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This is for myself. It's easier to c&p my graphics into each post this way.
Jaster writes in Blue
Tajnevaki writes in Purple




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WIP Solo/Joint
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klju"c tajne
Key To A Mystery
04.10.08 Solo
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"The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious.
It is the power of all true art and science.
He to whom this emotion is a stranger,
who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe,
is as good as dead...

Albert Einstein 1879-1955, German-born American Physicist


The thought slid over him as he read the final paragraph on the page of the book in his hand. Albert Einstein, one of the great minds of humanity, had said that. It was a beautiful thought and created by someone very different from him. But this man inspired him in the way few others did. The entire tome was simply a collection of thoughts aligned in chapters through similarities, but he liked reading it. And books from the human world were hard to get down in the Labyrinth. This one he had brought with him. The others were in safekeeping while he and Saljin explored the mysteries here.

Mystery.

The word slipped down over him, casting a feeling of expectation and desire. He thought about the word, mulling it over and over in his thoughts. To find mysteries was the reason he was sitting in this inn in the world below. He wasn't always the most logical or patient, but he was determined to get at the source of whatever it was he saw.

The scuff of a booted foot in the window nearby caught his attention. Saljin sat silently and broodily watching out the window. He had been just such a problem- a mystery- nearly six years ago for Jaster when he'd found the orb. Well, not exactly. He'd stolen it, but he'd been sure that it was meant for him. A few days later a creature had popped out of it and become his best friend and guardian.

Even their adventures on the top world as Jaster called it or the Labyrinth, where Saljin was from, were mysterious and exciting. They had fun together looking for things that were unusual and out of the ordinary. But for the last few weeks they'd been doing nothing other than everyday things such as working, reading, and sitting in their room at the inn. This was home at the moment.

Home.

He smiled at the word. At one point in his life he'd thought he'd never have a home again. Thinking back over the day when he'd been "sold" by his father, Jaster frowned slightly. He'd not seen the man since and he had no desire to now. The last he'd heardhim had moved to the next town from where they had lived.

The Labyrinth was their home at the present. He and Saljin traveled from place to place looking at everything. A few books in his pack with the basic necessities and Jaster had all he needed. It was wonderful exploring all the places and cities as much as meeting other people. Unsure if humans should even be there, he always tried not to draw attention anymore than necessary, but sometimes he just had to ask questions.

Shoving his coppery red hair from his jade eyes, Jaster watched his friend a long moment in amusement. He was sitting near a fireplace in the room they'd rented, but Saljin was sitting nearby in the window seat, his feet propped up as he watched others pass by. The shapeshifter loved to watch others and it amused the young man to no end to see it. But with the rain outside, few were out and about causing Saljin to simply study the buildings in the area. On the third floor of the inn, he could see quite a bit of the lower rooftops and cityscape.

He studied Saljin for a moment intensely. His eyes slid over the curse mark on the shifter's right hand as a finger adorned with a black and blue stone set in a silver ring, toyed with the side of the wine glass Saljin was holding. His long black hair was pulled back loosely, just as Jaster's own coppery strands were, but there were several that had slipped free and were lying against his cheek and shoulder. A dark gray silk shirt, laced loosely in the front could just be seen above a black vest that had bight blue embroidered accents.

Saljin had the sleeves unbuttoned at the cuffs, and rolled slightly a time or two for comfort. Jaster knew the lining of the vest was gray to match even though it could not be seen. Black leather pants topped with black and silver boots finished what the shapeshifter wore casually. Of course whenever they went out each one wore an unadorned black woolen cloak to stay warm in and both hung by the door with their packs. Saljin's jacket was short waisted with silver buttons and the same blue trim on the cuffs, up the front and around the collar.

His gaze crossed the other's face gently as he studied the pointed elven ears. One was cuffed with a silver chain and a bright blue sapphire stud. All in all, Saljin was quite stylish for this place and Jaster liked that about him. They had as much fun shopping for new clothing as they did fighting or dancing with the ladies in the taverns.

As if he knew he was being studied, Saljin turned slowly, his lips twitching upwards. Raising an eyebrow, he silently questioned Jaster.

Jaster burst into laughter. "I didn't want anything. I was just thinking."

Saljin's eyes narrowed in even more amusement. "Brat."

The young man snorted, turning back to his book. The shapeshifter watched him a few moments. He liked to watch others as much as Jaster did and he took the opportunity to study the younger in return.

Sitting with his feet propped up by the fireplace, Jaster was wearing a bright blue long-sleeved shirt topped with a plain black vest. He also wore black leather pants but with black and silver boots. His jade eyes reflected the firelight, giving a burnished glow to the pupils. His lips twitched upwards as he noticed how intently Jaster was focused on the book in his hands. Jaster's coat hung nearby and was not unlike Saljin's in that it was shortwaisted and the same style, but it was entirely plain except for the silver buttons.

Turning his attention back out the window after another moment of intense study, Saljin nearly sighed. The rain was beginning to come down much harder and soon there'd be nothing to look at. Traveling on the next day would be rather wet. It was not a state he cared for, but they still would go.

"How about a card game, Jaster?" he finally asked. "There's nothing to watch out here anymore. It's raining too hard. But don't think I'll let you win just because I want to play."

Glancing upwards, Jaster chuckled, a smirk slipping onto his face. "Let me win.. That's a good one, Saljin. As if I needed you to."

"Is that a challenge?" the shifter replied, a sudden grin breaking across his face.

"Just remember that you started it." Jaster smiled innocently as he marked his page before closing it. Placing it on the nearby table, he moved towards his pack to retrieve a deck of cards. "What game?"

"Doesn't matter." he replied unwinding his legs and moving over to the chair at the table. "Anything works on a rainy day."
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*Disclaimer: The quote at the top is a portion by Albert Einstein. It was only used because it suited my purpose and not for profit.


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Timing

04.11.08 Solo

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It only took a few moments to clean the table off and set the cards up to play. Jaster smirked at Saljin several times while he was shuffling the deck. The shifter raised an eyebrow in amusement but said nothing. This was part of the fun.

Jaster grabbed a pen and paper from the nearby desk. "To keep score." he commented as he sat back down in the chair.

"Just don't cheat." Saljin replied nonchalantly.

"Cheat?! I never cheat!" he growled, his eyes narrowing at his friend.

"We'll see." he replied, nearly breaking out into laughter. Sometimes it was so easy to push Jaster's buttons. Almost more fun than the game was actually going to be.

The banter continued for some time as they played not just one but several games. When all was said and done, Jaster had won three and Saljin had won three. The shifter smirked suddenly getting to his feet and moving towards the window to look outwards. It was dark now and the lights of the town cast a warm glow across the rooftops and the streets. It made the town look entirely different than it had earlier in the day. Now it looked warm and inviting despite the clouds he knew were still hanging in the sky overhead.

"I think I'm done for the night, Jaster. I want to go look around town tomorrow and I'm going to get some sleep." Saljin stated, turning towards his bed. His lips twitched upwards slightly.

Jaster stared at him. "It's three games to three, and you want to stop? Bah!" he growled still watching the shapeshifter closely.

Saljin broke into a wide grin. "Did you really expect otherwise?"

"Grrrr... " the other growled, eyes narrowing in some consternation. Then he blinked staring at the smirk on Saljin's face. "You brat!" he suddenly exclaimed. "You set me up!"

A snort slipped out as Saljin broke into a full laugh. "Indeed, I did." Kicking his boots off at the side of the bed, he turned to watch Jaster a moment. "It's too easy sometimes, but it was fun. You must admit and it really doesn't matter who wins. We had fun together. That's what counted."

A sudden sigh broke out as Jaster shook his head. "You'd think I'd see it coming. You do it often enough."

Another snort slipped free as Saljin lay back on the bed, his arms under his head. He grinned widely as Jaster moved to his own bed.

"Timing is everything, Jaster." he said, closing his eyes. "Timing counts for alot in anything one does. Even Puck knows that."

"You miss him?" Jaster asked suddenly.

"Yes. He and I have been friends a long time, but we need to go our separate ways right now. Besides, he can't always travel like this and I like to." the shifter replied, his voice getting softer as he drifted off.

"So do I, Saljin." Jaster replied pulling a blanket up over the other as Saljin turned to his side. A smile tweaked his lips. "I'm really glad I took the orb that day, too. I'd do it again if I had to."

Sitting down on the bed, he sighed. Tomorrow they'd be moving on. It was time. Perhaps there'd be some new rumors in the tavern that would be worth exploring. They'd see.

The next morning, Saljin was on his feet long before Jaster was. He'd gone out, bought breakfast for both of them and returned just as Jaster was getting to his feet. Glancing at one another, each sighed.

"Out already?" Jaster grumbled, rubbing his eyes. Fingertips slid through his hair as he tried to smooth it a bit. It would need to be fully brushed, he decided, and moved towards his pack for grooming items.

"Just getting up?" Saljin replied, watching in amusement. Placing the tray on the table, he laughed. "I have some breakfast for us. Just the basics. Eggs. Toast. Some meat and cheese. And a bottle of milk." Setting two places he shoved the tray aside. It would be picked up when their room was cleaned.

"We'll have to grab some food to take with us too, Saljin." Jaster replied, pulling his boots on before stepping away from the bed. A quick wash in the basin and a brush through his hair was all he needed for the moment.

The tantalizing scent of the food was already making his stomach growl and he moved for the table quickly. He was quite certain that the streets were full of smells of food cooking right now. Nearly every morning had been that way since they'd been there.

"It smells good." he commented as he sat down across from Saljin who was already digging into his own food. "Thanks."

"It is good." the shifter replied, biting into a piece of toast. The butter had soaked into it making it warm and soft. "I think we should just grab some cheese, a bit of bread, a few apples, and some dried meat. We don't want anything that will spoil. It's warmer here than it was farther north."

Jaster nodded, relishing the taste of the spiced eggs. Though scrambled, they had a punch of salt and pepper but also something else spicy sweet. It was unexpected but extremely delicious.

"That works. We've still got quite a bit of money from the last jobs we did, so we should be alright for a little while." he replied, reaching down to shake the pocket of his vest. It was inside so that the money was protected. Saljin's was like that also. Thieves were everywhere and they seldom hesitated in the cities.

They continued to talk quietly discussing the direction they wanted to go this time. It wasn't that they had plans, but more that they had fun teasing one another back and forth on anything they discussed. It had become habit to them and the banter only showed how much affection they had for one another.

At times Saljin got broody, thinking about all the things that had happened to him in his life. Puck and Jaster were the two he considered his family. It had been nearly a hundred years since he'd had any real family other than Puck, and then Jaster. And he'd never entirely explained why to Jaster, though he had tried to pull it from the shifter in more than one conversation.

In the end, Jaster had accepted that Saljin did not want to talk about it and respected his privacy. Both knew it was a curse from long ago. The shifter had finally remembered that. The memories of even more had surfaced once he became more himself also. But those things were private and he'd refrained from telling it. Jaster would worry and that was the last thing he wanted to happen. It had been equally as rough for him growing up and Saljin did not want to burden him with even more.

But Saljin hoped that it was over. It had been a century and hopefully there were none of Zrath's followers still around. Perhaps even Zrath was dead. A part of him achingly desired that end. But another portion of him feared that it was not.

Jaster glanced over at Saljin who was sitting in the window. He'd been listening, but when his friend got this quiet, the young man knew something was bothering him. It usually meant trouble in some way.

"What's up, Saljin?" he asked softly, pushing his empty plate back. His finger traced the lip of his cup as he watched the other.

Saljin blinked, turning to gaze at the younger. He shrugged. "Just a feeling. Nothing tangible."

"Want to talk about it?"

"No. Not right now. It's nothing."

"Sure it is. Otherwise you'd not be brooding again."

A sigh slipped free. "Just the same old things, Jaster. Memories that won't seem to lie still and fade away. I guess I really don't mind now. I like changing, but sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if nothing had happened. It's just an idle thought and doesn't really matter except it slides down when I least expect it. Puck always distracted me. So do you most of the time. I'm sure it will change with enough time."

Jaster nodded, getting to his feet. That was the most that he ever got from Saljin on the problem. One day when he was ready, Saljin would tell him. Until then, he'd just poke him occasionally to push him past it.

"Well, let's go then. Enough sitting and staring out the window." he smirked, picking up his pack. Raising an eyebrow, Jaster watched the shifter's eyes narrow in amused annoyance. "Daylight's burning."

"Jaster, you are a brat." he muttered, getting to his feet.

"Of course I am." he smirked, tossing the second pack to the shifter. "Ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be."
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Caught In Distraction
04.11.08 Solo
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As they walked into the street, Jaster smiled widely. An anxiousness slipped down over him, but it lacked worry as one would think. Instead it contained an excitement that the boy was becoming familiar with. In some amusement, Saljin watched him closely. He knew what Jaster was feeling and thinking. He was looking forwards to traveling himself and could easily understand what he saw in his friend. Both wanted to be on the move again though it had been nice to simply rest for a short time and meet people. Jaster was one to dive right into the fun while Saljin joined in briefly followed by simply moving to the side to watch.

Three shops later, they had enough bread, meat, and cheese for a few days. They'd have to catch some small game along the way or try to find another small town. A few times they had even come across a small farm where the occupants would allow them to buy supplies. Either way they survived as they moved from place to place.

The trees around them were soft and seemingly gentle. Birds sang as they flew from branch to branch gathering food or nesting supplies. A rabbit or two crossed their path hurrying to safety on the opposite side. The sun cast a dappled effect on the ground as it filtered through the trees gently falling through the leaves and a warm glow lit up the area.

Jaster glanced around them captivated and trying to take it all in. The excitement had not waned at all in the hours they'd been traveling. Something called to him and he would find it. The drive to do so had become as familiar to him as Saljin was.

"So did you pick up any new rumors?" he suddenly asked, breaking the silence. A slight smirk was on the boy's face as he carefully did not look at his friend.

"Not really." he replied then blinked in surprise. "What are you talking about?"

"I know you sneaked out to the tavern last night after I went to sleep." His grin widened as his eyes gleamed in amusement.

"You brat." Saljin growled, shaking his head. "It was just the usual ones about thieves and weather. Mostly nothing."

"Well, maybe there will be something at the court," Jaster replied. "Something new and unusual.." he murmurred faintly.

"Perhaps. Most likely it will be the same thing there." Saljin stated absently. A strange feeling slid over him every time Jaster began pushing as he was. It was as if something were moving them and somehow it was aimed at the boy. But then the previous night as he had slipped out to the tavern, he was quite certain there were eyes on him. The hair on the back of his neck had been standing up and though he did not see anyone, he was quite certain someone was there. His hand slid over, rubbing the marking on his hand in worry.

Jaster frowned slightly at the action, but said nothing. He knew that Saljin was bothered by something he could not quite see. As his teeth tugged his lower lip, the boy thought about all the things they had been through. From his father selling him, escaping the carnival, Saljin's appearance after he stole the orb, to meeting Puck, and to this moment now. He had loved Saljin immediately and worried over him. That would never change but the best he could do was distract Saljin when he got silent and brooding and maybe he'd tell him why the marking was there.

"Wow!" he suddenly exclaimed, caught by the open view ahead of them. Turning he gazed outwards.

The smell of saltwater teased his nostrils as he hurried to the edge. The sound of waves crashing against the rocks below caught his attention and he immediately glanced downwards. A rocky shore was battered repeatedly by the waves as they rolled in with a great deal of force. The resulting spray of water was cast into the air, drifting upwards to them.

"The sea." Saljin stated, folding his arms. For a moment he gazed off into the horizon just relaxing as if all his cares were suddenly smoothed away. "I'd not realized we were so close."

"It's wonderful." Jaster replied, instantly sitting down. "The perfect spot for lunch."

Saljin laughed, his eyes turning to watch the boy. "You and your stomach again?"

Shrugging, Jaster smirked, "I can't help it if I'm hungry again. I'm a... growing boy."

The shifter snorted in amusement but joined him on the grassy area. He was getting hungry himself and pulled his pack open.

As they ate silently, both glanced outwards at the sea. It beckoned to them both gently and each one relaxed for a time. But with Jaster that never lasted long, and Saljin sighed as he watched the boy get to his feet and start exploring the cliffside.

"I wonder what is down there, Saljin. There's a ledge of some sort. And this almost looks like a pathway. But who would walk all the way out here and why?"

"What path are you talking about?"

Jaster pointed to the rocks in front of him. "If you follow the curve of the rocks, it looks like a path, almost like carved steps. Don't you see them?"

Saljin sighed, studying the shapes. Jaster was always finding faces or something in everything around them. A frown on his face, he glanced at the rocks again. He just did not see it.

"All I see are rocks, Jaster. Rocks shaped by the wind and water here. I don't think we should go down there." he replied.

The boy grinned, and began climbing downward before Saljin could stop him. "I didn't say I was, but that's a good idea."

"Jaster!" Saljin growled, flinching. "Don't..." It was a moot point. The boy would and had already begun climbing down to the ledge below.

With no other choice, Saljin shifted into a crow with a bit of focus. Feathers covered his body as it shrank to his needs. Wings took to the air as he slipped quickly onto the air currents, dropping downward.

The ledge was not large, but it was easily wide enough to support their combined weights. A cave loomed in front of him as he landed. It lead down into the cliff at a slight downward angle as if going deeper into the rock. It had been entirely unnoticeable from above.

As Jaster reached the ledge where Saljin stood, he turned to find the shifter staring at him, arms folded.

"What?" he smirked. "Nothing happened."

"Jaster.." he growled in frustration.

"Loosen up, Saljin. Let's look in the cave and see what's there. I wonder if there's a treasure or something," the boy laughed as he shoved coppery strands from his face. Pulling a leather strand from his pocket he quickly tied his hair back into a loose ponytail. But even that did not prevent the breeze from tussling a few strands free and tossing them into the boy's face.

"We don't know what could be in there, Jaster." Saljin protested.

"And we won't unless we look." he argued, moving towards the entrance. He knew Saljin would follow him. He always did. The shifter needed more fun - more spontaneity and he was going to make sure he got it. "Let's go. Besides, I don't see any signs of habitation. Look at the ground. There are no tracks."

"That you know of." Saljin replied, grumbling a bit. "Something could easily have flown in as I did."

"We'll see."

The cave entrance was entirely hidden from above by the overhang with the path to it barely noticeable. The rocky surface of the cliff had been worn, smoothed, and polished by not only the wind that blew along the edge but also the salty spray that was flung upwards into the air. The resulting rock had the fire and shine of firey gems in the sunlight. The striations of color ranged across the surface from a milky cream to deep russet brown. It could have been the inner layer of a pearly giant shell that was the only remainder of the living creature before, but Jaster only noted the coloration briefly as if it were not important other than the momentary appreciation it deserved.

The entrance itself snaked downward, the rock cut in larger and rougher portions as if the water here had been a torrent slamming into the rock to drive its way in. Only a few slight bones here and there gave the indication that this place might have been inhabited.

"What do you think lived here?" Jaster mused, reaching down to pick up on of the smaller bones. He studied it, noting the smoothness. Not even teeth marks were on it and if some predator had killed this creature then there should have been some signs of gnawing. It was a clean polished ivory.

"It's hard to tell, Jaster," Saljin replied, glancing around the small space. "Unless we come across a living creature or a corpse, we have no way of knowing yet."

They moved forwards as the tightness of the tunnel gave way to a larger room. Both glanced upwards silently to see a higher ceiling some ten feet above them. But what caught their attention when they glanced back down were the skeletons. Several full skeletons lay stretched out on the ground, but they were decidely not human. The skeletal structure revealed tail bones as well as a rather reptilian skull. Squatting down, Jaster touched the jaw of one, causing it to shift slightly.

A sudden squeak chirped outwards and the scurry of feet could be heard. Then the small furry creature jumped outwards from the eye socket to make its escape across the room and into another pile of bones. Jaster tumbled backwards in surprise, landing on his backside.

Saljin laughed as he watched the rodent pop its head out of the other pile to scold Jaster for his intrusion.

"Too big for you to handle, Jast?" he smirked, his lips twitching upwards suddenly.

"Oh shut up." the boy muttered, getting to his feet. Brushing himself off, he growled at the creature still squeaking at him. "Lizard people must have lived here at one time."

Nodding, the shifter replied, "I would think that this was a safe place for them. It's hard to tell how long these have been here. They are too clean," he stated, turning to search the walls for a clue. "It's going to get darker too, the deeper we go. There won't be much light if any at all."

"So we make torches. You still have the flint and fabric, right?" he replied, picking up a couple good sized bones. They would work well enough.

Saljin sighed, having hoped Jaster would not think of that. It figured he would, and he knew the boy well enough to know that if he even lied saying he'd lost the flint, the boy would proceed into the darkness without the torches. There was only one option.

"Yes, I have it." he said, pulling his pack from his back.

A few moments later, they had two torches made from bone, a few tightly wrapped bits of fabric. Both would burn for awhile, so they continued moving slowly downward into the bowels towards whatever lay waiting.

The walls were becoming much damper and both noted the water markings on the walls and floor. It was as if a torrent of water had filled this place and then receeded slowly, engraving the stone as it vanished. But as they reached the end of the tunnel, a bit of light could be seen. It was odd and they warily approached the opening, stopping to listen for movement at several points.

Both stopped to stare at the tremendous cavern that greeted them silently. The ceiling rose upwards nearly a hundred feet over their heads. Several small holes could be seen that allowed sunlight to drift downwards sparsely lighting up the place. There were still dark corners but the central portion was actually well lit. Rocky formations dropped from the ceiling and rose from the floor like giant teeth waiting for their next meal. Two tunnels led off from the right and four from the left. In the very center of the room lay more of the lizard skeletons.

Jaster glanced around in slight confusion for a moment. "Do you hear a waterfall, Saljin?" he asked softly. "I don't see one."

"Waterfall? I don't see any water, Jaster." the shifter replied, glancing around again. "It's damp here but nothing else. This place looks empty to me."

"I just... " he began then hesitated. He could almost hear the sound of a waterfall. It sang in his ears as if he were not far from it. Shaking his head, he said, "Let's check out the tunnels on the right first. We might find it there."

It was then Jaster noted a sparkle on the ground. Reaching down he picked up a polished shell. The remains of a leather cord fell away as he examined the pearly surface. A hole had been drilled in the top to string it on a necklace, but what he liked about it was the carvings on the inner side. He was not sure what the symbols meant but he liked the shapes and positioning of them. Tucking it into a pocket, he made a mental note to put it on a piece of leather to wear later.

Saljin quickly put his torch out, leaning it against the wall. It would mark their way out and it also left his hand free. If they were going deeper then one of them should be ready.

Ten minutes later they reached the end. Jaster raised an eyebrow in amusement. Saljin sighed, shaking his head. They were back in the same room, and the sound of the waterfall was still there for Jaster. He glanced around the room again, but still nothing that he could see.

With a sigh, he muttered, "Let's try that side, I guess. I still hear a waterfall."


They were about halfway down the next tunnel when both stopped to stare at each other. It was obvious that the tunnel was going to circle back around into the previous large room.

"It's circling around again, isn't it?" Jaster sighed. Shaking his head in annoyance, he pursed his lips. "And I'm guessing that the next two tunnels are the same. But why do I hear water falling when there is none here?"

The taunting sensation of something unknown or hidden slipped down over him. A quick shudder ran rampant through his body as if he knew something was not being revealed. Excitement rose over his shoulder like some winged creature hovering just behind him, its tail tapping Jaster's spine making the boy's entire body tingle.

"I don't know, Jaster," Saljin replied, "And I don't hear anything at all. Let's just keep going. It might just be an echo of sound from one of the holes above."

"I don't think so. We never noticed the sound up above at all," the boy stated, moving forward again.

For a time they followed the curve and then moved forwards into the next tunnel without stopping. The room was empty. Neither understood why, but the sound was getting louder for Jaster.

The echo of water flowing not only remained, but it continued to escalate as they moved through the final passage. Jaster's pace increased with it as they slowly entered the same large cavern. Stopping for a moment, Jaster simply closed his eyes to listen. Moving a step or two with eyes still shut, he walked several paces towards it.

"It's this direction," he stated, moving again, but this time with eyes open.

"There's nothing there, Jaster," Saljin growled in slight frustration. The boy simply did not listen when he got like this and the shifter knew his words were being ignored.

Shaking his head, Jaster continued until the sound was nearly deafening to him. He could almost taste the salty spray from the water as it rippled downward into the pool below. Reachin out, he sighed as his hand felt cool as if splashed. He was just so sure.

The air shimmered faintly around them as he stood silently searching. Then he blinked in surprise to see it. With a wide grin, he turned his eyes back to Saljin who was staring stunned at the boy and what was around him. A waterfall, pool, and stepping stones had simply appeared suddenly. It was as if a switch had simply been turned on revealing what lay there.

"I guess you were right," he said softly, but then warned, "but take care. What magic lies hidden here? And do we really want to find out?"

The boy simply grinned widely. There was something here. Now to find what it wanted.
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Jaster & Destruction
05.02.08 Joint with Ivynian
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Eftemie

The crack in the ceiling allowed water to pour in at the top. A quickly flowing stream dropped downward causing part of the noise that he had been hearing all along. It created a pool of water several inches deep and nearly a foot wide. Each drop rippled, sending waves scattering across the surface to the edges and beyond. The overflow sped forwards, finding its way into the next basin below. Gathered there, the water shoved outwards, filling and then overflowing into the next pool until it reached the very bottom which resembled a small pond in sized. It was this vigor that created the sound that echoed around Jaster.

The young man was enthralled as he stood simply appreciating every inch of the scenery before him. From the damp rocks to the slight bit of sunlight streaming downwards, dappling the sides to the very rocks that created the path he stood on.

It was then something caught his eyes, holding him still. Lying half hidden in the shadows was a bit of vibrant color peeking out at him. At first it looked like a piece of coral and out of place for where he was, but the salt taste denied that quickly. Then he thought it fit all too well hidden by the waterfall as it had been.

Picking it up, he suspected from the shape that it truly was a piece of coral though the coloration was oddly unlike any coral he'd ever seen. Then he decided that it had never been a living creature, but looked as if carved from stone. A quick glance towards the skeletons nearby made him wonder briefly if it was left behind by one of them. Maybe one had sculpted it after having seen coral. The idea was fleeting and he turned his attention back to specifics he could gather.

A deep blackish violet gave way to lesser shades of the hue that rose upwards into blues both dark and light along the upper side of the branches that twisted and turned. The tip of one branch glistened drawing his attention to it as he noted a vvery pale nearly white portion. A pale bead of blue gleamed half on the darker and the lighter causing his lips to twitch slightly in amusement.

"Half in and half out, but playing in both," he mused softly, turning it at various angles to see more of it.

Saljin raised an eyebrow. "What is it, Jaster?"

He shrugged, turning to grin widely at the shifter, his eyes catching the violet ones of his friend. Jaster turned back to the stone. Perhaps he should keep it.

"It feels like it's mine already." he murmurred, drawing a questioning look from the other. "But do I want to keep it?"

Ivynian
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“It is, actually. “

A youth was near, sitting on one of the natural shelves.His jeweled feet dangled in one of the pools, but sent no ripples across the surface. How had he been missed, sitting there so obviously.

Eftemie

"I apologize. I did not see you there," he replied softly. "But then I passed through this room four times hearing the water before I could see it."

A tantalizing shiver ran through him as he stared at the one before him. The feeling of not knowing and yet wanting to know tingled his spine. The sensation was becoming as familiar as an old friend one knew well and liked.

"Mine? What is ...he?" His voice was tentatively questioning, though he had discarded the choice of calling the stone 'it' immediately.

Glancing around as a frown settled on his face, Saljin folded his arms watching Jaster. Who was he talking to? There was noone there, but the two of them.

Ivynian
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“He is a spirit, a very powerful one, sleeping inside that hard prison for countless years. A servant, a companion, a source of power, a source of .....the unknown. A box of secrets and moonlight. He would share them with you, if you would listen. If you unlock the magic and claim the stone as it is rightfully yours. He has been waiting for you.“

Eftemie

"The unknown..."

His expression flickered upon hearing the word. It stood out as did 'secrets' and 'moonlight'. His attention was caught and held as the desire to prowl in the darkness as Saljin quite often did slid down over him. Many things waited for him and he wanted to discover them all. His eyes dropped to the stone in his hand again, searching. He did want him, but he was sure there was a price attached. Everything had a price of some sort, but perhaps that was part of the magic he was to unlock.

Glancing back at the youth before him, he wondered briefly how he had known when Jaster would be there. Was he a guardian of some sort who had been faithfully remaining to serve for the countless years he claimed the stone to have been there. Or was he more?

"Is that what you are- a spirit like he is? Are there others?" and then with some amusement, "How did you know I'd be here today?"

Ivynian
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He smiled, a pleasant, ageless spread of dusted tarnish. "Yes, I am a spirit, like but not like to what he is. Was. Could be. And there are others. Spirits, if you mean. There are other keepers as well, who have unlocked the gems that waited for them."

The youth shifted, bringing up his knees beneath his chin and wrapped his arms around them.

"Some Sight is given to me, to watch the stones and know where their Chosen may best meet them."

Eftemie


"I suppose that it is for me to find the others wherever they are." His reply was once more laced with amusement. He was quite certain that he would receive more riddles as answers because he was giving just enough information to make Jaster even more curious than he already was. Riddles were good for that. He was quite undecided it that were a good thing or not.

"Why are they returning? If they have been asleep as this one has all this time, then why come back now?"

Saljin sighed as Jaster continued to speak to whomever this invisible person was. He saw noone but that did not mean none were there. A wariness slipped down over him and he called again.

"Jaster?"

His eyes darted around the cavern once more. It was like the boy could not hear him and it made him even more nervous with each passing second. What spell had been cast on him that caused the boy not to even hear him?

Ivynian
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"They were not wanted....so they faded, died to sleep. Now they are wanted. Needed. The worlds call to them for mercy and help. For guidance and strength. The nations of what Is seek their old powers they forgot. That is why they wake now. "

Eftemie

"Not wanted and yet now called to."

He rolled the words on his tongue as if tasting them. His gaze the entire time was on the fellow before him. It occurred to him that he had no idea who this person really was as he stared at the golden gaze. Seemingly harmless, but was he really? Living with Saljin had made him wary of just accepting at face value the words of another and a bit of skepticism slipped into his expression. And even though he felt a tremble from the so-called spirit of the stone in his hand, he still felt as if the information given to him was far too easily acquired. What was it he did not see? Or was not being told?

His lips twitched upwards as he tried to work it out, looking for the intrigue he knew was there. Likewise Jaster did not know who or what the stone truly was. He only had this person- or rather -spirit's word for it. And he only had his word that he was said spirit. The fellow could be a thief or some other trickster awaiting to trap he and Saljin for whatever gain he could achieve.

Once he might have taken the words at face value, but his father had taught him a hard lesson. Jaster took little on trust except from the shifter standing nearby and nothing was free. Yet the stone was in his hand as if freely given. 'Chosen' was the correct word, but it alluded to being free when he had been told it was his. Was anything ever free? Not that he knew. But if Mercy and Guidance were there with hands held wide, so were others. It was the others he was wondering about. Not what he could see before him. Afterall, he was the type to enter an unknown cave simply to see what was there.

"People change and time stands still for none. Just because they used to exist does not mean they should now. If they - and you- vanished long ago for a reason, then perhaps the reason still remains except from your point of view."

A wide grin slipped onto his face as he simply watched, awaiting a reaction. And then he could not help himself and the words were out of his mouth. He might regret baiting this so-called spirit, but then he might also learn what it was that was really wanted of him.

"Why should I believe you? You say Chosen as if it's a gift. A true gift is free, but somehow the word Chosen implies a pricetag."

Ivynian
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"Cheeky. " The youth looked suddenly...something.... bored? Annoyed? Hurt? The exact expression was hard to read. His eyes whorled with too much to describe. "There hardly seems reason for such words of rebuke..'except from your point of view'. I have spoken with you freely. Weighty a choice it may be to take on a spirit....a god to some, and questions you may ask to deliberate your choice, but... "

The Eldest stood from the seat of the rocks, the gold ornaments tinkling with the motion, "But implications I will not deal with. I, unlike your assumption, never vanished. I have always been. As for pricetags, that is between you and the stone. Some of them are ravenous, uncaring, borne of chaos and malign. They often eat their chosen's soul to fuel themselves. Others do not. It is not a 'gift', a present.....a base thing. The stones seek their chosen, they are things of power. You take it or not. ....no gifts. Artifacts. Legends."

The youth touched a hand to the stone nearby, as though he might walk into it as a door. "You need not make your decision now, before me. As though I were the judge of your actions. My presence is just to see in met. Take the jewel with you, leave it here, it makes no difference. The spirit will come to no harm while you decide its fate. "

Eftemie

"Perhaps, but not a rebuke except on the surface. Truth and trust are strange companions for me. My words were only meant to elicit a reaction from you." He bowed to the god before him apologetically. A faint smile appeared, sliding easily across his face.

"Words often hide more beneath as actions reveal. I meant no disrespect in my assumptions, but was looking for a reason to continue this conversation. I find more truth in what is hidden than what I see and hear."

A quick glance at the stone in his hand and then his eyes shifted back to the youth. White teeth gleamed into a congenial grin. "Although as you are a god and not just a simple spirit, I should be more cautious in whose buttons I push."

Then another thought occurred to him, pushing its way forward and into view. A frown and a bit of contrition slipped into his expression. "If you never left, then have you been alone all this time then? How long has it been? And who exactly are you? And will we meet again?"

Saljin flinched at the word 'god' as much as 'buttons'. Jaster was at it again and he was quite certain they were going to be in trouble again. He sighed deeply. The boy just never seemed to know when to stop digging.

Ivynian
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"Eighty-six Ages between the fall of the last and the rebirth of the first." He did not move, a statue still in what could have been a miasma of time. Then the vision broke, "Smiles behind apologies are hardly remorseful. You will need the stone if you wish to see me or seek out the others. There is a sanctuary, held up the stone will glitter brightest in the direction you should travel."

He shooki his head slowly, like clearing nightmares to try to gather sunlight, the lights on his form dimming and tarnishing. "There were many names, some more recent then others. They are unwriting."

"Until again, Jaster."

Eftemie

Jaster frowned thoughtfully, watching the youth a moment longer. For a brief instant, he wanted him to remain longer. He would not and Jaster knew he had been given all the information he would be.

"We will meet again." He whispered, his voice caressing the air momentarily with the surety that they would do so. A faint tease that if boredom set in, the youth might visit spontaneously crossed Jaster's thoughts. But he left the words unsaid and sighed thinking that he'd pushed for reactions enough for one day.

A spirit- a god- lay within waiting for the unlocking of his secrets. A task for him to figure out. He turned the stone faintly, once more the focus of his attention.

"The stone will glitter brightest in the direction we should go? I guess that's a beginning."

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A Bit Of Reflection
05.04.08 Solo
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Turning around, Jaster stopped to stare at Saljin for a moment. His lips twitched upwards in amusement. He could easily see that the shifter was somewhat annoyed by him.

"What?"

Saljin's eyes narrowed further. "What's going on, Jaster? Who were you talking to?"

"A spirit. A god."
A shrug slipped free as he moved towards the opening they have first entered the cavern by. "There's nothing else here for me. Us."

"And the stone in your hand?"

He shrugged, not wanting to share yet. Without waiting, he moved into the tunnel.

The thought of eighty six ages came back to him. Had he been entirely alone all that time? Jaster inwardly flinched at the thought of such.

Cheeky. That was the word and he mulled it over a moment.

He had been, but he'd been on his own a long while also. His trust did not come easily and if he did not push, then how was he to see what and who to trust? He had trusted his father only to get sold. Even if the man's plans had not come to fruition, they had been put into motion.

But then another concept flipped into view. He'd not been entirely alone except a short time. Saljin had appeared and been with him since. Jaster knew he would have been a fool to accept what was said at face value, but he winced again at the thought that perhaps the spirit was glad to see him as much as the one in the stone would be taken care of. On some level it bothered him that he had been so with him, but he was certain there was more to him than Jaster was being allowed to see. And that just plain annoyed him. He was prone to digging even if he should not.

"Jaster, are you alright?" Saljin's voice was firm and sharp enough that it drew his attention back.

"I'm fine. Just thinking about what was said."


"I got the impression that you were rude, though I saw noone there."

He sighed, shrugging. "I was somewhat." he admitted, then continued, "You know me, but I don't think he can really blame me for it too much. I've had too little to trust in my life except for you. And Ijera. Even knowledge from books is not entirely truthful. A good well is dug deep. Not stopped when you first find water."

Saljin raised an eyebrow. "I see. It must have been some conversation."

"It was. I think he's been alone a long time and I might have pushed more than I should have, but I have something to search for now. I'll figure him- them out."
It was not just the single god in the stone he carried that was alluded to. It was all of them- and him. His words of meeting him again had been meant.

It did not take long for both to be standing on the cliffside again. Jaster stood for a moment appreciating the breeze from the sea. It was warm and filled with promises to come. Secrets for him to unravel. Holding the stone upwards, he watched it closely as he slowly turned in various directions.

"Which direction is the portal, Saljin?"
he asked softly, scanning the horizon he suspected they were meant to go.

The shifter turned, tilting his head slightly in consideration. "That way. Northwest of us."

"Then that's where we need to go."


"But we need supplies first, Jaster, so we will head north to Alvara and then go west towards the portal if that's what you want." The shifter insisted. His voice in that moment said there would be no other options.

Jaster turned at the tone, but nodded. "Supplies? Alright. The town and then the portal to the upper world. I think that's where we need to be."

Alvara. Saljin described what he knew of it to Jaster as they continued walking down the road. The detour into the cavern had taken an extra day, but as they were not on a schedule, but wandering as they would, it mattered little to either of them.

"It will be pretty active and is large enough to have four inns and taverns. We'll stay at the one on the western side of the town. It's the closest to where we want to go." Saljin turned to watch Jaster more closely for a moment. "Are you sure you want to go back, Jaster?"

Violet eyes flashed a bit in thought as he remembered what life had been like there for them. The boy's father was still living as far as they knew. Jaster had changed a great deal though. And it had been nearly seven years since his father had sold the boy. He was an adult now and there was little the man could do at this point.

"Yes. It's time, Saljin. Besides I have a reason now. I want to find some of the others and see if Ijera is alright. Alot waits for us."


His voice was softest on the last sentence. Strangely he could feel the god in the stone he carried. It was not a demanding for attention but more a subtle way of letting him know he was there. Warm. Comforting. Sunshine and shadows. He waited for the day when they would truly meet.

As they walked, Jaster continually pulled the stone from his pocket to inspect it. He suspected a myriad of things were hidden in the branches of the coral shaped stone. From one angle, he saw a dark clawed foot reaching outwards catlike in play. Light reflecting across the bluer portions made him think of a flurry of feathery wings lifting upwards. The glint of an eye watching him in amusement showed itself. At least in his mind's eye he saw all this an more. He never tired of looking at it and trying to find what was there.

A box of secrets... he had been told was there and he wanted to discover them all.

Finally noting that Saljin was staring at him curiously, Jaster flashed a smile, tucking the stone back into his pocket. He shrugged, still smiling and began to whistle a lively tune as they walked onwards.

"Did you hear anything I said?" Saljin finally asked.

"I heard what I needed to. An inn on the west side."


Saljin blinked, staring as Jaster continued down the road. He still had not said what had been told to him. Only that there was a spirit- a god- speaking to him that the shifter could not see. A sudden sigh slipped down over him as he hurried to catch up although he could have taken his time.

Jaster had stopped and was intently studying a tree's bark nearby. Several small claw marks went upwards as if the creature had climbed upwards into the branches above. He leaned backwards, peering upwards into the dense coverage for a long moment. Then he began whistling again as he moved down the path before them.

"I could handle a bed for the night, Saljin." He spoke with a surety that said he wanted the comfort for the night. The warm downy softness of blankets and a mattress was just what they both needed.

"So could I, Jaster." His reply was muttered as annoyance with the younger man slipped into him. Moving quickly forwards, he caught up to walk beside him.

"A hot meal, a bath, and a comfortable bed for the night would hit the spot. It's going to get worse on the other side of the town. We will be crossing part of the Darklands. It's the home of the Unseelie Court but it's not particularly safe. If not the Unseelie themselves, then Drow, Demons, and perhaps even some spectres of various sorts. There are a couple small towns and one or two inns out in the middle of nowhere along the road. And I think if we stick mostly to the clearer area, we should be safe enough."

"We'll deal with whatever we must, Saljin."
Jaster ran a hand through his hair, frowning slightly. "The portal to the upper world should be straight west of the town, right?"

"Yes. It's at the top of the Goblin Kingdom. We will stop in that same small town before going through. We can pick up more supplies there. Maybe a quick job or two for extra money. We might need it above."

Jaster simply nodded as they reached the outlook above the outskirts of the town. The buildings below looked gentle and soft as the rosy glow of evening began to appear just behind. He was looking forwards to the evening and people, but especially the rumors that would lead him to them. That he wanted more than anything else.


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Rumors & Barmaids
Or is it Rumors of Barmaids?
05.25.08 Solo

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A large wooden gate and fence loomed before them. Guards allowed people to freely access the area inside whether coming or going, but they watched closely the entire time. Glancing around in curiosity, Jaster smiled at the activity. The smell of fresh bread and roasting meat hung in the air making his stomach ache in anticipation. A sudden growl caused Saljin to raise an eyebrow at him.

He shrugged, grinning widely. "I'm hungry and it's nearing suppertime."

"When aren't you hungry? We'll grab a meal at the inn. We can have them bring it up to the room. I want to relax a little and then go down to the tavern for information. The guards will know what is along the western road and it's easier to get them to talk when they are off-duty."

"I'm going with you tonight."
Jaster stated rather than asked.

His expression was surprised because unless it was a full party, Jaster usually refrained from going to the tavern. Usually his preference amounted to relaxing and reading a book of his choice in comfort. It was a rare occurrence that pulled him down to other people.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. I want to go."


"Alright." Turning to the innkeeper the instant they walked in the door of the inn and tavern, he smiled. "We'd like two rooms please. And a meal brought up to one room."

The elven woman watched them a moment and then nodded. "I've two on the fourth floor across the hall from one another. Will that do. They have bathrooms, but our guests don't often like to climb that far up."

"It suits us just fine."
Jaster grinned. "It will be quieter there."

"Yes. It usually is, but if you want anything other than the standard service provided, you have to tell me now or come back down and request it. The maid only checks once a day and she's already been on that floor once."

"Just the things we asked for. I'm sure the rooms will be fine. We plan to come down to the tavern later anyhow." Saljin nodded, shoving his cloak back off his shoulder. Pulling the pouch from inside his vest, he began counting out her price.

"Thank you. Here's your keys for those rooms. There are only two on that floor, rooms 19 and 20. I'll have the boy bring you up a meal shortly. It will be about a half hour or so."

"That's fine." Turning with both keys in his hand, Saljin held one out to Jaster. "Let's go get cleaned up and rest a bit. It's been a long walk to get here."

He walked up the stairs into the next hallway, but curved upwards after a cursory glance at the rooms on that floor. The doors of nine rooms lined the hallway, four on each side and one at the end. A couple walked towards them talking quietly as they moved towards a nearby door. The third floor was as the second had been with nine doors again lining the hallway. But as before Jaster and Saljn continued upwards.

They found themselves on a landing with a door on each side. A numbered plaque hung in the center. For a moment they simply stood still, listening. Someone had painted the walls and woodwork within the last month. It still looked fresh and clean rather than the normal fading and dust that usually appeared on walls and trim.

"Probably the quietest place here. It must be pretty full to put us all the way up here."

"Either that or she figured we'd not mind walking whereas others would."
A smirk slipped across Jaster's face. Saljin laughed, opening the door beside him.

"I'm going to get cleaned up, then I'll leave the door open."

Both rooms were neat, though not overly large. Each room had an open bathroom to one side which revealed a basin, pitcher, and several towels. A desk and chair with paper and ink placed on top as well as a couple of books. The bed was a full size bed comfortably covered with several large quilts and three pillows. Both rooms had a small balcony to which the doors opened outwards. Jaster's room opened out over the wall and the countryside could just be seen over the top. Saljin's opened up over the city and he decided that's where they'd eat.

"Hey, Jaster. We'll eat in here. The balcony looks like a good spot to study the city below." He gave the buildings and street a cursory glance before turning back inside. The breeze from below carried the scents of baking bread and sizzling meat from the kitchen of the inn below.

"That works, Saljin,"
Jaster replied moving into his room further. Dropping his pack on the floor, he unpinned his cloak hanging it on the peg by the door. He'd brush it off later. Dropping onto the middle of the bed, he closed his eyes just lying there for a short time. With a groan he pulled himself upwards a few moments later. He wanted to go out tonight and if he continued to lay there, he'd be asleep soon. It was not going to happen and he was on his feet, tugging his jacket off. Opening the vest he wore, he relaxed slightly more with the loosening of his clothing.

With a smile, he poured fresh water into the basin. The soap on the side was too sweet smelling for his taste and he pulled the bar he carried from his pack. When he was finished, he moved towards his cloak. A soft brushing would take off the plants and dust that had clung to it and he moved to do it with a practiced ease.

"Do you think we will find out any information, Saljin?"
he asked giving his room a cursory glance as he moved towards the open door across the hallway.

"Not sure, Jaster. This place is lively and usually gets the rumors from three areas. Especially those from people heading to the portal. It may or may not give us an indication of what we will run into."

"Excuse me?" the boy called from the doorway with a tray in his hand. "Where do you want this?"

Jaster turned to watch him. Scruffy blond hair peeked out the sides of the bandana the boy wore. His clothing was a simple brown shirt sleeves rolled up, brown pants held up by a darker brown belt, and black boots. A spattering of freckles crossed the nose over which a pair of hazel eyes inquired anxiously.

"Over here. We want to eat on the balcony." Saljin stated, pointing to the table there.

The boy quickly set the table with the plates, cups, and utensils he'd carried upwards. The food consisted of a plate of cheese and bread, two plates full of some type of stew made of meat and vegetables, and two mugs of what looked like ale.

"Anything else, sirs?" he asked holding the tray still.

Pulling a silver coin from his pocket, Jaster flipped it to him. "Nothing right now. Thank you."

A grin broke out as the boy caught the coin, his eyes wide. "Thank you! My name is Joram. If you need anything else, just let me know." With a quick bow, he pocketed the tip and hurried down the staircase, a smile firmly set on his face.

"Smells good."
both said as they settled down to eat.

As they continued their meal, Jaster glanced out over the city. The sky was just turning deep pink turning into a deeper red which in turn became violet the higher he looked. A warm breeze slipped across the balcony's railing and over them, only to tease and recede the way a tide hit the shore and then ebbed away. The sounds of laughter and comraderie drifted slowly upwards as night shifted fully over the town. Lights flickered on and off, lighting up and hiding what was there. They had been just sitting silently listening for some time when Saljin finally got to his feet.

"There should be a good crowd there now, Jaster. Are you still going with me?" he asked.

"Yes. I've not changed my mind. Maybe I'll get lucky and get one of the barmaids to dance with me."


Saljin laughed. "I knew it wasn't just the rumors."

Jaster shrugged, smiling. He had never said it was only the rumors. "I'll get my jacket."

By the time they reached the first floor, they could easily hear the rowdy crowd in the tavern. A few were singing and someone was playing a bit of music to the side. A jig of some sort. A few couples were dancing and others talking and laughing. Drinking. The smell of food and the strong ale drifted on the air of the room as did a bit of smoke from the pipes of patrons.

Both stopped in the doorway for a moment, judging the grouping inside, as much as trying to adjust to the dimmer light. Not many guards yet, but Saljin knew there would be though these were mostly locals who were after a bit of fun for the night before heading to their homes. He'd been here before, but as Saljin's eyes slid over the grouping, he didn't remember it being this busy. Shoving the thought away, he catalogued it as he'd not been there in several years. The guards would be around soon enough. Moving towards one of the few empty tables in the place, the shifter tried to catch the eye of the barmaid as they passed her. Both barmaids, sisters, had seen them and stood watching them closely before turning back to their work.

Nearby a man and a woman snuggled together. He whispered something in her ear causing an immediate flush to rise up her neck and cheeks. Reaching out he turned her chin around, kissing her lightly on the nose with a smile.

"Get a room." an old man commented as he drank more from his cup. "Women get you into trouble and I'm not getting you out of it when you do."

The younger man glanced over at the elder and laughed. "Don't worry about it, pop. I'm sure I can get myself out of it. Besides don't you remember being young once?" A smirk settled on his face as he blatantly kissed the woman on the lips to the amusement of the others around.

"Bah!"

After glancing at Jaster and Saljin, the younger of the two barmaids, nudged her sister. An immediate smile slipped onto her lips as she watched Jaster closely. Her blue eyes were bright as she studied him. Saucily shaking her hips, she smirked slightly as she glanced at her elder sister then smoothed out her skirt.

"I'll take their order, Felista." she said quickly moving already.

"I wonder why.." the elder laughed as she in turn studied both men once more. Where the redhead caught her sister's eye, her own was caught by the violet gaze of the second. Both appeared to be more than the normal patrons of the inn or tavern that they were used to. The redhead and younger of the two could be elven, at least in part. Both were well-dressed and had relaxed, confident attitudes. They'd be interesting and she knew her sister would draw them out.

Carrying her tray with her, Bettina laughed with the other patrons as she placed their drinks in front of them. When she was finished, she turned to Saljin and Jaster with a bright smile, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she flashed him another smile.

"I'm Bettina. What can I get for you, handsome? If you want the special, you are out of luck. It's gone already. But if you want something else and don't mind waiting, the cook will make it for you."

"I want a mug of ale." Saljin stated, his eyes scanning the people nearby. He watched her knowing that her actions were for Jaster's benefit. The younger would be dancing with her before the night was out.

"Same for me."
Jaster asked, smiling at the girl. She was pretty and obviously interested which suited him just fine. A slim elven build topped with sunstreaked hair over blue eyes. The top of her blouse dropped low revealing smooth creamy shoulders, a fact not lost on him. Especially after she'd gone to such pains to make him notice.

"A good cook, huh? I'm guessing you didn't make them then."
He teased her, causing Saljin to raise an eyebrow in even more amusement.

"Yes. My mother. The other girl over there is my older sister, Felista. There are some pies freshly made in the kitchen." Then she blinked in surprise, "Wait a minute! I can cook! I just don't." She smirked slightly in reply to the teasing. A warm flush slipped over her shoulders and upwards slightly giving her a rosy appearance. He was flirting with her and she was glad and had wanted him to.

"Pie? Hmm. That sounds good. I'll have a piece. Do you dance too or is that too much to hope?"


She smiled widely at Jaster when Saljin turned back to them. The shifter watched both and then began to tease.

"I can dance but not right now. I'm working."

"Ale? I thought you'd have tea, Jaster."

"I said I was planning to have some fun."
Jaster winked at Bettina, who giggled and then blushed slightly. "We'lls see, Bet. We'll both take pie. Apple sounds good."

"Two ales and two slices of apple pie, it is then." Turning away, she glanced back at Jaster again flashing him a grin before mincing away to serve customers and place their order. Her lips twitched upwards as she spoke to her sister and both girls glanced back at their table.

"I think she likes you, Jaster."

"I noticed. I think her sister is watching you also."


A group of six guards entered the room as Bettina returned with their pie and ale. Felista turned towards them to take their orders as they sat down at a table nearby. Three were brothers and began teasing one another.

Jaster grinned when he saw the pie. Both pieces were larger than normal. Leaning back, he boldly watched Bettina as a slow flush crept up her shoulders and neck.

"If you need anything else, just let me know." She winked at Jaster and then walked back towards the kitchen. Twice she stopped to watch him closely. She'd made sure he got a large piece of pie and perhaps she'd get him to take a walk with her after she was finished working for the night.

Felista took the orders and pulled Bet over to help her. Two of the brothers were discussing some of the things that had occurred during the day. A third brother smiled slightly then made a comment, leaning back in his seat to watch. In just a moment both of the men were arguing loudly while the third simply sat with a well-satisfied smirk on his face.

"Uh oh, trouble in paradise,"
Jaster smirked as he put a bite in his mouth. It was then he saw the note under the pie. Pulling it out, he read it with a grin. Then he laughed, turning towards Bettina who had been watching him. Nodding, he folded it up, shoving it into his pocket.

Saljin's lips twitched upwards. "A love note, Jaster? Already? You just met the girl."

His lips twitched upwards into a wide grin. "You might have one too, so I'd be careful what you say, Saljin."

The shifter laughed. "I doubt it." But for both their amusement, he lifted the pie upwards. His expression suddenly changed when he saw a slip of paper lying there.

Jaster laughed, a smirk settling on his face. "Her sister."

"Obviously." Saljin replied, glancing up to find Felista watching him closely. He stared at her for a moment, then smiled, nodding.

A smile crossed her face as she turned around to her customers again. "Marthin, shame on you." she stated, placing another mug before each man. "Did you start a fight with your brothers again?" A mischievious gleam in her eye showed she knew she was revealing it to the two others.

"Felista! You spoiled my fun!" he growled as the elder brother cuffed him behind the ear.

"So tell me what is new today?" she laughed, "since you have nothing else to do."

Jaster finished off the last bite of his pie, shoving his plate back. Glancing up for Bettina, he motioned her over. Two more barmaids had joined them to take care of the increase in customers as more arrived. It was getting quite crowded except on the dance floor. They'd heard no rumors yet, though Jaster was listening closely and trying not to appear to be doing so. Saljin likewise was eavesdropping on the tables behind him, but he'd heard nothing either.

Bet walked over to them, picking up the plates on her tray. "So anything else, Jaster?" Her smile was aimed only at him. Saljin nearly laughed aloud.

"Yes."
he said, getting to his feet. Taking her tray he put it down on the table, grabbing her hand. "A dance."

"Jaster! I'm working!" Surprised, she was whirled out into a dance before she could protest further.

Felista and the other two girls turned to watch for a moment, all three giggling. Bettina might have bitten off more than she could chew. It was surprising to find a guy who wanted to dance. Saljin in the meanwhile had gotten to his feet. With a smile, he stood next to Felista without her knowing he was there.

"Felista, may I have this dance?" A smile slipped across his face as he bowed to her before taking her hand.

Nonplussed, she watched him a moment. She'd not even seen him move she had been so focused on Jaster and her sister.

"I'm working, Saljin." She knew his name already having been told by her sister. "I might..."

Before she could say anything further, he smirked whirling her out to the floor. Several began laughing as they watched. The sisters were definitely not in control tonight.

Breathlessly, Bet and Felista continued to be whirled, both Jaster and Saljin ensuring they enjoyed the dance. The cook had poked her head out in amusement. It was time her girls had a bit of fun. It couldn't all be work. She smiled, but somehow understood neither of these two would remain around. Either way her girls would follow what they wanted to do. Consequences or not.

Taverns were always places to get rumors and see who came and went. And although only the rare few did so purposely, he could be counted in the number of those who did. Sitting at a table to one side, his back against the wall, the fellow watched the crowd around him. He was after someone in particular and the information gleaned over the years led to this place. Not this tavern or even city in particular, but to the Labyrinth.

His face remained hidden by the hood of the robes he wore. He wanted it that way. The more he blended into the darkness the less people would notice him. It was precisely the reason he'd chosen the table near the door but against the wall out of the way. Attention was at the other end of the room where the bar, kitchen, and dance floor were. It allowed him to see them without them noticing him.

The barmaid noted the man though she could see little of him. A sudden shiver ran down her spine, but she moved towards him.

"May I get you something, sir?"

"Ale." he stated, dropping a coin on the table.

She picked up the coin after flinching slightly. The man's fingernails were long and painted black as if the claws of some fel creature. Black runic markings were tattooed on his hands and she wondered if more were on his arms. She could barely see his chin and there was some sort of marking there. Another shiver ran through her as she turned away. She couldn't even tell if the man were human, elven, or something else. And she was quite sure she did not want to know.

"Right away, sir." As quickly as she could, she returned with his ale then moved away. There was something odd about the man.

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Rumors & Barmaids
05.29.08 Solo Post 2

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Whirling Bettina around the floor, Jaster laughed when she scolded him, tossing her hair though she kept in step with him. Her eyes sparkled brightly as she muttered.

"You are going to get me into trouble."

"I don't think so."
he smirked, holding onto her tightly as he spun her again.

"I do."

"Your mother already poked her head out of the kitchen and just laughed. She's not even watching now."


With a growl, she turned her head to check the kitchen doorway. Her mother was standing at the table talking to the other barmaid. Neither seemed to be in a hurry about anything and she sighed. Maybe she wouldn't get into trouble since the other two were working also.

"Alright. One dance."

"Two."
A grin broke out on his face and he laughed as he whirled her around once more. With a wink at Saljin, he moved to the other side keeping time to the music.

Saljin laughed as Felista growled under her breath. "I doubt you are going to get into trouble, Felista. If noone has said anything yet, then it doesn't matter."

"I hope you are right." Her expression was definitely annoyed but it was not so much at him as she knew he was right. "One dance and then I have to go back to work."

"Two." he said firmly, pulling her against him. "Afterall, you left me the note, my lady, trying to get my attention."

She blinked, staring at him as her jaw dropped slightly open. Then when he smirked again, she growled in frustration aimed at herself. Then she began to laugh.

"I guess I did. Alright. Two dances, but you better be waiting when I get off work."

Whirling the sisters around the floor, both Jaster and Saljin enjoyed themselves immensely. Both girls were thoroughly enamored by the time the second dance began. As Saljin spun her past the tables on the one side, a man glanced upwards. He'd been watching everyone closely. Suddenly he was on his feet and out the door after another glance at those dancing. He needed to tell them.

He'd found what they'd been looking for.

By the time the girls were finished tending to their customers, Jaster and Saljin were waiting in the kitchen doorway talking to their mother. She laughed, teasing both as the girls removed their aprons tossing them to hooks on the side of the room.

"Don't stay out too late, girls." she reminded them.

"We are just going for a walk, Mother." Felista stated. "We thought to the benches nearby."

"Alright." she mused turning back as she stacked the last plate with food. She was done for the night except cleaning the kitchen. The boy in the corner got to his feet as she placed the pot for him to scrub.

Jaster picked up Bettina's hand with a smile, pulling her out the door. Saljin offered his hand to Felista who smiled as she took it. For awhile they sat on the benches, talking quietly. Laughing, Jaster pulled a flower from the nearby yard and presented it to Bettina. For nearly two hours they talked quietly before deciding to return to the inn.

At the door, Jaster kissed Bettina as he'd been wanting the entire night. It was then he noticed Saljin and Felista snuggled up close to one another and turned his attention back to the girl in his arms.

"I had fun, Bet. I wish I was going to be around longer, but Saljin and I need to be somewhere else."


"I see. It's too bad. It would be nice if you were around awhile. I really had fun tonight. The first time in awhile." she replied, reaching up to touch his jaw. Leaning forwards, she added, "I'll fix you a special breakfast. Mom won't mind."

He nodded, watching her. Leaning forwards, he kissed her again, holding her close. Then he sighed.

"Better go, before Saljin gets into trouble with your sister."
A grin broke out on his face and she laughed, hugging him tightly. Hurrying towards her sister, she tugged her away from Saljin. The shifter watched them go as Jaster stepped up beside him.

"I like them, Jaster." A bit of regret slipped into his voice.

"Me too. Let's go turn in for the night."


Neither said much as they climbed the stairs to their rooms. They'd had fun, but they needed to move on in the morning. Jaster nodded, moving into his own room. Tossing his jacket to the chair, he kicked off his boots.

Thinking about Bettina and the night's events, he sighed wondering if perhaps he should stay around a little longer. Pulling the stone from his vest pocket, he studied it for awhile, tracing the curves on the inside and outside of the stone branches.

"Are we really in a hurry?"
he asked, frowning at it slightly. Silence greeted him. Shaking his head, he placed the stone in the pack, carefully tucking it into a hidden pocket. A few moments later, he was staring into the semi darkness of the room when he heard the sound of the doorknob turning. Carefully and as silently as possible he moved to the darker corner.

The figure opened the door and moved slowly into the room. Soon it was standing right at the bed leaning down as if to touch someone. He suddenly jumped out behind the person grabbing and shoving them forwards.

A scream rent the air as the figure fell forwards not only on the bed, but across and off the other side. They landed with a loud thud, sucking in their breath.

"Jaster? What are you doing?" she asked, as the light flipped on.

"Bettina? What are you doing?"
he asked, shaking his head in amusement as he moved to help her up.

She laughed. "I was trying to surprise you, but you surprised me instead."

"Do you always go about creeping into a man's room in the dark?"
he asked, smirking at her.

"No. I decided to sneak into yours." she replied saucily and then asked, "Are you going to invite me stay? The floor is cold on my feet." Slipping her arms around his neck, she laughed as she suddenly kissed him.

"This could get us both into trouble."


"It could." she agreed. "But worth it, no?"

Instead of replying, Jaster reached over to turn out the light. With a laugh he pulled her down to the bed as she began to giggle. Muffled sounds could be heard coming from both rooms on the top floor, but noone complained and the occupants most certainly were not.


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Inebriated Inspiration
Or Drunken Dreams?
05.26.08 Solo

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Feeling almost compelled to touch the blossom, he reached out a hand. The flower was the strangest one he'd ever seen. Its petals were a variety of colors ranging from white to black and some even too strange to figure out what color they truly were. He delicately traced one with a finger and then jerked his hand back when a mouth in the center began to yawn.

"What the..?" he muttered, backing away to look at the rest of the field around him.

It was then he saw the figure standing there silently watching him. For an instant their eyes met and they simply stared at one another. He was dark and barely seen, but Jaster was only paying attention to the gaze that held his own.

"Who are you?" he asked softly, a frown creasing his brow.

Instead of a reply, the fellow shrugged, suddenly flashing a wide grin revealing white teeth. For an instant he smirked alluding that Jaster should already know. Then he whirled away, pointing towards a small hole not far away. By the time he had reached it, Jaster had begun to follow him.

"Wait!" he called. "I.. Who are you?"

Suddenly the fellow vanished inside as Jaster skidded to a halt, feet digging into the ground. A sudden shift in the ground caused him to nearly fall as his toes dug into the mud he was sliding in. It seemed as if the entire world was tilting beneath him and he found himself tumbling closer and closer to the hole just ahead. Reaching out he grabbed the edge, holding on tightly, but everything around him began to shake and shimmy trying to knock him loose.

Finally it did and Jaster found himself falling into the inky blackness below his feet. Twisting and turning, he slid following the tunnel he was inside. He could hear amusement ahead of him, but not once did he see anyone connected to the laughter. As he rounded a curve he found himself floating in the air unable to touch any of the sides around him. Round became square as he found himself drifting downwards with all the speed of a downy feather.

"Well, this is strange to say the least." he stated, shaking his head and folding his arms. "I might as well relax and enjoy the ride."

It was then he saw it. A large shelf just below him. It was unusual in design as it appeared to be carved from a tree. Several large jars and bottles were lined up, some covered in dust. Others not. User ImageThe largest jar in the center caught his eye and he stared at it and them. Just as he was about to comment, they turned around to stare back at him.

"A jar of eyes," he said in amusement, his own eyes gleaming. "What possible purpose could they have?"

A grin broke out and then laughter slipped free. "I'd ask them, but they have no mouths. I suppose I should take them with me. They could definitely be fun to have a staring contest with. I wonder who would blink first?"

Taking the jar, he tucked it into his pocket. Somehow it shrunk in size just for him and it was safe in his pajama pocket. With that notion, he smirked again. But Jaster never noticed what the eyes had been looking at before he dropped down to them. A bit of stone shining brightly in a myriad of colors was stuck firmly to the side of the jar. It slipped free dropping down into the pocket safe and sound and the eyes closed going to sleep. ??? At least they would have if they would have had eyelids.

"Do pajamas need pockets? I guess mine do."

When his feet touched the bottom a few moments later, Jaster glanced around him. All he could see was a circle of light around him.

"This would be when I wish Saljin were here." he commented in amusement and thinking of what the shifter would reply. "He'd tell me I'd gotten us in trouble again."

A flurry of feathers and sound behind him as he was snatched upwards into the sky now turning green.

"Green?" he blinked as the viridian sun rose over the horizon, shining at him. For an instant he could have sworn he saw it wink.

Staring at the feathery body he now rode, he understood he was on the back of a huge violet crow. For a moment, he admired the bird as they flew across the sky and through the very pink clouds in a green sky. Then a tickle began in the back of his throat, and he tried reaching it with both finger and the tip of his tongue. Instead that only made him cough as the tickling increased mercilessly.

With a hack, he suddenly coughed and sneezed at the same instant and a large purple feather dropped into the air. It tickled the beak of the bird he was riding and it twirled upside down in the sky.

Jaster reached out to grab a feather only to have it come loose in his hand. Holding it tightly, he thought to slow his own fall but dropped down in front of a door. Getting to his feet, he stared at the feather, dropping it into the pocket with the eyes.

"It will give them something to look at," he decided in amusement as he turned towards the way inside.

The door rose upwards, looming over him even at the distance he was from it. A coral shape matched the stone both in coloration and shape. A deep ebony violet framework carved with strange symbols stared back at him.

Then the dark figure was before him again, grinning widely with white teeth flashing as he stood in the moonlight reflecting there. A thought came to Jaster as the fellow vanished, dissolving into the doorway though the door had not opened.

"A box of secrets and moonlight that is waiting for me."

*Exactly...*
came the whispersoft reply.

Jaster bolted upright in the bed, glancing around the darkened room. He stared at the girl sleeping at his side for a moment and then reached from the bed to the pack at the sideboard. Shoving his hand in, he pulled out the coral shaped stone to stare at him. Frowning he studied him intensely for a long moment. Was the god there trying to speak to him? Or was it the alcohol he'd had that night?

"I think I should stay away from the ale."
Amused Jaster tucked the stone back into the pocket before crawling back into his bed.

*Exactly...*
was the amused whisper though it went unheard.

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Riffraff & Rumors
WIP Solo

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A bird clasped the ledge of the windowsill chirping loudly almost as if to say it was time to get up. Jaster opened on eye, glaring at it in annoyance. He wasn't ready to get up yet. Rolling over he intended to put an arm over Bettina, but the bed was empty except for he.

Pushing himself upwards on his elbows, he frowned slightly. He'd not expected her to be gone already, but she was nowhere to be seen. Sliding back down into the bed, a bit disappointed, he listened to the small sparrow as it sang sweetly again as the sky turned even lighter.

"Shut up, you!"
he mumbled, but then sighed as he swung his feet over the side of the bed. He needed to get dressed, but for a moment he hesitated, running a hand through his hair. Maybe the water in the basin would wake him up more. They'd have to be moving soon.

A few moments later, he pulled on his vest, buttoning it halfway. The bird was still chirping on the window and he moved towards it, opening the window wide. It immediately flew some distance away where it proceeded to scold him.

Jaster smirked slightly, commenting, "It serves you right. It's too early to get up." Glancing around as he stretched a bit, trying to ease the tiredness in his body, he thought back over the previous night. They'd gotten little sleep and he felt as if he'd just gotten there when the bird had woken him. Sitting down, his feet propped up in the windowseat, he watched the townsfolk slowly rising to begin the day. The stone was in his pocket again and he pulled it out to study it a moment before shoving it back inside as his attention was caught by the town. The bustle of movement was already beginning and soon they would be in the midst of it. For now he was enjoying just the quiet moment.

When he heard the doorknob turning, he assumed it was Saljin coming to see if he was awake. But then Bettina poked her head in, carrying a tray. She laughed when she saw him.

"I thought you'd still be in bed and I wanted to surprise you with breakfast, Jaster." she faux pouted, jutting her lip out. Then she giggled as she moved towards the table and began setting it for two.

Laughing, he replied, "I missed you. I figured you were already in the kitchen working." Getting to his feet, he watched her movements fro a moment in appreciation.

Tossing the empty tray to the bed, she smirked. "I was in the kitchen, but I wasn't working yet. I was fixing breakfast for us." She moved to him, slipping her arms around him tightly as she turned her chin upwards to kiss him lightly. "Felista was doing the same for Saljin."

"I see."
His arms went tightly around her, kissing her for a long moment. "I wish we could stay longer but we can't." Again disappointment crossed his face.

"So do I." she replied softly, clinging to him a moment. "Where are you going?" Normally, she wouldn't ask, but for some odd reason she really wanted to know where Jaster would be.

"We are headed back to the beginning. Outside the Labyrinth."
he mused softly.

"Outside?" she repeated, blinking in surprise. She'd heard things from the people as they passed through the inn and tavern, as much as from the guards. Strange things. She watched him silently for a long moment, but then moved towards the chair he offered her at the table.

When he sat down across from her, her teeth tugged her lower lip for an instant. "Are you sure you want to...? I mean... I've heard some strange things are going on there. Something is very wrong above."

"Wrong? How so? Tell me what was said, Bet."
They'd gotten no rumors the previous night in the tavern because of she and Felista. Bet looked worried and Jaster frowned slightly. "Tell me all of it."

"Just rumors really." she frowned shrugging. "But I'll tell you what I heard. There is talk of everything dying there. Rumors of a god named Destruction and another named Harmony.. no.. Harmodius or some such. Creation one called him. Caretaker another called him. Something happened to one or the other. The world is in bad shape with all sorts of fel creatures and water drying up, plants dying, and animals changing. One priest that travels here to the portal mentioned that the old gods were returning there. He seemed to think that Jareth was the reason we have not been affected. His magic is protecting us. Then another man listening began to argue that we were at risk and several began to panic. Finally the guards were called and made them all stop fighting. It just seems very strange. That's all."

Jaster nodded and then sat silently for a few moments as he began to eat. His thoughts turned towards the one he had met.

She reached out to put a hand over his. "It's just rumors, Jaster. I've not been up there, but it might not be."

He watched her for a moment, then squeezed her fingers tightly holding onto them. "I think it's true, Bet. I've met one such god. He said he'd been here 86 ages alone and caring for the stones. It's why I need to go there. I want to find him and speak to him. And the others if they are around. I need to in order to understand what it is I'm needed for. And why he chose me."

Her teeth tugged her lower lip again as a frown creased her brow. "I don't think I'd be brave enough to want to find them." Her voice was soft, and sincere, laced with a bit of fear.

"I need to. I want to know."
Patting her hand, he indicated the food. "Now, let's enjoy our breakfast together."

They all four dawdled at breakfast. Neither man wanted to leave and neither girl wanted them to go. But it was a matter of choice and Jaster made the decision finally.

"We have to go, Bet. I'll be back if I get a chance. And I'll make sure you know I'm around."
he laughed, hugging her to him. Then he kissed her fully on the lips making sure she understood he didn't really want to go, but had to.

Breathlessly she watched him a moment. "I do understand, Jaster. Just don't forget about me." she whispered in his ear.

"I'll never forget you, Bet. Ever."
Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a marble he'd found and carried for luck. It was a yellow and black striped glass. He always thought it was like a bumblebee. Taking her fingers, he put it in her palm then closed his own hand around hers tightly. "I always thought this brought me luck. It will remind you of me and bring you luck until we are together again."

She stared at him a moment silently, then nodded. Blinking back the tears she held onto the marble as he let go of her hand. Glancing down at the glass, she smiled slightly. It was pretty. She'd have to figure out how to wear it as a necklace and keep it close to her.

When Bettina glanced upwards, Jaster was gone. He and Saljin had slipped out the doorway and were into the crowd. Neither said anything as they left, but each could tell the other was a bit sad. They were wonderful girls and at any other time, they'd have remained alot longer than one night. This might even have been their home.

Their mother took one look at both her daughter's faces and sighed. Those two took her girls' hearts with them. It happened that way, and all she could do to help was distract them in some fashion.

"Girls, I need help in the kitchen. We need a few more pies. I seem to be missing more than normal. Apples are gone too."

Bettina and Felista both smirked. They'd each packed an extra pie and bag of apples for Jaster and Saljin.

"Yes, Mother. We are coming." Bet smiled, tucking the marble into her pocket. It would be there for later.

Outside town, Jaster and Saljin finally spoke. The shifter listened carefully as the other explained what he'd been told of the gods in the upper world. Both frowned several times.

"Did he give you any names, Jaster? Even his?"

"No."
Jaster shrugged. "He simply said he'd never left. It doesn't matter. I want to see him again. And to meet the others."

"Alright. We just need to be careful. We don't know what is ahead."

"Sure we do. The portal."
Jaster smirked, drawing a stare from Saljin. "Well, it is."

Unknown to either of them, they were being watched by eyes calculating and somewhat malevolent. Saljin glanced around once as the hair on the back of his neck stood up. But seeing nothing, he simply kept moving while keeping a wary eye on the landscape around them.

"Get them now?"

"No." the hooded figure replied, shaking his head. "We want no interference. Let them get a couple days out. They are headed in the direction of the portal. There are two inns out there yet. After they pass the first one, there is a wild section where the darklands threatens. That's where we will take them."

"We will do as you say."

"The shifter is not to be harmed. Zrath wants him intact. It would do well to remember that when you face them." Then the image suddenly vanished as the rest changed, blending into the darker surroundings. They had prey to pursue.

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The Way Out
06.20.08 Solo

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The Darklands are home to the dark fae creatures as well as more insidious types of evil. Those that travel directly through the middle of the area seldom if ever return. The road that travels along the border of the Darklands and the Goblin Kingdom was dangerous and few traveled in less than seven or more. The creatures there were biligerent and malicious, and if they saw easy prey, they'd not hesitate.

The very air permeated anger, hatred, and even worse things if one went too far in. Trees became deformed creatures that reached out to the sky and to other living things pulling the very life from them. Mishapen shadows slithered, crawled, or dragged in the darkness just beyond, howling their pain and fury to the harsh rancid wind that rattled through the brittle grasses and leaves at their feet. A dark and deadly place was around them.

If one looked just right in the midst of all this blackness, a castle seemed to rise upwards. It was a dark thing with even blacker spires rising up to the heavens. Each pinnacle a dark blade, sharp and deadly trying to pierce the very sky. Images of dark statues stood along the gateway with glowing eyes that watched, catching all around them. No intrusion would be welcomed there.

But it was only Jaster's imagination that saw such a gateway- a dark maw of evil rising upwards, grinning as it reached outwards for the taste of blood. He even thought he could see a crimson stain on the ground beneath where few would pass under willingly, knowing that they'd never leave. He could almost see their skeletal rock faces and disfigured stoney hands holding torches, screaming their pain for any who would listen. He nearly asked Saljin what he saw there, shuddering slightly as he turned his attention back to where his feet were leading him. Thankfully it was away from what he thought he saw.

The only bright spot along the entire length of road were the two inns. They were just far enough on the goblin side that they were in the openness and little from the dark forest stepped into the light unless they had to. Attacks came sometimes by the odd creature or two at night, but outside the forest even a few yards was better than within its boundaries.

Jaster and Saljin were taking a chance traveling as they were. Just the two of them alone and walking along the road which sometimes curved within the edges. Both warily watched the shadows saying little. It was not a place to be distracted, though a time or two, Jaster had stopped to look at something he was drawn to. The shifter's impatience to be gone from the place would win out and the younger would shrug and start moving again.

It was some distance beyond the first inn when Jaster and Saljin noted an eery echo to their footsteps. Neither were sure what it was, but something was following them. Remaining silent, they continued walking but Jaster suddenly stopped hearing something to the right of him. He stepped back slowly towards Saljin, his hand on his dagger.

Neither could see clearly into the shadowy depths in the space between the two grotesquely deformed trees. Jaster's imagination ran away with him for a moment and he saw a tormented soul reaching out as if trapped within the wood. A shudder and he stepped backwards, bumping into Saljin, who had turned back to back with him, watching the area behind them.

"Jaster, steady." His voice was a whisper, but he cautioned him to remain ready.

"I'm okay, Saljin. I just thought I saw.. Nevermind. It doesn't matter."

Nothing moved for a moment. Neither they nor anything else. Then a shadow stepped forwards moving slowly, creeping along step by step until it stood more in the open. As it did, others began to appear in a slight circle around the two standing still and ready for whatever happened. There were four in all and Saljin growled in slight frustration.

Jaster and Saljin both watched closely as the shapes began to change. In a moment, a figure cloaked in black robes stood before them. His hands were hidden within the sleeves, but his face was partially seen beneath the hood that was pulled up over his head. The mouth and jaw wore a smirk laced in arrogance and the man raised his eyes to watch them. The orbs gleamed from the darkness of the hood. Raising his hand, he pointed at Saljin.

"Saljin, it has taken us some time to find you. Come along peaceably now. We'd hate to injure your young friend here."

Jaster and Saljin both stared at the twisted tattooed hand that pointed the shifter's way. He turned ashen at the sight, going weak at the knees for an instant. Then he heard Jaster's voice.

"Saljin, he has a tattoo similar to yours. Do you know these people?"


"Not them, but I know whose bidding they do. Zrath's. I had hoped that he was dead by now."

"Magical spells have their uses, shifter. You are the only one ever to get free and he wants you back. You've become his favorite." A cackle slipped free as the wizard watched them closely.

His eyes gleamed arrogantly, but with a power that was not entirely sane. They would have them, the old wizard was quite certain. A sneer slipped onto his face as he watched Saljin closely.

"Are you ready to come home now, little shifter?"

"No way!" Saljin growled, immediately lashing out with his foot at the one trying to creep up on them from the side.

"Get them!"

"As you say, Master." the smallest replied. His eyes glowed faintly with malevolence as he watched Saljin closely. The left corner of his lips twisted in relish as he boldly stepped forwards. For an instant, Jaster was certain that Saljin's foot was going to take the man in stomach, but just as it would have, he slipped just out of reach. The boy blinked, watching in readiness for the first sign of what to do.

"Careful, Nerith." the old fanatic cautioned as the smaller man moved, trying to get behind Saljin. "Don't play with him."

"I understand, Master." he replied, his expression sobering immediately.

Frustrated, Saljin knew they were not going to give him time to shift. Not if they were smart. As Nerith tried to get between Saljin and Jaster, the younger moved, his own foot rising upwards to kick the man hard in the leg. If he could make him hesitate or injured him seriously, they would stand a better chance.

The kneecap shattered when the solid heel of Jaster's boot hit it. The fellow gasped, falling backwards to the ground, grimacing in pain. His breath came in fast gulps as he tried to focus on what he needed to do and immediately tried to get back to his feet only to collapse again. Wincing, his face ashen, Nerith swallowed hard as he tried to push the intense pain from his mind, but the intensity continually slammed into his body shattering whatever focus he tried to pull forth.

The two to the side snarled angrily seeing their fellow drop, but a portion of them appreciated it also. They had no great love for him or each other, and instead of helping, they moved quickly as Saljin whirled back around. One shoved his sleeves back, a staff appearing in his hand. The second followed his friend's example, pulling out a similar stave.

Jaster didn't hesitate, and pulled his dagger out holding it ready. Saljin had taught him enough that he knew his weapon was far too small to deal with the man 'IF' he could get in close enough. 'IF' was a big thought for such a small word and he knew it all too well. Hopefully luck would be on their side.

Saljin grit his teeth, concentrating on the two still approaching. He needed to take them out fast so he and Jaster could get away. No other options presented themselves. All he could think was that he wanted as far away from Zrath's minions as possible. And he wanted Jaster at his side. He'd never allow them to do to the boy what they had to him. Never. No matter what he had to do.

"Jaster, careful." he growled, moving to stand partially in front of the boy.

Jaster nodded, keeping an eye on the fellow called Nerith. He wasn't sure they could take them all, and if he got to his feet, the man would have to be taken care of. Even with only three left, there was no way clear yet and he knew that Saljin would head towards the goblin side of the road if at all. It was safer for both of them, and there was the possibility of help.

The old wizard's eyes squinted thoughtfully as he watched Jaster and Saljin. He'd not understood how close the connection was, but as the shifter moved, fighting the two others, he protected the boy. As he studied their actions, a malicious calculation began to work around in his pestilent mind worming its way to the conclusion he wanted to happen.

Saljin shoved Jaster aside just as he would have taken a hard hit on the shoulder from the larger of the two staff wielding fanatics. Instead the wood slammed into Saljin's back, knocking him off his feet. Neither man stopped, but began to pummel him. Jaster never hesitated, but jumped directly into one from the side, lashing out as hard as he could with his fist.

Staggering backwards, the robed acolyte landed hard against the trunk of the tree he'd originally hidden beside. Pain lanced straight up his spine as he gasped for air. Gritting his teeth and closing his eyes, he sat still, trying to regain his focus. Jaster turned towards the other who was swinging the stave towards Saljin again.

Flesh shifted painfully as the curse began to do its work, but a large amount was due to the beating he'd received. It was no wonder that once in feline form, his mood reflected a feline's fury. His body enlarged, skin becoming fur as a tail grew. The appendage twitched in warning as it thickened and heavy claws scarred the earth as a snarl suddenly rent the air as violet eyes stared in pain and rage. Large fangs gleamed as his legs tensed only to suddenly spring forth hitting the fellow before he could bring the weapon to bear on him. Ripping with a speed that only a feline could control, Saljin tore into the man without hesitation, drawing blood as the flimsy cloth of the robes parted, revealing shredded skin.

It was then he understood and began focusing on what he knew was necessary. To trap the shifter, he needed to take the boy. Saljin would walk in for him. Power flowed at his direction to his twisted gnarled fingers. It would take him three minutes to pull the spell he needed into existance, but it would pass quickly. And with little to no warning, the shifter would have no time to prevent. If he continued to be distracted by the men there. The servant that had been stunned was shaking his head and would soon be on his feet again. He grinned slightly as his eyes began to glow more, his power steadily increasing. There would be plenty of time.

His twisted hand reached outwards, slowly tracing the runes of the curse he was building. His master Zrath would be well pleased with his work this day. And the injuries his servants received were of no consequence whatsoever. They were, for lack of a better word, expendable and he fully planned to use them to retrieve what Zrath so desired. Saljin.

Saljin continued to claw and rip the man, leaping forwards to the next when he got to his feet finally. They were not getting either he or Jaster and he growled into the air, daring them to try. His challenge echoed as he dodged the staff as it whistled in the air past his head.

Jaster glanced down at the man on the ground, moving with a moan. Saljin had ripped him up pretty badly and he was curled up, barely moving. Several injuries from the clawing were bleeding profusely, but he was more worried about Saljin stopping than anything else. He glanced over his shoulder and the fellow with the broken kneecap was trying to crawl to the man's aid. Neither were a threat at the moment and he suddenly understood they could get away easily, but as he turned to state that to Saljin, he caught sight of the old man who'd spoken to them.

Strange letters gleamed in the air, mesmerizing in coloration as well as unlike anything he'd ever seen before. The old man's eyes drew him and he simply stood still staring at the glowing shapes before him. Hypnotized by the motions, Jaster remained unmoving and not understanding the true nature of the threat the old man presented to him.

Saljin suddenly flinched, a stinging nudge from the curse on him. Slamming bodily into the man to knock him off his feet, the shifter whirled, catching sight of the spell the old man was casting. He couldn't afford to be caught by that again and winced slightly. Then he snarled in understanding noting the old man's eyes were not for him, but Jaster. And the boy didn't understand the danger he was in.

Understanding gleamed brightly as the shapeshifter sprang forwards. Leaping fully into the air, he hit the old man hard enough to knock him to the ground. Hearing a solid crack as the man's head was flung backwards, Saljin growled angrily as he turned to watch the spell fly outwards towards Jaster.

The boy blinked suddenly, freed by Saljin's movement. He dove to the ground as the spell passed by him, slamming into a tree and turning it into a darkly glowing mass. It branches suddenly twisted and turned in upon itself as the curse slowly diseased it.

"Whoa!"
Jaster got to his feet, brushing himself off as Saljin growled, shifting to his more human shape.

"Move, Jaster! Now!" His voice snapped that he'd entertain only obedience to what he'd ordered. Grabbing his arm, he pulled him forwards for a step or two. Then he just began to run. They needed to put some distance between them and these wizards.

Jaster blinked in surprise, but took off at a run behind Saljin. As he moved forwards, he patted the vest pocket to ensure that he'd not lost the stone. He sighed in relief when he understood it was still there. Thankfully it was intact. He glanced back once, but he could no longer see those men and so he turned back to Saljin who had slowed to a fast walk.

"We aren't stopping Jaster. We might have to slip over into the goblin area and detour around the inn. I'm sorry about the trouble."

"Saljin, who were they? And why are they after you?"
He ran a hand through his hair in slight confusion. "I know it has to do with your tattoo."

"It's not just a tattoo, Jaster. I said it was a curse. It is and they are cursed as well. They are servants of the one who did this to me. I was hoping that he was gone. We'll have to be doubly careful from this point on. I didn't think they'd dare come down in here, and I most certainly did not expect him to still be alive." The shifter sighed, but kept moving. He was extremely adgitated at the circumstances and Jaster was now at risk because of him. He nearly growled but glanced over at the younger followed by shaking his head.

Jaster was watching him closely, eyes picking up every action. Saljin hated it when Jaster did that. He could not stand being studied when he was worried. Any other time was fine. Just not now.

"You will tell me what's going on, won't you? I know that Puck alluded to some of it, but he refused to tell me. He said it was for you to do. Since it's your story."
Jaster's eyes watched Saljin's closely. He would know if Saljin would tell him or put it off.

His jaw clenched tightly, but he sighed deeply, nodding. "I'll tell you. Not right now, Jaster. We need to keep moving. When we are safer, I'll tell you."

"Before the portal?"
he asked, still watching.

"Before the portal." Saljin agreed. He'd probably regret it, but it was time Jaster knew. The Midnight Hexes were not people to mess with. They were fanatics of the worst sort. The last of them had not been seen yet. Zrath would hunt them down with all that he had. Hopefully this god that Jaster planned to see would have a place the boy would be protected. But he'd have to deal with Zrath himself at some point. It was the only way he'd ever be free.

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An Upset Stomach
06.27.08 Solo

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Some distance down the road, nearly three hours without running into more trouble, Saljin stopped to rest. He studied the area as Jaster watched him. The pain was pushing him and he winced several times as he tried to regain his strength. They had to rest. There was no choice in the matter, but each time they did it allowed the Hexes a chance to close the distance.

He watched the shifter closely. The staves had hurt even though he'd tried to help as quickly as he could. Teeth tugged on his lower lip when Saljin got to his feet after barely five minutes.

"Saljin, you need to rest longer than that."
Grumbling at his friend, he folded his arms.

"Maybe so, Jaster, but we need more space between them and us. We have to keep moving to make sure we lose them. I'm sure even if we make it through the portal that they will follow, so we need to get to the other side so that they lose us."

Glancing up at the fading light, he shook his head in frustration. They needed more time to get where he planned to stop for the night. They could have a fire but it was on the goblin side and protected, so they should be alright. They'd be moving before light too, if he had his way.

"I think we can get to a place I know. It's on the goblin side and it's usually a safe place for travelers to rest. Very few know of it. Puck showed it to me once. We should be alright there. We just need to hurry and get there before it's too dark that I can't see. You'll have to guard most of the night. At least doze lightly. I think I'll probably be pretty out of it."

Jaster didn't say much, but he noted the limp Saljin was trying to hide. He also saw the way he carried one shoulder. It had probably done him little good to shift in such pain. Tomorrow it would be worse too. He briefly wondered how much of that healing salve they had. It would have to be enough. Unless someone at the inn had some. He might talk Saljin into letting him go inside alone and check when they got to that point.

Saljin suddenly veered off the road and into the brush. Very carefully he held the branches aside for Jaster. He didn't want anyone to know that the path was there.

"It's pretty overgrown, but I think it will only help hide us more, Jaster."

He nodded, slipping in behind Saljin as the shifter carefully made certain there was no indication of where they'd gone. Limping forwards, he carefully led Jaster around the large rocks and back a narrow ledge. As they curved around and upwards slightly, a small building came into view. The wood it was made of bowed in places and the door hanged askew. The roof looked solid enough, though it was old and seemed to have decayed on the edges.

Saljin stopped, listening for a long moment before he moved on towards it. Poking his head inside slowly, he glanced around the single room it contained. The fire pit had a stack of branches next to it in the corner. The cot looked ready to collapse but it would have to do. He winced slightly as he moved inside indicating that Jaster follow him.

Glancing at the sky outside the door, the shifter saw the last touches of orange and red as the sun was disappearing. They did not have much light left.

"I doubt anyone has used it in some time. Puck and I used to come here from time to time to get away from court. Strangely he liked this place. It's only one room, but it should be safe for the night, Jaster. I need to fix the door. Get a fire ready."

Moving towards the door, he tried to prop it up and make it hang properly. A sharp pain slammed into his shoulder leaving him wincing and gasping for air. He nearly toppled over, sitting down quickly on the ground, his face ashen.

"Saljin!"
Moving forwards, Jaster dropped both packs on the floor. He'd not even gotten the fire started yet.

"Fix the door." His voice was soft and pain-filled causing the younger to stare at him. "Do it and brace it shut. Then hang that across the open spaces." He indicated the old cloths that were lying scattered on the cot. It had seen better days and Jaster was quite certain that it was going to collapse if they sat on it. Several large pieces of wood were stacked in the corner near the firepit. At least they'd be warm and dry.

"Alright."
He shifted the wood so that if fit with the door's opening, then propped it with a log to ensure it would remain there . Eyeing the bits of decaying fabric, he was quite sure that it would fall to pieces in his hands, but it was sturdier than he had thought at first glance. Suddenly sneezing as the years of gathered dust were tossed into the air, he growled slightly in annoyance. "I don't think anyone has been here in years."

A few moments later, he had covered the door, but then noted a slight hole in the wall. Picking up a twig, he stuffed the fabric around it and wedged it in the opening. He could barely see but they needed to get a fire started.

"Most likely not." A grimace slipped free as he pulled himself to his feet. Moving towards the cot, he frowned as he stared at it. If it had not dry-rotted, then it might still be usable. Carefully he sat down on the bed. The rope weaving on the bottom sagged a bit, but held and he sighed slightly.

"You get the bed, Saljin."
Jaster moved towards the fire-pit stacking a few pieces of wood carefully. Digging around in the backpack, he soon had a fire started with the flint he carried. "And I want to put some of the salve we have on those bruises I'm sure you have. It will heal it and ease the pain slightly."

"That stuff is for cuts, Jaster." He wasn't sure it would work on a bruise and there was no reason to waste it.

"I'm still going to try it. If it doesn't work, then it doesn't, but if there is a chance it will, we are taking it. And you get the cot. No argument."


Saljin turned to watch him, favoring the arm as he moved towards his pack. "No."

"Yes. Don't argue with me. You are hurt. I'm not. You get it."


"Alright. I'm not in the mood to argue anyhow." Saljin tiredly moved his arm, only to flinch in pain again. "I don't think it's dislocated or anything. Just really bruised."

"Get your jacket, vest, and shirt off."
Jaster began rummaging around inside his pack after dragging it forwards. A moment later he pulled out a round jar that glowed faintly. The bottle was nearly full. "I think I'll slip into the inn alone and try to find out if the innkeep has a couple jars extra to sell."

"I don't think so." Saljin growled as he slowly pulled his arm from the sleeves of his clothing. A moment later, his shirt, vest, and jacket lay to the side. "Too much chance of getting caught."

"I am. No argument. You can't, and it's not me they want, Saljin. It's you and they won't be expecting either of us to go there. But you might as well start telling me who and what they are. I'm part of this and have been since you came to me as an orb."


Jaster studied Saljin's shoulder and back a moment. The bruises were large covering nearly half his back and were already a deep purplish black in coloration. He shook his head as he tried to rub the salve in as gently as he could. Saljin winced at the faintest touch, but little could be done about it.

"My father was wealthy, Jaster. Zrath was just gaining power and many people he pulled to him, using them and then discarding them when he was finished. Some he kept, pulling them to him even closer. They became his fanatics, casting curses on unsuspecting people who in turn began to do the same thing. His power is unbreakable. At least I remember my Father telling me such. We were going to move, had everything packed up. My Father was trying to do it in secret but someone found out."

His eyes deepened to a dark violet at the painful memories. But he continued telling all that he knew and Jaster listened silently as he tried to alleviate the shifter's physical pain. The young man needed to know what they were involved in. Zrath would not stop and Jaster could get hurt.

"We got caught before we could get out of the house. They dragged us before Zrath and after he took everything from my Father he could, he turned to me. Then he decided to play with me, and began casting the curse you see on my hand. It burned when it branded my flesh, and I thought for certain I would burst into flames soon. And even though I tried to struggle, it took hold and I knew I'd never get free of it. I don't think I ever will. But Zrath had made my father watch the entire time. With the last breath he ever drew, he began to fight and lashed out, interrupting the spell as Zrath continued trying to subvert my will. I'm not entirely certain what happened at that point, but something inside me snapped when I caught sight of the dying light in my Father's eyes. I changed into a panther and ripped several to shreds. I'm still not quite certain how I knew to control the form. While Zrath was calling for help, and trying to recast his spell, I ran after grabbing my father's ring from his hand."

"I'm still not quite certain how I got away that night." He rubbed his eyes tiredly as Jaster helped him put the shirt back on. "It's fuzzy and some part of me remembers flying out a window and being chased and having to fight them from time to time. Until I accidentally found the portal to the Labyrinth. That's when I found Puck. Or he found me. I've been down here ever since. Until you found my orb. I don't age, Jaster. I'm not sure if it's something that Zrath does to those who serve him or not. I got the shifting, and the immortality I guess from the curse, but without the fanaticism and blind obedience all his have. Those men even if they had wanted to leave us alone, they'd have been unable to do so. I have noticed that they age though which means I'm the only one who hasn't. If Zrath is still living, then he won't stop. Ever."

Curling up, he closed his eyes. His entire body ached but the salve was a cooling ease of that and his muscles were losing their tenseness. The warmth from the fire helped also as the cabin filled with the heat. He shivered lightly for a moment.

"It's been 100 years. I don't think I'll ever be free of him. Not if he's found me here."

Jaster sighed pulling a blanket from the pack. Stretching it out over his friend, he sat down leaning against one of the larger logs for a backrest. Now he understood why Saljin was always so cautious about towns in the upper world.

Taking the stone from his vest pocket, he studied it for a moment. The firelight made the blues within even darker and more purple. Much like Saljin's bruises had been.

"I don't suppose you have a solution to this problem, do you?"
He sighed, placing it back after another moment of intense study. "No, I don't suppose you do right now. I don't either, but I won't let them have him. No matter what I must do."

After placing another log on the fire, Jaster spread his own blanket out on the stone floor. It would be a hard bed for the night but he'd sleep lightly too because of it. His intention. He needed to guard them while Saljin rested.

Don't be late...

The sound echoed through the area around him. Jaster turned slowly, eyes scanning the haze he could not see through. Walls suddenly formed solidly around about and he tilted his head blinking in surprise.

Don't be late...

A popping sound was heard as he stared ahead of him. Turning slowly, Jaster suddenly grinned as the mouths began popping out all over the surface. Whispering the same phrase over and over, they never stopped.

Don't be late...

Don't be late..


A dog sat beside him, scratching its head with a hind leg. Black and brown spots covered the white body as its tail wagged. It didn't seem to notice the young man but did suddenly seem intent to listen. It was then Jaster noted the canine had no ears, frowning slightly as the mouths continued to whisper their same words repeatedly. Finally he asked.

"Don't be late for what?"


Instantly the mouths went silent, zippers appearing on each and every one. As if pulled by an invisible hand each was closed and simply vanished from sight. Jaster and the dog stood together for a moment in silence before it too disappeared.

The floor suddenly dropped out on him and he found himself falling. The splashing of water could be heard as the foggy atmosphere around him finally cleared. Blinking in surprise, he found himself in the same room of pools where he'd found the stone.

Glancing upwards Jaster noted the god he'd talked to walking across the water.

"Wait!"
he called, walking forwards to follow him. Each step leaden as he tried to cross the surface of the pool. Was he sinking?

"Don't be late."

He heard the phrase and then truly found himself sinking lower and lower into the watery depths. Swimming did not work and he soon dropped below the air and into the murky waters entirely. But oddly he was breathing he soon noted and began to laugh. Bubbles rose upwards from him, bursting into the air, but there was no sound carried with them as if they were empty.

The school of fish flashed here and there, back and forth as they swam as a group around him. Circling him carefully, they rubbed against his arm gently. Each fish was swimming in a circle as they moved together through the water. Again he laughed, the bubbles rising upwards, but once more upon bursting they carried no sound. Each fish had one fin larger and out of proportion with the rest, causing them to swim only in circles, never really getting anywhere.


*How will they ever get to where they are going?"
he asked, bubbles containing the words rising upwards. They too never were heard.

Suddenly a small fish swam straight past him, being chased by a slightly larger one. In an instant it had caught and eaten the smaller. But just as it did, a larger fish swallowed it. Soon even it too fell prey to an even bigger fish. It was then that Jaster moved whether by intention or mistake and swallowed the final one.

He stared in surprise, shuddering lightly, but then felt something stuck in his teeth. Reaching upwards and into his mouth, he began to pull. Little by little a boney fish skeleton came free. For a moment he simply stared as he noted that the skeleton he held, had within its belly the skeleton of another fish. That fish too had the boney remains of another.

It occurred to him that it had been a secret within a secret and he nearly gasped in delight. It was then the fish head turned, a boney grin on its face. It whispered to him and then began to chuckle as the ones within its belly laughed also.

Don't be late.

Tajnevaki... awaits.

A grouping of large bubbles burst upwards from the bottom where the skeletons lay. They shoved Jaster around, swirling him down into the even blacker depths though he struggled to fight free.

Bolting upwards, he gasped for air as he breathed heavily for several long moments. The blanket was twisted about him and the fire was low. Saljin was sleeping, though pain was easily seen on his expression even in rest.

Pulling the stone from his pocket, he frowned slightly. "Giving me indigestion is not the way to get on my good side, Taj."

"Taj?"
he repeated. "Your name. Tajnevaki."
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Finally The Portal
Or The Balmy Smell Of Horses
07.06.04 Solo
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Keeping watch through the night, Jaster continually fed the fire more wood. The flames would die down, starting to get cool causing him to reach over and toss a few limbs into the coals again. Saljin's pain would be eased more with the warmth than allowing the cold to seep into his muscles. The shifter tossed and turned in pain as it was and his injuries seemed to press in on him no matter whether awake or dreaming.

He moved towards the door, listening as the sounds of daylight could be heard. Removing one shred of cloth from a hole, Jaster peeked out the hole to see how much light could be seen. It was still dark, but the sky was lighting up just a bit in the distance. Soon it would be very light and they would have to be even more cautious about being seen.

Moving towards Saljin, he nudged him gently, receiving a flinch from him in return. They had wanted to be up and moving before first light or he'd not have bothered his friend at all.

"Sorry, but it's starting to get light outside, Saljin. We need to get moving. How are you feeling?"
He watched closely, noting the other's movements, including winces and grimaces of pain.

"Like I got ran over by a herd of cattle." he muttered, opening and then closing his eyes again. He winced as he tried to sit up. "I think I'm going to need some help up, Jaster." His voice was soft, painfilled as he pushed to get himself up and moving. How he just wanted to remain there and rest.

He nodded, reaching over to slide his arm behind Saljin's back as gently as possible. Pushing him upwards to a sitting position, he watched him silently for long moment.

"Did that salve help at all?"


"I don't know. I was aching when I went to sleep, during my sleep, and am now. It all feels the same to me." he muttered, swinging his legs around and off the cot. He sucked in his breath as his body snarled trying to curl up in pain. "Crap." he managed to say, gasping out the words. "Get me up! Get me up now!"

A cramp slipped into his the muscles of his back, dagger slices straight into him. Not just one of them. If he'd have been feline, he'd have been clawing and ripping everything in his path to get away.

Jaster quickly pulled him upwards and hovered as Saljin took a few faltering steps. He winced, but tried to stretch out, moving slowly. A snail had a pace faster than the shifter's in that moment.

"Rub this... shoulder." He flinched miserably, knowing he would be unable to reach it himself. So he did not even try.

Jaster nodded, fingers pushing on the shoulder blade. The muscles were far too tight beneath the skin, but he did what he could as gently as possible. The bruises had deepened he discovered when helping Jaster change his shirt. Angry violet and black patches were scattered in various spots across the man's shoulders, back, and arms.

Muscles, hot to the touch, knotted and throbbed furiously as if clawing their way to life. Contracting ever tighter until he was blinking hard against the tears that filled his eyes, Saljin tried to focus on something else, anything he could use as a distraction. True relief was far away from this morning, and he sighed when the cramping reversed, finally easing back a level or two.

"Thank you. We will have to remember they have staffs, Jaster. It will not do to get caught like that again." His eyes relayed a seriousness that he had not shown in some time.

"I know, Saljin, but we have to stop for things we need along the way. Which...."
he hesitated, but then before he could say what was on his mind, he was interrupted.

"No. Absolutely not. Not here. They are too close." His voice was adamant, brooking no argument. It would not be.

But Jaster argued anyhow, knowing the tone was usually steel and unbreakable. They needed things for his injuried and they would get it. He was determined this time where he usually balked but agreed.

"I will go into the inn alone. I will see if they have anything."
His words were not asking. They were a fact as far as he was concerned. This was one time he was not backing down.

"No, Jaster. We are not stopping."

"Yes. We are, Saljin. It may be the last time for who knows how long. We need things and that is the only way to get them. I'm fully capable of doing this. Besides, if I do get into trouble it will be easier for you to get me out than for me to get you out of it."


When Jaster did not compromise, Saljin straightened up, flinching as he turned to stare at the younger man. Since acquiring the stone, Jaster had been more assertive and for reasons he did not pretend to understand. Was it bringing this out in him? Was it even a good thing that it possibly was? He didn't know, but caution had always served them.

Jaster's eyes met Saljin's, but they did not waver for one instant. For several long moments each waited for the other to acquiesce. Finally Saljin shook his head in frustration moving for his pack. Pulling an apple out, he stuck it in his pocket as he painfully pulled the pack onto his aching back. Silently he moved towards the door, only to stop as he reached it. There was hesitation in his thoughts and he tried to think what to do. At some point Jaster would need to do things more to help protect them.

"Fine." He said softly, his voice barely above a whisper. "At the first sign of trouble, you get out of there. Promise me."

Jaster shoved his own pack over his shoulders adjusting the straps silently. He sighed, nodding though he knew the shifter could not see him.

"Fine. I promise at the first sign of trouble. We just really need this, Saljin. I'll be careful."

Little was said as they began walking. Saljin knew the direction to go without being on the road, but he was still bothered to stop at the inn. He had planned to go around it without anyone seeing them. Now they would be at risk and the hexes would know the direction they took.

As the road neared the clearing the inn resided, Saljin stopped, pausing as he scanned the area. Stiffly he dropped the pack, hiding it beneath the bush he stood next to.

"I think a crow will work best." Then he glanced at Jaster. "That hair of yours just stands out a bit too much."

"Nothing can be done, Saljin."
he smirked. "I'm not cutting it or dyeing it."

"Brat." he growled beginning to transform to his avian shape. Suddenly he stopped dropping to the ground in pain. For a moment he gasped curling upwards.

"Hurt too much?"


"Yes. I don't think I should change right now, Jaster. I'm not sure if I could hold it or even get out of it right now." he moaned softly.

"Sit tight. I'll see what I can find."
Suddenly he was moving out into the open and across the glade towards the building.

"Jaster!" he growled, muttering as he moved to a sitting position. His body had not hurt like this since they put that damnable curse on him. And he hoped it never did again.

The building had been recently painted, green shutters and darker trim. The stable doors were wide open, a stablehand shoveling hay into the feed bins. He moved towards the door, opening it up and walking inside.

The innkeep glanced up at him, eyes quickly calculating his worth. "Can I help you, lad?"

He blinked turning to her as if startled. Then he nodded, acting slightly paniced. "I need some medicines for bruises and cuts if you have any. I can pay for it. My brother was taking a load of hay to town and the horses spooked. The wagon was crashed, but he's in alot of pain. Nothing broken, just battered up. I was going to head to town when I remembered your inn." He shrugged, trying to make his lie as pathetic as possible. "I took a chance since you were closer. I don't like getting to close to the forest. Not alone, but he really needs it."

"Hmm.. I'm not certain. I think I stocked up last time the tradesman was through. Let me look through the shelves." The man turned away, indicating Jaster follow him to the other side of the room. "Not too many people buy this stuff, but it's not that old. So it should still work for what you want it for."

"We still need to get the hay there but he can't sit for long on the wagon. But we still got a couple days yet. We just thought if there was something.. anything that would help his arms and back that we'd still be able to get there in time."
Jaster glanced across the room. Noone was even in the main room as they crossed it. He nearly sighed in relief.

The man pulled down several jars looking at the labels and liquid within. Shaking his head, he placed them one by one back where they had been. He nearly turned away when he noticed two large round jars of a bluish salve.

"Hmm.. " he murmurred as he studied it a moment. "This might work, boy. It's ointment for horses and other work animals. The man who sold it to me swore that it had worked miracles on his aches and pains from farmwork. I'm guessing this might work. You want to try one of these?"

"Can I have both?"
he asked, frowning as if the choice were hard for him to make. "I'd rather be safe than sorry and if it works then we can take a bottle with us and try to find some to keep on hand."

The innkeep shrugged. "If you want both, I'll let you have them. Got room in that pack for them?"

"Yes."
he grinned, looking more at ease. "Thanks alot, Mister. I'm sure my brother will stop by and thank you too if it works."

He laughed. "No need to make a special trip. But if it really does work, let me know. I'll stock some more to keep on hand."

Jaster nodded, after counting out the money the man indicated he wanted and hurried from the inn. The stablehand was just entering the door as Jaster was leaving.

"Who was that, Farnim?" he asked watching Jaster a long moment as he took off across the glade to where he knew Saljin waited hidden.

"Just some kid. His brother wrecked their wagon and is bruised so badly he can't move much. I sold him the horse balm for it." He shrugged. "It's supposed to work."

Jaster dropped down behind the bushes to talk to Saljin. "I got something. Not sure what it smells like, but he sold me two big jars." He pulled one out, opening it immediately and taking a whiff of what it smelled like. Suddenly coughing, he shook his head. "Camphor?"

Saljin sniffed it, pulling back quickly. "I believe. Are you sure he said this would work?" He stared at the glowing blue ooze warily.

"Yes. Turn around and drop your shirt. It probably will stain it a bit but we'll just have to deal with it until we figure out other options."
Jaster scooped up some of the balm as he waited for Saljin. It gave his fingers and hands a tingly sensation and he nearly laughed. He just hoped that this worked for Saljin inspite of the smell.

"That odor is strong, Jaster. We might be better off waiting." he muttered, stopping when his shirt was barely off his shoulders.

"Nonsense. You need it."
Jaster replied, then a wide grin crossed his face. "A nice thick layer should do it."

"Are you kidding me...?" Saljin blinked in surprise as the cool ooze dropped down onto his back. He nearly jumped forwards at the cold touch of the salve. "Grrr.. this is awful smelling. What did you say it was again?"

Jaster laughed. "I didn't say." He just continued to rub it onto the bruises in a thick layer, working it into the skin and muscles as much as he could. His lips twitched upwards when he was finished as Saljin daintily pulled his shirt back on.

"I stink to high heaven." His muttering was nearly a growl, and he glanced at Jaster sideways. His eyes narrowed in true annoyance, but his skin was tingling and surprisingly he stopped for a moment. Were his pains easing off? "Jaster... what is it?"

He laughed, closing the top of the jar. "The innkeep said it would work for human aches and pains too. I figured that since you are part animal, too, it should work for both." A smirk settled firmly on his face.

"For human aches and pains? What is this stuff?" He stared silently at the boy.

"Ask me later. Right now we need to get moving. Noone was in the inn, but I doubt it will stay that way."
He picked up his pack, shouldering it and began working his way around the inn. On the other side, he smirked. "Make sure you stay downwind of me. That stuff is strong."

"Jaster!" Saljin muttered, but then sighed. Whatever this stuff was, his pain was easing off and he could breathe easier from it. He flexed his arms a bit more in appreciation of the fact he did not hurt so much. But he was still determined to find out what it was that he was wearing. It stunk and he was sure it would lead everything they wanted to avoid directly to them.

The next two days of travel were filled with hurrying along the goblin side of the road, slinking here and there as they avoided everyone. A few times they had stopped, hiding silently as another group passed them by traveling to wherever it was they were going. It was a moment of relief and stress when they rounded the side of a section of rocks to find themselves in a familiar glade. Cautiously they approached, listening as much as looking for danger. Only the insects and birds seemed to take notice of them and then it was only for an instant before they were off on their daily routines.

"So Jaster, what was it you put on those bruises?" He'd been trying to get the information from the younger since it had begun relieving his pain. It still smelled to high heaven but it worked, soaking in and warming the injuries. Their angry violet and black hues had changed to strange violet and sickly yellow, but in truth they hurt less.

He glanced over, shoving coppery hair from his face watching in some amusement. His lips twitched into a smirk as he stopped short of the large stone carved with strange runic symbols. They were at the portal, but he debated telling Saljin.

"Just remember to thank that innkeeper should you ever return there. It's my secret to keep."

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Alice Part 3
07.10.08 Solo

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Placing their hands upon the portal stone, both Jaster and Saljin fully expected to be pulled into and through its magic. When nothing happened, both stared at one another and stood very still.
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"Why did it not work?" Jaster's voice was annoyed, irritated at the lack of action and the sound vibrated slightly deeper. It wasn't quite a growl as his eyes studied the rock further.

Saljin touched each marking carved into the gritty surface of the rock. The monolith stood silent lik an ancient guardian standing at attention blocking any who tried to pass. He shook his head in sudden frustration as he glanced to the younger.

"I'm not entirely certain. I think we should stay nearby and just watch it. It was glowing faintly last time. Perhaps it needs to recharge in some way." It was all he could think of at the moment for them to do.

He'd read a book once of a girl named Alice trapped in Wonderland and Jaster suddenly wondered if they were likewise stuck. Sighing in annoyance, the younger moved to sit down.

"So how long do we wait?"


"Until it glows I guess. IF someone just used it, it could be an hour or even more. I just..." His expression became puzzled as he continued speaking. "I've never heard of this happening. Let's find a spot where we can camp for the night. The sky is already turning pink as evening climbs higher."

Jaster nodded getting to his feet. He was tired and annoyed and worried all at the same time. They needed to get out of this place and before they were attacked again.

They settled down to rest for the night, no fire at all. It would be chilly for them both, but neither wanted to warn others that they were that close or even draw attention to themselves.Saljin's injuries were much looser than they had been before and after the balm was rubbed into his body, he drifted off easily. Although he briefly wondered if the stench would not draw unwanted noses to their sleep.

The younger thought for some time about the events of recent. He kept remembering the words he'd said and rethinking that moment. Determination slipped through as he rolled over, pulling the blanket tighter. He would figure this out and do what he must. There would be no more regrets for what he'd not seen. He would see it all if he could.

His nose twitched slightly as if some gentle touch was trying to tickle him awake. His mother once did so. His eyes opened narrowly almost expecting to see her, but then he blinked, pushing back his head to stare into two small dark eyes attached to whiskers that tickled before a pointed nose. An eyebrow raised as he lay on the cool surface beneath him and he became amused that it had not moved away.


"Little mouse, what do you want of me? I have no cheese."
His voice was soft and even amused that he actually thought he'd get a reply from a creature that could not speak.

The nose wiggled in some humor itself, for it was not cheese that he was after. He could have given the boy all the answers directly. But this was much more fun. If it were properly done. Turning, he scurried towards a hole nearby.

The sound of dripping caused the boy to raise up entirely from the floor. The mouse stopped in the hole, simply turning back to watch him. A toothy grin suddenly appearing.

Were those fangs it was revealing?

Jaster frowned as it suddenly grinned and disappeared within. The slow steady drip caught his attention once more and he turned, walking forwards. A shiver of the unknown slipped down his spine as he continued to stare at the pedestal. It brightened as he approached it, allowing study of the length and shape of the pendant hanging suspended in the air.

A heavy tarnished silver chain ended at a pair of heavily tarnished demonlike wings. The center he thought at first was a gem but then undertstood liquid was the center. A vial with a gemmed cap. It was hanging askew as if something had knocked it off balance and the tilting allowed the blood to leak around the cap. User Image

Was he supposed to drink it?

Startled entirely from its mood of exploration, his mind whirled quickly as he reached out to touch. It spread across his fingers and he frowned at the tingle. "Blood? Is that what this is?"

Glancing downward at the puddle of water suddenly beneath his bare feet, he gazed in wonder that the liquid was clear and sweet without a trace of blood showing. His fingers dipped into it, the blood rinsing off. But as he stood upwards, Jaster began to notice that the room was getting larger. Or was he getting smaller?

It was but a few moments before he stared at the expanse around him. A squeak from the hole pulled him there and he warily peeked within. To follow or not was the question on his mind. Perhaps it was safer where he was, but then what would he find?

Another gleam of white from within and tiny feet scurried onward. With a sigh, Jaster began to walk forwards into the dark. The light at the end blinded him for a moment, but then as he glanced upwards, he jumped backwards in a hurry. A rather large foot had come his way and as he watched from the safetly of the wall, several more danced his way. These dancing feet belonged, of course, to giants of all size and shape. They made their way around the room to music only they could hear.

A faint growl slipped free as his hand was suddenly taken by fingers his own size. But as he was pulled forwards, he stared in surprise. A ring of tiny mice, all whiskered as the othe, were dancing on their back legs and had tugged him out into the midst of so many larger feet. They whirled faster and faster, dancing in a spin. When suddenly they let go and he flew across the room again. When he stopped, Jaster sighed noting his position. He was upside down, head on the ground but there was movement behind him.

"I beg your pardon." he quickly stated rolling away. His eyes got large and round as he stared at the creature amazed. A huge cat watched him with a smirk and he shivered lightly as it calmly stretched getting to its feet. Jaster turned to move away and back to the other mice or even the hole he'd come through only to find a paw lazily plopped down in front of his view.

He blinked for an instant, turning to stare at the creature. A wide white fanged grin appeared upon its face. The long striped tail twitched back and forth in amusement as the creature moved closer and closer.

Jaster did not wait any longer. He ran here and there only to find the cat ahead of him. Beside. Just in front of. Or behind. As he ran around amongst the dancing feet, he saw a dark corner behind a stool, though he didn't realize that he'd been herded like sheep.

Pushing him from place to place, the feline purred in amusement. He had such fun with games like these whether mice or men. But it was time to move on and he darted ahead once more, just as Jaster found the corner he was looking for, its mouth opened and in he went through the door.


Bolting upright entirely awake, a sweat breaking out all over, Jaster stared into the darkness, shivering in wonder. What was it Taj was telling him? There was truth there somewhere, but he was unclear where to find it. And the god in the stone was toying with him deliberately.

He glanced over to see Saljin asleep beside him, having not stirred. His thoughts turned briefly to knowing that Taj would like the shifter. Whatever Mystery was trying to tell him, he hoped that Saljin was included. He was all the family that Jaster had. They had been through a great deal together.

A sleepy yawn appeared as he lay back down. Perhaps round two of this would answer the questions he had found.

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Taj Part 4: The Box Opens
Or I'm Sick Of This Already? Just Tell Me Taj?
07.10.08 Solo
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He was standing in the dark moistness and trying to see. The ground was spongy as if it were not soil at all. As light began to gleam a fraction at a time, he noted the jagged roofline. But as he continued forwards, he glanced down at the ground he stepped upon. It was pink.

"Pink?"

It was then he understood as the tongue rolled out like a carpet, that he had been eaten and was inside the feline's mouth. He dashed out the opening, turning to stare. The cat was smirking at him before turning to groom its hair.

Ignoring the feline further, he never noted that it vanished. The room around him was filled with flowers growing from the floor. Brilliant colors greeted his eyes everywhere he turned. Walking forwards, he smiled faintly as he picked up the sweet fragrance that filled the air.

"Ouch!" protested a small squeak. "My leaf hurts because of your big feet!"

Jaster jumped back in surprise, nearly sprawling as a plant lifted its eyes. It frowned at him causing him to sigh. Suddenly a joyous song started as it began to rain. But then a torrent broke free causing all to dig their roots in. He glanced upwards to see a large sprinkling can with water pouring from its spout.

The water rose upwards quickly as he looked around for something to hold onto. The flowers all held their breath as their roots kept them below. Frantically he swam, ever upwards in the torrent that spun him around and around tossing him higher and then lower as the waves continued rising. But then his head hit the ceiling and he looked upwards with a frown. Swirling past a doorknob, he blinked in sudden surprise, reaching out to grab it on the next rise.

When he surged upwards, coughing in distress, Jaster shoved hard on the door, letting the water do the rest. He was tossed upwards, the door bursting in. Landing on the edge, he pulled himself all the way in.

The door slammed shut as he watched the water begin to recede. The flowers were all laughing at him and his current confused state. Sighing, Jaster turned into the shadowy room around him. But as he turned in a circle, avoiding the door which he suspected might actually open back up and drop him to the floor below, Jaster saw the shadows stretch and bend, several moving forwards.

Around him they danced each one echoing a single word. He listened quite carefully, but sighed without understanding. It was a puzzle of some sort, but the words were all misplaced.

"Lights. Dawn. By. Reflection.The. Smiles."
He frowned as the shadows stepped backwards at his repetition. "I guess it is all there, but mixed up. Reflection smiles, by the dawn's light." But nothing happened and he sighed as he was left in darkness. Sitting down, he paused to think, crossing his legs and feet. He needed this to make sense.

"The..."
Nothing.

"By..."
A faint pink appeared in the room. "I see. I have to figure it out but I get an indication." Jaster sighed again, hoping he was right.

"By dawn lights... "
Nothing.

"By the smiles... By the reflection... By smiles... By dawn... by lights..."
it began to lighten even more.

"By lights... smiles... By light's dawn.."
He suddenly blinked in surprise as the room lightened further, a sun appearing in the West. West? Shaking his head he began to continue but it seemed as if the sun was speeding up. Was there a time limit upon this? It had just become sunup.

Quicker he tested the words in, until he came to a phrase that caused everything to stop.

"By light's dawn, the reflection smiles. What reflection?"
he asked, turning around the room again. It was then he noted that one entire wall was a mirror. The sun was setting to the south and light's dawn had already passed. So he sat down to wait hoping that it would go fast.

He watched the east for signs of the rising sun as the ceiling broke out into stars and darkness surrounded him. It was not uncomfortable at all and allowed him ease. But as it began to brighten he looked to the east. No sun was seen rising reflected though the light was rising fast.

It was then he noted movement within the glassy surface. Taj stood staring, a grinning smile upon his face. Jaster's heart quivered though he could see nothing but grin. There was a reflection of him there, but as he watched carefully, the image vanished and only Taj stood gazing there.

A voice called out, whispering gently, "Alone."

But even as it had, the light lifted once more and then began to lower quickly as if sunset had come once more. A pale white moon phased into view overhead, shining down and freezing all that moved as the shadows began to chant something new. Both reflections appeared closer than before. Inch by inch they slowly became one, but it was the shadowy figure of Taj standing there, with Jaster staring from within.

At that point he heard a whisper, sweet and gentle, once again. "Two who are one."

His point was made and he left both images there, standing in the moonlight. One alone and two who were one. Jaster blinked, knowing that this was his choice.

"Jaster?" A voice called suddenly and the reflections began to shake.


"Jaster, wake up." Saljin nudged.

"What?"
Jaster pushed his eyes open, vividly recalling the dream. "My box of secrets is open, but I must solve the riddle that was in between."

Saljin raised an eyebrow. "Whatever you do, let's get moving. It's almost daylight and I want to try the stone again. Get up and grab something to eat."

He sighed not wanting to move at all, but to sit and think. His gaze rose upwards to look at the sky and decided his friend was right.

"Alright. Let me grab an apple."
he replied stiffly getting to his feet. "I hope we find a bed soon. The ground is getting harder."

The shifter laughed in amusement, shouldering his pack after tossing his apple core into the thicket nearby. The animals would clean it up and leave no trace. He waited patiently while Jaster did what he needed including eating the apple far too slowly.

"Let's go and try one more time." His words pushed and he turned walking towards the stone. None had disturbed them or it during the night, but he still approached warily.

Both placed their hands upon the stone exactly as they had done before. For an instant there was a hesitation and then it began to glow. A smirk appeared on his face as he watched Saljin and he began to likewise glow.

"Perhaps we just weren't ready to go."
They vanished before he could smirk further.

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