Part 9

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“I know I’m not exactly the safest person to be around, being from another world and all, and I’m sure the evil side’s going to want to get their hands on me, so there’s a risk,” Cricket remarked, “but it would really be an adventure. And if you don’t mind my saying so, you would be a tremendous help to me—protection-wise and all. Oh, won’t you stay for a while?”

The wolf grinned. “Never have I ever been asked on such an adventure. How could I refuse? I would be honored.”

Cricket smiled and petted him before putting on her shoes.

“Look at her wth that mutt,” Airik said. “It’s horrifying to see her take sides with an enemy.”

“Is that what bothers you so much, my son,” Golyn replied thoughtfully, “Or is it that you think she cares for the beast more than she cares for you?”

Airik stared straight ahead, eyes blank. He clenched his fists.

Golyn thought aloud, “Who is the enemy?”

The two finally caught up with the girl and the wolf. “I invited Torshak to stay with me, and he accepted. I’m sure he won’t be any trouble.”She looked triumphantly at Airik’s face, but he was gazing elsewhere.

“Tesser?” Golyn smiled as he recognized his old friend.

But the taller-than-average elder dwarf’s head was creased with worry. “Airik, milord, something awful’s happened!” He gasped for breath. “Shreen, Sign, and Silver have been captured by Strife Warriors!”

Cricket’s eyes widened and her face paled. “Silver? Oh God, how?”

Tesser leaned up against a rock and rested. “Shreen and Sign were watchmen for the posts outlooking the farthest storehouses. I don’t know how they were captured, but they did put up a fight.Silver must have either been with them or gone looking for them because Ariel saw her go into the woods.”

Cricket was stunned. So far her first and best friend in this world had been captured and she wasn’t on very good terms with the High Lord. It seemed as if her presence brought a streak of bad luck. “Oh

God,” she continued to mutter.

Airik looked very worried also. “It’s no wonder they put up a fight; they’re the best damn warriors in Golendria. Together they could have taken out a legion of Strifes. What aren’t you telling me?”

Tesser looked at his feet and drew a picture in the sand. To Cricket, it was a fancy backwards five with a diagonal line through it. “This was marked in the oak,” Tesser said. He looked at Airik.

Airik was dumbfounded. “He’s not back! Damn!” He couldn’t be back. Not Varr. We put him too far away. Damned dimension warps. Avelin got a hold of him, didn’t she? Varr. Damn.” He kicked the figure in the sand. “How did Avelin get the power to bring Varr back from exile?”

Golyn was afraid he knew how. “Well,” the magician spoke aloud, “our main concern is not how Varr got back here. He’s here, and we’ve got to get those three back.”

“Not to mention the others she’s collected.”

Golyn looked at Airik. “Others?”

He nodded.

“Then we’ll get those too. Tesser, old friend, don’t stare at me so. I’m not dead, am I?”

“Golyn, you old fool, where have you been for the past Turn?”

“In that library—my workspace that I created to not be bothered. I tried a spell beyo the limit of these old bones and I was drained. Does Turnip still make chilliby wine?”

“Best in the world. Kobolds do that sort of thing. Let’s go see him. I want to see the look on his face when he sees you. First I’ll get Fraziel and Frithen to tidy up your quarters.”

“No.” Golyn put his foot down. “The last thing I need is two nosy, good-for-nothing gnomes snooping in my things. I’ll need to get ready.” He turned to Airik. “I assume the search parties will leave tomorrow.”

“Yes, I’ll talk to the weapons master,” said Airik. “Luktar’s going to need all the help he can get. Farewell.”

Cricket’s hand tensely grasped Torshak’s fur. A cold shudder went down her back as she looked into the woods.

Airik ran a hand through his hair. “Well, I guess I better go see that Luktar and everyone else gets prepared for the party.” Airik paused and then turned. Cricket heard his footsteps on the soft sand as he walked away.

Torshak spoke when he left. “Was Silver a good friend?”

“She was the only person here that I knew well enough to understand.”

Torshak was quiet for a moment and then suggested, “Why don’t we walk around a bit?”

Cricket nodded, put on her shoes, and walked off.

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