Day 90…and a Half?

“The Rifts had been sealed,” Perceval mused. “But then you five came here. I think it’s possible that you’re correct, Zane.”

“I know I am. I’m the top of my class for a reason.” The boy fired one of his arrows at a tree. He missed the center of his target and the arrow flew straight passed the trunk. “And that’s all I have going for me, apparently,” he tsked.

“That was closer this time!” Glue Pot acknowledged. He clapped his hands together like a proud older brother.

“Is there something off?”

“You mean, that time literally just before this where the author said that as long as there were bird things singing and messing around, we’re safe, and now we suddenly can’t hear them? How awful convenient if that were the case. I think the author would have a better transition than say something and then the thing she says automatically happens. She’s better than that,” said Ginger because she can break the fourth wall now.

“Crap, yeah, well you see, that’s the thing. The bird things are gone and I thin we are in trouble,” Zane replied because he’s some great nature looker atter.

“Jesus, are we in some terrible Wattpad fanfiction? I can’t believe the plot point is going on like this. Hey, author, can you write better? Can’t you just make a transition that easily fits?” Ginger shouted because she was right and the author should feel ashamed.

The author felt ashamed. Yes, she is writing 500 words a day (or 2,000 in one day and making it seem like it was written every day) but that didn’t mean she should decrease her quality. The author vowed to do a little better. But not now. The author was tired and just wanted to be done with her 500 words for the day. And instead, she would still continue with her horrible plot device.

Anyway…

“Is there something a little off?” Zane asked. He quirked his head, trying to listen to the sounds of the forest.

“I thought you knew,” Ginger snickered. “Your aim. That’s what’s off.”

“No, not that,” Zane hissed. “I can’t hear anything. I can’t see anything, either.”

“You can’t say you’ve gone blind to cover up your poor aim,” Gabbie joined in to tease her little brother.

“Guys, I mean it. There’s no sounds.”

“You’re right,” Tipper acknowledged. “It’s as if the valley is dead.”

“The squirts,” Alastair gasped. “The squirrel bird things,” he said to clarify his term for the flying animals. “They’re gone. They’ve been gone for a good twenty minutes.”

“Holy Matron,” Perceval shuddered. “Stop. Everyone stop.”

The companions did as Perceval ordered. Without the addition of their footsteps and jostling equipment, they could better hear the aching silence hovering around them. There was no wind. No creaking of tree branches. A painful cold curled around their limbs now that they were no longer walking.

“Look around. Listen.” Digitalis walked around the group in a circle. She hopped onto a lower hanging tree branch and climbed the limbs until she was halfway up the tree. Digitalis looked around in a full circle, biting her lip in concern. She almost fell backwards after a few more seconds of patrol. “There’s someone running through the forest. They’re going to run right into us!” She yelped.

“I don’t hear anything like that,” Glue Pot said.

As if to prove the centaur wrong, they all heard an ear piercing screech of fear plummet straight into their chests. The fear was so primal that adrenaline immediately pooled into their feet and hands.

“I think she’s being chased,” Digitalis added before she had enough of watching and climbed back down. “We have to go. Right. Now.”

Another sound accompanied the cry. It was as though they heard the barking of hell hounds mixed with the guttural cry of an frenzied lion, and the sound came not from one but many, many throats.

Day 89

The group followed Tipper’s advice. They were bone deep tired and couldn’t find an excuse to keep their eyes open. Perceval totaled up to the flickering fire and eat the remaining embers. He then padded back to Lila and cuddled next to her side. She stroked his fur as the comrades huddled together and closed their eyes. Sleep soon caught like a wild fever.

Three more days passed.

The children tried practicing techniques with their weapons. Glue Pot joined in on target practice, giving Perceval a break. The centaur would galloped from one tree to another, letting Zane, Gabbie, and Ginger take turns at shooting arrows or throwing knives. Glue Pot wore a pack to protect the vulnerable parts of his body, and the pack soon ended up with so many holes that he could no longer participate in the training.

Alastair spent time blocking hits from Lila. He wasn’t entirely interested with honing his sword skills. He was more worried about the approaching city of Crat, and so he defended himself with the effort of someone only skimming a book for vital information.

Digitalis and Gabbie entertained the group with lore about Soielle and stories about Earth. It was as though they were listening to an audiobook full of rich history and valor. There was no need to be quiet. They had not encountered a soul since leaving the haunted remains of Rockestel. There were small creatures that flew from one tree branch to another. They Had the heads and wings of birds, and the bodies of squirrels. They chattered at the party like the chipmunks had so long ago at the Mermaid Waterfall. Some things never changed, and in a way, the party was comforted to see the tiny animals. If no one else was in the forest with them, then that meant there was a possibility of danger.

Silverskin spent his time musing about what the Lake God wanted. He wondered if the Lake God was hungry for magic and that the presence of Gabbie and him was what triggered the beast. But then he would backtrack and recall that sometimes patrols were forced to skim the lake’s edge. The patrol had magic. Why didn’t the Lake God awaken during those times? He pondered aloud—why would the Lake God yell out the word danger? Silverskin was convinced that the children heard the beast true. It did indeed say danger. But wasn’t the beast itself the danger?

No one had the answers the elf boy wanted.

“All we can conclude is that the Lake God is somehow related to the disappearances,” Tipper offered. The Kitsune took a sip from his water skin. “The monsters, the Lake God, the disappearances—none of this happened before.”

“None of it happened until we got here,” Gabbie added. She fiddled with her throwing knives.

“We’ve already ruled that out. The disappearances were going on before we got here,” Zane commented. “I think whatever is going on is the reason why we’re here, and not the other way around.”

Day 88

“Tell us a story about Earth,” Digitalis called out as if to break the heavy atmosphere with a mallet.

“Could Lived Beings go to Earth?” Lila pondered.

“No, we couldn’t,” Digitalis grumbled. She brushed some of her pretty hair from her eyes. “Having lived so long, it’s unfair that we couldn’t go to another world and see new things. I’ve told you before, we’re so bored that we have a holiday everyday. Speaking of.” Digitalis snapped her fingers. “Maybe that’s why I wanted a story! Today is Tell Fun Stories Day!”

“What an inspiring name,” Zane said with no humor.

“You do what you gotta do,” Digitalis huffed.

“Well,” Gabbie started. She was great at stories. Almost as great as Digitalis. “First off, there’s no magic.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Perceval butted in. “There’s magic on Earth. Earth just has so many people on it that the magic is absorbed so quickly! That’s why when we Soiellians traveled there, we were stripped down to our baser forms.” Perceval licked his front paw. “There are more factors, but I won’t get into them now.”

“Why did you go to Earth in the first place?” Gabbie asked.

Perceval’s ears went back. His four eyes shimmered as if caught in his very own flashback. His chest heaved, and if foxes to could, he seemed to be very close to doing so.

“We haven’t told a story about Earth yet,” Lila reminded everyone. She saw Perceval give her his foxy grin in thanks. Lila knew that he wasn’t ready to share his past traumas. Not yet. Maybe never. The choice was his.

“Okay, so there’s some magic,” Gabbie agreed. “But we have so little of it, it’s hard to recognize. Instead, we made our own sort of magic. Electricity and later, the internet.”

“The inter-what?” Glue Pot mumbled.

“Why’d you bring that up? Do you even know how to explain what the internet is?” Ginger groaned.

“I’ll explain it,” Alastair offered. He told the the Soiellians about the internet, its benefits, and drawbacks. He talked about phones, cars, airplanes, and trains. He was very glad that he paid attention in History class not only for the good grades he got on his tests, but for the ability to relay all he learned here.

“That’s enough about Earth,” Zane said. “I’m getting homesick.”

“What about the Seven Isles?” Silverskin asked. “I haven’t been there before. I heard its beauty rivals that of Mythandral.”

“Oh it does!” Glue Pot swooned. “Although, I think I’m biased.” The centaur crossed his arms with a look of longing pasted on his face. “The sky turns a light tulquat when you get closer to the ocean. There’s so many song-baileys singing away in full sonatas. I can hear them now.” Glue Pot closed his eyes and hummed a pleasant tune. “Each island had one communal inn where we could feel free to visit or leave at any time. There was more permanent housing with land property scattered along the perimeter of the islands, but we lot love company.”

Day 87

“I don’t want to learn how to use my powers. I want tog et back home,” Ginger said. She was apparently awake, too.

“If we learn them, then we can find a way back ourselves,” Gabbie pointed out. “Besides, why would the Elder want us to see her if she wasn’t going to help?”

“Didn’t you see how those elves thought we woke up all the monsters? What’s to say we haven’t? Do you think that he had the best interests in mind for us, or for his people?”

“Ginger…” Alastair said. She did have a point. Why would the Elder help him out of the kindness of his heart?

“If it will put your mind to ease,” Perceval chirped from his resting place, “The Elder wouldn’t jeopardize Tipper’s prophecy. There’s more at stake when a Kitsune can’t fulfill one than being considered a proper adult.”

“Even if I didn’t have the prophecy, I’m willing to keep you all safe,” Tipper agreed. “I think I’ve grown to like being your nanny.”

Alastair saw Ginger’s embarrassed blush.

“We won’t let you chicks come to harms way, neither,” Digitalis chimed in. She gestured to Glue Pot with her shoulder. “I think my Crisis Point is more than just finding out what happened to Pottsville. I want to see this whole thing through.”

“If we’re going to keep you all safe, then I think we need to improve your archery skills, Zane,” Glue Pot pointed out. “They always fell flat.”

“Excuse me for not going out of my way to be an archery queen in my past life.” Zane fiddled with the wooden bow. “They make it look so easy in movies. The hero picks this thing up and boom, they’re suddenly an expert.” He attempted to stretch the bowstring and his arm visibly shook.

“You need to improve on your arms strength is all,” Glue Pot said as if improving arm strength was something Zane could do overnight.

“I’m not very good with my knife either, Zane,” Lila offered. She wiggled her stiletto between her fingers like one would do to make a pencil look like it’s rubber. Lila put it down when she saw Alastair’s warning. Don’t play with sharp objects.

“The only one of us who has got better is Ginger,” Gabbie commented. Was that a tone of envy there in Gabbie’s voice?

“That’s because I’ve become a walking target,” Perceval huffed. “Knives everywhere. I can barely keep my guard down.”

“I wasn’t much use for my parents.” Silverskin whispered and yet everyone could hear. He refused to speak after the first day of their travel. He would only have fleeting talks with Gabbie. Now he watched the palms of his hands tremble. “No one liked me in Rockestel except for my parents, sub-queen Faeley, and Opale. I couldn’t do anything useful like my father being a guard, and so I was just a burden. I his behind my sub-queen Faeley’s protection and did what I wanted without improving what I could do.” Silverskin scraped a hand across his face. “I don’t want to be like that again. I’ll help you all until we reach the Queen. I’ll deliver my message, and if she can’t send you home, I swear I’ll stay with you until the day you can find your way back.”

“Silverskin, you don’t have to go that far,” Gabbie said.

“I do. I made a mess of everything. I need to make this right again.”

Day 86

Alastair found the concept of night so different from that on Earth. The moons and stars never left the sky all day, and neither did the sun. Mountain sized clouds would encase the sky in darkness every twelve or thirteen hours the children took for nighttime. He wondered if they had been magically plopped onto a planet that existed in an entirely different universe than the Milky Way solar system. That had to be it or else NASA would have published papers and interviews about the possibility of a planet similar to Earth so close by. They would have, right? Or would they keep such a possibility secret? But then there was the popular idea of parallel universes. Could the children have fallen into a universe where there were three moons and a yellow green sun? The plants, animals, and people could have all evolved into what they had to in order to survive in these odd conditions. How would he account for the magic, though? Was there really a way to explain the goings on in Soielle, or was he trying to make sense of something that never would make sense?

The dense forest here were familiar. The trees smelled like evergreens, and he was reminded of Christmas with his family. He thought about his dad’s famous roasted honey am dribbled with savory sauces and paired with cheesy mashed potatoes. He thought of his mother recording her children as they opened five presents each.

“What day is it?” His mother would ask in her biologist’s tone requesting basic details.

“It’s Christmas!” Alastair would cheer back with Lila quietly chiming in.

“How old is Alastair? Lila?”

“I’m twelve!” Alastair could almost see himself dressed in warm pajamas underneath the blinking white and blue bulbs wrapped in a glistening Christmas tree.

“Nine,” Lila replied dryly. Alastair recalled feeling exhausted hearing Lila put out. She really missed her friends, and that last Christmas hit her hard.

“And how much do we love you?” His mother and father both asked with bright white smiles.

“To the moon and through lagoons!” Alastair and Lila both laughed. Lila couldn’t resist their ritual with their parents.

Now Alastair was camping in the middle of an alien forest. He was conflicted. Alastair had to get his little sister and friends back home. All this time, he thought that Queen Inana would be the one to do just that. What Tipper said was eating away at him. Why should Queen Inana believe humans? Even if she could help, why would she go out of her way to do so? If they didn’t meet the Queen, then what else was left for them to do? Alastair watched the fire Tipper made crackling away as the others slept. A black fire, of course. It was amazing how fast one can get used to oddities.

“We have to get to Queen Inana,” Gabbie said as if she’d been reading Alastair’s thoughts. He jumped a little and sat up from his sleeping spot. “She can at the very least tell us how to use our powers.”

Day 85

“But they aren’t!” Gabbie exclaimed.

“I know they aren’t. They’ve been going on before you arrived at Kitsune Woods,” Tipper agreed. “But Queen Inana can’t take our word for it. All she can do is piece everything together. There was a Rift. Humans are in Soielle. While villages are wiped off of the map. A Lake God rises from the figurative grave. What is she to think?”

“If we explain everything, then the Queen can still help,” Silverskin said.

“And if she thinks that we somehow did something, then she can just send us home,” Gabbie explained.

“I don’t think she knows how to get you back. Remember, her father was the one who sealed Soielle from human interferences, and that got her father killed.”

“Sub-queen Faeley said that Queen Inana would be the only one to figure out what we can do,” Zane pointed out.

“Maybe Tipper is right,” Alastair cut in. “I don’t want to take all of you straight into danger.

“Queen Inana isn’t dangerous,” Silverskin argued.

“Alright, alright, alright. We all of valid points.” Perceval kept onto a tree stump broken many years ago. “First, we need to get out of this wretched Fallen Valley. The Bull Fists won’t care if we are going to Queen Inana or not. They won’t dash us against the nearest solid surface and then eat us whole all the while thinking, ‘Hmn, I wonder where these lot were going?’ They’ll just do it!”

“I’m good with getting as far as I can away from here. I can hear the animals of the valley huddled together from fear.” Glue Pot shuddered and rubbed his arms.

“There’s the town of Crat as the base of Queen Inana’s territory,” Digitalis mentioned. “We can settle down there and figure out what we’re doing once we have time to think.”

“Crat,” Tipper huffed. “Never thought I’d get to go there any time soon.”

“Don’t act modest, Tipper. You’ve gushed about Crat since you were a little kit,” Perceval snickered.

“I can’t help it! The Valkrye congregate there.” There were stars in Tipper’s eyes.

“I heard that they power the city through their lightning magic. I’d love to see that,” Glue Pot said.

“Then it’s decided. We’ll go to Crat,” Digitalis announced.

“Are you fine with this, children?” Perceval asked in a calming voice.

“No matter what you decide, I’m going to the Queen,” Silverskin said. He had already wiped away his tears.

“Then I’ll go with you,” Gabbie said.

The other children agreed to staying in the mysterious city of Valkrye and other mystical creatures. What was another night or two tacked onto their stay in Soille?

The companions wasted no more time with talking. They chose a direction based on the wind and a few plants that grew on het bark of one tree. Nodding, Tipper waved the group to the right.

One night passed and then two.

Day 84

“Go on. Take your time, but hurry up.” Tipper smirked.

Silverskin waved and went after his parents who had already disappeared into the warren.

“How am I going to practice with this?” Lila wondered out loud once Silverskin left. She brandished her stiletto.

“You can borrow me if you’d like,” Perceval offered. “You need to be quick with those, and I’m very fast.”

“I don’t want to hurt you!” Lila said.

“You won’t. I’ll use a minor fire shield.”

“Oh, then I want your help, too!” Ginger exclaimed.

“Me, too!” Said Zane.

“All in favor of using Perceval as target practice, say aye!” Tipper laughed.

“Hey, why is everyone turning on me? Is this what happens when someone is trying to be nice?” Perceval said with fake hurt.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Gabbie said. She waggled a finger like her mother always did when saying the exact same words.

“GABBIE!”

Gabbie’s playfulness evaporated immediately. That was Silverskin, and by the sounds of it, he was in trouble. The group sobered and fumbled to get closer to the warren’s entrance. They all almost tumbled over themselves when Silverskin shot out like a bullet. He was a mess. His skin was as pale as marble. His entire body was coated with sweat. He looked like had seen a poltergeist.

“Silverskin, what’s wrong?” Gabbie asked. She held out her arms and the elf boy took them.

“They’re gone.”

“Who’s gone?”

“They are,” Silverskin repeated as if Gabbie would know.

“You’re parents? Maybe they’re back with the sub-queen?”
“No, you don’t understand!” Silverskin’s voice rose higher than anyone thought it could. “Everybody is gone! Mom. Dad. Adriei, Agile, my neighbors, the kids, the grandparents…even sub-queen Faeley!” Silverskin bit his lip. “All that’s left are the deerne.”

Digitalis and Glue Pot exchanged looks.

“It got Rockestel,” Digitalis whispered.

“But what? What got Rockestel?!” Silverskin cried.

“I don’t know. That’s what we were trying to find out,” Digitalis replied. “My hometown, Pottsville, got wiped out.”

“The Seven Isles got hit, too,” Glue Pot said.

“We thought that our areas down south were where the disappearances started, but Agile and Adriei said that the north was affected as well. We’re right smack in the middle of the map. If that’s the case, there’s no localized sport where this all started.” For the first time since knowing her, the kids heard a primal fear in Digitalis’s voice.

“So that’s why you were going to see Queen Inana?” Silverskin sniffed. “But even she doesn’t know what’s going on. That’s why Adriei and Agile were sent here.”

“She still has to know what’s happening,” Glue Pot interjected. “More information can be vital to her.”

Tipper stayed silent. He watched Gabbie, Ginger, Alastair, Lila, and Zane with a growing suspicion. His tail flicked from side to side as he thought.

“Maybe I shouldn’t take you kids to see Queen Inana,” he said.

Everyone gaped at Tipper.

“Listen, there’s no doubt that humans have unnatural magical abilities here.” He crossed his arms and leaned against one of the green pine tree’s trunk. “What if she reacts to you the same way the elves did? What if she thinks that the disappearances are your fault?”