he had finished, the needle slowly swung to orientate itself in a completely different direction. "He's alive!" they both exclaimed, Rowena in relief and the mage in surprise.
"I must go and gather some supplies, and then saddle my horse" said Rowena. "Let me get well clear of the castle before you tell my parents that I have gone to find Fred." "Oh, no! I'm not telling them. You mustn't go. They have already lost, as they think, their son. If they knew that I was implicated in the departure of their eighteen year-old daughter on such a risky venture, then I would lose my head." "But I can't tell them that I know Fred is alive, and how I know, which I'd need to do to get them to send out a search party. You said yourself that because of the use of black magic this had to be our secret. So don't tell them anything. Instead I will leave them a note, telling them that I have gone to find Fred and that they are not to worry." "But they will worry, dreadfully." "I know, but what else can I do?" He had no good answer to that.
Perhaps it was the set look on Fred's face that deterred the dwarves from stopping him as he went to investigate the cries for help. Or perhaps they decided that they were now close enough to Fred's homeland that they might as well consider their escorting duties at an end. Whatever the reason, they did not try to intervene.
The cries were coming from within a stand of trees some two hundred yards from their camp-site. After his recent experiences in Foxes' Forest, Fred had to force himself to enter the trees. It was dusk outside the grove, and even darker inside, but he was able to make out a slim figure tied to one of the trees. As he approached, he noticed that the figure had long blonde hair. Though dressed in male attire, it must be a woman. As he got closer still, he thought: There's something very familiar about her.
They recognised each other simultaneously, Fred crying "Rowena" and Rowena crying "Fred". "How on Earth did you get here?" Fred asked her as he untied her bonds. "I came looking for you, silly," she said, half laughing and half crying. "My magic compass did its job. Of course, I didn't know how far away you were, but I knew the direction. A couple of hours ago, I got jumped by a couple of bandits, who took my horse, money and pack, and tied me to this tree." "They didn't...?" asked Fred, suddenly fearful. "Rape me? No. I told them that I had the pox, and they weren't prepared to risk that I might be telling the truth." "So how are mum and dad?" "They were fine when I left. The main news is that there are rumours that the Great Kingdom may invade Aquilaria. The queen was killed in a riding accident a month or so ago and - with the Princess Astra missing - Aquilaria is in a state of confusion over the succession. Some back home see that as offering us an opportunity."
Fred did not like the sound of that at all.
"An opportunity?!!?" said Fred aghast. His mind was reeling from the sudden image of his sword-sister, Astra, coming to his mind. The loss he felt soured any thought of gain for the Kingdom. "For what!?! Have we sunk so low as to take from the tree any fruit for which our lips lust?"
Rowena was jarred by the power in her brother's voice. She looked him over; he was dirty, unkempt and smelled of sweat, smoke and unpleasant things. The cloak that covered his body was soiled, burned in places, and ragged. She could see that he wore armor beneath the cloth, and it seemed to emanate brightness in the dying light of the day's end. This man before her was indeed her brother, yet his travels had changed him. She would have spoken a word in response to his outburst, yet the sight of two diminutive men caused her pause. And then she said, "What are those!"
The embittered voice of Dokken rang clear in the darkening air; "Bloody! That dame is as stupid as a ewe!"
Fred was up in a heartbeat. "Take that slander back dwarf Dokken or you shall pay by my hand!"
"By your hand?!!?" cried Dokken sarcastically. "Will you kill me or will you let your sword do it for you?!!?"
The words caused a chill to run up Fred's spine. His anger at the slight to his sister was forgotten as the truth of the sword-binding caused more serious considerations to flood his mind. It was the voice of Lem that was next heard. "Be the lass a girl of this country? And if so, what was the cause of her screams?"
After explanations and introductions, the foursome settled down and set camp. The Lady Rowena D'Honaire was awed by the dwarves. She had never laid eyes on any and had always thought them to be the most exotic of men. She had once seen an elf, but that one was haughty and 'high-brows' did not sit well with Rowena. As the fire crackled the girl continued her barrage of questions, a barrage that had begun a half hour earlier.
"What is it like to live underground? I would think it so dark and dreary....are there days when you do not even see the light of the sun?"
Lem rolled his eyes at her ignorance but he found the patience to begin to answer another of her silly questions. Dokken, however, did not have the patience. "SwordSlave, tell your mother's daughter to quit her yacking!"
Fred, who knew that the dwarves would not treat his sister as the Lady she was, shot back by speaking to Lem. "Goodly Lem, tell your cousin that he should speak his thoughts with the Lady D'Honaire and that if he should slight her that the Lord D'Honaire, here seated, will be more than happy to give him a proper education."
Dokken grumbled and Fred only grumbled louder. It was Rowena who tried to calm the matter. "My apologies, Sir Lem, Sir Dokken," she said most politely. "I did not mean any offense, I only wished to learn more of your kind, your way. I will bestill my voice, and let you slumber."
The night followed its course and though Dokken snored, Lem was on duty. Fred and Rowena were awake as well, staring at each other in the light of the fire. "It is good to see you brother," she said.
"And you," said Fred. "But..."
"But...." continued Rowena. "....the world is a troubled place and we are not where we need to be to make things right."
"Aaah Wen. Everything is crazy yet still you can read my mind. I do love you so. But you are right; we need to get ourselves home and fast! There is so much to tell, so much to report. The things I've seen, Wen, you wouldn't believe it even if I told you! The Dragon is dead and another two as well, yet still our people are not free from madness. If any of the Dukes and Barons think they can use the troubles of Aqualaria to our advantage they are wrong; the Aqualarians are a stranger people than any of our Teachers know."
"And besides," said Rowena. "As Dad always says, 'the foreigner that you help in the day may be the friend that saves you in the night.'" Fred was suddenly startled and excited; "What did you say?!!?"
"I only said that based on what I've heard of these Aqualarians, they might prove better allies than subjugated servants." "No, not the meaning...the words....our father's words. Why did you say that right now?"
"I dunno. Why, what's the matter?"
"There was a man in that dread Forest. He made me...think, before I made a hasty decision. He, too, spoke of strangers and aid. He would not tell me his name and there was something very strange about him. He was lost to the fog and mist when I came to the aid of the dwarves. He's probably dead now, if the Forest had anything to do about it. I was just spooked when you used the same words as he."
"Then I shan't spook you any longer, dear brother. Let us sleep now, for tomorrow we continue onwards. There is a hamlet not far from this place, I passed it coming southward. We should be able to get steeds there and make our way homeward all the quicker."
With that said and done, the two fell asleep, none the wiser that Dokken had his ears open the whole time.
When morning came all was readied and soon the four were off. Off, only to be sucked here with Astra's kidnappers. The Janeways and Jellico stunned the lot of Dwarves, rightly fearing that in that free for all that THEY might bet chopped up by those damn dwarven criminals.....and also caught Fred 7 in the crossfire.
"Yes, I'd like to thank you for hitting me with that fell magical weapon of yours!" Fred 7 growled, rubbing where his chest was still numb from the stun setting.
"Hey, at least it didn't kill you!" Fred 6 joked, trying to lighten the situation. Fred 7 frowned at Fred 6 for a few moments, and then starts to laugh an honest laugh.
Yes, it could have been MUCH worse than just a devilish device hitting him with the force of a club!
"Okay....I did a few things here," 179 says before leaving (authorized time dirtside nearly gone). "I changed the nature of that sword that Fred 7 has.....it's no longer magical....but it has the virtue of not draining the user of vital essence at odd times. Considering that I can't send Fred 6's group home, I took the liberty of linking Fred 6's Sigin with the treasure that Tarin stole from Minestus' Hoard...."
Remaining Crystallics vanish (without a cry of protest....having them around gives the Military and the Terrans the shakes!)
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