Two Are Better Than One Chapter 12
Pay the Piper
By Samara Secor
The first part of Alicia and Neils trip to Pao passed without incident, almost boring in its dullness. The gryphons did not bother them, though they saw a few once or twice in the distance, and they steered a clear path around Reza just in case. That night was also peaceful, and they stayed up looking at the stars, neither of them saying much of anything since they didnt want to dwell on the fact that going home wasnt going to be much of a picnic. However, things changed when they drew near to the lake where they had first met Conch, for the wind was not the only thing playing that day.
Neil, that melody... It doesnt sound the same as it was before, Alicia said.
So? Maybe the winds blowing a different direction today. Come on, wed better not stall too long, Neil warned.
Hold on, now! That cant all be the wind this time unless theres some way for it to be blowing more than one direction at the same time, Alicia argued. Everything that was there before still is, but theres more to it now. Im going to go look. Stay here if you want.
Hey! Neil quickly caught up with her and said, You know Im not going to just leave you to go alone like that...
Sh... Alicia was watching and placing her feet very carefully to make absolutely certain that they would be able to get a glimpse of the piper long before he, or she, could see them.
The piper was standing knee deep in the lake, looking out into its depths while playing as if expecting some sort of reaction to come from its depths. He was dressed in nothing but an undershirt that reached about mid-thigh, but from the way a heavy robe was draped a couple feet from the lakes edge with a carved wooden staff that had turned almost black with age under it, it was easy to tell that he didnt normally go about clad in such a manner. His brown hair was about shoulder length, held back at the base of his neck by some kind of clasp that winked silver in the last rays of daylight.
Of the two watchers, Neil had the better view of his face. Goddess... He looks a lot like Arvad, he whispered. Not exactly, but they could almost be cousins or something.
Then, maybe music runs in the family. But whats he doing? Conch seemed pretty adamant that we not get anywhere even close to touching the lake, Alicia replied, her voice not much louder than his.
Beneath their feet, the ground began to rumble. The two exchanged glances and braced themselves against the closest tree. Well, it looks like were about to find out whether we want to or not. I just hope it doesnt kill us, Neil said grimly.
Chris watched as the building that had once served as home to his father rose up from the lake, water pouring out every opening on the structure designed to allow for its raising and lowering at need. He grimaced at the huge amount of underwater plant life clinging to the outside. It really had been a long time since he came to check up on his half-brother, so it wasnt that much of a surprise that he wasnt out here to greet him. Probably down there brooding somewhere, he speculated aloud as he shrugged his robe back on, slipped into his shoes, and picked up the staff. But hes not the only family I have, and hell be around a lot longer than the others ever will. Still... I feel really bad about not being here more.
He walked along the pathway that had also emerged, heading without hesitation into the darkened doorway. Since he never looked back, he had no idea that he was being shadowed.
Neil still had serious misgivings about following this guy into the building, and he was already three floors down. No matter how he felt, though, hed be there right beside Alicia to protect her from anything she couldnt handle herself. But, blast it all if Laticia isnt right. I am a chicken. Why cant I just tell her how I feel? he wondered.
Dont drag your feet too much, or well lose him... Alicias whispered, tugging on his arm.
That might not be such a bad thing. Then again, Im not sure I can remember the way out of here, Neil walked a little faster, not moving his hand from where it rested lightly on his swords pommel. However, it wasnt possible to go that fast when they were concerned about being overheard. Not all the water had drained out, so there were still puddles scattered about wherever there was a low point in the path. Only someone with a thorough knowledge of the interior would be able to make it through without their shoes becoming a soggy, leaden mess. Needless to say, the shoes of the man they followed were disgustingly pristine.
Theres no sign of him anywhere... Chris heart clenched as he imagined another reason other than sulking that would cause his half brother not to be present. Oh, goddess! If, due to my negligence, somethings happened to him, not only would I be guilt-ridden for life, but Id be stuck like this till the day my I die... with no clear successor. And I was this close to being able to pass it on to him, too. Just a few more months, and... No, I must think positive. I am going to find him, and he will come into his own.
On that note, Chris crossed the threshold into the final chamber. His eyes moved directly to the pedestal in the center, for it had also occurred to him that, were the reasons for his half brothers absence of a sinister nature, its treasure would be gone as well. But no, the precious item still lay there, undisturbed since the last time it had been needed. That made him feel slightly better, but not by much. Even standing directly in front the pedestal and sweeping the room with his eyes, he could not see or sense even the slightest trace of him. Blast it all... Chris bowed his head and leaned forward, cupping the edge of the pedestals cool stone scrollwork in his hands. In doing so, he released the staff, which fell to the floor with a clatter. But that was not the only noise he heard.
Startled, Chris whirled and took up a defensive stance in front of the pedestal. His hands were empty, but he was far from defenseless. Those who assumed that he was would pay dearly. Summoning his strength for a voice that would reverberate off the walls with its intensity, he demanded, You have breached the sanctuary of the Blue Dragon, and woe to thee, unlawful trespassers, for you will be severely punished. Ere you feel the full force of my wrath, come forth and explain yourselves. Convince me why, by the grace of Althena, I should not wipe out thy very existence from the face of Lunar.
Goddess, that sounded so pompous. Even worse, it sounded like something dad wouldve said... Mentally, Chris shuddered, but his outward demeanor remained as fierce and forboding as a normally gentle, former priest of Althena could hope to look.
Alicia gave Neil a reproachful glance, and he shrugged his shoulders sheepishly. No matter how sorry he felt, he couldnt undo stepping in that last puddle. Alicia turned and entered the room with Neil right behind her. She couldnt help but notice that, now, he looked more like Edrea than Arvad, though he didnt look like he had the same ingrained petulance of the former. Then, it occurred to her that maybe Edrea and Arvad were both somehow related to the man standing in front of them. Instead of giving him the explanation he was so obviously waiting for, she asked, You wouldnt happen to be related to a family with the surname, Terrell, would you?
What... How... his face was a mixture of surprise and shock. Thats just about the last thing in the world I expected to hear, immediately following statements like, The world is flat and Dragons are just a myth. Goddess...
Meaning? Alicia prompted.
The man looked indignant. Hey, come on! Youre the ones that intruded on my, er... the Blue Dragons domain. You need to be doing the explaining here, he started frowning again. But, for what its worth, I am Chris Terrell. Now, lets get back to you two. Explain... Now!
Neil, who previously had remained quiet, said, Theres not much to explain. We were by here before and heard the wind going through the caves. On the way back, Alicia heard something different and got curious. So, here we are.
Chris gave Neil a look that said such a sketchy explanation needed some work. On the way back from where? he asked.
Vane, Alicia answered.
Ah, then it would be Edrea that you saw, am I right? Chris waited for a nod of agreement from them before launching his next question, Is there some sort of trouble brewing out to the east? I cant imagine any other reason that you want to... wait a minute. You actually went into Vane? Through the Trial Cave?
Yes, through the cave. Forgive me if I sound unbelievably silly, but is there any other way? Alicia asked.
Well... There is, but never mind that, Chris brow furrowed in thought, Now, what was that Althena said? Something about the next Dragonmaster being really atypical? Goddess, a plainsman certainly fits that description... or a plainswoman. But which one of them is it? Are either of them it? How am I supposed to tell? Argh...
Listen, Alicia... and, what did you say your name was?
I didnt, Neil replied. Its Neil.
All right, then, Chris nodded as an idea crystallized in his mind and said, I dont know if I quite buy the curiosity excuse, but Im going to let you both go. However, theres one tiny little catch.
Catch? Neither Alicia nor Neil looked too pleased at the sound of that.
Chill, my friends. Its nothing that bad. You see, a relative of mine seems to have taken off for parts unknown. I dont know if I have the resources to go ranging far and wide unaided, either on foot or magically. What I want you to do is head on over to the Black Dragon Tower and get me a black diamond. I can use it to... Chris stopped as he took in their expressions. Is there something wrong?
Other than the imminent explosion were sure to get upon arriving home? Gee, I wonder... Neil was very skeptical and asked, So, were just supposed to walk up to the Black Dragon and ask nicely for a diamond? And just what in Althenas name would he... or she want to do that for?
Oh, did I forget to mention that? Chris grinned. I wont go into details, but lets just say that good ol Granite owes me big time. Just mention my name, and hell probably give you it to you without too much of a fuss.
Probably... Alicia repeated, exchanging a look with Neil. And how long do we have to get this done?
Lets see... Hm, I guess about a week or so. That should be long enough for you to make the journey there and back. Ill be either up on shore or in the caves when you return, Chris said, waving a hand in dismissal.
Just one more thing. This missing relative of yours... What does this person look like? Alicia asked. If we happen to run across this person, we could just bring them back to you.
Ah... Chris looked a little nervous. Chances are, youd walk right by him and never even know it. Id rather not say... Listen, you just take care of getting the diamond and let me worry about how to find him, okay? Now, go before I decide to sink the place with all of us in it.
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