“Well?” Diana demanded as soon as they had reached the end of the Swamp Legion’s land and Slumeff had left them. “Explain your untimely disappearance.”
Raynold sighed and halted his horse. The girls gathered around him, all curious to what had made him leave them. “It’s a long story,” He began, and then heaved another sigh.
The girls waited impatiently. “Alright,” Diana encouraged. “Tell us the whole thing. Start at the beginning,” she added helpfully.
Raynold scratched his head thoughtfully and then glanced around at the girls. “Well, I noticed that the swamp warriors were following us, and I knew from past experience that they would try to capture all of us and drag us before their queen, who thankfully is my friend.
“When they began to close off our escape routes, I silently slipped past the few warriors in my path and then high-tailed it to the swamp queen’s palace. I had hoped to reach her and tell her that you were my friends, but unfortunately I lost myself on the strange trail I had been following in my haste. When I finally arrived at the palace, everything was under control, and the queen seemed to have taken an immediate liking to all of you.”
Raynold took a deep breath and grinned around the circle of girls. “She admires bravery and courage in the face of impossible odds and that was exactly what you exhibited.” He stopped speaking and gave Peace some reign. She began to walk again.
“Wait!” Diana yelled, trotting Star up to him again. “That’s it? There’s no more explanation you’re going to give us?”
“What more do you need?” Raynold asked in surprise. “I told why I left, and why it took me so long to catch back up to you all again. Wasn’t that what you wanted to know?”
Diana gave an impatient gesture. “Oh, I suppose…just don’t do it again! I was scared.”
“I’m afraid I can’t promise to not do it again,” Raynold replied.
“Well, there may be times when my disappearing and thus escaping detection from enemies would be better than if all of us were captured together.”
“That’s true,” Alyssa admitted, exchanging a look with Diana.
At last Diana gave up with a shrug. “Alright, do what you think is best.”
Raynold grinned again. “I was planning on it,” He answered.
Once more the girls followed Raynold, but this time, past the edge of the wood and into an open meadow.
The sun was shining and a soft breeze captured the lose strands of hair from Alyssa’s ponytail and twirled them around her face, tickling her nose. She brushed the annoying hair away and scratched her nose, not forgetting to keep a strong hold on Rebel at the same time.
The party of adventures had made their way across the meadow, but it seemed to go on forever. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant to be riding across what appeared to limitless grass, the sun shining and all, but Alyssa was getting tired of it two hours later when it still didn’t show any signs of stopping.
“How much further?” Alice groaned, voicing the question in all the girls’ minds. She stood in her saddle, shading her eyes with her hand and straining to see the end of the meadow. “It seems like we’ve been here forever!”
Raynold frowned and halted Peace with a slight motion of his hand. “To be completely honest, I don’t know,” he answered.
“What?” Alice yelped. “You mean you brought us across this…never ending meadow when you didn’t know how far it was to the other side?”
“Well it didn’t seem dangerous when we began,” Raynold answered sheepishly.
“Not dangerous?” Alice squeaked. “We’re out in the open! Anything that flies could sweep down on us and capture us! When the gliefs…” Here she was kicked unceremoniously by her sister and given a warning frown. Alice hastily covered her mistake, by continuing, “IF the gliefs come soon, we’ll be hard put to fight them off…especially since we don’t have the Fire Stone yet.”
Raynold’s eyes narrowed in thought and he gave a worried look into the sky. “You’re right. We need to find shelter, and soon. The gliefs begin their hunting at twilight.”
Mutely, the girls followed his example as he urged Peace into a distance-eating lope.
They hadn’t gone a hundred yards before a scream pierced the air. Somewhere between the cry of an eagle and the shriek of a hunting panther, it sent shivers up their spines. Raynold gave one look in the sky behind them and blanched in absolute terror. The girls had never seen Raynold scared, but now they did. Peace was given full reign, and the girls were given the hollered command to follow him as fast as their horses could gallop.
Alyssa obeyed immediately and felt beneath her clutching legs Rebel’s muscles began pumping harder and harder when he felt the slack in the reign. He reached out his neck and ran. Oh, how he could run! For a brief moment, Alyssa forgot the horror behind them in the thrill that ran through her when Rebel galloped. He simply overflowed with power, strength, and a love of racing.
Another scream jerked her back to the present, and she glanced behind her. Diana and Alice had also urged their horses into a gallop, but she saw with a glance that their horses weren’t nearly as fast as Rebel or Peace.
Just behind them, as big as life and twice as ugly, flew a giant glief. The glief was the size of a small airplane and looked like a cross between a spider and a dragonfly. Eight legs hung down, useless while it flew, but dangerous when on the ground. Alyssa knew, as did Alice, that they could run on their legs almost as fast as they could fly. Multiple eyes glared down in malicious triumph on the terrified girls beneath it. Obviously it thought them only too easy a prey.
The steady hum of the four wings as well another scream from the awful creature made the horses bolt. Alice hung on as best she could, but she couldn’t hold on for long.
To Alyssa, watching from the back of her running horse, the next scene seemed to be in slow-motion. Her sister slipped from the back of Troy, landing in the grass. In a moment she was up and running for her life, but the glief was too fast and grabbed her with two of its hanging legs. Alyssa saw her sister’s lips form her name soundlessly, a mute appeal for help, then the glief turned around and flew off at an incredible speed.
“ALICE!!!” Alyssa screamed, angry tears running down her cheeks. This wasn’t what they had written in their book. Something had gone terribly wrong. Sure, the gliefs were supposed to show up and give a fight, but Raynold had killed it…hadn’t he? Suddenly, Alyssa couldn’t remember what the outcome of the fight had been.
Diana reined Star in next to Rebel who had stopped as soon as the danger had disappeared. The mare was flecked with foam and Diana looked exhausted and terrified. She too had a close call, almost being captured by the glief as well.
Raynold cantered back to where the two girls were waiting, his face still white, though some of the color had returned.
“Where is Alice?” He asked, noting the absence of Alice immediately. His eyes searched the deceptively quiet field before falling on Troy’s telltale empty saddle. The color that had just returned now fled again. “It captured her?” He asked, though it was more stating the obvious.
Silently, Alyssa and Diana nodded their heads. Then Alyssa burst into tears. Diana leaned over and hugged her. No words were needed between the two friends, and Alyssa appreciated the quiet hug more than anything Diana could have said.
“C-can we do anything to help her?” Alyssa asked at last, her sobs having turned into occasional hiccups.
Raynold scratched his chin and gave the distant hills a doubtful look. “I don’t know…” he began slowly. “There is a slim chance of saving her, but it’ll be pretty dangerous.”
“Can we try?”
There was a moment of silence, then a determined gleam came into Raynold’s eyes. He gave a quick, decisive nod. “Yes,” He answered shortly. “‘If there’s a will there’s a way.’”
Alyssa turned her pleading, hopeful eyes to his. “We’ve just got to rescue her.”
Diana read the misery in her friend’s face and her heart went out to Alyssa. The mere thought of Alice in the clutches of that horrible creature sent shivers down her spine. She tightened the arm around Alyssa’s shoulders and smiled, trying to cheer her up. “We’ll rescue her if it’s the last thing we do,” She replied seriously.
Silently, Raynold urged his reluctant horse to follow the distant screams of the glief. Slowly, the group of adventures, now lacking one, crept over the seemingly limitless expanse of meadow in search for their missing friend and sister.
When Alice felt herself being lifted off the ground by the terrible spidery legs of the glief, she was too scared to think properly. She met the wide eyes of her twin sister on the ground and mouthed the name she had no breath to scream.
The glief, apparently satisfied with its prey, rose into the air again and began flying away. Suddenly, Alice heard her sister scream her name and then her mind finally began functioning again. She forgot her terror in a sudden rush of anger. Struggling to free herself, she twisted her body into all sorts of impossible angles, but to no avail. The glief simply tightened its hold and continued flying across the meadow.
Eventually, Alice gave up on struggling. It was no use, the glief had her securely in its talons and she would never be able to escape while in them, so she instead spent the time in its clutches looking around her.
From the vantage point she had in the air, she could easily see the end of the meadow. But what she saw beyond them filled her with dark forebodings. Huge mountains, the sparkling white snow on top greatly contrasting with the blackness of the rock below, reached their mighty heads into the sky.
To these dark mounds of rock and sediment the glief was flying. Once closer, Alice made out even darker spots that scarred the giant sides of the mountains. Into one of these openings the glief flew Alice, the hum of its wings becoming even more deafening in the close confines of the cave.
A few hundred feet later the glief stopped, folding its wings and landing on its six legs as softly as a butterfly would land on a flower. No jolts or sudden drops. The two other legs, busy holding Alice in their mighty grasp, released her suddenly onto the hard floor of the cave. Then, without another word, the glief left again, leaving Alice alone inside a mountain.