Taking Haley’s Intellect’s advice, Haley and Vaarsuvius avoided discovery this time around by not only locking the door but also trading room number door plates with the empty room across the hall. Not surprisingly, Haley was in quite the chipper mood when she and Vaarsuvius met with the rest of the Order a couple of hours later.
Aside from Vaarsuvius and Elan exchanging several odd looks along the way, the journey to and through Sunken Valley went unexpectedly well. No one really had anything to worry about until it came time to ask their questions…
I should ask about Miss Star—Haley, Vaarsuvius thought as he awaited his turn to question the oracle. I would never forgive myself if we were doing the wrong thing… But… He desperately wanted to know how he would achieve his life goal of obtaining complete and total ultimate arcane power.
His stomach knotted. If he would.
Far too many times since Sir Greenhilt had proposed this mission he had imagined asking the oracle his question and the oracle replying, ”You won’t.” If that terrible fantasy came true, he’d be… lost.
“It be yer turn,” Durkon called to Vaarsuvius, skipping giddily out of the oracle’s chamber.
“Good news?” Vaarsuvius asked Durkon as he stood up shakily.
“The best!” Durkon declared, beaming.
At least someone’s happy…
The Oracle snickered as Vaarsuvius approached.
“What?” asked Vaarsuvius, offended.
“Well,” said the oracle, “If you really want that to be your question, then—”
“No! No, no, no!” Vaarsuvius cried hurridly, “My question is…” He gulped. Why couldn’t I have somehow collected enough gold for two questions, confound it all…
“Ah, ah, ah,” said the oracle, “Gold first.”
“Of course,” Vaarsuvius murmured, setting his bag of gold on the ground near the oracle and wiping his clammy palms on his robe.
“Well…?” the oracle prompted.
How many times had he imagined the oracle saying ”You won’t”? How many more would he do so if he didn’t ask now?
Sighing, Vaarsuvius asked the oracle, “How will I achieve complete and total ultimate arcane power?”
When her turn came, Haley sighed and hoped the oracle would give her good advice.
“He’ll give you my advice,” Self-Loathing told her matter-of-factly, “You’re going to feel really stupid when you’ve spent all that gold just to have him tell you what you already know.”
The oracle chuckled as Haley entered the chamber. She came close to asking ”What’s so funny?” but stopped herself in time, not wanting to unintentionally waste her question.
“Heck, I’ll tell you,” the oracle said, snickering, “It’s not like you’ll remember: Let’s just say that that marvelous little triangle you’re in with the elf and the bard is going to get even more… interesting in about… nine months?” He broke down laughing and took several seconds to recover while Haley stared at him, horrified.
“Okay, okay, I’m good. Ask your question.”
“Bfqe zqp M rt et fjketfj wi kljjzf?” Haley asked her question as planned, dazed.
Ever since this morning, Elan hadn’t been able to go five minutes without seeing that shocked and hurt look on Haley’s face in his mind’s eye. He’d wanted to talk to her about it, but by the time he’d recovered from the Cone of Cold, both Haley and Vaarsuvius were no where to be found. When the party finally pulled itself back together to head out to Sunken Valley, he hadn’t wanted to bug either of them about it in front Roy and the others, and besides, Haley looked much more cheerful, but still…
“Will this story have a happy ending?” he asked, his voice laced with anxiety, Haley’s piercingly pained expression all he could see though he was staring at a purple-clad kobald.
The oracle frowned. On the one hand, there was way too much passion in the little triangle he saw to allow much happiness in while all three points participated, but, on the other hand, as far as just the blonde’s future went…
“Yes,” he told Elan reluctantly, adding, “For you, at least.”
Later that day he wondered if perhaps his answer to that question should have been an unmodified “yes”. There would be a happy-for-all-concerned moment for the trio later on that involved disgusting mammalian mating, but only some would consider that moment the end of the story.
As they headed out of Sunken Valley, Elan felt simultaneously light-hearted and queasy. It was a dream-come-true to know he would get a happy ending just like he’d always hoped, but he just knew that his need to know what the oracle had meant by ”For you, at least” was going to tear him apart.
Vaarsuvius, meanwhile, was overcome with guilt. How could I be so selfish? Why couldn’t I trust in my own abilities and put Haley first instead of “check” to make sure I’ll someday reach my full potential?
I hope I’m wrong about what the oracle was laughing about… Haley was thinking, after all, many things could make the situation more "interesting" and the nine months thing could be a coincidence, But I have to tell V somehow…
“Good luck with that,” said Self-Loathing, “Because, guess what? The ‘gift horse’ ain’t a purple-haired elf.”
“Can’t prove it’s a blonde-in-the-brain bard, either,” Self-Reliance pointed out, “You know, it could be something that has absolutely nothing to do with either of them.”
“Doubt it,” said Self-Loathing.
“If we may re-focus on the matter of immediate importance,” said Intellect loudly before turning to Haley, “Write him a note before we leave the valley.”
Nodding, Haley sat down on the ground and took some scarcely-used writing materials out of her pack. Within a minute, she’d written a note that covered it:
When I was talking with the oracle, he said something that may imply I’m pregnant. We need to talk.
But alas… thought, Haley, shaking her head, Stupid…
She crossed out “We need to talk” and replaced it with “We need to meet in private and work this out.”
Awkward, yes, but it would have to do.
She was re-reading the note when she heard Durkon call to her, “Lass! Are ye comin’ or what?”
“Ztwmpa!” Haley called back, hurriedly stuffing everything back in her pack before running to catch up with the rest of the group.
“We need to go back!” Roy was saying as Haley caught up with Durkon at the back of the group, “We need to ask the—”
They passed the sign that indicated they’d left Sunken Valley.
“Lass!” Durkon exclaimed, pointing at Haley’s pack, “Are ye carrying ink?”
“Byqe?” said Haley, looking where Durkon indicated, “Rqwwme!” A wet, black blotch was spreading from inside the bag. While Roy and the others chattered about Girard’s Gate, she dug the offending bottle of ink out of the bag and firmly re-corked it. What’s this? she wondered, spotting an unfamiliar paper among her ink-soaked belongings.
V, she read, When I was talking with the oracle, he said something that may imply
The rest of the paper was soaked in ink, rendering any other text illegible.
That’s my handwriting… she thought, frowning, Why don’t I remember writing this?
“I don’t like it,” said Mistrust, “Looks like someone’s using some kind of weird magic on you.”
“I agree,” said Intellect, “We must figure out where this note came from and what it originally said.”
What would V need to know about what the oracle told me? Haley wondered. She was getting an ominous feeling that whatever it was, it was very important.