Day 99

“So what can we do?” Alastair wondered aloud.

Ginger didn’t know. She didn’t have time to take back her knives. Alastair couldn’t do his time magic. Tipper couldn’t overdo the fire or else he would burn out without Perceval. She literally had nothing except her legs, pack, and phone.

All Ginger wanted was to play her games. Games didn’t require actual interaction with other people. She could control what happened, and if she died on a level, she practiced until she mastered every little element one hundred percent. Cell phone, computer, and console games had been what she turned to whenever life decided to turn treacherous. She watched game videos. She read game handbooks. Ginger understood games and games alone. Earth was hard enough to sort out. Why did she have to be here in a place where everything was upside down and…a sharp slice of fear slapped the side of her face.

Something happened to Gabbie.

Gabbie was scared. Scared of herself. And, what else? She felt confused. Very, very confused but at the same time happy.

Ginger stuck her hand into her jacket pocket out of habit. She had refused to get rid of her Earth clothes like the other children. Ginger kept every single piece including her dead cell phone. The girl felt the familiar buttons and smooth surfaces of the phone’s anatomy against her fingers and tried to concentrate. If Alastair counted on his father’s watch and Lila utilized her great grand-dad’s shoes…

“No, I don’t think so!” Malefa spat. Instead of using her enormous front fists to deliver a blow, she used the momentum of her arms like a pole and swung her body out. The woman was still very tall despite the size of her fists. Her feet connected with Alastair’s back knocking the boy up into the air. Alastair yelped and curled into a ball to protect his head. His back collided with a low hanging tree branch and he screamed in agony as he fell to the forest floor. His leg crumpled beneath him with a sickening snap.

“Now you can’t run,” Malefa said smugly.

“Alastair!” Tipper ran over to the unconscious boy and checked the boy’s vitals. “Still alive.”

“I meant what I said,” Malefa giggled. “I want to kill you slowly! I want you to learn a lesson!”
“Can you just stop being unoriginal?” Ginger growled. She had taken out her phone and held the screen close to her chest. “You sound like a goading villain in a bad book. I can’t stand listening to you!”

“You rather I just kill you? What an odd little girl. Little human child.” Malefa turned toward Ginger. “You are so fiery, little girl. Mayhap it be a waste to snuff you out. You could be a pet. My pet! You can lure the prey, a pretty thing like you.”

“Yeah, no. I don’t think so.” And without really knowing what exactly would happen next, Ginger clicked the power button on her phone and pointed the camera at Malefa.

A large screen appeared before Malefa. It floated and appeared to be the size of a movie theater screen. Ginger blinked. There was a smaller screen on her phone that resembled the darkened one hovering next to Malefa. A gray play button marked the middle of both screen. Ginger didn’t hesitate. She clicked the play button.

“What sort of sorcery is…” Malefa said when she was cut off.

The screen was playing a movie. There was a little girl on a boat holding her hat down on her head with a small, delicate hand. She watched the expanse of the ocean before her from the safety of the boat’s railing. A woman and man held her shoulders from behind as if they thought she would tip over and plummet into the frothing sea water.

“Where are we going, Mama? Papa?” The girl in the screen asked. She had pale blonde curls and bright blue eyes. Something about her was oddly familiar and it tickled the back of Ginger mind.

“To Soielle. Your Father’s business ventures…this is the only way we can be free, my love.” The woman on the screen wiped some of the dirt and salt away from the girl’s cheek with a yellow handkerchief embroidered with green flowers.

“This is only temporary. Once everything blows over in London, we should be alright to carry on as we did before,” the man commented. “We’ll be near the next predicted Rift soon. Hold on.

Malefa stared at the screen with her single eye bulging from its socket. Her perfect mouth was wide open and she was having trouble holding herself up with her fists.

Ginger knew it. The man and woman on the screen were Malefa’s parents, and that must mean Malefa must be human, too! But how was that possible? Malefa looked nothing like she had what must have been hundreds of years ago. The father said something about London, and the family was dressed in Victorian clothing, nothing that people today or even fifty years ago would still wear. How was Malefa still living, then? Ginger noticed that a skip button appeared on her screen. Did the button appear because she was curious, or was it a part of the magic’s transition? Feeling as though she was beyond understanding, Ginger clicked the skip button.

The scene of the three family members changed. There was a steady house bade of wood and rocks. The mother cooked food over a fire and the father spent most of his time away from the little house. The little girl Malefa wandered around her new home. As time passed in a flurry of fights between the mother and father and another person Ginger couldn’t quite make out, Malefa grew into a beautiful young woman. Young Malefa could climb trees and rocks and mountains with no fear. She teased her friends—the Kitsunes and other creatures Ginger had no name for yet. Young Malefa was happy.

The screen stopped on one scene.

Day 95

Perceval’s green shield melted away, and the fox collapsed next to Zane.

Pieces of Bull Fists lay haphazard in a messy five foot radius. A few chunks of flesh still burned from the aftermath of the explosion. Brown blood congealed around the dead Bull Fists, releasing a sour stench of foreign blood and excrement.

“I think I might throw up,” Lila said. She covered her nose with the sleeve of her tunic. “Yuck.”

As Glue Pot and Lila inspected their friends and concluded that they had merely exhausted themselves, one Bull Fist still clung onto life. It coughed up bile and salvia and cringed when the viscous liquids touched its burns. There was only one thought left in the beast’s mind—to kill as many of the intruders it could to its dying breath. The burnt Bull Fist shakily positioned its fists into the mucky mixture of mud and blood, lifting its shriveled body into the air.

Lila was the first to notice the Bull Fist move. She didn’t have time to think. The beast thundered over with incredible speed despite its injuries. Lila briefly thought of her magic shoes. No. What use could flying do at this precise moment? And then she remembered the stiletto. She removed the weapon from her belt and held the sharpened point up in defense as the Bull Fist charged right into her attack. The stiletto stuck right into the Bull Fist’s tiny eye, sinking deep into its black pupil up to the hilt. Lila was thrown back, hitting the ground with enough force to knock the air from her lungs.

“Mo,” Lila heard the Bull Fist gurgle, “Mother!” The beast flailed. It could not remove the blade from its eye, and eventually, it too crumpled into a heap. It was dead.

“Mother?” Lila wheezed. “Who’s that?”

“Lila, you’re not hurt too bad, right?” Glue Pot asked. He had trot over to his companion.

“I’ll live.” Lila inhaled and got up. Pain surged through her left hand. “But I think I broke my wrist.”

Glue Pot spent the next five minutes gathering Zane and Perceval onto his back. Lila did the best she could around her broken wrist as she collected Zane’s spilled backpack items. She took special care with his sketchbook. The page that Mr. Terklo walked out of was blank. Lila would have to tell Zane this whenever he woke back up. I the back of Lila’s mind, she heard the Bull Fist’s last words. Mother. Was there another Bull Fist prowling around? We’re these Bull Fists they encountered just the babies? Lila gulped. She hoped not.

Lila and Glue Pot walked back to where they assumed the clearing of trees may be. They thought that if they returned and stayed for a while, the others may be able to do the same. They eventually did find their destination. It took a half an hour or so. Lila did not realize that they had run that far and that furiously from the Bull Fists. Her legs began to ache as if thinking back to that mad dash had reminded them to hurt.

“So, we’ll just wait here?”

“It’s the best we can do. If the others are alive, they’ll either come back here or move straight on to Crat. Those are the only two meeting places,” Glue Pot.

“If they’re still alive…” Yes, Glue Pot was right. Those were the only two meeting places. But that was if their companions still lived. Lila thought of her brother dead. Eaten by one of those beasts. She saw Gabbie and Ginger falling and breaking something worse than a wrist. Tipper, Silverskin, and Digitalis? They were strong, but how much? Could they defeat the Bull Fists? Lila and the others were lucky. If it weren’t for Zane’s sudden magical powers and the Fire Gem, they would have been goners.

“Oh. Oh, Lila,” Glue Pot said. “Oh, d-don’t cry. I mean, you can cry if you want. I-you…” He bit his lip, chewed it, and started again. “I can bind your wrists for you. I’m an expert, you know. When my brothers and I were colts, we would twist our ankles like nobody’s business.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that. Thanks, GP.”

The Bull Fists were closing in.

Gabbie could feel their rancid breath on the back of neck—hot and rotten. Why had this become the new routine? If it wasn’t Batals or a Lake God, it had to be deranged beasts from Hades.

“We’re getting nowhere!” Silverskin yelled. “Take my hands, both of you!” The elf boy grabbed Gabbie’s and Digitalis’s outstretched hands. “Keep as close to me as possible. There are a lot of trees and hitting one would mean it’s all over, okay?”

“Yessir!” Digitalis said.

“Go for it!”

Silverskin conjured the air, and just like the time where he flew down the hallways to the deer he pen, he took both Gabbie and Digitalis across the forest floor at top speed. Gabbie worried that holding up three people would be too much for the air elf.

“Get them! Take them to mother!” The Bull Fists howled.

“Did you hear them? Do you think they want to just catch us or eat u?” Gabbie asked.

“Gabbie, all I heard were sounds from my nightmare,” Digitalis said.

“They said they wanted to take us to someone called mother.”

“All the better to get away!” Silverskin said through gritted teeth.
Gabbie and Digitalis squeezed closer to Silverskin when two clumps of trees appeared as if they just sprouted from the ground. A story branch clipped Gabbie on the shoulder, and their momentum spiraled out of control for a few terrifying seconds. Silverskin hurriedly regained his magical footing and got them through the thickest part of the forest. Soon, the trees began to disappear, revealing an opening ahead. They could hear the rush of fast whitewater from far away

Day 93

They writhed out from their cocoon of cool earth as pebbles and rocks shot out from either direction. Alastair could hear the woman laughing a hearty laugh as the Bull Fists bustled into a half moon formation around them. One of the beasts licked its teeth with a black forked tongue. The Bull Fists immediately charged, leaving no room for the company to think through on how to defend themselves. The beasts split into three groups of ten and attempted to catch any of the company with their oversized fists.

Tipper rounded to the left, angling himself northbound. He still held onto Alastair. Alastair dared not impair Tipper. If he accidentally tripped the Kitsune up by trying to get down, they could both die in an instant. He saw Ginger from the corner of his eye using her long legs to her advantage. He could also see the woman in her disgusting yellow dress follow just behind the group of Bull Fists. She was still grinning as if she ordered a large pizza with extra cheese and was about to watch her favorite television show.

“I can’t shake them,” Tipper panted. He had been attempting to zig zag through a copse of trees to no avail. The Bull Fists were always hot on their trail.

“This is stupid!” Ginger yelled. “Why did sub-queen Faeley give us these weapons if we weren’t going to use them?” She looked over her shoulder, and while still running, threw one of her knives with all of her might. Although she had greatly improved over the past four days, she could not pierce the Bull Fist’s thick skin. The knives hit one of the creature’s jaw and bounced off like a measles gnat. Ginger repeated Tipper’s curse.

Alastair expected Lila, despite running for her life, to correct Ginger.

“Don’t say those words.”

But Lila said nothing. Alastair frantically looked around for his sister. She was nowhere in sight. All he could see was the Bull Fists, the yellow dress woman, and Ginger. The Bull Fists had separated them.

Lila wanted to follow her brother still on Tipper’s back. She felt her feet turn to do just that. A Bull Fist lumbered right in front of her. She yelped.

“This way!” Perceval urged. He flicked his tail, indicating Lila to follow. Lila had no choice but to trust Tipper to keep her brother safe. She gulped and darted over to Perceval.

“Woah! What about the others?” Zane called out.

“They’ll be alright,” Glue Pot said. He didn’t really sound convincing. He galloped over to Zane and Lila, reached down, and picked them both up. “I know I said never again, but I seem to be breaking all of my preset rules lately.” The centaur set the children on his back. “You can keep up, right, Perceval?”

“Give me some credit. I am, how to the Earth people say it, swift as a fox!”

The four dove into the forest. The Bull Fists were never too far away. They broke branches and made the forest floor shudder. Lila hurriedly tried to think of a way out of this. She had the advantage of sitting on Glue Pot’s back where she could think of a plan. Could she use her shoes like last time to fly? No, there’d be no way she could fly through a forest. There were too many trees and she’d more likely make it easier for the Bull Fists to catch her.

“Zane, can you use your arrows to hit those things?”

“My…oh!” Zane fumbled for his bow. “I don’t know how good a shot I can be.”

“Just try it!” Lila examined the closest Bull Fist. It was larger than the other nine following it with heavier muscles and red eyes. The jaw was completely bone and its skin looked tough. “Try and hit the eyes.”

“They’re so small,” Zane replied. Yet he still notched the arrow. He pulled the bolt back.

“Stay still. You’re shaking like a small dog.”

“You try and hit a moving, tiny target while you’re life depends on it,” Zane shot back. He forcibly went still, aimed as best he could, and let the arrow fly. He had the force required for the arrow to sing through the air, however his aim was off. The bolt smacked against the Bull Fist’s tusk. “No, no, no.”

“Try again!”

Zane notched another arrow and let it fly. This time the arrow stuck on the tender flesh next to the beast’s slit nose.

“Look at that, Lila! I got him!”

“I don’t want to ruin your party,” Lila said.

“Tell the truth. You want to.”

“Buuut, that arrow did nothing. It’s still coming after us. We have to think of something else.”

“Perceval, can’t you do something? Throw a fire ball or something?” Zane yelled down to the fox creature.

“I can’t do fire spells anymore. Not in this body. I can only eat access fire and keep Tipper safe with what I collect. Besides that, I can make high level shields—only at full health, though.”

Lila was struck with an idea.

“Shields where monsters stay out but we can still throw things at them?”

“Oh,” Glue Pot said. “Yes, that would be good.”

“Yes, I can design the shield like that,” Perceval panted. “It won’t last long, though. Four or five minutes.”

“Zane, you still have your Fire Gem. You can use that. Glue Pot can make use of his arrows,” Lila said.

“If we stop and we can’t take those Bull Fists out in time, that’s it. They’ll have us surrounded and we’ll be finger food,” Zane said.

“It’s better than them running us to death,” Perceval pointed out. “I’m willing to do it if everyone agrees.”

Faced with this line of reasoning, Zane agreed with his companions.

“I hope they line up like bowling pins. I may be mediocre at the bow, but I play a mean game of bowling.”

(PS: What did I do to myself?)

Day 80

“If anyone can send you home, she’s the one to do it.” Faeley pulled out a strip of jerky from on pouch tied onto her belt. She bit into the hard meat and chewed. Loudly. The Royal Guard tried to cover their chuckles.

“And magic. The Elder said something about that, too. She can figure out what we can do?” Questioned Alastair.

“Inana is the Queen for a reason.” Faeley finished her piece of meat and wiped her hands on her pants. She then withdrew a pad of paper and a writing utensil from the same pouch she pulled out the piece of meat. The sub-queen scribbled away at the paper. “I saw what you two children did at the battle front. Manipulating time and matter. That’s a special case of magic, there. I haven’t heard of anyone wielding such power in hundreds of years. Queen Inana may be able to teach you how to better to control that.”
“We won’t need to know when we get home,” said Ginger.

“True. But have you not heard of the human saying? It’s better to be safe than to be sorry?” Subqueen Faeley stood and rolled her shoulders. The stump of her right arm caught the faint blue light bouncing off of the wall’s stones. The children nearly forgot that the sub-queen only had one arm. She moved with a grace and strength that most people with two arms did even possess. Faeley had already returned her pad of paper and writing utensil back into her pouch. She had torn out the page she was writing in and folded the piece in two. The sub-queen walked over to Silverskin and placed the paper into the boy’s hand.

“Give this to Queen Inana, Silverskin. Do not lose it. I’m untrusting this duty to you and you alone.”

“Y-you can count on me!” Silverskin bowed repeatedly.

“Enough of that. You hold your head high and strong.”

“Shall we accompany them, my lady?” Agile asked. “Or would you like us to stay and help rebuild? We were sent here to help and investigate, and I believe our aid would be more beneficial than our absence.”

“You are correct, Agile. There’s no sense in sending all of you.” The sub-queen smiled at Agile and Adriei and the two Royal Guards smiled back. “I appreciate your aid. Because you will not accompany our guests outside, could you please relate what they may face on the way to our Queen?”

“Yes!” Adriei shouted. “Oh, yes,” the guard said a little softer after sub-queen Faeley widened her eyes from the guard’s loudness. “You’re going into a rough territory.” The Royal Guard made sure that they were letting each and everyone know about the seriousness of the situation. “Judging by the batals, the Lake God, and the disappearances, Soielle is no longer a safe place. Where you’re venturing into wasn’t safe to begin with.”

Day 78

“DAAAAAANGE…” The Lake God’s abrupt end to what seemed to be his mantra made the company shiver. What happened? Was the Lake God defeated? Did it break through the rock wall to begin cracking open the mountain? What was going on?

The company sat again in silence. No one looked at each other. Everything now felt like defeat.

“We may have to go before your mother gets back,” Tipper told Silverskin.

“And why’s that?” The young elf questioned.

“As you may have guessed, my charges aren’t just half humans. Their full blooded creatures of Earth.” Tipper paused to let that sink in. No one seemed to be surprised and he nodded solemnly. “Once everything dies down, your sub-queen might not want to have us around. Humans as you know aren’t exactly welcomed, and the fact that a long sleeping Lake God just so happened to wake up after a millennia when Gabbie got feet away from the lake, well…you can connect the dots, there.”

“You think Gabbie woke that monster up?” Ginger moaned.

“I’m not certain, but it’s best to leave before sub-queen Faeley jumps to the same conclusion I have.”

“Dear Kitsune, I am afraid that you are too late,” a melodic rumble echoed into the blue room. Tipper’s fox ears flattened to his his head and his tail twitched with agitation.

“Ah, sub-queen Faeley,” Tipper said. His tone remained calm and even, similar to how he treated the Elder. “What an honor to at least our host.”

“Save the theatrics, Kitsune.” Sub-queen Faeley strode into the room not like a queen, but as a warrior who had just scented fresh blood. Her vivid eyes landed on Alastair and the back of his neck prickled in admiration and fear. The sub-queen was still dressed from head to toe in battle armor, and now that she was closer, Alastair could feel her power pooling off of her in waves. The Royal Guards, Sannier, and another elf followed behind the sub-queen. The male elf next to Sannier must be her husband. He had the same silver skin as his son.

“Humans in my domain,” the sub-queen tsked. Her manner was soft, like a coiled up cat ready to strike with sharpened claws. “I never thought I would see humans again after the our Queen Inana’s father gave his life to banish them.” Faeley set her blazing attentions onto each of the five human children. She was short, but the way she looked down on them made her even taller than she was. “And see how much destruction they have already caused. The batals have gone insane and the Lake God collapsing our mountain before resting once more in its lake.”

“The mountain is gone!?” Silverskin squeaked. He stood straight when the sub-queen shot him an icy stare.

“Yes. The home of many a rock elf for hundreds of years—gone.”

“No,” Gabbie moaned.

“Yes, and your fox friend was correct in assuming my calculated conclusions. Although we brought you into our home from the rage of the batals, I can no longer accept your presence.”

Day 77

There were the far-away cries of elf’s and their families, holed up into their own rooms to wait out the storm. A faint sound of rock crashing against rock vibrated down the warren. The children gulped in unison. Not rock against rock, but an oversized fist against a wall. Was the Lake God attempting to break down the rock wall sub-queen Faeley constructed? More crashing and more earthquakes tumbling and rumbling one after another. Perceval curled up on Lila’s lap, and she had not realized that she was stroking his tawny fur until hours later. Tipper and Digitalis sat shoulder to shoulder, whispering something to one another no one else could hear. Zane sat crossed legged sketching away in his book. He bit his lip, trying to keep the terrifying sounds out from his head.

“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Silverskin muttered.

“No, it’s not. Weren’t the stories about the Lake God suppose to be just stories? How would we know?” Gabbie insisted. Her fingers brushed his shoulder in reassurance.

“What are you talking about?” Ginger asked after she sat down next to the two whispering friends.

“The Lake God. He wasn’t supposed to be real,” Gabbie said.

“You out of all the people I know, would be the last to think that something didn’t exist. Remember that one time you convinced me that a ghost lived under my bed? I couldn’t put my feet on the floor until morning because you said the ghost fed on the dark. What was worse was that you actually believed what you said!”

“Why wouldn’t she?” Asked Silverskin. “Ghosts are real.”

“Woah, for really real?” Gabbie gasped.

“I can’t win here,” Ginger said. She leaned back against the blue wall and pulled out her cell phone. It was useless without Wifi or a change. She examine the blank screen of the phone and the bright green phone case that matched her sister’s braces. “Ghosts. Lake Gods. Magic. It’s all over my head. This kind of stuff is meant for video games. Fantasy. Not real.” Ginger put her head in her hands. “Now there’s a monster trying to knock down a magic wall like from an anime! I can’t do this!”

Gabbie reached out to hug her sister but something told her to leave Ginger be. Ginger wasn’t one to take somebody’s pity. A hug right now would feel exactly like that.

A terrible shout woven of despair and pain shouted out like a cannon fire. The sudden giant’s voice caused everyone to stand up, ready to face whatever would happen next. The call bellowed out once more, and the company realized that no elf, human, guard, Lived Being, Kitsune, or centaur voice could ever match the terror and agony this one drove into them.

“DAAAAANGER!!!” The Lake God moaned. “DAAAN-GGEEER!!!”

“What?” Alastair asked the room. “What does it mean by that?”

“I don’t know. I can’t understand what it’s saying,” Digitalis said.

“Do you?” Glue Pot wondered.

“Yeah, it’s saying danger,” Zane offered. He covered his mouth a second too late. Only human could understand all languages on Soielle and he just blew their cover in front of Silverskin, Digitalis, and Glue Pot.

Day 76

Sannier bolted the opposite direction, working against the flow of fleeing citizens. The foundation shook and rumbled, causing those very citizens to scurry like frightened cats. The twins took hold of Zane to keep him from tumbling over.

“Put the children on my back. They’ll be safer up here.” Glue Pot bent down to allow Tipper and Digitalis to heave Zane and Lila onto the centaur’s back.

“The caves may begin to collapse. We have to hurry.” Agile waved the company over with a grim expression. Slowly but surely, Agile had rounded up not only the children, but the frightened citizens as well. The guard was grim faced as they navigated the winding tunnels to emerge at the designated emergency exit. An elf with bulging muscles and fierce yellow eyes was in charge of moving the great slab of rock down a near fatal drop to deposit elves to the evacuation warren below. She waved the next group over.

“You can pack a few more on,” the magical elf insisted. Adriei, who had attempted to wait for the next ride down, sighed and squeezed onto the already full moving rock. The elf woman nodded and sent the company down and down until the rock thunked into place. Agile again took lead. They walked into a hive network of rooms and tunnels that one would believe to look uncomfortable, but really weren’t. Sub-queen Faeley, even during the worst of times, would not allow her people to live in dank caves. The floors were clean and laid with bricks. The walls had been magically smoothed out. There was even the scent of what could have been blueberries in the air. Small comforts for such big trouble.

“Here we go. You’ll be safe here,” Agile commented. They had brought the company to a small room inlaid with blue stones. “Sub-queen Faeley has enchanted this warren to keep from crumbling. They’re smaller than the mountain and easier to use magic on. However, if you take one step out, then that may be your last.”

“But, you’re leaving, aren’t you?” Digitalis asked.

“I need to bring the sub-queen back. She’ll end up defending the mountain and the people with her last breath, and Queen Inana needs her. We still have the problem of disappearing villages, and sub-queen Faeley’s magic may help.” Agile smiled sadly. “Don’t worry. The Queen’s Guard do not die so easily.” With that, Agile and Adriei bolted out.

“What do we do now?” Zane asked.

Alastair and Lila exchanged looks. They could talk about what happened. Lila’s ability to fly and Alastair’s sudden trick of stopping time. Yet now was not the moment to speak of such things. There was a real sense of danger permeating the air. Back in Indiana, Alastair and Lila were told how to run into the basement if they heard the air alarms outside. Those alarms meant a tornado was nearby and could possibly chew up their house and spit it out into toothpicks. They felt the same sense of impending danger now as they felt huddled down in their basement with their mother and father.