The next few days pass by quickly, despite how slow some of the tests seemed to be. Samantha has thrown herself into the training work with a fervor that she hasn't shown in years. Most of the tests are like the first, involving maintaining concentration in the face of distractions, meditation, fine motor control of the body... some basic techniques for keeping yourself under control through whatever may be going on.
On the night of the trip up to the stones, all is quiet. The sky is perfectly clear, the sounds of the forest are muted, and even Acera is quiet, being not sure of what to say in the face of how serious this has become.
Finally the end is in sight... just as the sun is starting to set at the end of the day, the stones rise up into view over the edge of the mesa, casting shadows that seem far larger than they should be.
Acera whispers to Nalae, "You ready?", sounding as if she, herself, isn't.
Nalae swallows softly and nods a bit at Acera, looking a good deal less than certain about that. She hasn't been very comfortable over the past week, what with all the exercises to maintain her attention, when so many other, more interesting things have presented themselves...
Acera nods at Nalae, also looking a bit tense. She's never seen her adoptive mother like this before.
Nalae reaches over to take Acera's hand, holding tight for security.
Samantha leads them right up to the stones, and checks the position of the sun, and the temperature. "We should have a few minutes to relax before anything starts happening."
Acera looks around, still unsure of this, and what to do now. She wasn't the least bit scared when the visions happened the first time, but now that her mother is taking it so seriously, it's hard for her not to wonder if something is wrong.
Nalae fidgets quietly, glancing over at Acera. Relax? Somehow, she doubts she's going to be able to untense her muscles... She looks back over at Samantha again, and tries to look less nervous than she is.
Samantha shakes her head. "I'm sorry to drag you all through this, but you must understand... nobody's been able to actually _use_ these stones for the last six generations at least. And even back then it's only a rumor."
Acera nods, "I think I understand ma.", but holds Nalae's hand even more firmly.
Nalae fidgets a little, and says nothing. She just nods slightly and edges a bit nearer to Acera's side.
Samantha says, "I've searched a long time for something like this... just to know that all the legends are true."
Acera says, "So what do you want us to do now ma?"
Samantha says, "Have something to drink, try to relax, wait until the stones start singing. Then we go up to them. Make sure everyone sticks together, everyone holds on to each other."
Acera nods and leads Nalae next to the elderly squirrel who has adopted them and pulls out some water. The air is cooling now that the sun has set, and the heat stored within the green stones starts them vibrating softly.
Acera hands the water flask to Nalae, her ears twitching as the hum starts to be noticeable.
Samantha actually seems to be trying to relax, but isn't having much success either.
The mesa on top of this small mountain is covered with the stones. They each have a slightly different tone, and as the sound reaches it's peak, they somehow blend with each other, forming an odd melody.
Samantha sips at some water, smiles, and stands up. "When did you say it happened?"
Acera looks at Nalae?
Nalae sips at the water flask that Acera passed her, then looks to Samantha. "Um.. it was jus' a little after they started singin', I guess... I went over an' touched one, an' so did Acera..."
Acera fidgets and nods, "And then, ...we held hands, didn' we?"
Nalae nodnods at Acera. "Yeah.."
Samantha nods, and holds out her hands. "Let's make sure we're all together here."
Acera nods and is already tightly holding Nalae's hand as she reaches up to hold Samantha's.
Nalae nods slowly, hesitantly reaching to take Samantha's hand.
Samantha takes both your hands firmly in hers, then holds Nalae's out towards one of the stones. "Whenever you're ready."
Nalae carefully extends her hand and places it atop the stone, squeezing her eyes shut.
The vibration and humm of the stone permeates Nalae's small body, but beyond that, nothing happens.
Nalae looks back at Samantha. "What's goin' wrong?" Her voice quivers amusingly as she's vibrated by the stone.
Acera opens her eyes, realizing they're still there.
Samantha says, "I don't know. Let's try making things more like the way they were before. Acera, step closer, please?"
Nalae pauses, then says, "Acera put her hand on the stone too..."
Acera blinks and nods to Nalae as she moves closer to the singing stone.
Samantha nods, and brings Acera's other hand closer to Nalae's and the stone, until the two younger women's hands touch together just at the stone. Samantha holds on to both of your wrists for now...
The vibration seems to flow through the two young girls forms, and things blurr for all three suddenly.
Samantha says, "All right, Nalae... you remember where the tree house is? Let's try just looking in there first. Try to form an image of it in your mind."
Nalae pauses for a moment, then squeezes her eyes shut and tries to mentally paint a picture of the tree house, first visualizing the surrounding forest, and then the details of the house...
Acera squeezes Nalae's hand for support, trying to keep her mind clear just in case ma's right about that part.
The blurring intensifies at first, then settles down... soon, the tree house almost snaps into view.
Samantha says, "Now, I'd just like to try something, and then you can pick where we go next. Just stand still for a moment."
Acera whispers to Nalae, "It's workin!"
Nalae holds tightly to Acera's hand as she struggles to keep the image steady in her mind.
Samantha holds on to Nalae with one hand, and reaches out, drawing a small pattern in the air with the other. She then brings her hand back to hang on. "That should do, thanks."
Nalae becomes curious enough about what Samantha's done that the image begins to waver and blur, but she quickly restores her concentration and solidifies the vision again.
Acera fidgets also, noting their home is a rather boring place to visit.
Nalae quietly murmurs, "Where now?"
Samantha nods. "All right. Your decision on the next destination."
Acera blinks and wonders if maybe ma could explain some of that stuff on the Chirpy'taur's homeworld if they could show her?
Acera whispers to Nalae, "What'cha wanna see?"
Nalae pauses to consider, the image rapidly distorting into a vague blur. After several moments, the vision re-forms, back in the pine forests of Nalae's old home. The Keeper is visible even with the dim evening light, crouched at one side of the children's lean-to.
Acera chitters softly, "Your home Nalae."
Samantha gasps, looking up at the sky...
Nalae nods slowly, moving in closer to the lean-to.
Samantha looks around. "If it were darker, I might be able to use the stars to see where this is..."
Acera's short whiskers quiver around her pointed nose, knowing how much Nalae wants to find her old home, yet she doesn't want to lose her new sister.
Acera chitters softly, "Can ya tell where this is ma?", almost hoping she can't.
Nalae slowly passes the Keeper, moving among the sleeping forms and occasionally getting a brief, clear glimpse of her friends, Alierun and Terhi. Her grip tightens on Acera's hand.
Samantha shakes her head. "Not without doing a full survey of the stars, and even then maybe not."
Acera notes Nalae's look at her friends and feels guilty.
Nalae's mind wanders, as Samantha talks about surveys of stars, and suddenly they're back in the upper branches of the tree house, where Nalae had searched the stars for hours, in her first few days with her new family..
Acera blinks and shakes her head, mentally dizzied by the sudden change.
Samantha shivers for a moment as well. "Your mind drifted, I take it?"
Nalae squeezes her eyes shut. "Sorry," she murmurs.
Acera leans over and noses Nalae, "It's ok. You're doing something ma can't even do. Right ma?"
Samantha says, "That's all right. Something like this will take practice."
Samantha nods to Acera. "That's right."
Acera looks at Nalae, and her adopted mother, Samantha, and a buried thought enters her mind, and the scene shifts again.
Samantha looks around again.
This time the 'trip' feels a bit different. A sense of distance traveled which hasn't occurred before. And then it resolves into an odd scene. A small hut at the edge of a wide river. Two adult minks are playing with a very young kit, who is just learning to swim.
Samantha hmms. "So where are we now?"
Acera's eyes go wide as she stares at the mink family and chitters, "Ma? Dad?"
Samantha frowns. "Not unless we've just gone back in time as well..."
Nalae blinks over at Acera...
Samantha peers closer at the kit. "Could it..."
The couple chuckles, and the female chitters, "Acera swims just like her grand dam. Well, when she remembers to hold her breath anyhow."
Samantha blinks. "It is. Oh, my..."
Acera's handhold on Nalae's loosens a bit, and her eyes tear up as she tries to call out, "Ma, Dad!" hoping they can hear her.
Samantha grasps Acera's hand. "If you let go, we'll be back on the mesa..."
Nalae holds tightly to Acera's hand, not knowing what to say...
As Acera realizes they can't see or hear her, she gets upset, and the scene violently blurrs this time.
Samantha rubs Acera's hand gently... "Acera, calm, please... I'm right here, dear."
An impressive vista of craggy mountains overlooking broad grass covered plains opens before you. The plains are home to herds of creatures resembling a cross between antelopes and giraffes. They appear to graze peacefully on the grass and leaves of the shorter trees that dot the landscape, though one of two from from each heard always seem to be watching the nearest mountains. As you follow their gaze you see something flying around a few of the peaks.
Getting nearer you realize that the creatures flying around are griffins with the front half of a giant bird of prey and the back half appearing leonine. They seem to have an organized complex of caves along the cliffs of some of the mountains. As you get closer yet it's apparent that these griffins are sentient. There seems to be a council in session with a lone female facing them. There is obviously some difference of opinion being debated....rather loudly from the sounds of it.
Samantha shakes her head again.
Acera isn't paying much attention to what's going on, but the scene seems to be stable, for now.
Nalae shivers a bit, and leans over to gently nuzzle at where she remembers Acera being...
Acera finally looks up and blinks, "Huh? What're they? And what are they saying?"
Samantha hmmms. "Let's see what they're arguing about..." She lets go with one hand, using that hand to cast the basics of a translation spell for the discussion.
Samantha says, "I don't know who they are. I think you brought us here at random."
Acera moves closer to Nalae and just nods, then turns to watch halfheartedly.
Samantha slides her hand along Acera's arm and up over the young mink's shoulder.
Nalae watches quietly, also rather more concerned about her friend than about the argument between the big bird-monster-things..
The apparent head of the council shouts "You have been warned several times that you may only use magic while with Adassi!
Picasso angrily replies "He told me he'd taught me as much as he could and that I would have to continue on my own!"
The female continues, looking not in the least contrite "You've never liked Adassi though he never even sought a seat on the council. I think you and the others are afraid of what you can not understand or control."
Acera carefully snugs both Samantha and Nalae, while not losing hand contact with the stone and Nalae. She blinks her eyes a few times, and tries to focus on what's going on in front of her, now that she can understand the words.
Another of the council members looks to the leader "Sewai, do something. Surely we don't have to take insults from an upstart child."
Samantha whispers quietly, "This is why many people would like to get their hands on this... they're afraid of spies."
Acera blinks at Nalae and nods to her mother, a little confused.
Nalae pauses, then nods uncertainly. "Can we go home now? I mean, we shouldn' be spyin', should we?"
Sewai, realizing he'd better take control or be made to look like a fool, glares at the female and in an almost calm sounding voice proclaims his judgment. "Picasso, we could ignore the occasional unsupervised practice sessions when it was just working the magic that Adassi had taught you. This latest infraction though demands action on our part. Changing your very form is forbidden. You knew this and you did so anyway. How are we to know that you can control this or future improvisations you may choose to try? Since we can't trust you not to do this you are given a choice. Allow Adassi to block your use of magic, or leave this place forever. Either way you won't be a danger to others here."
Samantha nods slowly to Nalae. "We should go soon."
Acera blinks and finally clears her head, though she does remain a bit curious about the creatures that they seem to be in the middle of without being noticed.
Picasso looks as though she's been slapped "You are more afraid for your own power than of anyone's safety. If I must choose my own fate, then I choose to leave."
Nalae shuffles a foot uncomfortably, holding tightly to the hands of Acera and Samantha.
Picasso takes a quick step towards Adassi and nods with a little satisfaction as he almost falls over trying to keep his distance before she leaps and flaps down hard with her wings without a glance back.
This scene remains unusually steady, despite the growing reluctance of the three "travelers" to staying. Apparently the choice isn't always theirs.
Picasso flies fast as she fights tears and berates herself for not even saying goodbye to Adassi.
Picasso looks at the sky and realizes a storm is building and hating wet feathers she decides to try one of the last and most powerful of the magic Adassi taught her.
Picasso mutters to herself "I haven't ever tried teleporting while flying but I'll not give them the satisfaction of seeing me land within sight of the caves."
Picasso takes several deep breaths to try to control her emotions and clear her mind in in preparation.
Picasso begins building the energy of the elements as she was taught. As the magical power builds she concentrates on her destination...an island in the large ocean where Adassi trained her before she proved able to control her ability
Picasso forms the thought pattern necessary for the spell to work and is just to the point of letting the spell have the energy she's built up when.......
Samantha frowns. "What is she trying to do...?"
Acera looks up at her mother and then back at the flying creature. It usually takes a lot to get her ma worked up about something.
FLASH!!!!!!!! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!! A lightning bolt sizzles to the ground not 20 yards from where Picasso is flying. All thought of her destination flys from her mind as she is blinded and deafened. She feels the spell take her but to where, she doesn't know......
Picasso has vanished in midair.
Acera starts at the loud sound and pulls her hands back from the stone.
Samantha frowns, then sighs. "Let's go home."
With the contact broken, all three find themselves quickly standing next to the still singing stone on top of the mesa.
Acera blinks and sits down, still holding Nalae's hand.
Samantha lets go of both of you, and sits down as well.
Nalae sits down hard, and reaches over to pull Acera into a tight hug.
Acera churrs softly, and returns the hug, still upset over having seen her parents who died in that flood years ago.
Samantha rubs Acera's shoulder, and pulls both of you in.
Acera finally finds her voice and chitters, "Ma, were those really my folks?"
Nalae gently rubs at Acera's back, snuggling in with the two.
Samantha says, "I think so. You somehow looked back in time with it."
Acera snugs tighter, "I still miss em sometimes."
Acera rubs her nosepad and blinks at Nalae, "And you miss your folks too. But we can still find yours I bet."
Samantha nods. "I know, dear."
A loud cry like a hawk but orders of magnitude louder echoes off the mesa.
Nalae nods a little bit, resting her muzzle on Acera's shoulder.
Acera's ears twitch as she starts at the cry and looks around for it's source.
Samantha looks up at the sound, frowning as she stands up again. "What could that be?"
Picasso feels the air change temperature but she still can't seem to see anything. She vaguely remembers that she was in the air and starts flapping wildly.
Nalae doesn't seem used to being anywhere but at the top of the food chain, and doesn't glance up at the noise.
Around the mesa, the night is dark except for the stars. No moon, though the green glow of the still singing stones does provide some light.
Picasso blinks several times and spots what appears to be some sort of green glowing objects in the distance. She realizes with a start that it's night wherever it is she ended up and though feeling weak and in a fair amount of pain from the miscast spell she aims toward the lights
Acera calms down and looks around, "What kinda bird flies at night? I thought just owls and bat types?"
Samantha says, "Normally, yes."
Nalae slowly glances up, peering through the dim light.
Acera tries to listen over the hum of the stones, noting that as the night get's colder, the stones hum louder.
Acera scooches next to Nalae, just in case.
Picasso's whole body feels heavy and her wings aren't doing quite what she wants as she half flies half glides toward the only light she can see.
Samantha fumbles around, and finally lights the lamp she brought with her.
Picasso can hear something audible and strangely enough the sound seems to be coming through telepathically as well. It seems to be getting louder.
Samantha holds the lamp up, trying to get a better view of what is coming in.
Acera puts an arm around Nalae and chitters, "What is it ma?"
Picasso sees a white light suddenly appear among the green ones. She can see just enough with the new light to pick out a landing area.
Nalae remains close to Acera's side, peering through the night.
Picasso aims for her chosen spot and with the last of her strength flaps hard a few times hoping she didn't misjudge the altitude too badly.
Acera swallows, "Ma, that sounds like a REALLY big bird."
Samantha says, "Look out, it's coming in for a landing."
Samantha tries to shine the light up over the 'bird', hopefully without blinding it completely.
Acera eeps and grabs Nalae's arm and runs for the lone tree near the edge of the mesa.
Picasso lands hard, looks at the strange beings she can just pick out in the light and then collapses in exhaustion
Samantha ducks to one side until the 'bird' lands, and then stands up and walks over towards her, holding the lantern up.
Nalae yeeeps! She stays near Acera's side, not feeling quite brave enough at the moment to actually go over and investigate.
You see a young female griffin, just past adolescence. When standing
on all fours she is about 6' tall from the ground to her ear tufts. Her
wings span almost 25' and are currently dragging on the ground to either side
of her. Her front half is that of a giant eagle and covered in soft golden
feathers with darker brown tips giving her a striated pattern. Her talons are
quite sharp as is her beak though that is actually a bit more flexible than a
bird's. Her hind section is that of a lion, complete with retractable claws
on her back paws, and a leonine tail that is limp and mostly lifeless at the
moment. The fur color and pattern matches her feathers. She is currently
exhausted and almost unconscious from the battle with the storm and the
Samantha looks over the new arrival, her eyes going wide as she recognizes the gryphon from the last world they were 'visiting'...
Acera chitters from behind the tree with Nalae, "What is it ma?"
Samantha says, "It looks to be the odd bird-like creature we saw before..."
Silence from behind the tree, then "I thought you said they were just visions? Like Dreams?"
Samantha shakes her head. "No, they were visions of what was going on elsewhere."
Samantha crouches down beside the gryphon, getting a closer look.
Acera ohs and looks at Nalae, then chitters, "Can we look at it?"
Samantha says, "Just be careful."
Picasso opens her eyes at the strange sounds near her and looks back at the creatures there. She's far too fatigued and numb from the spell backlash to do more cover herself a bit with one wing
Acera's curiosity is back, and she moves out from behind the tree, trying to pull Nalae along with her by the arm.
Samantha tries casting the translation spell again, though feeling drained. "Don't worry, we're not going to hurt you."
Picasso can't understand what's being said though she picks up just enough empathically to realize she's not being attacked
Picasso lets her eyes close once more as sleep overtakes her.
Samantha says, "Acera, could you stoke up the fire a bit? I think our guest is going to need it."
Acera nods and pads over, adding some more of the firewood that they carried up, along with some twigs from the shrubs and one lone tree growing on the mesa.