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.”
“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.
“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.