Adriei took the group to a cleared passageway that took them out of the Blood Clot Forest and along the foot of the now towering mountain rage. Zane couldn’t see the top of the mountains no matter how hard he looked. Lila gulped and huddled closer to Alastair. Adriei slowed. Glue Pot and Digitalis nearly crashed into the tall guard.
“I think Agile got them,” the guard pondered out loud. “Listen.”
They did. The forest had returned to its eerie, silent tune.
“We should wait for your guard friend and Perceval, then. No sense splitting up,” Digitalis urged. The children didn’t miss that the Lived Being intentionally left out Tipper.
“I’ll feel safer if we keep moving. Batals may be dense, but they were once a proud, intelligent breed. We’ll slow down enough for Agile and your friends to catch up.”
“So. What brings the Queen’s Elite Guard to the Mountain Range Pass?” Digitalis asked. Glue Pot had let the children down to walk the part rock, part sandy path. They could now smell the lake water just beyond combined with the rich scent of mineral from the mountain. There were no more blue wisps of fog, and if they ever saw the color blue again, Ginger was sure she would rather jump off a cliff.
Alastair wondered why Digitalis wasn’t bombarding the guard with questions about Tipper’s safety. He could see her hands shaking and the crease between her pretty eyes. Maybe she needed to talk to feel better. His mom did that sometimes, and most of the time, just letting the words come out helped.
“Classified,” the guard said.
“Has it anything to do with the disappearance of Soielle citizens?” Digitalis guessed.
“Classified,” Adriei repeated.
“But our towns and villages have…disappeared, too,” Glue Pot cautiously said. “It’s not really classified if we know it, too.”
“Err,” said the guard. Adriei folded his arms and thought. “Suppose we are here to protect and collect intel from Rockestel. Been patrolling for the last five days. You’re the most action we’ve seen yet.”
“Sorry to crash your vacation.”
“Hardly call it one. Rockestel is a too…high up for my tastes.”
“What’s Rockestel?” Zane asked. He would never turn down an opportunity to learn, even if he was upset.
But then that’s when they heard a familiar barking.
“Perceval!” Lila cheered. She darted over to where him and Agile materialized from the last of the blue fog. “Oh no!”
“We got to him in time before he burned out,” Perceval panted. His eyes were weary and his usually silky fur seemed dry like tiny husks. “Agile took out most of the Batals. A few got away and were scared off.”
Agile had replaced her sword. Alastair saw stains smeared on the metal as the guard had hastily cleaned it. Agile had Tipper thrown over her should like a sack of popcorn seed.
“Here. You can put him on my back,” offered Glue Pot. “Just, please, I can’t carry all of you like that again. I’m a delicate breed.”