Friday, January 28, 2005
“Can’t we just go back to the scoreboard?” Charley’s voice edged on panic. She willfully brought it under control. She wasn’t falling apart in the store, she wasn’t.
“We gotta get the groceries,” Sparks said. “This is the only time we’ve got for it.”
“You know he’s right.” Throttle patted her back as Charley leaned over the grocery cart with a groan. “Besides, it gives us a chance to discuss possibilities.”
“Those guys discussing the money in front of me at the concession stand sounded suspicious.” Modo set two vegetable cans into the cart.
Sparks fished them back out. “Wrong size, Dad. We’re going to need frozen for enough to cook with.”
“That’s what your reciepe said.”
“For four servings. You eat four servings in one helping.”
“What’s with all this servings stuff?” Modo tugged on his breastplate.
“Charley and me started nutrition class last month.” Sparks took Modo’s hand and led him toward the freezer section of the store. “And I think it’s that Mitch guy.” He said over his shoulder. “He didn’t have anything good to say about Charley’s dad.”
“True,” Throttle mused out loud. “But Mitch was qualifiying with me and Kormick was in the grandstand with the timers.”
Charley straightened and pushed the cart into the cleaning products aisle. “This isn’t one of Limburger’s pathetic schemes.” She grabbed dishwashing soap and threw it in the basket of the cart.
“So you don’t have any faith that we can solve it?”
She sighed. “It’s not that easy. It’s….” A beeping noise started and Throttle was oblivious to it concentrating on her. “Your vest is beeping.”
“I hate thins thing,” Throttle growled. “It’s like a leash.” He pulled the cell phone out of his pocket. His face grew distressed as he realized he couldn’t fit it inside his helmet.
Charley held out her hand and he dropped it into it relieved. “Hello?”
“Ms. Davidson. Is Throttle there?” Detective Jefferson sounded uneasy. Nobody wanted to deal with the fragile Charley.
She could handle this. She wouldn’t fall apart. “He can’t take his helmet off. What do you need?”
“We finished processing the garage. I’m afraid forensics had to take most of your bedroom furniture for analysis. We packed your clothes in your living room.”
Charley knew the horror stories of cops and searches and wondered what shape her clothes were in. “Thank you.”
“I just need a list of anything missing. So we can determine if burglary took place.”
“Do you really think burglary is why he broke in? Everything I have that’s worth anything is the garage equipment and it wasn’t touched.”
“He may have taken trophies.” Detective Jefferson took a deep breath. “Just get a list to us as soon as you can. I’m still looking into the attack on your friend. Good-bye.”
“Bye.” Charley handed the cell phone back to Throttle. “They finished with the garage and still working on Vinnie’s attack.”
“Sorry, it’s hard to ID the guy chocking the life out of you from behind.” Vinnie dropped the paper bag that the store provided to keep frozen food cold longer into the cart. It bounced off the floor.
Charley steadied the cart. “Nobody’s blaming you. I’m just glad you’re okay. What did you get?” She rooted in the bag? “Three five-gallon buckets of ice cream?”
Vinnie slapped his head. “I didn’t get you, Sparks, or Tala any. Your favorite is the green, right?” He jogged back to the freezers.
“Mint chocolate chip,” Charley yelled after him. “What are we supposed to be getting?”
Throttle returned from wherever his mind had wandered. “Hmm, dinner rolls, I think.”
She steered the cart to the bread section of the store. “What are you thinking about?”
“Putting Sparks and Modo to finding names to Modo’s picks. Sparks could do the hyperactive kid thing before the race. Vinnie and Tala want to explore the tunnels more.”
“You expect to do all that on Race day? Those mechanics will think they’re trying to steal secrets.”
“What I really expect is the murderer to do something stupid and expose himself, but it’s always a good idea to have contingency plans.”
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
A bluish light appeared next to the couple, a light that condensed to the form of a man that knelt beside them. Zoe looked through the tears in her brown eyes. "Take us home, Lyle, please!"
He looked at her and smiled, but his silver and blue eyes held no mirth. "I never could hide from you."
"Please," Zoe pleaded. "He could be dying."
"He'll survive." Lyle, the man, surrounded them with blue light.
The blue light spread out and embraced Lont. Death Mountain vanished as if it never was. Green grass spread under his feet and the blue sky stretched over head. Two teragrades jerked their heads up from grazing. Cathina nickered and started grazing. Lont gaped. Holias and Zeldra stepped around the horse.
Zeldra looked back. “We’re outside Death Mountain, but how?”
“Where is the Hyrueliana and Orden?” Holias frowned.
Lont finally found his tongue. “A god appeared and took them away. He must have magicked us here.”
Holias’s frown eased. "I knew those were no ordinary mortals. Friends of the gods or gods themselves?" The Prince sighed, "Nothing will ever be the same again." He turned to Zeldra. “My lady, the Hyrueliana slayed Agmaraa. We are free to create a kingdom to match any other kingdom in the world."
"A kingdom for humans and Elves," Zeldra replied, her blue eyes shinning brightly.
"For everyone," Holias replied as kissed her. He released her and turned to Lont. “For all you have done, you have proven yourself, Elf-friend. Do you wish to aid us in building this kingdom?”
Lont grinned, "I would happily. Nothing, probably, would please my Lady more. A Kingdom of Hyruelianas. Are you really the Prince of the Elves?"
"Yes. You did not know?"
"Lady Zeldra keeps her secrets well; I had no idea." Lont grabbed Cathina's reins and coaxed the horse into the chamber. "It would be best if you two rule. I know I cannot handle the responsibility, and all who know her love Lady Zeldra."
Zeldra blushed as Holias helped her onto the back of the teregrade. She started to wilt but it ended once the Elf leaped on the teregrade back with her.
"Then you shall be the Captain of my Knights," Holias replied. "I do not believe that the transaction will be easy for all; we will need knights. There is a stretch of land north of Saria Town that is sparsely inhabited, yet very beautiful and fertile. It is a perfect place to begin a kingdom."
"I know the place you speak of. Let us leave this accursed place."
A moblin rounded the corner and grabbed her. Zeldra screamed. The moblin’s grin shifted to shock abruptly. It let her go and slid the ground.
Holias took her arm and pulled her close. “Zeldra!” He hugged her with her free arm.
She clung to him. The mountain trembled. “Oh Holias, we have to get out of here!”
“This way.” Holias held her hand and led her down.
"Fools!" Agmaraa screamed. "You will never win, never! No human or Elf can destroy me!" She raised her hands above her head. Purple lightening danced among the stalactite. "Prepare to meet your doom!"
Zoe jumped forward, "Slight problem with your plans, Agmaraa! I'm not human or Elf! I am Zoe, the Changeling!"
"The Hyrueliana and the Champion of the Fire-Sword!" Holias shouted.
"Protector of knights!" Lont added.
"And you just made me very mad!"
Agmaraa snorted, "So you have a string of titles now, Captain? It changes nothing for you!" A glowing purple sphere formed between her hands.
“Holias!” Zeldra screamed from a balcony high above Agmaraa. The Prince ran to the nearest entrance on that wall, jumping over the moblins bolting away from Agmaraa.
Zoe saw Orden lurch to his feet. Lont half-gazed at him, keeping most of his attention focused on Agmaraa. "I thought you were dead!"
"Not yet," Orden wheezed as he stumbled toward Zoe. He tossed a bright orange gem into the air. "Zoe! The Fire-Stone!"
Zoe swung her sword and zapped it as Lont zapped Agmaraa. The Fire-Stone captured
Zoe's beam and focused it on the Sorceress. She screamed and withered under the barrage, but they continued their attack. Her purple sphere shot toward the ceiling an exploded with deafening thunder, followed by another horrific flash of brilliance. The stalactites pelted the floor. The energy danced up Agmaraa’s body leaving nothing behind. She vanished as if she had never been.
Orden caught the Fire-Stone before it hit the floor and he fell--prone--to the ground. "Orden!" Zoe cried as she sheathed her sword and grabbed hold of him. "Orden!"
"Is he dead?" Lont whispered. The mountain shook around them.
Agmaraa paused, "Another human? This is most intriguing. But I have no time for this foolishness. Moblins, attack!"
Lont drew his sword and remembered how Zoe had managed to shoot fire with hers. He could not leave Orden's side. "I hope this works." He extended the sword and willed its power forward. A moblin was caught in the light and vanished. Agmaraa screamed and Zoe and Holias burst through the moblin ranks.
“I’m up here!” Her voice wailed, tiny in the cavernous space.
The top row of balconies, and he had no way up there. Orden clenched his teeth. Maybe his refusal to use any magic was slightly unreasonable. Zoe would have a magic rope or lasso or maybe even a ladder in her pouch. His heart thudded. Don’t stop to think about Zoe now. Get Zeldra out of here, make amends, and then find Zoe.
A purple bolt of energy whistled through the air. Orden jumped before it hit the floor right where he had stood.
Agmaraa’s red gown fluttered as she settled on a broken stalagmite. “I tried to kill you much too slow last time, Orden, and that was because you attacked me and I wasted too much time relishing in revenge. I’m not making that mistake this time.” Another purple blot flew from her hand.
An orange glow surrounded him and repulsed it. “Is that the best you can do, witch?” He gripped his sword and the gem tighter, then dashed toward her stalagmite.
“So you found magic? It will not aid you, you’re no half-blood of anything!” The purple stream from her hands resembled fire.
It wrapped around Orden. He dropped to his knees under the assault. The orange glow around him weakened, letting more of the pain through. He dropped his sword and clutched the gem to his chest. The air thickened like he was in the center of an inferno, but he found enough to draw in and scream. “Girlwithsword!”
Sunday, January 23, 2005
"When are the evil ones aren't?" Zoe asked sardonically. "Is there any way around?"
"Not without losing many hours. And there is no guarantee that those entrances are not guarded as well."
"They probably are. Well, we'll have to go through them." Zoe urged her teragrade down the ridge.
Holias followed her lead, shocked at her allowing the teragrade free reign. But that only lasted long enough for her to draw her sword. He quickly drew his; it wasn't wise to chase a legion of moblins without a weapon.
Zoe urged the teragrade straight through the middle of the moblin horde, zapping them left and right. Holias gaped as he hewed down the moblins. The Hyrueliana did not even have to touch the moblins with her Elvenblade sword to send the evil enchantment back to its source. She commanded a sword of white fire.
In a short time, the legion of moblins was no more. Holias reached Zoe's side at the other end of the valley. "Surely, the gods have blessed you."
"I hope so, since it's the gods' fault that I'm here," she answered cryptically.
The teragrades stopped in front of the cave and reared. “They will go no further.” Holias turned his aside. It calmed down to allow him to slide off. Zoe did the same. “Hopefully they have gained us enough time.”
Saturday, January 22, 2005
The trees finally ended and the grassy plains began, rolling to the foothills of Death Mountain. Holias drew his teragrade aside hers. “Hyrueliana.”
“Please no titles, not now.”
He looked uncomfortable. “Whatever happens I want you to know. I am sorry for the way I treated you. I was jealous of your freedom. You could relish what you felt and I could not. I should not have tried to steal that from you.”
Zoe took a deep breath. “It’s already forgotten. Let’s concentrate on saving our loved ones.”
Agmaraa soared to a balcony and dropped Zeldra onto its floor. “Now it’s time for the cliched villiany. I wanted something different this time, a new life.” Her green and silver eyes bored into Zeldra. “But what would you care of that, you selfish little brat?”
“Lady Agmaraa?” The bulky humanoid creature stepped out of the shadows of the balcony door. It was grey with a bulldog-like head, and wore a richly carved chestplate. Zeldra felt her eyes opening wider. A moblin, she was in the presence of a moblin bowing to Agmaraa.
“Oh yes, send your troops to defend all entrances to Death Mountain. There’s going to be a rescue attempt for her, and that means a fight for us.”
The moblin looked at down at Zeldra. “And what of her?”
Agmaraa paused to give another withering glare. “She is going back to her father.” She strode out and the moblin followed. The stone wall shot up into the opening.
She was trapped in a cage. She didn’t dare look over the railing.
“It is the Forbidden Way. No Elf can take that path.”
The cloth clad warrior shook off Holias’s restraining hand. “I’m not an Elf.” She marched to the opening flanked by two stone pillars. She slammed into something unseen and flew back.
Holias offered his hand as she laid on her back. “Apparantly you are enough of an Elf for the spell to hold.”
“Why is it forbidden?” She grabbed his hand.
“It is the most direct tunnel between our caves and the moblin fortress in Death Mountain. It’s old magic, Zoe. No moblin can use it as well.”
“Zeldra went down there?” Lont pointed to the opening.
“Yes and Agmaraa and Orden.” Zoe’s mouth twisted.
“Okay, I’ll scout.”
“Lont!” She turned distrught blue eyes up at him.
He released her shoulders. “We’re not hearing sounds of battle or murder. And Zeldra is my friend.” She didn’t say anything else, and he passed the stone pillars without the violence Zoe had suffered. Descending into the larger tunnel, he heard a bell and smelled death. A pile of armed skeletons had tumbled together to the north end of the tunnel. Must be the witch’s doing. Lont picked up a discarded sword.
“I’ve always wanted to try an Elvenblade. I hope your previous owner doesn’t mind.” He turned to the south.
Two pillars marked it from the rest of the tunnel and dust caked the floor. Footprints marred the dust. Three sets, two with gown marks and one without. Then a disturbance in the dust, after that the man’s footprints ran down the tunnel.
Lont sighed. “Zeldra, if we survive all this, what a tale it will make.” He climbed back up to the surface.
Cathina draped her head over her love’s shoulder. She petted the horse. “She came back.”
“Cathina is a good horse.” Lont rest his head against Cathina’s muzzle. “Near as I can tell, Orden ran down the tunnel toward Death Mountain. I’m guessing, but Agmaraa magicing Zeldra to there is not unthinkable.”
Holias’s face twisted, but he regained control over it and turned to Zoe. “What do we do, Hyrueliana?”
Zoe started, "What did you call me?"
Holias smiled, "Hyrueliana, witch-slayer."
"But I didn't slay the witch."
“The magic from your sword hurt her. None of us could manage that.” Holias drew his sword, laid it at Zoe’s feet and knelt in front of it. "I pledge myself to you: Zoe, the Changeling, the Hyrueliana. Command your Knight."
"I, too, pledge myself." Lont laid his new sword down and knelt as well.
Zoe took a deep breath. “Lont, you're human. Follow him through the Forbidden Way. Keep him from doing something stupid. Holias and I will take the Overworld route."
Lont nodded and his Elf love pulled him aside. “Be careful, Lont.”
He kissed her, and held her tight. “I will return. Just for you.”
"I am Meletas," she whispered in his ear.
Lont kissed her again, "Now, I will be sure to return, Meletas." He slowly let her go, and mounted Cathina. His horse went into the tunnel easily, but skitted near the death. He steered her to the south and she calmed again. “Let’s go. Do you think the Hyrueliana would be upset if I let you kick Orden?”
Zeldra fled, heedless of the grabbing branches that snatched at her hair and her dress. She could see a stone building through the trees and aimed for it. Maybe there would be help.
“Running away, Zeldra?” Agmaraa blocked her path, appearing suddenly in the darkness. “Run back to your father.”
“And deny my heart? I will not be trapped in a cage.”
“You can survive without love. And your father has done me no wrong. Do not make me take him tidings of your death.”
“You care nothing for my father!” Zeldra stepped away from Agmaraa’s outstretched hand. “You just use him to hurt the Elves you hate.”
“Actually, I don’t hate the Elves. But I can’t let you and your precious prince breed a brat that will kill me. You don’t want him hurt, do you, Zeldra?” Agmaraa stepped closer. “Go over the Border Mountains, become a Queen like your father wishes, and the Elf will live a long life.”
“Why can’t you just leave us be?” Tears sprang to Zeldra’s eyes.
“I explained that, you silly girl. I—“ A bolt of white light flashed through the forest and hit Agmaraa. She staggered back with a silent scream and Zeldra could see bones through flesh.
Zeldra ran again. She broke through the underbrush into a clearing. What she had thought was a stone building was a lifted portion of the earth hemmed with stone blocks and guarded by two large pillars. A tunnel headed down. She didn’t hesitate but plunged into it.
The tunnel ended in a larger, torch-lit tunnel. Somewhere deeper a bell tolled, and a group of armored Elves ran closer with each peel. “Halt intruder!”
More steps were in the tunnel behind her. Zeldra whirled to see a haggard Agmaraa raiser her hand and send a blast of purple fire. It surrounded the Elves and their flesh melted away. Their bones and weapons clattered on the floor. Zeldra screamed.
Agmaraa grabbed her. “See what you have made me do? But already one exists that can hurt me.”
“Let her go.”
The women whirled to see Orden entering the tunnel. Agmaraa smiled. “And what would you do to me?”
“I swore to her father I would protect her. That includes from you.” He brandished his sword and stepped forward.
Agmaraa smirked. “Oh Orden, do you think I’m going to make this easy for you?” She gripped Zeldra’s shoulders and jerked her back. The floor beneath their feet sped away, and Zeldra looking up realized that she and the witch were flying down the tunnel. Orden ran but grew smaller.
The witch sighed in her ear. “I tried to keep it from coming to this. I really did.”
Friday, January 21, 2005
“Valiant until the bitter end?” Agmaraa laughed after the question. “Children, it doesn’t have to be this way.”
He refused to listen to the witch, ignoring the throbbing in his arm. Something crashed through the trees toward them. Holias barely had enough time to bring up his sword and block the chop coming from the leaping flame demon. He heard Zeldra screaming just over the dervishes taunts. “You’re mine, you will pay for stealing her!”
Another sword parried his opponent. The man in the yellow cloak stepped back. The Changeling shoved Holias and stood in front of him. “If you want the dragon that badly, you can have it!”
“She still choses them over you, Orden!” Agmaraa hurled another fireball.
Holias glanced at Zeldra. Run, he told her silently. She heard him somehow, and sped into the darkness. Zoe’s shield deflected the fireball.
“You never loved me!” Orden sprang into the air again.
Zoe’s sword stopped his, locking their faces into a staring contest. “How could you say that? My path has been your path since that first dragon.” Her voice broke. “You are my strength to give up everything that was expected of me.”
His orange eyes flickered and blinked.
“Touching as this is, I have a job to do.” Agmaraa vanished as they spun towards her.
Orden shook his head, “Zeldra!” and sprinted into the darkness.
Holias dropped his ruined shield. “She will kill her!” He could feel the Changeling behind him as he ran after his beloved.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The door slammed against the wall. A black-haired Elf woman stood there panting. "Come quick, Changeling! I need your help!" She ran out of the open door.
Contraite, the Elf-woman who had been taking care of her, met Zoe’s stare. “That child cannot do anything properly.” She sighed and unlocked a trunk. “Best take these.” She held out Zoe’s sword and sword belt.
“You’ve had them the whole time?” Zoe buckled it around her waist.
“The Prince ordered me to keep them from you.”
“Hurry, Changeling please!”
Zoe shook her head and ran into the tunnel. “What’s wrong?”
“I followed the Prince to see,” she shook her head quickly as they ran down the tunnel. “I wanted to find Lont, and talk him into joining us like the Prince is with his lady. But they fell under attack. You’re the only one who can help them.”
“The Prince has a whole squadron of warriors?”
“Who would kill the humans.” She skidded to a stop, and stared at Zoe. “Changeling, please.”
“My name is Zoe, and I’ll keep your precious Lont alive, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
She nodded but still looked worried, and pressed her hand against the rock surface. An opening spread wide enough for the two of them to move side by side, and it angled up into the rock. “Yes, Zoe, we must hurry.” She ran up the new tunnel.
“You are stuck on one idea.” Zoe pulled her shield ring from a pouch. The shield expanded until it fit her arm.
Soft moonlight filled the tunnel when the opening rose above ground. The Elf woman darted forward with a cry. A dark-haired man struggled to sit up. She fell to her knees and wrapped her arms around him. “Lont!”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. Find that lunatic with the flame colored hair before he kills them both.”
“Orden? Zoe scanned the trees. Purple energy lit up a section. She drew her sword and plunged into the underbrush.
Lont smiled and turned his head. At least Zeldra would be happy.
"To death, if you lead." Zeldra’s voice grew muffled at the end.
"I hope it shall not come to that too soon."
"Sooner than you thought." Agmaraa mocked.
Lont whipped his head back to the lovers. The witch stepped out of the trees followed by a yellow-cloaked figure. Holias shoved Zeldra behind him.
"You had to try to be clever and elope. So now you have to die." Agmaraa’s hand glowed purple that condensced into a fire ball.
Cathina jolted forward when Lont spurred her. He yanked his shield forward and caught the fireball on it. He tossed the burning shield away and pulled out his sword. "Run!"
Agmaraa sighed over the sounds of crashing undergrowth. "Orden, take care of this traitor while I stop the lovers." She vanished.
Orden threw back the hood of his cloak, and drew his sword. Lont dismounted quickly. "Stop being her slave, man! Do you think you’re the first in Lord Saria’s court that she has wooed with sweet kisses and whispered promises?" He stood ready. "She is the source of all this turmoil. She’s the one who commands the moblins!"
Their swords clashed. Orden pressed the attack again. "I will have revenge! They stole the only person who made all my sacrifices worth it. They will pay!"
Lont parried, but managed to hold their swords in place so he could stare into his teeming orange eyes. "You have felt a love like that? A love like they have and you want to destroy it?"
He jerked back. Lont relaxed his guard slightly. Maybe he had gotten through to him. Orden’s sword lashed out and hit his left arm. Lont jumped back, but the sword crashed against his and his sword spun off into the darkness. Orden’s fist and sword hilt slammed against his head. Everything went black.
Zeldra frowned, "He is a strange one, is he not? He looks like as if a terrible burden is tearing apart his soul." She sighed, "I would like to talk to him, but Agmaraa is the only one he confides in." She turned restlessly in the room. "I have to leave this place!"
Holias knelt next to her legs. "Am I to stand by and do nothing but watch you be shackled to misery? Is that what you ask of me?"
"I want to be with you, I just cannot see how. The only reason I was able to leave the keep is my father had to rush out to Saria-Town and see the remains of a moblin and elf attack."
"We did not attack! The moblins we were tracking attacked the village and we drove them off. Why do you keep creating an alliance between us and those monsters?"
"I don’t! My father sends me away from his meetings now because I stand up for your people. He says I don’t understand politics."
"Oh Zeldra," Holias cupped her face in his hands. "I thought it was dalfas when I first saw you. But something keeps forcing us apart."
"It’s Agmaraa." Zeldra pulled her golden braid over her shoulder and brushed the wisps of golden hair behind her ears. "Father listens to every words she says. She has bewitched the entire court, all but Lont and I." She frowned. "He has seen her talking to someone through her mirror."
"We had no doubts she is a witch."
"She is plotting something against us all."
Holias sighed as he stood up. "If only there were someway to deliver your Father from the witch. Then he would listen to our hearts."
"What can we do? Send a hyrueliana to kill her? Only we are cursed to live in a time without one. You better go, Holias. I must go back before I’m missed." Zeldra turned away.
"Gone but not forgotten, my Lady," he slipped away quietly. And when Zeldra was sure he was gone, she burst into tears and buried her face against the boulder.
"What have we here?" A female stopped in front of him. Her dark gown brushed against the dirt of the road.
"The townspeople said he came with the elf that brought the moblins, Lady Agmaraa," one of the guards answered.
"Indeed." She crouched down to be head level with Orden. "But this is no elf. What’s your name?"
Orden looked at her face. She spent little time in the sun, and her black hair had streaks of grey fanning out at her temples. But the skin around her green eye and her silver eye was supple. Her expression held no malice. "My name is Orden Larksphere. My companion and I had nothing to do with the moblins. We were traveling and decided to stop here for the night."
"They saw the ears," a guard sneered.
"She’s not human, but she’s not an elf either. And we are both enemies of moblins."
"Then why would she ride off with the elves?" The other guard asked.
"The lead rider seized her. That’s being carried away, not riding off." Orden gritted his teeth to hold in his anger.
Agmaraa noticed Orden’s empty scabbard. "You fought the moblins?"
"Is that a crime too? They attacked this village, and the people living here are not trained warriors of any sort. We were trying to help."
She nodded and stood up. "Come, we need to see Lord Saria." Orden scrambled to his feet and the guards followed beside him as she led him to a group of armored men.
"My lord, the keep must be extended to protect Saria-Town. It is too vulnerable to attacks as it is." The speaker broke off as they approached and gained the attention of the oldest man present, a sparse man with a bony face and at ease with command.
His expression did not change. "Is that the elf, Lady Agmaraa?"
"His name is Orden Larksphere and he fought the moblins. He is no elf. His companion was mistaken to be an elf and was kidnapped by the elves that rode into the battle."
"What the elves take is never returned," another armored man muttered. Orden’s heart lurched.
Agmaraa glanced back at Orden before continuing. "Lord Saria, he is not safe here. The townspeople restrained from killing him only because of your arrival."
Saria pulled at his beard. "What do you want, lad?"
Orden lifted his chin. "To save my companion. Can you spare aid in tracking the riders?"
The rest of the group gasped and muttered. Saria smiled wryly. "If you lot had half the guts this lad has, the elves wouldn’t find us such easy prey. There is no way to track them. They live under the hills and the entrances are enchanted. Your companion is buried."
"Perhaps he’d relish the chance to keep the same fate from another," Agmaraa said.
"The elves have designs on my daughter, Zeldra. She is rebellious and does not understand their devious natures. She needs constant protection, and mayhaps you could make her understand the threat. What say you?"
If the elves were after this young lady, it may be his only opportunity to flush one out and demand information on Zoe. "I accept the charge, Lord Saria."
"Good, Lady Agmaraa, please take him back to the keep."
Orden’s sword was given back to him, and Agmaraa led them to a carriage. "Be not fooled by their talk of burials and death. The elves only take those who are willing to go. They offer what cannot be found here above ground."
"Zoe would want nothing that is theirs."
"You speak so confidently, what do you offer her to return to?" Agmaraa’s eyes bored into his. "Love? Why did you not call her your wife?" She laughed and climbed into the carriage without aid. "If she has nay married you, what makes you so certain that another man cannot woe her away? Especially one with magical skills."
Orden frowned and climbed into the carriage.
"I understand what you feel. You are all alone, among people who are not your people." Her smile was compassionate. "They are good people, and need aid to reach their final destiny. Make up your own mind, Orden Larksphere, but I hope you will decide to help me help them. It is better to mend a heart by doing good."
"I’m willing to help for now." Orden said. "No one knows the future."
Agmaraa smiled slightly, but didn’t reply. The carriage started down the road.
"Instead, you grab me up, don't tell me anything, leave Orden behind; Orden! He doesn't know where I am! He must be worried sick! I have to go to him!"
"No!" The Elf grabbed her shoulders and pushed her back into the bed. He was about Zoe's height but his strength surprised her. "You cannot leave the Underworld for this Orden or anyone else!" He threw open the door. "I will know what and who you are, Changeling! And you will not leave here until I am satisified." He strode out, taking Zoe's sword with him.
"What about you? What will they think of a girl with a sword?"
Zoe opened the pouch on her sword belt and pulled out a dark green, hooded cloak. "Kela gave it to me to hold." She threw it around her shoulders and pulled the hood over her head. The cloak only reached her thighs but it managed to disguise her femininity. "Are we ready?"
"As ready as we'll ever be," Orden replied. "Be my brother and let me do the talking. Nothing unfair about it; you just don't sound like a boy."
"I hope not," Zoe answered as they stepped out onto the moonlit road and marched into town.
The town was quiet and dark, except one building. "Is this place familiar?" Zoe wordlessly shook her head. "Don't worry, we'll go to the tavern and find out where we are." Zoe let Orden lead the way. Her meek attitude troubled him slightly. It wasn't like her. Maybe it was the shock of being in a world that she knew was Hyrule but didn't recognize.
The tavern was large and filled with smoke and men, large country-folks. Orden walked up to the bartender. "Can I help you two?" He asked cheerfully guarded, wary of two armed strangers.
"What town is this?" Orden asked casually, trying to sound like a weary traveler.
"Saria Town," the bartender answered. Zoe flinched but quickly recovered herself. "Would you like anything?
"A meal for both of us," Orden led the way to a corner table, away from everyone else. The regular customers watched them for while then turned back to their affairs. "Are you all right?"
"This can't be Saria Town; it can't be!" she whispered back fiercely. "I've been to it hundreds and hundreds of times. This isn't the same place!"
"But it's still Hyrule?"
"I can't explain it, but it is," she broke off as the bartender set steaming plates of food on the table.
Orden cleared his throat slightly. "My brother and I are travelers. Who is the lord over Saria Town?"
"That would be Lord Saria, vassal to King Mechkeoff," the bartender answered.
So this is King Mechkeoff's kingdom?"
"Nay, his kingdom is over the Border Mountains. We're just settlers who chose a Lord for protection who chose to remain under the rule of a far-away King." The bartender said no more and left them to their meal.
"King Mechkeoff, a distant ancestor of yours?" Orden whispered to Zoe.
"No, Hyrule isn't even a kingdom. Orden, I think we've traveled back in time!"
"That would explain what you have been experiencing. We have to find a way back."
"What if there is no way back?"
"Don't think that, Zoe. We have to keep hope."
"Why are we here? Why did he send us here?"
"Maybe we're needed."
"But how do we know when we're needed or when we're messing up the past?"
Orden paused, "This is going to be difficult."
Suddenly, screams erupted outside the tavern. A man stumbled through the door. "Moblins! Moblins are attacking the town!" He fell to the floor. All the patrons of the tavern could see the wicked gash that sliced his back open.
The men jumped to their feet. "The weapons, Jolo!" One yelled as the bartender wrenched open a door and passed out swords, bows, and axes.
Zoe grabbed hold of a man's arm. "Ganon's moblins?"
"Who's Ganon?" The man shook off her hand. "The elves control these moblins!"
"Before Ganon," Zoe murmured, confused. "Elves?"
"Come, Zoe!" Orden shouted as he plunged through the door.
Zoe drew her sword and ran into the street. A group of screaming children ran past her, dodging between the tavern and another building. She jerked the hood back and ran after them.
A moblin blocked the end of the alley, towering over most of the children. Another moblin blocked the street end. The largest boy pushed the rest of the children behind him and curled up his fists, facing the one between them and the forest. "You fight us, boy?"
"Pick on someone your own size!" A blinding flash of light enveloped the moblin at the street before another flash flew over the heads of the children to envelop the other moblin. They disappeared. The children stared at her in shock. "Are you all right?" Her voice was harsh; the battlefield was no place for this stupor.
"Aye," the boy answered. "How did you do that?"
She didn't answer. "Where can you go and be safe?"
"We usually go to the forest and hide until the moblins leave."
"Then go." The boy led the way to the edge of the forest. Zoe followed them until she was sure they were safe, and turned back to the town. Fog swirled around the buildings, and the glow of a building on fire was suspended over the town by the fog. Adult women screamed now, punctuated with yells of full-grown men. She gritted her teeth. A moblin pole axe laid on the ground where she had zapped it. She scooped it up and ran down the alley back to the street. Moblins swarmed between the buildings. Zoe let loose a blood-curdling cougar scream, batting moblins left and right as she wielded the pole axe like a sickle.
A horn sounded in the distance, and a moblin yelled "Retreat!" One moblin didn’t listen and raised his sword above a man on the ground.
Zoe reached the moblin first. His head rolled on the ground and she pushed the body away so it wouldn’t fall on the man. "Are you injured?"
He gaped up at her. "Elf! You did this! You brought these beasts here to attack us!" He scrambled to his feet.
"What are you talking about? I just saved your life."
A crowd of humans gathered around. The moblins were running away from the village, leaving the townspeople armed and angry. She couldn’t make out all that they muttered but it was all hostile. "Kill the elf! That’ll teach the rest."
Where was Orden? She glanced quickly around, but didn’t see a yellow razer or orange hair. "I’m not your enemy."
"Your kind always comes with the moblins!"
Hoof-beats pounded on the road. The humans scattered from a group of gleaming white horses and riders. The lead rider grabbed her, yanking her into the air. The last thing she heard was Orden’s voice screaming her name.
"Don’t worry about it. His name will come to you in time." Orden cut the last lashing of the lean-to and stepped back to observe his handiwork. He turned with a smile. "Reminds you of the old times?"
She looked at up. "I thought our traveling to different worlds was done." Her gaze fell back to the flames. "All this is missing is Zauk."
"I’m not missing him."
"He is our friend, how can you say that?"
"Because he was always underfoot when I wanted to be with you alone." He sat down next to her, and put his arm around her shoulders. "Don’t fret. We’ll be alright. Actually, this gives us an opportunity to talk without any well meaning interruptions from your family."
"What do you want to talk about?" She leaned against him.
"Us, our future. Is it proving your mother wrong or is it me?"
"What?" Zoe straightened to look at his face.
"Why you won’t marry."
She stroked his cheek. "How can you even think it would be you?"
"Because I can’t think of one good reason why we shouldn’t." He caught her hand and squeezed it.
"Mother has to stop with the meddling. I’m not doing anything because she said I should." Her face darkened. "Besides she’d want a big state wedding and die of embarrassment after I trip in the dress and knock three rows of attendees over. All the kingdom would be a buzz and she’d bring it up at every meal." Her shoulders slumped.
"You can get married in chainmail for all I care."
He spoke quickly to keep her from going on. "Your mother has nothing to do with us. We can run away and get married if that will make you happy. All I want is a commitment that my leaving my life and world behind was not in vain."
She shifted and turned his head to look at her face. "Do you doubt my love for you?"
"At some point, your actions must match your words."
"Well, take heart in these actions." She reached out and pulled him into a kiss.
"I'm just sick and tired of the stupid double standard. The next thing will be it's not proper for me to be in charge at all. I am not playing the docile wife at the Palace. She has no right to demand that of me."
"Oh, is that what she said?"
"Orden, don't make fun of me. But the whole thing is so stupid."