Author: Jos Mous
NOTE: Not much in the way of true plot development here I think. Though I'm not completely sure about that.
Nicole was leaning against a stone wall feeling angry, annoyed and very bored at the same time. The deal had been to meet again at the dinner hall around noon and, although she did not really have a particularly good sense of time due to the absence of any clocks, she was fairly certain it was already way past noon. The one reason why she kept waiting was because she didn't really have anything else to do.
The sound of people talking rather loudly made Nicole look up. Brooke was sort of walking in her direction, talking vividly with some dark-haired girl wearing armour. It was obvious Brooke didn't notice her.
"Hey Brooke." Nicole said as the two almost walked past.
"What?" Brooke said, looking up from her conversation. "Oh, Nic! Hey. I didn't see you."
"Obviously." Nicole said. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh, err, this is L'Esperance." Brooke introduced the young knight. "L'Esperance, this is Nicole, one of my best friends."
"Really?" L'Esperance said. "It could just be me, but that glare of hers seems to be permanently stuck in her eyes."
"It's not just you." Brooke said.
"Yes, thank you." Nicole said icily. "Anyway, it was nice to meet you." She said politely to the girl in armour.
L'Esperance smiled. "Somehow, I don't believe you." She turned to Brooke. "I'll be going now. Seems to me like your friend wants to occupy some more of your time and I've got stuff to do anyway."
"See you tomorrow?" Brooke asked.
"Sure. It's not like I'm going someplace else somewhere soon."
"Great." Brooke said smiling.
"Later, Brooke." The knight greeted before walking away.
Brooke kept smiling friendly until L'Esperance had turned the corner. Then she returned Nicole's glare.
"You could've been a little nicer, you know." She said accusingly.
"Why should I?" Nicole said. "She's your new best friend, not mine."
"You know that's not true, Nic."
"Really?" Nicole said. She clasped her hands together and looked up with a face filled with false adoration. "See you tomorrow?" She said in a mockery of Brooke's words. "Please. If I didn't know better I'd say you were almost flirting with her."
"You're right." Brooke said angrily. "You do know better."
"Maybe." Nicole said. She then carefully started studying her nails, indicating that the topic was closed and the conversation over.
Soon after Sam joined the small group. She was about to greet them cheerfully, but the faces of the two blondes quickly changed her mind. So instead she opted for a slightly wiser course and simply said nothing. A few minutes after that Lily joined the group as well, she too looked pretty perky until she saw the looks Nicole and Brooke were shooting each other. Lily slowly stepped closer to Sam.
"What's up with those two?" She asked in a whisper.
"I don't know." Sam said. "Ask them."
"You ask them." Lily said.
"No way, you do it."
Lily carefully scraped her throat. "So," She started hesitantly. "Anyone seen Carmen?"
"She's not here yet." Nicole said. "I should know, I've been standing here for quite some time."
"So she's not moving then." Sam said.
"Huh?" Brooke said. "How could you know?"
"Just a hunch." Sam answered. "Don't worry. I'll go get her. I'll be back in ten minutes or something."
"You don't even know where she is." Brooke said. "And in case you haven't noticed, this castle is huge."
Sam smiled as she started walking. "Don't worry. I think I'll find her sooner than even I expect to find her."
Sam just had to walk through two corridors and one door to enter the library. She immediately noticed the pressing silence that hangs in every library everywhere. It's usually what everybody notices first when they enter a library. Sam carefully walked through the stacks, passing quite a few men and women in habits as she did. That didn't surprise her, but what did surprise her was the fact that were several knights here as well.
Sam found Carmen sitting at a table filled with books that were either open or half-closed. She seemed deeply engrossed in whatever she was reading. The only thing that was missing really was a dripping candle on top of a skull. And maybe a stuffed animal. Sam quietly sat down next to Carmen.
"Hey." She said quietly.
Carmen looked up. "Oh, hi." She whispered back.
"I see you're taking full advantage of the library." Sam remarked, looking over the piles of books.
"Well, yeah." Carmen said. "The sooner I find a way to get out of here the better."
"I've already found it, if you don't believe me." Carmen said. She looked over the disorganised mess on top of the table. After a little searching she produced a book that didn't really seem any different than the others. She then handed the book over to Sam.
"Is this it?" Sam asked.
Carmen nodded. "It says so on the top of the page. Sort of."
"Oh yeah, so it does." Sam said. "But the rest... well... basically it's just a pretty picture of lines and arrows and graceful curves going in all directions."
"Yeah, that's where all these other books come in." Carmen said. "I know that it has something to do with the magic flow, but I haven't quite figured it out yet."
"Oh." Sam said, laying the book back on the table.
"Don't worry." Carmen said. "I'll figure it out. And then we're all out of here."
"I see." Sam said. "You do remember that we were supposed to meet at dinner hall, right?"
"Sure I do." Carmen responded. "But it can't be noon yet."
"Yes it can."
Carmen was silent for a moment. She looked over the collection of books she had gathered so far. "How long have I been here?" She asked Sam.
"Not too long, don't worry." Sam said. "But it's really time to get going. Nicole is really pissed about the delay."
"Nicole is always pissed." Carmen said as she stood up.
Sam and Carmen slowly and above all silently made their way to the exit.
"Carmen?" Sam asked suddenly.
"Why are you taking that book with you?"
"Well, in case the library gets closed or something I can at least study in my room."
"Oh." Sam said.
"Why are you smiling?"
"Nothing." Sam said. "It's just that I think I'm beginning to figure out how this castle works."
The girls soon sat at a table inside the dinner hall. After having eaten a little something conversation slowly started once more.
"So Brooke, how was your day so far?" Sam asked.
"Pretty good." Brooke said. "I kind of ended up in the chapel."
"Brooke, you surprise me, I didn't know you were that religious." Sam said with a huge grin on her face. "Tell me, have you finally found the Lord?" She asked solemnly.
"Sam, what's got into you?" Brooke asked a little suspicious.
"Nothing. I'm in a good mood is all. I suppose it since it doesn't really happen all that often that it might seem strange."
"Oh." Said Brooke. "And why are you in such a good mood?"
Sam shrugged. "I just am is all. I don't have to explain it. So, apart from the chapel anything else happen?"
"I met this girl there."
Nicole snorted. Brooke ignored her.
"And...?" Lily prompted.
"She's from our world too." Brooke said. "And by the way, I just want it to be confirmed that this really is not our own Earth."
"We already figured that part out, Brookie." Nicole said.
"Well, now we know for certain." Brooke snapped. "Anyway, she wore this great big heavy armour we've seen people carry before, so I take it she's been here for a while already."
"So she doesn't know how to get back either." Lily said.
"No, no. She said she knew, it's just that she likes it here as well."
"Did she tell you _how_ she can go back?" Nicole asked.
"I asked it a couple of times, but she refused to answer me." Brooke shrugged. "After that, we mostly talked about Buffy."
"That's nice, I guess." Lily said. "I almost got ran over by two horses. Seems the path around the castle is used as a racetrack. But I didn't see any stables anywhere. And I got pretty close to the forest edge once and I think I saw someone looking back at me, but I couldn't quite make it out."
"Are you sure that's not just paranoia or something?" Sam asked.
"Very sure." Lily said determined. "There _was_ something there and it _was_ studying me."
"If you say so."
"Well what did _you_ do then?" Lily asked a little angry.
"I ended up on the one of the towers. It had a really nice view of the entire forest and let me tell you, it is big. It stretches all the way to the horizon in each direction. It's a good thing there's a road, otherwise you'd get lost in less than a heartbeat. I also met a knight girl there. She was pretty depressed about something. So I tried to cheer her up. In which I succeeded, by the way and that in turn put me in a good mood. And that was it basically."
"So basically what you're saying is that you looked at trees and acted silly in front of someone." Nicole said.
"If you want to put it that way, yeah." Sam said, not in the least disturbed. Right now, not even Nicole could do anything to her. "And I suppose you have spent your time a lot more useful?"
"Not really." Nicole admitted. "I found out that people around here are insane and that's enough for me. I even met someone who talked... really weird. You know, almost like in those Jane Austen novels. Except a little more modern than that. Maybe."
"Oh yes, what a discovery." Brooke said sarcastically. "Well let's face it, we haven't found out anything useful about this place."
"Unless Carmen has something to add." Sam said. "Carmen?"
At the mentioning of her name Carmen looked up from her book. "Huh? What?"
"The group wants to know if you discovered anything interesting." Sam said sweetly.
"Oh yeah." Carmen said enthusiastically. Then she hesitated a little. "Although I don't think I can explain it all just yet."
"Don't worry." Sam said. "We'll wait patiently until you do."
NOTE: My apologies to Majandra for the first part of this fic. Unless she likes it of course, in which case I don't suppose I have to apologise.
Majandra had a problem. And it was entirely her own fault. She knew it was her own fault so that was why she didn't really blame the other girl for completely pummelling her. As usual she had got into this trouble simply because she could not keep her big mouth shut. It had started a few hours ago when she had sauntered onto the large courtyard. Besides the knights waving their swords around and those guys in green practising with their bows there were also a few people in black who seemed to enjoy boxing, martial arts and other stuff like that. It all looked very impressive, but that was about it. So Majandra, with her big mouth, said something about it. One of the girls in black had responded to her and challenged her. And of course, she had been stupid enough to accept it. So here she was learning that all that fighting type stuff had not been merely for show. It did therefore not take long before she painfully landed on the ground.
"I take it, then, that my point has been proven?" The blonde girl in black asked.
Majandra grimaced. "More than proven. And, by the way: ow."
The girl smiled and offered her hand. Majandra took it and slowly got up again.
"I do hope that your sudden repositioning from vertical to horizontal has not left you too sore." The girl said.
Majandra tried to smile. "It only hurts when I laugh. Or breathe. Or, well, exist."
"It was not my intention to really hurt you. But it seems that I have underestimated my abilities. Or, perhaps, that you have overestimated your abilities."
"You mean my non-existent abilities?"
The girl smiled faintly. "Now, now, you should not do yourself short. With a reasonable amount of training you would probably be become a very capable fighter. After all, you lasted at least thirty seconds against me."
"Thirty very painful seconds." Majandra said.
"I was merely demonstrating a point. I once again apologise if I have harmed you any more than necessary."
"No, no, no need to apologise."
Majandra tried to move several limbs and grimaced because of the pain.
"Would you like me to escort you to your quarters? Or possibly the hospital?"
"No, I think I can make it." Majandra said. "And in fact I think I'll just be going there right now."
"Very well. But please, do consider my offer to train you. I feel that you show great promise."
"Will it be as painful as this little demonstration?"
"That depends." Said the girl. "Do you like it rough or are you more the gentle type?"
"I think I will just not respond to that comment and simply turn around and leave."
And with that Majandra turned around and left. The blonde girl kept looking at her with a smile on her face.
"Well my Lady Julian, how did you like my demonstration?" Shanter asked.
"How did you know I was here?" Nicole asked, stepping next to the blonde girl. "I was behind you the whole time."
"My Lady Julian, surely you are aware that I am trained to know my surroundings at all times." The girl said. Then she smiled again. "And of course, a radiant presence such as yours is hard to go unnoticed." She added mockingly.
"So... who was that girl?" Nicole asked.
One of Shanter's eyebrows shot up in a display of mild amusement. "My Lady Julian, are you attempting to start idle conversation with me?"
"Well what if I am?" Nicole retorted weakly.
"It seems the walls of Terratras have much less work to do on you than I initially expected." Shanter said ponderously. "I wonder why."
"Why do you keep talking about this castle like it is a living thing?"
"Oh no, my Lady Julian, Terratras is not a living thing. It is not even a magical thing. Its walls were built with the ideals of peace and harmony. Only those that are capable of living up to those ideals are summoned here. And in effect Terratras is effused with all that is good in this world."
"Yeah, right." Nicole said.
"I realise it may sound pathetic to a blackened soul such as yours, but there is a truth in it. I myself am already the living proof of it."
"Yeah, yeah. You've told me all about your corrupted soul, but frankly I haven't seen any proof of it. It could just be another fairytale you made up to be able to connect with me or something."
"And why would I like to connect myself to one such as yourself? Though I am quite certain you wield a certain amount of power where you are from, here it means nothing. And as for the state of my soul, I suppose it has been almost cleansed. All that remains from my upbringing are a few harmless perversities that I take pleasure in." Shanter smiled. A smile that most definitely implied a lot of things. "And if you so desire I could show you proof of that."
Nicole shivered. "No thank you."
Carmen could not believe what she was doing. That is to say that if she were to stop with what she was doing long enough to think about what she was doing she would not believe what she was doing. Carmen had never really been the bookish type, but now she found herself to be entranced by them. Every page she read, every picture she interpreted brought her closer to her ultimate goal. The table she had been working on was now quite literally filled with books. And the longer she studied, the more she became aware of what was around her. Carmen didn't know how to describe it so she simply gave it the term 'magical energy'. It was nothing substantial. The forces of gravity were probably more physical. But she could feel it. When she had become aware of its presence she felt it everywhere, even inside her very own body. And when that happened she wondered how she could not have noticed it before. But finding it was only one step. The more important step was how to use this knowledge. She had already figured out that she had to change the magic flow, but she had no clue whatsoever as to how she had to go about doing it.
Feeling both elevated and frustrated at the same time, Carmen continued her studies.
The sky was starting to colour purple as Lily once again found herself outside the castle walls. She sat on the ground, leaning against a wall towering into the sky behind her. She had spent almost the entire remainder of the day looking at the forest edge. She knew there was something there, other than trees and birds and animals. At first she had thought the quickly moving shapes she could vaguely make out were humans. But as the day progressed and she saw them a few times more, she decided that they could not be human. For one thing, they were too fast. They almost seemed to fly through the trees where the branches only accelerated them instead of slowing them down. Lily also thought she spotted a few faint hints of yellow when she was fortunate enough to look almost directly at one. The girl was so fascinated by her green surroundings that she didn't notice anyone come up to her and sit down next to her until he spoke.
"That's a pretty forest, huh?"
Lily looked at her sudden companion. "Drykster, hi."
"Hello there." Drykster greeted. "So, how _do_ you like our forest?"
Lily hesitated. "It's nice."
Drykster looked at Lily. He obviously didn't believe her, but he apparently decided it was none of his business since he shrugged dismissive and looked back at the trees.
"Does anyone live in that forest?" Lily asked carefully.
"Apart from all the animals you mean?"
"A couple. You know, a few Bats who sought out solitude, but mostly it's us Deer. We generally prefer to be over there than in here behind me."
"Us Deer?" Lily asked.
Drykster smiled a little guiltily. "It's an expression, nothing more."
"Oh, it is more. I know it."
"OK, yeah, so it is more. But it's not like it's that big of a secret. All you have to do is stick around here long enough to hear the right stories and you can figure it out for yourself."
"And I take it you're not going to tell me one of those stories."
Drykster stretched out lazily. "Nah. I'm not much of a storyteller. Unless they possibly involve juicy bits, but alas."
"You really do have a one-track mind, don't you?"
The guy in green chuckled. "That's what they all believe. And besides, what do I care? Let them think what they want to think." Drykster looked up at the sky. "It's going to be pretty dark soon. We'd best get back inside."
Lily looked up as well. "You're probably right." She said as she stood up.
The two of them slowly walked back to the gates. Lily was still wondering which stories Drykster had meant. Drykster was quite pleased that Lily was wondering which stories he had meant. Because it meant that she did not think about who and what lived in the forest.
Sam looked up at the night sky. It looked pretty much the same as it did back on earth. It was black and the tiny stars were vaguely visible. Sam wasn't exactly a great astronomer so she didn't really know if every star was where it was supposed to be. In a way, that lack of knowledge was quite comforting. Starry skies look the same everywhere, be it on earth or wherever she was now. She simply sat under the dark veil of a starry night and for a few moments the castle around her did not exist.
A few hesitant footsteps on the stone, however, told Sam that she wasn't alone any more on the tower. Slowly and with a clearly audible hesitation in the steps somebody walked over to Sam and sat down next to her.
"Brooke." Sam said in a way of greeting.
"Clear sky tonight." Brooke said.
"They even have a moon."
"You think it's our moon?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know, remember that show 'Sliders'?"
"You think we're in another dimension?"
"I don't think it's impossible."
"I guess not."
The girls were silent. Brooke looked at the stars. Sam looked at Brooke. The brunette saw that Brooke was looking way too intently at the stars. She wasn't enjoying their glittering beauty, she was looking for a constellation she knew. Because if she found one it would be proof that they were on Earth after all. Maybe not _their_ Earth, but an Earth all the same. Sam looked back up at the sky.
"Would you look at that moon?" The brunette said. "It looks so big from here."
"Maybe it's gonna fall." Brooke said grinning.
"Maybe it's supposed to be so big." Sam answered.
Brooke sighed and looked at the moon. A twinge of pain flashed across her face when she realised that she would not find any constellations here. Sam too felt a little pain shooting through her body. Terratras brought you where you needed to be. Did that mean that she and Brooke were both brought here to break it as gently as possible to the blonde that this really was not their home in any way whatsoever?
Sam sighed. Maybe it was for the best. It probably was. But it still hurt Brooke. And on some primal, instinctive level Sam didn't like to see Brooke hurt. Oh sure, they fought. Often even. But Brooke had sort of become like a sister to her. A little sister even, in a strange way. And big sisters simply didn't like to see their younger sisters hurt.
Well, unless they caused it themselves, obviously.
Sam stood up. "Come on Brooke, it's probably best if we'd get some sleep."
"You go." Brooke answered. "I wanna stay here for a while."
Sam nodded. "OK. Iíll see you tomorrow then."
NOTE: Yes, finally, I almost seem to be able to advance the plot a little. And it's about time too. I finally get to start on a few ideas I had in my head ever since writing the prologue.
Sam could sleep. This was a problem to her. Because if she were to go to sleep, she would dream. And the dream she had just woken up from had been a little too realistic for her. That dream was also her very first memory. She had had it practically daily almost from the day she was born and every image of it had been printed deeply into her memory. But somewhere around the age of four or five, the dreams had stopped and over the years the memories faded, though they had never disappeared completely. At first Sam had been very saddened by the loss, but now that they seemed to be back Sam was terrified. When she had been very young the dreams had told her that she was special. Now, however, they told her she was different. Very different.
Her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, Sam stood up out of bed, not willing to go back to sleep just yet. She looked at the small mirror for a moment, before looking away from it with a disgusted groan. She then walked over to the small window and looked outside at the night sky. She sighed and, putting her elbows on the window-sill, rested her head in her hands.
(God, what is wrong with me?) Sam thought, nearly desperate. (It simply cannot be true.)
Sam looked up again and saw herself faintly reflected in the glass of the window. A sudden anger overcame Sam and she turned away from the window again. She then walked over to the mirror, yanked it off the wall and put it on the small table, facing downward. She then crawled back in bed again, unsure if she wanted to go to sleep or not.
The next morning the five girls all had breakfast together. They mostly talked about nothing of importance and almost acted like everything was normal enough. During breakfast, however, Brooke noticed two things. The first of them was that now everybody wore the simple brown leather tunics, instead of their normal clothes. The second thing was that Sam had said absolutely nothing whatsoever. Instead she just seemed to be staring at something. But since Brooke was sitting opposite of Sam, she couldn't see what she was looking at. And she didn't really felt like turning around in the slim hope that she might spot whatever it was. The other girls, on the other hand, didn't seem to notice Sam's quietness. They only noticed it when Sam quickly finished eating, excused herself and vanished.
"What's up with her?" Carmen asked.
"I don't know." Lily said.
"It's just typical Spam behaviour. It'll pass." Nicole said.
Her voice sounded completely indifferent, but Brooke did notice a small hint of concern in her eyes. Which was her third surprise for the day. Because, since when did Nicole care for anyone else?
Brooke wandered a little aimlessly through the castle. What she really wanted right now was a place to think. To think about what was going on with Sam and Nicole. It therefore didn't come as a great surprise to her that she ended up in the chapel again. Since it was indeed quiet here and since she was all alone here, Brooke sat down on one of the benches. She looked over the paintings once more. She was too far away from any of them to be able to read the captions, but she could vaguely make out the story line. The first few paintings sketched a rather peaceful world, inhabited by countless different creatures. It would also appear that Unicorns, Dragons and Griffins took care of everything, making sure that the world remained the peaceful place it was. The paintings that followed were a little less pleasant. They were mostly dark and filled with fire and death. It would seem that something had risen that even the great three legendary animals could not defeat. The last one in that series showed the largest destruction of them all, with the Dragons at the heart of it. Things quieted down again a little after that, but it was obvious that there was still something wrong. The biggest, and probably most important painting, hung behind the small platform with the altar. It showed a Unicorn and a Griffin in the centre and a Dragon lurking a little further off in the darkness. They seemed to be arguing about something. In the bottom right corner of the painting four animals seemed to be eavesdropping. In the paintings that came after that the legendary beasts seemed to play no more part whatsoever. Instead they kept showing the four animals that were watching human civilisation at a safe distance. And of course the story ended with the two paintings Brooke had already looked closer at with the animals summoning Man to this forest and building this castle.
Brooke looked over the paintings again and decided to figure out the story behind it. Oh sure, she could just walk over and read the captions, but trying to figure the complete story out for herself would help take her mind of things.
Her plans were quickly interrupted, however, when someone sat down next to her.
"And again, I find you in the chapel."
Brooke looked at the person sitting next to her. The dark brown hair and emerald eyes seemed familiar, but it wasn't until she saw the piercings that she figured out who she was.
"L'Esperance?" Brooke asked. "What are you doing out of armour?"
The girl looked down at her tunic. "What, you mean this?"
"Well, you try wearing clothes of steel day in, day out. You'd be glad to be out of them too."
"That's true I guess." Brooke said. Then she chuckled. "You know, I didn't recognise you without that armour."
L'Esperance shrugged. "I'm not surprised. People usually see the steel first."
"Yeah, that definitely made an impression." Brooke said.
"So, you been trying to figure out the legend of Terratras again?" L'Esperance asked conversationally, pointing quickly at the largest painting.
"Yeah." Brooke said distractedly, focusing instead on the arm. "You have pretty big muscles, you know that?"
L'Esperance laughed. "What?"
Brooke felt a sudden blush creeping on her face. "Nothing. It's just... well... your arms are pretty muscular. You know... for a girl."
The knight laughed again. "You mean for a girl who doesn't wear steel all the time."
"Err... yeah." Brooke said, now capable of acting like a stop-sign.
"Jeez, there's no need to get all red about it." L'Esperance laughed. "I suppose it's a very normal question."
"Yeah, probably." Brooke said, cursing those treacherous veins in her face.
"Look, you wanna get out of here or what?" The knight asked, changing the subject.
"Gladly." Brooke said gratefully.
"Great." The other girl said. "Maybe I can get some muscle on your bones as well."
The two girls left the chapel and, led by L'Esperance, made their way through the corridors down some stairs and through some more corridors.
"Hey S." L'Esperance suddenly said.
Shanter looked up and smiled. "Ah, my dear New Hope. I have not seen you for some time."
"Really? I've been here for a couple of days."
"Truly?" Shanter asked. "I suppose it is a great castle indeed. It would be quite easy to somehow avoid each other for days."
"Oh, hey, S, there's someone you should meet." L'Esperance said. "Shanter, meet Brooke. Brooke, meet Shanter, the best Crow in the whole damn organisation."
"Hi." Brooke greeted carefully.
"A pleasure." The other blonde said smiling. Then a small frown appeared on her face. "I do seem to recall you from somewhere before." She said. Then the smile returned on her face again. "Ah yes, you are a friend of Nicole Julian, are you not?"
"Most of the time." Brooke said. "Whenever she isn't scheming something against one of my other friends. But, how do you know?"
"I have seen the two of you a few times together before on my journeys through these great halls. But, to return the comment you made just a little earlier, did not Nicole plot against you as well?"
"No." Brooke said simply. "There were a couple of times where she more or less accidentally got to me by trying to scandalise someone else, but that's about it."
"I take it then that you are a master in the art of cruel manipulation as well." Shanter said. She was still smiling, but a thoughtful look had got over her face.
"Nah." Brooke said. "I like being honest."
"Really?" Shanter said to herself. "How very interesting. Well, I shall not detain you any further. I am sure you have many great things planned for the remainder of the day."
"Sorta." L'Esperance said grinning. "I was about to take her to the armoury. See if she'd find something of interest there."
"The armoury!?" Brooke shouted. "What am I going to do there?"
"Probably more than you think." The knight answered.
Shanter watched the two girls walk away, lost in thought. Brooke had unknowingly uncovered a very large part of Nicole's character. If it were true, it would explain the reasonably large effect Terratras had on the girl. Shanter smiled, turned around, opened the door at the end of the corridor and stepped out into the open air atop one of the towers. After the initial confusion dissipated Shanter smiled.
"My Lady Julian." She said cheerfully. "Just the girl I was looking for."
Carmen reread a passage in the book in front of her. Then she reread it again. And again. And again. The reason why she kept reading it was because it made little sense to her. It almost seemed as if the author of this particular book had tried to make everything as difficult as possible. But instead of throwing the book away out of frustration Carmen persevered. She went over the paragraph one more time. And then the light suddenly blinked on.
((Oh so _that's_ what he's trying to say.)) She thought a little relieved. ((Man, why does he have to make everything so difficult?))
Carmen read the passage a few more times until she was absolutely certain that it said what she thought it said. Then she closed the book and put a little further away on the table. She then stood up and walked over to the shelves in search of a new volume. Her search did not last long, however.
"Sam? What are you doing here?"
Sam looked up from the book she had been reading. She quickly put it back in its place and looked at Carmen. "Oh, nothing." She said. It would be clear to anyone who happened to see her that she was lying.
"You know, you did leave awfully quick after breakfast. During breakfast even." Carmen said accusingly.
"Yeah, well, I had some stuff on my mind. Sorry."
Carmen nodded. "And have you sorted this stuff out already?" She asked.
"As a matter of fact I have." Sam said. "So I'll just be going now. Bye."
"Bye." Carmen said.
Sam turned around and practically fled. A little suspicious, Carmen took out the book Sam had been reading.
"The Truth Behind The Stories Of Terratras." Carmen read. "What would Sam want with that?"
The brunette was about to take the book back to her table when her eye fell on a far more interesting title. Putting Sam's book back, Carmen quickly took out the other book.
"The Basics Of Astral Travel." Carmen said delighted. "Just the one I was looking for."
With a very happy feeling inside her, Carmen went back to her table. She was so happy in fact that she didn't even wonder why the book on astral travel had been in the 'History' department of the library.
Lily got the strange feeling that Terratras didn't like having her inside its walls. She had based this assumption on the fact that she was once again outside those walls. Having nothing better to do, Lily strolled down the large dirt path that seemed to be the only way to get to Terratras without going through the thick forest. Enjoying the sunshine on her face Lily decided not go staring at the surrounding forest. After all, she wasn't paranoid. Her resolution was quickly cut short when she heard something behind her. Turning around Lily locked eyes with the strangest creature she had ever seen. After a quick look at the creature Lily decided that it was probably female. She was much smaller than Lily, about half her size. Her features, however, were refined and polished to perfection. Her eyes were bright and yellow and were slightly slanted upwards. She was of a breathtaking beauty if it weren't for one tiny detail. She was green. Both her skin, that seemed extremely soft and smooth, and her long thick hair were entirely green. A few leaves were on her body as well and Lily couldn't quite see if they were ornamental or if they actually grew there. The strange creature curiously looked at Lily.
"Hi." Lily greeted. "Can you understand me?"
The creature didn't answer. Instead she simply kept staring curiously.
"I'm Lily." Lily said. "Li-ly." She added, indicating herself.
The creature carefully stepped a little closer, but remained silent.
"Can you at least make some sort of sound?" Lily tried.
The small green woman tilted her head to the side, still studying Lily. Carefully and slowly Lily took one step into the creature's direction. The creature shrieked, turned around and ran off using both her arms and her legs. She moved with the graceful agility of a cat, but with the speed of jet. Within less than a second the beautiful creature was back into the forest and completely out of sight. Lily hesitated, doubting if she should follow the creature. She soon realised that was a bad idea. Sighing, Lily turned around and walked back to the castle.
"Shanter, can't you leave me alone?" Nicole said.
"Evidently not." Shanter said. "We do seem to keep running in to one another."
Nicole said nothing. Instead she angrily stared off into the distance.
"I met one of your friends just now." Shanter said. "A certain Brooke McQueen."
"You leave her alone." Nicole snapped.
"Oh you needn't worry about that. She is already being taken care off." Shanter said. "But, I am curious. Did you know that your friend seems to be attracted to girls?"
"How did you know that!?" Nicole shouted surprised. Then she quickly shut her mouth, realising that she had just said way too much.
Shanter smiled. "I am an expert when it comes to determining the sexual orientation of others. It is one of those remainders from my upbringing. Revealing the scandalous sexual deviancy of those in my father's court was the easiest way to climb up the social hierarchy of his court. But even if I had not had such an upbringing it would still be relatively easy to notice. It seems to me that your friend is developing quite a crush on one of our Wolves." Shanter paused briefly to gauge Nicole's reaction. When nothing much happened she moved on. "I do remain curious concerning the fact that you evidently know of dear Brooke's interest in the fairer sex."
"She told me once." Nicole grumbled. "And you're right. I saw her yesterday. Brooke's busy falling in love again."
Shanter nodded. "What puzzles me most, however, is the fact that you have not once moved against Brooke. Of what I had managed to learn from my conversation with her it would seem that she was above you in the social hierarchy."
"Yeah. And she was pretty solidly up there."
Shanter laughed. "Far from it. Not only is our dear Brooke a lesbian, she is also a very nice person. I know from personal experience that people like that are exceedingly easy to remove. So, the question remains, why did you not remove her?"
"That's none of your business." Nicole snapped.
The other blonde smiled. "I have already made it my business. As you already know I am trying to break down the walls you have erected so long ago. And I do seem that now I have the siege engine in hands that will do the job. So, once again, why did you not remove Brooke?"
"Because I like her." Nicole said.
"Like?" Shanter said. "You insult me, Lady Julian. Do you really expect me to believe a pitiful excuse such as that!"
"It's the truth." Nicole said.
"Nonsense." Shanter said, anger getting very clear in her voice. "Friends are simply minor obstacles in the way to attain power. You do not spare people simply because you 'like them'. In fact, the facts that Brooke is a lesbian, friendly _and_ a friend of yours makes it all the more easier to strip her of her power, humiliate her utterly in the eyes of everyone and make her a social pariah. So I ask, once again: Why did you not do that?"
"Why is it so important to you?" Nicole asked. "Let it rest."
"Oh no, my Lady Julian. I have evidently stumbled across something very vital here and I will most certainly not let it rest. However, I shall be merciful and grant you some time. In this time I either expect you to decide to either tell me the truth or to come up with a very convincing lie. However, when that time comes I shall no longer ask the question I have just asked you several times already."
"Then what will you ask?" Nicole said.
Shanter smiled. "It will not be 'Why did you not dethrone Brooke?' Instead it shall be 'Why do you need someone above you?'" The blonde girl nodded politely. "I shall let you think about your reply. Although I doubt you will answer me honestly, I shall find out the truth sooner or later. That is, if I have not figured it out already. And with that, I leave you."
True to her word, Shanter turned around and left. Nicole watched her go with dread on her face. The blonde painfully realised that the 'walls of aristocracy' that she had surrounded herself with were starting to show cracks. To make matters even worse, the one thing that she had tried to keep locked up in there was starting to peek out.
In short, Nicole was scared.
Scared of the person she knew she really was.
NOTE: Personally, I think this part sucks. I hope I'm the only one. I also hope that a certain person who wanted to remain unnamed doesn't mind me changing her character from a half-elf to a half-something-else.
Tirabon'c waited impatiently for his horse to stop drinking. He was sitting under a tree near a small stream. For the last few days he had been riding almost non-stop. Or were they weeks? Tirabon'c wasn't really sure any more. What he did know, however, was that he was being pursued. Pursued by people who did not have to stop way too often to take care of their horses. Tirabon'cs horse stopped drinking from the stream and walked slowly to its owner. The young man patted the beast gently on the neck before he mounted it. Then he drove his heels into its flanks to get away as fast as possible. A breath of relief escaped his lips when he spotted the outer edge of the vast forest where he was headed.
Somewhere behind him, something howled. And its cry was filled with black despair.
A few weeks ago Carmen had emerged from the library. Though she knew there was much more she could learn, Carmen had developed a whole new view on the world. She had learned enough for the most basic rudimentary spells. Including the spell that could get them home. But Carmen had decided to keep that little bit of info to herself. After all, when it really came down to it, what did she have to come home to? A drunk mother who seemed to be more happy to have her out of her life than in it? Miss Glass' lessons?
No thank you.
And by the way, Carmen was fairly positive that the others had some issues to work out that they wouldn't be able to work out back home. She knew because during her studies Carmen had discovered something. Something that really shouldn't need discovering. Something that had always been with her, that _was_ her, in fact. Carmen didn't really know if it had a name or not, but the closest thing she could come up with was 'soul'. And everyone turned out to have one. Even -and this had been a great surprise to Carmen- Nicole. And the beauty of this soul-like thing was that it sort of sent out signals. Signals that could be read in people's aura's. When she first read about it she had found it hilarious, almost even insulted. I mean, come on, aura's? That's just a bunch of New-Age crap, right?
But after her initial reaction faded and after trying it out a bit, just out of curiosity, she discovered that it really was there. That it really was not New-Age crap.
So here Carmen was, standing on one of the galleries overlooking the courtyard, her aura alert pumped up to the max. She was particularly interested in Brooke at the moment. The thin blonde had decided to take up sword-fighting lessons. While this had confused the Hell out of Sam, Lily and Nicole, Carmen was less than surprised. As Brooke and the girl who trained her exchanged blows, Carmen could literally see their excitement. If either one of them had been a guy they would have had sex a long time ago. But since they were both girls, their aura's also exuded a sense of sadness for not being able to tell the other girl how she felt. There was, of course, also fear of being found out. So instead of actually doing something, Brooke and the knight clanged their swords together in what was probably the strangest mating ritual the world had ever seen.
Carmen's blatant voyeurism of the heavily repressed sexual tension between the girls was suddenly interrupted when a young man in black ran onto the courtyard. He was obviously worried. He was so worried even that his aura was even more powerful than all those on the courtyard combined. The young man quickly ran over to Brooke and the knight. He spoke with the knight in earnest for several moments. The aura of the knight changed from being annoyed at being interrupted to worried, aggressive and decisive. After the young man had said what he had to say the knight gave him some firm orders. The young man nodded, turned and left. The knight then turned to Brooke. Disappointment was evident with both the girls. It was heartrendingly sad, but also in some strange way so darn cute. Brooke and the knight talked for a while and then they went their separate ways. Carmen too left her position on the gallery. Terratras was not a place where people get overly worried about something very serious. So when people _did_ get worried over something very serious it was more than likely that it was something life-threateningly serious.
And Carmen wasn't sure if she wanted to know what it was.
Sam was in the chapel. Her eyes were focused on the large painting, and the three legendary animals that were portrayed on them. Though Sam still didn't know the full deal, she did know that all the stories said that the mythical creatures had left. Just up and gone, abandoning this world. But to Sam, that didn't make sense. Not because she felt that mythical protectors of a planet don't just abandon that which they have sworn to protect. No, she thought it because of those damn dreams she kept having. Dreams that said that they were not gone. Dreams that claimed that she was somehow connected to them. Sam desperately wanted to find out what it all meant. And she wanted to find it out without any help whatsoever. Because if others found out about her and what she was dreaming they'd never look the same way at her ever again.
So she stared angrily at the painting, trying to make sense of it all.
That is, until someone gently tapped on her shoulder.
"What?" Sam growled before turning around. "Oh, Tralin, hi." She said a little apologetic after she _had_ turned around.
"And hi to you too." Tralin said. "I hope I'm not interrupting something, but I'm afraid I have some pretty bad news."
"Well, you see, Terratras was built for a reason, you know. And that reason was only partially to improve the entire human race."
"And if I'm not mistaken you will find out the other reason soon enough."
Sam opened her mouth to respond, but didn't get the chance. Something outside howled. It was a loud inhuman cry filled with pain and agony and despair. The wailing hurt Sam's ears and sent shivers down her spine.
"I take it that's them?" Sam asked though clenched teeth.
"Sort of." Tralin said. "So I'm afraid you'll have to go to your quarters."
"What? You want me to lock myself up in my room when there's... something... with this really loud voice outside?"
"Exactly." Tralin said. "You can't fight, you can't cast. You'd just get in the way."
Sam sighed. "OK, I get the hint."
"Good." Tralin said.
Another howl filled the chapel. The sound bounced off the walls and rocked Sam to the very core of her being. Whatever it was, it was getting closer.
"What _is_ that howling?" Sam asked.
Tralin smiled. "I'm not allowed to tell. And don't you go standing on of the towers to find out. There're a lot of Bats up there working some defensive magick for the rest of us."
Sam grinned. "Well, wouldn't want to interrupt them."
"So we're clear?"
Sam swiftly walked up one of the tower. Only two mages, or 'Bats' as the natives preferred to call them, were present. Sam only vaguely recognised one of them.
"Well, hello there." Said one of the Bats, a tall girl with blonde hair and green eyes. "Seems we have a visitor."
"So we do." Said the other Bat, whose name escaped Sam just right now. "Don't I know you?" The man looked thoughtful for a moment. "Ah yes, Samantha McPherson, right?"
"That's right." Sam answered. "And you're... Imp Ud-something-or-the-other, right?"
"I'mph Ud'f-dolph." The Bat said smiling.
"I see you guys met." Said the girl.
"Only briefly." I'mph Ud'f-dolph said. "Though I have been able to acquaint myself with your friend Carmen."
"What? The bookworm?" The girl asked.
"The very same."
Sam smiled briefly. Carmen the bookworm? The temperature in Hell had probably just dropped quite a bit.
"Well," Said the girl. "I'm Aquila, the not-really-a-Bat-but-trying-very-hard-all-the-same."
"Now, now, don't do yourself short. You just lack practise, that's all."
Aquila shrugged. "That's what I get for riding horses all the time I suppose." The girl looked up at the sky. "It's not going to last much longer now."
Sam looked up as well. Black clouds were billowing where the sun shone mere moments ago. She also noticed that the howling had stopped. She wondered briefly if that was a good sign.
"We'd best get the enchantments in place." I'mph Ud'f-dolph said.
"Is there anything I can do?" Sam offered carefully.
"You can be quiet for a sec."
"I can do that."
There was no chanting, no impressive lights, no shows of any kind of power. But still, after a mere few seconds Sam felt something descending over her. A sort of sphere that would keep her from harm.
"That'll do." Said Aquila.
"Now all we can do is watch, I suppose." I'mpf Ud'f-dolph.
"We can pray." The girl offered. "Though I'm not really the religious type."
I'mpf Ud'f-dolph walked to the edge of the tower and looked down.
"And the Earth burst open." He recited solemnly. "And the armies of the Demon marched across the World."
Aquila stood next to him. "Nice, but I think I know a better one."
The girl thought for a moment. "And the Sickness of Man crawled across the globe. Wherever they came the soil became contaminated, the rivers poisoned and the sky polluted until only wastelands remained, filled with death and decay."
I'mpf Ud'f-dolph nodded appreciatively. Sam, getting really curious now, walked over to the edge of the tower as well and looked down. She discovered that both quoted passages were pretty correct. Down below, on the single road towards the castle there stood an army. All that could be seen were rows upon rows of bleached bones and grinning skulls.
The dead had risen.
And they were marching towards Terratras.
Drykster sat comfortably on his branch. He was always pretty relaxed before a fight. Normal people were nervous or scared or possibly excited. But not him. Battle meant little to him. He viewed it as a something not really worth his while. Oh sure, he took the fighting in itself pretty serious. He didn't want to die after all. But it wasn't exactly his goal in life either. Hearing the sound of feet marching past, Drykster sat up and grabbed his bow.
As if they had all been given an invisible signal the hidden archers fired at the skeletal army. Somewhere behind Drykster the inhuman wailing started again.
The fight was on.
L'Esperance drove her horse forward. Though she was still very young, she was the best Wolf currently in the castle and as such she rode at the front of her attack. She didn't shout a battle cry or something. She simply directed her horse and her troops towards the undead infantry in front of her. Battle cries wouldn't have helped much anyway since fights like this were always accompanied by the cries of the spirits that mourned the loss of life.
"They're doing pretty well." Sam offered hesitantly from her viewpoint atop the tower.
Aquila snorted. "Of course they're doing well. It's just one regiment of skeletal infantry. Anyone could handle that."
Sam looked over at the sea of bone and the intense fighting that had started at the front.
"Are you saying that that fight down there is simple?" Sam asked.
"Fights are never simple." I'mph Ud'f-dolph said. "But this is just infantry. And these soulless shells can do nothing but raise their swords and try to strike. They are not capable of thought. They are simply out to destroy us, but they are rather clumsy when they go about doing it."
"But why?" Sam asked. "I mean... is there some necromancer or something who wants to destroy you?"
Aquila chuckled. I'mph Ud'f-dolph smiled. Obviously Sam was not in the know about something.
"OK, what's so funny?"
"The necromancer you're referring to?" Aquila said. "It's us."
"What!?" Sam yelled.
"Not 'us' as in 'we', but 'us' as in 'the human race'. Really powerful forces were here once upon a time, but they are all forgotten now. So we humans go about our business, building cities and all, and in doing that we sort of accidentally corrupt those traces of power that were left behind."
"And as a result the dead rise." Sam said.
The howling stopped as suddenly as it had started. L'Esperance turned her horse and overlooked the small battlefield. All she could see were piles of bone gone to dust and, of course, her fellow Wolves. There were a few wounded, but so far she didn't see any corpses. And the lack of wailing indicated that there probably were none. L'Esperance put her sword back into its sheath and directed her horse back towards the castle. She was soon joined by others who came riding next to her.
"A short fight." One of her companions said.
"Very short." L'Esperance agreed. "You'd almost start thinking we're running out of dead people."
There were a few polite chuckles.
"How many wounded?" L'Esperance asked.
"I don't know. Not a lot, though."
"Make sure they all get proper treatment."
L'Esperance nodded. She rode on in silence. She was never in the mood to talk after a fight. It was so damn unfair. Back home, that is to say, the place where her parents lived back on Earth, the only undead she had to deal with were those on TV. Here she had to fight them.
The knight's dark thought were suddenly shattered when a cry filled her ears. Cussing, she turned her horse and looked towards the horizon. Several others did the same.
"There're more coming." She said. "Find Tralin. She needs to get the Young out of here."
"I don't think she'd like that."
"Do it!" L'Esperance growled. "I don't care if she doesn't like it. The safety of a lot of people are involved here, get it?"
"OK, OK. I got it. No need to go all alpha on me."
L'Esperance grinned sheepishly. "I suppose I take the whole wolf pack metaphor a little too seriously."
"Hey, you don't hear me complaining. Well, not a lot anyway." Then he got serious again. "I'll go find Tralin." He said, and turned his horse.
"Why are we walking through this wood?" Nicole asked in her usual tactless style.
She and about fifty other people in brown tunics were walking behind a knight who also did not seem to enjoy this little hike through the woods.
"Because L'Esperance told me too, that's why." Tralin snapped.
"And you do whatever she says? That's pathetic."
"She's the boss." Tralin said. "She saved my ass on more than one occasion. And besides, I'm the only one who can take care of you lot anyway."
"I can take care myself." Nicole huffed.
((No you can't.)) Carmen thought.
Though Nicole was acting her usual bitchy self, her aura told quite another story. Nicole was massively confused, scared and downright insecure. Though strangely enough, there was a but of relief there as well. In any case, it was obvious that the blonde was using her trademark bitchiness as a shield to hide how she really felt. Carmen wondered how long Nicole had been doing that.
"Why _are_ you the only who can take care of us anyway?" Brooke asked.
Carmen noticed that Brooke's pissed-off attitude had nothing to do with insecurity. She was just angry at being away from her dashing knight in shining armour and didn't like it.
Tralin smiled a little. "Well, let's just say my dad wasn't particularly attracted to humans."
The group walked in silence through the woods after that. This gave Carmen some time to think. She had enjoyed thinking a lot lately, so she did it very often. Her thoughts centred around Sam. Her aura was a little... off. There was something there that shouldn't be there. Or was there something _not_ there that _should_ be there. Carmen didn't know and it confused the Hell out of her. What also confused her a little were the small indications of jealousy she detected in that aura.
A small wind started blowing, gently rushing through the leaves. The wind almost sounded as if someone was sighing about a great loss. Needless to say, it did not improve the mood of the silent group.
Suddenly Tralin stopped in a small clearing. The group behind her clumsily stopped as well.
"We're here." Tralin said.
"That's great." Nicole said. "And where is here?"
Tralin didn't pay attention to her. Instead the knight looked at the surrounding trees.
"Karos eris?" She yelled.
"Terratraset eros!" She yelled.
The clearing remained empty. The trees around them remained motionless. The wind kept blowing melancholically.
Tralin sighed. "Tralin ero." She said.
Suddenly the woods around them came alive. Countless different faces appeared between the branches. Their faces were all green, and they were all female. A few of them dropped from their trees and walked over to Tralin to hug her. The knight smiled affectionately at the small creatures. Then she turned around to face the group.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Xoris." She announced. "Your temporary home away from home."
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