he fort is near enough that the journey is not a troublesome one, though far enough that soldiers don't go tramping past Shakra's hut every day. The roads are in excellent condition, a fact with Lirixa comments on with some gratitude. She is obviously the frailest member of the group, and huddles into her thin clothing, but makes not a word of complaint.
So Fooyan, used to the woods, finds the hike an easy one. And Shakra, being the "expert" on the region, leads the way.
Fort Blackrock is as So Fooyan saw it in his dream, but more mundane, a reality of stone and limp banners rather than swordlike menace, swordlike desperation. A patrol is just leaving for the border as they arrive. The soldiers' clothes are motley; all they have in common are their grey surcoats and halberds.
Shakra finds this worrisome: the patrol is twice the size that she's used to, and a significant number of crossbowmen bring up the rear. So Fooyan sees in this an echo of his dream-vision. As for Lirixa--her eyes upon the patrol are thoughtful, but she remains quiet.
One of the guards at the gate to Blackrock Pass sees Shakra and waves in greeting. She recognizes him: it's Otter, one of the few Qenaren who can swim with ease (though not in armor as he is now). "Greetings, Shakra," he calls out to her, regarding the others suspiciously. His next words are guarded: "What brings you here today?"
"Found a message from the commandant when I got home yesterday, said I should stop by. Then these two showed up on my doorstep, one at a time. He's had trouble, seems like, and she says she needs help."
Shakra moves a little closer to him, so that she can speak softly. "I'm not sure where she's from, but she's not prepared for conditions around here. She has some magic, started a fire in my fireplace with it last night."
Lirixa lifts her chin haughtily at this, and Shakra wonders if the odd woman can hear the words.
Otter frowns. "That's definitely not good--but she's bold enough to face us. Perhaps we can get this sorted out. I know the commandant's been wanting to see you and other rangers in the area. I'll send the word along." He nods curtly to one of the soldiers toward the back, who breaks off to accompany them.
"I'm Maqis," he says curtly. He's young and looks as though he might someday become a hard-to-please sergeant.
Another guard, a rakish-looking woman, addresses So Fooyan: "I think I recognize your order...aren't you a bit far away from your home?"
"Only as far as a dream, good lady."
"Ah," she breathes, with a suspicious sidelong glance at Lirixa. "I see."
Her ready stance does not ease as she adds, "My brother was once a monk, but he decided to travel and seek enlightenment in the world's patterns instead of through meditation at a shrine."
"There is chaos in the world's patters, lady, as well as patterns in the ebb and flow chaos. Yin does not exist without yang. I find it beneficial to study both."
The woman seems to relax slightly.
"But I do hope well for your brother."
She nods and murmurs a thank-you.
Naturally, Lirixa draws the most hostile stares; she lifts her chin and glares back.
Yin-yang image courtesy of Magickal Moon Graphics.