"Are you sure about this? I mean, this could end badly..."
"I want to find out the truth. How can we fight along something we don't understand?" The pagan pushed her hair back out of her face. She had a determined look on her face.
"Yes, I understand, but still..." The nervous hunter began.
"But still, what?"
The hunter looked down in thought. After a few seconds, he looked back up at the pagan. "Look... it's a mysterious force that appeared suddenly, and we were told to work with them. What does that indicate to you? To me, it says: someone high up is behind this. Only someone with some serious political... and possibly other forms of power... could conjure up something like this. Are we prepared to question that person's decision? Demand to know what they know? You know it would look like treason. Are you really prepared to take that risk?"
The pagan was silent.
"This could be bigger than we can imagine. We might... well, I don't even want to think of it. Are you really prepared?"
"Well? You have to make a decision! Are you?"
She was still silent. The group of vail and nordein became restless. What had started as a discussion of concerns was turning into a frightening proposition. What the pagan wanted to do was not, to say the least, very self-preserving given the Union's political structure. Demanding to understand orders was tantamount to treachery. Nevertheless...
She had been right. She had echoed what they were all thinking, and had not been afraid to say it. If anyone could lead them in this endeavor, she could.
They awaited her answer.
The hunter asked one more time. "Are you really going to do this, Athena?"
After a moment, when the tension was almost palpably about to snap, she looked up.
"Yes. Let's go."
* * *
Trogdor focused. This was harder than he thought it would be. And he had not imagined it would be easy.
"Use the energy within you. Just like I taught you."
Trogdor put all his concentration into controlling his energy. Volke had instructed him how to manipulate the mystic energy that flowed through all elves' beings. It was the key to tapping into great power.
"You can do this, Trog."
Trogdor prepared himself...
He let loose.
He felt normal.
Disappointment flowed over him like a tidal wave. Nothing felt different, nothing looked different. He looked at his master, ready for rebuke. Volke was grinning.
"There you go!"
"What?" Trogdor said, baffled.
"You did it! You really did it! Well done!"
Trogdor inspected his own hand closely. It was still visible.
"But... I can see myself."
"Well, yeah, that's how it works. You're the same to yourself. But all I see is the green hill behind you. You're in stealth, my friend."
Trogdor still could not believe what he was hearing. "Are... are you sure?"
Volke laughed. "If you want, you could move somewhere and I could try to throw a knife into you."
Trogdor, remembering how fast he had seen Volke's steel fly through the air, declined.
Volke, still jovial, inquired "Do you think you can pop out now? Just do what I told you before. You know."
Trogdor did know. When he had learned to use sprinter, he had got the hang of moving the energy in the right way and pulling it back in to release the spell. "It should be similar with this," he thought...
Trogdor appeared. Volke, with a slightly more serious look on his face, extended a hand. "Congratulations. You've learned that useful skill faster than any pupil I've ever had." Trogdor clasped the offered hand. Trogdor looked in Volke's eyes and saw, to his surprise, but also his satisfaction, a look of respect. The feeling was mutual.
"Well done. Up next, I hope you like feathers."
Trogdor laughed. "Transformation?"
"Yup. And just so you know, stealth doesn't make you feel funny, but this will. Just a bit of warning."
Trogdor took his advice seriously. He recalled how he had almost lost control of sprinter and barely avoided denting Keolloseu's south wall. He considered how it would feel to be a chicken...
* * *
The group, about 20 in number, appeared through the portal. Athena was already heading for the town hall. The guards, seeing a group of fully-armed determined-looking borderland soldiers coming straight toward them, grew increasingly curious. A few became nervous. One was sent for the captain. The captain, a towering hulk for even a nordein and having a scar down the whole side of his face, emerged from the main entrance just as the group arrived.
"And what would you be wanting?" he inquired in his commanding bass voice. Athena looked him in the eyes and said "We want to speak to the council."
There was a pause. The captain held her gaze, already impressed she had made eye contact. He was not known as a nordein you treated lightly and remained unscathed afterward. He considered for a moment, and then nodded.
"Very well. Proceed."
Athena nodded thanks and moved past. The others followed. One of the newer guards thought he saw the corner of the captain's mouth twitch upward slightly in what could almost be called a smile. He immediately decided it was best to disbelieve his eyes, and resumed his duties.
The engraved iron doors swung open into the council chamber...