All three adventurers and the townsman's servant were left shocked on the ground. Their clothes were torn in places, and the women's hair was in disarray and full of leaves.
Ardith shook herself off and muttered, “Well, that was interesting. Wonder what that windy voice was all about.”
Kay responded, not too happily, “Interesting! _Interesting!_ I hope we don't run into any more _interesting_ situations, Ardith. By all the gods, including yours, that was awful! Let's get on with our journey, find a safe place to camp, and eat something, in reverse order, I'd say. I'm hungry, tired and I hurt all over.”
“Easy, Kay. I admit that was not the most pleasant adventure, and I don't know yet if we learned anything by it, but before we do anything else, let's take stock.
“Sahl, are you OK? You too, Galgewe? Have we lost anything?”
Galgewe looked at the dirty mess his clothes had become, stood up, and wiped the blood off his knee. “Quite alright, m'lady. I fear, however, that I can not explain what has happened.”
Meanwhile, a terrified Sahlman busied himself by enacting a prayer ritual, hoping to bring himself back from the verge of panic that he found himself teetering so close to. Brushing the seeds from his clothing, Sahl drew out his scimitar and fell to his knees, facing the east, the direction of his own home and of the sun. He placed the weapon at arms length before himself on the ground and pressed his face to the earth between his arms, praying fervently. Listeners would have had to understand the language of the desert people to make any sense of Sahlman's words, but there could have been be no mistaking the reverence in the weathered man's voice.
After several minutes spent in prayer, self-effacement, or whatever rite the easterner performed, Sahl stood and resheathed his sword, the color returning to his face and his expression devoid of the fear and wonder that had been so obvious in it before. He faced his companions, who, he was vaguely aware, had been talking amongst themselves.
“Yes, Arditta, I am well now. I am thinking that I am apologizing for suggesting that we traffic with those evil little half-men. You have my forever sorry that I did so.” Whatever else it may have done, Sahl's ritual seemed to have had a significant retrograde effect on the man's command of western language. “No things are lost to me, but I am liking to leave here very soon.”
“We must find the place where we left our horses,” Ardith said, looking up and down the dirt path. The others nodded in agreement, and began to walk in one of the directions, having no point of reference to show them which was the correct way. As they walked, Ardith asked “Kay, Sahl, what do you make of that strange windy voice we heard just before we were ejected from that village? I never heard anything like it.”
Kay said, “I never heard anything like that sound – or voice – or wahtever it was. It was spooky! Let's get as far away as we can before nightfall. I don't want to be anywhere near this place after dark!”
Ardith smiled and nodded.
Sahl's brow furrowed, creating curved lines across his brown forehead. “Arditta, it was in my head, as I fell to the evil sorcery of the Brinnig, that I am to know that sound. Even I am believe that the knowing came sure upon me, but the blackness has taken it. My sorry, Arditta. I am not remember.”
Ardith gave Sahlman a smile, somewhat distractedly, and said, “It's all right, my friend. I don't understand it either. Let's find the horses and get out of here.”
It was an hour before, walking up and down the path, Galgewe spotted the horses. The group was relieved, both that they found their mounts, and that they no longer had to walk. They were all tired, and being dragged accross a rough, prickly ground did not help their agility any.
Remembering which side of the path the horses had been tied up on, Ardith figured out that Maelbourg was in the opposite direction than they were walking. “We have about three hours until sunset,” Ardith said. “I think we should get as far away from here as possible before then.”
With the unanimous consent of the rest of the group, they rode until sunset, spurring their mounts to make up for the lost time. The hours passed without incident. As the sky began to darken, they tied up the animals and made camp. All were thankful that Ardith had the sense to carry a cooking pot with her, as the rations in their packs were starting to spoil.
After they finished their meal, they lay down to sleep. Galgewe offered the first watch, and everyone else was too tired to refuse his generous offer.
“Ardith,” spoke a soft, feminine voice. The cleric of Andritha rose slowly and looked around. “Ardith,” it said again.
“Ardith,” it repeated slowly.
“Yes?” Ardith looked around her, and saw that none of her companions were in sight. For some reason that she could not explain, she was not surprised.
“You have been taught until now, but you are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“Your teachers have shown you how to begin. You will show yourself how to continue. Follow my ways and you will see. Follow your ways and you will follow mine.” Ardith thought about the moral code she had been taught at the Temple of Andritha. They had indeed shown her well. Other teachers too, had taught her, and she was grateful to all of them.
Ardith heard a soft sound, and thought that the voice was leaving her. She was no longer curious about what the voice was, but she wanted it to stay. In response to her will, the voice remained.
“You have reached a new level of maturity. You can represent me as you represent yourself, and you can show others my way. You are capable of much, and will achieve much more. You will push yourself forward, and lead as you have been led.
“What was the voice I heard, mother?” Ardith asked, not knowing why or how that question came from her mouth.
“Do not fear. It was the voice of the Zioth.”
“Of the Zioth? The Zioth is an event. It does not have a voice.”
“I have gifts for you.”
Ardith immediately forgot her comment and thought into herself. She felt as if her limbs and head were being slowly twisted and absorbed into her heart. For a moment, she felt she could not breathe, but the feeling passed quickly. She closed her eyes and saw the map that Balban had given her. Soon, they would have to cross a river. She saw the river, with its uncountable gallons of flowing water. There was no end to it. One could scoop up the water for days, and it would not be depleted; more water would always come to fill its place.
There was so much of it, yet it was so simple. Why was it so difficult to find water where there seemed to be none? If there were no clouds in the sky, why did it not rain? Dry wells should fill up. Empty cups should not be empty. There was no reason that they should be. Ardith understood water, and she felt she could control it. Yes, it would not be difficult to produce a small amount of water out of nothing. Nor would it be difficult to destroy water where it already existed.
Another thought passed through the cleric's mind. She saw the horses, tied with a simple rope to a tree. They could not escape. They did not see how simple such a feat would be done. Animals lacked the intelligence to decide on such elementary matters. It seemed that it could be possible for Ardith to hide in such a way that an animal would not be able to decide on her location. If she could hide herself in exactly that way – yes, she could. It would only be a matter of moving through a place that was not there. In fact, she could push someone else through that place, and hide them from all animals for a time.
Ardith felt her limbs slipping out of her heart. She had been given the gifts. She had a new understanding, and could not see how she had not taught it to herself, but, in some way, she had.
The cleric looked at her arm. The middle of it began to glow red. It brightened and brightened. The voice left her completely. A shape formed around her arm. After several seconds, she realized the warm hand of Sahlman, tight around her arm. She smiled up at his dark-skinned face, and saw a mild look of fear in it. He shook her gently.
When she began to move her arm, he released it and stood, looking toward the horses, and slowly lifting his scimitar. Everyone was awake, although it was still dark. The moon Halkak was beyond its apex, but the camp fire still burned. Ardith looked past the horses and saw a pack of a half-dozen wolves approaching hungrilly.
Sorry the last turn was so difficult to respond to. For this turn, I think it's pretty obvious what kinds of things you'll want to do, but again (and again, and again…) you can do whatever you want. As long as you role-play well, I have no right to refuse any action you want to take.
Ardith: You now know the “Create Water” and “Invisibility to Animals.” Whatever spells you had ready before, you have those two ready now. Please tell me and Shaun as soon as possible whether you want to tell the others about your dream or not.
All: If Ardith decides to tell about her dream, you may include thoughts on it in your turn if you want. Of course, Ardith can include any thoughts she wants in it. Please include a “what I do after I finish with the wolves,” or some “if-then” stuff, so that I can get this next turn out quickly. Since I'm guessing this turn will primarily consist of a battle (but who knows?), I'd like to get it over within two weeks, so unless you have a very good turn idea that will take a while to think up and write, please send it in within ten days. In any case, I like the way this game is going. Even though it's taking quite a bit longer for turns to come out than it did when ZIOTH first started, the quality of the turns has improved greatly.
- I'm looking for more players. If you are interested in joining, please contact me here or at my E-mail address (below).
- Feel free to ask me about anything your character knows. If I can't answer, you might be able to make up a bit of the history of my world yourself in order to answer the question.
- A copy of all public ZIOTH-related messages that you use the internet to send should be posted on Fidonet. A copy of all private ZIOTH-related messages you send to each other should be sent to me so that I know what's going on.