The clearing that Tei'serin found herself in was much hotter than anything else she had experienced so far. So much so that she suspected that without the protection that U'frek had given them, the heat would have been fatal. That thought made her wonder if they really could trust that the protection that they had been given would last as long as they needed it to. Men lied, either to further their own needs, or on the orders of one that they served. It was no far stretch in Tei'serin's mind that an Immortal might lie to someone who was not marked by them. And yet...who was to say that none of the others she was with were marked by U'frek? She had no way of knowing that for certain. Besides, if U'frek wanted them to succeed in this task, why would he give them faulty protection, or protection that wouldn't last as long as they needed it? What purpose would that serve? Unless he didn't really care if they succeeded or not...but if that were the case, then why kidnap them and send them on this artifact hunt in the first place? There were too many unknowns here for Tei'serin's comfort, and she didn't like it one bit.
Still. They were stuck here until U'frek decided to send them all home again, and Tei'serin didn't think it likely that he would do so unless and until they were successful in their mission. To that end, Tei'serin looked around the clearing, searching for anything that might be dangerous, or that might be the artifacts the were looking for, or the eggs that the ghost had mentioned...really, just about anything out of the ordinary.
The center of the clearing was glowing. And that certainly was out of the ordinary. What was causing the glow that seemed almost like flowing lava? Upon further examination, she noticed the magma rocks that seemed to be sitting in a nest of sorts...almost like eggs. Could these rocks be the "eggs" that the ghost had mentioned? And if so, were they really just magma rocks, or were they the artifacts they were supposed to find? Perhaps more importantly...how were they supposed to find out?
Tei'serin approached the "eggs" cautiously, and she immediately noticed that the closer she got to them, the hotter it got. She wasn't at all certain what she was looking for, but she studied the "eggs" as she tried to see if she could see anything that would tell her if these were real eggs of some kind, just magma rocks, or the artifacts they were meant to find. She could not bring herself to touch them, however. If the heat increased just by getting closer to them, then it seemed likely that touching them was a good way to get burned. She wondered if any of the others would be willing to take that risk.
That thought turned her mind to the others. What did she know about the three men that were with her in the clearing? Nothing really. And that worried her. The unknown was dangerous when it came to men. Strange men might well be working for Thorin. She shuddered slightly at the thought. None of them had told her that they were working for him, nor had they demanded what so many of his coworkers had demanded of her in the past. That was a good thing, and it was a point in their favor. But just because they hadn't made any demands of her yet didn't mean that they weren't going to. Even if this was a very unlikely place for it. Nor did it mean they weren't spying on her for Thorin, and that this wasn't a trap. Of course...with U'frek being the one to bring Nathan, Chip, and herself here...that was less likely. Not even Thorin could convince an Immortal to do his bidding or set things up for a test for her. Even so...
Tei'serin stopped that train of thought before it began. She didn't trust any of her companions in the slightest, but if she started questioning everything, then she was likely to go mad worrying about it. Of the three, Chip was probably the safest. Thorin had never sent a Tuniwa to her before, and she didn't think that he had any of them working for him. And a Tuniwa was too small to be much use to Thorin. Probably. Except for the fact that Chip was able to grow bigger...
Then there was Doctor Revel. Surely he was too...loud and over the top to be working for Thorin. The way he talked, and that cape thing of his made it seem very unlikely that he was working for Thorin. Thorin had a very low tolerance for such things, and Tei'serin was fairly certain that someone like what little she had seen of Doctor Revel so far would anger Thorin and get himself killed before too long if he was working for her "guardian." Unless of course the man had some knowledge or skill that was useful to Thorin...
Finally there was Nathan. Of the three, he was the most likely candidate to be working for Thorin, and Tei'serin planned to keep a close eye on him. If this was some kind of test for her as unlikely as that seemed...then failure was not an option. She really didn't want to think about the punishment that would be hers for failing a test.
Then again...she hadn't heard anything at all from Thorin in a very long time. Had he forgotten about her? That seemed very unlikely. More likely, he was just too busy to check up on her progress in Desnind. It was strange, but she hoped desperately that it was the latter. He still had her family as hostages for her good behavior. When she had left for Desnind, they were all still in Treth, but that might well not still be the case. By now, they could be anywhere in the world, and unless Thorin brought them to Desnind, summoned her to him, or told her where they were, she would have no way of ever finding them again. She didn't even know if they were still alive. Thorin could have killed some, or any of them during the time she'd been in Desnind, and she wouldn't even know unless he told her about it. And Tei'serin clung to that thought. Thorin took great pleasure in hurting her. If he had hurt or killed one of her family members...he would have told her, knowing how much that would hurt her. Since he had not, then were alive. She had to believe that because she didn't think she could bear it if it were not true.
Tei'serin forced her mind back to the present. There was nothing she could do about her family now, and this was hardly the time to be worrying about it when she didn't even know if she would be alive at the end of the trial. She went back to looking around the clearing, and she froze when she heard voices coming from up ahead. When she looked, she could see a split path beyond the nest of magma eggs. A woman was guarding the left path while two men were guarding the right. They had their backs turned towards her and the others, so they hadn't seen them. Yet. But they looked like Aukari, and they were armed. Could these be members of the Aukari Occult that U'frek had warned them about?
Tei'serin's hand reached for her bow, but she froze. Could she really try to shoot these people? In the back? She wasn't sure that she could bring herself to try and kill someone at all, never mind in such a fashion. And...what if these people weren't the enemy? She cautiously edged to where her companions were standing, hoping that the others...whoever they were...would not hear her movements.
"We're not alone." she warned quietly.