The staff in Bradl's hand seemed to tremble as if it had a life of its own.
"What the..." He was getting the feeling as if something was separating the flesh in his brain and was trying to enter his most private mind.
"No...No..I won't let you.."
"Hush, hush. It's us Bradl. Samlet and Kathy." said the voice in his head. It was oddly two toned and then he realised that he was getting a shared voice. It struck a chord deep within him. They could be in great danger and here he was staring at a piece of wood. The adrenaline starting pumping through his veins in acute embarrassment.
"Hey, we're your friends, we hope. We understand. Now stop feeling sorry about us and get us the hell out of here."
"Where are you two? Who took you?"
"Well," said the voice/s, "we had some kind of vapour passed over our faces, like chloroform and we passed into a kind of darkness. When we awoke, we found ourselves in this smooth faced room. There are no doors only a space in the corner for, ahem, personal uses and some kind of light is filtering through a small window that is too high for both of us to see through."
"Someone is causing us unnecessary trouble. This is a life or death situation. Could you give me any clues at all Sam?"
"All we can sense through our telepathy is that we're undergrounds and we can hear some kind of rushing. Probably a waterfall. That would mean that we are somewhere near the end of the great lake. That's just next to the Herb Forest. Now Bradl, that is our destination anyway. So we would like you to continue your travels through to here. We shall be fine. Two independent women against an army shall yet prevail. We'll try and contact my friend. Just look after yourself and don't detract from the path you must follow. Fare thee well.." and they were gone.
The invading dawn threw her orange and pink splendour across the sky as if mocking Bradl standing by himself with a staff in his hand. He would continue to follow them. Too much was at stake. He packed up his gear and loaded the horses then headed towards the place called Kantiana.
The day was long and tedious. Horse-riding was fun but not if you were trotting all day in an effort to reach the township a day early. That proved to be rather painful too. Bradl reached the last hilltop that overlooked the town in time to see the huge town gates closing for the night. At least he had made half a days headway ahead of the intended timetable. He made camp in a copse of trees near the foot of the hill. The fire made no effect to cheer up Bradl's sombre mood. He reflected on how he was to find the two women. Most likely, they would find a way out themselves. He hoped so anyway.
A rustle in the bushes nearby nearly freaked him out of life altogether.
"What the heck is there?"
Secretly he had hoped it was an animal of some sort. But luck usually never came into fair play as was this time. A fairly resonant voice echoed through out the copse.
"I didn't mean to startle but I couldn't help noticing that you were a fellow man of the spirits. I too am a gypsy , of sorts, and I am currently on my way to Kantiana when I noticed it had already closed up."
Bradl eyed the man suspiciously. He was still half standing in the shadows.
"Would you mind stepping into the light?"
"If you are uncomfortable with me staying here, I can move away. I can tell that you don't trust me so I'll tell you the truth. I know that your friends have been stolen. I know who they are, and what their quest is. Both individually and the one linked to you. But I also know where they are being held."
"How do I know that you're not the enemy trying to lure me into the trap too?"
"Firstly, the enemy could have stolen you the first time and secondly, is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. That's you I believe. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Volhawk the second. Son to the owner of the Newmal lands to the east. Also, the possessor of special skills and powers I use to help people and belonging to no one bar the owner of the sky itself."
"I guess you already know about me and my friends don't you."
"You're Bradl E. Rohodey and you come from a future of another dimension. You arrived with a group of friends but these have dwindled away to leave three otherworlders, namely yourself, Penny Will-I-Or-Won't-I?hmmm and a Kathy Legham. Along with the help of Lady Megan Cranky, who is one of our kingdom's most valued woman citizen and her accomplice Samlet Knows-It-All. You three are travelling under the supposed disguise of gypsies but I have a secret to tell you. You have as much potential to actually be masters in the area. Samlet herself is an adept whereas Kathy is just starting to develop to her full psychic potential during their time of capture."
"So that's why her palm reading was so exact!"
"Assertive. She's also an empath like Sam so we'd better rescue the two from their prison before they both go crazy from the emotions of pain and sorrow that would be thrown at them if their captors realised their skill. That would be the worst kind of torture for either of them. So, do you believe me or not? The lives of many may balance on your doubt..." Volhawk walked a respectful distance away to where his ivory horse stood quietly. It almost resembled a mythical unicorn.
Brad made a quick decision. As long as the rescue took place, it did not really matter who the person was did it? He walked over to the tall man near the surreal horse and was about to speak when he was interrupted,
"I am glad to have made your acquaintance," he said as her held out his hand. "I am glad to see your heart is as pure as your motive. I will help you to the utmost of my abilities. I just ask you to trust whatever I say or do in the town. The only thing I would ask you for is that when the rescue has succeeded, and it will, that I may join your group in the larger quest."
Bradl was trying to understand what exactly he was implying.
"The choice for you to stay with us is in the hands of my companions. Until then, you are welcomed to join me now."
They spent the rest of the night talking of their respective homelands and Bradl found out more on the surrounding country. They made a plan to find the women and then turned in for the night.
The sound of rushing water permeated the very dreams of Samlet as she seemed to struggle towards the light above her. A heavy band tightened across her body and prevented her to think clearly as it pulled her into the depths of the running stream of ectoplasm. She struggled to breath air but found it lacking. Her mind dwelt on where her physical body was. It seemed to be in some kind of underground building behind a fairly ordinary looking farmhouse. Away in the distance she could see Brad and a stranger she had somehow seen before somewhere, sometime. She zoomed in towards them and the stranger looked up at her even though she was sure that no one else could not.
"So we meet again my dear Samlet. I did tell you it was bound to happen sometime in this small land."
"It's you!" she exclaimed but then she was jerked into her own body as Kathy interrupted her travels.
"I can't believe it! He had the utter gall to speak to me as his equal! After what he did to me, not to mention the Lady, he approached me as if I were naught but a lowly serving wench in the town hall.."
Kathy thought that something was quite amiss here and decided to wait until she had calmed down somewhat before she would question her.
They were given some home cooked bread and cheese as their morning meal. But before they could question their captors, the person withdrew from the window opening.
"Damn them. We can't just let Penny die after all of this! Care to tell me what or more exactly who it was you saw before?"
Samlet had been about to tell Kathy exactly who it was she saw when some kind of spell came over her and she couldn't speak for a minute. A few seconds later, she was still sparkling with magic residue but she tried to speak.
"His name is.....His name is..." but every time she struggled to say his name it was almost as if some invisible force was choking the word back.
"Darn it, I've had a spell cast on me that will prevent me from mentioning any attribute of HIM to you or anyone else. How utterly infuriating!"
"Don't stress," consoled Kathy, "If his powers are that strong, then surely he must be able to help us?!"
"Not unless he wants something in return. He's a low down...." here she almost gagged again which didn't really add much to her already blackened mood.
"Well, you know what I mean. Here, let's practise on our telepathy and unless I'm mistaken, he hasn't yet the subtlety or 'power' to prevent that even!" How wrong she was. but they didn't have much time to contemplate that because suddenly Bradl and a stranger materialised out of the air in front of them.
"Don't tell me you've become a master?" asked Samlet in slight contempt.
"No, Samlet," he said emphasising the endearment strongly, "If you hadn't been day-dreaming, you would have seen Bradl and I climb down form the window after dispatching your captors so far away that they'll not return to this land for a few decades yet!"
"Bragging again. I see that nothing has changed about you Volhawk." It seemed that the spell was removed already. Samlet turned to Kathy who was standing behind her.
"This is the poor excuse for a man I had been trying to tell you about."
Samlet had no need to turn her attention to the stranger for Kathy was already looking at him with female appreciation.
She drank in his swarthy skin, startling clear blue eyes and long black hair along with being quite tall and he seemed to move as graceful as a fighter with the hardened and toned muscles. She realised that all was not as she saw for his eyes seemed to be dizzy depths that showed his spiritual side and when he grinned at her, her heart almost stopped beating. This was no time for romance. She held out her hand in greeting and he shook it heartily. "Good day Kathy of Legham. I am Volhawk, the second..." and proceeded to go through the same spiel he had with Brad.
"At least you're telling the relative truth." said Sam when he had finished.
"I'm quite sure that you didn't tell them all about your life either, huh dear?"
His every word held pages of meaning. The two otherworlders looked enquiringly at Samlet but she was too busy climbing up the rope and out of the window. So they followed, Volhawk with a little chuckle and Brad just smiling and shaking his head at the antics of the two. It wasn't long before they were looking around the house of their captors. They didn't find much evidence (not that they could look very closely for Penny was still on the brink of death) and decided that the old, disused, except for recently, place was not going to help them much. All they knew was that they had enemies that weren't very considerate.
As Volhawk sifted through the leftover materials, all he could find of any significance was an ancient oxidised silver dagger that had obviously been dropped in great haste.
"I think I know who this belongs to." said Volhawk in a mysterious manner. But the others had no time to contemplate his comment as they were too busy following Samlet through the forest on the way to her chemist friend.
They arrived tired and exhausted at the doorstep of a cosy looking cottage that had what looked like overgrown weeds growing around the pathway to the handsomely carved front door.
Samlet walked up the garden path with the strides of someone who knew exactly where to go and who they were going to see. She rapped on the door in a pattern not much unlike that of 'we will, we will, rock you!' and then the door opened widely to show a youthful man with a welcoming grin.
"Samlet! How wonderful to see you again! But I can see that this is no time for pleasantries. Come in, come in," he gestured to them. The house was cluttered with vials and drying herbs. He swept some carefully from the chairs by the table and told them to sit while he prepared some healthy tea.
"What can I do for you?" he threw over his shoulder at Sam. They could all see the affection they held for each other. Obviously they had been more than acquaintances.
"It's like this," she began, and told him all about their quest for the antidote.
She introduced the travellers as their rescuers from their current decline in technology, thought and culture. He was Trevor, master in the alchemy, herbalism and other things like reflexology and iridology. But one look at Volhawk's eyes was all he could take. They were too full of a hidden brightness and life that only a demi-god or god could ever comprehend their mysteries.
He bustled around his quaint cottage busying himself with menial tasks while his mind careered around thinking of the best kind of antidote to use. The other three were busy hoeing into the home baked foods before them. It wasn't long before it was all gone (a lot of it had last been seen on Bradl's plate).
Samlet was browsing by the shelves of brightly coloured liquids. She reached up to one but was interrupted by a overprotective Trevor.
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no! If you drop that, the whole place will blow up! Look, let me get someone to show you around the place OK?"
"Are you telling me that there are more rooms here?"
"Well, yes. I'll show you all soon. Helgsa's going to kill me!"
He said the last bit as a bit of a reminder to himself. Not a pleasant one obviously.
When everyone was finished, he motioned for them to follow him to a back room. He shoved away some faded tapestries depicting flora of potent qualities and started saying a mumble of words. A crack appeared in between the mortar and continued up the entire length of the wall. It easily swung outwards and showed a dark, almost ominous passage leading downwards. Trevor then spoke,
"Follow the passage to the left and take the first right. You will reach a door. Knock three times and you shall be admitted. I still have to tidy up my office. I'll reach you in a few minutes OK?"
"OK" they chorused in unison. Eager to be on their way.
"Oh, make sure you tell Helgsa that I've sent you. Tell her...tell her 'stars have dwindled' and that should let her know that you have been sent here by me."
With that, he left the room.
"Here we go again," said Bradl who was ready for another run around in the way of Penny's demise. They followed Samlet's curious browse through the underground passages.
"These passages seem to have been hand carved out of bare rock. And very recently too. That's why I was very surprised when he mentioned more rooms. I thought I had always known everything about him!"
"Well Sam dear, this just goes to show that even a wonderful and powerful witch like you has not yet escaped the secrets men can maintain!" chuckled Volhawk. He just received a piercing glare.
They knocked on the door (actually Samlet did-the others were too intimidated and Volhawk seemed much too interested in the carvings on his dagger to notice). Instantly there were the sounds of feet rushing to meet them and a light cough.
"Whooooooooooo...," went a voice, almost ghostlike. Quickly Samlet said the magic words,
"The stars have dwindled."
Then came the sounds of something big and unwieldily being shifted and someone saying,
"Come in, come in!"