“There’s a lake god rumored to live in the water’s depths,” Perceval explained. His bushy tawny tail shuddered. “It’s always hungry. If you get within its reach, then you’re the water god’s next dinner. That’s why the small settlement in the middle of the Mountain Ring Pass it built into the mountain itself. There are a few shacks scattered around the lake, but no one dares to dip a paw in. They get their water from mountain waterfalls instead.”
“But what are water gods?” Gabbie scratched the base of her chin like a detective. “Do they have anything to do with mermaids?”
“No. Gods and goddesses here aren’t what you think they’d be,” Perceval said.
“Not omnipotent? Not all powerful with family issues?” Gabbie asked.
“Um, no,” Glue Pot stepped in. “Gods and goddesses are what is left of the original settlers of Soielle. They were very strong beings and are thought to be immortal.”
“Immortal until they killed themselves, that is,” Digitalis sighed. “Story of all worlds. The gods and goddesses got greedy and basically massacred each other. What we have today are the extremely weakened versions of being who were otherwise the peak of, well, everything.”
“Just not intelligence if they did that to themselves,” Ginger huffed.
“I like you, Ginger. You see things for what they are.” Digitalis smacked Ginger on the back. The brunette blushed and reluctantly smiled at the Lived Being.
“Clive and Dunkle used to tease the kids, including myself when I was younger, that they were old enough to have seen and communicated with a sane god once.”
“Really? But that was a good two thousand years ago,” Glue Pot gasped. His hooves pawed the ground in excitement.
“Who am I to question? Lived Beings don’t really know how old the oldest of us can get.” She blinked and then smacked her forehead. “Agh! Today was Try-to-Figure-Out-Clive-and-Dunkle’s-Age-Day!” She clucked. “And I was so close last year.”
“You guys really do get bored easily,” Alastair fondly said.
“Look it!” Lila shouted. She tugged at Alastair’s sleeve in a built up glee. I see the base of the mountains! I never thought I’d miss mountains, Ali! I always hated them in Colorado, but now.” She skipped a bit here. “It’s not blue fog and it’s not ugly trees!”
“Hey, I don’t know if it’s anything to dance about,” Zane shrugged. “These mountains aren’t as majestic. They’re more pointy and steep and murdery.”
“I’ll take the murder mountains over the murder forest. At least I can see where I’m going.”
“So, what do you think, Tipper?” Ginger asked. She was being uncharacteristically soft, and her usual hard hazel eyes glowed with concern. “We haven’t heard from you in…a while. Are you happy to get out of here?”
Tipper did not reply. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets. His ears drooped.
“Hey, it’s rude not to answer a concerned friend.”
“Am I your friend?” He asked. His voice was strangled. He choked and covered his mouth.
“Well, yeah. Or, thought you were.” Ginger narrowed her eyes. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What type of friend, what type of protector leaves his charges to get injured and almost eaten by the enemy?”
“The Batal wasn’t your fault,” Gabbie tried.
“NO! Don’t you get it?!” Tipper stopped just shy of the tree line that separated the Blood Clot Forest to the root of the Mountain Circle Pass. “I’m scared! What if one of you die on my watch? I thought I knew what I was doing. I don’t!” He ground his teeth and shook from the tip of his ears to his clawed feet. “I’m not fit for my prophecy. All I’ll do is let you down!”
“Tipper, no—” Ginger tried to say. She stopped and then let out a blood clotting scream. The group followed where her terrified eyes landed upon.
A wall comprised of at least thirty or more Batal were glaring down at the party. At the very front was a familiar creepy face. He stood on his back two feet while the front two hung limply at his sides. It grinned a disgusting batty grin.
“Food! I introduce very angry family. Angry, hungry family!”