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.