The companions walked the Blot Clot Forest with a new sense of caution and urgency. They did not forget the Batal’s final enraged words. The faster they parted ways with the dense blue fog and the knurled fingers passing as trees, the sooner they could reach the sanctity of the Queen.
Tipper let Digitalis and Glue Pot lead the group for the next couple of days. The Kitsune hung back. He concentrated on his fury fox feet, one foot after another, and refused to speak with the others. He listened to the group chatter about how their injuries were healing. The Kitsune’s chest felt as though it were being crushed. He saw the boy Alastair’s new scar puckering around his right eye. He saw the lump on Perceval’s head and how the fox’s nose had swollen twice its regular size. He saw the new arrival, Glue Pot, and the necklace bruise ripen from where the Batal had almost strangled him to death.
All because he was weak.
Tipper let the others throw out ideas about why the Fire Gems did not pop for the other kids. Perceval waiting for Tipper to take the helm and show off his expansive knowledge. He did not. The little fox creature frowned his foxy frown and explained to everyone instead.
“You were so scared that you weren’t able to concentrate on popping the Fire Gems. You also had the added ill effect of not really knowing how to use them.”
“That’s stupid. Why give us the things if they weren’t going to work when we’re scared,” Ginger growled. “The Elder said that they were for emergencies. Emergencies usually meant danger. Danger usually means being so scared we’ll wet our pants.”
“I think…”Perceval said sheepishly, “that we were supposed to tell you how to use them…before the Blood Clot Forest.”
Tipper glared even harder at his feet.
“We know what to do, now!” Gabbie said. “We have three of the Fire Gems left and we know how to use them.” She hit her fist into the palm of her hand with a smack.
“Let’s get out of this place, first,” Lila said. She shuddered. Perceval wrapped his tail around her legs, and she smiled, grateful for the kind contact.
“We’re in luck,” Glue Pot said in his usual timid manner. “I smell a lake.” The centaur closed his big eyes and scented his surroundings. “And I feel the animals’ presence all along the lakeside. We’re arriving at the Mountain Ring Pass.”
“I don’t think getting any closer to the Pass is considered…lucky,” Digitalis muttered.
“Anything is better than being chased by a maniac Batal,” Alastair quipped.
“Don’t say anything,” Digitalis sighed. “There are always things that can be much worse.”
As if on cue, the blue cloistering fog shuddered and then parted just like if a ship had cut through murky waters. For the first time in three days, the companions could see the sun and the three moons. Beyond them was an enormous lake. They were a good three hundred yards away from the turbulent dark turquoise waters. All they could see was in fact, just water.
“Hey. I thought you said something about a mountain. I just see water!” Lila said.
“We have to head north along the tree line. Any closer to the lake.” Glue Pot closed his eyes and shook his head like he was going to be sick. “The animals stay away from there.”