Day 76

Sannier bolted the opposite direction, working against the flow of fleeing citizens. The foundation shook and rumbled, causing those very citizens to scurry like frightened cats. The twins took hold of Zane to keep him from tumbling over.

“Put the children on my back. They’ll be safer up here.” Glue Pot bent down to allow Tipper and Digitalis to heave Zane and Lila onto the centaur’s back.

“The caves may begin to collapse. We have to hurry.” Agile waved the company over with a grim expression. Slowly but surely, Agile had rounded up not only the children, but the frightened citizens as well. The guard was grim faced as they navigated the winding tunnels to emerge at the designated emergency exit. An elf with bulging muscles and fierce yellow eyes was in charge of moving the great slab of rock down a near fatal drop to deposit elves to the evacuation warren below. She waved the next group over.

“You can pack a few more on,” the magical elf insisted. Adriei, who had attempted to wait for the next ride down, sighed and squeezed onto the already full moving rock. The elf woman nodded and sent the company down and down until the rock thunked into place. Agile again took lead. They walked into a hive network of rooms and tunnels that one would believe to look uncomfortable, but really weren’t. Sub-queen Faeley, even during the worst of times, would not allow her people to live in dank caves. The floors were clean and laid with bricks. The walls had been magically smoothed out. There was even the scent of what could have been blueberries in the air. Small comforts for such big trouble.

“Here we go. You’ll be safe here,” Agile commented. They had brought the company to a small room inlaid with blue stones. “Sub-queen Faeley has enchanted this warren to keep from crumbling. They’re smaller than the mountain and easier to use magic on. However, if you take one step out, then that may be your last.”

“But, you’re leaving, aren’t you?” Digitalis asked.

“I need to bring the sub-queen back. She’ll end up defending the mountain and the people with her last breath, and Queen Inana needs her. We still have the problem of disappearing villages, and sub-queen Faeley’s magic may help.” Agile smiled sadly. “Don’t worry. The Queen’s Guard do not die so easily.” With that, Agile and Adriei bolted out.

“What do we do now?” Zane asked.

Alastair and Lila exchanged looks. They could talk about what happened. Lila’s ability to fly and Alastair’s sudden trick of stopping time. Yet now was not the moment to speak of such things. There was a real sense of danger permeating the air. Back in Indiana, Alastair and Lila were told how to run into the basement if they heard the air alarms outside. Those alarms meant a tornado was nearby and could possibly chew up their house and spit it out into toothpicks. They felt the same sense of impending danger now as they felt huddled down in their basement with their mother and father.

Day 75

**I decided that I needed to introduce sub-queen Faeley a bit better. This next section will take place when the company is sharing dinner with Sannier and Silverskin. Day 76 will return to where we last left off on Day 74**

“Who is sub-queen Faeley?” Gabbie asked.

“Better yet, what the heck is a sub-queen?”

“Sub-queens are charged with looking after a certain population of peoples. They are given funds and materials to take care of their people and in return they are pledged to our Queen Inana,” said Agile. They scooped some food into their mouth and chewed. “There are thirteen sub-queens in Soielle.”

“Oh! Sub-queens are like yarls.” Ginger nodded as if she confirmed something she already knew. Alastair and Lila stared at her in confusion. “What? I play some games that cover this stuff. Yarls then have thanes to carry out protecting their people. Sannier and her husband are like thanes.”

“Very true. We help the elves of Rockestel safe. There are magic warriors like me and battle warriors like my husband.”

“What’s your husband’s name?” Zane asked between bites of food.

“Throdar!” Silverskin said before his mother could open her mouth. “Anyway, you guys must have been holed up somewhere in the corner of Soielle to not know what sub-queens are.”

“They’ve never met one is all,” Tipper said for the children.

“The kids are with us,” Digitalis added. “Glue Pot, the kids, and me—we all lost our villages. Tipper and Perceval are our guards.”

Sannier, Agile, and Adriei eyed the beaten up and exhausted Tipper with the equally burnt out Perceval.

“Looks like they did their jobs,” Sannier muttered.

“So who is sub-queen Faeley anyway? We got off topic,” Digitalis asked. She ignored the pointed looks of her companions who still remembered her uncanny ability to stay off topic for hours.

“Sub-queen Faeley is our savior,” Sannier began. “She was born to a wicked father who only wished for power. He planned to sell Faeley off as a bride to further his hold over the elven tribes, but she freed herself from his clutches and overthrew him. Sub-queen Faeley then fought a five year battle to reclaim Rockestel elves from labor camps. I was one of those she saved.” Sannier smiled and sipped from her drink. “She lost her right arm in the battle, but she never lost her spirit. She vowed to keep the Rockestel elves from harm and she meant it.”

“Sub-queen Faeley pledged her alligence to Queen Inana to solidify her title and keep enemies away,” Agile said. “Everyone knows that if you mess with Queen Inana’s people, you have no hope of living.”

“Wow!” Ginger exclaimed. “Faeley is so cool! I can’t wait to meet her tomorrow.”

“Is Faeley married? Are there sub-princes and sub-princesses?” Lila asked with stars in her eyes.

“No,” Sannier replied in a flat voice. “Her man Keir perished in the war fifty tears ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Lila bowed her head.

“Dear child, there’s no need to apologize. Our sub-queen Faeley is a strong woman. She has her people to care for, and that’s all she really needs.” Sannier smiled at Lila.

Day 74

“Lila! Gabbie!” Alastair bolted and hooked his arms around the two girls. “I thought you were all gone! If it wasn’t for…” Alastair pulled away and looked at his sister. “What was that, anyway?”

“Have to discuss what happened later,” Adriei said. “Have to evacuate NOW!” Adriei picked up Gabbie and Lila, and nodded at the two boys. “Follow me. I know the way” The Royal Guard loped away leaving the boys no time to dawdle.

The hallways were now crowded with terrified elves. The young children clutched their mothers and fathers with frightened brown and gold eyes. They quaked and stumbled and blocked the footpaths. Other elves insisted on carrying bags and bags full of precious rocks, gems, and mentos. They crashed against their neighbors unapologetically. One of those elves nearly trampled a mother and her two babies. Adriei grabbed the collar of the elf’s tunic.

“Apologize.”

“What for? If they can’t keep up, that’s not my problem,” the defiant elf answered.

“It is my problem. And if it’s my problem, then it is also the Queen Inana’s problem.”

“Q-Queen Inana?!” The elf studied Adriei more closely and squeaked. “O-oh! Sorry missus! I didn’t mean it! Here!” The elf dropped his bags of gems, bowed, and then scurried off. The mother elf said thank you to Adriei and turned to keep walking. She left the bag of gems laying on its side where the original owner left it.

“Woah. How powerful is the Queen?” Gabbie wondered out loud.

“Very.” Adriei’s eyes wandered over Gabbie, Lila, and Alastair. There was a slight frown curled on their lips that made Alastair feel a little uneasy. Too much had happened for the children to take the time and carefully dissect. The Elder told Alastair that humans were adept at magic in Soille, and the children had carefully listened. That didn’t mean they fully believed the Elder’s claims. Yes, Alastair was able to use the Fire Gems, but that was because the Elder had infused the gems with fire power. What occurred on the cliff side was something that came from Alastair and Lila. They still couldn’t truly believe that what happened was truly reality. For now, they had to tuck away their disbelief.

“There they are!” Came a bellow from further beyond. Alastair knew who that was.

“Ginger!” Gabbie yelped. She wiggled out of Adriei’s grasp and landed on the floor like a cat. She raced after Ginger’s voice and for a second, Alastair thought that they lost her in the crowd. But then the elves parted and he could see the sisters hugging. And then he could see Ginger shaking Gabbie by the shoulders with a wild fierceness in her hazel eyes.

“You idiot! What possessed you to go out and gallivant outside with Sannier’s son? Look what’s happened. A freaking god is out to eat everyone and, and, and, AHHH!” She shook her a few more times for good measure.

Sannier emerged out from behind Ginger and Silverskin cringed.

“Please pray for me, Alastair. I think I might be dead soon,” the elf requested.

“If not now, then when the Lake God gets you!” Sannier barked. “I wish I could take my time scolding you, but I have a responsibility to save the people here. Go with Adriei and Agile. I’ll find the sub-queen.”

Day 73

“Yeah?” The younger girl replied. She gingerly rolled to her side and sat up.

“Are you okay?”

“As much as someone who just got wings can be okay.” Lila brushed off dust and dirt from her face and then stood up to inspect her new wings. They looked like how she always imagined wings on a Pegasus— feathers as delicate as ice cream shavings yet able to bear the weight of the flier. Lila wondered if they would flap on her command. She saw in her mind’s eye the image of her brand new wings taking one measured FLAP.

“You’re doing that?” Silverskin asked in amazement.

“I think I am!” Lila cheered. She then remembered what was going on around her. There was some sort of monster crawling from the lake right for the people of Rockestel. There was a magical wall that popped right from the ground like magic holding the monster off. There was no one who would open the secret rock outcropping door for Silverskin and Gabbie. It was time for her to do something about that. “Come on! Hold my hands and I’ll fly us back up to Ali!”

“Lila, we’re too heavy. You might have wings, but they’re not super muscle wings,” Gabbie pointed out.

“I might be able to fix that,” Silverskin said after a moment’s pause. “I can’t use my air magic to lift or drop us, but I can make us a little lighter so Lila can support our weight.”

“No! Don’t want to strain her and get her hurt!” Gabbie said.

“There’s not much choice. You’ll have to trust both of us,” Lila said. She snatched Gabbie’s hand and, with a little hesitation, grabbed Silverskin’s hand as well. “I see why Momma birds kick their babies out of the nest. They get a hands on lesson on flying, and I think I got mine.”

“If you say so,” Gabbie sighed.

Lila made her wings flap, flap, and flap again. Normally, taking off right away wouldn’t have been possible. However, Silverskin not only put his energy towards making Gabbie and himself light, he also funneled some of that power into Lila. The sensation was odd, as if she’d been hollowed out and replaced with soothing air. Lila smiled as the three children sprung from the ground and up into the whistling air. Gabbie held onto Lila tightly with both hands.

“I’ve always wanted to do this!” Silverskin hooted. “I’ve never been powerful enough to fly around like you are, Little Lila!”

“I’m not little!” Lila called out even though she was secretly flattered.

Soon, the three heard the yell and cheers from the magical warriors standing at their posts, gaping at them openly. Two familiar calls were the only ones they cared about. Alastair and Adriei. Lila pushed herself yo fly up just a little bit more and sighed with relief when they located the ledge her brother stood waving his arms at. The girl landed messily on the ledge and released the other two. She had completely drained herself. The wings on her shoes shattered and disappeared.

Day 72

Lila could feel the wind whipping her hair around like tiny, mad snakes. Above her, Alastair was calling her name over and over again. He was reaching over the ledge, his hand with the scar splayed wide open, waiting for her to take it. Too bad she was too far away. The rough terrain, already featureless, blurred like a mucky stew. Lila knew that she was going to hit the ground. She’d hit the ground and break open. She wondered if her insides would show everything she kept hidden.

“Don’t let those bullies rile you up,” said her great grandfather from two years ago. “They know that you’re a strong and impenetrable little lady. That’s why they want to tear you down.”

“Great grandpop, I can’t help it. They’re so mean!” Lila had replied. “I hate them! I hate them so much!” And after much consideration added, “Darn them to heck!”

“Woah, dear girl. Don’t use language like that,” great grandfather admonished. Lila could now see his big brown eyes, always so clear and intelligent, staring down at her with a mixture of shock and admiration. “You have a bite in you, but you need to learn to hone it. Using harsh language will only drag you down to the bully’s level. But most of all, the bullies are human, too.”

She remembered being confused. Why would she care about the bully’s feelings if they didn’t care about hers? But she trusted her great grandfather , held up her chin, and faced each day with as much pride as she could muster. He was so proud of her. He bought her a pair of tennis shoes two sizes too big telling her that when she at last fit them, she would be the master of herself.

After great grandfather passed away, she tried to stay strong. But then they moved away from the town that held so many memories of great grandfather, away from the refuge of her friends, and away from the place she thought of as her only home.

Now, she was about to break apart. Lila didn’t want to leave her brother alone. He was the last person she really confided in. They had their secret waterfall. They listened to the soft humming of audiobook as they doodle pictures and made crafts. They remembered great grandfather together. Now, instead of Alastair leaving her, she was leaving him. She couldn’t bare the thought of doing this to him. She felt that resistance burning and crackling deep inside of the marrow of her bones.

No! She wouldn’t die. Not. Today!

Within milliseconds, she flipped around in the air, letting her feet point at the ground. The shoes her great grandfather jerked and tugged, wiggling around on her feet. They were still a little too big, but she always laced her laces tight. She was thankful for her tying habits because the shoes, which had once been a simple lavender with light pink accents, sprouted two pairs of enormous wings. The pure white wings shot out and began to flap immediately. Lila tried to steady herself and ended up doing a few mid air summersaults. She spread out her legs and arms, angling her body weight to keep balance. She just get the hang of it when the ground at last slammed up onto her feet. Her knees bent and she fell, splayed onto rocks and earth.

“Lila?” Gabbie gasped.

Day 71

“How are they going to get in?”

Alastair whipped around. Lila was here. She stood next to the frozen Adriei, her eyes wide from fear and concern.

“Lila, what are you doing here?” Alastair yelped. He was certain that he left her asleep when he went out to find Gabbie.

“I followed you and Adriei.” Lila shrugged as if she had followed him without his knowledge millions of times before. “We can’t get down to the ground level to pull the lever and open the passage for them. And those deer things are frozen, too. Can you unfreeze them?”

As Lila spoke, Alastair began to lose his concentration. Lila was right. Gabbie and Silverskin had just crossed over the blossoming rock wall in haste, but that meant nothing if they couldn’t get inside. Only a watch guard would open the entrance, and Alastair assumed that everyone was out rounding up citizens or conjuring magic. And now he could faintly discern there barest of movements from the scenery and people around him. The Lake God’s stick fingers twitched. The sub-queen’s long black hair started to flutter. A droplet of sweat carved a path down Adriei’s face. It was like the world was set in slow motion like it would for an action film during a tense scene.

“You’re the one controlling the magic, right? Then you have to do something!” Lila urged. She moved over to Alastair’s side and peered over the mountainside. She nibbled on her thumb nail, feeling useless.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” Alastair chanted. Was it really him doing this? Why did time slow down? Why were Lila and the two below unaffected? None of that mattered if it couldn’t help save Gabbie and Silverskin.

And like a rubber band breaking clean in two, time swarmed back into fluidity. The sounds of magic warriors chanting, the chalky screech of the Lake God, and the faraway yells of Gabbie and Silverskin slammed into Alastair’s ears. The acrid stench of sour fear emanating from the elves poured down, covering all around them. The bite of the now frigid air cut through skin and bones.

Alastair was too late.

A wall screamed up into existence. It shot up from the ground like a scaled beast of rock and minerals. It even surpassed the height of the Lake God, covering the inky black mass from sight, although Alastair could still see the eerie glow of its white eyes. The ground rumbled from the birth of the rocky barricade. Alastair felt his knees buckle and he tilted as if he would fall down to meet the same fate as his friends. That was when Adriei’s arm wrapped around his middle and yanked him back.

“Miss Lila?” Adriei grunted as soon as they were safely back from the ledge. “No!”

Lila had also been jostled from the earth quaking beneath her feet, and she too bent to the earth’s will. Alastair watched as his blood turned to ice as his little sister fell off the mountain.

Day 70

A faint line of shuddering rocks appeared right before the foot of the mountain. Alastair saw ten, no, twenty, no, at least fifty magicians making the same hand movements Sannier did when she lifted the company up and into her home. From where the rocks groaned, Alastair could only assume a wall would sprout. Gabbie and Silverskin wouldn’t make it in time. They were so close. So painfully close to making that line across and into safety. The Lake God sloshed over to the edge of its lake and reached out its ghastly hands, trying to grasp Gabbie and Silverskin. Alastair did not know why something so big would trouble itself with something so small, but the god was doing it whether Alastair understood or not.

If only Gabbie and Silverskin had more time! Alastair knew the sub-queen would not budge on her decision to block out the god and the fleeing children. She was tough and hardened. Adriei wouldn’t help Alastair, that was certain. No one else here was on his side. Tipper, Perceval, Digitalis, and Glue Pot, the ones with the real power here on Soielle, were either fleeing or just now waking. Alastair’s only hope was within himself. But what could he do? Stare at his friends while they get eaten or squished?

“They need more time!” Alastair said from behind grit teeth. He imagined everything slowing down as if he had poured thick maple syrup onto the entire scene before him. The monster god would be still. It breathing, which until now had been rapid, revealing its lines upon lines of robs, would calmly freeze. The sub-queen and her magical warriors would find their hands stuck, no longer able to wave effortlessly through the air. The shouts, the screams, even the heavy wailing of the wind, would be mute. Alastair felt his whole body sing with the hope that somehow, just somehow his wish would be granted and Gabbie and Silverskin would be allowed to pass safely back to Rockestel.

Then something truly strange happened. There was a burning deep inside Alastair’s right pocket. The heat seared like a thorny spit of fire digging into Alastair’s leg. He ignore the pain, still intent on his fantasy of saving his friends. And that was exactly what happened.

To Alastair’s amazement, all of what he imagined, down to the foggy muted sounds of everyone’s conflict, just came true.Everyone, even the Lake God, stopped. No one moved. Alastair glanced behind him. Adriei had been apparently trying to grab Alastair from behind. The boy was lucky. Any later, and he’d be snatched and taken away from Gabbie. Right, Gabbie! Silverskin. Alastair looked down and saw that Gabbie and Silverskin weren’t stuck in time like gnats in a spider’s web like the others. They momentarily paused, confused as to what just happened, but broke out of their reverie.

“HURRY!” Alastair shouted. He cupped his hands to his face, using as much of his lung capacity as he could.”I Don’t know what’s going on, but you need to get up here before it’s done!”