Endolye Chapter 11: House of Lies

They followed the lady through the woods, and as they walked she would point out different plants and trees, telling them which could provide food, which made good shelter, and even which flowers could be ground up and used as dyes. The group was so busy paying attention to the bark, roots, leaves and berries, no one was paying attention to the direction they were heading. After a few hours of walking through the woods, they came to a clearing. Lyria stopped and smiled.

“My humble abode,” she said.

They were standing in front of a large stone house, with an arched doorway, gabled windows, and ivy growing up the sides. Dante thought it looked like something from a fairy tale, and while part of her wondered what the inside looked like, another part of her felt a bit uneasy. She realized she had no idea where they were or how far they had walked.

“Come inside, please,” Lyria said. “I know you must all be hungry after our walk, and it will be dark quite soon.”

Once inside they looked around in wonder. Inside, the house was lit by candles, which glowed against the marble floors and gave a golden light to the art on the walls. Lyria led them to a large room where a table filled with food was waiting. There was a small, screened area for Seeya, a rock chair for Greff, and a large purple chair for Addis at the head of the table. He sat his bag down and looked around. It was the first time Dante could remember that he hadn’t pulled something out of it.

They ate quietly, Lyria passing them food and refilling their cups. She spoke softly, telling them how happy she was they were there, and that they could stay as long as they liked. Ori was interested in seeing the collection of herbs, plants, leaves and bark she’d collected, and the medicinal properties she’d discovered in many of them. Seeya had been chatting excitedly about the promise Lyria had made to show him how to use some of the plant dyes to enhance the coloring on his face and improve his skin.

Lyria tried to engage Gress in conversation about a nearby stone quarry, asking him if he’d go there with her to giver her some advice. The Brox had simply grunted and continued to eat. Lyria had smiled and turned to Dante, telling her she hoped they could be friends.

“Sometimes I just feel like there’s no one who understands me,” she said, looking into Dante’s eyes. “Like I’m alone, even when I’m surrounded by people. I’d love to have someone to just talk to about the things I’m feeling and thinking, and I hope we can spend some time getting to know each other.” Dante couldn’t believe she had met someone who felt so many of the things she did.

When the group finished eating Lyria smiled and said, “I hope you all enjoyed that. Why don’t I show you each to your room now? I’m sure you’d like to get comfortable and get some sleep.”

“We each get our own room?” Seeya couldn’t hide his delight.

Lyria laughed. “Yes, my small friend, I do understand the need for a little privacy.”

“Oh you’re just a delight!” he said, hovering near her. “You just don’t know what it’s been like with this group.”

“I’d like to stay with Addis,” Greff said.

Dante turned to Lyria, “Yes, please, Greff doesn’t like to be alone,” she said, “and I don’t think Addis has been feeling well.”

“I feel fine.” He folded his hands on his tummy and wouldn’t look at Dante.

“Oh dear,” Lyria said, “Well, I have such a special room prepared for Addis, and I just didn’t think someone so important….”

“That’s right,” Addis said, “I need my privacy too.”

“It’s o.k.,” Greff said, patting his pocket where he kept the picture of Turra, “I’ll be fine.”

“No, really,” Dante said, turning to Lyria with a smile. “You’ve been so wonderful, but couldn’t I stay with Greff? I wouldn’t mind the company at all.”

“Of course,” Lyria said, but she didn’t look entirely happy. They followed her through the house and she stopped at various doors, bidding her guests good-night as they entered. Dante and Gress were last, and Lyria paused a moment after they entered.

“Well,” she said, “good night then.” Dante bid her good-night; Greff remained silent. As soon as the door closed Dante turned, ready to ask Greff why he was being so rude, but he cut her off before she could begin.

“I don’t like this,” he said. They were in a large room, with two beds and a privacy screen they could put between them.

“What?” Dante asked, sitting on one of the chairs. “Her finding us? Bringing us here? Feeding us? She’s been so nice Greff, and really seems to understand us, and know just what each one of us needs.”

“That’s just it,” Greff said, sitting opposite her. “How can she understand us so well? It takes time to build relationships, Dante, you can’t get to know someone in a few hours.”

“I think you can know a lot about a person even in a short time.”

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get to know someone too soon. That’s what happened with the Wumpus, and although they were fun they weren’t very nice. I’m afraid the same thing is true here.”

She stood and began pacing. “Then what does she want?”

“I don’t know, and that’s what’s got me worried.”

“Greff, really, can’t you believe she’s just being nice?”

“No.” But he smiled. “I’ll tell what would make me feel better.”

“What’s that?”

“If we looked around a little.”

At Dante’s shocked expression he said, “Look, we don’t know anything about Lyria, or why she’s brought us here. But I do know that she wants to keep Addis by himself, and she’s just too charming with all of her compliments. I don’t trust her.”

“Well,” Dante began. The idea of snooping around made her nervous. What if they got caught? “I guess if someone sees us we can just say that we were looking for food or something.”

“We won’t get caught,” Greff said. “I’ll feel anyone coming before they know we’re there.”

Dante had forgotten about the Brox’s sensitivity to vibration. “Well,” she said slowly, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt, but maybe we can just wait until tomorrow?”

“Dante, how long do you think we can just stay here? What are we going to do with our time? Don’t you want to find the Khee? The Lost Council? You heard her – she’s doing everything she can to discourage us from leaving and make us want to stay.”

“You’re right,” Dante said unhappily. “O.k., it couldn’t hurt to look around.”

They quietly opened the door and peered into the hall. It was empty, and fairly dark, with the little light there was coming from some torches on the wall.

“Take my hand,” Greff said, “I’m used to working in dim light.”

They went slowly down the hallway, Greff stopping now and then to get a sense for where there was movement. A few times they had to scurry down alternate hallways, and after one particularly close call they ended up outside a door with a light coming from underneath. Greff pointed to the bottom of the door, and Dante held her finger to her lips.

She leaned as close to the door as she dared. Inside, she could hear Lyria talking to someone. Her voice had lost its musical quality, and she sounded angry.

“You’ve got to get him back in the cave! I can’t believe you had him there and you let him go!”

“We didn’t know it was him! You didn’t tell us!” Dante looked at Greff, shocked. There was no mistaking the voice. It was Pirrin.

Lyria’s voice took on its honeyed tone. “You’re doing a wonderful job with the games,” she said. “The Oralians are almost at the breaking point. Your sudden downpours of rain were the perfect way to wear down their resistance. And the Bastahl won’t be able to take much more of the heat. The Brox are a little tougher than I thought, but not being able to work is driving them crazy. You’ve done just beautifully. And if it weren’t for Addis, we’d be almost ready to make our move.”

“What can we do now? If he just disappears, the others will be suspicious.”

“Maybe, maybe not. He’s getting addled, they might think he’s just wandered off. At any rate, we’ve got to move quickly. You all need to concentrate on what you’re doing with the games. It’s almost time for me to appear and save those poor tribes from the mess they’re in. Once I’m there, they won’t need any more Councils. They can all just depend on me to do everything for them. Then I’ll have power over all of Endolye.”

Pirrin laughed. “And you can teach us more games!”

“Oh yes, my pet. Once we have control of Endolye there’s plenty of games I can teach you.”

Dante backed slowly away from the door and turned to Greff, her eyes wide. He shook his head, took her hand and led them back through the maze of hallways to their room. She was grateful for his ability to find his way around.

Once they were back inside their room, Dante told him everything she had heard. When she finished, she said in desperation, “What are we going to do?”

“Well, we’ve got to get Addis out of here,” Greff responded.

“We’ve got to get all of us out of here,” Dante said. “She’s behind all the problems in the tribes! She wants to take over Endolye.”

They quickly gathered their things and Greff led them through the hallways, remembering which doors had opened. Ori came easily. Seeya was reluctant at first, until Dante told him Lyria was behind the rain, and then he was more than ready to leave. The only one they couldn’t convince was Addis. They had all gathered in his room, arguing with him behind the closed door.

“But this is where we wanted to be,” he said.

“No Addis,” Dante replied, “we wanted to find the Khee.”

“Well, she can probably tell us where they are. Anyway, we should just ask her about all of this. I’m sure she can straighten it out.”

Dante was beginning to feel desperate. “O.k., Addis,” she said, “now I know something is wrong if you’re thinking you can just ask someone else what to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

She looked to Ori and Greff. They nodded, and picked up Addis, one under the arms and one by his feet.

“Hey! What are you doing!” he began to struggle. Seeya popped open the door and looked down the hall.

“Now!” he said, and they all rushed out. As they were heading for the front door, Greff froze. “Someone’s coming. From the left!”

Dante looked around frantically. She hissed, “Just get him out of here and I’ll take care of whoever is coming.”

Greff stared at her for a moment until Dante pushed him. “Go!”

Addis was still struggling and started to call for help. Seeya flew up and grabbed hold of his pendant. Addis froze and stared at him, silent.

“Now,” Seeya whispered, “although this is far too large for someone as petite as me, if you don’t quiet down I’m going to pull it right off your neck.”

Dante was shocked at the Oralian’s tone, but was glad to see Addis quieted down. With Seeya hovering over him, fist tightly closed around the pendant, the other two quickly carried him out of the hallway.

Dante was standing alone, admiring a tapestry when Lyria came around the corner. She stopped short.

“Why Dante,” she said, “what a pleasant surprise to see you. But it’s so late. Couldn’t you sleep?”

“Not a wink, I’m afraid. It’s all the excitement at being in such a beautiful place. I didn’t want to wake the others, and Greff is so sensitive to movement, so I just popped out here to have a look around. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. Can I offer you something to drink?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she yawned. “I’m actually just now feeling a bit tired. I think I’ll head back to my room.”

“Are you sure you can find it? Shall I walk you back?”

“Oh no, that’s fine – I believe I just go down this hall and turn left.”

“Yes, well, alright, have a lovely sleep.” And she smiled and put her hand on Dante’s head. Dante forced herself to look straight into her eyes and smile. She waved and went down the hall and back to her room. She thought for a moment, and then went to Greff’s bed and put the pillows under the covers to make it look like the Brox was there sleeping. She got into the other bed, turned away from the door, forced herself to slow her breathing, and waited.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before she could hear the doorknob turn. She kept her eyes closed and her breathing even. She felt relief when she heard the door quietly shut, but quickly panicked when she heard a key turning. She was locked in!

She got up and tried the door to be sure, and then went to the window. She didn’t see anything or anyone, so she opened it just a crack. She was on the third floor and knew she couldn’t jump. She took the bed sheets and knotted them together, then tied them to the bedpost. They didn’t quite reach to the ground, but she was able to climb down and drop the rest of the way. She landed softly, and was off and running to the trees. She got there and saw Seeya waiting.

“Oh thank goodness! We just didn’t know what to do!” and before she could answer he zipped off. She sat and waited for him, catching her breath. In a few moments, he was back.

“O.k., I let the others know we’re on our way. Come on,” and he began leading her through the trees.

She found the others hiding not far from the gazebo. Addis had stopped struggling, and was sitting next to his bag looking a little confused. She went to him.

“Are you alright?”

He nodded slowly. “I’m fine. I don’t know what came over me. It’s the oddest thing; I just didn’t want to leave. But I’m o.k. now. Thank you for getting me out of there.”

He fingered the pendant around his neck. “It’s a good thing Seeya really knows how important this is.”

The others came over and Dante whispered, “We’ve got to go back to the Wumpus. We’ve got to figure out how they’re playing these water games, and stop them.”

“I don’t know,” Ori said, “shouldn’t we try to find the Khee? That’s what we came here to do.”

“There’s no time!” Greff’s voice was urgent. “She’s going to be making her move, and once she finds out we’re gone, she’ll waste no time! Our families are in danger.”

“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Dante suggested, “and first thing in the morning we can head back to the cave.”

Ori shook his head. “I don’t think we should wait. She’ll be looking for us. We should go now while we have the element of surprise.”

After a moment they all nodded, and headed back to the side of the lake where the Wumpus had their cave. Greff built a small barricade that was closed in on three sides so they could keep watch. Seeya was trying not to fall asleep and hoping he wouldn’t look too tired when Pirrin suddenly appeared in front of him with a smile.

“Hello again.”

“Why…what…how did you get here?” Seeya stammered.

“It’s a game we play.” He craned his neck to look past Seeya into the barricade.

“Hey! Wake up! Trouble’s here!” and he laughed.

Inside the barrier, the others were instantly awake. Greff, Ori and Dante shielded Addis from the opening where Seeya hovered.

“What do you want?” Dante called out.

“We’re having another party. Come on down to the cave.”

“No, thank you, we’re fine here.”

“Oh but you’ll have so much fun if you join us,” Pirrin gave a whoop and the woods came alive with Wumpus. They rushed the barricade and Dante felt herself being picked up and pushed aside. There was so much noise and she couldn’t see. Suddenly they all ran off and Dante looked around wildly. Ori and Gress were doing the same. Addis was gone.

“I’ve got to go and get him,” Dante said. “I know they’ll let me in, and I can probably get them to trust me. They think I like them, or they at least think they can get me to like them.”

Greff started to argue but Dante said, “What else can we do? Who else can go? It has to be me!”

She looked from Greff to Ori to Seeya. She could tell that none of them liked it, but they knew she was right. After a moment, Ori bowed and she knew she needed to go.

She walked to the edge of the lake, and it became fog. She walked slowly and carefully toward where she knew the cave was, putting one foot directly in front of the other. She kept waiting for the fog to change into water, but it didn’t. She made it to the cave and paused, sure it was a trap. After a moment she went inside. In the big room she found Addis sitting by himself.

“Addis! Are you o.k.?”

“I’m fine,” he said, “I’m glad they’ve finally stopped the ice; it was getting cold.”

“Well, I’m sure they were waiting for us to come for you, and I’m sure it will be back soon.” she said.

As she was talking she could feel the room getting colder and she sighed. They were trapped in the cave, but at least they were together. She looked around.

“O.k., Addis, I’ve got to think of a way to get us out of here.”

“I think you’ve done enough at this point, don’t you?”

Dante couldn’t hide her surprise.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“It was you who brought us here. It was you who insisted we come this way. I didn’t even want to head to the mountains. I told you it was dangerous. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

He fingered his pendant. “Whatever happens, it’s going to be your fault. This is probably what happened to the Lost Council. They probably disappeared under the ice.”

Dante felt as though she had been slapped.

“Addis,” she said, “I don’t know why you’re saying these things to me. I did my best to help all of us.”

“You did your best to take charge,” he said, “and look where it’s gotten us. No wonder you don’t have any friends where you come from.”

She just stared at Addis. The impact of what he said, and the stress of the last several days were too much. She felt tears welling in her eyes.

“Addis,” she whispered, “I’m sorry, I was just trying to help.”

When he didn’t respond she turned to go back to the opening of the cave. With her head down she said, “I’ll stay out of your way.”

She took two steps forward.

Addis said softly, “Dante, wait.”

She turned her head, took one step back, and vanished.

Endolye Chapter 10: Cold as Ice

They followed the Wumpus around the lakeshore to a spot where large rocks jutted out of the water. Pirrin and the others jumped into the water and Dante followed. Addis quickly pulled some swim fins, a mask and snorkel out of his bag and followed, trailed by Greff and Ori. Seeya was able to fly just above the surface of the water, watching the swimmers below. They swam toward a cave in the water and went in; Seeya was just able to clear the top.

The water in the cave was only a few feet deep, and the travelers followed the Wumpus up a small incline, and then down a sloping floor. Unlike the Brox burrows, the walls seemed to be made of mud, with bit of straw and sticks coming through. Dante could see Greff studying them intently. As they walked she could hear the sound of music and laughter getting louder and louder. They reached a large room with walls sealed in mud, full of Wumpus, playing instruments and dancing.

“Look who’s back,” Pirrin shouted as he entered the room. The other Wumpus looked up and shouted, waved their hands, and went back to what they were doing.

“Well,” Pirrin said, “here we are. Join the party.”

And he danced off toward the other Wumpus. One of the Wumpus jumped up off the floor, quickly grabbed Dante by the hand, and began swinging her in a wild dance. She was laughing and trying to catch her breath. Addis, Greff, Seeya and Ori worked their way into a corner of the room, where they tried to remain inconspicuous.

Before Dante could catch her breath another of the Wumpus pressed a drink into her hand. She was so thirsty she gulped it all down.

“Why, that’s delicious,” she gasped. “What is it?”

The Wumpus looked at each other and burst out laughing. “It’s water!”

She laughed along with them. She was very giddy and having a very good time. Everything she said was funny, and everyone seemed to like her. The only thing wrong was her friends in the corner. They didn’t seem to be enjoying themselves at all, and Dante wasn’t sure why. Everyone else basically ignored them.

The party went on and on. Dante was given food to eat and water to drink, and she kept dancing. She felt that she was making so many friends, she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to leave. Finally, she found herself curled up on a couch with two of the Wumpus, Dula and Mirch. The three girls had all promised to be lifelong friends, and then Dante fell asleep.

The cold woke her. She was shivering, and sat up to look around. She didn’t see Seeya, but Greff and Ori were on the floor on a pallet under a blanket, and Addis was asleep in a rocking chair next to her, wrapped in a warm quilt. Still shivering, she moved closer to him, trying to get some of the quilt over her. Addis woke up.

“Sorry,” he said, “I tried to cover you up last night, but your friends kept taking the covers.”

“Where is everyone?” she asked.

Addis yawned. “I don’t know,” he answered. “They pretty much come and go as they please and they don’t generally tell me what’s going on.”

“But I don’t understand,” Dante said. “Mirch said Dula were going to show me how to fish on the ice today.”

Addis just looked at her. “Well, that was last night. Now it’s this morning. They aren’t here, and they’re not going to be showing you how to fish.”

Dante stood up and stretched. “I’m starving,” she said. “And why is it so cold in here?”

Addis was folding up his quilt and put it on the chair. Dante gave him a curious look. “My bag doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with me right now.” he said. “And you’re so cold because you’re basically buried beneath the ice. They’ve frozen the lake.”

Dante looked around. “Well, let’s get out of here and go find something to eat.”

Addis just shook his head. “The lake is ice. We’re sealed in here until they turn it back into liquid or fog.”

“How do you know?” Dante asked, starting up the path toward the opening. It was dark, and she had to feel the way along with her hands as she walked. Sure enough, it got colder and colder, and the entrance was blocked with ice before she reached the top.

“Hey,” she yelled, seeing shadows above her, “let us out!”

The shadows stopped moving and there was laughter from the other side. Then the shadows kept moving. Dante felt her way back down into the chamber. Her movements had awoken Greff, and his stirring had interrupted Ori’s sleep. They were both looking around sleepily when Dante got back.

“You’re right,” she said sitting down.

She began to hear noises from above. “What are they doing up there?” she asked.

“Oh I don’t know what they call it. One of their dumb games. They take this little thing and scoot it along the ice. They try to keep it away from each other, and occasionally break into fights for no reason.”

“Oh.” Dante sat down and looked around. “I really am hungry. Do you think there’s any food left?”

“Good question,” asked Ori, and he began to look around the large room.

Greff remained silent, and wouldn’t even look at Dante. She tried to remember the previous evening, wondering if she had said something to him, or if maybe he was just in a bad mood.

Ori found some cold leftovers from the night before, and although they weren’t very appetizing everyone had a bit to eat.

“Thanks, Ori.” Dante said when they were finished.

She looked toward the entrance of the room. “I wonder why they won’t just take a second and let us out?”

“Because they do what pleases them.” Greff finally spoke and he sounded cross. “Don’t you understand? They’re not going to help us, they’re not your friends, and they’re not very nice.” Dante was shocked, and remained silent for a moment.

“Have I done something to make you angry?” she asked.

Greff looked at her and then began pacing. “It’s just that we came here to do a job, and you seem to have forgotten that. We’ve spent all this time together getting here, and now you’re just taking up with them because you’re having a good time – without even considering how this might be for the rest of us.” He turned to her. “Have you even noticed that Seeya isn’t here? Aren’t you the least bit worried about him?”

Dante quickly looked around and realized Greff was right. She felt terrible that she hadn’t noticed. In a quiet voice she asked, “Does anyone know where he is?”

“No,” Addis said standing. “He went off so he wouldn’t be sleeping in front of the Wumpus. They kept laughing at him for no reason – I think they realized it bothered him.”

Dante began to feel worse. The Wumpus had been bullying and mean to her friends. How could she think they were so much fun? Maybe it was just that they had made her feel like she was one of them. But, she thought, who would want to be like that? Why would I want to be one of them? She looked around at her friends, Addis standing next to his bag, Greff glowering, and Ori looking at her with sympathetic eyes. These were her real friends, and she needed to remember that.

“Guys, really, I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s just that where I come from, no one invites me to parties, and I guess I just, well, I was just stupid.” She felt tears starting to well in her eyes, and turned so they wouldn’t see her cry. Ori walked over and put his arm around her.

“Dante, you understand their nature now, don’t worry. We’re still your friends. If we would abandon our friendship because of an incident like this, we wouldn’t be much in the way of friends, would we?” Dante looked up and smiled gratefully at the Bastahl.

“Well, as long as you don’t forget why we’re here,” Greff said gruffly, and Dante knew she had been forgiven.

Addis interrupted them. “Come on,” he said, “I think they might be coming back.” They started walking up the tunnel as a crowd of Wumpus came thundering down on them.

“Oh, you’re not going are you?” Dula asked. Pirrin was right behind her.

“Yes,” Dante said, “we are.”

“But why? We’re having such fun!”

“No, you’re having fun, we were stuck down here in the cold. And we need to get going.”

Dante began heading up the tunnel with her friends close behind. Pirrin was right behind them.

“You can’t go, we’re not done having fun with you yet,” he said.

“Yes,” Dante said firmly, “ it’s time for us to go.”

They had reached the surface and the lake was a swirling fog. Although they couldn’t see, Dante knew the shore had to be in front of them, so began walking in a straight line. The fog cleared as they reached the shore, but Pirrin was waiting for them. As soon as they were all on the shoreline, the lake turned to ice. There was a far-off howling from the Wumpus in the tunnel, and the lake turned to steam. The others raced to the surface, and it began raining.

“Now what?” Pirrin asked smiling wickedly. “As I’m sure you can see, leaving us might prove difficult.”

Dante simply sat on the ground in the rain. “Well then,” she said, “we’re just not going to play. We’ll just sit here and wait. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

The others followed her lead and sat. The Wumpus ran around them, yelling, jeering, and taunting, but they didn’t move. Dante assumed her most bored expression. The rain stopped, the sun came out and the lake reappeared. Pirrin stood in front of the group.

“Fine,” he said, “you’re boring and stupid anyway. Just for that, we’re not going to tell you about the Water Maiden or the water games she taught us.” And with that he ran off, followed by the others.

“Wait!” Dante called, but it was too late. They were gone. She stood up.

“Who’s the Water Maiden?” she asked no on in particular.

“Well, she’s quite beautiful, I can tell you that much,” said a familiar voice.

“Seeya!” Addis jumped up as the Oralian came zipping into their midst.

“Addis, you actually look happy to see me,” he said, with his deadpan expression. Addis smiled – a rare thing – and said, “Well, I just didn’t want to have to waste a lot of time sending out a search party for you.”

“So who is this Water Maiden, and what do they mean about water games?” Ori asked.

“Well, she’s just divine,” Seeya said. “Long flowing hair, impeccable taste in clothes, and a voice just like honey. She seemed so happy to meet me, and was so interested in hearing all about our journey.”

“Seeya,” Dante said slowly, “what did you tell her?”

“Oh not much,” Seeya said hurriedly. “Just that we represented certain tribes and were looking for the Lost Council, and kind of hoped to meet the Khee. You know, no biggie.”

“Seeya,” Greff groaned, “you told her everything about us.”

Seeya put his hands on his hips. “Well, I’ve just told you, she was delightful. I don’t see what all the fuss is about!”

“Yes, and Dante found the Wumpus delightful,” Addis said. Dante felt her face getting hot, and Ori put his hand on her shoulder.

“Well, last night,” Addis amended, “not anymore.”

“I think we can forget about that now,” Greff said, and Dante smiled gratefully at him.

“Oh whatever,” Seeya said, “you don’t get it, she was nothing like the Wumpus. She was refined and we had the loveliest conversation. She gave me some amazing tips on how to keep my skin supple.”

“Oh for the love of…” began Addis, but Ori interrupted him.

“Seeya,” he said, “where did she come from? Where did she go? What are the water games?”

“Well, I don’t know. We never actually discussed that. She was mostly interested in where we’d all come from, the tribes we represented. Of course,” he said turning to Addis and Dante, “she was most interested in the two of you, since we don’t know what tribe you’re from! She kept asking me to describe you, but well….” he trailed off.

Addis looked thoughtful for a moment, and then said, “I think we’re in danger. Well, maybe not. I don’t know I’m just not sure.”

Ori looked at him and began, “Well, all we really know….” but stopped.

“Let’s get out of here,” Dante said. “Let’s just keep moving because we’ve got to find a portal, or the Khee, or something. I just don’t want to be here anymore.”

“I would agree with that,” Greff said.

“Why don’t we start by going to where you met this Water Maiden,” Dante said.

“O.k., just follow me,” Seeya replied. “We’ll be there in a jiff.”

He zipped off and Greff scrambled up as they all tried to follow. No one wanted to shout out his name for fear of attracting the Wumpus, and he was soon lost from view.

“Stop.” Addis stood a moment. “He does this when he’s excited. He’ll figure it out in a minute. That we’re not behind him.” Sure enough, Seeya soon darted back to where they stood. He was breathless.

“Sorry, I just got so excited. I’ll try to be sure you’re keeping up.” And he darted a few feet, hovered to make sure they were with him, and then darted off again. They followed him along the shore of the lake that was across the pass down from the mountains, and away from the Wumpus cave. They reached a large rock formation and he turned inland.

The shore had been littered with sticks and twigs but when they turned inland they began entering the trees. There was something oddly familiar about the forest, and Dante looked around.

“Have we been here before?” she asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” Ori said, looking around. “But it may just look familiar since we’ve passed through a lot of woods like this one.”

“Maybe,” Dante said, but somehow she didn’t think that was it. She was starting to feel apprehensive and wanted to turn back. She reached out for Ori’s hand. He looked at her in surprise, but didn’t say anything and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

Seeya flew further in to the woods, and then stopped. There, in the middle of the trees, was a gazebo. It had been made to look like part of the woods, with natural branches and leafy coverings.

“After I flew out to eat last night, I couldn’t get back in,” Seeya explained. “They turned the lake to ice, and I didn’t see the need to wait around until they turned it back to water. So I decided to try and find a place to sleep. I don’t know why I came in this direction, but I did. And I found this,” he said, pointing to the gazebo. “It seemed like a good place to spend the night, so I went in to make sure it wasn’t, you know, dirty or anything. I was checking it out when the Water Maiden arrived.”

He flew closer to the gazebo. The others walked up to it and went in. When they were all inside the gazebo, Seeya continued.

“I was just looking into my mirror, making sure that I didn’t have any hair out of place or anything, when she appeared to tell me that I looked wonderful.”

Addis was turning in a circle looking around. “This doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Why would this be here? I don’t understand what’s going on.” He seemed distressed, so Dante dropped Ori’s hand and went to stand beside him.

“I’ve been so wanting to meet you all,” came a soft, lovely voice behind them. They spun around. There, standing before them, was a beautiful woman. She was dressed in a flowing robe that shimmered when she moved and looked like light on the lake. Her long dark hair curled in waves over her shoulders. She had pale skin and green eyes like crystals. Dante thought she was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.

“Hello Seeya,” she smiled and waved at the Oralian who looked nearly faint with pleasure. She made her way to Greff.

“And you must be Greff,” she said. “Your arms look strong and capable of much work.”

Greff frowned at her and folded his four arms across his chest. She laughed and the sound was soothing like a waterfall.

“You think I’m just flattering you, but I can see that you’re the most industrious one of this bunch.”

“And you’re Ori,” she said, bowing in the Bastahl tradition. Ori did not bow back. “Ah,” she smiled. “A skeptic. You mind is keen and you wish to understand before you accept. That is a commendable trait, and I can see that you are the only one of this group who possesses it.”

Ori still didn’t respond, but his body relaxed slightly and he inclined his head.

“And you,” she said, turning to Dante with a smile. “I’m guessing you’re Dante. I don’t know where you come from, but I sense such a warmth from you.”

She held out her hand and Dante took it, “I hope we can be great friends,” she said, and put her other hand on Dante’s head. Dante felt a flood of warmth, and could understand why Seeya had trusted her. Surely she must be able to help them.

“And you,” she said finally, turning to Addis, “You must be Addis, the mystery.”

“I guess so,” he said, his hands folded on his tummy.

“But what’s this?” she asked, coming closer and reaching out to touch the pendant around his neck. He instinctively put up his hand to guard it.

“It’s very important,” he said, “and I must never take it off.”

“I can see that it marks you as a powerful and wise being,” she said, inclining her head to him. “Now, you must all come with me and be my guests at my home.”

“I don’t think so,” Greff said immediately. The others looked at him in surprise. The lady raised her eyebrows slightly. “But why not?”

“Well,” Greff began, but he couldn’t seem to think of a reason.

“Well nothing,” Seeya said. “We’re going.” He turned to the Water Maiden.

“I cannot wait to see what your place looks like! And we all need some rest and some decent food, and my goodness a bath!”

He stopped and his eyes got large. He flew close to her and in his silkiest voice he asked, “We can get a bath can’t we my lady?”

“Oh my yes!” she laughed. “And please call me Lyria.”

“So,” Seeya said, turning to Greff, “you can stay here by yourself if you like, but I’m going to get comfortable. For this first time in days!” and he motioned for Lyria to lead the way. The others began to follow.

Dante turned with a pleading look on her face. “Greff, come on, please?”

“Fine, but this is not the right thing to do,” he said. So with Lyria in the lead and Greff bringing up the rear, the group walked further into the forest.