Muse Quest - chapter 4: Into the Woods
Tuima snatched at a dark green bundle under Cebu's bed; two long elvish knives in intricately tooled scabbards fell as she shook out the fabric to reveal her woolen cloak and hood. She hurriedly strapped the daggers to her back, whirled the cloak over her shoulders, and dashed after her impatiently calling friends.
"Come on," cried Eicys, already halfway out the door.
"Two seconds!" panted Dilly, struggling with her unwieldy pack and even more unwieldy paintball gun.
Eredolyn finished stuffing their ammunition (several bags of FacialPuff cottonballs) into her own pack and leapt down the porch steps. "Hit the backyard lights, would you, Tuima?" she called over her shoulder. The elf looked at her blankly and there was a long pause.
"Oh, boy," groaned Eicys. "I'll do it." She flipped a switch and they all blinked as the backyard was flooded with light, casting the small tangled forest of scrub oak into sharp relief. Tuima threw up a hand, squinting at the bright lanterns. She had never gotten used to the strange methods of illumination these even stranger mortals used.
Her sharp ears caught disgusted muttering behind her. Dilly had managed to get her pack on over the bulky coat she was wearing, but had now knocked those crystal disks she wore - she called them "glasses" - askew so that they perched precariously on the end of her nose.
Tuima shook her head surreptitiously, but Dilly noticed and glowered at her before shoving her glasses back into their proper position and bounding down the steps after Eredolyn. "So, let's spread out and comb the woods, moving... what's it," she hazarded a guess: "north?"
"West," said Tuima.
"Fine," snapped Dilly. The two of them glared at each other and Tuima shut the door rather harder than was necessary before taking her position on the end of the line furthest from Dilly.
"Move out, troops!" cried Eredolyn, waving them onward.
Eicys looked at her askance before following the others into the shadowy woods.
There was relative silence, save the snapping and crunching of twigs and dead leaves on the ground, broken by a cry. "Ow!"
"What? What happened?" Eredolyn whispered.
"I stubbed my toe!" Dilly muttered furiously. "I swear, I can't see a thing out here!"
Tuima glanced curiously at the night sky. "There is a quarter moon already risen. Does it not provide enough light?"
Eredolyn intervened before Dilly's glare melted a hole through the supposedly masquerading "elf". "Don't you have your glasses?" she asked.
"Yes! So I don't understand why everything's blurry, but it's practically making me cross-eyed. And I'm hungry. Got any extra gruel?"
"Would you two be quiet? The E.I. Cebu could hear us a mile off!" the elf reprimanded the two mortals. Honestly, it was like they had never been on a hunt before! All conversation ceased, and the night forest noises once again resumed, until Dilly tripped again and went sprawling. There was a tinkling noise of shattering glass.
"AAARRGH!" Dilly cried, scrambling among the fallen leaves. "My glasses! They're broken! I can't see anything without... my..." she stopped and stared around her, then stood up, still holding the twisted frames. "What's going on? Everything's all...clear! I can see everything! I can see... E.I. Cebu's tracks!!"
"Where?" the others crowded around Dilly.
"Look here!" said Tuima, crouching to examine the prints. "See, she's moving this way..." Tuima followed the tracks, bent over and pointing out signs of Cebu's progress through the woods. A broken twig, some displaced leaves, an indentation in the moss - she showed them to her friends, who began to look increasingly bored. When Tuima triumphantly showed them the fourteenth bent grass blade, Eredolyn groaned loudly.
"Wow," she said, dripping sarcasm all over the forest floor.
"Thrilling," commented Dilly, adding to the puddle.
"Riveting," said Eicys, flooding them all out.
"Well, Tuima's enjoying herself," said Eredolyn. And she was.
"It's just like tracking in Fangorn again!" Tuima sighed happily. "This place even looks like Fangorn! I remember when Haldir and I..." she stopped and blushed. They were staring at her again.
"Weelll..." said Dilly finally. "While Tuima's on her fantasy trip... I'm still hungry."
"Me too," said Eredolyn. They watched Tuima a while longer. "Well, she seems to be on top of things." There was a pause. "Eicys, go find us some more gruel."
Eicys stomped off grumbling. Why do I have to bring the gruel? I don't even like gruel! Just because I accidentally let Cebu have the spoon, I have to do all the work. Why does the youngest always get left behind?
She trudged through the forest until it began to thin out and she could see her house's backyard light. She stomped into the empty and dark house still muttering dire imprecations against selfish older fanatics.
She started some water boiling, then sat down at the computer to quickly check Coralie`s story. She gasped. Coralie herself had commented! Eicys dashed to the stove and poured in the gruel mix, then frantically skimmed the Lady's message.
I am busy and still trying to hunt down my muse. If you see her...Send her my way...quick smart!
Eicys sat back in sudden shock. Muse? The germs of an idea began to sprout in her mind.
* * * * * *
The three girls stopped at a large sign that proclaimed: OLCHIR'S SUMMER RETREAT- KEEP OUT!
"Cebu was definitely out to get Olchir, and her tracks lead past the sign..." said Eredolyn hesitantly. All three felt a chill down their spines at the symbol of the white hand stamped on the warning. "There's nothing for it," Eredolyn said eventually. "We'll just have to follow Cebu."
The three of them gulped. Tuima checked her knives and Dilly switched off the safety catch on her paintball gun. They moved forward hesitantly, then came to an abrupt halt.
The woods had suddenly cut off and the three were left staring over a wide plain at a tall, horned black tower in the distance.
"Hey," said Dilly vaguely. "That looks like..."
"Get back!" cried Tuima, pulling the others to safety behind a broad tree.
"Tuima, we're still in Cebu's backyard. What could possibly happen?"
"This is no backyard forest. This is Middle-earth!" cried Tuima. "We make for the Cebu's bedroom. We should never have come here. Now get out of here, get out!"
Just then, Eredolyn let out a scream as something grabbed her around the ankle and hauled her backward into the woods.
[i]Please comment! We're still sorta wandering (in more ways than one), but this is where the story really starts gettin' good! ~ Love, the Immies[/i]