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April Grab Bag 2011

Startear

Alright, the elements for this month's Grab Bag is...



Hatred

The need of help

A stick

Procrastination

A change

Dream




All works must be related to Elfquest, whether canon-based, original character, alternate universe, or whatever. Writings must contain all the above elements. Art can either contain all the elements, or illustrate one of the writings.

RedheadEmber

Her Dream



They came to her

in time of need,

the spirits of her dream.

As she grew tall

she wondered why

the world was filled with hate.

She strived,

so brave,

to change the world;

she became their child.

Now she leans upon a stick

telling you all this:

Don’t put off

seeing the world

as others might it see.

Embala

Love your poem, Redhead - a long, adventurous and devoted life nicely wrapped up.
And I have a fiiting background pic in mind Wink - obvious choice but a pain to clear.

TrollHammer

Nice poem Redhead! I always like your poems!

RedheadEmber

Thanks.

SailorSilvanesti

A Quest of Unusual Pursuits



He struggled with the garment, feeling the unfamiliar -though not entirely unpleasant- fabric brush softly against his skin and delighted at the sensation...



Oh, why had he waited so long to do this?



He knew simple procrastination could not be blamed, no, it was the fear of being caught, found out, the fear of being shamed by those he loved and held dear...



A smile graces his lips, sliding the short puffy sleeve up his arm and fiddling with the material until it sat just right on his pale shoulders, so unlike that of the one who ususally wore this outfit.



He tried to lace it up, finding he needed help with the strings, but felt the fire of embarrassment flaring in his cheeks as he realised exactly why it was the owner of this garment required Moonshade's help or indeed, any other's just to get into it on occasion...



Biting his lip, tears stung at the corners of his eyes as he realised his dream would not then be realised...when there was a rapping at the entrance to the tree-hollow...



Blood drained from his already pale features, he darted his gaze about, body tensing under the soft fabric in instinctive need to flee, to escape, to-



Too late...



~~~~~`



Striding into their shared hollow, Cutter took notice of the forlorn figure before him, and paused a moment at the bizarre situation...



Placing the newly-carved staff, a gift of Redlance's, by the door, he silently padded over and knelt by his Lifemate, caressing the soft face in his hands and absently brushing away the tears running down moon-pale cheeks.



"Oh, Skywise, what is wrong?" He asked, though his voice was full of concern, the Chieften found himself upon the receiving end of humourless laughter...



"C-Cutter, how can you- *giggle* -how can you ask that when I sit here in one of Leetah's finest gowns...?" Wheezed the stargazer, a smile quirked Cutter's lips as he raised an eyebrow; finally taking in the sight of his Lifemate in a beautiful, though delicate, pink dress that flowed like water.



He vaguely remembered it to be one of Leetah's favourites...



Smiling at the confused Skywise, he offered his Soul-Brother a hand up and spun him about, gently lacing up the back of the dress with nimble fingers that remembered the many occasions he had done so for his other Lifemate...



"Skywise, we always knew you were a little...different, and there is no shame in that. We love you for who you are, and not what you wear," came the gentle voice from over by the entrance, both startled Wolfriders glanced up at the bemused Healer as she surveyed them, smiling.

"If you had come to me earlier, Beloved, I would have offered you free reign over my garments, anytime you wish to change I offer them to you..." She offered graciously, to an amused Chieften and a furiously blushing stargazer...



~~~~~~~~~~~

Skywise trembled as Cutter's breath blew hotly on his neck, being held from behind was exhilarating...Leetah laughed softly at their antics and decided to divulge certain secrets she had sworn to keep withheld...

In order to ease the stargazer's discomfort at being caught, of course, as she would never be accused of gossiping...



"Worry not, my Fahr, you are no the first...just last moon I have caught no less than the great Strongbow, himself, trying on Moonshade's new outfit..." Their gaping mouths matched the shocked expressions, and she grinned like the She-Wolf when had learned to be during her time with the WolfRiders.



"Not to mention, Redlance, Kimo, Scouter...and even you, Beloved, for Cutter has been caught more than once in my own outfits...have you not, my Tam?"



His blush was answer enough...



~~~~~~~~~



Recovering himself, if not his dignity -which he was sure had been permanantly removed...



Cutter leaned in closer to Skywise and whispered, "Although we love you unconditionally no matter what you wear, I'm not exactly complaining about this outfit..."



The Stargazer's eyes were wide with surprise and...something else, as two voracious wolves began to circle closer and closer to him...



Just before he was overrun, Skywise managed to whisper out, "Maybe I should wear your dresses more often, Leetah!"



The only answer, two soft grunts of assent...



THE END



~~~~~~~~~



No idea where I was going with that one, a random idea that popped up when I read the Challenge...

Yeah, so let me know, it was weird, random and basically had no plot...

But I wrote and liked it...let me know if you think something would improve it, writing in a hurry so I may have missed something...

faeriegirl

Love the poem, as always!!

*giggles* You're continuing your tradition of super-silly stories, I see, Sailor! Very nice!!

Cleopatra

Nice poem RedheadEmber.



Funny story Sailor, I can almost imagine the guys in their mates outfits.Laugh

SailorSilvanesti

Thanks Guys!^^

jeb

Aw, Sailor, I think that story is very sweet.

Startear

Redhead, your poem is good as always. It is about Shuna, isn't it?



Trollhammer, why are you invisible for me? I swear, I never see your posts, ever in my mail.



Crossdressing elfquest elves, hm? That's oddly funny, Sailor. My only critisism is that the hatred part isn't in the submission. Granted, it does not suit that story, but I still miss it. But beh. I have one question, though. Which of Moonshade's clothings did Strongbow try? The one from Discovery or Searcher and the Sword? You see, I want to illustrate it.

Arill_Returns

Vurdah crouched against the cave wall, too exhausted to run and too terrified to scream. The human hunters were drawing closer with their clubs and daggers, and there was nowhere for her to run, for the cave that she hoped would save her was now a trap.

~* I am here, I am trapped and can't get away! Please! Winnowill! Beloved, please, please hear me!*~

She knew it was no use trying to send to her lifemate or any member of the Great Tribe; she had daydreamed while out gathering again, and had wandered too far from the haven. No one could hear her now, and it would be hours before anyone noticed she'd not returned.

No one was going to save her.

Stupid, stupid weakling!

Soon the humans would come with the generations old hate in their hearts, and they would drag her out of this hole like a rabbit, and then they would slaughter her just as they'd done to Savah's family and Winnowill's; kill her and strip her skull of flesh and brandish her bones as trophies. And it was all because she could not pay attention, because she had never learned to handle a dagger when Leetah offered lessons, because she relied too much on Winnowill and Voll's protection, because now she hadn't so much as stick to defend herself with and because she was stupid and pathetic and

There was a rustling of branches and grass outside, and Vurdah heard the guttural speech of her pursuers. In despair, she buried her face in her hands and begged the High Ones that it would be quick.

Heavy footfalls echoed off the dripping walls, and Vurdah curled herself into a tiny ball, willing herself into nothingness.

Please please please...

She could hear the heavy breathing of the human, could hear him shuffling toward the back of the cave.

Please, the baby hasn't been born yet, need to see her need to be there with Winnowill nonono...

In a tiny, detached part of Vurdah's mind, she was slowly becoming aware of a prickling sensation at the nape of her neck. It was spreading now, a thousand prick-back quills needling at her skin.

I do not want to die.

He was there, but a spear length away from her, so close she could smell his sour scent. She stifled a sob and waited for the deathblow.

It did not come.

The moments dragged by, every heartbeat as long as a star's lifetime, and still the human did not lay a hand on her. Vurdah opened her eyes a fraction, squinting at the hunter crouched before her with a torch held aloft in one hand and a dagger at the ready in the other.

He looked...confused.

She raised her head the tiniest bit and watched as the mortal turned his eyes to the cave floor, where her footprints where clearly visible in the sand. He peered again at Vurdah, then back at her tracks, his brow furrowed. Had the hunting party sent a particularly slow scout? He was behaving as though he could not see her at all. Almost on impulse, the Sun Villager looked down at her own shaking hands, found them to be perfectly intact.

What was going on?

Then, to her astonishment, the hunter shook his crudely formed head and turned himself around, crawling back out to stand among his pack. Vurdah stared after him, not comprehending what had just happened. Dimly, she heard the brutes conversing among themselves in their rough language. She listened hard, and managed to pick out 'mist' and 'spirit tricks' among the agitated sea of words.

The group squabbled at length outside the cave, and Vurdah gathered enough from their speech to know that the scout was being berated for losing track of the 'spirit'. Scarcely daring to hope, Vurdah waited with baited breath to see what the humans would do. They lingered a moment longer, snarling at each other like wolves, and finally they turned their backs on her cave and ventured into the underbrush.

"Oh, High Ones..." Vurdah whispered, her voice cracking in relief. They were gone. They were gone, but she knew that they might not stay gone. She had to get away now, for she might not be so fortunate again.

It took a while to stand, for her legs trembled like a newborn fawn's, but soon Vurdah stepped out of the earth and slipped into the night.

~0~

"Release me!"

"Winnowill, be reasonable," Voll hissed, gripping his struggling lifemate's wrists as tightly as he dared. "You cannot put yourself in peril like this, not in your condition!"

"Blast my condition! She is helpless, she needs me! I cannot abandon her in the wilds like this!" she snarled, wrenching free of her mate's grasp. She was shouting, her voice sending frightened treewees scrambling for cover. She did not care, not now. Her gentle one was trapped somewhere, hunted by an unknown enemy, and Winnowill would not let anyone stand in her way, not Voll or her child unborn.

"He is right, Winnowill; you must stay behind. Lifebearers do not hunt, not this late into the carrying time." Leetah said quietly, wise enough to not lay a sympathetic hand on her dark sister. The older healer turned on her, her eyes darkened by fury and grief.

"You dare say such things to me? Vurdah is my lifemate-."

"She is my lifemate as well." Voll interjected, laying a hand between her shoulder blades.

"And she is my cousin. You are not the only one who loves Vurdah, Winnowill. You must trust us, and let us go."

The Glider healer looked between friend and lifemate, her anger slowly being replaced by desperation.

"I felt her. She was terrified. You cannot expect me to sit here..."

"Vurdah will understand." Leetah soothed. Winnowill was about to protest when a sharp send from the treetops silenced them all.

~*Quiet. Something's coming.*~

~*What is it, Strongbow? A longtooth?*~ Leetah asked nervously, her hands straying to the daggers hanging from her belt. Unconsciously, Voll and Winnowill moved close to each other, each ready to protect their mate.

~*It walks on two legs, but I can't catch a scent. To the trees, and be ready.*~ The archer sent grimly. The other three made ready to comply when a tremulous voice made itself heard.

"H-hello?"

"Vurdah?!"

Winnowill moved towards the voice with Voll at her heels, green eyes scanning the underbrush in the fading daylight for some sign of her gentle lifemate. She saw nothing, but was nearly knocked off her feet when an unseen presence threw itself into her arms.

"Lifemate!"

Winnowill felt arms around her, crushing her ribs and forcing the air from her lungs; bewildered, she reached out and felt warm skin under her fingertips.

"H-how?"

"I was caught in a cave, and one of them was coming towards me to...and I was terrified, lifemate, I had given up...oh, but something changed! They left, all of them, and now you cannot, and Voll cannot, and Strongbow-Strongbow!- did not and oh Winnowill!"

The healer put her arms around the babbling phantom, lowered her face into familiar curls. She held a solid body, and felt a heartbeat hammering against hers. The voice, the smell, the touch, all were Vurdah's.

She was safe.

"Praise the High Ones."

***

Okay, lame and sudden ending, but I really need to work on school papers. I'll fix it later.

NOTES: 1) Vurdah's magic has finally manifested itself via good old fashioned terror. She can bend light around her person to form a sort of cocoon and erase herself from the view of others. It'll take her a while before she can do this at will, but she is still very pleased with the ability.

2) Winnowill is almost at the two year mark in her pregnancy with Leila at this point, and is pretty much under house arrest. She's not allowed to leave the tribe's encampment, much less go hunting or branch hopping. This is due to the fact that Gliders, while taller and about as strong as the other Elves, are far more delicate in build. They lack the evolutionary advantages of the other tribes; their bodies can't take as much punishment, pregnancies and births are a little more difficult, etc. Winnowill resents this treatment like WHOA.

3) The Great Tribe; pretty much a compilation of Gliders, Sun Folk, Wolfriders and Go Backs. Currently on a crazy quest to find more elves before using the rescued Palace to...do whatever it is they'd do with the Palace.

Thank you and goodnight!

SailorSilvanesti

Quote:


Crossdressing elfquest elves, hm? That's oddly funny, Sailor. My only critisism is that the hatred part isn't in the submission. Granted, it does not suit that story, but I still miss it. But beh. I have one question, though. Which of Moonshade's clothings did Strongbow try? The one from Discovery or Searcher and the Sword? You see, I want to illustrate it.







Ooops...Damnit, just knew I forgot something, and I was thinking of the bare-shouldered blue dress from Searcher and the Sword, it's just so feminine it would be hilarious to see it on Strongbow...



I nearly died laughing envisioning it! XD

WolfMoonSky

awsome stories and poem!! Sailor...I love you girl!!! XD that story...just...damn I love you XD Hug

WolfMoonSky

I hope that no one might me doing this..I just made this, it just came up in my head, so it might be that something isn't right in this poem. Still, hope you like it.



Hatred



I'm hated for who I am

I'm hated for what I did



hating because of my power

hating because I'm mighty

hating because they can not entirely defeat me

hating because I destroy them



I do what I want!

nobody can hold me back.

I am happy with what I'm doing,

even if it is bad,

it makes me happy.



I'm powerful

I can take over this world,

even when no one wants me to,

I will do it,

Because I love being bad.



I am worthy and better than they are,

their words have no effect to me!

nevertheless, it gives me a feeling,

a feeling that I hate.

I don't know what it is yet,

but it's enough to know

that I am hated.

SailorSilvanesti

Quote:


awsome stories and poem!! Sailor...I love you girl!!! XD that story...just...damn I love you XD Hug





Thanks, Wolfy! I love you too!^^ Hug

SailorSilvanesti

Powerful Poem, 'Sky!^^ Wow! <3

Embala

After my "interference" this month it seems appropriate to contribute, too. Wink And the elements turmed out to fit surprisingly well for a story I thought about for some weeks already.


Changes

FIRE. ... her world was on fire ... HOT. ... consuming her body ... GLARING. ... burning her mind ... YELLING. She turned to flee the torture ... into the darkness ahead, luring ... no more pain, promising ... no more struggle. No return. NO! There was another way, a small whirl of cool blue, a memory of freedom and joy ...

... she whirled around in high-spirited circles, enjoying the weightlessness in the light-flooded waters. The sunbeams made her sparkle in greens, blues and turquoise. She had explored other oceans but never before had she been a part of it, tasting it, breathing it. Another strike of her strong green tail led her amist a shoal, causing the silvery fish to shoot apart like fireworks.

Back at the bank her lovemate was watching the carefree dance with lenience and pleasure. These new shape and abilities were his temporary gift. She reached out at him with an inviting gesture. Just when their eyes met she felt a kick in her belly, delicate but clear. She gasped in surprise ...


FIRE. Her lungs were burning, pleading for mercy. She was forcing air into them just to live on for another moment. Her whole body cramped in hot pain ...

... floating relaxed in his embrace her light blue strands mixed with his dark tresses. Leaning her head back on his shoulder, blue eyes locked with soft grey while their hands met on her belly, feeling the little one kick again. This was his other, precious gift. She wasn't able to receive a clear sending but she could feel his love engulfing her with warmth. And the mind-picture of a large, bridge-like structure reaching far into the sea together with his longing.

He had asked her aloud many times before. **Come with me to my home. Live with me and my tribe.** There had always been a reason not to answer - to stay here for another dance of the moon - to discover the sea beyond the next reef. Her thoughts wandered ...
Whenever she had joined a tribe, found friends and mates, there was a farewell - and it had become harder every time. It was easier to stay alone, enjoy short-time company and leave before the bonds grew too tight. But with the baby and her honest love ... it was time for another change.

Suddenly his hands grabbed hard for support. The warmth was gone. His eyes proved that his mind was far away ...


Back into the FIRE. To her surprise she could actually take one more breath. The heat was biting the flesh from her tail, causing more cramps. High Ones, no ... not the little one ...

The call. A call of pain and anxiety. They had followed this strange sensation for days before it suddenly vanished. But now it was back and she knew that his healer's heart would not rest before he has found the caller.

The search lead them to the other side of the island, to a rocky beach. Whoever was in need for help was somewhere there. She stayed back on a rock near the shore while her lovemate approached the source of the cry. An elf maiden curled behind one of the bigger rocks ... his sending gave her a vague impression of pale, delicate limbs and a long black mane. The alien elf turned towards him ... those eyes ... radient with insanity and hatred!

**RUN, beloved, run!** The hatred was like a magical black fog that reached out and enclosed the healer. And at the same moment it hit her on the distant rock. In shock and pain she fled into the sea ... heading for the depth ... to learn in new shock that this magic had done harm. She could hardly breath and her finned tail felt lame and aching. Struggling her way back to the surface she managed to reach low waters before her world exploded ...


Too hot, too glary, too exhausted to move ... but at least she could breathe again without falling in agony. Despite the piercing headache her mind and senses started to work again. She was lying on a shore in the sun ... so tired ... sleeping ... NO! There was danger, she just had to remember why ... the search for the call ... the alien elf. The elf maiden. She was the danger! Her magic has ... she didn't want to see again what this magic had done.

It had effected her, too. The changes - the gift of her lovemate - were gone. She could breathe, so her lungs were restored, but the tail ...? Taking all her will she managed to turn on the back and sit up, resting on her arms. The effort made her world turn around once more and she closed the eyes. At once visions of her beloved came to mind - feeding the fears what she might see on herself. A sigh of relief slipped her chapped lips when she found a pair of perfectly shaped legs ... and learned that she could move them. And there showed no blood, so it was a good chance that her child was alive and well.

She reached out for a piece of driftwood, long enough to serve as a walking stick, and struggled on her feet. She had to go away from here as fast and far as possible. The last view, the last mind picture had convinced her that nothing could be done at the moment for her beloved healer. His shape was turned into something beyond elfin and his mind twisted. And she was not in the condition to fight anyway.

There was his heritage, little Bluedepth, she had to take care for. At this very moment she felt another move inside. Not the kick of a tiny heel - more like a lash. Something was terribly wrong ...

SailorSilvanesti

I can only submit, WOW!!!! Embala that was pretty intense and powerful, I loved it!

And the uncertain ending...



<3'd it!^^

WolfMoonSky

Quote:


Powerful Poem, 'Sky!^^ Wow! <3
<br />






wow thanks sailor!! ^^ :D

WolfMoonSky

I can only agree with sailor, Embala! WOW!!! Heart

Cleopatra

Revenge



The sweat ran down from her forehead, she almost gasped for air followed with low screams. Lilac was tossing and turning in her bed as she screamed in horror. If someone had been with her now and seen her, they would once understand that she had nightmares now. She rolled to the side, whispering the names of those who were in her nightmare.





The sounds of running feets could be heard while Xin-Jing, Hawkeye and the twins Eagle Eye and Nghala looked back as they ran. It was tunnels everywhere, but where was the one who would lead them out of the darkness and into the rays of the sun? Xin-Jing stumbled in her pink dress and fell; she held her hand at the big belly as she screamed. Hawkeye grabbed her arm and helped her up before they continued to run. The young parents looked constantly back while they ran, knew that The Dark Ones still were after them and that they didn’t intentioned to give up their hunting after them.





Suddenly they stopped as they approached a gap, and the only way to get over was a small bridge. Hawkeye looked at the twins; the look in his eyes told them that they had to go over the bridge. He looked back once more and knew that the enemy soon would approach. Eagle Eye and Nghala were halfway across the bridge when Xin-Jing began to crawl across with Hawkeye behind her. Suddenly Xin-Jing stopped and held her hands at her stomach as she moaned, and at the same time The Dark Ones approached. Their katanas glimpsed once they discovered the elves.






Lilac screamed as she woke up and looked around in the room. She realized it just was a dream, but yet it felt so real. She rose up from the bed, dressed herself in a red dressing gown of silk and went out in the sun. The dawn was already passed by and Lilac saw that Toron had gathered his group of warrior elves and gave them their orders.





“We’ll do exactly the same like yesterday, but this time we change the plans a little,” Toron said as he looked at the elves that stood in front of him. His eyes looked at them to see if they paid attention to him before he continued.

“We divide into two groups. One continues the search of chief Optarh and Satekh, the other group will stay here to keep watch if the enemy is coming back.”





Toron turned and looked straight at Lilac. He could see that he hadn’t slept well at all, he walked toward her and laid a hand at her shoulder.





“Xin-Jing is a strong woman, so she can take care of herself,” Toron said careful.

“And hopefully, Hawkeye and Alborn might be with her now.”





“I guess so,” Lilac said after a while. Toron smiled and went away, but Lilac could’ve sworn that there was something with Toron. The day before he was angry about what happened, but now he took it easy? It was obvious that something had changed him, Lilac could see it in his eyes. But what was it?



###########################################################################



Eagle Eye poned wildly at the door that was closed, he continued to pound at the door after The Dark Ones had taken their mother with them. For what the children didn’t know, but the way they had dragged Xin-Jing with them made Eagle Eye furious. No one should treat his mother like that. His hands had been red from after the beating at the door.





“Just wait until we get out of here, and you will pay for this!” Eagle Eye cried at the door once he stopped pounding against the door. He could barely hear some of the ninjas laughing at him. Nghala sat against the wall, her knees pulled against her face and wept. Eagle Eye was obviously annoyed by it and kicked a stick as he walked back and forth. He sighed loudly and looked straight at his twin sister.





“We can’t do anything by just sitting here. We must do something,” he said with a angry voice. Nghala lifted her head and looked at him with tears in her blue eyes.





“How?” she asked carefully.





That was the hardest thing, finding out what they could do in such situations. Eagle Eye scratched his head as he tried to find out what he should say to Nghala. He was also afraid, but he wouldn’t show it to her now.





Suddenly the twins lifted their heads and looked straight at the door when they could hear screaming outside, then the door went up and they saw a tall female figure in the doorway.





“Come with me,” the woman said. The twins didn’t know what to do, they just sat still as they stared at the woman in front of them.

“I’ll bring you back to your parents. Come now,” the woman said and held out her hand to them. The twins gasped when they saw her hand; it had five fingers. Again, the twins looked at the woman, then looking at each other as if they asked each other if they could trust this strange woman, then looking at her again. Carefully they rose up and walked toward her as the woman stepped aside so they could go past her. The first they saw was two of The Dark Ones who lay on the ground, completely lifeless.





“The kids are running away,” a ninja shouted as he discovered them in the hallway.





“Run, now!” the woman cried and Eagle Eye and Nghala ran as fast as they could the other way while they heard the sound of a fight behind them. Suddenly the scream of death and not long after they could hear someone running after them, they knew that it wasn’t one of The Dark Ones, but the strange woman. She grabbed them around their waist and lifted them up while they ran. The twins gasped the moment they moved upward, understood that the woman had the ability to fly. She hushed low at them and they looked down and saw the ninjas meeting each other.





“Where did they go?” one of the ninjas asked.





“I don’t know,” another replied.





“Keep looking. They can’t be far away,” said a ninja and they disappeared. The woman flew slowly down and sat down the kids once they were on the ground.





“Do you trust me now?” the woman asked as she bent down and looked into their eyes. The twins looked at each other before they looked at the woman and nodded. They realized that she was to be trusted because she was there in their need of help.





“Yes,” the twins replied in unison.





“And thank you for helping us…” Nghala said and stopped in the middle of the sentence, didn’t know what the woman’s name was. The woman smiles as if she understood what Nghala thought.





“Sylvana,” the woman said and stood up.

“Let’s go and look for your parents.”





The twins smiled and followed Sylvana.



###########################################################################



Xin-Jing could feel the hatred in the air as she stared at The Dark Ones in the room she was brought in; the gaze in her green eyes was almost like a wolf. She was pushed against a bench where they made her to sit down.





“Comfortable?” one of the ninjas asked as he looked at her, Xin_jing lowered her eyebrows to conceal that she was surprised; these ninjas could talk.





“Not at all,” she spat. She could barely move her hands that were tied behind her back. The ninja in front of her noticed that she tried to move her arms and walked slowly toward her as he stared at her. Suddenly he grabbed her by her neck and Xin-Jing almost gasped when he held a dagger against her throat. He glared hatefully at her.





“Because of your mate, our Lord is dead,” he whispered into her ear. Xin-Jing could almost see the glint of the shiny metal against her throat. She tried to stay calm, she wouldn’t scare the unborn baby now.





“Some of us survived from the crushing mountain. We couldn’t find our master, and now we want revenge,” the ninja continued and the grip around her neck became harder.

“First you. Then the kids.”





No! Xin-Jing thought as the grip around her neck loosened. The ninja walked some few meters away from her and the way he looked at her and how he held the dagger told her what he was going to do. She would be tortured and wouldn’t get any mercy, not even the baby would be spared.





Suddenly a ninja ran in, and the way the ninja acted showed that something had happened.





“The kids… the kids have run away,” the ninja said as he regained his breath.





“What?” the ninja who held the dagger cried.

“How?”





Xin-Jing looked at the ninjas while she waited to hear how Eagle Eye and Nghala managed to escape.





“A woman… she killed those who guarded the door and managed to get the kids with her.”





The ninja who held the dagger was furious; he threw away the dagger that landed on the other side of the room. He stared furiously at Xin-Jing before he and the other ninja turned and walked toward the door and closed it. Xin-Jing was left alone with mixed feelings; relief that the children had managed to run away. Concerned that it wasn’t Hawkeye or anyone else she knew who might arrive. Which woman had come? Was it a woman that could be trusted? Perhaps it was one from her tribe? Was it someone from her tribe who had come to help them?





Suddenly her eyes fell on the dagger on the other side and a thought struck her. If she managed to run away too, she could make a little procrastination this little meeting with The Dark Ones now, but she could also maybe find her kids again. Gently she rose up from the bench and made sure that she didn’t fall to the side and walked to the dagger. She knelt carefully as she tried to get hold of the dagger with her hands. It didn’t work in a sitting position, so she lay down on the side and tried to get the dagger again. She made a grimace when she cut her hand at the metal and move her fingers to the hilt. She thanked the High Ones once she got the dagger and started to cut carefully at the rope. The only thought she had in her head now while she was cutting the rope was that she soon would be with her children again and get them out of here.

WolfMoonSky

love the story, cleopatra! poor Xin-jing! Hope she can find her children soon!

faeriegirl

wonderfully written poem, Wolfie!

Love the story, Embala! I definitely recognize the canon scene you built it around... but I won't name scene or characters (canon and non-canon) unless you want me to!

oooh, glad they escaped, Cleo! Hope mom&kids will be reunited soon... and then off to find daddy! hope Sylvana is trustworthy, not evil in disguise!

WolfMoonSky

Thanks faeriegirl! Happy

Arill_Returns

I am going to post another part of redeemed!Winnowill, because WHY NOT? I survived my first year of college AND I FEEL PRETTY METAL RIGHT NOW.

**



"Why should she be permitted to keep her child when she has taken so many from the rest of us?!"



"Aye! Is it not enough that we bear her presence now, after what she has done?"



"Take the babe and give it to parents who are deserving!"



Winnowill grit her teeth and bowed her head, unable to make herself look up and see the hatred in the eyes of her tribefolk. Her heart was bleak, empty even of anger for she knew that her attackers were right. How could she resent them? She had promised them renewal, had filled them with hope and joy, and had snatched it away from them in the next moment, leaving mothers and fathers to weep for the child that barely was.



It was a cruel irony, that she and Voll should Recognize now.



Wearily, Winnowill lifted her head to watch as Voll stood tall on the speaking ground, looking much as he had before Blue Mountain's corruption.



"My kindred, you speak of taking the child from her mother, to be raised by another. You forget that this child is as much mine as she is Winnowill's. Would you deny me the right to raise my daughter?" Voll demanded, his voice regaining the steel that had been missing for many eights.There was an uncomfortable pause, and Winnowill could sense the conflict among her people.



Unconsciously the fallen healer's hand flitted to her flat belly, feeling the pulse of new life within her. A girl. She kept forgetting that it was a girl.



"We do not mean to suggest that you be barred from the child's upbringing, my Lord," Yiesree said reasonably, managing a wan smile.



"Of course we'd never think to keep you from the fledgling, Voll, we only ask you pick others to aid in her upbringing."



"To prevent any...unpleasant influences." Belfolla interjected, shooting a cold stare across the circle at Winnowill, who was fighting tooth and nail to keep from lashing out at the lot of them, these blind and ignorant hypocrites...



No, no, no. She mustn't think that way. Mustn't let her temper go unchecked. If it meant being treated like an animal...so be it.



"I understand your concern, my friends, but Winnowill is mending and has proved herself to be a courageous and dedicated tribe member. She has earned the right to speak in our midst on this matter." said the Glider Lord, and he turned to her. She felt the familiar shudder run down her spine as their eyes met, and she saw the love and longing in his gaze.



**Beloved, please. We have dreamed of this for so long, you and I. Say yes. Keep our little one, and we will rear her together.**



Tiredly, with more than a touch of longing in her heart, Winnowill got to her feet and addressed her tribe.



~**No lies are spoken here. Though I am healing, I am still ill in mind and heart. The blood of innocents is on my hands. I am unfit to be a mother to this babe I carry, and I leave it to my Lord to select who shall stand in my stead.**~



"No!"



Startled by the unexpected interruption, the Gliders turned as one and looked to the gap in the stones that led to their speaking place. Winnowill, if she had possessed a good deal less dignity, would have let her jaw sag in amazement as she beheld the elf striding boldly into the circle.



"Vurdah?!"



And indeed it was her gentle desert flower, utterly transformed into a creature of wrath as she stood with her hands in fists and her eyes flashing like skyfire. Positively trembling with fury, she stalked in front of Winnowill and stood firm, shielding her lovemate from her people. Winnowill stared down at her in befuddlement, as though questioning her right to be there.



"How dare you!" she cried, sweeping her arms out to encompass the staring Gliders. "How dare you presume to harm Winnowill like this! She has done wrong, but she was sick! And it was partially due to you that she became so!"



This seemed to break the spell, for more than two eights of the Gliders stood with outraged cries, furious with the gall of this stunted, foolish stranger.



"And how dare you to cast blame upon us for that abomination's crimes!"



"In what way are we responsible for her madness?!"



Vurdah never wavered, her stance wide and firm like a warrior's, her hands reaching back to brush Winnowill's in comfort. Gradually Winnowill's shock began to wear away, replaced with stinging eyes and a painful tightness in her chest and throat.



Only vaguely did the fallen one note that peace had been restored by Voll. Staving off the tears that would shatter her already wounded pride, Winnowill gently laid her hands on her young mate's shoulders.



"Vurdah."



At the sound of Winnowill's silken voice the Sun maiden turned, discouraged at the sight of her mate's rueful smile.



"They are right to take the infant. Though your faith in me is touching, I fear it is not enough to make me fit for raising a child."



"You cannot be serious..." Vurdah whispered, unable to accept the idea of Winnowill giving up.



"My dear one-."



"You cannot do this! You cannot let them take away our kitling!"



But a few words, spoken in desperation and despair. Simple words. Yet they were powerful enough to stop time for a moment, powerful enough to steal the breath away from Winnowill.



"Our...kitling?" she murmured. Vurdah looked up into her eyes, feeling a rush of tenderness for the mate who expected no kindness, no devotion or loyalty from anyone in the world. Standing on tip-toe, she reached up with her small brown hands and cradled Winnowill's face between them.



**Why are you surprised, lovemate? I love you and I have long hoped for a child-this should hardly be shocking!** Vurdah teased, her sending clearer than ever before. Winnowill carefully brought her hands up to cover Vurdah's.



**I...doubted that you would wish to stay with a madwoman so long, and rear a child that is not yours.** she admitted.



**She can be mine too, Winnowill, if you'd let me help! With me there, and Lord Voll...ours would be a happy family, perhaps the happiest in the village!**



Winnowill's heart nearly broke at Vurdah's glorious optimism. She would rejoice if only the world followed her flower's whims...



The sound of a throat being cleared drew the women from their moment, and they found that all eyes were riveted to them. Voll smiled.



"I take it that our young friend objects to the separation?" he asked lightly.



"'Object' is far too gentle a word for it." Vurdah said tartly, another glare crossing her face like a storm cloud.



"And you would stand by the life-bearer, to aid her and keep her on her path towards healing?"



"Always."



Nodding in satisfaction, Voll turned and addressed the still mildly disturbed audience around them.



"You all had fear that Winnowill would be a poor influence on the babe. Here is one who would help her. Between Vurdah and myself, I feel that Winnowill should be able to rear our daughter with little worry. If there are any who would contradict me, let them speak now." he commanded, and his voice was deep and dangerous as thunder. A few mutinous grumblings were heard, but no one dared speak against their Lord's decision, not when he was looking into them with such steely eyes.



"Then let us conclude this moon's gathering. I bid you all a good night."



With dark glares and furious sending aplenty, the Gliders rose into the air and departed for their respective huts in the Sun Village, leaving Lord, healer and dancer behind among the stones.



Winnowill slowly shook her head, unsure if this was reality or some fever dream.



"That is it, then. I am to be a mother." she said. Beaming, Vurdah wrapped an arm about her waist and squeezed.



"We are to be mothers, lifemate!"



For the second time that evening Winnowill had the words stolen from her. She stared down at her bold maiden, amazed that so many changes had come so swiftly.



She did not regret them.



"Y-yes. We will be mothers." she murmured, and smiled.



Voll approached them, held them both in his arms as though he'd been doing it for ages.



"Come. I will escort you back to your hut." he murmured, leading the way back to the path.



"Your hut too, I suppose." Winnowill sighed, as though it were a terrible inconvenience to have him in their bed, in their lives. Her mates grinned at her, pleased that she was finally relenting. The three of them walked back down to the inviting circle of huts below, no one speaking a word.



**



Okay, I swear on my soul that I will totally write a story for any artist who will draw me a picture of Vurdah standing in front of a perplexed looking Winnowill with a 'WENCH I WILL CUT YOU' expression on her face. I WILL WRITE WHATEVER YOU FREAKIN' WANT. I AM SERIOUS.

SailorSilvanesti

OMG! Arill, that was an epically beautiful story and I loved it...

Arill_Returns

Yay! Thank you! Not much in the way of SHEER AWESOME like the other stories I've been stalking in this thread, but thanks for the warm fuzzies. ^^

jeb

I think it's a pretty awesome story. I'm enjoying this exploration of the consequences of Winnowill's healing.



Quote:


Okay, I swear on my soul that I will totally write a story for any artist who will draw me a picture of Vurdah standing in front of a perplexed looking Winnowill with a 'WENCH I WILL CUT YOU' expression on her face. I WILL WRITE WHATEVER YOU FREAKIN' WANT. I AM SERIOUS.





I was thinking about trying to sketch this and was struck by the fact that both Winnowill and Verduh share a liking of pointy headgear.

jeb

Because it's more fun than cleaning the office, I present a truly horrid sketch:



I should go be a responsible adult now.

faeriegirl

Awesome Winnie-Vurdah story!!! Love it!!!

Love the sketch Wink

Arill_Returns

Jeb...will...will you marry me? Because I just spent the last five minutes bouncing up and down in my seat, clapping and squealing like a toddler. Because the expression on Vurdah's face is LOLARIOUS.

PM me your fic request! I'm glad you're enjoying the post-healing events of Winnowill's life...it's not going to be an easy road, in the long run. FUN.

And thanks for the feedback Faerie! I just now realized that your banner gives me the warm fuzzies. ^^

And now I, too, must get back to being a responsible adult. This dorm won't clean itself...

jeb

Quote:


Because the expression on Vurdah's face is LOLARIOUS.





Laugh



Yeah, the expression are not quite what I hoped. When I look at them, this is what I see:



Verduh: Back off, people! B!tch is mine!

Winnowill: OMG! You did NOT just say that!



As far as writing something for me, just keep writing these excellent stories and I'll be happy.

Cleopatra

Thank you wolfie and faerie.Hug



Quote:
hope Sylvana is trustworthy, not evil in disguise!




We'll see how it goes.Wink

TrollHammer

Such a plethura of good stories.... need to finish them. In the meantime I finally got this month's done (last month's is mostly done but is on a laptop with a dead battery, can't get to it)



I already told Embala what I thought, but it bares mentioning. Absolutely wonderful and I'm glad she showed us another of her talents. Awesome!



I'm going through the rest of the stories as I get to them playing catch up. Great to see so many this month!

TrollHammer

Oregrinder’s Horde, PT2

(PT1 can be found in the thread TrollHammer’s Story Forge)



Oregrinder’s adoptive clan had somewhat settled into their new burrow, of which they had named Redig. Oregrinder himself had gradually come to accept his role as their leader, though he detested the idea that he might be considered to be anything like Greymung. Two-Edge had banished this group from their own caves, sealing them off without tools in the death-heat of the burning wastelands of sand, but Oregrinder had lead those who would follow him across the sands to survive and carve out a home here.



They had come to find that these tunnels and caves had been left behind by their earlier ancestors, being a bit low and narrow, but serviceable. The easier veins of ore had been carried away: the gems, precious metals, and anything that would catch the eye but didn’t require a lot of work, such as raw metals in the area were gone, and metal ores had to be pried out of the ground by hand. As a result of the lazier, more childlike ancestors’ labor, however, there remained large piles of tailings that were rich in the minerals and metals needed to make new Brightmetal… at least enough to start making tools again without too much hardship.



Oregrinder worked as one of his followers, leading by example, the miner’s way. The rest came to respect him for this, and would endure occasional mundane or dangerous tasks as he asked them… there were few times their living conditions didn’t improve when the tasks were completed. In the two eights of years after the Run, Oregrinder had forged his followers into a near cult following, a band ready for anything!



Along with the hard work, there were also those times of rest, when the crew would pause, recuperate, and listen to the teachings of Oregrinder. Most of these lessons were simply recounting his memory of tales he had heard and learned when he was young, reinforced by those few that were with them that had lived as long as he. Most of the details were sketchy, but the few things that all these tales and lessons agreed on were that creatures called Elves were to be distrusted at the least, and killed even was better. Greymung, and many others, were of the opinion that some Elves had talents and abilities that were valuable, useful enough to deal with the possible antics of those creatures, but Oregrinder saw things differently… It seemed to him that any benefit that had been gained by using Elf labor in the past had resulted in poor conditions or other catastrophe, or had only accelerated the accomplishment of things Trolls could do themselves… The rest of the group agreed: if they found a single Elf there would be no hesitation to kill.



It was not the focus of their intent, however, to pursue Elves. Moreover, their forced pilgrimage had brought forth additional lessons. This group had learned the folly of sloth, the folly of seeking the easy path to riches, indeed, even the folly of pursing riches of any kind, as the little bit that any of them had gathered for themselves during their former lives had been left behind and divided up among those that had stayed in Greymung’s kingdom…



What was their purpose now? If these Trolls were not seeking treasure, or vengeance against the Elves… what drove them now?



Besides the ideal taught by their near death experience with Two-Edge’s trap, the lesson learned by all ‘to always be ready to survive’, they had also learned that whoever knew the most had the most power. Two-Edge had defeated them and nearly killed them because they had not been prepared. Without tools, food, or even water they had charged voluntarily into Two-Edge’s trap, and they lacked the knowledge to have turned the tables back on to the old Mastersmith… And this was something they were going to remedy.



They sought knowledge and personal improvement, so that this calamity would never happen again, and no one, not even the great Mastersmith, would oppose them or harm them again.



…and they sought the hide of that same Mastersmith… While most of their goals had reasonable purpose, vengeance upon both the trickster Two-Edge and those followers of Greymung that left them for dead were the only things they could not let go… and Oregrinder believed they would let nothing would stand in their way.



But the one thing that haunted Oregrinder’s dreams most was the opinionated bull-headedness of some of the King’s followers they had left behind in the old kingdom. He hoped that this group had left that behind when they had passed through the forge of the desert, but there had been mutterings of late.



Whispers that could lead to some sort of change, and Oregrinder feared that change.



***



Tonight, on the eve of the day Two-Edge had lured this clan out into the burning waste two eights years past, Oregrinder had decided to tell his followers of the last piece of information he knew as it pertained to their quest for knowledge and vengeance.



They would drop everything they were doing tomorrow, leave the caves and run into the desert tomorrow, without food or water, as they had every year to remind themselves why they would remain vigilant, always prepared to do what it takes to survive.



Tonight, though, they would rest and listen to the Elders, hearing the words they could trust instead of the voice of a trickster as they had before.



Oregrinder stood in middle of the cavern: a space roughly circular that had become their meeting place, the speaker in the center with the listeners arrayed around him. There was little preamble as he addressed them.



“Tomorrow we Run, as we did two eights years ago, so we never forget what happened or why we are here, but tonight I will tell you where we are headed soon! We have worked hard to build our new home, to carve out a place we can survive, but our work here is nearly done, and we have learned almost all there is to learn here.



“We have all done well. We have learned much by sharing what we know of each other’s trades: Smelting, forging, blade-smithing, tool-making… but there is more! We can turn out a blade of war, or a tool of mining, or any number of other things twice as fast as we could before we came here, but we are still not to the level of the Mastersmith! He alone is capable of so much more than the lot of us, so we must find a new way to learn!



“There is one place that can teach us more than we could learn from him! A place that contains the machinations of our ancestors, powerful enough to have defeated the Elves at their peak! Long forgotten machines capable of wonders, both great and terrible!



“My bothers, we seek what the Elves once called, ‘The Palace’!”



Those listening, even the other Elders, sat in silence, patiently weighing what had been said. It was hard to accept that this teacher that had pushed so hard not to rely on the Elves for anything would now be calling them to seek out the Elves’ most prized possession, if it even existed outside of legion!



Oregrinder sat down, and was replaced by one of the few Elders that were older than he: Loremaster. Loremaster had been named thus after they had arrived here at Redig, his ramblings about the past now valued instead of mocked as they had been in the old kingdom.



Loremaster spoke. “Oregrinder understands some truth about where we came from long before these caves were First Dug. We all know that we were once slaves to the Elves long ago, and that we overthrew them, defeated them, and made our homes where we wished seeking whatever treasure we wished. What few have known is how we lived before then, while we were slaves.



“The Elves lived in a mountain of crystal they called the Palace, and they kept us sealed within that cage to serve them. It was a cage they controlled, make it do what they wished, denying us our freedom and the ability to do what we wished.



“But we learned ways to control the cage that they did not know. They used their magic to control the cage, commanding it as they commanded us, but with their minds and wills. They had forged their cage to accept their command, much as we forge Brightmetal into tools and weapons that obey us, but it was not the only way the cage could be opened!



“Years before we attacked our overlords we forged our own controls of the cage, machines that would let us make some adjustments to the cage. But these controls were weak, and could not override the commands the Elves made to the cage, and so we attacked them to break their control!”



Loremaster’s tone changed. He had been reminiscing and retelling the story he’d told for ages, as it had been told to him, with almost an airy note to his voice… but now he focused on those around him in warning: “While these things are true, what value is it? We have learned so much more since then! Those distant ancestors of old could not even refine ore! What could we learn from what they made, much less use to bring the Trickster to justice? It was enough at the time to defeat the Elves of that time and secure our release, but not enough for us to remember the lore of what those machinations were! Even whatever machinations the Elves were not great enough to match what we had made then, and we are so much more than we were! Two-Edge is greater than that, so of what value is it?”



The gathering considered what Loremaster said. After enough time had passed for more such comments or rebuttals, Oregrinder took the floor again to defend his position. “What Loremaster may be forgetting is how much we have lost since then! Would we have followed Two-Edge’s voice, considered him our master, if we truly remembered what it was like to be controlled by others? This is why we Run, so that we never forget how to survive! Never forget to be our own masters!



“It does leave a bad taste in my mouth that this cage, the ‘Palace’, was once the home of the Elves, but it was also once our home, and a place we learned to overcome the things that ruled us… and that is just one thing we forgot from that time! Another thing we forgot was how we defeated the Elves then. Still another thing removed from common knowledge is where the place is… What else have we forgotton?”



The obvious question was whispered from several points around the cavern: If we don’t know where it is how can we find it to learn from it anyway? Oregrinder smiled. “I said it wasn’t common knowledge, but I know how to find it.” Nods started to sway the collective opinion back into Oregrinder’s favor.



“We have two paths to follow! Both lead to the ‘Palace’…



“We can make our way back into the Kingdom of old Guttlekraw, if he and his kin are still around, and make our way through their tunnels. They once guarded the Palace to prevent the Elves from returning, and they would have a path. We would either have to go in secret, sneaking our way through as I’m sure they would still be sore from the time we kicked them out of Greymung’s kingdom, or we would have to cut our way through fighting, and it would be their home we would be fighting in!



“The other path we can take to find the ‘Palace’ is not assured, but it is right here! Our ancestors made their way from the Palace to this place we now call Redig, and I have been searching for signs as to the direction they came from.



“There remain three unexplored tunnels left that they could have come from. Each is extremely old and it is difficult to discern which direction the tunnel was dug, as each has been enlarged over the years. Each tunnel is days long as well… We sealed them off as a precaution when inspection teams could not find the end of them after several days’ walk. Between these and the desert, two of the four paths are known possibilities: One of them eventually leads to Guttlekraw, one leads from the Palace!”



“I suggest we send scouts to find out where these tunnels lead. We can either send three scout parties at once, and place guards at each tunnel, or check them one at a time, which would keep us from having to fight off anything we might stir up in multiple tunnels.”



The gathered clan weighed his words and continued to debate on into the night. There were a few times when it was suggested they just leave the whole thing be, forgetting the Elves, retribution, and the rest of this business, but the arguments were weak, as they reeked of the attitude of those they left behind to die in the desert. Still, there was not much consensus in favor of aggressive action… Greymung had ruled so completely for so long in his kingdom that few had any true will of their own. This had been part of the push for Oregrinder to be elected as a leader… but now that he had gotten the rest of the horde to safety and established some security, now that life had returned to some form of normalcy, the few that had hesitated to follow him but came anyway had begun to sway the others in the attitude that things were “good enough”.



Still, the majority were stuck in the middle, mostly just wishing someone would just tell them what to do. The heat of anger had cooled slightly in the last few weeks as they were no longer faced with the daily reminders of what had brought them here, but it was still a purpose that they otherwise lacked. The drive for seeking out gold and gems had paled in the light of the trap Two-Edge had sprung on them, and as they did not have a King to appease with tribute the value of trinkets had diminish, while the worth of food and tools had balanced out from necessity. Until tonight, the majority just went with whatever Oregrinder said to do, but now he was asking them to chase ideas and memories that most had never heard of, and none had seen. It was almost too much faith to place in the one that had led them to safety.



But in the end, the revulsion Oregrinder felt with irresolute discussion pushed him to demand decision. With the same emotion as he’d said similar words before, he stood and spoke. “This is going nowhere. I’ll put this to you… I’m going to go search for the tools that will make us strong. You can join me or stay here talking about it. I’m starting to not care anymore.



“Did we talk and plan and wonder at what would happen, what we’d have to give up, before we went on the mad quest for Two-Edge’s treasure? Did we sit around pondering whether or not we should sit in the hot sun, waiting for it to kill us? Either decide as a whole that this is madness, that we should stay here until we rot, or are overrun by some other enemy, or find some other purpose …or come with me and find our future. I will not be part of this ‘kicking dirt in the dark!’ If you are still talking about this after the Run tomorrow, I will leave the next morning taking the High Tunnel wherever it leads me. If you come up with a better idea and can all agree on it, I will follow that decision. I will not abandon you whatever course you take, but I will not stand for this death-welcoming uncertainty!”



The gathering was only mildly shocked at this outburst, but Oregrinder had found himself at the mercy of a bad decision once, and that had been a choice they had all made. His remedy had been their salvation, and his choices since then had been hard but fair, had had made them better off than they had ever been under Greymung.



Oregrinder left the silent cavern to prepare his gear for the possible journey after the Run, though he hoped he would not be forced to leave this group behind for their own benefit.



***



Before the sun had risen too high, every Troll that lived in Redig had left their dens to stand at just outside the cave entrance, with only the clothes on their backs.



In a sense, the collective mind of the gathering had set aside the events of last night, and they focused on the ordeal ahead. Few had actually died in these events, but it was still an ordeal that would take nearly every ounce of will to complete. The “march” was a flat out run across the sands to the pillar of the Stick and back. Not a fourth as wretched of an experience as had been the initial Run, but bad enough itself.



There wasn’t much of a signal, Oregrinder simply waved them on and they charged out into the wasteland. The sands were already starting to heat in the morning sun, but they would be much hotter when they returned.



Even with the sun at their backs it was too bright not to squint. The relative chill of the caves was already just a memory, and few let their thoughts dwell on it long… it would make the journey so much worse. It was not long before the mountains of Redig were out of site behind them, though few looked back: there was only the Run, their leader ahead of them, and nothing else.



In the past the grim determination that the horde carried with them would have been accompanied by fear. They had followed Oregrinder initially out of a sense that at least someone knew what to do, but he had not known any more than they as to what the desert held. He had stumbled on their now home quite by accident, but in the time since scouts had explored and patrolled quite a range around Redig, and few could still get truly lost. They had not mapped out quite as far as the old kingdom, but enough to feel secure in knowing they were alone, or at least alone enough they would have some warning if someone wandered near.



The only beings they had seen pass by were a trio of starved humans with a scrawny horse, but they had not come close. They wandered along the outskirts of the land just passed the Stick and disappeared into the distance. Oregrinder had instructed the scouts to keep an eye on the small group but remain unseen. It would mean war if it turned out to be human scouts and Redig was discovered.



The morning wore on, the sun rose higher. Skin burnt, sweat pored, and they pushed on. Shadows grew almost nonexistent as the sun came to hang over them to beat down on their heads. Scouts would be properly outfitted with eye protectors and clothes that protected them from the sun and helped them blend in with the sand… but it was forbidden to wear such things during the ritual of the Run. They would endure, to remember what could happen to follow the voice of folly.



Several wondered about the folly of Oregrinder’s words as they pondered the trap Two-Edge had sprung on them. Others found the ritual symbolic in another way, resolving them to continue leading Oregrinder whatever he chose for them, but the few that struggled to keep up, that had found themselves in the back of the pack once again, grumbled about everything among themselves. While the rest pushed on with Oregrinder enduring the discomfort, knowing that cool caves awaited them when they returned, Loremaster and the few that had come to think they way he did talked among themselves as they ran. They had fallen far enough back the others could not hear them, or they would have noted their foolishness for wasting even more energy complaining about being hot and tired.



As the peak of the Stick poked up over the horizon, they began to form a plan, knowing that there was little course of action they could take to keep their comfort and not lose face.



The Stick was just one of several stone pillars that adorned the desert. Each known to Redig by different names. The Trolls used these pillars as land marks: Torch, Root, Feather, Stump…this pillar had the look of a piece of firewood stuck in the sand, so it was known as Stick. It was the farthest pillar known, and these Trolls knew nothing of the land beyond the point you could no longer see this pillar.



Oregrinder almost felt it was cheating at this point to know that the Run was half over as they rounded the stone marker. Had they known the Desert better the first year they had run he would have led them in a long arc devoid of landmarks, devoid of a sense of home, to truly resemble the original Great Run. He himself had not felt they would return safely at the end of the day without getting lost, and it did not seem fitting that a reminder of a lesson should be deadlier than the lesson itself.



Rounding the pillar did afford him the chance to see the stragglers, though. It was the same few each year, and it seemed that they fell farther behind each year. Before, he’d hoped that it only meant that the rest were just that much stronger since the last Run, but as he noted faces among the handful of slow ones, he noticed that they were among the ones that opposed change the night before. It fit that they were content to keep things the way they were.



He spared little other thought on them, though. It was a long run back home.



***



The next morning, Oregrinder approached the seal of the High Tunnel, unsure of what to expect. He would either be spending the better part of a day clearing the debris of the seal enough to pass, or learn what the others had decided.



The High Tunnel had been found to be a high traffic route, wherever it went. There were dry mines that had been carved long after the path had been used for its original purpose, and as such the mouth of the tunnel was wide. It was also low, so that most modern Trolls had to stoop a little to keep from brushing their heads on the ceiling. It had been difficult to bring enough tailings to block the path and it had been a consideration to just collapse the tunnel itself, but in the end hard work and a few hundred cart loads of stone paid off.



Only half that stone greeted him now. During the night a crew had worked to clear enough of the pathway to allow safe passage to the tunnel beyond. An elder, two guards and three others awaited him.



“Oregrinder! What a great speech you made, and right you were...! Your words roused us out of our sleep to action, and we have made a decision…



“We have come up with a new plan that we hope you will agree to. These tunnels do need to be scouted, and we should see if we can find things to benefit us wherever they lead… This was a marvelous idea you had, and the major change to what you suggested is that you shall lead the expedition, much the way you lead us here.”



Oregrinder peered at the elder, feeling a jab from the words that reminded him of Greymung. Two-Edge may have tricked them all, and may have intended to kill them, but beyond the initial trap there was no ulterior motives, and in a twisted sense he could see how Two-Edge, in his warped way, had not lied or forced this greedy lot into anything… but Greymung twisted everything around to benefit himself, and could only be counted on to turn any endeavor into some greater gain for himself that it normally would have been, and so much the better if it cost others something in the process!



The elder was playing this out to make the most of things. Oregrinder thought about the situation and realized it was all a show… He’d have left anyway, and perhaps a few would have aided him, but this way those that felt progress should be done would be appeased, and those that felt no desire to change would feel safe, Oregrinder’s inevitable action was now a political event to be taken advantage of, and there was nothing Oregrinder could do about it.



He glared at the elder, meeting him eye to eye, close enough only the two of them could hear. “I will deal with this when I return. I trust you will be waiting.”



***



Guards standing by, Oregrinder lead the other three assigned to him into the dark, abandoned pathway. They were allotted a single dim Glowstone and two torches apiece. The elders, in their “wisdom” had provided so much for them to work with. Oregrinder half expected the cave to collapse behind them.



Even so, they were fairly well outfitted. Because of Oregrinder’s teachings, each had enough tools, food, and other necessities to make a good foothold wherever they went, and together they should be able to meet whatever they may solidly.



Oregrinder wasted no time leading them down the tunnel. The earlier scouting party may have been aggressive in their search, but he was sure they had been cautious. That party had taken three days before they had returned, so he estimated his band could push forward half a day at a brisk pace without anything new to encounter.



Gauging by the footprints left by the first scout party, he was fairly close. The prints ended in a way that denoted that they had slept here, woke up and decided to return instead of pressing on. Oregrinder hesitated only long enough to determine there was no particular reason to stop here, and kept going.



Three more days they walked without much rest. Three days of featureless tunnels, hardly even changing in strata, elevation, or even turning. There was no perceptible slope, or he’d have thought a cart could be send one way in a straight line without touching one wall or other clear back to Redig. There wasn’t even a sense of a change in air, though there had to be a vent shaft somewhere to keep the air fresh somehow. Trolls knew too well what could happen in the mines without fresh air.



Oregrinder kept looking for some sign of change, a sign that something else was ahead, or a halfway marker… Something to denote this shaft as something more than a horizontal bottomless pit! There is a point that the most determined Troll needed a rest, though, so when the yawns behind him became frequent he finally brought the group to a halt.



They broke and ate a more substantial meal than they had allowed themselves up to this point. At this pace, thought Oregrinder as he bedded down, they could travel four more days before they would have to turn around for more supplies, and that assumed they wouldn’t have to dig themselves out when they arrived.

[Deleted User]

So... this.... *wanders off*