And they were off. Slowly at first, with Grant carefully counting out each step, then moving a little faster as the rhythm became more comfortable, and soon Grant's count was more a formality than anything as the three of them moved together.
"It's getting closer," Lessia said, pointing awkwardly at the horizon while keeping in stride. "Or I mean we're getting closer."
Emily's right arm was around Lessia's waist, giving her a thrill as the three of them began to walk. The other two being topless didn't hurt. She was technically in the front, which let her set the distance of the steps while Grant kept the rhythm.
And then she was there. In the middle of a great hall. She was setting a table, placing plates at thirteen chairs. Her pace never slowed, she simply walked forward, placed a plate in its spot, and walked back to a cupboard along the outer wall to get one more. Always one at a time, always to the next spot around the table, her footfalls and motions marking the constant beat of Grant's counting,
It was about then that she realized two important facts: first, that the dress and shoes she had been wearing before were nowhere to be seen; and second, that she wasn't alone in the room, that a man sat at the head of the table watching her move, a strangely familiar man, about Grant's age, with dark shoulder-length hair and sharp blue eyes.
Emily, tied to Lessia's waist, stumbled, jarring Lessia out of her ... daydream? vision? reverie? Whatever it had been, it felt real beyond imagining. Even now, she felt divided, as though she were in two places at once or...
No, Lessia, came a gentle tenor voice, a voice from elsewhere but also from very near. You're experiencing two different times.
"Oh," she said into the hall, placing the ninth plate in its place. "Why am I naked in one?"
"Because I've borrowed you from yet another place and time."
Lessia picked up another plate. "That sounds complicated."
"If you think it's complex for you, listen to Grant."
Lessia listens closely. She can hear the regular count in time with her footfalls, which she knows doesn't come from the hall, but as she sets the tenth plate in its proper place, she can hear the soft playing of a lute coming from the corner of the room.
"He's... he's both counting the steps, and also..."
"Yes, that's right. He's playing the music."
The ropes had come undone, and while Lessia could still hear the steady pace of Grant's count, and feel the noon sun on her arms. At the same time, she was placing the eleventh plate on the table. At the same time, she was...
The Sage nodded. "Tell us what happened, Lessia."
She remembered something that was about to occur. "The... the ropes came undone. Are about to come undone. But we were, er, are so close." She picked up her twelfth plate. "We were past whatever barrier held us back."
"No," the Sage said. "You weren't."
Lessia nodded. The twelfth plate was put on the table. "I... I don't know how long I walked. How long I've been walking for. I'm... I'm still..."
The Sage nodded. "Go on."
She listened to Grant's careful count. "I'm not here, not yet. I'm walking with Grant and Emily. And I'm... between them and you, between here and there." The lute played softly, filling the room with music as she put down the penultimate plate. "Where else am I?" she asked softly.
The Sage nodded down the table as Lessia turned away to go and pick up the last plate. There she sat, hands folded neatly in her lap, naked, her eyes vacant and distant, back straight.
"There is so much going on, Lessia. More than you, or the Bard, or the Wanderer know. And there is much to be done."
"What are you talking about?"
"I can only see a small piece of what's coming," said the Sage. "But I know that Emily wants you to be a part of it. And if Emily wants you to be a part of it, then I want you to be a part of it."
Lessia pursed her lips, picking up the final plate. "And Grant?"
The Sage smiles. "We shall see. But his destiny isn't mine to tell you. Like any good fortune teller, I only tell you your future."
"Very convenient for you," she said with a smirk. "Is this how Sages keep people away? Confuse them until they just give up?"
"That's one option," came the very dry reply, but the Sage's grin matched Lessia's.
Lessia put the final plate down in front of the Sage, then looked down the length of the table. Two things struck her: she couldn't hear Grant's careful counting any more, and she was no longer also seated at the far end.
Before she could comment, though, Emily walked into a great hall, stripped to the waist and barefoot. Lessia's gaze followed her path (and her breasts) across the room, approaching the head of the table.
"Don't stop walking," the Sage said, addressing the new guest. "Keep your pace. You'll catch up to yourself in just a moment."
Emily knelt at the Sage's side.
"Welcome," he said.
"Welcome," Lessia said without thinking, and she heard Grant echo the word.
"Thank you," Emily breathed. Her mouth quirked into a bit of a grin. "Mind telling me what the heck's going on?"