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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
Peredhil

A dilemma and a chance encounter

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Elrohir decided he needed to sit and think things over. Dad had long advised such a course, and occasionally over the Planes, he'd actually had to resort to it. This seemed such an occasion as he'd never dealt with any similar situation in a long long life over many worlds on many Planes following his father. He'd hated to do it, because a peculiarity of Planeswalking was that he and his twin, Elladan, were very much more powerful together than apart, nearly as strong as the Peredhil, but needs-must drove them. Dad's bodyguards, the Giant Guinea Pigs Guido and Nuncio, weren't even lesser Planeswalkers. They were very skilled, after so much time, in a variety of matters, and even possessed magical abilities in some places and times. And they were currently lost, hopefully in the same place, but even that was unknown.

 

As much as he liked them, he and 'Dan probably wouldn't have separated except that Dad would rather he stay in his current Trap than they have a singed hair. And, like many who loved the old Elf, that meant trying to do things his way out of respect. Even the practical 'Dan tended to try to be Polite first, and kill later. He was also a better Planes-tracker, so it had fallen to himself to find help. Which was downright embarrassing, when it came to it.

 

He tried to gather his thoughts and stop their wandering. It just seemed so improbable. The Peredhil caught in a trap and unable to escape. Even if he could encompass that concept, that the master of Portals could be trapped, it seemed unbelievable that he and 'Dan couldn't do anything at all to help.

 

 

 

It had been business as usual. Peredhil had become restless, driven by his own memories and sorrows, and decided to look for a new Plane to distract himself. They'd been drifting from world to world in the latest Plane - after a while they tended to blur together - and the time had come to move on. They'd scribed the Sigils and Glyphs, and taken the five positions, and Peredhil had triggered the Portal To Somewhere. It was one of Dad's signature spells, opening a portal to a semi-random place that fit the criteria - supporting their type of life being a foundational requirement. It all went well, until it was triggered. Something intercepted them. Something strong. Something that had ripped apart the spell, seized Dad, and dumped the rest wherever the energies had sent them.

 

'Dan had found him first, although it had taken him weeks of local time, and 'Dan nearly a year. Together they'd sought their father. He lived, at least, they knew that much. Elladan had managed to find the correct Plane, and once there, Elrohir had used his affinities for spiritual deities to hone in on the world. The precise location was blocked by a being of such power they were unable to use magical means to enter. The few local deities were sympathetic, but feared to help. Whatever had trapped the Peredhil was a Planeswalker of such power it was at war with all other powers, and had slain most of the deities of the world, and done genocide on their worshippers to ensure they stayed dead. Nothing lived, without permission, for miles around the Power's center of power, an entire Mountain.

 

They'd decided to make a try anyway, only to find that even the physical paths were deadly. A rarity of rarities, the Entity had Elfbane, of the kind that was poisonous and toxic to them. Like kryptonite to the Ubermensch in one of their favorite worlds to shop, its mere presence rendered them helpless to proceed. And there was a great deal of it on and in the Mountain.

 

 

 

'Dan went to track the Guinea Pigs, and it was up to him to find help. It would take something like the Dreamer to make a frontal assault, and in a conflict of such magnitude, it would be very likely that their father wouldn't survive. So they needed subtle skills. The Jack of Shadows, a Yui, a Mynx. Someone who'd be powerful enough to enter and free the Peredhil, but insane enough to be willing to try.

 

And so, after searching the nearest worlds, and then Planes, he found himself sitting here and wondering what to do next.

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Another day, another dollar, Mynx thought, idly spinning a silver coin on the table in front of her. Another year, another war.

 

Not that she should be complaining, she supposed. War was a lucrative business after all, and she’d garnered enough of a reputation that she could pick and choose her commissions to some degree. Maybe not enough to guarantee that she was always fighting on the right side, but she tried not to look too deeply into the reasons behind whatever battle was taking place. Even the most saintly of people could be convinced to go to war for the right reason.

 

Regardless of cause, it put coin in her purse and gave her something to do. And moving from one of the mercenary enlisted to adviser and/or trainer didn’t hurt things either. Less chance of her getting her tail cut off again, and the years had certainly given her a wealth of knowledge to pass on to new recruits.

 

But Havens, she was bored. Giving the coin another spin, she sat back and finished her ale, gesturing for another. Callous of her, maybe, to be so disinterested by war, but when the only thing that changed was the colour of the uniforms she supposed it was inevitable.

 

So change careers, she argued with herself. Go teach magic somewhere, or find a dragon to slay. Find a challenge of some sort!

 

And there was the rub. Not that war itself was boring, or that there was no stress to her current career path; it just wasn’t much of a challenge for her anymore. She was good enough that – if advising – she could usually help lead her appointed side to success, and if only training she at least improved the survival rate. But what little science there was to the art of survival in combat had long been exhausted by her, and no amount of blood in the air or hours spent between the battlefield and medic bay could distract her from what was becoming routine.

 

It was time for a change, Mynx decided, tipping the barmaid with the coin she’d been spinning. Soon as this commission was over – no amount of boredom would make her renege on a contract – it was time to move on and find something else to do.

 

Now to decide what that something would be.

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With a heavy sigh, he faced it. He'd have to do the math and construct an interplanar spell. He hated multidimensional math. Really. It made his brain hurt to think about it. Multidimensional math, string theory, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, Planck's inconstant Constant, matrix mechanics, set theory, all that stuff that Dad had spent centuries forcing him to learn. He didn't mind the theory as much, but the heavy math! Four or Five dimensions were fine - he could do four in his head, but -

So he decided to cheat.

 

He transported far away from the Captor, as he'd decided to label the villain of the piece. (He was the constant protagonist in his ongoing story. When things were slow enough, he even mentally ran soundtracks and background music. When your life measured in millennia, you found things with which to amuse yourself, or you died of apathy or boredom.) Fiddling with the parameters, he adjusted for characteristics, and threw in his own special Name with its affinity for spiritual beings, and Portaled again. Now he was on a world populated with multiple cultures of semi-civilized peoples, which as was typical of the template, was still rife with religions. Religions that were either adapting with their people, or dying. Few things were more desperate than a dying deity, and he searched until he found one whose attributes included math and science. In return for tips on how to manipulate believers with psychology and sociology, along with what the deity might try to adapt as they inevitably went through a phase of worshipping the science instead of the unseen, he had the deity do all his math for him. Well, Its' Scholars, as it called Its hench-beings, did it. He had to teach them quite a bit, but they just had to do the crunching, they didn't have to truly understand the why or the results. He was contaminating the cultures, and giving an unfair advantage to one deity over another, and all sorts of things that he really really REALLY hoped his Dad would never ever find out.

 

But he had his search spell.

 

After a well-deserved rest with some very awed worshippers, (what WAS it about Librarians, anyway? Of course, being introduced by a Scholar hadn't hurt, but once they let lose. Erhm, anyway,) he found a nexus of ley lines, scattered the purest of white sand, and used lightning to fuse the Symbols into shape. Once done, he began casting his Net through time, space, and universes.

 

HIT! With a triumphant orchestral fanfare in his mind, the Hero signed a Glyph and stepped through - into a wall of sound, screams, roars, the impact of weapons on bodies, and smells of blood, fecal, sweat, fear, rage, and the taste of dust, oils, sweat, and tears, and -

He triggered his Horse-Slayer katana into his hands and the soundtrack went as silent as his world as his focus became no-sword, no-mind and everything near him that attacked the stranger who'd suddenly appeared - died.

 

"Well heck-fire," he thought in the space of peace he'd carved, circling his weapon to shed blood, "I hope I didn't kill whomever it was I Found." He started looking around in quick flickering glances that absorbed the scene in all directions, not neglecting up. Calmly standing on a small mound of dead bodies and body parts, was a short woman bearing two blooded short swords. Only under an excellent Glamour was an anthropomorphic tigress holding two bloody short swords. It was Whatsername, from the Mighty Pen! The one with the whole mercenary shadows thing. Chortling at his success, he began walking toward her, studying her, idly deflect or killing those in his way indiscriminately. After a few steps, combatants rolled away from before him as both sides sought self-preservation from the strange tall angular man, in the odd clothes, with the large curved killing sword.

 

Before he was half-way to her, he'd drawn her attention, and she waited in a deceptively relaxed Horse Stance on solid ground by the time he arrived.

 

"Excuse me for interrupting your war, but I'm Elrohir, son of Peredhil of the Pen Keep. Perhaps you remember him? Anyway, I'd like to hire your services...

...

Misssss..." Blast it, what was her na-

"Mynx!"

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Mynx stared at the tall man in disbelief. Elf, she corrected herself. Peredhil and his sons were all elves, or half-elves, or something... She vaguely recognized Elrohir, but couldn't say if that was due to personal experience or a resemblance to his father. She did remember Peredhil, though more as legend than person. You didn't need to meet him to feel his touch and influence at the Pen.



"...Right." She said eventually. "Well. Thank you for your interest, but in case you haven't noticed I'm a little busy right now." Nodding awkwardly, she adjusted her grip on her swords and turned back to the battle.



"I do applogise, Miss Mynx, but maybe I wasn't clear about the urgency of the matter." Elrohir kept up with her easily, cutting in front of the glamoured feline. "I need to hire you today. Now."



"You do realise I'm in the middle of something here, don't you?" Mynx snapped irritably.



"And I would not be interrupting you if it weren't vitally important."



"Then maybe you should conduct your business elsewhere." Mynx dodged an attack distractedly, stabbing the man in the gut with only a cursory glance to be sure he was the enemy. "I'm not just going to walk out on one commission to take another, and I don't care how much you offer me. Sorry, but try someone else."


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Elrohir sighed. He didn’t have TIME to search for another. It would require another spell that excluded Mynx and -

He kicked back without looking, smashing the nose of the soldier charging them and deflecting him to the side, where Mynx neatly slid her sword across his throat as he went by her. Nice. Teamwork. He loved teamwork. He *needed* this one. Honor and integrity. Time to try Polite.


Raising his arms into a Greater Invocation, He tried to relax his throat and allow the Words to force themselves out. As always, every syllable felt like burping and swallowing at the same time, but he always tried. He mastered the discomfort and lowered his hands in Closure. In waves of concentric circles spreading out from them, the battlefield went silent as nearly everyone and everything suddenly felt the need for a deep sleep. The ones able to resist had to fight the wave of exhaustion and nausea that accompanied the sudden loss of adrenaline.


He held up a slender articulate finger to point over Mynx's head and behind her, and said, “Wait a moment, there is always one foolish...” Turning, she saw an enormous glowing Rune floating over the center of the battle. With a wrinkle of her nose, and a twitch of her whiskers beneath her Glamour, she vaguely remembered seeing it used as Peredhil’s signature on Pen Documents. As she made the mental connection, five green bolts of lightning rippled out from it and struck one of the still standing figures, almost beyond her range of vision.


“You are under the Peaceful Justice of the Peredhil. Any action done to an enemy will be repaid fivefold,” His voice spoke as if from the Rune, clearly audible to each individual still awake, without echoes or distortion. He moved to stand slightly in front of her, offering her his back as a gesture of reassurance and respect.


“Now is the fun part,” he gloated. “Sometimes, there is a wise one. Yes! Over there!" He placed his forefingers and thumbs into a square and a surge of power made the air in the area shimmer.


Peering through curiously, she saw near the edge of the battle field an enormous barbaric figure, clothed in blood, wounds, sweat, a headband holding back raven-black hair, and a very optimistically bulging loin-cloth. The spell was detailed enough she was able to quickly note the shape of the bulge suggested it functioned more as a storage pouch than codpiece. The man had thrust the tip of his two-handed sword into the the ground, and hesitantly knelt beside one of the few surrounding him who still lived. Ripping a piece off the fallen woman’s sleeve (his loin-cloth fell in strips to the ground. Yup, two oranges and a small water bag,) he bandaged her bloody head wound.


Overhead, the Rune pulsed once, and five glowing patches covered some of the barbarian’s wounds; the glows faded into some type of clinging material that stopped the bleeding, and to judge by his expression, eased the pain. With a grin, he rapidly squeezed an orange into the woman’s mouth, and then held her up and gave her sips of water, before using the strips of his loincloth to bind other wounds. The Rune pulsed in response to each action. Moving with more confidence, he began rapidly searching the dead for more bandage materials and caring for another survivor. Pausing for a moment, he took a fallen sword and the woman’s sword, and began sharpening her weapon. His own blade began to gleam...


Elrohir turned to Mynx, eyes dancing, and said, “If he’s on your side, promote him or stay out of his way. He’s smarter than he looks. Now, while we have a moment, could you explain the terms of your commission, and your fee to help me rescue my Dad once it is complete?"

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"Yesss," he drawled slowly, trying to get time to deduce her seeming incomprehension. He knew she wasn't mentally feeble, and she was speaking the same language. Surely she wasn't a Peredhil-hater. It must be the hyper-focus of battle. "Do you need a moment to think about it?" He glanced up at the Rune. "We have about five more minutes before it's gone."

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"No, I-" Pulling a face, Mynx sheathed her swords and ran her hands over her face, not noticing the streaks of blood she smeared across it in the process. "Why does Peredhil need to be rescued? And why would you come to me to do that? Aren't you and your brother plenty capable? Or those bodyguards of his?" Holding up a hand before Elrohir could answer, Mynx shook her head. "Look, I get that you must be pretty upset, but if your father is in enough trouble that you lot can't help him, I really don't know what you expect me to do."

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He blinked at how suddenly savage she looked, blood-stripes contrasting obliquely with her own fur's pattern. "Let me explain - no. Let me summarize. Peredhil was somehow trapped and imprisoned by some incredible power capable of doing it. Yes we're capable, but we are neutralized by the presence of Elf-bane, and our deaths might not free Dad. Guido and Nuncio are lost somewhere; Elladan is searching for them. I've been searching for someone not an Elf, who might be able to sneak in and help Dad escape." He paused and mentally ticked off her questions, then nodded. "You are not an Elf, you are a capable mercenary with both swords and sorcery to command, and you have an affinity for shadow-magics, which might help. Yes, you and I are mice to the Captor's power, but mice can often go where other greater powers can't, and not even be noticed.

"So what do you need to fulfill this commission, and what is your fee?"

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"Squeak, squeak," Mynx muttered to herself, shaking her head regretfully. "I'm sorry, but it's not a matter of money." She gestured to the battlefield around them. "I gave my word to see this to the end and help my commissioners succeed if at all possible. And even with your fancy little sleep spell, this isn't a fight that's going to be resolved overnight. The way I see things, it's going to be at least another season before we can either win or get to enough of a stalemate to agree on a treaty."

 

She bit her lip, not sure how to interpret Elrohir's unreadable expression. "Truly 'Ro, I'm sorry, but my hands are tied."

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"You're not answering my question. What are the conditions of your commissions? And it's Peredhil's spell, not mine. Just directly answer instead of assuming conditions, please?" He took a deep breath and held it, then let it out slowly. What was wrong with her? Couldn't she give a straight answer? He might have to stop trying Dad's polite way and get impatient. Not yet - Dad would flay him, if he and Dad both lived. He tried a tentative smile.

 

Mynx looked at him and spoke slowly between her bared teeth, a concession to a smile perhaps. She'd given a straight answer. He must get stupid when he was afraid for his father. "I. am. stuck. until. the. war. ends."

 

"Finally! Which side is yours? If the enemy are all dead in this battle, would that end it? Do I need to destroy a kingdom? Is it over land? Trade routes? An item? How many obstacles to overcome to end the war. Could I just kill a ruler?" Breakthrough! This sort of solution was more his brother's style, but if it would get things moving, he refused to be squeamish..

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Havens, were all half-elves this mad? Would that winning all battles was as easy as deciding on the solution and waving a hand.

 

Mynx rolled her eyes. "They went to war over the King's daughter marrying a commoner from the side I'm assisting, without her father's consent," she said. "That was how it started, anyway. Now there's a land dispute, and the boy's parents are trying to improve their station by having a princess for a daughter-in-law." It hurt her head to think too much about it, but she had given her word. "Believe me, if there was a simple solution I'd already have done it."

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"If the King died, who inherits?" When in doubt, seek the simplest solution.

 

"Do NOT kill the King! Succession wars are endless. Are you insane?" She glared at him, tail beginning to lash.

 

"Then give me a complex solution," he retorted, glancing up at the fading Rune.

 

"Can you change people's attitudes?" she replied with a touch of sarcasm.

 

"Temporarily. Whose? To what?" Now they were talking!

 

Mynx gave him a look of pure exasperation. They were standing on the same planet, and in different worlds. He didn't understand 'impossible'. "Soften the King's attitude toward his son-in-law, help him give up his aspirations of empire-building through marriage, convince him that mixing his line with a commoner's isn't on the same level as with a pig's?" She smiled sweetly at him.

 

"Right! You stay alive until I get back. Is the king at the battle? Where would he be now?"

 

"Ummm, in the Command Tent behind the reinforced pits and stakes along the far side of the stream, at the other side of the battlefield maybe? If not there, they should know." She glanced up at the Rune, now fading from the edges inward, and drew her swords again. "Now, IF you don't mind..."

 

FINALLY! 3D math on the same planet in the same universe in the same Plane! He didn't even need a Portal for this.

 

When she glanced at him for a reaction, he was already gone. She considered, and decided he'd given good advice. She set about staying alive as people woke. It began with one of those who hadn't slept, of course, screaming at the confused soldiers to attack - and to see if it was safe to do so. Soon, the battle was just as confused and senseless as any other.

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Bring into awareness a well-remembered framework. Plug in variables, energize with Power, and say the

Word.

 

Overshot the tent. startled guards moving in slow-motion to react, adjust...

Word.

 

A sand-table, steady stream of messengers coming in one flap and out the other. Men and one woman around the sand-table, in peacock uniforms. Guards standing bored around the curtained sides. Reach out a hand and put it on the most gaudy one, adjust a small number, "Excuse me everyone, we just need to have a quick"

Word.

 

The sounds of battle wafted over a hill. The Officer starting to draw himself up in outraged dignity.

"Excuse me for the interruption. Are you the King?"

 

"I protest this! It violates any number of Accords. I'll have your ..."

 

Tune him out to think. A quick sigh at finding him One Of Those Types, and a decision on how to focus his attention. A Gesture and pointing finger pointing down beside himself . A beam of fuchsia light from the tip, and the ground begins to flash into glass. Slowly raise the hand, letting the light smolder its way to a point that will end between the shiny boots. Tune back in.

"... and if you don't. Wait. What the hell are you doing! Do you know who I am!"

 

"Are you the King?"

 

"No, I'm- Stop that!" He starts backing away. Make a Gesture and surge Power. The Man Who Is Not The King stops as he backs into a wall of ice.

 

"Where is the King now?" Watch as TMWINTK straightens and braces himself loyally. Elladan says at this point, it is important not to say anything that will relieve their imagination of what could happen. Continue to raise my hand, letting the light begin to boil away steam as it comes up, ever so slowly between his legs. See the Terrible Dawning Realization that he may never get to have sex again. Oddly important to One Of Those Types.

 

"See here. STOP THAT! Let's talk about this for a moment. I can make you rich! I could get you a court position as Sorcerer! Just - EEP!" Stop the lift as he stands on his toes and sweats. Wait a beat and...

 

"I will not kill him, but I need to speak with him. His very throne and life may rest on my talking to him!" Wide-eyes and innocent. Give him a sop to his pride. That's right, you're HELPING...

 

"Light save the King! I had no idea! He's in the Staff Ford Inn, two miles behind our lines. I pray you make it in time!"

 

Drop the power to the spell, vector, angle, variable.

Word.

 

Short of the town. There are two Inns across the shallow stream. The sign with the staff over poorly drawn water lends a clue. Splash across the stream. For two inches of water, it has a deceptively strong angular momentum. Guards in front of the inn, dressed up in shiny metals and leather. This must be it. Oh! oh! This is a perfect time to do Elladan's Purposeful Walk tactic!

 

Wiping the glee from his eyes, I set my gaze on the door, squared my shoulders, squinted a little, and began to slowly and menacingly walk at the door. I've forgotten something? Oh, a weapon. Right. Curl fingers into the Pocket, a surge of Power, and let the scabbard hang as if it has been on my belt all along. They haven't noticed yet, eyes slightly glazed and focused on the nothing of Guard Duty Haze. Flicker of eyes, look of annoyance, Guard Left, I dub the Big-Nose. You win at this position.

 

"Hey there. This inn is closed. You can't come in." A startled twitch of the body, and Guard Right, Mole-man, is now with us. Don't make eye contact. Compress the lips to a thin bloodless line. Deepen the squint. Keep walking at the same rate. Come on, Big-nose, you're going to let me get how close?

"Stop-" Heh, voice squeaked. Clear your throat, it will help. There you go. "Stop I said. You can't go in." They draw their weapons, two more steps forward, stop. Sloooowly make eye contact with Big-nose and...

 

(I love this part. I have to rewatch an Eastwood or Wayne video again,)

 

"Well Pilgrim. I'm going in. You going to announce me, or do I step over your steaming guts and announce myself." I'm dying here, at their expressions! Start the slow walk and, Bob's your uncle. Big-nose just opened the door. Reinforcements? Scream for help? Seek refuge? Doesn't matter, it's open. A sudden burst of Elven speed, two startled expressions, and I'm in the doorway.

 

"Thank you. I'll announce myself. Carry on." Slam the door in their faces, Lock it, and that must be the King there are the table, looking up from meat while all else stand, looking peeved. Quick math, change this to that, adjust this, use known constants for those and,

Word.

 

Finally alone with the King. No time to feel sorry for any cats, rats, or mice or around the Inn, but the human mammals will be better for being in the battle instead of talking about it from this far away. Doing them a favor, really. Hard to understand if you're not experiencing it. Let go of Will, let time slow again, as the King's mouth goes from slow motion to

 

"Who are you? Where are my Court?"

 

 

 

Elrohir strode forward and pulled out a chair without answering, picking up the King's knife and spearing a slice of roast beast. Ignoring the increasing demands, he savored a few bites, then laid it back on the plate.

"Have you tortured for this outrage! I've-"

 

"I am the one who is going to show you how to save your kingdom and throne. I've discovered a threat against it, and you dare trust no one - I couldn't even let your Court hear this." Like most people in power during war, the King was ripe for charges of treason and conspiracy. The bait was simply too juicy. "You may call me ... Tim." Dad and Elladan would've died at that. They LOVED that movie.

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Peredhil strolled in the Paths of the Mind, in the Elven manner of resting, and considered his situation. He was alive, he was imprisoned, and he had his Ring. He knew the latter because among the many other Threads wound and bound about it were the life-bonds to his sons, and therein, he felt their lives.

In his travels, he'd changed on an Intelligent Universe, a being of such intellect and power he could still only remember tiny pieces of it. They'd had several long talks about the nature of the Un, the boundaries between what existed in each universe and Plane. The IU had been astonished that he, a small corporal life, was able to survive passage through the Un, not only once, but multiple times, retaining life and sanity. The very concept had made IU shudder - and such a ripple in reality was a ripple indeed.

 

Before he'd left, the IU and he had worked out a mathematically sound hypothesis on the subject, and as a test of proof, he'd allowed IU to attach a Thread of Power, ground through his Ring, to him, by which he'd communicate back the results. They'd practiced several times, in case the shock of transfer severed or dislocated the Thread and he needed to reachback to IU to reconnect. It had been a success, and they'd spent quite some time testing it over multiple Planes. Once taken through the Un, which appeared to separate everything everywhere in all forms, concepts of distance and time ceased to matter.

 

It was only later he found that he could "Pull" on the Thread and IU would lend him Power and assistance. From thereon, as he travelled, whenever he came across a major source of Power, he'd sought permission, and if granted, anchored a Thread to it. It allowed IU to travel with him in a sense, and he was careful never to abuse any of the Powers lent.

 

From the circumstances, he was in the captivity of an extremely powerful Planeswalker, one of the greater ones. It had seized him in the midst of one of his own spells, and trapped him neatly.

 

It had not killed him, but had neutralized him. From this he deduced that it wanted to strip him of his powers and add them to his own. All the potential Threads were still there on his Ring, but he couldn't access them. Either it was purposeful or a side-effect, but it was significant.. If the Ring were removed, it would've severed the life-bonds, at the least. Perhaps it didn't realize the significance of the Ring, realized its powers had to be given freely to Transfer by removal, or simply didn't realize the Threads were there.

 

And it was trying to break him. His body was in total sensory deprivation. It wasn't an absence of sensations, but a magical suppression. He'd tried pressing on his eyes and no lights, which verified that . At apparently random times, one or more senses would suddenly overload, accompanied by a mental pressure of brutal force and dominance. Alternating between nothing and overload, without the Paths, it is likely that this would have either driven a different mind insane, or caused it to lapse into a moment of surprise or weakness and allow the attacking Mind to overcome his own. A cheap Sauron tactic but effective. He would endure until he had a meaningful choice. His shields and wards, triggering faster than his own reaction time, still held. He'd been a warrior once, but had chosen over time to try to develop the perfect defenses. So far, they held, but in the absence of Power coming in, eventually his own stores would exhaust.

 

 

 

Quite embarrassing, but he'd need rescue. He set up a game of Go, and set about analyzing classic variations. Until there was a change, there was nothing to do but conserve resources on every level.

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The King leaned forward in wary interest, staring at Elrohir. "What threat? My kingdom and my throne? They are one and the same. What noise is this?"

 

"The threat is this. There is a curse on your line and lineage, a curse most dire. And as for your kingdom and throne, if you were to die, would not the kingdom endure? But both are in peril, for truly, without one of your bloodline ruling, the Kingdom would pass."

 

Limited information. He'd been on one Plane in which Elves could not lie. But they could mislead, make unrelated statements, and play with definitions, as long as words were used consistently within a conversation. He'd gotten rather good at it. That mortals die was something he considered a dire curse. If the King were to ignore him, some day, he'd die. If Mynx continued to be honorable to her commission, and he had no reason to think otherwise, Elrohir might be the hand of the curse himself. Without one of the King's bloodline ruling, the kingdom would pass - to another bloodline. It was all in the presentation

.

"Know, o king, that your line was founded by a man of skill and vigor, powerful in sword and mind both." They always were. I'd keep an eye on that barbarian lad, for example. "At the head of a small force, the first of your line fought his way into the throne room, and saw cowering there the royalty of the day. Sneering with contempt at the soft helplessness of the court, one by one, he slit their throats." The kings eyes had gotten round, and his hand had moved from trying to unsuccessfully push his stomach in, to protectively covering his throat. "But there is power and majesty in royal blood, no matter how soft it has become." The king nodded many-chinned agreement. "So that when your Founder slit the fallen king's throat...

 

He paused to take a drink from the king's goblet. "when he slit the throat..."

 

"Damn the throat, stop saying that!"

 

"When he slit the throat, the Founder's words gained power and became the destiny of your line!"

 

"What words?! What destiny?"

 

"Tell, me have any of the males of your line ever died other than of old age?"

 

"Yes, almost every one!"

 

"Ah... and did any of the ones who died in untimely haste die of violence?"

 

"Yes, yes!"

 

"Did any of them have daughters?"

 

"Yes. Damn you, yes! What of the curse?"

 

"Surely you know? It's your history. I only am a student of history." And the history of many worlds showed that ruling was a dangerous occupation.

 

"NO! What were my Founder's words!"

 

"I only have glimpses over time. I might not get them exact..." since I'm about to make them up...

 

"The words! The words!"

 

"Know oh king, that your founder was a commoner by birth, although very uncommon in gifts and ability!"

 

"NO!"

 

"Yes!"

 

"Common?! The people must never know!"

 

"Truly oh king, or they might think they could rule instead."

"Madness!"

 

"Chaos," Elrohir agreed gravely.

 

"But... his curse..."

 

The king visibly wrenched his attention from the abomination of a people ruling themselves, back to his own fate. Once Elrohir was certain he had his full attention, he continued.

"His curse... was that his line would never become soft and useless. He laid a geas on his line that..." He had him now. This pause wasn't for effect, but to master the mirth in his eyes and voice.

 

"What? What was the GEAS?"

 

"The geas was a dire one, only the bravest and most noble of kings would ever dare it. Which must be why so many died... about your age, actually."

 

"Died?"

 

"Yes... for know, o king, may you live forever, that any of your line, bearing a daughter, who marries her not to a commoner, will absolutely die after. Your ancestor had peculiar ideas about breeding."

 

"A commoner?!"

 

"I know. Better to die instead. Fortunately, when I asked, you have no daughter yet, so you might be safe for a while."

 

"I have a daughter!"

 

"But I was told by a general that you had none."

 

"I disowned her. I have a daughter!"

 

"Then it is not too late. You can marry her to one of royalty, and sacrifice that the purity of your line may continue."

 

"She's gone off and married already."

 

"Oh no!"

 

"To a git of a merchant's son!"

 

"Oh the wisdom! You're saved!"

 

"The hell I am, I disowned her and went to war to kill him and take her back."

 

"Then she will soon be a widow."

 

"Damned uppity merchants have all the money now. They've bought an army."

 

"Then there is no solution. Surely you will win, for your cause is racial purity. You will live, but your line dies with you. She will taint the blood."

 

"But the curse."

 

"She's married a commoner, you should live. Pity the throne dies with you, but you will live."

 

"But, but."

 

"If only there were some way you could have it all!"

 

"What if I. No. I would look weak."

 

"I open my ears to you, o font of wisdom. You could never be weak, only magnanimous."

 

"What if I declared him my heir, and granted his unspeakably crass parents a title? No, that would trigger the curse."

 

"But wait! Their blood would still be that of the common, but their title would be noble. You are brilliant! You get to live AND keep the throne."

 

"Yesssss."

 

"But no."

 

"No?"

 

"No, it is too brave. Perhaps the Founder would've made such a noble sacrifice, but after so many generations... Best to save yourself and let the kingdom pass. Surely you're loved and will be cared for carefully in your dotage."

 

"No. NO!" The King put on his most regal air. "I will do this for my kingdom. Thank you for trying to save me, but it is best for all."

 

"Is there nothing I can say to dissuade you?"

 

"No." He stood and postured, "No, I must do this thing, for my daughter and my kingdom."

 

"Truly oh king, I am a lowly mage, and not worthy to be in your glorious presence when you shine forth your command like this. If there are any ways I might help? I'm a bit of a transportation expert - saves on riding on horses or carriages."

"Wut?" Too subtle. Gather him back and nudge gently.

 

"I do magic. I can safely move you over great distances. I can protect you when you get there. No one would believe if you send messengers. Only counsel from your own royal lips could not be argued or naysaid."

 

"Oh. Uh. Me?"

 

Really now, if he squeaked and squealed like the pig he resembled, the war would NEVER end short of him ending it, and he thought that, like Dad, Mynx wouldn't approve of massacre. Always the hard way when you're in a hurry.

 

"Did I mention safe? Invulnerable even. You'd have to put up with being outlined with a holy aura of light, of course... Unless you've changed your mind?"

 

"No. You're right. It must be me. I will take this burden on myself, for the kingdom, forgiving that silly slut and mending our kingdom."

 

"Good enough." Elrohir gestured and a thin sword flew from the wall to his hand. He offered it to the king, hilt first. "If you brandish this, particularly with the light, you'll look very commanding." As the king took the sword, he enchanted the king's bioluminescence to make it sparkle in the sunlight. Over that, he layered a basic shield against weapon strikes. The king was still trying different sword poses when Elrohir spoke a

Word.

 

And they were in the King's Command Tent. The twang of strings greeted them as waiting guards filled the space with arrows. Good leadership, they weren't going to be caught twice in the same way. The smell of voided bowels filled his nose and he quickly magicked the King's pants empty and clean. Staring at the arrows at his feet, and feeling his chest, the king first examined his glowing limbs, and slowly lifted his eyes to glare at the archers. They looked at the crown and the face, and one of them pulled a coin from a belt-pouch and glanced at the visage impacted thereon.

 

"Holy shit," he whispered, "We just tried to kark the king." There was a rattle of falling bows, and the smell of voided bowels filled the air again. While the king worked his mouth in outrage, Elrohir quickly cut in.

 

"Yes, it is your King! Lead us quickly to the Generals and in his mercy he will spare your lives. What you did was necessary to prove his invulnerability!"

 

Invulnerable, they murmured in awe, and the king preened. Aided by Elrohir's kicks, one of the guards led them through the camp, followed by awed murmurs. As they passed out of the tent and into the sunlight, he turned up the sparkle on the king. They were soon followed by a crowd as they arrived at another tent, this one unmarked.

 

"Come forth and harken unto the words of your King!" he bellowed. An annoyed guard peeped out, and quickly dropped the flap. A bit of confused shouting, and officers began pouring out. He nudged the king, posturing for the crowd, and nodded to the Generals.

 

"Ah. Yes. Well. You see, it's like this." The king seems to wilt slightly under the square-jaws and commanding stares of battle-hardened military leadership. "That is, my aide will speak for me. I'm invulnerable at the moment, don't you know." Knowing that neither a facepalm or pulling his hair would help, Elrohir took over as spokesman. These men didn't look foolish, so he rested a hand on gem set into his belt buckle.

 

"The king, may he live forever, has decreed that the war is over."

 

"How do I know he's the King? We never get to see the King. He could be anyone. A sparkly vampire or something." Elrohir figured there would be one, at least.

 

Hissing at the king under his breath, he urged, "he's questioning your authority! Point the sword at him!"

 

"What if he laughs at me," whined the king softly.

 

"Point!" he commanded and as the king jerked to obey, he rubbed the gem with a thumb and hummed. From the tip of the sword, a bolt of lightning shot forth and the smell of cooking pork filled the air. He waited out the inevitable response - loyal guards attacking the king, weapons glancing off the shield uselessly.

 

"Did you not know that only royal blood may shed royal blood? Elrohir shouted. "The war is over. The king has forgiven his daughter, and will sanction the marriage. Give orders to stand down as soon as the storm ends!"

 

"What storm?" queried the officers, bystanders, and the king.

 

Fortunately in the sound of the crowd, the king wasn't heard, and no one heard the whispered, "point the sword to the sky".

 

This time, the king was quick to obey. Patting his belt as if he'd lost something, and humming a complex tune, Elrohir was the only one not surprised with a wind began swirling around the king - and the king untouched. The king, playing to the moment, planted his feet shoulder-width apart and held the sword aloft firmly with both hands. A whirling shimmer in the air and clouds began racing in from all directions to crash overhead. In the sudden darkness, the only light was the king, shining forth. Minutes later, a downpour began, hammering rains so thick visibility was nought and people threw their clothes over their faces to fight to breathe. There would be no fighting in this weather.

 

Elrohir's voice cut across the howling winds and crashing rains with a clarion silver call, "The King goes to tell the other side the good news of his mercy. No more of you will need to die today!"

 

"YES!" cried the king, caught up in moment and the fact that he was still dry and untouched, "I am going to go do what he said!"

 

Word.

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Suddenly they were standing on the battlefield. By the light of the king, they could dimly see people cowering from the rains. Closely by, five feet precisely as per the spell, was Mynx. The king saw a dour looking woman, standing against the rain, sword in either hand.

 

Elrohir, on the other hand, saw the glamour as a shimmer over the reality. A snarling tigress, with ears flattened tightly against her head, and water split and pouring in small streams from each downcast whisker. He assessed quickly that She Was Not Happy. In a bit of a panic, (he NEEDED her,) he perhaps overreacted. Just a little.

 

The spell that was to shield her from the rain and help with the excess water was successful. But she looked no happier to be fluffy dry, with all her hair sticking out and sporting luxurious curls at the tips. Including her whiskers. At least the glamour was still intact, although it now had wavy shiny hair. But dry!

 

Inside, he cringed a bit at the sheer savagery of her expression, but he drove on gamely toward the goal. "Mynx, this is the King. Where would I find his daughter?"

 

Mynx narrowed her eyes even further, the barest hint of silver visible as she all but snarled at the two men. "You really expect me to lead the man that has been trying to kill my employers to his quarry?"

 

"I'm invulnerable at the moment," the king confided helpfully. They both ignored him. "I hope she doesn't yell at me, I hate it when she yells at me. But I'm invulnerable.

 

"Your choice. It's either we go talk to her and tell her the war is over and her marriage sanctioned," at this, the king nodded vigorously, "or I just eradicate her side and you have no employer. I'm trying to do this your way."

 

"My way?!" Mynx tilted her head up to the sky and started laughing helplessly. "You're mad, do you know that? Completely mad." Shaking her head, she stalked over to the king and rested the tip of one of her swords as close to the base of his throat as Elrohir's spell would allow. For all his assurances of invulnerability, there was a quality to the glamoured feline's expression that nevertheless made the king gulp. "On your word; you're ending this war?"

 

"Yes," the king leaned back slightly, away from the pointy tip, and struck a noble expression, "For the sake of my kingdom, the time has come to mend its wounds in unity and peace. I sanction this marriage and look forward to living to an old age, surrounded by grand', and great-grandchildren."

 

Elrohir was slightly impressed, this was the first sign of the pompous garbage he'd expected from royalty all along. The both looked at Mynx, ignoring the sword. He interjected helpfully, "we're in a bit of a hurry - the rain will stop in three minutes. I didn't want to cause severe flooding or wipe out the crops. We need a cease-fighting order by then."

 

"Pointy-eared lunatic," Mynx grumbled, turning her back on them and setting off towards the camp. "Come on, then."

 

"I am not pointy-eared!" The king looked over, and nodded agreement. Adjusting the math, Elrohir commanded the spell to take the destination from Mynx's intentions. Hopefully she was headed where they need to go. Just then, the barbarian finished trudging his way through the calf-deep mud and reached them. Elrohir nodded pleasantly and spoke a

Word.

 

Mynx bounced off the closed and tightly laced tent flap with her next step, knocking loose a waterfall that parted at either side of the dry spell on her, but splashed mud up on hind-paws and calves. Behind, Elrohir and the glowing king started walking forward to catch up. With a mental snarl, Mynx added this latest indignity to the tab she'd begun for Elrohir. There'd be a reckoning...

 

​At a murmured command from Elrohir, the king swung the sword gleefully in an downward strike and split the tent flap from top to bottom, then stepped in, closely followed by Elrohir and Mynx. The king paused and allowed the guards swords to deflect off his without even a flinch.

 

"Melissa, it is your father," the king announced brightly, "I have decided that I will recognize your marriage, and even make him my heir. Shall we stop this silly war? All is forgiven!"

 

At his words, the futile assaults stopped, the guards and general stepped back, and a green-eyed blond woman in her early twenties rose to stand beside the dark-haired richly clothed merchant beside her. Her icy glare didn't even dent the king's beaming cheer. In her was all the regal charisma royalty should possess; although rather plain of face and figure, the rest of her attendants faded to insignificance beside her.

 

"Papa, what are you doing here. Are you drunk again? What are you talking about? What trick is this?"

 

"My buttercup, which question would you like answered first? Is this," he gestured at the merchant-looking young man beside her, "my new son-in-law?" Turning slightly, the king aimed his good cheer at the man. "Welcome to the family! Do you think your parents would accept being knighted, or should I make them Duke and Duchess?"

 

Elrohir turned to Mynx, and quoted softly, "Soften the King's attitude toward his son-in-law, help him give up his aspirations of empire-building through marriage, convince him that mixing his line with a commoner's isn't on the same level as with a pig's? Mission accomplished." he paused, and continued, "care to help soften her up? The war will start again in less than a minute, and the other side has been told to stop fighting."

 

"You..." Mynx groaned, rubbing at her fluffy forehead tiredly, adding to Elrohir's tab at the texture. "Someone needs to educate you in the proper way to go about soliciting help, you know." Flapping her hand in irritation before Elrohir could respond, she moved to Melissa's side and tried for a reasonable facsimile of a smile. "Sometimes it's safer not to question where the good luck comes from. Maybe we should try and sort things out with some haste, though-"

 

"Oh yes," the king interrupted, "I've ordered all my army to stop fighting as soon as the rain stops. I'm currently invulnerable, you know."

 

"Oh Papa." Melissa rubbed her forehead tiredly. "General, please inform the mercenaries that the fighting is over. Ned, send a messenger to your parents letting them know they are nobility."

 

Melissa continued to crack out commands. Outside, the rains began to taper off. In moments the mercenary camp was a buzz of purposeful motion. Turning finally to Elrohir, Melissa eyed him warily.

 

To the side, the king was demonstrating how his sword could cleave a regular sword in twain. His demonstration stroke, unfortunately, not only cut through the guard's sword, but also the side of the tent and two tent pegs. From under the collapsing tent, the king could be heard, "Canvas isn't even touching you, you know."

 

"Your Majesty, o Princess. I am but a scholar from a distant land. In my studies, I came across something that involved your royal family, and presented it to the king your father. On hearing it, he took quick action to stop the conflict. "Oh Prince," Elrohir turned to Ned, "In what line does your family trade?"

 

"Construction," Melissa interrupted Ned as he began to speak. "Why, Scholar? IF that is what you are."

 

"I merely wondered if it had occurred to him that a Royal Contract that excepted a family from taxes while paying them to build the infrastructure of the kingdom, in the form of roads, might be a favorable deal. The merchants win with better, taxable routes - after all, someone has to pay for upkeep - the king wins with better ways to move the armies if needed, and the kingdom wins in many ways."

 

Ned frowned and nodded slowly. Melissa however, gave Elrohir a startled look of reevaluation, and pulled him to the side, speaking in an low quick voice about tariffs, taxes, infrastructure, and the rise of a middle class. Soon they were discussing Royal Inns and waypoints, and border controls. The aggressive little woman was a restless contrast to the tall amused Elf. After a discussion that left her nodding, with visions of gold coins in her eyes, Elrohir suggested they moving outside, so that everyone might see them getting along together.

 

The Princess immediately grasped the implications of social benefits, and ordered the king, now free of the tent, to accompany outside. Trotting after his daughter like an obedient puppy, trying to match his stubby glowing legs to her long strides, the beaming king followed her outside, explaining to admiring guards how he'd ended the war.

 

Elrohir smothered a smile and wondered how the king had ever found the courage to ban her marriage in the first place. Given that they were mercenaries, and admired anyone who not only resulted in full pay but no fighting, it undoubtedly meant more to the little king than his audience.

 

Elrohir and Mynx (her lips pressed into a thin silent line and eyes still narrowed that promised a future reckoning indeed,) followed the royalty from tent. The king had caught up and led, accompanied by Melissa, her hand resting gracefully three inches above the king's glowing arm. They were nodding to all and doing the odd flapping hand that passed for famous people's waving.

 

Using magic to amplify his voice, Elrohir began shouting, "The King and Princess have declared peace! The war is over. All hail the royal family!"

 

While not seeming too over-loud, the announcement carried from the camp across the muddy battlefield all the way to the King's camp. A few die-hards still skirmished, but the overwhelming majority were content to just stand after the fighting and the battering rains.

 

"The war is over! Long live the King!"

 

Turning to the still glaring and silent Mynx, Elrohir beamed happily, as off in the distance came, "I'm currently invulnerable, don't you know".

 

"Alright! Problem solved. Let's collect your pay and negotiate a contract of you rescuing my Dad!"

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"Ugh!" Mynx stood in a shallow river well out of sight of anyone who might take unkindly to her True form, trying desperately to smooth her fur down. "Who did I piss off to deserve this?!"

 

"I'm not sure I understand," Elrohir frowned a little as he watched from the bank. "I solved the problem according to the parameters you set, and why are you getting yourself wet again if you were so upset with me for the rain?"

 

"You made me look like a- a-" Mynx didn't even have a word for the overly fluffy state Elrohir had left her in, settling instead for a frustrated, inarticulate sound.

 

"But you agree the matter of your commission has been resolved?"

 

"For the moment," Mynx agreed grudgingly. "Though if I hear that all you've done is create a temporary cease-fire that is going to flare up the minute we're gone..."

 

"I cast no spells on the king's behaviour, and see no reason why he'd do such a thing after I presented the situation to him."

 

"Hmf." At last leaving the river and producing a towel from her shadows to dry off, Mynx surveyed her appearance in the river before deciding it was as good as it was going to get for the time being. A part of her wanted nothing more than to unleash her frustrations on Elrohir and teach him a lesson or five, but she suddenly found herself too tired to care. He'd probably just brush it off anyway. "Fine, then. Let's talk business, I suppose."

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"Great!" It was a true delight to deal with a professional. "I need your help to rescue my Dad. I can get you to the Plane, and within several miles of the Mountain that holds him, but no closer. All I can really tell you is that he's alive for now. Given that it is a Greater Planeswalker, who according to the local Powers has been either capturing deities, devils, and other Walkers and stripping them of their powers to add to his own, or killing the ones he couldn't capture, I'm going to assume that there will be physical and magical tricks, traps, and snares, and also magical and normal guards, minions, and henchmen. Given that it is nearly certain death to attempt, and a great deal of glory if you succeed, I'm willing to negotiate terms on behalf of Peredhil. I am certain he'll agree to anything that I commit to his rescue. So, are you interested? What are your terms?"

 

Nearly certain death, how wonderful. Mynx flattened her ears, trying vainly to ignore the small voice that reminded her she had been looking for a challenge. "Interested might not be the right word, but if you're as desperate as you keep saying, I suppose it would be impolite to turn down such a request on Peredhil's behalf. I doubt you have the coin i'd usually charge for something like this, though. Would you settle for owing me one hell of a favor?"

 

"Oh, I can get coin, jewels, gems, jewelry, or any other monetary item you desire. Making money is just buying cheap and selling higher - Planeswalkers have a certain advantage along those lines. But if you'll settle for a favor, I'd gladly oblige."

 

"Seeing what you can do, I'm not sure I'd call it settling," Mynx snorted, but offered her paw to seal the deal. Elrohir nodded thoughtfully at her words. He knew he was the weakest, compared to his Dad and brother, but she didn't.

 

"Okay then. I, Elrohir son of the Peredhil, hire the mercenary called Mynx for the purpose of rescuing my father, the Peredhil, for the price of a large favor for Mynx, to be redeemed after the successful rescue and removal to safely of the Peredhil. Agreed?" Mynx shrugged, nodded, and extended her paw again. This time, he took it and shook. A surge of Power passed between them and he said, "Done and witnessed by all deities of Good Will. Do you need any supplies? Magical or mundane?"

 

"An anchor I can set a Gate to once I get Peredhil free."

 

"That's it? This is a goodwill offer - you won't pay for anything. Helping you helps my Dad. You might be surprised at the resources we've gathered over time."

 

"And I appreciate the offer, but I prefer to rely on the tools I already have and know well, than try to learn the balance of a new toy while running for my life."

 

"Food? Water? Magical potions - labeled? I have a pair of Elven boots that you could have."

 

"Boots?" Mynx looked pointedly down at her felinoid hind-paws.

 

Elrohir looked baffled at her expression. Everyone knew that as part of their enchantment, Elven boots could fit any "foot". The true kind, found only on one Plane in a cluster of universes, were hot on the inter-planal market. "Yesss, boots. You really don't want them? He looked almost wounded.

 

"Should I?" Mynx looked suspicious. "What's so special about them?"

 

"Oh. They're genuine Elven boots. They always fit the owner. You'll never slip on any surface except water over three inches deep. You can't climb a sheer wall, but if you can find ledges or toe-holds at least as thick as your little fingerrrr- errr, claw, you could run up without slipping. Elven boots. The real kind, not the cheap knock-offs." At this point, Elrohir, Planeswalker, stopper of wars, looked nothing so much as a puppy that had just been kicked when trying to lick her paw.

 

"Fine! Havens, fine, whatever you want!" His face blossomed into a happy grin that made her lips want to twitch to match, and his solid green eyes lighted two shades. Reaching out into empty air, he hooked a finger and muttered a word. With a pulling motion, a pair of high-topped boots appeared, which he caught easily. They were of soft tooled leather, etched with tiny runes. He presented them to Mynx with a flourish.

 

"Your boots," he exclaimed triumphantly.

 

"For someone who is so desperate for me to save his father, you sure do like to dither," Mynx said with weary amusement as she accepted the boots. "Anything else?"

 

"Nope. I think you'll find they'll aid you in your task, if the auguries are correct." As Mynx opened her mouth to retort, Elrohir said a

Word.

 

They were standing in small fold in a lava field. The lava was a rough clinker-top, millions of broken bubbles making tiny razored edges. Filling the view to the left was a vast Mountain, towering nearly a mile above the lava plain. From vents low in the sides, tongues of fiery lava oozed down the sides and spread in fans, cooling into glowing ripples. The air was dry, and bitter, and had a sulfured tinge that burned her eyes and nose. Elrohir crouched and pulled her down, then pointed upward at an angle. Just below the sooty clouds was a flying lizard with broad leathery wings. On its back was a tiny figure with a glowing lance.

 

"My father is in the Mountain," he announced somberly.

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Mynx sighed. "Of course he is." She looked around, squinting through the smoke as she extended her senses, trying to detect any immediate traps. "Do you know if my magic is going to set anything off?"

 

Elrohir shook his head helplessly. "All I know is that this is the closest my Portal spell can get us without triggering anything." He frowned a little. "We're further back than my last visit here."

 

"Hmm." Mynx's tail twitched slowly as she considered her options. There was a quality to the air that suggested a volatility to magic - the kind of atmosphere that would turn a simple water spell into a torrential rain, or a candle-lighting into a fireball - and she took some moments to adjust to the increased sensitivity. Nodding to herself, she then began to look around with a purpose; seeking this time, rather than observing. Spotting an overhang of rock set within the boundary Elrohir's Portal hadn't been able to breach, Mynx studied the shadow it cast, before taking off her robe and handing it to the Elf. "Hold this, and keep it spread out."

 

While Elrohir complied with a bemused expression, Mynx looked again at the shadow and plunged her arm into her robe. She rummaged for a bit, ears flattening in concentration, before stepping completely into the shadows of her robe and disappearing. Elrohir was still blinking at this when he looked up to see her head appear from the rock's shadow. Her ears and whiskers twitched alertly as she studied the area from her new vantage point, only to vanish again back into the darkness and reemerge from her robe.

 

"Right," she said to herself as she took the garment from Elrohir and wrapped it back around her shoulders. "Doesn't look like that's going to set off any alarms, so that's a start."

 

Elrohir blinked again, rapidly, and mentally shrugged. Now that they were here, he was focused on support. He respected her professionalism and felt very reassured that she hadn't just started rushing in, but was assessing local conditions. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

 

"I think I'm about as prepared as I can be." Mynx said, her frustrations with his behavior forgotten now as she focused on the job at hand. "You should get out of here before they see you, but I'll be in touch once I find Peredhil." When Elrohir hesitated, looking about to offer something else - Elven gloves, maybe - she met his eye and did her best to smile reassuringly. "This is what you hired me for, Pointy-Ears. Go on, before I have two of you to rescue."

 

Elrohir opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again with a sigh. She was right, and he was no use to her as a backup in this situation, either. Bowing his not-Pointy-Eared head slightly, he said a

Word

And Mynx was alone.

 

To business, then. The feline dug into her shadows and produced a cotton scarf and water bag. Soaking the scarf, she bound it around her muzzle and face to help shield her from the smoke and sulfur. That done, she hesitated in an internal debate, before sighing to herself and pulling out the boots Elrohir had given her. Already, the ground was hot beneath the weathered pads of her hind-paws, and she didn't want to be leaving a blood trail for predators. Particularly if she had to rock climb.

 

Mynx would cut off her own tail before admitting it to Elrohir, but she had to admit the boots were quite incredible. They fit her like a second skin, even taking on the hue and patterning of her pelt, and when she flexed her claws experimentally it was to find that the boots obliged with slits that repaired themselves once the claws were retracted. Fine boots indeed. I just hope he's right about them never slipping.

 

Deciding she'd delayed enough, Mynx pulled her robe around her and focused again on the shadowed spot up ahead, taking the robe with her this time as she disappeared into the darkness and reappeared beneath the rock. Waiting to see if a cry would be raised, the feline began to make her way up the mountain.

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Peredhil could no longer dance and sing in the Paths. The constant exhausting sensory attacks alternating with timeless periods of sensory deprivation were beginning to take their toll. A new element had been added, empathetic attacks, subtle and insidious. The first had nearly tricked him into depression - an all too familiar Path. There was a magical brute force behind the delicate touches, causing a resonance within even when the emotions were denied. Memories stirred and came back to life as the emotions were re-experienced as freshly as the day they'd first happened. Fortunately, the Jailor lacked a certain imagination - everything was negative.

 

But it was exhausting and his resources, cut off as he was, were finite. Worse, there was a certain combination to which he was largely defenseless. It would be immediately costly, but might buy him more time and life if he survived. He needed to deal with the memories of Celebrian, his lost wife.

 

Building his external barriers up as best he could, he mentally faced the Opening to the Paths again, and once more entered. This time he turned away from the Ways of Solace and Peace, and took a dark bitter twisting Path into memory Hell. Time to deal with his guilt, his failure, the rage that he'd been unable to even express - Elladan and Elrohir had hunted the Orcs of the Misty Mountains for decades after their mother had gone West, but the burdens of leadership and duty had denied him such a selfish outlet. As he followed the burning memories, he embraced and opened himself to the rage, the pain, the loss, and ever moved forward.

 

In a way, he hoped that he was weak enough to finally die before coming to the end. His most painful failure. He, the Healer with the Ring of Waters and Healing, greater and more subtle of skill than even a true King of Numenor, (for what were they but descendants of his brother?) had failed to heal the mind and body of she whom he had loved the most. Even the Valar in the West had been unable to heal her scars. But he - she was his wife, he should have been able to understand, to mend, in ways that true immortals could not.

 

Either way, he was committed now. As he forced his way further, all his resources became stretched to their maximum, and some fragile threads began to snap.

 

Planes away from their father and each other, Elladan and Elrohir each reacted in their own manner when the Life-Bond to their Dad snapped.

 

Unknowing, Mynx continued to pick her way warily toward the Mountain.

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Elrohir stiffened in his seat. He was in one of their favorite restaurants, on one of their favorite worlds, in one of their favorite Planes. One reason was that its boundaries were more porous than the Pen's, so it took little for ideas to cross Planes and universes, and travel was correspondingly easy. It was a very posh restaurant, and they were part-owners, and had been for a few hundred years. The diners were very upper-crust and old-school, they raised social manners to an art-form, able to pretend that a rice-paper screen was a sound-proof impenetrable wall.

 

However, throwing a screaming fit of anguish and rage would push even their boundaries.

 

He quietly summoned a server over, and waited as she flowed over, such rapid tiny steps that it was hard to believe that under the heavy silks she didn't have wheels. Bowing deeply, he indicated his most abject regrets that he had been summoned away, and presented his compliments to the chef. Unfortunately, so pressing was his emergency, he could not present his respect to the current owners, and hoped that they would accept a small token of his esteem instead. He dug into an inner pocket, blindly pulled out a handful of jewelry, and handed them to her cupped hands. Her almond eyes went widely round, and she almost forgot to bow. Catching herself, she bent double, touching her forehead to the ground, and backed out without standing, as if he were an Emperor from centuries ago.

 

Lithely standing, his thoughts whirled...

 

And caught. Dad was dead, and Mynx was going to rescue him. He had to stop her from throwing her life away.

 

Word.

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Guido sat at the barred window and buffed his claws. Again. It wasn't that he had been treated badly. For a race of xenophobes. They'd tried to kill him when he'd first come to rest, but he'd originally thought it was because he'd crashed through several buildings first.

 

He'd never tease da Boss about activating the Travel Amulets again. The charge had lasted long enough that their weapons had deflected much the same as the walls. By the time it faded, they'd given up and transported him into this cell.

 

And that's the last he'd seen of anyone since. Once a day, food of various types was pushed through a low wide slot at the bottom of the door, and a spigot released water into a bucket. He'd eaten what he could, pushed back the rest. The other bucket's use was obvious, and he dumped that out the window.

 

He was BORED. Someone should have found him by now.

 

...

 

Well, THAT was interesting. The odd onion and turnip-shaped buildings that filled his view were bulging. Aaand he was blind. That was one bright light. A second later, the wave of sound, force, vibrations, all of the above, hit and shook the building like a lion shaking a mouse. Bouncing around inside his well-constructed cell, he had only one thought.

 

Please let me bored again.

 

...

 

By the time he recovered his hearing, he could hear screams of war and terror, and the sounds of destruction - the sounds of explosions, shrapnel, the roar of flames, gunfire. Steadily getting closer.

 

He began to have an intuition, and hoped he was very wrong.

 

Minutes later, blinking black and purple dots out of his watering vision, he managed to look out the window. A brightly glowing figure was moving steadily to the building which held him. Levin bolts lashed out with extreme focused precision, each one causing maximum death and destruction. He had to give it to the little radish-people, they weren't cowards. They were doing everything they could to stop it, but couldn't even slow it.

 

Shaking his head in pity for the race, he adjusted his suit and fedora, buffed his shoes, and settled to wait. It wouldn't be long now.

 

When the building around his cell ceased to exist, he was ready, and flexing his knees, was able to cushion the impact as he landed.

 

His greeting died with a silent gulp, and he threw his gaze down and to the side, frozen except for the pellets filling his trousers. He felt no shame, only terror.

 

Elladan had come for him. Or death. He wasn't certain and wasn't sure Elladan knew. The eyes were flat, opaque, and darker than his hair. there was no color in his flesh, and the bones of his face stood out starkly. He'd never seen or felt such a total lack of feeling in the Elf.

 

They both stood without moving, then Elladan turned without a word, cast two more bolts of power scything across the gamely gathering troops, then clenched both fists over his head and swung them down and together, shouting a

 

WORD!

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There was a saying Mynx had heard once about how a fool and his money were soon easily parted. Had she met the originator, she would have countered that a fool was just as easily parted with his life, and was beginning to wonder if she fell into that category. Not that she didn't enjoy a challenge, but this... this was beginning to look like suicide.

 

She'd circled the mountain while climbing it, careful to stay out of sight and all the while looking for something - anything - that could be a way in. After having to stop for what felt like the hundredth time to avoid one of the flying lizards, and barely being a third up the mountain, the feline began to reconsider her options.

 

What options are there, though? She wondered as she pressed back into the shadows slightly to avoid the predator's keen gaze. Sit down and build a Gate inside with no anchor? I'm sure they'll all just happily sit back and watch you try that. If you don't wind up stepping into a waiting frying pan, that is.

 

She'd hoped to be able to make more use of her shadows; developing the ability to portal from robe to any shadow within sight (and reason) had been a gift from the heavens once she'd perfected the skill, but the mountain only grew steeper and more sheer as it climbed into the sky, leaving precious few places that cast enough darkness for her to take advantage of. The current outcrop she was currently taking refuge in was one of the last, and Mynx felt more than a little at a loss. Waving a scythe around and convincing them you're Death with a tail isn't going to solve things this time, Cat.

 

Bah.

 

Mynx was just building up the nerve to throw caution to the winds and set off at a dead run for the peak when the ground shook beneath her hind-paws. Another of the minor earthquakes caused by the volcanic activity. Pressing back as far into the shadows of her robe as she could without disappearing entirely into it, the feline blinked when she felt something tickling her senses. It was the same feeling she had when she first reached out to a shadow to pass through it, though this was the first time she hadn't been looking at a shadow in order to feel it.

 

Magic was strangely amplified here, though. Closing her eyes, Mynx extended her awareness and tried to get a grasp of just what it was she was feeling. What returned was a dim perception of a veritable warren of chambers within the mountain, many of them with shrouded nooks and side-paths that would easily allow her shadowed passage if she could lay eyes on them. And maybe, here and now, mental eyes were enough.

 

Picking one that felt about midway up the mountain's interior, and close to what she hoped might be a prison cell - or an easy path towards it - Mynx held her breath and disappeared into the darkness.

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Elrohir paced back and forth, eyes fixed on Mynx's fleeting figure. There were times that being an Elf from his cluster of Universes really was marvelous, and this was one of them. His Portal had opened even further from the Mountain, but it was only about eight leagues and he could still make her out, vaguely. Rather amazing how golden-orange with black stripes could blend so well with the blacks and reds of a volcano.

 

He'd tried various messager spells, but none had worked. He'd summoned an imp, but it hadn't made it a third of the way before meeting death. What killed it wasn't certain, but it hadn't just been banished back to its dimension, but had been destroyed. Just as a star warped space and time around itself, the Mountain warped all forms of energy and power.

 

Mynx disappeared from his view, whether into another shadow, into the mountain, or into death, he didn't know. And it was all for a fool's errand now.

 

He'd never felt this helpless and responsible.

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