Two Are Better Than One Chapter 7
Maze and Manners
By Samara Secor
Neil’s wound itched. Or rather, the part of his shoulder where the wound had been did. Granted, he felt a lot better, but the sensation was so annoying that he was having a hard time concentrating on the task at hand, which was getting through the Cave of Trials. Edrea and Conch had bickered back and forth about Conch going with them, but Conch had won on the basis of the argument that he wouldn’t be her subject forever, and he’d probably have to make the return trip alone. Edrea might have been a tad self-centered, but she wasn’t unfeeling. She left separately for Vane without too much grumbling.
So, Conch was with them while they wandered. Because of his size, he couldn’t do any actual fighting, but he was really good at distracting enemies… Almost too good. “Hey, Conch! Watch it!” Arvad yelled, throwing a dagger to pin the monster that Conch was taunting. “You almost got your wings clipped.”
Neil thought that the turn around in Arvad’s attitude towards Conch was nothing short of a miracle. Only hours earlier, Arvad had been determined to avoid him, but now Arvad was acting as if the little blue mystery creature was his best friend. ‘Well, no one ever accused the Rezan thieves of being sane. Clever, yes. Sane, no,’ Neil mused.
They appeared to be making good progress, and because of Alicia’s good sense of direction, they never ended up going in circles. When the close knit caverns suddenly widened, Neil froze. He couldn’t quite place it, but something seemed wrong about that open area. Finding his voice, he asked, “Isn’t it a little strange that there are so many monsters everywhere else but none here?”
“What’s wrong? Don’t tell me that you’re actually getting tired of fighting for every step we take,” Arvad said. “I’d think that you’d be thankful that things are lightening up a bit.”
Arvad unsheathed a dagger and began twirling it. “Maybe it is a little too easy, but it’s not necessarily a trap. If it will satisfy you any, I’ll make a little test,” As the last words left his mouth, he spun and threw the dagger towards the center of the room with all of his might.
The dagger never made it across. It hit an invisible barrier and clattered to the floor. “How… bizarre,” Arvad walked over to the dagger and, after resheathing it, he tentatively reached a hand outward. “Well, come on and have a look… er, feel. I see nothing, but my hand tells me that a wall’s here.”
Neil, Alicia, and Laticia spread out and began feeling the air. “Hmm…” Laticia put her hand on the obstruction and walked to the right a few paces before stopping. “There seems to be a hole over here. At least, my fingers aren’t touching anything now, so I assume that’s what it is.”
Walking straight from there, they only made it a few steps before getting stopped again. “Another wall. What is this, some kind of maze?” Alicia wondered aloud.
“I guess so,” Neil shook his head. “This feeling something that isn’t there is pretty mind boggling.”
“Do you think blindfolds will help? I can keep my eyes open and warn you if you’re about to walk into a monster’s jaws,” Conch offered.
“All right. I’ll lead,” Neil said.
After half an hour of blind wandering, Neil tripped and fell. “Ow… I think I found the stairs. Conch, why didn’t you warn me?”
“I’ve never seen a stair yet that qualified as a monster,” Conch replied.
Neil muttered something unintelligible under his breath and straightened, removing the blindfold as he did so. “I think that we’ve arrived. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Come on, let’s go,” he said.
Edrea tapped her foot impatiently, ‘I wonder what’s taking them so long…’
“Are you waiting for someone, Miss Terrell?”
Edrea looked up to meet the most mesmerizing pair of eyes that she’d ever seen. She looked away quickly. A person could get lost in the ever-shifting colors of Wein Ver Dain’s eyes. He knew the effects that his eyes had on people, and he used it mercilessly. If you were not careful, he could get you to do anything he wished, even if it meant jumping off the edge of Vane. To be fair, he’d never used this talent to cause any physical harm or damage, but he did use it to cause the victim great embarrassment, usually in front of large numbers of witnesses. “Yes, Mr. Ver Dain,” Edrea said, stressing the honorific. “I am waiting for someone. Several someones, in fact. They should be coming out of the Cave of Trials any moment now, and I don’t think it’s fair if they have to deal with your enchanter’s tricks so soon after that.”
“Ah, new students?” When Edrea didn’t answer, Wein continued, “Very well, then. I will try to leave them alone for at least a week. I wouldn’t want to… frighten away any prospective apprentices. Until then, Miss Terrell.”
Wein completed his statement with a bow and left, whistling an old hunting tune. Edrea clenched her hands and gritted her teeth. ‘So, he thinks that he can make a game out of everything? Well, Wein, you’d better watch your back if one of these so-called apprentices takes exception to your pranks. If they decide to return the favor, I won’t warn you. In fact, I’ll probably help them,’ she thought.
As soon as he was out of Edrea’s sight, Wein broke off his whistling and doubled back, coming at the entrance from a different angle. He’d never figured out the true purpose of the hut-shaped covering over the exit of the Cave of Trials that opened into Vane, but it was a perfect vantage point for indulging in some clandestine espionage.
Mindful of Orielle’s stress on appearances, Wein slipped out of his robe and hid it beneath a bush. He had never fallen once, even without magical aid, but his clothes never made the journey intact. ‘Stupid robes, snagging on the slightest things…’ he grumbled inwardly. ‘You’d think that if they can make ones that turn aside sword blows, they could make ones that are a little bit more wear-resistant against ordinary things like thorns and these thrice-cursed bricks, but no…’
He made his way up the wall without the slightest bit of noise and stretched out full-length on the roof. He watched Edrea, his amusement growing in direct proportion to her irritation.
Finally, the people that Edrea had been waiting for arrived. Wein was puzzled. ‘What are members of the Plains Tribe doing here? Surely not for magic training. They haven’t shown any interest in doing so before now, and I wouldn’t think that they’d have any use for it if they did learn,’ Wein’s eyes fastened on Arvad, and he smiled slowly. “Oh… I get it. Edrea’s got family visiting, and she doesn’t want anyone to know about it. I hate to break it to her, but that fake thieves’ garb doesn’t hide the resemblance. Neither do the daggers and the instrument case. Those Terrell features are too distinctive to be disguised by something so superficial.’
“What took you so long?” Edrea asked, letting hints of her extreme agitation seep through.
“Well, about halfway through the trial, I decided that things looked rather comfortable down there. I mean, there’s plenty to eat: dungeon mold, mutant mushrooms, frogs… Lucky for you that Conch reminded me that I didn’t have a frying pan,” Arvad said, a saucy grin on his face. “Actually, it took us a while to work through that invisible maze at the end.”
“Invisible maze, huh? I’d heard that everybody gets a different trial, but that one’s certainly unusual. Laticia, are you afraid of things that you can’t see?” Edrea asked.
“Sometimes, the trials act on a person’s fears. If someone taking a trial were afraid of something, a similar occurrence might appear at the end. But, that’s only one possibility. There are other factors,” Edrea stopped when she noticed that Arvad was no longer paying attention, but crawling under a bush. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Maybe he’s thinking of taking up gardening,” Conch said.
Arvad disappeared completely beneath the foliage, and they heard him saying, “I thought… that I saw something under here. Ah, there it is! I found it.”
He reappeared on the other side, dangling a wizard’s tunic by one finger. “Is closet space at such a premium around here that you have to store your clothes outside?” he asked.
“That’s not mine, you idiot!” Edrea hissed. “That’s not even a woman’s tunic. It’s a man’s. Can’t you tell?”
“Nope. I’m not much into wizardly fashion… or any other kind for that matter. If it fits, I wear it, and if it doesn’t, I don’t. That’s about my only criteria,” Arvad explained.
“Hmph! It shows…” Edrea snorted. “Anyway, if you plan on joining the guild or staying around for any length of time, you’ll have to check in at the guild hall. I recommend going straight to the guildmaster’s office if you want to avoid any delays. Now, if you will excuse me, I really need to get started on that project. Conch?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming. See you guys later,” Conch said and followed after Edrea.
After a moment, Alicia said, “Well, I guess we’d better get going. Are you coming, Arvad, or are you just going to stand around holding that robe all day?”
No sooner had Alicia finished her question than Arvad carelessly tossed the robe aside and said, “Of course, I’m coming. How else can I get permission to play around here?”
Once back at ground level, Wein hurried over to his discarded garment and checked it carefully for any of the dreaded tears that he feared. Fortunately, it seemed to have remained intact despite the rough treatment. As he put it back on, he pondered what he had seen and heard.
At least one of the prairie folk really was here to join the guild, and that instrument that the boy, which Wein was still sure was of Terrell blood, had wasn’t just a prop. ‘How strange that Edrea didn’t seem to acknowledge him as her kin. Neither does anyone else. Are they all blind, or can they honestly not tell? This requires further investigation, but I did promise to leave them alone for a week,’ Wein sighed. ‘But then, I didn’t promise to leave Edrea alone. Trying to get an explanation out of her is still an option.’
Wein brushed a few stray leaves off of his tunic and headed for the dormitory. There was still enough time for a quick change and a nap before dinner. ‘And maybe I should rub some of that lotion on my back,’ he grimaced. ‘I should have done that before exposing myself to the sun, but I might have missed out on all the action. Oh well… Maybe it’s not too late to prevent the damage.’
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