The objective side of the High King of all Elven Realms’ mind regarded the pique his subjective side was feeling with wry detachment. Twelve hundred years of unbroken rule had reinforced the understanding that even the most straightforward of plans could falter and crash with the vagaries of chance and surprise, and that the crisis of the moment always felt more frustrating than those of the past. That same long experience had also taught him that while maintaining a deep calm was critical, venting his surface tensions was a valuable form of relief. Privately of course, such behaviour before his Court would not only spread waves of doubt and dismay for his fitness to rule, but further embolden Lady Narello in her recent futile and misguided ambitions. Ensconced with Uirebon behind the powerful privacy wards of this personal chamber was the perfect place to express this pique. Uirebon understood, thank goodness. Indeed, he had advised the value of this release on many occasions.
"Always when you least need them, Uirebon. Why do troubles compound at the very moment when you are least ready?"
Uirebon nodded his agreement. Enough things had gone awry with his own part in this cascade of events to build a mutuality of understanding.
"Indeed, My Lord, frustration upon frustration, enough to make me ponder the possibility of an underlying cause."
Pique was momentarily replaced by curiosity.
"How so? I see nothing but chance in the spread of Chaos Creature incursions, the clash between Narello's forces and Maynor's Power Masters, and the baffling disappearance of Keryth. The setback with Maynor’s recovery and the plethora of rumours and disquiet surfacing in three of our great Courts can hardly all be linked."
"Yes, and I know this is a long bow to pull, but we have long suspected that disturbances in the Unordered Realm sometimes match an increase in Chaos Creature appearances elsewhere.
Remember what happened four centuries ago when Ranevargar attempted to build a bastion of order in the Great Range with his Dragon Construct?"
"Yes, five years of turmoil before he stilled and abandoned the Dragon. We only connected the trouble with the Construct’s activity when he offhandedly related a list of his failed animal experiments in a side conversation after one of our High Council meetings. Uirebon, do you think the Dragon may have been reawakened?"
"Not at all. Only Ranevargar could do that and his distress at the likelihood his construct might have caused so much destruction was so vast at the time that he'd never consider it."
"Something else then?"
"As I said, it is a long bow, but two things lead me to consider the improbability that Keryth might have taken his companions into the Unordered Realm."
Despite this being expressed in command mode Uirebon continued, as he knew it was a rejection of the idea rather than an order.
"We know the unexpected energy drain which incapacitated the junior triad went mostly to bolster Lord Maynor's Power Masters, but a portion did flow to repair a breach in his Realm Boundary."
"And that repair was successful. I dealt with four other wearying breaches today, Uirebon, but all occurred in other locations."
Aglaron stopped a moment as understanding renewed his concern.
"... You mean there was no related incursion by a Chaos Creature for Maynor’s Realm Boundary because it was an outward breach?"
"The amount of energy involved makes it a possibility, a frightening possibility which I have to inform you is increased by the knowledge I gleaned from Maynor's two Coursers."
"You surprise me, Uirebon. I judged Kieran's control unbreakable. How did you manage such a thing?"
"I didn't, my Lord. The birds returned to the Castle rookery by their own volition while you were resolving the incursions to Narello's realm. It was fast fading of course, but their strongest recent memory was of the fear and distress the Boundaries engender in all natural creatures."
"I see, and such an encounter would certainly dissolve any protective mind shield.
Uirebon, what have we done? Keryth couldn't survive the Unordered Realm in full Elven form, let alone as he is now. Help me prepare."
"Of course, My Lord, but not to make an entry of your own. Consider carefully."
"Our purpose is to cure Keryth, not kill him."
Uirebon spoke quickly and forcefully.
"The glass is half full, My Lord, not half empty. Your paternal bond is intact, else you would be stricken with shock and sadness. Keryth is alive."
Aglaron did pause to consider, and eventually nodded his agreement.
"What would I do without your counsel, Uirebon? You are right of course, but how could Keryth possibly survive in that place? On three occasions I have had cause to pass that Boundary and every time I was forced to a hasty retreat."
"As, I believe, would Keryth have also been forced."
"There was only one energy event with Maynor's boundary. A retreat would imply two."
"And there were four in total, though not all with Maynor's boundary."
Aglaron stared at his advisor while he took that in.
"You do make a link between Keryth and the Chaos Incursions? You think he is moving from Realm to Realm, hidden behind that wretched shield, and releasing Chaos Creatures with each crossing?"
"I agree. It seems implausible, but there is a concurrence of events to consider. Our interpretations will change and become more accurate with further information.
"Advise me, Uirebon. How am I to find Keryth? Along with this ability to conceal himself, you now suggest he might be able to pass Boundaries without the consent of the relevant Realm Lord?"
"Until we learn otherwise we should entertain for the possibility. My Lord, my strongest advice is to rest and restore yourself so you are properly prepared when Lord Maynor wakes. Tiredness is bringing your tendency for hasty action to the surface."
Aglaron gave his Lore Master a thoughtful look and then a nod of resigned agreement.
"Yes, I see that it is, and the six hours that Maynor's healer has set, would be a blessed relief."
"It is not just a relief. It is a necessity. This is your third day without proper rest."
"Three days? It feels like forever."
"Put Keryth out of your mind, My Lord. I begin to suspect that the gemstone is protecting him somehow. We won't find him directly but when Maynor wakes we will have the resources of three Realms at our disposal."
"Hmm! Contact Ranevarga while I sleep. He will have no interest in any direct involvement, but he will advise us of any incursion or interaction affecting his animals."
Reality returned and by the time their shields were rebuilt and the horses fear reduced from sheer panic, the group had travelled far enough from the Wall to release their joined hands and take stock. The ground here was bereft, as usual, of any life, but a hundred metres ahead a bank of shrubs and vegetation built quickly to a much higher forest wall and the excited yells from Woorawa and Rhys completely wrecked Kieran's first attempt at a monster search.
"Unbelievable! Look! The hills are all covered with trees and ... And that's a flock of birds over there."
The monster search was put off while Kieran's eyes followed where Woorawa was pointing.
"Oh My God! We have escaped from Dead World."
Rhys gave Kieran's shoulders an excited shake before voicing the other possibility that had just occurred to him.
"Please don't tell us we’ll have to move again, Kieran. If we’re in a part of Dead World where water from the mountains lets plants grow that would be just too much."
The mixture of eagerness and apprehension being directed fourfold, in silence and with fierce attention, was a new distraction but not a total spoiler and when, after almost a full minute of concentration and searching, Kieran's features lit up, the yells of relief and excitement sounded for the second time.
"None at all, Mr B. I'll have to keep checking, of course, but we’ll definitely have time to help Tan. Let's find a good place to stop."
Twenty minutes later the wondrous walk, past lush green trees with riotous bird-calls sounding at every new twist in the narrow trail they'd stumbled upon, stopped in a forest clearing with a sight that started their senses reeling with even more wonder and disbelief. Not only was there a beautiful pool of crystal clear water, with an out-flowing creek following along one side of the grassy clearing, at the back of the pool a small waterfall tumbled happily down the ten metre face of the rock wall behind it.
Tan said it first and it became the topic of discussion till well into the night.
"You have made magic, Rhys. The only thing I don't see is the fruit trees."
As if to prove the point, a flock of fifteen or twenty cockatoo sized birds settled noisily in the branches of the nearest tree to watch, with blatant curiosity, the new intruders to their domain.
While Woorawa and everyone else cast an eye over the varied possibilities Kieran started his third check for signs of danger. He jumped in startlement when one of the noisy watchers landed on his head. Two more perched on his shoulders and he watched in amazement as the rest came close, some landing at his feet, and some making soft chirring noises from their mix of landing spots on his smiling companions’ heads or shoulders, or outstretched arms in the case of Rhys and Woorawa.
"You called them to us didn't you, Kieran? This is too quick to be natural."
"Not this time, Rhys. I was still finishing my monster check when the first one landed on my head. I'm looking at their minds now and it's pure curiosity."
Mr B had one perched on the wrist he was holding close to his face.
"Look at the beautiful little crest. I'm always amazed at how brilliant the colours of bird feathers are when you see them up close."
Kieran stopped checking the birds’ minds and let the enjoyment of the moment flow over him. The cheeky looking crests, with their bright red colour contrasting strongly against the soft green body feathers, were indeed quite beautiful. More than that, each snappy display lift made you smile with the impression that mischief was about to be perpetrated. A few moments later the little flock flew off and disappeared through the neighbouring trees.
"That was wonderful, Rhys. I kept thinking they were some kind of welcoming committee."
"Well, I like the way their little crests bob up and down ... Are we going to stay here tonight, or do you want to keep moving?"
"We’ll think about it while you finish healing Tan’s ribs. That's our first priority."
Rhys grinned and pointed to the ground.
"Make yourself comfortable, Tan, and show us your sexy chest again."
Tan started to kneel but Mr B stopped him.
"Not here, Rhys. We’ll make a bed of grass and leaves near the pool so Tan can sleep when you finish."
"Sleep? What for, Mr B? I want to look around with everyone else."
"Rhys’s boost healing makes us feel good but this was a major trauma, Tan, and I think it makes sense to give your body a chance to recuperate."
"I don't think I’ll be able to sleep in the daytime while other things are happening."
Mr B gave Kieran a look before answering.
"Yes, you will. With your permission, Kieran will make it happen while the rest of us organise a campfire and food. We’ll wake you up when there’s something to eat."
Murmurs of assent from all round meant this was now the immediate course of action and everyone started the thirty metre walk to the edge of the pool. Tan shuffled slowly, which brought the need to help him sharply back into everyone's mind, and stubbornly refused the various offers of assistance. Woorawa rushed off to collect the makings for Tan’s hospital bed, as he described it, and Mr B left in a slightly different direction for the same purpose.
Kieran, Rhys and Tan paused at the grassy verge to drink in the beauty of the pool, the waterfall and the lush green ferns growing along the base of the rock face. Some ordinary drinking took place next with Kieran and Rhys relaying cupped double handfuls to Tan. When the hospital bed was finished to Woorawa’s satisfaction the interrupted healing session went ahead and, according to Tan’s watch, lasted for twenty minutes.
"Are you ready to sleep, Tan?"
"No, I'm starving."
That was a reaction which surprised everyone.
"Well, too bad, when you wake up we’ll have that fixed."
At the agreed command from Kieran, Tan’s eyes closed and he slept like a log for an hour and a half. Meanwhile the food routine swung into action and Kieran and Rhys went downstream with Woorawa to a section of the Creek where he’d seen some promising ripples. The customary call didn't work and there was a delay till a dark black shape ventured close and Kieran could make contact.
"It must be a completely different species to the ones we usually catch, Woorawa, but now that I know him I can sense plenty more."
The dramatic moments of catch and dispatch were quickly over and they returned to the unlit campfire with six plump black specimens. Mr B had cooking sticks and a supply of wood for the campfire which was quickly started. The cooking was held off though, because Tan was so deeply asleep that, despite their hunger pains, no one wanted to wake him. Instead they sat quietly and started to discuss what they should do.
Kieran did have an interest in moving on, as it was still early afternoon, and now that Tan was properly healed they could easily manage about three hours of travel and progress towards more information. Everyone else was keen to stay for now and make an early start in the morning. Mr B clinched that by pointing out that, apart from Tan’s obvious need for sleep, everyone would benefit by relaxing after the trauma of all the Wall crossings.
Kieran's part in the discussion didn't last. After the non-stop tension and pressure of the morning this quiet time was so different he couldn't resist the seduction of letting his mind slow down and relax. The quietness registered and he blinked lazily at Woorawa who he thought had been saying something.
"What nothing. You’ve been quiet for the last few minutes and your eyes just closed. Order your own mind to go to sleep, Kieran."
Strong arms grabbed his shoulders and pulled him so he was lying flat with his head resting comfortably on Rhys's chest.
A delicious smell woke him and the dream about one of Tan’s special meals became reality with the large piece of skewered fish Woorawa was waving under his nose.
"Try this, Kieran. You won't believe how good it is. Tan’s cooked it just right and the other fish taste like cardboard in comparison."
Kieran's stomach gurgled so loudly it made the chest his head was still resting on jerk with Rhys's laughter.
"Get up, slug. I'm starving too and I've had the torture of watching Woorawa and Tan gutsing themselves while I couldn't move."
Kieran's mind registered surprise that he’d slept longer than Tan, but the first bite of the fish on the cooking stick made him forget everything else.
Woorawa was right. Kieran couldn't believe how good this was, and under the indulgent grins of the onlookers he finished every skerrick of the large fillet ... And looked for more.
"We kept the other fillet from your fish out of Tan's greedy clutches, Kieran, but if you’re still hungry after that we’ll need another food expedition. Tan gobbled down the whole extra fish we brought back like a vacuum cleaner going berserk."
Tan grimaced with embarrassment as he acknowledged this.
"Sorry, Kieran. When I woke up I was so hungry I just couldn't stop. Mr B thinks it must be because of the healing and he made me eat the whole extra fish."
Mr B was nodding quite forcefully.
"It makes sense, Kieran. Rhys makes the healing happen but that must be using resources which Tan’s body knows it needs to replace. I think he’s going to feel like he’s starving for the next couple of days."
Kieran didn't say much. He was too busy devouring the second fillet and wondering if this hunger was connected to all his own efforts for the day.
"Has anything happened while I was asleep?"
"A big animal like a deer came in and ate grass with the horses for a while, and another flock of joker birds came and checked us out, and then Mr B and I explored a little bit. We didn't go far while you weren't awake but there's an overhang behind the waterfall and we sat on that rock ledge watching everything for a few minutes ... It's a good place to jump into the pool."
They’d done more than that because a bigger supply of wood was stacked to one side as well as a pile of grass and leaves for the night’s makeshift mattresses. Trust Woorawa to get everything organised. Kieran examined the waterfall and the ledge. They did look interesting, and the jumping comment meant there were plans for a swim at some stage. George and the other two horses were chomping steadily and a quick check showed they were relaxed and content.
"Did you end up making any plans?"
Woorawa and Rhys nodded, almost conspiratorially, as Mr B answered.
"We had to, Kieran. You flaked out when we’d hardly started so we worked them out anyway. First thing is a full on training session with the Spook cords. They’re the only protection for the rest of us from any nasties or things you can't control with your mind and we really need to get confident in using them. Rhys and Woorawa have worked out some ideas to try on each other."
"Each other? No way. Those things are horrible when they touch you."
"Well, you can regulate the amount of energy more precisely so they only have a tiny effect while we’re training."
"It's obvious when a rope touches anyone, Rhys. We don't need the effect as well."
"We talked about that and we reckon it’ll make it a big deal in our minds and force us to concentrate much harder on what we’re doing ... As long as you make it just a partial effect while we train."
Even a partial effect would make for riveted attention, not just focused, and simply reducing the amount of energy in each special pool was easy.
"You said first thing, Mr B. That means you’ve got other things planned as well?"
"Lots, Kieran. Woorawa wants a big session to practice all your new things, and we also reckon it would be a good idea to send an Eagle or some other bird on a scouting expedition some time before it gets dark. There's plenty of time for that later though because after we've had a workout with the Spook ropes we all want to relax and have some fun in Rhys's pool."
"Absolutely! His dreaming about it must have something to do with why we came here, so we’ve told him we’re calling it Rhys's pool. The whole setting is Rhys glade ... And that's Rhys falls."
Rhys shook his head to say they were crazy – at the same time sporting one of his special happy grins.
"I tried to spread it around, Kieran, by saying that the yummy fish should be called Tan fish, but Woorawa's got a fixation on word sounds from somewhere and reckons Rhys fish sounds better. Then I tried their own logic and called the tree where they found the fruit a Mr B tree, but that wasn't good enough either."
Smiling and finishing a giant mouthful of fish don't work together so it took a few seconds to respond.
"You found fruit?"
Rhys pointed to some dark brown objects next to Woorawa who picked one up and passed it over.
"Mr B found them. There are a few trees down the creek a bit but we’re not game to eat them because none of them seem to have been touched by birds or any other animals."
"They look like figs, except round."
"They feel soft too, but they’re different inside."
The specimen Kieran was holding was smaller and rounder than an apple and easily broke apart to reveal bright yellow flesh streaked with lines of small black seeds. He lifted it to his nose for a smell test.
"It's a new smell, that's for sure. Did anyone try tasting it?"
"You've got to be kidding, Kieran. If the birds don't touch it there must be a reason. We thought you could show it to the joker birds and learn from their reaction."
Of course. Kieran nodded his agreement then went back to the serious business of finishing his second big fillet.
"Try an underhand cast like this, Tan. It comes as more of a surprise and might suit you more than full overarm. Practise the wrist flick we showed you all the time too."
Kieran watched with total concentration, and along with Tan and Mr B, made his own effort at the underarm flick. Twice he’d been caught off guard, and three times there’d been no way to dodge the muscle jarring contact with the silky smooth Spook cords that Rhys and Woorawa were continually casting at them. Figuring how to reduce the paralysing effect to an unpleasant tingling sensation instead of instant helplessness had been as straightforward as Kieran expected and, after a few minutes of very careful trial and error with Rhys and Woorawa, they’d agreed on the level Rhys wanted everyone to work with.
Tan's shoulder was quickly forgotten when a few minutes of activity showed it was obviously quite normal. Everyone's attention turned to Rhys's demands. They’d started, quite straightforwardly, by practising different types of casts and flicks, then added the element of accuracy by targeting pieces of wood Rhys had set out. Everyone got serious then because he ranged Kieran, Tan and Mr B against himself and Woorawa, and instead of targeting lumps of wood they were now after each other. His instructions had become steadily more and more complex and the concentration involved in attacking, dodging and coordinating with your own team was more than overwhelming.
This pause for Tan's personal coaching was a real relief for Kieran because recharging the energy each time a cord touched someone meant squeezing in an extra bit of concentration every time it happened.Rhys demonstrated the underhand cast, got Woorawa to do the same, then watched carefully while Tan had a try.
"That's good, Tan. Flick your wrist even more strongly and you’ll be perfect ... Is everything okay? You’re not as zippy as you were when we started."
"Yes, I just got lazy. Watch this"
The wrist flick was strong and the Spook rope snaked accurately toward a large piece of wood but the watching didn't happen because everyone else was checking each other's reaction to what Tan had just said. As far as Kieran was concerned, ‘lazy’, and ‘Tan’, were mutually exclusive concepts. Mr B stepped in.
"It's time to coil up the ropes and relax. Kieran and Rhys, give Tan a healing check to make sure he really is okay and then our next hour is free time to do whatever we like ... We’ll have another practice later, Rhys, because it's so important, but we’ve been on the go and serious all day and it's only sensible to take a break while we have the opportunity."
Rhys dropped his Spook rope on the spot and rushed to Tan’s side with a look of concern which didn't go away till the healing routine showed everything was good and all he’d needed was an energy boost. Mr B continued.
"Give Tan one of those boosts every half-hour. I suspect he’s going to need them, and you too, Kieran. I can't imagine the pressure you’ve been under to do the things you've done today. Your long sleep tells me it's more than you realise yourself."
A big smile appeared.
"This is your teacher speaking ... Follow orders! ... Wipe that cheeky grin off your face, Woorawa. I'm talking to you too. Rhys had a break while he looked after Kieran but you explored and practised all the rope moves and gathered supplies without stopping, so you’re going to take it easy too."
The cheeky grins were all round now, of course, but the seed of sense in Mr B's words was falling on very fertile ground.
The hour became two by unspoken consent. The first half hour was an almost obligatory lazy time of dozing and quietly watching the play of water as it cascaded down the rock-face then fell through the air and churned the pool with a mini maelstrom of bubbles and roiling surface. After Mr B's orders what else. Half an hour was enough for Woorawa though and he went to the side of the pool, stripped off, and leapt in. The yell of exhilaration at the shock of contact with the cool water disrupted the air of laziness in an instant.
"He’s an idiot!"
"It's not that cold is it?"
"What’s he doing now?"
Dark buttocks swished sideways, back and forth, while the rest of Woorawa's body stayed underwater.
"He’s mooning us, Tan."
"It looks rude – two little black hills poking out of the water."
Kieran burst out laughing, which set everyone else off.
"It wasn't that funny."
"Black hills! It was the way you said it, Tan."
Woorawa surfaced for a breath, waved crazily with both hands and disappeared, now completely, under the water.
"He’s heading for the waterfall. See, he’s gliding like a giant Rhys fish."
A black face appeared through the shimmering curtain of the waterfall and a series of calls whooped loud and happy across the water.
"Oh my God! He’s totally crazy."
This was the kind of craziness Rhys couldn't resist, and a few seconds later Tan watched a second set of clothes get dumped in a pile beside Woorawa's. Well, Kieran and Mr B watched too, and then laughter returned at the second great yell of immersion and the following very deliberate mooning.
"So, now we’ve got white hills. I think you should join them, Tan, so we end up with a multicoloured mountain range."
"Nude? You want me to go in there and put my end up without anything on?"
Mr B laughed.
"I didn’t say that on purpose, Tan, but it couldn't have been more appropriate. Of course you’ll be swimming nude. It’s the rule for the day and a good chance to show off your nice bod."
Kieran was a bit surprised at this from Mr B, but quickly added his own encouragement.
"Yes, it is the rule for the day and you have to do a stripper dance for us too."
Tan's dubious look was interrupted by the double barrel of yells coming from the pool where Woorawa and Rhys were having a great water fight. Tan’s look instantly changed to calculation.
"If I do the striptease I get immunity from being splashed to death."
"You’re a wuss, Tan."
"No, I’m not, Mr B. I'm sensible, and I'm waiting for Kieran to agree."
Kieran hadn't really expected Tan to do a muck around striptease but if a simple nod meant he’d go ahead, then a simple nod he’d get.
The act went ahead and was a total showstopper. The yells and activities in the pool paused and Kieran and Mr B watched with delight and amazement. Rhys and Woorawa stirred for the rest of the day about hidden talents and kept asking Tan if he had any other secret talents. There was a lot more merriment round the campfire later when Rhys proclaimed it wasn't all that unusual because everyone experimented with stuff like that in front of a mirror in the privacy of their bedroom.
The water was quite cool and Kieran gave his own yell when he surfaced from a ‘get it over with entry’ rather than Tan’s steady acclimatisation method.
The peaceful beauty of the setting was broken with happy sounds of laughter and activity till Tan announced that, besides feeling hungry again, he needed another rest. Mr B went with him and Kieran followed because having a rest was definitely a good idea.
Rhys and Woorawa happily taunted them that they’d won the wuss test with flying colours, and then proved their own rugged hardiness by staying in for all of five extra minutes.
Tan’s eyes were well and truly closed by then and everyone else sat contemplating the rebuilt campfire with a soft murmur of conversation. Kieran was starting to drift off himself when Woorawa tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the horses.
"Look, Kieran. Two of the big deer animals just came out of the trees. I wonder if they’ll talk to the horses like the first one did?"
Kieran's drowsiness disappeared. He'd missed the earlier visitor because he'd been asleep and he'd been intrigued by the description of how tame it had been. He started to make a mind connection then decided to watch for a while first.
Sure enough, with heads raised alertly, both animals looked round the clearing as if making an inspection, then ambled towards the horses who also had their heads raised, watching these newcomers with interest. George nickered and nodded his head a few times, maybe it was tossing his mane, then stood nose to nose while a strange whiffling noise whispered across the clearing.
"Wow! You were right, Woorawa. It really does look like they’re talking."
"Well, communicating, and they’re just as relaxed as the first one was even when Mr B and I were walking around."
“I don't think we've registered with them yet. Put another stick on the fire so they see the movement and know we’re here."
Woorawa turned toward the woodpile then stopped because the nose to nose act was interrupted as two heads lifted and stared.
"They’ve definitely seen as now, Kieran. Can you control them so they don't run away?"
"They’re not going to run away. That's the same curious look the joker birds gave us."
As if to prove his point both animals gave a parting whiffle and trotted quite confidently towards the campfire.
Kieran gasped with pleasure at the close-up whiffling sound as a moist nose nuzzled against his welcoming hand, then gasped again, with surprise and pure delight, as a long wet tongue rasped a friendly greeting across his cheek.
The process repeated with the second animal then, without a pause, they both trotted back to the company of the horses and lowered their heads to munch the grass.
Mr B, Woorawa and Rhys had huge grins.
"They did that all by themselves didn't they, Kieran? I mean, you didn't tell them to be friendly did you?"
Kieran wiped the side of his face and looked at his hand before answering.
"That was amazing. I didn't know a tongue could feel so nice."
Mr B spoke up with an undisguised twinkle in his eyes.
“I'm surprised, Kieran. You'll have to practice with Rhys tonight."
Rhys goggled at this and coloured up as his mouth opened to make a retort. It closed again as he held it in.
"It was nothing from me, Mr B. I held back from going into their minds because I wanted to see if they'd act the same as the one that came when I was asleep."
"King of the animals again, just like in the Grampians. And the joker birds came to you first too ... You should make contact, Kieran, so you can call them if you ever need to ... And you'll always know when any of them are near us too."
"Good thinking, Rhys."
Kieran looked across the clearing, did the reach thing, then grinned at Rhys.
"All they’re thinking about is how good the grass tastes, and ... Wow! Four more are coming from different directions."
Woorawa looked all around.
"How far, Kieran? Can you tell, like with the Eagles?"
Kieran concentrated and then answered.
"I haven't worked with them enough. All I get is a sense that the grass is close."
"I bet they all come and lick you before they start eating ... I can hear some joker birds over that way, Kieran. Can you call them and check the fruit?"
Kieran nodded and stood up.
"Bring the fruit, Woorawa. The joker birds will be too noisy for Tan if I call them here."
The joker birds met them at a spot about fifty metres downstream from the pool and alighted on shoulders, heads and outstretched arms with their constant display of mischievous, bobbing heads.
"Show them the fig things and I’ll ask them if they want some food."
Every crest drew tightly in, and with squawks of outrage the little flock flew to the nearest tree.
"Oh boy! Just as well we didn't have a taste. Their minds all say danger and death. Your theory about why the fruit wasn't touched was exactly right."
"Why are you shaking your head, Woorawa?"
"They’ve just spoiled our theory that this place is Rhys's dream turned real. Everything else he wished for is here."
"So are the fruit trees."
"I know, but he wouldn't have wanted poisonous ones. I was kind of hoping that if we thought strongly enough about going home the next time we go through the Wall it might take us there. What does everyone else think?"
Mr B replied first.
"Our theory must have something to it, Woorawa. It certainly explains the times we returned to Dead World. It was definitely the strongest thing in our minds each time we entered the Wall till Rhys changed our thinking. The dreamworld part seems a bit much though. I don't think any of us imagined all these new animal and plants at the moment when we moved into the Wall. My own theory is that this place is real and the Wall sent us to the closest approximation of the ideas in our minds it could manage."
"That works even better ... Except it might be the ideas in Kieran's mind that count and not what the rest of us are thinking. Everything happens through him really."
"So all this is my fault, Woorawa?"
"No way! Mr B’s right about it not being a dreamworld because of all the things that happened before we got carried away from home. Someone started all this and it's their fault, not yours."
Kieran laughed again.
"Rhys is the one they keep going for so it's his fault not mine."
Rhys put on a fake offended look.
"Thanks very much. Monsters and walls and poisonous fruit, it's all my fault, except I feel like I'm in the middle of the most unbelievable dream ever, and I can't make up my mind if I want to wake up or keep on dreaming to see what crazy thing’s going to happen next."
Woorawa gave him a friendly whack on the arm.
"Hey! This is my dream, not yours, and right now I'm dreaming that you are telling me I’m part of your dream."
Kieran was so taken with this that he couldn't resist extending it.
"And my dream is that Woorawa’s dreaming that Rhys is dreaming about him."
Mr B shook his head.
"Stop! Stop! My brain’s going in circles trying to follow that. I've heard of mass hallucinations but never of mass dreamings. What are we going to do tomorrow, Kieran, continue travelling in search of information, or try Woorawa's suggestion of entering the Wall again while we think strong thoughts about going home?"
Without hesitation Kieran pointed back to the campfire.
"Tan’s not ready for the Wall so we’ll keep to our exploring plan and see what happens with that before even thinking about facing the Wall again."
Everyone nodded. Kieran had just spoken with the command tone he sometimes used, and they all agreed anyway. Tan missed the Spook rope practice which followed but woke when Kieran, Rhys and Woorawa arrived at the campfire with a new supply of the delicious, fat, Rhys fish for their evening meal, and then wanted to know what had been happening and why he hadn't been roused.
"You’re awake now, Tan, so you can make up for missing out on your practice with slave driver Rhys by cooking these fish to perfection. The only thing you really missed was seeing Kieran get his face licked six times."
Tan blinked a few times while he tried to figure what Woorawa might be talking about.
"Licked? Was Rhys mucking around?"
Rhys grunted in protest and pointed to the three deer creatures still in the clearing.
"Not me, Tan. Every time one of them arrived they came over to the campfire and licked Kieran's face. We think it’s their way of greeting someone special."
This was Tan's first sighting of the visitors and he stared, intrigued, till Rhys started fussing about how hungry he was.
After they'd finished eating there was a general discussion for about half an hour but then Woorawa took charge and made Kieran practice every ability he'd developed so far. This involved everyone with the usual effort of fighting against the Medusa look and a great deal of discussion about what happened with the Wall crossings, the monsters and the healing effort, and it was well over an hour of serious concentration before it finished and he asked for Tan's pocketknife. Rhys stoked up the fire and everyone watched curiously while Woorawa experimentally tapped various pieces of wood together then broke them into suitable lengths and whittled the surfaces smooth.
"Sound sticks for our show, Mr B. They’ll help us chant and sing while we dance."
"You can just watch and enjoy if you’re feeling tired, Tan, but you still have to help with your rhythm sticks."
Tan was tired, but he joined it anyway when Woorawa's lead became so exciting it couldn’t be resisted.
The basic steps and chants they already knew built and built under Woorawa's guidance to an inspiring re-enactment of Rhys's epic battle with the monster.