Day 83

Zane assessed his sister. He was surprised from her sudden confidence. What had Faeley told her in order to conjure up such a fire crackling below her skin?

“I can’t wait to get out of these tunnels. They are not built for people like me,” Glue Pot sighed.

“We’re nearly at the exit,” Sannier said.

“Thank the Holy Matron,” Perceval panted.

“Ah, I think I see the end,” Tipper said. A night’s rest had Tipper back into decent shape. He was no longer limp like a puppet on strings and his old, fiery personality was coming back in short bursts. He nearly tumbled into the Royal Guards when they stopped at a dead end.

“Hmn, where is that switch,” Adriei mumbled as they fumbled around along the tunnel wall.

“Right above you. Yes, right there,” Sannier’s husband corrected the Royal Guard.

There was a click, and the tunnel’s dead end fell open. The outside was full of lush vegetation full of green pine trees and tiny yellow ferns. The children’s mouths fell open. Out of all the sights they expected to see, they were not ready for a location that almost resembled an environment on Earth.

“No ebony trees with flesh eating white fungus?” Zane asked when he took his first steps outside. For the first time, the air was cold enough to cause goosebumps to rise along his arms. “No bouncing gray bushes with teeth? Skulls with glowing green eyes and striped spider legs?”

“Your imagination is vast,” Agile commented. “All you need worry about in the Fallen Valley are the Bull Fists.”

“And maybe a few other hungry creatures,” Adriei added.

“As much as I do not want to, this is where we’ll part,” Agile sighed. “I’m not much for goodbyes, so…” The Royal Guard bowed deep at the companions. “Until next time.” Agile turned and vanished down the network of tunnels.

“I actually am fine with them. Goodbyes, I mean.” Adriei, suprisingly, hugged each and every one of them. Was there actually a tear rolling down their cheek? After the tender goodbye, Adriei followed the other Royal Guard.

While Adriei was bestowing bear hugs, Silverskin and his little family took their time to say farewell. The parents encased their son in a group hug, and they boy, despite his bravado, crumpled into hoarse sobs. Sannier and her husband calmed him enough to tell him a few parting words. They stepped back, observed their son, and also left. Sannier looked back, her face wet from Silverskin’s tears, and then they were gone.

“Will you be okay?” Gabbie asked her friend.

“I think so,” Silverskin sniffed. “It’s all very sudden. The Lake God. Leaving Rockestel. Opale.” Silverskin gasped. “Oh no! I didn’t tell father about Opale!” Silverskin’s face crinkled with remembered pain. He must have felt responsible for the death of his loving stead. He was meant to protect her from harm, and yet he lead her straight to the slaughter. “Let me catch up to them real fast and tell them. Please wait for me!”

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