A Twin Adventure
Alice & Alyssa
Written By: Rebekah Marie Eddy
©2015 by Rebekah Eddy
All rights reserved.
I dedicate this book to:
My Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.
My family and friends who have been supportive of all my writing endeavors.
Alyssa blinked, rolled over in her bunk, and slid out of bed. Above her, Alice groaned and sat up.
“What are you doing getting up so early?” she mumbled.
Alyssa grinned up at her sleepy-eyed twin. “I always like to get up early and enjoy the day while it’s new! Why don’t you come on my walk with me?”
Alice shivered at the thought. “Not me! You go ahead and walk in the freezing morning air; I’m staying in my warm bed!”
Alyssa laughed. “Have it your own way, sleepyhead!” Alice merely buried herself back in her blankets, and Alyssa stepped quietly outside.
She shivered as she closed the door softly behind her. The morning air was cold, she admitted to herself, but it always woke her up. Alyssa momentarily debated whether it would be worth it to go back inside and get a sweater, but then decided against the action and instead began to walk briskly down the sidewalk. She swung her arms back and forth to warm herself, her mind wandering back in time to the circumstances that had brought her and her sister to this quiet neighborhood.
A couple weeks earlier, her parents had been involved in a terrible car accident, but thankfully their lives had been spared. Unfortunately, her dad was in a comma, and her mom had been treated with some broken ribs and a serious head injury. This left Alice and Alyssa with no parents temporarily, so their aunt had volunteered to keep them until further notice.
It was the beginning of summer, and so they did not have to worry about keeping up with school. Also, Alice and Alyssa were both fourteen, soon to be fifteen, which meant that they did not need much looking after. Their aunt, Lilyanna Dighton, had a job not too far away, and she was always ready to rush home at the ring of her cell-phone if the girls were in trouble. They had not had an emergency yet, but they had only been there for a week.
Both girls were working on adjusting to their new lives, and Alyssa had just started taking regular morning walks around the new neighborhood. This was the third time she had gotten up early to do it, and her aunt had said it was fine, even if she left Alice behind.
Alyssa had been walking along, humming her favorite tune in time to the swinging of her arms, when suddenly she came upon an odd scene: a girl, perhaps a few years younger than herself, was struggling to get away from a huge dog. The dog seemed to only be playing, but Alyssa noticed that the girl seemed frightened out of her wits. Alyssa started fearlessly towards the dog, her hand holding out a treat, something she always remembered to bring on her walks. Astonished, the girl stopped her struggles and looked wide-eyed at Alyssa.
“Here puppy…hey, you sweet thing…I love you too…come here, don’t be shy…see what I have for you?” She kept a steady stream of words flowing from her mouth, and the dog stopped harassing the girl to eat the treat.
After the treat disappeared in a shockingly short amount of time, the dog rolled over onto its back to have its stomach rubbed. The girl stood up, staring openly at Alyssa, who was bent over the dog still.
At last Alyssa straightened and pointed down the street. “Go home!” she commanded the dog. The dog glanced back at the other girl, his tail beginning to wag. “Go home!” Alyssa repeated.
The dog finally obeyed with his tail between his legs. Alyssa turned to the girl with a warm smile. “Hi! My name is Alyssa Dighton. What’s yours?”
The girl found her tongue. “I-I’m Diana Wood. How’d you do that?”
Alyssa laughed. “I just have a way with animals. It’s a gift that comes in handy sometimes.”
Diana gaped. “I’ll say! Thank you!”
“You’re very welcome. I’m new in the neighborhood, do you live here?”
Diana nodded. “Yeah, I live just down the street, house number 1342. Which house do you live in?”
Alyssa thought a moment. “1344…we’re only a house away from each other!” Diana nodded again, and the two girls exchanged a smile. Alyssa continued, “You should meet my twin sister, Alice. We’re different, but we hardly ever do something without the other half of us doing it too. I think she’d really enjoy meeting you.”
Diana grinned. “I’d love to meet your sister. When?”
“She probably won’t even be awake for another hour, let alone ready to meet someone.” Alyssa laughed at the picture her sister would present if Diana went to see her right then. “Probably after lunch would be the best time. Will that work?” Diana nodded. “I’ll see you then! I’d better head back.”
Diana glanced at her watch, letting out a little gasp of surprise. “Uh, oh. I’d better run for it. Mom expected me back five minutes ago!” She turned to go with a wave. “See you later!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Alyssa sat down at the table with a book and a bowl of cereal. Her aunt was reading the morning paper with her hair in curlers. Her cat came over to sit into Alyssa’s lap, purring contentedly. A few minutes ticked by slowly, and Alyssa finished her breakfast.
Finally, Alice came downstairs. Alyssa greeted her with a smile. “You missed some excitement this morning,” she said.
Alice let out a squeak of dismay. “I did?” Alyssa told her about her morning walk. Alice groaned. “How come it’s always me who misses out on the interesting walks?”
Alyssa laughed. “At least you’ll be able to meet her still, just not until this afternoon.”
Alice got herself a bowl of cereal from the kitchen and sat down to eat. “I suppose that’s true. I’m not missing out on everything!” She finished her breakfast in silence.
After their aunt left for work, with her usual list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, the girls went to their rooms to spend the morning working on a book they were writing together.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Alyssa looked up at the bottom of her sister’s bunk thoughtfully as she lay sprawled out on her own bed. Alice sat at their desk; her pencil poised mid-air, waiting for her sister to continue where she left off. Alyssa went on, dictating the story:
“She looked at the cloaked stranger carefully. ‘Who are you?’ she asked.
“The cloaked stranger smiled mysteriously. ‘You shall know soon enough, follow me.’”
Alyssa took a deep breath and Alice’s pencil stopped again.
“Our story sounds great so far. Maybe once we finish it we can publish it.”
Alyssa laughed. “I doubt our story will ever be good enough to publish, but it’s a nice thought. I just hope we finish it before school starts.”
Alice looked over at her twin dubiously. “You don’t think we can finish one little book in three months?”
“I might get writer’s block, and that can stall an author for days, weeks, and even months. Hopefully I won’t, and at least we can get a head start while we’re here.” Alyssa’s eyes wandered over to the open window, and she sighed contentedly. With another deep breath, she plunged into the story again.
“‘You shall know soon enough, follow me.’
“The girl shook her head stubbornly. ‘Not until I know who you are and where you’re planning on taking me.’
“The stranger laughed. ‘You are a careful one,’ he said at last.
“The girl nodded. “Exactly. Now for the last time…who are you, and where are you taking me?’ The stranger sighed.”
Alyssa halted again, and she dreamily played with the ends of her hair, looking thoughtfully out the window. Alice’s furious scribbling stopped and she looked up expectantly from her notebook. Alyssa suddenly smiled. “Diana’s here!”
Alice began to write it down, but then realized what her sister had said. “What do you mean, ‘Diana’s here’?” She frowned.
Alyssa jumped from her bed, nearly hitting her head on the top. “Diana’s here, you know, the girl I met this morning. Come on!”
Alice’s face cleared. “Oh! I thought you wanted that to go in our story!”
“No, no, never mind the story, just come on!”
Quickly, the girls rushed down to the kitchen, grabbing some sandwiches and cookies their aunt had made before she left. Rushing outside, they both slid to a stop in front of Diana.
Alyssa grinned. “Hello again! This is my twin sister, Alice.”
Diana smiled and took the offered hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She glanced from one sister to the other. “You don’t look like twins,” she explained.
Alice nodded. “I know, but we are. However, we aren’t identical twins.”
Diana raised an eyebrow. “I can see that.”
Alyssa changed the subject. “Let’s have lunch.” She brought out the sandwiches. “We have enough for you too Diana.”
“Thanks, I’m hungry!” She replied.
Alyssa laughed. “Didn’t you already have lunch?” She asked.
Diana grinned. “Actually, I was so excited about meeting you that I completely forgot!”
The sandwiches were handed out and the girls had a picnic lunch right on their front lawn. Over lunch, Alyssa explained why they ended up in the neighborhood.
“And so we’re here with Auntie Lilyanna for all of summer and maybe some of fall too,” she finished.
Diana clucked her tongue sympathetically. “How are you going to survive with only one another for company most of the time?”
Alice shook her head. “Actually it’s pretty fun, we both love to read and Auntie has piles of books that we’ve never read before. We’ve never found a book yet that we didn’t like.”
Diana looked at them thoughtfully. “You two like to read?” Both girls nodded vigorously. Diana grinned. “Me too! We’ll have to switch around books sometime. I know of a great library that’s not too far away. It has a great selection of material.”
Alyssa clapped her hands in excitement. “That’s truly wonderful! Alice and I have been working on writing a book on our own, but we need some research material and writing books. The library will probably have those.”
Diana’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You mean you write too?” She asked. Again, the girls both nodded. “Can I read your book when it’s done?”
Alice and Alyssa nodded. “Of course you can! We need a proofreader!”
“Thanks! I’ll look forward to it!” Diana replied, her face dimpling into a smile. “I have to get back to help Mom with her grocery shopping. Thanks for lunch; it was nice meeting you Alice.” The girls parted with handshakes all around, and Alice and Alyssa went back to their writing.
They finished a chapter before their aunt came home, and evening came quickly. Soon both girls were sound asleep in bed, dreaming of faraway lands filled with mystery.
Alice rolled over and opened her eyes, blinking in the bright sunshine. She glanced down into her sister’s bunk and was surprised to see her still sleeping soundly. Puzzled, she looked over at the alarm clock. It was already eight o’ clock! She sat abruptly, causing the bunk to creak loudly.
Alyssa grumbled something and opened her eyes. “What time is it?” She asked, looking over at the alarm clock as Alice had done. She shot out of bed with a cry of exasperation. “Oh, no! How could I have slept in?”
Alice climbed down out of her bed. “Well, I guess now we could both take a walk.”
Alyssa smiled, despite her annoyance at herself for waking up so late. “I guess that’s true, come on.” The girls dressed quickly into matching jeans and tee-shirts.
Stepping outside, Alyssa took a deep breath and let out a sigh of sheer pleasure, but Alice was already regretting the warm bed she had left inside.
“I don’t see how you can stand this!” She shivered.
“Once we get going you’ll warm up nicely,” Alice replied with a grin. “In about five minutes we’ll be walking so fast you won’t notice its cold.”
Alice groaned. “Do you think that’s going to console me?”
Alyssa merely glanced down at her watch. “We have to be back by eight-thirty, which means we have almost half an hour to walk, breakfast will be ready by then.” Alice didn’t reply, she was preserving her air for breathing as she struggled to keep up with her sister’s fast pace.
They were just finishing their walk around the neighborhood when they came face to face with none other than Diana.
She came up to them grinning. “I thought I might meet you out here,” she said when she was within talking range.
Alyssa returned her grin. “And so we meet again! How are you?”
Diana smiled. “I’m fine, what about you two?”
“Fine,” Alyssa replied.
Alice shivered again. “C-cold,” she answered. Alyssa and Diana exchanged a smile over Alice’s head.
Diana broke the short silence. “I have to get right back. Mom let me run out to visit, but she asked me to come right back after saying a quick ‘hi’.”
Alyssa took a peak at her watch. “We have to go back too. See you later!” The girls parted again, and Alice and Alyssa took off running towards the house, arriving breathless and exhausted. Sinking into the nearest chair, the girls took a rest.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Breakfast came and went, the morning dragged by, and the girls worked on their book. Alyssa paced up and down their room’s floor, her mind racing with ideas and trying to form them into sentences that would make sense. Alice’s pencil raced over the notebook as she put her sister’s thoughts down on paper.
“She felt a hand clamp onto her shoulder, and a pointed object pricked her back, warning her that to cry out would bring death quickly. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she made herself turn around and face her enemy. It, for that was truly all she could call the creature standing in front of her, was horribly ugly.
“Gathering up all the courage she could muster, she spoke. ‘Who are you?’ She asked, trying to hide the trembling in her voice.
“The creature gurgled a reply. For though it didn’t speak her language, she could somehow understand its words. ‘I am a messenger and my name is Slumeff. The Queen of the Swamp Legion says that you are to come with me to her,’ it said.
“The girl shuddered inwardly. ‘And if I won’t come?’ She asked.
“The creature let out another horrible laugh. ‘Than you will die.’ Worriedly, she glanced around. If there were others, and she was sure that there was, than she would have to go. She could only hope to find mercy in the hands of this queen.
“The creature must have noticed her glance, for he gurgled again, ‘There is no escape, you are surrounded. Come with us and the punishment may be less harsh.’ The girl glanced around again. To run, perhaps a slim possibility of survival if the creature was lying, but more likely she would be killed in the attempt. However, if she went with them, she may have a larger chance.
“She scolded herself for the hundredth time for even coming on this adventure. Where was the cloaked stranger? Wasn’t he supposed to be protecting her?
“She took a deep breath. ‘Very well, since I have no choice, I shall come.’ The creature grunted something under his breath, and led her away. She did get glimpses of other creatures behind the marsh grass and cattails. Escape would have been impossible, and she was glad she had decided against it. She would have to think, and think fast.”
Alyssa stopped, her tongue running over her dry lips. Alice encouraged her with a smile, although her wrists were aching from writing so fast. “It sounds really good so far! You’re outdoing yourself Alyssa.”
Alyssa grunted doubtfully, studying the crack in the ceiling above her. “I’m glad it sounds good, but I need to come up with good names for my characters. The only name I have so far is the name of the Swamp Legion messenger. I’ll have to figure out the other names this afternoon. Also, should the queen be good or bad? We’ll have to wait on the story for another day. I’ll probably have it figured out by tomorrow. Let’s stop and eat.”
Alice agreed by closing the notebook with a resounding smack, and the girls went to eat as planned.
The day passed uneventfully, though both girls had plenty to do. Evening fell, and the girls went off to bed, little realizing what change was beginning to happen.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The grandfather clock in the living room rang quietly its twelve times, it was midnight. The notebook lay open on the desk…the even breathing from the bunks showed that both girls were sound asleep. A page flipped suddenly, silently, and then everything was still. A whoosh of air caused the drapes to flap, and the window was pushed open. There was a scuffing noise, and then silence fell again.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * *
Alyssa woke with a start. Rubbing her eyes, she glanced at the alarm clock. It was only a little after midnight. What had awakened her?
She looked quickly over at her window, feeling a cool night breeze. She thought she had closed it before she went to bed. With a shudder, whether from cold or fear, she didn’t know, she glanced down at the yard outside her window as a precaution. Did that shadow move? She shivered in her bathrobe and shut the window securely, locking it. She turned around, and suddenly was face to face with what seemed to be the very “cloaked stranger” from her book!
She gasped. “Who are you?”
The stranger shook his head. “You should not ask me questions I cannot answer. However, perhaps you could give me your name?”
Alyssa frowned. “‘You should not ask me questions I cannot answer,’” she retorted with a lot more spirit than she felt.
The stranger laughed. “You have courage! I’ll give you that!”
Alyssa put her hands on her hips in hopes of looking severe. “What are you doing in my room?” She demanded. There was silence, and Alice chose that time to wake up.
“Wha’s goin’ on?” She asked groggily.
The stranger looked at her. “Ah, you are the other girl…” his sentence trailed off and he became lost in thought. “…There was a third… I’m sure there was a third…” Alice and Alyssa exchanged a confused look.
Alyssa spoke the question on both girls’ minds. “What do you mean by ‘a third’? ‘A third’ what?”
The stranger jerked himself from his thoughts and replied to the girls. “A third girl. You’re the authors, there was another girl. Where is she?”
The twins looked at each other again. “You mean…” Alyssa frowned. “You mean…not Diana!”
The stranger’s brow cleared. “Yes, yes! The third girl was Diana Wood. She lives here?”
Alyssa shook her head. “No, she lives…” She suddenly stopped herself, suspicious. “I asked you a question earlier, and I’ll repeat it now… what are you doing in our room? How did you get here? And who are you?”
The stranger laughed softly, holding his hands out in front of him as if to stop the flow of questions. “You have a very inquisitive mind!” He exclaimed.
Alice came down from her top bunk, slipping into her bathrobe and standing next to her sister. “It’s because we want answers,” she replied.
The stranger rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Alright, I believe I can answer some questions.” He paused, studying their faces. “Although,” he went on mysteriously, “I think you may know more answers than you think you know.”
Alice and Alyssa glanced at each other blankly. What was that supposed to mean?
He began to answer the questions. “First of all, I think I need to explain something. I come from a world…a new world that has only been created a week ago. Created on the first day of July at twelve o’ clock in the afternoon, and as you should know, that gives us a gift according to the ancient rules that apply to young authors under the age of eighteen.”
Alyssa interrupted him. “Wait, who do you mean by ‘us’?”
The stranger frowned. “My people of course, created to inhabit the world.” He went on from where he had left off: “Our gift was being able to interchangeably go from world to world. It helped us be able to travel forward and backward in time, and we have free access to any world ever created in books.”
Alyssa forgot her suspicion temporarily. “Who created you?” She asked.
The stranger smiled. “This is an answer you should know.”
Now it was the girls’ turn to frown. “I don’t understand.”
He sighed patiently. “You two girls created us.”
Alyssa gasped and looked over at Alice. “You mean…”
“I’m glad you finally understand,” he said with relief. “Yes, I am the cloaked stranger from the book, and Diana is the girl. Without knowing it, you made all of us, including Diana and her family, come into being.”
Alyssa’s mouth dropped open. “But how could that be?” She asked, dumbfounded. “We’re just girls!”
The stranger smiled. “Very talented ones too, if I may say so myself, creating a book on the first day of July at twelve o’ clock in the afternoon. How did you know about the ancient rules?”
“That’s just it!” Alice said. “We didn’t know. We were just writing a book!”
“Nevertheless, you have created us, and you have to face the consequences.”
Alyssa frowned. “What do you mean ‘consequences’?”
“You wrote the book, and we, the characters, came alive. Now your story is alive. The adventure you wrote about must take place or your book and all its characters will die.”
“B-but!” Alice gained her tongue again. “We haven’t finished it! We’ve only gotten to the second chapter! How can our story be alive if it’s not complete?”
The stranger shrugged. “You had a week. Your week is over. The story is alive, and you can’t change what has already happened. The only thing you can do is to come with me to my land with Diana and finish your story before we reach where you stopped last.”
Alyssa and Alice gave each other a desperate look. “If we had known that, we would have written a lot more!”
The stranger shrugged again. “I can do nothing to help. The story is in your hands now. I was only sent to warn you and bring you into our world.”
Alice bit her lip. “But, if we go into another world, Auntie won’t know where we are, and she’ll worry.”
The stranger shook his head. “No, that won’t be a problem, a year our time is an hour your time.” He looked at the twins reproachfully. “You two ought to have remembered that. It’s written down in the beginning of your book.”
“Well I remember now,” Alyssa said, “I’m still trying to get used to having my characters alive.”
The stranger smiled understandingly, but motioned toward the window. “Shouldn’t we be going?”
Alyssa glanced at Alice. They both looked down at their pajamas. “Like this? I don’t think we’d gain much respect from our world we created if we went to them dressed in pajamas.”
The stranger sighed. “Very well. I shall go get the third girl, Diana, while you get into regular clothes and then we shall go. Don’t forget your story. I’ll meet you in your lawn, right next to your mailbox.”
With these parting instructions, the stranger went to the window and jumped out. Alyssa and Alice rushed over to the window to make sure he didn’t hurt himself, but he was already gone. Then they gave each other a disbelieving look.
“Can it be true?” Alice asked, her mind having difficulty to actually believe all the things it had heard.
Alyssa shrugged. “I guess there’s only one way to find out…go along with him. I don’t want our story to die!”
“Neither do I,” Alice agreed, “but…but what if he’s trying to kidnap us or something?”
Alyssa laughed. “I don’t think a kidnapper would dress up into ridiculous clothes and make up a ridiculous story that is very similar to our book’s characters that only us two have read just to kidnap us. Most kidnappers wouldn’t go to that much effort. Besides which, right now, our family isn’t making much money, it’s not like we’re from a rich family.”
Alice’s doubts ebbed slightly. “When will we be able to come back?”
Alyssa sighed. “I don’t know the answer to that question, I afraid.” She glanced over at the clock and gave a little shriek. “Oh my, look at the time! We’ve got to get into decent clothes! Come on!”
The twins hurriedly slipped into jeans and tee-shirts, donning water-proof jackets just in case the world they were traveling into was wet and/or cold. Alyssa packed her backpack with her notebook, several pencils, a sharpener, a few pens, two water bottles, a hairbrush, pony-tails, two sets of clean clothes (one for her and one for Alice), a compass, a mirror, and a light blanket. Alyssa promised to help carry the load when Alice got tired.
When both girls felt that they were prepared for the trip, they got on their tennis shoes, and walked out the door and down to their mailbox. The stranger was already waiting for them with a sleepy but excited Diana. He looked at them crossly.
“It’s about time you’re here. I was about to give up on you,” he said, with his arms folded.
Alyssa gulped. “I’m sorry,” she replied, not daring to meet his eyes, “We decided to pack extra things in case we had need of them during our trip or while we’re in your world.”
The stranger softened somewhat. “Well, I suppose what’s done is done. Come, we must make up for lost time. Follow me please.”
He led them to the wood growing behind the neighborhood’s playground.
Diana’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “I’m so excited to be going on this adventure! I’m glad the stranger asked you two to come along too…I was worried, and a little frightened of having to go on the adventure by myself.”
Alyssa and Alice exchanged a look. Apparently the stranger hadn’t explained why they had to go along. They walked quietly but swiftly toward the wood, and Alice, who had lagged behind slightly, glanced down at her watch. It was almost two o’clock in the morning!
Ahead of her, the stranger, her sister, and Diana were walking briskly through the trees as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Alice sighed and shifted her backpack to her other shoulder, already it was feeling heavier than when they had begun. Suddenly the stranger was standing next to her.
“Are you weary?” He asked, looking down on her kindly. Alice nodded; of course she was tired! She should be sound asleep in bed! Still, mindful of the stranger’s kindness, she kept the negative thoughts to herself.
The stranger continued cheerfully, “I could carry your pack for you.” Alice almost told him that she could manage on her own, but she swallowed the pride. Even though she and her sister knew how to pack light, the backpack was still getting heavier every step she took.
“It is getting rather heavy,” she said, easing the pack off her shoulder. The stranger swung it over his own broad shoulder and took off again at a great pace.
They continued on and on through the forest. Alyssa wondered if it ever ended. She was sure that it had been smaller last time they had come through it on a hike. Their guide at last stopped in front of an enormous tree. Alice did a quick calculation in her head, and estimated it to be about one thousand years old.
The girls sat down, thinking that they were allowed a rest, but instead, the guide walked up to the tree and placed his hands on the bark. He was completely undaunted by its size, and the girls watched him with respect. He whispered what seemed to be a type of password to the tree and before the astonished gaze of the girls; the tree seemed to rip itself in half and unwind itself into a doorway about five feet tall and three feet wide.
The stranger lifted his hands from the bark and held them above his head. “Walk through,” he commanded.
Wordlessly, the girls obeyed. At first, nothing changed. The forest was still a forest, the tree still in the shape of a door. Then, carefully, the stranger walked through, stooping past the low doorway, still keeping his hands high above his head.
Once on the other side, he dropped his hands suddenly, releasing the tree back into its original shape. As it did so, the whole forest melted into a sunny valley. The girls’ mouths dropped open, and the stranger gave a sigh of happiness.
“Well,” he said, breaking the silence. “I’m home again. It does seem like I’ve been gone for years.” He looked over at the girls. “What do you think?”
“I-it’s b-beautiful!” Diana managed to gasp out first. Alice and Alyssa merely nodded in agreement.
Alice frowned thoughtfully. “Hold on…” She paused. “There’s something missing…from our book…wasn’t there…”
Alyssa nodded. “Yeah…there was a village in the valley! Where’s the village? You know, where all your people live?”
The stranger laughed. “You don’t think that wouldn’t exist, do you? My home? Follow me, I’ll bring you to my home and you can meet my older sister, my younger brother and my parents.”
Alyssa clapped her hands. “Oh hurrah! We get to meet your family: Bettina and Corbin… and your parents?” The stranger nodded. Alyssa and Alice exchanged an excited grin.
Diana gave them a puzzled look. “You know them already?”
Alice laughed. “Of course we do!”
The stranger smiled. “They were the ones that created us…in their book. Have you read it?”
Diana shook her head. “No, but now I know why they would know you.” She stopped suddenly, her eyes getting bigger. “Wait…us? You mean we’re characters in their BOOK?”
The stranger nodded. “Yes, but then we came alive, I was the one elected to find the authors and help them complete their story by bringing them here.”
Diana frowned. “I’m a character?” She asked again, still having trouble wrapping her mind around the fact.
Again, the stranger nodded. “Yes. The girls created us; we came alive according to the ancient rule to all young authors under the age of eighteen, on the first day of July at twelve o’ clock in the afternoon.”
Diana still looked puzzled. “So…will I stop existing after they finish the book?”
The stranger smiled, but shook his head. “Thankfully, no. That’s why we’re here. Alice and Alyssa are going to finish their book so we can keep being alive. As long as they complete it in time, we’ll be around forever!”
Alice glanced at Alyssa. “That really puts the pressure on us, doesn’t it?” She whispered softly. Alyssa nodded.
Diana seemed finally satisfied. “Well, then, I suppose we ought to start the story!” She exclaimed. “What comes next?”
“We meet the stranger’s family, and he tells us his name,” Alyssa answered, using her notebook as a reference.
“Just so!” Agreed the stranger. “Onward to adventure! We’re homeward bound!” He started off on a fast walk up the path that reached around the hill to what Alice and Alyssa could only assume was the promised village.
Alice shook her head. “I don’t see how he can be so cheerful with his life depending on this book being finished,” she said.
Alyssa smiled. “Yes…but shouldn’t we at least enjoy ourselves on this adventure? It’s just what our summer needed!”
Alice grunted doubtfully, but the girls continued following the stranger and Diana along the path.
As they came around the bend of the hill, Alice and Alyssa let out a gasp of delight; for in front of them, lying peaceful and quiet, was a beautiful village.
“Oh!” Alyssa exclaimed softly. “It’s just how I imagined it!”
The stranger smiled. “Of course it is! How else could it be?”
Alice returned his smile. “Well, we keep forgetting that we made it. It’s hard to imagine that we could even think of anything so pretty!”
The stranger shrugged. “Shall we go on?” He didn’t wait for an answer, merely continuing down the path towards the outskirts of the village. The girls followed him, looking about them in delight.
The stranger at last stopped in front of a small cottage that was situated between the hill they had just come around and a large field that seemed to be in the process of being plowed. A woman was sitting just outside of it, washing clothes in a tub of water. She looked up suddenly at the sound of their approach and gave a little cry of joy. Quickly wiping her soapy hands on her apron she ran out to meet the stranger. He ran forward to meet her and met her half-way up the beaten pathway. They embraced, tears of happiness flowing readily.
A younger boy came out of the house, closely followed by his older sister. They too ran to greet the stranger, who was no stranger to them. Soon their father came out, a smile lighting up his face.
“Welcome home, son! I’m glad you got back in time for our planting season,” he said, giving the stranger a firm handshake.
“I’m glad to be back too, Pa. It certainly feels as if I’ve been gone for a long time!” The stranger replied, returning the handshake warmly. Suddenly, as if just then realizing they were still behind him, the stranger turned to the girls. “I didn’t come alone,” He said, with an apologetic smile to his mother, “I brought these girls. They… uh…well, they…” he trailed off in confusion.
Alyssa came to the rescue. “I beg your pardon ma’am, but we need dinner and a place to sleep tonight.” She turned to the stranger. “We can tell them about our mission later,” she whispered. The stranger nodded in obvious relief.
His mother gave the girls a gentle smile. “Of course you need something to eat! What was I thinking? Please, come in to our home. It may not be exactly what you’re used to…” (“That’s for sure!” Muttered Alice.) “…but I am sure it will keep you warm and dry.” She ushered them into the cottage and took their backpack.
Alice sat down with a sigh of contentment, and Diana and Alyssa quickly followed her lead. The whole atmosphere of the stranger’s home was so welcoming, the girls felt at home right away. When their guide went to get himself cleaned up, he left the girls to the open stares of his younger brother, and the more concealed stares of the older sister.
“I’m Corbin,” the younger boy said suddenly, his blue eyes fixed on Alice.
He seemed to be waiting for her to say something, so she smiled and said, “I’m Alice.”
There was a silence. Then again, “I’m Corbin.” This time his statement was directed, along with a blue-eyed stare, at Alyssa.
She smiled right away and said, “I’m Alyssa.”
Another pause, then yet again, “I’m Corbin.” His statement and stare directed in Diana’s direction.
She couldn’t help a smile as well and said, “I’m Diana.”
Another, longer, silence before he spoke again. “Corbin means brave. I’m very brave. Are you brave?” He gave this question, along with another stare, at Alice.
She was at a loss for words at first. “Um… well, not really.” She smiled. “Sometimes I do something brave. But I’m always afraid when I do it.”
Corbin processed this for a few minutes, then, seeming to accept Alice, he said, “You can call me Cor.” There was a shorter pause. Then, by way of explanation; “My brother calls me Cor.”
Suddenly he turned to Alyssa and would have undoubtedly repeated the scene again, but his sister came up behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder. That silenced any further talking from him for the moment.
“I’m Bettina. I hope you will forgive Cor’s questions. We don’t have a lot of strangers here.” She spoke quietly, but with such a calm confidence, that the girls immediately felt that here was someone to respect. Although the older girl was barely taller than them, she seemed to carry herself with an air of superior wisdom.
A sudden call came from somewhere above them. “Betts? Are you down there? Would you mind bringing my comb up here? I don’t know where it’s gotten to!”
The girl smiled softly. “I’ll bring it right up Ray!”
Alyssa glanced at Alice, and then at Bettina. “Betts?” She asked dubiously.
Bettina laughed. “We call everyone by a nickname in our home. Cor, Betts, and Ray. It’s just our way of saying how much we love one another as a part of the family.”
Alice smiled. “I like it. In fact, I may steal your idea when we get home and start inventing my own nicknames for everyone.”
Alyssa laughed. “I can’t wait to hear what you call me!” She turned to Bettina who was riffling through a drawer, undoubtedly in search of the elusive comb. “Can we call you by your nicknames?”
Bettina smiled, her eyes sparkling. “Of course! If you didn’t, we’d never be able to be completely at ease around you.”
Alyssa exchanged a grin with her sister before once again turning to Bettina. “One more question. What is Ray short for?”
“Raynold,” came the immediate reply, “He was named after our great-grandfather on my father’s side.”
“I see,” Alyssa replied.
Bettina picked up a comb triumphantly from the bottom of the drawer and climbed up the ladder into the loft above. Corbin had stopped staring and was playing with Diana on the floor, showing her his blocks of wood. The stranger’s, or rather Raynold’s, mother was working in the kitchen and was soon joined by Bettina. Alice and Alyssa were alone.
“I think we should try to work on our book some more,” Alice whispered to Alyssa.
Alyssa nodded. “Let’s find somewhere quiet for us to work, and then start as quickly as possible!”
Raynold came down from his room with freshly brushed hair and a broad grin. He gave his sister an affectionate kiss on her cheek before asking, “Where are the girls?”
Bettina returned his smile and answered, “They went out to the end of the field to work on something.”
“Ah!” Raynold nodded knowingly. “What’s for dinner?”
“Biscuits and beans,” Bettina replied. “One of your favorites!”
“That sounds delicious!” He smiled. “Where’s Cor?”
“He followed Diana outside. She said they were going to look for some chips of wood to play with. You know there’s hundreds around from chopping wood for our fireplace.”
“Splendid, splendid.” Raynold paused, resting his chin in his hands. “What do you think of the girls?”
Bettina considered her reply carefully. “Well,” she began, “they are very nice and mannerly. I would say they have been raised in a good home.”
Her brother sat down, his forehead creasing worriedly. “I’m worried about the mission they have to go on,” He said finally, expressing his concern. “It’s a long journey, and they will face many dangers.”
“You mean they’re going alone?” She asked.
“That’s what the council thought,” he replied.
“They can’t,” Bettina stated flatly. “And that’s all there is to it. Three girls cannot go on that mission alone. Even to save our world, and you know it.”
“But who would be willing to go with them on such a dangerous trip?”
Bettina looked over at her brother knowingly. “You would,” she said.
“But what would the council say?”
“I think they would be wise in letting you go with them,” Bettina answered firmly. “After all, the life of our world depends on them completing this mission!”
Raynold gave in at last. “Very well. I shall ask the counsel at the first possible moment if I can accompany the girls on their mission.”
Alice lay on the ground, rubbing her wrists vigorously. “Oh come on!” She exclaimed in frustration. “I can’t have my wrists start hurting when there’s so much writing to do!”
Alyssa paced up and down in front of her. “I’ve got to have the Swamp Queen be good; otherwise we’ll get in more trouble than we already are.”
“Well I certainly don’t want her to be bad!” Alice agreed.
“But what will her name be?” Alyssa asked. “I’ve got to figure out a name!”
Alice rolled over onto her back and looked up at the sky. Alyssa sat down and rested her head in her hands. Both girls thought for a moment. Suddenly Corbin arrived, with Diana close behind.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
Alyssa picked her head up out of her hands and smiled at him. “We’re trying to think of a good name for somebody. It’s a hard task.”
“Is it a good person?”
“Well…” Alyssa glanced at Alice.
“Yes,” Alice answered for her hurriedly. “But the person is very ugly, even though she’s good.”
“Why not Gloria?” Corbin answered. “That’s the name of the Swamp Legion Queen, and she’s good, but very ugly.”
The sisters exchanged a significant look.
“Oh, I think that’s a perfect name!” Alyssa replied.
Alice wrote it down speedily, before either of them forgot it. “Thanks so much Cor, you are a big help.”
Corbin stood up tall. “Ray told me that after I finished plowing a field all by myself!” He exclaimed proudly.
Diana looked over Alice’s shoulder. “Is that the story?” She inquired curiously.
Alice nodded, “Yes.”
“Well I certainly hope you finish it in time! I’d hate to die.”
Alyssa smiled. “We will finish it. And you won’t die. That’s a promise.”
Diana shook her head in disbelief. “It’s just so hard to believe that I’m not real. At least, I won’t be until you finish your story.”
“It’s hard for us to believe too!” Alyssa laughed. “This wasn’t exactly our plan.”
“What was your plan?” Corbin plopped himself down on the ground.
“Just to make a book,” Alyssa replied.
“That’s all we wanted to do,” Alice agreed. “But we didn’t know the rules apparently.”
Diana took Corbin’s hand in her own. “We’ll walk back to the house,” she said. “It’ll give you more time to work on your story.”
“Thank you very much,” Alyssa answered. “We do have a lot to work on.”
The sisters were alone again. Alyssa stood up and began pacing again; Alice massaged her wrists one more time before taking up a pencil and glancing at her twin expectantly.
“The girl looked around her in amazement at the Swamp Legion Palace,” Alyssa began, running her tongue over her lips to moisten them. “It seemed to be made completely out of swamp reeds and she was almost afraid that the whole palace would come down on her at the slightest breath of wind. A sharp jab from her captor jerked her attention back to the present problem and she found herself pushed, not very gently, into a large room. At the center sat a throne, and on the throne sat what was possibly the ugliest thing she had ever laid her eyes on. The girl drew the conclusion that this must be the Swamp Legion Queen.
“‘This is the girl you found trespassing?’ The queen gurgled.
“‘Yes your majesty,’ the guard replied.
“‘She doesn’t seem to be too dangerous looking… bring her closer. My eyes are not as good as they used to be.’
“The guard encouraged her closer to the queen with the sharp point on his spear. The girl obeyed the nudging, but she felt frightened. Her fate was in the hands of this… creature? She hardly dared to hope that she was good.
“‘Don’t be afraid child,’ the queen said, seeming to sense her fear. ‘I won’t hurt you.’
“‘Y-you won’t?’ The girl asked.
“The queen smiled, and her ugly features faded somewhat. In fact, she almost looked nice. ‘No,’ she answered. ‘I won’t hurt you.’
“Slowly, the girl came nearer. The queen looked her over.
“‘You’re quite young!’ She exclaimed. ‘And Raynold thinks you can complete a mission?’
“The girl nodded, getting over her surprise that the queen knew the cloaked stranger. ‘Yes, I’m young, but being small can help me do things that others can’t. I may not be as strong as some, but I can be very determined.’
“‘Maybe I am wrong…’ the queen admitted. ‘You are determined then?’ The girl nodded again. Smiling, the queen put out a hand. Gingerly, the girl took it to kiss it, as was the custom…”
Alice held up her hand. “Stop!”
Alyssa looked at her sister reproachfully. “You interrupted my train of thought!”
“I know, I’m sorry, but really Alyssa? Do we have to kiss her hand?”
“It’s all right,” Alyssa soothed. “Her hands are clean. She’s just ugly.”
“But she lives in a swamp!” Alice exclaimed.
“But she’s a queen. Queens are very careful about staying clean, even if they live in a swamp. Trust me; I’ve thought it all out.”
Alice sighed, and still looked doubtful, but her sister went on.
“Let’s see, now where was I? Ah yes! Gingerly the girl took it to kiss it as was the custom, shuddering slightly, sure that the hand would be dirty. To her surprise, the hand she was given looked and smelled exceptionally clean. She kissed it gently, returning it to the queen. The queen beckoned to her guard.
“‘Slumeff, make sure this girl gets through our land in peace. No harm shall come to her or any friend of hers.’”
Alice mouthed “thank you” to her sister, and Alyssa flashed a grin back at her before going on.
“The guard obediently untied the girl and started leading her back out of the palace when Raynold, the cloaked stranger, burst through the door. At the sight of the girl, safe and sound he stopped suddenly and stood, breathing heavily.
“‘Where were you?’ The girl began. ‘You deserted me in my time of need! And you promised to protect me!’
“The stranger shook his head. ‘I’ll explain on our way out of here,’ he said after he had sufficient breath to do so. Turning to the swamp queen, he smiled. ‘Thank you for keeping her safe. I shall never forget your kindness.’
“The queen returned his smile. ‘I like this girl,’ she said. ‘Even if she had not been your friend, although that certainly helped her case, she is able to hide her fear well and is strong in ways that not many attain in their lifetime.’
“‘I’ll not argue with that fact!’ He answered with a light laugh. Motioning to the girl, both of them left the palace of reeds in peace, followed closely by Slumeff who had been ordered to ensure their safety.”
Alyssa paused to take a deep breath and Alice let out a groan of pain. “Oh, my wrists!” She complained.
“What’s wrong with them now?” Alyssa asked.
“They hurt so bad! I don’t think they’ve ever had to do this much writing in this little amount of time before!” Alice moaned, rubbing them vigorously.
Just then Diana appeared again with Corbin. “Dinner is ready,” she said. “Bettina sent us up to tell you.”
“Alright,” Alyssa replied. “We need a break anyhow.”
Alice nodded. “My wrists are killing me!”
Corbin looked at her with interest. “Betts has a salve for sore wrists,” he said suddenly. “I’m sure she’d let you put some on your wrists to make them feel better.”
“Thank you.” Alice smiled gratefully. “I’ll ask her as soon as dinner is finished.”
Together, the friends walked down the hill towards Raynold, who was standing outside the small hut, waving at them cheerfully.
“Ow!” Alice exclaimed. “I thought this was supposed to help!”
Bettina glanced up from her work. “It will. You just have to give it time.” She continued rubbing the salve into Alice’s wrists.
Alyssa walked over. “How are you doing?”
“Not very well,” Alice grumbled. “Now my wrists feel worse than before.”
“How much worse? On a scale of one to five?”
“Probably only three, but I feel like it’s a five!” Alice answered and then proved her point by yanking her wrists away from Bettina again with another startled, “Ow!”
Calmly, Bettina took them again. “Trust me Alice, your wrists will feel much better after you’ve had this on for a few hours.”
“It had better hurry up,” Alice groaned. “We’ve got to finish that book!”
Alyssa sat down next to her sister and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. “It’s all right. We’ll finish. Do as Betts says and rest your wrists.”
Raynold walked into the room. “How are your wrists?”
“Terrible,” Alice said. “But thanks for asking.”
With a smile, Raynold also sat down, opposite the girls. He looked at Bettina and she stopped her rubbing. “I need to talk to the girls.”
“Alone?” She asked.
Raynold shook his head. “No, that’s alright, you can stay. I just need both of their full attention, and your rubbing may distract Alice.”
“I’ll say it will…” Alice muttered under her breath.
Bettina smiled at her brother and stopped. Alice let out a sigh of relief through clenched teeth.
Raynold began: “Alright, so you both know why you’re here.” The girls nodded. “And you know what Diana is supposed to do?” Again, the girls nodded. “Well, I know that you girls can’t go on this mission alone, so I’m going to speak to the council about having me go with you.”
Alyssa grinned. “Would you? I’m sure we’ll all feel a lot safer with you.”
“Thank you.” Raynold smiled. “Hopefully we can talk them into letting me go with you.”
“I certainly hope they do!” Alice exclaimed. “I wouldn’t want to complete a mission without you!”
“If all goes well, and no complications arise, we should be on our way to starting the mission tomorrow. How’s the writing going?”
“We’ve gotten started on the sixth chapter, but had to stop in the middle because Alice’s wrists were hurting so bad,” Alyssa answered.
“I see. Well, at any rate, I’ll go see the council with you next.”
“Next!” Alice squeaked.
Raynold, Alyssa, and Bettina all looked at her. “What’s wrong with that?” Alyssa asked.
“I’m not ready!” Alice replied in distress. “I need to brush my hair and get into clean clothes and make sure I’m presentable and…”
“Enough.” Raynold held out his hands with a smile. “Of course you have time to freshen up, but the sooner we get the council’s permission for me to go with you, the sooner we can get started on the mission and then you’ll be able to complete it and go home. How long do you think it will take you to get ready?”
“It’ll only take a few minutes,” Alice said.
Raynold stood up. “Then I’ll get our horses ready.”
Alyssa turned shining eyes to her sister and then looked back at Raynold. “Horses?” She asked.
“Come on!” Alyssa exclaimed, yanking her sister towards the curtained area that they had been given as a room during their short stay. “What are we waiting for?”
Alice followed her sister after telling Raynold to let Diana know what they were up too.
The girls got dressed as quickly as possible, both of them glad that they had brought extra clothes and other accessories in their backpack.
“What are their names?” Alyssa stroked the soft muzzle of the horse nearest her who replied in a soft whinny.
“Peace, Troy, and Rebel,” Raynold answered.
“Can I ride Rebel?”
Raynold smiled mysteriously. “I thought you might choose him.”
“Then I can?”
Alice looked over the other two horses. “Which one should I ride?” She asked carefully, hardly daring to hope…
“You’ll ride Troy,” Raynold answered.
“Thank you,” Alice let out her breath in relief. “I wanted to ride him.”
Raynold smiled again. “I know.”
Alice looked over at him, searchingly. “You seem to know a lot more about my sister and me then we thought you did.”
“Yes,” Raynold replied unsatisfactorily. He swung up onto the remaining horse, Peace, and smiled down at the girls. “This is my horse so she wouldn’t have let you ride on her anyways. Mount up! We have to hurry so we can make it back home before dark.”
Alyssa grinned and swung up onto Rebel. He snorted and looked back at her, unsure as to whether he wanted to let her ride him or not. Alyssa sat up confidently. “I wouldn’t cause me any trouble if I were you,” she advised the horse. “I’ve ridden a lot harder horses than you, and I have triumphed over them all.” Rebel seemed suspicious of the truth behind that statement, but apparently he didn’t feel up to a fight and let her take over.
Alice looked doubtfully at Troy. “You’ll let me ride you, won’t you?” She asked in a whisper. Troy’s ears pricked forward and his large brown eyes met her green ones in absolute trust. “I haven’t ridden horses as much as my sister has,” she warned him, but mounted anyways. Troy looked back at her for further instructions. Alice gave a rare smile. “I think we shall be good friends, you and I,” she said, confidence growing.
Triumphant from on top of Rebel, Alyssa looked over at Raynold. “What do we say to get them going?”
“Onward to adventure!” He replied, waving them to follow him as Peace began to trot along the dirt path.
“Well then…” Alyssa said. “Onward to adventure!” Immediately, Rebel began a quick trot. Alyssa felt the wind in her face and tears streamed down her cheeks from it as she laughed and urged Rebel into a canter. Truly, this was an adventure!
Alice watched her sister and Raynold grow further away from her. “Alright,” she said in grim determination. “Onward to adventure!” Troy broke into a trot and soon she had caught up with the others.
It didn’t take them long to reach the village and soon they came to what Raynold told them was the village hall. In it, as they already knew, was where the council of leaders met and decided important matters such as who would replace a deceased council member. The fate of criminals was also decided in that great building. Silently, the girls dismounted and tied their horses to the nearest hitching post.
The double doors creaked open at Raynold’s knock, and the girls followed him through them into the hall beyond. Alyssa and Alice looked around it in amazement. The village hall was, of course, just as they had pictured it in their minds, but was still dumbfounding to them.
Raynold beckoned to them. “Follow me, and do not be afraid. Many of the council members are friends of mine. They may seem a bit foreboding at first, but they’re not really.”
They soon came to another door and this one too opened at Raynold’s knock.
“Raynold!” A man in a dark brown beard came up to the stranger and gave him a fond embrace. “It is good to have you back! How did the journey fare?”
The girls’ guide smiled and answered by motioning towards the two girls. “I obeyed the council and brought them here.”
“Splendid Raynold! Here, bring them closer to the council’s table and have them sit down.” He motioned to a couple chairs on the far end of a long table. Raynold and the girls sat down and gave their attention to the oldest council member, who sat at the head of the other end of the table.
Alyssa studied him curiously. His beard was long and full, covering most of his chest as well as being snow white. And yet, when her eyes met his, she felt a thrill go through her. It seemed as if he could see her innermost thoughts and understood them. But it wasn’t a creepy sensation at all, although she felt as if it would have been if anyone else had looked at her like that. His eyes were warm, even friendly, and they crinkled at the corners as if he was always laughing inside. She found herself smiling back at him.
Alice elbowed her sister. “It’s amazing isn’t it?” She whispered.
Alyssa dragged her eyes away from the oldest council member and looked over at her sister. “Yes,” she agreed. “I still can’t believe that we made all this.”
“It’s all better than I imagined it!” Alice answered.
Just at that moment a hush fell over the gathering, and all the council members sat down. The girls noticed that all of them were men, and most of them over forty years of age, although there were some as young as Raynold. Right now, all of them were giving their full attention to the head of the table where the oldest council member sat.
“Brother Raynold,” he said. “You have an announcement?”
Raynold stood and faced the council bravely. “Father Thaddeus, my council brothers, a few years ago you sent me to the land of our makers to find them and bring them here. I have done so.”
A hushed murmur spread through the members present. However, Raynold wasn’t finished.
“I come before you today for two reasons. The first, to let you meet in person the two girls who created us all, and secondly, because I have a request.”
The oldest council member, or Father Thaddeus, fingered his beard thoughtfully. “What is this request of yours?”
“To go with the girls on their journey.”
A younger council member jumped to his feet. “We need you here Brother Raynold!”
More protests followed his example.
“You cannot leave our village! What if we were attacked by gliefs while you were away?”
“You are one of the most respected persons of our village; the people follow your judgment!”
“Who would they listen to, who would calm their fears, if you left?”
Father Thaddeus held up his hand. “Peace, my brothers.” The members fell silent. “Enough shouting has been done. Of course, we value your opinions, but try to be a little less enthusiastic about them next time Brother Bronwyn, Brother Finnian, and Brother Ranon.”
“Yes, Father,” the accused members replied meekly.
“Why do you wish to accompany them?” Father Thaddeus asked, returning his attention to Raynold again. “Are they not brave enough or strong enough to complete it alone?”
Raynold shook his head quickly. “No, Father, I’m sure they could do it by themselves. I merely want to go along to provide their assured safety and the completion of the mission. It is of the utmost importance, as all you brother’s should realize.” He lowered his voice dramatically. “Our country’s, verily, our entire world’s life is at stake. The girls must complete this mission or we all will no longer exist. You all know what danger might befall them on the journey. Surely you realize the importance of their safety. If I accompany them, the mission will take less time too, we will be back sooner.”
Raynold turned to the younger council member who first had complaints. “Brother Bronwyn, I understand your worries, but the people have all of the council to look to in times of trial, and Father Thaddeus is much more respected then I in the village. His age and wisdom far exceeds my own. Truly, the people know they can trust all council members, those are the reasons they chose each of you to be a member.”
Silence fell over the council, but it was broken by Father Thaddeus.
“I believe that you are right. The girls should not go on this difficult journey by themselves. They will face many dangers, some of those dangers we know, and some unknown as of yet. They will be walking across land that has not been mapped by our explorers, and it would be good to have one of our own write down the new territory that, as of yet, we have only heard of.” He paused. “I move that our Brother Raynold is granted permission to accompany the girls, our creators, on their mission.”
One by one the members nodded their agreement as Raynold sat down again.
Without realizing it, Alyssa had been holding her breath. She let it out with a whoosh that earned herself the attention of all the council members, as well as an especially funny look from her sister. She felt her face turn red with embarrassment, which only made matters worse.
Father Thaddeus came to her rescue by speaking up again, which caused the council members to return their attention back to him. “Now brothers, let us send them on their way in peace, with our blessing of protection.”
“Aye, Father,” the members answered with one voice. Then they began chanting what must have been their blessing of protection.
“Go in peace, aye, go in peace,
Be brave and noble and be strong.
Then come back safe where you belong.
Go in peace, aye, go in peace,
Your enemies will go away.
Then come home where you should stay.”
This was sung in a kind of sing-song chant, which didn’t have a lot of melody to it, but was still very beautiful. Alyssa and Alice listened to it, feeling their fears of the journey somewhat lessened, and their determination to complete the mission strengthened.
Once the council had finished their song, Father Thaddeus gave his own blessing of protection, which had been repeated so many times during the song.
“Go in peace my children,” he said, his twinkling eyes meeting their own.
“Thank you,” Alyssa answered simply.
“Thank you,” Alice said as well, although she wanted to say so much more.
“Thank you, my Father,” Raynold replied respectfully, and he bowed humbly before the oldest council member.
Father Thaddeus’s eyes smiled, and he placed his gnarled hand on the young man’s head. “Bless you my son,” he said softly. “Do not bow to me. I am just a man and do not require such an honor as that. Arise!”
Raynold stood, but shook his head in disagreement to the Father’s words. “Nay Father,” he replied. “You may not require the honor, but you certainly deserve it!”
Silently, the two girls followed Raynold back outside of the village hall.
Their horses were patiently waiting for them. Well, Troy and Peace were being patient. Rebel was stamping his hooves and rolling his eyes.
Alyssa grinned. “I’m anxious to be on my way too,” she said to Rebel who had stopped as soon as he knew they were on their way. “But you still need to learn at least a little patience.”
Rebel snorted. Why can’t you just get on me and let me go? He seemed to say. Stop talking and start riding!
Alyssa laughed and swung herself onto Rebel as soon as she had finished untying him from the hitching rail.
Raynold had already mounted Peace and they both looked over at Alice to see what was taking her so long. She was busy trying to untie the reins, but it was taking her a long time.
“Need some help?” Alyssa asked, who already had her hands full keeping Rebel in line.
“No, but thanks for the offer,” Alice mumbled through a mouthful of rope, “I’m just trying to undue this stupid knot.” She jerked at it and then gave a yelp which made poor Troy, who had just dozed off, jump in surprise. She patted him reassuringly with one hand while rubbing her jaw with the other.
“Careful!” Alyssa laughed. “You’re going to pull teeth out that way.”
Raynold slipped off Peace and untied Alice’s knot easily.
“How does he do that?” Alice muttered while Raynold walked back to his waiting horse as if he hadn’t done a thing.
“Magic,” Alyssa answered softly with a wink.
Alice rolled her eyes, but didn’t bother contradicting her sister. She mounted her own horse easily enough and with an “onward to adventure!” the three were on their way back home.
Diana met them riding in and pounced on them with questions as soon as they dismounted.
“Did the council allow Raynold to come with us? Can we go now? When are we leaving? What’s all this about a mission?”
When Diana stopped from lack of air, Alyssa answered her questions. “Yes, Raynold is coming with us, yes, we can go now. We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning, early.”
Alyssa paused for a breath and Raynold took over the answering. “Your mission is to find the Fire Stone that will protect us from the gliefs, our most dreaded enemy. Right now, they are at rest, but we fear that they will choose any moment to attack. The Fire Stone is the only thing that can kill a glief. Anything else can only wound. As you will later find, the main plot of the book is us going to find the Fire Stone. I do not know any more than that because I am only a character. I only know this much because that is our mission.”
Diana’s mind seemed to be busy processing all the information, and finally she nodded. “Ok, I think I know what’s going on now. So we’re starting tomorrow morning on a mission to find the Fire Stone?”
Alyssa grinned. “You got it!”
Raynold smiled. “We leave as soon as it is light.”
“That early?” Alice moaned. “I’m going to die of sleep deprivation!”
Alyssa, Raynold, and Diana glanced at each other and then burst into laughter.
“I don’t think so…” Raynold replied once he had breath to do so. “Our nights are generally longer than your nights.”
Alice brightened. “Oh, yeah. I remember now. I made Alyssa add that into the book because I figured you would need all the sleep you could get.”
Just then Bettina came out of the house with a smile. “Are you going to spend the night talking or come inside and get some rest for your trip tomorrow?”
It was early when they started out. Alice could barely see in the light given by the morning sunrise. She had to mostly feel around for where she was trying to knot and unknot various ropes and cinches on Troy.
“I hardly call this light,” she muttered darkly, glaring at Raynold who was saddling his own horse on the opposite side of the barn in blissful ignorance.
Alyssa looked over at Alice and grinned to herself. “We slept for ten hours Alice,” she whispered. “That’s more than we usually sleep at home.”
“Still…I feel like we haven’t slept that long,” Alice replied.
Further conversation was interrupted by Bettina coming into the barn with a sack in her hands. She walked up to Raynold and handed it to him.
“Mother and I thought you might appreciate some food for the journey. At least for the first few days until you can hunt for your own,” she said.
Raynold smiled and kissed her affectionately on the cheek. “You’re a jewel, Betts,” he answered. “What would I do without you and mother thinking of my comfort every moment of each day?”
“Stuff and nonsense,” Bettina replied, waving away his praise. It was obvious she was pleased though, and walked back to the house with a spring in her step.
Raynold chuckled and strapped the food to Peace. Just as he was about to mount, a sleepy eyed Corbin stumbled into the barn and looked up into the face of his older brother.
“Can I come?” He asked after a loud yawn.
Raynold grinned and ruffled Corbin’s hair, making it stand on end. “Not this time Cor,” he answered.
“Why not?” Corbin wanted to know.
“Because how will Pa be able to harvest his crops if all his help is gone? He needs your muscle to bring in our food for the winter.”
“Oh,” Corbin replied. “I suppose I should stay then.”
“’Atta man, Cor,” Raynold replied with a wink at the girls.
The three of them stifled the urge to giggle, and quickly turned to their horses so that Corbin wouldn’t see their twitching mouths. They led the horses out of the stable and then mounted.
Raynold led the way, closely followed by Diana who was followed by Alyssa. Alice took the rear and focused on keeping her seat while Troy bounced along at a trot.
Finally, Alyssa thought after glancing back at Alice to make sure she was doing ok on her horse, the adventure is beginning!
“Are we there yet?” Alice moaned, trying to stand in her stirrups to ease the pain on her backside.
Raynold turned around and looked at her with a sympathetic smile. “We’ll be stopping to rest very soon.”
Alyssa grinned at her reluctant sister. “We’ve only been riding for a couple hours, Alice.”
“You forget I haven’t ridden horses as much as you have,” Alice replied, still trying to find a more comfortable position in her saddle and failing. “The longest time I’ve spent on the back of a horse was half an hour, and even then I was all stiff after climbing off.”
“It’s called dismounting,” Alyssa corrected without really thinking, “and what that means is that you need to ride horses more. This is the perfect opportunity to do so!”
“It also means I’ll probably be bowlegged by the time I get home again,” Alice predicted darkly, finally settling back down into her saddle. “How are we going to explain that to Auntie? It’s not something that happens overnight.”
“Unless you go to a land you created to save it from their worst enemies and do so by riding horses over a long stretch of open country,” Alyssa laughed. “Anyways, I can almost guarantee that you won’t be going home bowlegged.”
Alice remained doubtful, but stopped complaining and focused on trying different positions on Troy, who merely plodded along, seemingly oblivious to the wriggling on his back.
Another agonizing hour passed before Raynold allowed them to take a break. Alice slipped off her horse onto the ground with a moan of pain and stayed there in the tall grass, lying on her back.
Despite having ridden horses more often and for longer periods of time, even Alyssa was glad for a rest. She also dismounted and sat down in the grass, letting her muscles relax fully after being in a semi state of tension during the entire time on Rebel’s back.
Diana bit her lip as she climbed off her horse, Star, but a groan slipped out anyways. “I’m gonna be sore tomorrow,” she muttered more to herself than anyone else.
Raynold looked at the girls and shook his head, smiling. “This does not bode well for the rest of your journey,” he commented.
Alice moaned again, tried to get up, and then fell back onto her back. “The next time someone tells me that riding a horse is fun, I’m going to laugh at them.”
“Once your muscles get used to it you’ll be able to enjoy it more,” Alyssa answered, giving her twin an encouraging grin. “Right now it’ll seem like torture, but once a couple days have gone by you’ll be riding with the best of us. And having fun while you’re at it,” she added.
“A couple more days!” Alice covered her face with her hands. “I’m gonna die!”
There was a general laugh, and Raynold came over from where he had been tying up the horses to ask what the joke was. When Diana and Alyssa told him, he joined them in laughing.
“We should have lunch,” Raynold said at last, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “If we don’t eat, we will all really die!”
Alice pulled herself into a sitting position with a little help from Alyssa and Raynold set out the lunch prepared for them by his sister and mother with some help from Diana.
“This is delicious!” Alice exclaimed, forgetting her pain in her delight. “Where did your sister learn to cook like this?”
Raynold smiled, helping himself to more biscuits. “She was taught by mother, and mother was taught by her mother, who was taught by her mother, etc.”
“Wow…so it’s a generational thing?”
“You could call it that.”
“Unfortunately for Alyssa and me, our mother is a terrible cook and I think we both take after her in that way.”
“Maybe once we’re back from our mission you can both take some lessons from Bettina…or my mother for that matter.”
Alyssa’s eyes lit up and she grinned. “That would be awesome!” She exclaimed.
“If we get back alive,” Alice muttered darkly.
“That’s no way to talk, Alice!” Diana cried, “For shame!” She turned to Raynold. “Can I learn too?”
“Of course!” Raynold agreed. “I’m sure Bettina at least would be more than willing. She loves teaching and will take any chances to do so.”
There was a pause in conversation as the girls finished eating and helped Raynold pack the leftovers back into the saddle bag for dinner. Once this was finished, Raynold untied the horses and brought them over.
Alice groaned again, suddenly remembering her aching body. “We’re going to ride more today?” She asked.
Raynold nodded. “Only a couple hours though, don’t worry.”
“A couple hours?” Alice asked. Raynold nodded again. “I’m gonna die!” She added dramatically, sitting back down on the ground suddenly with a moan of pain.
The girls and Raynold exchanged amused glances, and Alyssa mounted Rebel. “Honestly, Alice. Buck up will you? We want to get this mission done, right?”
“Yeah, but…” Alice began.
“No buts,” Alyssa answered severely. “Get on your horse and stop complaining.”
A little abashed by her sister’s rebuke, Alice quickly did as she was told, not forgetting to apologize, though somewhat red-faced while she did so. Diana and Raynold, as well as her sister, willingly forgave her, and soon the adventurers were on their way again.
The two sisters were alone. Raynold had stopped them for the night just a couple hours before and they had eaten dinner and created a camp during that time. Just now, stars began to shine as the sun disappeared behind the distant hills and Raynold was softly snoring on the other side of the fire. Diana appeared to be asleep as well, and her sides rose and fell evenly as she slept.
However, Alice and Alyssa found that they couldn’t sleep, no matter how hard they tried. So after about half an hour, they decided to work on their story more. They had moved farther from the camp, just inside the glow given by the campfire.
“You know,” Alyssa began in a whisper, “we really ought to have a fight sometime after we get past the swamp queen’s land…”
Alice gave a resigned sigh of agreement. “I suppose so…let’s have it be the next thing so that we can get it over with.”
“But who, or what, should we fight?” Alyssa asked.
Alice’s brow furrowed in thought, and she began absentmindedly chewing on her fingernails. Alyssa took some of her hair and began twirling it around her finger while she too thought. After a few minutes of silence, the twins suddenly both had an inspiration at the same time.
They looked up at each other. “Gliefs!” They both exclaimed at the same time.
Diana muttered something from her bed and rolled over sleepily. Immediately, Alice and Alyssa dropped their voices back to a whisper. Thankfully, Diana hadn’t woken up completely and was soon fast asleep again.
Quietly and quickly, the girls went to work. A few hours passed while the steady drone of Alyssa whispering the story and the scratching of the pencil on their notebook were the only sounds in the still night.
But soon, Alyssa’s mind grew slower and her creative juices refused to continue bubbling. Alice had caught herself nodding off over the notebook a few times and managed to jerk herself back into wakefulness barely.
“We’d better get some sleep,” Alyssa said finally, with a yawn. “Otherwise we’ll be falling asleep in our saddles tomorrow, and that would never do. I’ve got to keep alert while I’m on Rebel or he’ll manage to get the best of me sometime and then I’ll never live it down!”
Alice agreed, rubbing her eyes and shutting the notebook. She put it back inside her backpack along with the pencil. “I am getting tired,” she answered, also yawning.
They walked back over to the dying fire and snuggled into their blankets and were soon fast asleep under the twinkling stars.
“Everybody up!” Came Raynold’s cheerful call, breaking into the girls’ dreams. “We’ve got a long day ahead of us, and I want to get started as soon as breakfast is over, so wake up!”
Alice rolled onto her side and squinted through cracked eyes at him. “It’s too bright,” she complained, shutting them again and diving underneath her blankets.
Raynold went over and patted her playfully on the shoulder. “Maybe it seems that way, but yesterday morning you said that it was too dark!”
Alyssa popped out of her blankets with a laugh. “He’s right, Alice,” she said, already busy rolling her blanket back up again.
Alice said something from beneath her blankets, but it was too muffled for the others to hear.
“What?” Raynold asked, bending closer to Alice’s blanket. She came out suddenly, and with such vigor that she and Raynold bonked their heads.
“I said ‘alright, you win, I’m coming out’,” Alice said, rubbing her sore head. She grimaced when she accidently pressed the bump that was already forming where she and Raynold had hit their heads together.
Diana came over from where she had finished rolling her bed and offered to help Alice with hers. “How’s the story coming?” She asked. “I heard you working on it a little last night, but fell asleep before hearing much. I was pretty tired.”
“Oh, pretty well…” Alice answered vaguely. “We’re to chapter ten now, and working strong. We might get through chapter twelve by tonight if we can manage to work on it during our breaks.”
Diana smiled. “I still want to read it when you’re done,” she said.
“Oh, absolutely!” Alice replied. “We’ll still need someone to proofread it, and who else but someone who’s been through the same adventure! You could help us a ton by adding things we might have forgotten!”
“That’s true!” Diana’s eyes lit up. “I can’t wait to get back home again!”
Alyssa walked over, leading Rebel. “Well, we’ve still got to complete this mission,” she said after overhearing the last bit of the two girls’ conversation.
Diana jumped up to go saddle her own horse, Star, and Alice followed suit. Soon all four adventurers were back in the saddle and heading towards the distant horizon.
Raynold led them across a wide valley and up into some rolling hills, much like the ones the village had been built in. Alice and Alyssa tried their hand at writing while on horseback and managed to complete an entire chapter that way.
A few hours later the group had made their way through the hills and were now directly in front of a large forest. The girls exchanged fearful glances and their horses stamped nervously. Raynold peered into the dark recesses as if he could discover what the forest harbored that way.
He beckoned to the girls. “We’ve got to be careful through here,” he cautioned in a whisper. “Try to keep your horses as quiet as possible. We’re entering the outskirts of the Swamp Queen’s land now, and she can have a nasty temper sometimes with outsiders. One can never be too careful.”
Diana’s eyes grew large, and she looked frightened.
“Should I tell her we’ll be alright?” Alice asked Alyssa in a whisper.
Alyssa shook her head. “She can’t know. She doesn’t know in the story, so she can’t know now. Just try to be as encouraging as possible without giving away the plot line.”
Alice gave her sister a quick nod and then sidled Troy next to Star and reached out a comforting arm to Diana, giving her a quick hug. “We’ll be fine. Raynold will look after us.”
Diana gave Alice a weak smile, but seemed a little more confident. “Thanks,” she replied.
Raynold came back from where he had been scanning the woods worriedly and motioned the girls to follow him in single file. He went first, since he knew the way, then Diana came followed closely by Alice and Alyssa.
And so they entered the foreboding wood.
“We must be very quiet girls,” Raynold cautioned, leading them under a moss covered tree carefully. “This is the first actually dangerous part of our mission to recover the Fire Stone.”
“Are you afraid we’ll get lost in this wood?” Diana asked worriedly.
“Nothing like that,” Raynold quickly assured her, “we just need to keep an eye on our surroundings. The Swamp Queen doesn’t always give me a pleasant welcome, though she ought to know by now that I never come here to give her or her people trouble. Just follow me and try to not get too worried about our situation.”
“Too late,” Alice whispered to her sister riding right next to her.
Alyssa swallowed a smile and shook her head helplessly. Sometimes her twin’s gloom and doom sayings were funny, and other times she wished her sister would keep them too herself. This time she was wishing that Alice hadn’t said anything. Her own mind was already making up terrible scenarios, and she had her hands full calming her active imagination down.
“Should we try to work on our story?” Alyssa asked Alice suddenly.
Alice moaned and buried her head in Troy’s shaggy mane. She mumbled a reply, but when Alyssa had to ask “what?” she detangled herself from the horse’s mane and said, “I can’t, and I don’t want, to think right now. Any time I start thinking I get nasty pictures in my mind of what might happen to us if the Swamp Queen is in a bad mood.”
“You know that we’ll all be fine,” Alyssa reminded.
Alice sighed. “I do know, yes. But my mind will play tricks on me anyways.”
For a moment all was silence. The only noise the adventurers heard were the steady plodding of the horses hooves on the soft earth. No birds sang in the trees. Not even insects dared break that awful quietness with their various noises. No wind blew through the trees. Everything was still.
Alice felt the hair on the back of her neck rise and she shuddered. “I think we’re being…” she began.
A spear sailed through the air and lodged itself in the trunk of a tree inches from Diana’s head. Star reared and Diana tumbled off her back and landed on some moss beside the faint trail that they had been following.
Alyssa fought for control over Rebel again and even Troy seemed frightened, though he hid it pretty well all things considered.
“Followed,” Alice finished.
And there they were. At least, there were three of them. After peering into the bushes, Alice made out a few more and knew from their book that they were probably surrounded. Diana stood up slowly, her eyes wide with fear. Alyssa gained control back again and sat tightlipped on top of Rebel, her eyes studying the creatures in obvious disgust.
They stood about four feet tall and were dressed in what looked like some kind of swamp grass skirt tied around their waists and something else that resembled a burlap sack used as a shirt. Altogether they pictured the ugliest thing any of the girls had ever laid their eyes on.
“They’re worse than I imagined them,” Alice whispered in horror to her sister.
Alyssa nodded grimly. “While everything else is better, they are worse,” she agreed.
The closest creature appeared to be the spokesman. It spoke to them in gurgles and hisses, but somehow all the girls could understand what it was saying, “I am Slumeff, Chief Swamp Warrior of the legion of Swamp Warriors belonging to the Swamp Queen, Her Majesty Gloria. You must come with us.”
“And if we won’t?” Diana asked, bravely doing her best to face the creatures with courage.
“Then you will all die,” it answered simply.
Alice and Alyssa both knew that it was telling the truth.
“We’d better go,” Alice said to Diana softly. “They have us surrounded. There’s no way we’ll be able to escape.”
“Where’s Raynold?” Diana asked, frustration written plainly all over her face. “He promised to protect us! But now where is he? This is our time of need, and he disappears!”
Alyssa grabbed Star’s reins and led her over to Diana under the watchful eyes of the swamp warriors. “Better get on your horse,” she said. “You don’t want to have to walk.”
Diana gulped back her tears of fright and re-mounted Star. “I-I’ll be ok now,” she replied. “I just lost control of my temper for a second. It won’t happen again for a while now.”
Alyssa and Alice both gave her a smile of understanding before they were led off, not entirely nicely, to the Swamp Queen’s palace.
The appearance of the Swamp Queen’s palace was no surprise to Alice and Alyssa who had described it recently in their book, but Diana looked worried as she glanced around her surroundings.
“Is it…” She hesitated and looked at the swamp grass tied back to form a door, “…safe?”
Alice exchanged a glance with her twin. Should I tell her? The mute question hung for a moment between them.
Alyssa hesitated only slightly, and then shook her head. “She’ll know soon enough,” she told Alice in a barely audible whisper.
Slumeff, the swamp warrior guarding them, prodded them into the dwelling with the point of his spear. None of the girls argued. They were ushered into what appeared to be the Swamp Queen’s throne room, and then lined up: Alyssa first, then Alice, and lastly Diana, her face white with fear.
The Swamp Queen was sitting on her throne, and looked exactly as Alice and Alyssa had described her in their book. If Alice searched her face carefully, she could see kindness hidden in its ugly folds.
“These are the girls you found trespassing?” The queen gurgled.
“Yes your majesty,” the guard replied.
“They don’t seem to be too dangerous looking, bring them closer. My eyes are not as good as they used to be.”
The guard nudged the reluctant girls closer with the point of his spear. Alice and Alyssa hoped their faces showed less fear than Diana’s did. She was calm, even composed, but her face was still ashen. The queen noticed this and her face softened slightly.
“Don’t be afraid children,” the queen said, as she had in their book. “I won’t hurt you.”
“Y-you won’t?” Diana gulped.
The queen smiled, and her ugly features faded somewhat. In fact, she almost looked nice. “No,” she answered. “I won’t hurt you.”
Slowly Diana, closely followed by Alice and Alyssa, came nearer. The queen looked her over.
“You’re all quite young!” She exclaimed. “And Raynold thinks you can complete a mission?”
The girls nodded, Diana getting over her surprise that the queen knew their guide. “Yes, I’m young, but being small can help me do things that others can’t. I may not be as strong as some, but I can be very determined.”
“Maybe I am wrong…” the queen admitted. “You are determined to complete this mission then?”
Diana nodded again, her wide eyes giving away her inner astonishment that the Swamp Queen knew so much about them.
Smiling, the queen put out a hand. Gingerly, Diana took it to kiss it as was the custom, though she did shudder slightly beforehand. Alice and Alyssa did the same, but they had the saving knowledge that her hands were clean. Diana came away from the ceremonial kiss with a look of relief on her face, which the twins knew to be her discovery that the Queen’s hands were actually very clean.
The queen beckoned to the guard standing stiffly behind the girls. “Slumeff, make sure this girl gets through our land in peace. No harm shall come to her or any friend of hers.”
The guard had just obediently begun leading them back out of the palace when Raynold burst through the door. At the sight of the girls, safe and sound, he stopped suddenly and stood breathing heavily.
“Where were you?” Diana blurted. “You deserted us in our time of need! And you promised to protect us!”
Raynold shook his head. “I’ll explain on our way out of here,” he said after he had sufficient breath to do so. Turning to the swamp queen, he smiled. “Thank you for keeping them safe. I shall never forget your kindness.”
The queen returned his smile. “I like these girls,” she said. “Even if they had not been your friends, although that certainly helped their case, they are all able to hide their fear well and are strong in ways that not many attain in their lifetime.”
“I’ll not argue with that fact!” Their guide answered with a light laugh. Motioning to the girls, they all left the palace of reeds in peace, followed closely by Slumeff who still had his orders to ensure their safe passage through their land.
“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 hear 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. “He has a point.”
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 begin 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 also 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.
Soon the travelers stopped under the protection of a few scraggly trees. Alyssa went off by herself to unwrap the mystery surrounding her sister’s abduction. Understanding, Raynold and Diana made camp by themselves and left her to herself.
A puzzled frown rested on Alyssa’s brow as she flipped thoughtfully through the pages of their book. Something had gone wrong… her sister had NOT been kidnapped in their story after the fight with the glief. Of that she was certain. So what had happened?
Finally, she found the last page in their notebook that they had written. Chapter Thirteen was in bold letters at the top of the next page. Feverishly she reread through chapter twelve. At the end her heart nearly stopped and she gave a cry of dismay. Here’s what she read in her sister’s own handwriting:
“And so the glief flew away with the girl into a mountain, where she was left alone yet again… not knowing what fate held in store.”
“Oh man…” Alyssa moaned. “She really did it this time.”
“Who did it this time?” Diana asked, glancing over the beginnings of their camp fire.
“What did she do?”
Alyssa sighed and closed the notebook. “She wasn’t specific enough. The glief was supposed to capture you… but it got the wrong girl simply because Alice didn’t put in your name.”
Diana gasped. “I was going to be captured?” She squeaked. “And I thought you were my friends!”
“It had to be done!” Alyssa protested. “There’s a twist in our plot that needed you to be captured. Unfortunately, the glief took Alice instead of you. I’ll have to begin writing chapter thirteen and patch it up as best as I can.”
“Unfortunatly? I call it fortunate!” Diana replied. “What sort of plot twist needs a girl kidnapped, anyways?”
“I can’t really tell you…it’s kind of supposed to be a secret between us authors until it happens.”
“Humph,” was all the reply Diana offered.
“Well anyways, at least I know where to look…I had forgotten that we put that in,” Alyssa said, more to herself than to Diana and Raynold, who were now setting out dinner.
“Where are we to look?” Raynold asked suddenly.
“In the mountains,” Alyssa answered.
“Mountains!” Diana scoffed. “There are no mountains here! Just look around you!”
Raynold motioned to Diana to be quiet, and then gave a nod in the direction of Alyssa, who had a funny look on her face.
Presently she spoke again, slowly. “I think I may know where the mountains are…”
Excitedly, Raynold leaned forward, his eyes gleaming in the twilight. “You might?”
“Call it an author’s instinct,” Alyssa replied with her old smile returning, “But we shall find out if I really do tomorrow. Right now, we need to get some sleep so we can start our search for Alice early tomorrow morning.”
“Agreed!” Raynold said.
But first, Alyssa spent another hour scribbling furiously in their notebook to make sure they wouldn’t be disturbed during the night, and that eventually her sister would be found and returned to her arms safe and sound.
The cave was dark and cold. Alice shivered, hugging herself for warmth…not that it worked…she still felt cold. Prickles went down her spine, and Alice gave a worried glance around her. She knew that feeling: she was being watched.
“Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here?” She demanded the inky blackness around her.
Alice frowned. “I won’t harm you as long as you promise not to harm me,” she tried again, using different tactics.
A soft noise on her right made her spin in that direction. A silvery laugh sounded close by. Then a hand was laid gently on her arm, making her jump in surprise and jerk away.
“I’m not going to harm you,” a voice replied softly through the gloom. “I was afraid that you had been put in here to harm me!”
“You won’t harm me?” Alice asked guardedly. “Promise?”
Again whatever or whoever it was in the cave with her laughed. “I promise!”
Alice heard a match being struck and soon a small golden flame lit up the cave. Alice blinked in the sudden light and squinted her eyes until they were adjusted to the dim light of the candle. When they were, she peered beyond the flame to the silhouette of the person who owned the voice.
“Who are you?” She repeated the first question.
The figure came closer and held the flame to its face, realizing that Alice couldn’t see it still. “My name is Eliana and I am Guardian of the Fire Stone.”
“Oh!” Alice almost began crying in her relief. The flame lit up the figure and she could see now what had had her frightened.
A young lady stood in front of her, clothed in a flowing dress. Her hair was rippling in dark brown waves down her shoulders, and she was smiling a welcome to Alice.
“Why are you here?” Alice asked, knowing the answer, but asking it anyways.
A shadow passed over Eliana’s face. “I was captured, as you were, by the gliefs.”
“So now, no one is guarding the Fire Stone?”
“It’s safe, more or less, where it is. Those who know where it is don’t dare harm it.”
“Where is it?”
Eliana gestured towards the rock beneath them. “Down there, deep inside the mountain.”
Alice groaned. “How can we possibly get it then?” She asked more to herself then Eliana.
“It’s not that difficult…” Eliana began.
“You mean I could get it easily? Why haven’t you escaped with it and taken it back to its rightful home?” Alice blurted.
“…it is not difficult to get to where it is being kept at the moment,” Eliana hurriedly continued. “The hard part is bringing it back out of the gliefs’ home. And besides, my duty is to stay near the stone and make sure the gliefs don’t destroy it. If staying here as a prisoner is how I do that, well,” she shrugged, “then that is what I should do.”
“But if we take the Fire Stone, and escape with it, the gliefs wouldn’t dare attack us because it’s the only thing that can kill them!”
Eliana looked shocked. “Who told you that?” She asked.
Alice frowned, puzzled. “Everybody knows that,” she answered.
“But it’s not true!” Eliana protested. “The Fire Stone does kill gliefs, but it’s certainly not the only way to kill them. In fact, gliefs are extremely gullible to almost every weapon invented!”
“Then how come everybody thinks that gliefs can’t be killed except by the Fire Stone? That’s really the only reason we’re out here trying to get it!”
Eliana tilted her head suddenly to one side. “Who’s ‘we’?”
Alice explained how the book had begun, and how the story had come alive, much to the surprise and chagrin of her and Alyssa. Also she expounded on the mission that brought her and her sister as well as Diana and Raynold into uncharted boundaries. She described to the Fire Stone’s guardian how they had gotten through the Swamp Queen’s land in relative safety, then told how they had been found and chased by the gliefs and finally how she had been captured by a glief and flown here where she was now a prisoner.
“And your friends and sister, will they come here to rescue you?” Eliana asked once Alice had finished her long story.
Alice nodded. “Alyssa knows the general direction, and being an author she’ll figure out how to get us back together again at some point. I’m just worried that the story might mix itself up more because it can’t read her handwriting or her spelling. It’s really atrocious.” Alice paused, a sad smile appearing on her face as she thought of her sister. “That’s why I was the one elected to actually write the story in our notebook, even though Alyssa really does all the brain work.”
Eliana gave Alice a sympathetic smile. “I trust your sister’s bravery to bring her this far. Can she find her way to these mountains?”
“Oh, I suppose she can.”
“How can we help lead her to the proper cave?”
Alice chewed on her lip thoughtfully, her eyes narrowing as her mind suddenly raced. “Well…I’m not sure how well this will help…but my sister and I do have a secret sign between us that we use sometimes.”
Eliana’s eyes lit up. “Could you mark the entrance to our cave with my candle? The smoke will leave a mark on the rock outside.”
“B-but won’t the gliefs notice us and think we’re trying to escape?”
Eliana laughed ruefully. “They don’t worry about us escaping that way,” she replied grimly. “Take a look down when you step outside the cave and you’ll see why.”
“Is it impossible to ascend?”
“Not impossible to ascend…but it is impossible to descend without breaking your neck on the rocks below unless you have wings like the gliefs.”
Alice let out a sigh, plopping herself onto the ground in frustration. “Then how can we escape when we have the stone?” She asked hopelessly.
A mysterious light came to Eliana’s eyes. “We’ll find a way,” she said softly.
Alice looked at her sharply. “You’re starting to sound like Raynold,” she grumbled.
Eliana laughed. “Is that a compliment?”
“I didn’t think so. When do you think they will try to rescue you?”
Alice glanced down at her wristwatch, thankful that she still had it with her and that it still was working. “After they sleep for the night they’ll start right away if I know my sister.”
“Then we have but thirteen hours or so to wait!” Eliana replied cheerfully.
“Does everybody look on the bright side?” Alice asked herself in a barely audible whisper. “Only thirteen hours indeed!”
Alyssa tossed and turned most of the night. Her mind was continually inventing horrible circumstances that she imagined her sister to be experiencing in the clutches of the gliefs. When the darkness of night faded slowly into the gray light of early morning, Alyssa watched the gorgeous sunrise with red-rimmed eyes that told of her sleepless night. She slipped out of her blankets and rolled them up.
Her movements woke Diana, and her friend rolled over and looked at her worriedly. “Did you sleep at all?” She asked with concern.
Alyssa gave her a ghostly smile and shook her head. “I couldn’t.”
Raynold also woke and stood up, stretching. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he said after a loud yawn. “You were worried about your sister?”
Alyssa nodded dumbly, her eyes filling with tears again. “We’ve just got to find her,” she answered.
“And find her we will, never fear!” Raynold gave her an encouraging smile. “As soon as we’ve finished eating we’ll get started on our search to find her.”
So they ate hurriedly before saddling their horses and with Alyssa in the lead, they rode towards the distant mountains which lay just beyond the rolling hills of the meadow. The empty saddle on Troy told the world of their mission as he was led behind Peace.
Alice woke to a stream of sunlight that was shining through the entrance of the cave where she was imprisoned. She sat up, looking at her surroundings with a puzzled expression on her face. Suddenly, everything that had happened the day before came rushing back and she realized where she was.
Eliana was still slumbering peacefully on the floor across from where Alice had dozed, her head pillowed in one of her arms and a beautiful smile lighting up her face as if she was having a happy dream.
Alice sighed and left her new companion sleeping, hating to wake her from what seemed to be such a pleasant rest. Instead, she crawled to the opening of the cave to get a good look at her prison’s surroundings.
The cave opening was about six and a half feet high while being about seven feet wide; plenty of room for the gliefs to fly in and out of if they were careful. There was a ledge outside the cave that extended a little more than a foot out, then the rock ceased and the mountain side began. When Alice crept carefully to the edge of the ledge, the giddiness of the height down towards the rocky abyss made her temporarily paralyzed in fear and her head whirled dizzily.
Just as she thought she might fall over the edge, a small but strong hand seized her ankle and pulled her away from imminent death. Eliana had awoken and seen that Alice was gone. Guessing her intent, she rushed to the entrance of the cave in time to keep her from falling in a fit of dizziness.
Immediately upon being dragged from the edge, Alice came to herself and thanked Eliana for saving her life. “I honestly don’t know what got into me!” Alice admitted. “I’m not usually afraid of heights.”
Eliana smiled understandingly and patted Alice’s shoulder. “Everyone gets dizzy at a height like this,” she answered knowingly. “When I was first brought here I swooned on the very edge. It was a miracle that I didn’t fall, but somehow when I crumpled to the ground, I managed to not go over. In fact,” Eliana chuckled now at the memory, “I put myself in more danger of falling when I came to myself, and realized how close I had been to the end of my life, than when I had been in a faint.”
Alice managed a small smile. “Thanks anyways,” she said again.
“You’re very welcome of course,” Eliana replied graciously. “Soon the gliefs will bring us breakfast, and it won’t go well with us if they find us outside our cave, they will think we are attempting suicide. Come inside.”
Alice obeyed, still somewhat in shock from her near death experience.
Soon, as Eliana had predicted, two giant gliefs flew into the cave with some random fruits and vegetables. Where they were from, these foreign food substances, Alice could only guess, but she followed Eliana’s example and accepted them as graciously as the circumstance would permit.
Once their horrible captors left, the girl and young woman ate what they could of the food given. Alice couldn’t help worrying over how on earth her sister and friends where going to find them, but when she told Eliana of her concerns, the young woman laughed cheerfully.
“You needn’t worry Alice,” Eliana assured her softly. “Make your sign outside our cave and your sister will find you.”
Doubtfully, hardly daring to hope, Alice obeyed Eliana and took the precious candle. After lighting it, she crept to the opening of the cave, and with shaking hands held the burning flame next to the rock. Slowly, painstakingly, an A was formed outside the cave walls. Sweat dripped from Alice’s nose and made small rivers down her cheeks as she concentrated on making the A as dark as possible against the surrounding rock while also keeping as far from the terrible drop just beyond her supporting hand as possible.
Finally the task was completed and Alice returned to the inside of the cave, her face slightly ashen and her hands trembling.
Eliana met her with a smile. “We shall be found now,” she said confidently.
Alice sighed, regaining her natural pessimistic nature. “I hope so,” she replied.
Alyssa, leading the party towards the mountains using her instincts, saw them first and reined in Rebel suddenly. Her two companions came up behind her shortly and they too stopped on either side, awestruck at the sight in front of them.
They had found the mountains.
Towering into the sky, the almost black color of the stone in shadow contrasting with the sparkling whiteness of the snow as it caught the sun’s rays, and surrounded by a cloud of flying gliefs, they rose.
“They have hunted already and their hunger is satisfied,” Raynold whispered. “Otherwise we would have already been captured for food.”
Alyssa swallowed; a sudden lump of fear had risen in her throat. “Did…do you think that Alice…” she trailed off.
Raynold shook his head hurriedly. “They fatten their prisoners for weeks, even months before devouring them.”
Alyssa and Diana shuddered simultaneously.
“How awful!” Diana said in a horrified whisper.
“It is,” Raynold agreed grimly.
Alyssa frowned at the towering mountain sides and sighed in sudden frustration. “Even though we are here, after finding the mountains and that the gliefs are full and not liable to capture us right away, how on earth will we find the cave where Alice is being kept?” She gave a wide sweep with her arm that included the entire mountainside. “The whole thing is simply riddled with caves!”
Raynold gave her a searching look. “Is there any way that your sister could mark her cave?”
Alyssa narrowed her eyes in thought. “Well…” she shook her head, giving up the idea. “No, Alice would never try that.”
“What would she never try?” Raynold persisted gently, though his eyes suddenly gleamed in excitement.
“Well, when we were littler, she and I would play a sort of hide and seek where one of us would lead the other on a kind of scavenger hunt by carving or scratching our mutual initial into landmarks. At the end, the searcher was awarded by finding the other person.”
Raynold leaned towards her eagerly. “You think she might be able to scratch the initial A into the rock by the cave she’s being kept in?” He asked feverishly.
Alyssa shrugged. “She might if she’s desperate.”
“It’s our only hope right now. Is there any way you could scan the mountain side for her mark?”
Alyssa’s eyes lit up suddenly, and she reached into her backpack. “I brought some binoculars!” She exclaimed.
Raynold grinned, but was obviously curious. “Splendid! This tool will help you?”
Alyssa rifled around in her backpack excitedly, while nodding her answer to Raynold’s question. “I’ll explain how they work later,” she mumbled, already scanning the face of the mountain.
A few minutes of silence passed while Alyssa looked for the tell-tale A. First she had looked over the mountain quickly, but she repented of her first haste and now was slowly, methodically searching every inch of the rocky surface. Her efforts were soon rewarded and she voiced a triumphant cry that she quickly squelched, realizing that to save her sister now she would have to use utmost stealth.
Turning to Raynold and Diana, she quickly outlined her plan of ascension and the threesome tied their horses securely in a shaded glade where water and food would be accessible to them before walking quietly to the base of the mountain.
“Do you want me to go up first?” Raynold asked when Alyssa seemed daunted by the height she had to climb.
But Alyssa shook her head. “You may need to catch me if I fall,” she explained with a crooked grin.
“I’m afraid I wouldn’t do much more than pad your fall.” Raynold laughed softly, aware that the quickly kindled tempers of the gliefs would be what fell on them if they saw the three humans trying to wrest a prisoner from their clutches.
“No, you go last Raynold,” Alyssa said. “I’ll go first.”
“Which leaves me stuck in the middle while you’re busy dropping loose rocks on me,” Diana said, a faint teasing smile lingering on her features.
Alyssa grinned. “I’ll try not to.”
“But you will,” Diana answered. “You know you will. You can’t really help it.”
“Whatever.” Alyssa shrugged and began climbing.
It was difficult to say the least. The slippery rock provided few handholds and even fewer footholds. Alyssa lost count of the times that it had seemed only a breath of wind would be needed to send her plummeting to the bottom. Sweat beaded her forehead and dripped off the end of her nose. It itched horribly, but she didn’t dare bring a hand away from her already precarious hold to scratch it. Inch by inch she wormed her way up the rock.
So far, the gliefs hadn’t seen them. Their dark clothing helped camouflage them, but it didn’t help them keep cool. Alyssa’s hands were slippery from the sweat and she closed her mind from her surroundings so that she could concentrate on the difficult task of climbing. Once in a while she looked up to see how close she was getting to the marked cave, but their progress was disappointingly slow and soon she gave up and simply kept steadily climbing.
Because of this, she was so astonished to find herself automatically grasping the edge of the rock and pulling herself over onto a level floor that she almost fell off the temporary safety. She had found and climbed onto the ledge outside the marked cave.
Alyssa gasped, momentarily stunned that their climb had actually succeeded. Then she remembered her friends and quickly turned to help them get up as well.
First Diana arrived, gasping for breath and her face ashen. When Alyssa practically pulled her up onto the ledge she sat next to the opening of the cave, trembling and panting from the exercise and tension she had just been through.
Raynold pulled himself up, with only a little help from Alyssa, but even he looked a bit shaken.
They sat for a moment, composing themselves after their short period of being so close to death. Alyssa glanced down the face of the mountain they had just climbed and shuddered, drawing herself away from it.
“I can’t believe we actually climbed up that,” she said.
Diana moaned. “I don’t even want to look down.”
Alyssa gave her a shaky smile. “If I had known what I was getting myself into when I started climbing, I don’t think I would have had the nerve to try,” she admitted honestly.
“Well,” Raynold agreed, “I’m certainly glad it’s over and we’re all still alive and safe.”
“Amen to that!” Diana muttered fervently.
Just then, someone walked from the cave and into the sunlight outside.
Alice had dozed off, exhausted with worry and fear. She awoke sometime later to the sound of something, or someone climbing onto the ledge outside her cave. Now wide awake, she sat up and glanced around for Eliana. She was nowhere to be seen.
“Eliana!” Alice hissed towards the darker corners of the cave. Still, no answer. “Of course she has to disappear right when I actually want her near me,” Alice muttered in frustration. “I can’t believe this.”
She looked around her again, this time in search for some sort of weapon. A loose rock appeared to be the only thing that would work effectively and so armed with this, she made her way to the opening of the cave feeling only a fraction safer with the rock in her hands.
Walking outside, she suddenly saw who it was and dropped her weapon in her astonishment before immediately swooning at her sister’s feet.
“Alice!” Alyssa cried, dashing forward and catching her sister before she fell to her death on the rocks below. She patted her twin’s cheeks in consternation. “Alice, are you ok?”
Raynold crawled over and looked Alice over. “She’s only fainted,” he explained in a matter-of-fact tone. “She’ll be herself in a few minutes. The reason she fainted was probably because she was so shocked to see you again.”
Alyssa felt tears of relief streaming down her face, but she didn’t care. Her sister was safe and with her again! She watched anxiously as her sister began showing signs of recovery.
“Alyssa?” The question was faint, but everyone heard it and Alyssa leaned over Alice eagerly.
“Yes? I’m right here Alice!” She answered.
Alice opened her eyes wide in astonishment. “I must be dead!” She said in a surprised tone.
This statement was so like something Alice would say, that Alyssa burst out laughing. “No, you’re not dead. I’m really here and it’s good to hear you being Alice again.”
Alice sat up, fully conscious now and demanded to hear what had happened to them. Alyssa began to tell her, but Raynold stopped her.
“We should get inside the cave,” he admonished seriously. “The gliefs will see us soon if we keep out in the open like this.”
The girls knew he was right and they quickly obeyed his suggestion by entering the cave. Alice again voiced her desire to hear what had been happening to them after she had been carried away, and Alyssa filled her in on their adventures up to seeing Alice come out of the cave and having her faint in surprise.
“Now tell me what has happened to you!” Alyssa exclaimed once she had finished their tale.
“There’s not much to tell,” Alice answered with a shrug. “I was carried away by the glief, put in this cave and then I met Eliana and she told me too…”
Alyssa held up a hand. “Wait a minute. Who’s Eliana?”
Alice gasped. “Oh my goodness! I completely forgot to tell them about her!”
“Yes, you did,” Alyssa answered. “Diana and Raynold still have no idea who you’re talking about.”
“I am so sorry!” Alice said, giving an apologetic look towards her two friends. “Let me explain who Eliana is.”
But thankfully, Eliana saved her the trouble by appearing suddenly inside the cave.
“Who are you talking to Alice?” She asked, becoming visible suddenly in the soft light of the candle that Alyssa had just finished lighting.
Alice quickly rattled off introductions. “Eliana, this is my twin sister Alyssa and my two friends Diana and Raynold. Everybody, this is Eliana, the person I was supposed to tell you about.”
Polite exchanges of greetings took place before Alice finally tried to satisfy her curiosity. “Where were you Eliana? I looked everywhere for you!”
Eliana’s eyes sparkled in silent amusement, but she didn’t really answer Alice’s question. Instead she said, “I should be allowed to keep some secrets Alice.”
“Oh, I suppose,” Alice replied with an aggravated shrug. “I thought I would ask anyways.”
“So…” Diana studied Eliana critically, “who are you?”
Eliana drew herself up and answered, “I am Eliana, Guardian and Keeper of the Fire Stone.”
Diana’s eyes widened and she glanced over at the twins.
Raynold leaned towards the young woman, eagerness shining from his eyes. “You are the guardian?” He asked.
Eliana nodded with a smile.
“You know where the Fire Stone is then?”
Again, Eliana nodded.
“Can you bring us to it?”
Eliana hesitated. She glanced around the small circle of humans. Slowly, she nodded again.
Raynold’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “It’s near here then?”
Slowly, Eliana nodded.
“About ten feet.”
“What!?!” Alice gasped out.
“Straight down, and through five feet of solid rock,” Eliana explained, smiling at the look of astonishment on the girls’ faces.
“But you could bring us to it?” Raynold persisted.
“Yes…” Eliana answered slowly. “But it will be difficult.”
“When has that ever stopped us?” Alice asked ruefully.
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go!” Alyssa exclaimed.
Eliana glanced around again. “You’re sure about this?” She asked. “You think the risk is worth getting the Fire Stone? Even after learning that it isn’t the only thing that kills the gliefs?”
Raynold jumped up from where he had been sitting, his eyes suddenly wide. “WHAT? The Fire Stone isn’t the only thing that can kill gliefs?” He yelled.
Eliana placed a precautionary finger over her mouth and frowned at him. “Hush! The gliefs will find out soon enough that you are trying to help us escape. Let’s not hurry their discovery.”
“Oh!” Raynold gulped and sat back down again. “My deepest apologies. B-but, please, explain that remark you made earlier! What did you mean by saying that the Fire Stone isn’t the only thing that can kill the gliefs?”
Eliana sighed. “I really don’t know why that information surprises you. I thought everybody knew that.”
“But we don’t! Everybody thinks that the Fire Stone is the only thing that can kill the gliefs! That’s why I’m out here with these girls. Our mission is to find the Fire Stone and bring it back to our village so we have a way to protect ourselves from the gliefs who have become more than a nuisance.”
Eliana held up a hand. “Well then, I think before we go any further in your mission, I need to explain some things. First of all, the Fire Stone is not the only way to kill the gliefs. I don’t know who spread that tale, but it is not true. Almost all the weapons invented could kill a glief. They are extremely gullible once you know where their heart is.”
“Then what’s so special about the Fire Stone?” Diana interrupted.
“I was getting to that,” Eliana said, giving Diana a look of reproof. “When heated to the proper temperature, the Fire Stone is an explosive that could destroy the gliefs’ homes in seconds. These are the only mountains tall enough, big enough, and strong enough to protect the gliefs’ babies from their enemies and the Fire Stone could blow them up easily. So they searched everywhere for it so they could keep it from exploding.”
“Why didn’t they just make it explode somewhere far away from their home?” Diana blurted.
Eliana took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “You are going to make me angry Diana,” she said slowly as if fighting for control over her temper. Her fists clenched and unclenched at her sides and there was a slight frown between her eyebrows, but otherwise there was no sign of her anger.
Diana ducked her head in embarrassment. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“I forgive you,” Eliana replied graciously. “But please do not interrupt again. Now, to continue: The gliefs are mere animals. They have no human intelligence that would be able to know how to cook the Fire Stone to the proper temperature. Besides, the only living person who knows the proper temperature is me, and they don’t know that I hold the key to destroying their home.
“I was taken as a prisoner when they stole the Fire Stone, but they didn’t know how significant I was. They simply saw me as another morsel of food to feed themselves when I was fat enough. What they didn’t know is that I knew what they planned and have only been eating enough to keep me alive so therefore have grown no fatter over the months.
“What surprises me is this rumor that the Fire Stone is the only thing that kills gliefs. It must have been started by someone, because the gliefs can’t speak our language. So who would want the gliefs safe? Who wants them kept alive?”
Eliana paused as if lost in thought and after a few minutes, Diana timidly raised her hand. “May I ask a question?” She queried.
“You just did,” Eliana said, but her eyes sparkled with amusement and she didn’t seem upset. “But no matter, ask away.”
“Do you know of any enemies to your people, Raynold? Have you ever been at war? Is there anyone who wants to be in complete control of this world?” Diana had turned to Raynold as she asked these questions, but a shadow of thought passed over Eliana’s brow even as Raynold began brainstorming.
“Why are you asking that?” He finally replied.
“Well, if one wanted to rule the world or to take revenge on somebody or everybody in a certain place, what would be easier than to have gliefs do your work for you and not have to worry about harming yourself. You would simply have to train the young gliefs to obey your commands as one might train a dog and then swoop down on the rest of civilization and carry out your evil plan.”
Raynold fingered his newly grown beard thoughtfully. “You have a very good point. I don’t think our village has any enemies, but it would be good to find out.”
“But first,” Alyssa broke in, “let’s get the Fire Stone.”
“Are you sure you know where it is?” Alice asked Eliana again.
She nodded. “Absolutely. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you to it.”
She turned to the back of the cave and walked down the narrow passageway. Obviously, the gliefs couldn’t have gone through these passages, but they were the perfect size for the humans. At the very back, Eliana stopped. Her hands flew across the rock searchingly until, with a hollow groan, the rock moved aside leaving a gaping hole where a wall of rock had stood before.
Triumphantly, Eliana smiled back at the group huddled behind her. “Here is where I disappeared Alice, and here is where we are going to escape once the Fire Stone is safely in our possession. Come, follow me.”
Alyssa unhesitatingly stepped behind Eliana and was closely followed by Raynold and Diana. Alice hung back, unsure of the wisdom in going into the blackness that seemed to breathe danger. Gliefs could be in there, Alice thought and gulped. I really wish that I had brought a flashlight with me. Of course that was the one thing Alyssa and I forgot to pack.
Suddenly, a head popped out of the darkness. Alice shrieked and jumped backwards, shielding her face with her arms.
“Relax,” she heard her sister say. “It’s just me. Be quiet or the gliefs will hear you and come to investigate.”
Alice cracked her eyes open and met her sister’s. “Don’t do that again,” she said angrily. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!”
Alyssa gave her a lopsided grin. “Sorry, but we were all waiting for you in the tunnel, and I thought you might be hesitant, so I came back to get you and tell you that it’s alright. Eliana promises that no gliefs know about her tunnel.”
“Still,” Alice shuddered, “don’t do that again.”
“I won’t,” Alyssa promised impatiently. “Now come on!”
Gingerly, Alice took her sister’s offered hand and together they stepped into the pitch black tunnel.
“Are we almost there?” Alice whispered, her voice echoing strangely in the darkness.
“Hush,” Eliana replied with precaution. “There are hundreds of thousands of gliefs beyond these walls. Do you want them to hear us?”
Alice shook her head, then, remembering that Eliana couldn’t see her, said “no.”
“Very well then, be patient. There’s a turn up ahead, from then on, no one can utter so much as a cough. You will all even need to keep your breathing as quiet as possible. Gliefs have extremely good ears. Thankfully, their sight is horrible, and their smelling even worse. If ever you come face to face with a glief, the best thing to do is freeze. If you don’t move, chances are, they won’t find you.”
During these instructions, Eliana had been making her way stealthily forward, and soon everyone began to realize that they could actually see some of their surroundings.
“Where is the light coming from?” Raynold wondered aloud.
Eliana turned to him with a faint smile that they could all see. “We’re nearing our destination.” She paused and leaned against the wall, her ear pressed hard against it. A minute of absolute silence ticked by. She backed away from the rock suddenly and put a finger to her lips. The others obeyed. Stepping lightly, Eliana made her way to a bend in the tunnel only a few feet in front of the adventurers. Glancing back at the others, she beckoned them closer, but again gave them the unneeded warning to stay silent.
One by one, they all got a chance to peek around the stone. The sight before them almost, almost made them gasp in awe, but they remembered the gliefs good hearing not a moment too soon.
Around the corner was a room, brightly lit by a stone sitting in the center of it. The stone itself was no bigger than a ping-pong ball, but it illumined the cave with all the brightness of ten lanterns. There didn’t appear to be anything in the cave but the stone, however, Eliana seemed to know something that the others didn’t, for she continued to stand behind the safety of the rock wall.
Why can’t we just take it? Alyssa thought, frowning in puzzlement. Isn’t that why she brought us here?
Finally, Eliana seemed to make a decision with herself and stepped carefully around the corner. But the minute she placed a foot down, a giant glief dropped from the ceiling. Eliana froze, as did the others, mostly safe behind the rock. A few breathless minutes passed, though to them it seemed as if hours dragged by, before the glief stopped peering around the cave and crept back up into whatever cubby hole in the ceiling it had jumped from.
Eliana carefully lifted her foot from the ground, stepped backwards, and pulled the others with her to a safer place in the tunnel. “I thought it was safe,” she explained. “Usually the stone is guarded by more gliefs and I can see them. This time the glief surprised me by jumping down like that. It must have heard my footstep.”
Alice looked incredulous. “Your footstep?” She asked in disbelief.
Eliana gave her a wavering smile, still visibly shaken from the close call. “I told you they had good hearing,” she said.
“How can we get the stone then?” Raynold pressed.
Eliana sighed. “The lightest person will have to creep up to the stone.”
“Which of us is the lightest?” Diana asked.
Alice and Alyssa locked eyes and exchanged a knowing look before glancing at Diana. “You are,” Alyssa said.
“I am?!” Diana gasped.
“We knew this was going to happen…” Alice said.
“…So we made you the lightest,” Alyssa finished.
Diana groaned. “Are you two trying to get me killed? First you plan on having me get kidnapped by a glief, and now you two make me the lightest one so that I have to go get the stone!” She sank onto the rough floor and buried her face in her hands. “I hate being your character,” she mumbled.
Alyssa sighed and sat down next to her friend. “Look,” she began earnestly, “we’re not trying to kill you. I can’t tell you about how this ends, because you can’t know as a character. You’ll have to trust us.”
Diana slowly raised her head. “Fine,” she said. “I’ll go and get the stone. But you had better not do anything else weird to me.”
Alyssa smiled. “I’ll try not to,” she answered.
“You’d better do more than try,” Diana muttered darkly.
Eliana nodded. “Now that is settled,” she spoke in relief, “follow me Diana and I’ll help you get the stone.”
Glumly, Diana followed Eliana and soon the two were out of sight beyond the corner of rock.
Alyssa stood up and looked at her sister. “How’s the book?” She asked feverishly.
“We’ve got to get writing!” Alice whispered back. “I managed to change her mind by writing down that stuff, but the only other thing written is how she and Eliana reach the stone.”
Alyssa gave her sister a quick nod, and then the two of them worked on the story, Alice rushing to keep up with her sister’s flow of words. Raynold kept watch over them, but he also kept an ear open to the whispers and marveled at how well they wrote.
Suddenly, Eliana and Diana came running back down the tunnel. Gulping in air to catch their breath, they both stopped in front of the startled authors and Raynold.
“I…got…the…stone…” Diana gasped out between breaths. “But…”
“The gliefs are after us! We must fly!” Eliana finished.
With widened eyes, the sisters and Raynold saw the huge shadows growing ever closer, screaming in rage, to prove Eliana’s statement right.
“Where do we go?” Alice asked wildly.
“Follow me!” Eliana said.
Without any hesitation this time, they did so.
“Won’t… they… hear… us?” Alice gasped out as she ran to keep up with the others.
Eliana shook her head. “Don’t…talk… yet,” she said between gulps of air. “Not…safe.”
Well that’s an understatement, Alice thought grimly to herself. I sure hope Alyssa knew what she was doing when she wrote… But here her thoughts were cut off by Eliana dragging them into a different tunnel and stopping suddenly. Everyone doubled over, holding their stomachs and waited until the pain receded. It wasn’t long before their wild, frightened breathing slowed into almost inaudible regularity.
Eliana sighed and sat down. “We’re safe. They will come here eventually, but by then we’ll be safely outside of this cave.”
“Didn’t they hear us running?” Alice repeated her question.
“Yes, but we got enough rock wall in between us that they can hear us no longer, so we are safe.” Eliana smiled. “Of course, eventually they will find this cave, but it will take them time—they are not organized—and by then we will have already left.”
“Left?” Alyssa asked. “You mean we’re almost free?”
Eliana nodded, her eyes shining. “And with this stone, the gliefs will no longer bother us.”
“Why won’t they bother us?” Raynold asked, dumbfounded that something that seemed impossible could be true.
“We hold the power to destroy them. This stone, the Fire Stone, is the only thing that has the ability to easily annihilate their home, thereby destroying their babies and their species. Besides which, once we return to your village we will destroy the belief that this stone is the only thing which can kill these creatures and instead tell the accurate fact: anything that you can kill everyday animals with you can kill gliefs with as well.” Eliana smiled and stood up. “Believe me; they won’t give us any trouble. Now they will do everything they can to keep us away from their home, and they will stay as far from us as possible, so as not to anger us.”
Raynold shook his head and began to speak, then instead changed his mind and remained silent.
While Raynold and Eliana talked, Alyssa and Alice furiously scribbled down more in their book. Diana simply listened, but she kept a wary eye on the twins when they continued working on the book.
“How close are you to being done?” She asked finally, unable to keep her curiosity unsatisfied any longer.
Alice looked up at her sister. “About two chapters away, more or less,” she answered.
Alyssa nodded her agreement. “Right now we’re in middle of chapter eighteen, and we’re hoping to finish it in chapter twenty, but it might stretch out a little longer.”
Eliana pressed an ear to the wall. “We need to leave now,” she said suddenly. “I can hear them beginning their search.”
They all stood and looked to Eliana for further instructions. She smiled. “The passage out is right past this turn. We’ll half to climb down a little, but it’s not impossible.”
Diana groaned. “More climbing?” She asked.
Alyssa gave her a sympathetic look. “At least we’ll be climbing down,” she said in an effort to keep on the cheerful side.
“Yeah,” Alice put in darkly, “that way when we fall we’ll at least land on our feet and only break a leg or two instead of our necks.”
Alyssa glared at her twin. “I was trying to reassure her.”
“I was trying to be realistic,” Alice shot back. “Honestly Alyssa, we won’t be able to even see where we’re putting our feet while climbing backwards.”
Alyssa opened her mouth to give her sister a scathing reply when Raynold intervened. “Let’s not argue when every moment is fraught with danger.”
Reluctantly, the sisters shut their mouths and followed Eliana into the daylight. The climb was steep, but not nearly as perilous as the ascent had been, and soon all of the adventurers were safely at the bottom.
“I can’t believe we made it,” Diana said, looking up at the sides of the mountain in awe.
“We’re not back yet,” Raynold answered, taking charge once again. “We need to find our horses and get out of here while we still can.”
They crept to the hollow where the three had left the horses during the rescue and found the horses very refreshed. Eliana rode double-saddle with Diana and soon they were on their way across what had seemed before a limitless prairie.
That night they camped under the stars. No gliefs had bothered them yet, and Eliana said that they were probably still searching the mountain for them. She guessed that it would take them at least a few days to find that they were gone, and by then they would be back in the village and therefore safe from the horrible creatures.
Alice and Alyssa again worked on their story until they both found themselves nodding off to sleep over it. Then, yawning, they put it away and lay down next to the dying fire under a canopy of stars.
Alice awoke to her sister shaking her from her blanket. “G’way,” she mumbled in a sleep-fogged voice, holding the blanket tighter around her shivering body.
“Come on,” Alyssa said impatiently, rolling her eyes. “Wake up already. We might make it to the village today if we hurry.”
“G’way!” Alice grumbled louder. “I dowanna wake up.”
Diana sat up and squinted her eyes in the bright morning sunrise. “Time to go already?” She asked.
Alyssa sat on her heals and looked at her sister with her arms on her hips. “Yeah, if I can wake up my sister.”
“Maybe we could stick her on the horse without her having to wake up,” Raynold suggested mischievously.
Alyssa saw what he was doing and grinned. “Hey, maybe you have a point! We could tie her onto the saddle and then…”
Alice shot out of her blanket with a shriek. “Don’t you dare!” She yelled. Then she caught sight of the looks on her sister and Raynold’s faces. “It wasn’t funny,” she said sullenly, folding her arms.
“Just come on,” Alyssa answered, her eyes still twinkling.
Eliana laughed. “She must not like waking up in the morning,” she stated.
Alice glowered. “It’s not fair. All of you teaming up against me to get me to wake up.”
“Well,” Diana replied, “we want to get back soon.”
“Oh, I do too,” Alice answered, “but I don’t want to have to get up at all hours of the morning to do so.”
“Breakfast is ready,” Eliana said, wisely changing the subject.
With that, the quarrel of the morning was forgotten and the adventurers exclaimed their delight over Eliana’s good cooking.
“Are all women good cooks in your story?” Diana asked Alice and Alyssa.
“You aren’t,” Alyssa replied with a teasing smile.
Diana sighed. “I’m not?”
“Nope,” Alice said. “But, you do get better after a few lessons from Bettina.”
“Oh good.” Diana was relieved.
“I could teach you too,” Eliana said sweetly. “After all, once the Fire Stone is safely in the hands of the council, my job is over.”
“But will you stay in our village?” Raynold asked with a hint of eagerness apparent in his voice.
Eliana smiled. “I might. It all depends on how soon I can find a home.”
“You could stay with my family until you do,” Raynold offered. “Bettina has always wanted a sister, and you’re about her age. I think you two would become good friends.”
“I would love to meet your family Raynold,” Eliana answered. “Many thanks for the offer.”
Raynold ducked his head as if he was suddenly embarrassed. “You’re very welcome Eliana.”
Diana scooted closer to the twins. “Do they love each other?” She whispered suspiciously.
Alyssa put on her best innocent look and widened her eyes. “What on earth would make you suspect that?” She asked.
“That’s what I thought.” Diana gave her a look before continuing. “Do they marry in your book?”
The twins looked at each other and shrugged. “That, you will have to find out on your own,” Alice answered with a grin.
After the refreshing breakfast, the party continued traveling toward the distant forest in which the Swamp Queen’s kingdom lay. The girls were hoping to avoid another meeting with the queen’s rough guards, but Raynold assured them that they had little to fear.
“I really, really don’t want to kiss her hand again,” Diana said with a shudder.
“It was clean,” Alyssa pointed out.
Diana made a face. “Maybe so, but it gave me the jitters anyways.”
Raynold smiled at the girls. “We won’t be bothered again,” he promised. “The swamp warriors will still have their queen’s previous order fresh in their minds. One thing those people have in their favor is this: their undying love and loyalty to their queen. I know it seems impossible that creatures so ugly could love, but they do, and fiercely.”
They continued riding. Now that they knew how long the prairie was, it took a lot less time for them to cross, much to Alice’s relief. Even so, when they reached the woods, the shade of the forest was welcome indeed, for the sun had become uncomfortably hot on the backs of horses. Raynold’s promise turned out to be true, and though they saw glimpses of swamp creatures through the foliage, they were not detained a second time.
The party of adventurers came to the other side of the Swamp Queen’s land quite safely, with no more wounds than a few scratches from low hanging branches on the trail. Next Raynold led them over a stretch of hills and valleys. Alice began to feel her backside getting sore again. She fidgeted in the saddle of Troy, trying to get more comfortable. It didn’t work.
“When can we rest?” She finally asked after a failed attempt to stretch her cramped leg muscles while riding her horse.
“Soon,” Raynold answered.
“How soon?” Alice pleaded. “’Cause I’m getting awfully sore back here.”
Raynold chuckled. “Very soon, I promise.”
An hour later, Raynold announced that they would take a break, make camp, and spend the night.
“Is it safe?” Diana asked. “I mean, do you think the gliefs will have found that we’re not in their mountain by now?”
Eliana nodded her head. “I’m sure we’re safe. If they have searched their mountain already and found us gone, it will take them at least a day to reach where we’re camped.”
“In other words, it’s ok to take a break and stay here for the night,” Alyssa said.
Alice slipped from her horse onto the ground. Her knees buckled and she sank into the grass with a moan.
During the short pause which followed her collapse, Alyssa grinned and whispered to Diana, “wait for it…”
Then Alice gave another moan before saying the long expected, “I’m gonna die!”
Alyssa, Diana, and Raynold looked at each other and burst into laughter. Eliana smiled, but instead of joining their mirth, took pity on the hurting Alice and offered to help her move closer to where they would make the fire. Alice accepted her gentle help gratefully and soon dinner was being made on a roaring fire.
After their stomachs were full, and everyone—even Alice—was feeling as if all was right in the world, the twins got back to work on their story. Diana looked over their shoulder curiously, but Alice insisted that she shouldn’t.
“You can’t see how it ends!” She explained. “You’re a character after all.”
Diana humphed, but obeyed the authors and stayed away from their book. “How close are you to being done now?” She asked.
“Almost, almost, almost there,” Alyssa said. “We’re now in middle of chapter nineteen, and wrapping up the story as fast as we can.”
“As fast as my poor wrist allows us to go,” Alice added, rubbing the wrist in question and grimacing. “I think Bettina’s salve finally stopped working.”
Raynold raised an eyebrow in doubt. “I didn’t think that was possible!”
Eliana walked over. “Let me see your wrist,” she ordered gently. Alice held it out. “Where does it hurt exactly?”
Alice put her finger on the middle of her wrist where one might feel someone’s pulse. “Right there,” she said. “It’s been weak ever since I was a baby. This isn’t a new problem, but with all the pressure we’ve had to finish our book, I’ve been doing more writing than usual and that makes it start hurting.”
Eliana pulled a container from the recesses of her long dress and opened it. A sweet, flowery odor reached Alice’s nostrils. “This might help,” she offered. “May I?”
Alice shrugged. “It can’t possibly hurt worse than Bettina’s salve.”
Eliana took Alice’s wrist and began massaging the salve onto it. Alice gritted her teeth and scrunched her eyes tightly closed. Alyssa came over and stood next to her twin.
“Is it helping?” She asked.
“I can’t tell,” Alice answered through clenched teeth. “It hurts. That’s all I know.”
Eliana looked up at her patient sympathetically. “I’m sorry to cause you pain. It will help in the long run though, which is what you want I’m sure.”
Alice nodded shortly, but kept her eyes shut tightly until Eliana said she was done. Then she opened them warily and looked down at her wrist. “I-it’s pink!” She gasped in surprise.
“That’s a small side-effect,” Eliana explained. “The salve is made from the nectar of a Pinkdee, a rare, light pink flower found in the Swamp Queen’s lands. When you rub it on your skin it leaves a light pink residue. Harmless, but can be shocking if you don’t expect it.”
“Is it permanent?” Alice asked in dismay.
“Oh no!” Eliana replied, smiling. “It’ll last as long as it’s healing your wrist. Once it has done its work it will gradually fade into your regular skin tone.”
Alice sighed in relief. “Well I’m glad I won’t be living with a permanently light pink wrist for the rest of my life!”
Alyssa giggled. “I don’t know, it’s kinda cute.”
“Stop it.” Alice glared at her sister. “You know how much I hate that color.”
Raynold cleared his throat. “Let’s all get some sleep. We’ve got a lot of travelling to do tomorrow.”
They all unpacked their blankets and prepared to lie down. Diana and Alice fell asleep almost immediately, but Alyssa’s mind was still alive with her story. Raynold was staring into the fire absentmindedly, and Eliana was laying on her back, looking into the star-filled sky.
The author watched her characters as a spider might watch its prey. Finally, to Alyssa’s delight, Eliana slipped from her blanket restlessly and walked out into the night. Not long after, Raynold seemed to come to himself with a start and noticed Eliana was no longer there. He looked around the camp wildly for a few seconds before setting out in the direction of her disappearing form. Alyssa waited until both had vanished from her view, then crept around her sleeping sister and friend to follow the unsuspecting characters.
She found them, sitting together on the grass only a little ways from the campsite, but around a small hill so that they couldn’t be seen from those at the campsite. Alyssa shivered in anticipation and sneaked closer to them so she would be able to hear what passed between them.
“…have admired you ever since I met you in the glief cave,” Raynold was saying. “And I want to know if you return my affection.”
Alyssa could see Eliana’s blush in the moonlight and admitted to herself that the picture was quite pretty. “I-I really don’t know what to say,” she stuttered. “I hardly know you!”
“But will you give me a chance?” Raynold pleaded. “A chance to show you my love for you?”
Eliana dropped her head, her cheeks reddening even more. There was a short silence, then Eliana smiled shyly and nodded.
Alyssa, thoroughly ashamed of herself for eavesdropping on such a private conversation, crept back to the camp. But she was grinning widely on the outside, and was secretly thrilled to know that everything was working out exactly as she and her sister had planned.
Without another thought on the matter, she dropped off to sleep, only vaguely aware that Raynold and Eliana arrived back at camp together, arm in arm.
Alyssa opened her eyes to the sun shining brightly. As usual, she was the first one up. Yawning, she stretched and it was then she remembered what had happened the night before. A grin spread over her face and she glanced over at the sleeping forms of Raynold and Eliana. Now wide awake, she stood up and walked over to her sister. Surprisingly, Alice was awake and blinking in the bright sunlight.
“Morning already?” She asked groggily. Alyssa nodded. Alice sighed. “And I was having such a wonderful dream.” She yawned, stretched, and caught sight of the look on her sister’s face. “What happened? What did I miss this time?”
Alyssa filled her sister in on all that had happened the night before. Soon Alice was grinning almost as widely as her twin and both girls chortled together over the obvious success of their scheme.
Diana rolled to her side and opened her eyes. “What are you two laughing about?” She asked after a yawn.
“Nothing,” Alice giggled.
“Liar,” Diana accused.
“We can’t tell you,” Alyssa explained. “Another author secret.”
Diana sighed and sat up. “I’m gonna be really glad when all this mystery is cleared up. You two have been cooking up something in your book, and I’m itching to find out what it is.”
“Oh, you will soon enough,” Alice said, giving her twin a significant look. Both girls burst into laughter.
“Good grief!” Diana muttered.
Just then, Eliana woke up, as did Raynold. The latter began to make the fire, and Eliana made breakfast. The daily breakfast of hot meal, which Bettina and Raynold’s mother had so sweetly provided, cooked into a thick paste was getting tiring but no one complained this morning.
When Eliana gave Raynold his bowl, he said “thank you” and their eyes met and locked for a moment. But that moment was enough for Diana to begin to figure out what Alice and Alyssa had been giggling about earlier that morning. Besides, both of the watched persons looked as if Eliana’s salve had been applied to their cheeks every time the other one spoke to them.
At last, when the meal had been put away and their blankets were packed back into their bags and put on their horses for what all the adventurers hoped was the last time, they mounted their horses and began the trip home.
The whole village came out of their homes to greet the returning travelers as they rode in triumphantly. Raynold paused in front of the village hall, dismounted, tied Peace to the hitching rail before walking inside. The others followed his example.
Father Thaddeus was waiting for them just inside. “You have the stone?” He asked.
Raynold nodded and took the stone from Diana’s trembling fingers. The council member’s there gasped in awe.
“It is a miracle!”
“Can it be true? We have the weapon in our hands now?”
“We no longer have to fear our dreaded enemies, the gliefs?”
“What will it feel like to be free from the fear of them?”
Hushed whispers circulated the room. Father Thaddeus turned to Raynold and the girls with tears in his eyes. “Thank you,” he said simply. He caught sight of Eliana, who had hung back when they entered the village hall. “But, tell me, who is this with you?”
Raynold turned red as if on signal, and then led Eliana forward. “This is Eliana, Guardian of the Fire Stone, and our very good friend. Without her we would not have been able to come back here alive with the stone.”
Father Thaddeus placed a hand of blessing on the young woman’s head. “Then we also owe our thanks to you, my daughter,” he said with a smile.
“I only wish I could have done more,” Eliana replied.
“You can,” Raynold prompted. “Tell them the truth about the stone!”
Eliana nodded. “I have come to tell you that this stone is not the only thing that can kill our enemies, the dreaded gliefs.”
There was a general gasp, and Father Thaddeus frowned thoughtfully. “Then our belief has been wrong? Other weapons can kill gliefs?”
Eliana nodded again. “Any weapon you use to kill ordinary, every-day animals can kill gliefs too.”
More doubtful mummers arose. But then, doubts passed and a wild, joyful cheer arose from the throats of the council members.
“Pass the glad tidings!” Father Thaddeus ordered some of the younger council members. “And tell the people that we have in our possession the legendary Fire Stone that will keep us safe from gliefs until the end of this world!”
The men chosen left amidst deafening cheers and wide grins.
The travelers again mounted their horses and Raynold led them to his home where he was welcomed with open arms by his parents and siblings. The girls were also welcomed as long lost daughters, and the warmth of their welcome caused a lump to rise in Alice’s throat. It reminded her of the times when her parents had welcomed them home from summer camps and nights they had been away with friends.
Corbin came up to his brother with shining eyes. “Did you kill any gliefs?” He asked eagerly.
Raynold grinned and ruffled his younger brother’s hair. “No, but we got chased by one that was bigger than our house!”
Corbin’s eyes grew wide. “Tell me about it,” he ordered, his voice filled with awe.
“Alright,” Raynold said. While he kept Corbin enthralled with exaggerated tales of their adventures, Bettina, her mother, and Eliana gave the girls the first promised lesson in cooking. Alyssa noticed how often Raynold’s gaze settled on Eliana, and how she blushed whenever their eyes met, but she kept her thoughts to herself, since as the author she knew how it would end.
By now, everyone knew that Raynold and Eliana were in love, it was only a matter of time before they would have the marriage ceremony in the small chapel in their village. As Raynold had predicted, Bettina and Eliana had become fast friends, and both his parents were thrilled with his choice of wife.
It was a sad day when Alice and Alyssa said that it was time to go home.
Diana sighed. “Must we?”
“We must,” Alice said firmly. “After all, my sister and I have a book to publish.”
Alice and Alyssa shared a grin. “Hold our hands,” Alice said.
“Close your eyes,” Alyssa added.
“And now we’re home,” they said together and then sighed.
A cool night breeze lifted the hair from their faces and waved them around their faces. Their eyes opened in unison and with a reluctant look back behind them at the tree that they all knew was no longer there. The friends walked home.
Bouncing up and down in the seat of their aunt’s car, Alice and Alyssa could hardly contain their excitement. After a long summer, they were finally able to visit their parents in the hospital. And their aunt had even allowed them to bring Diana Wood, their best friend, along with them!
“How much longer until we’re there?” Alice asked for the umpteenth time.
“Only a few miles,” her aunt patiently answered as she braked to stop at a red light.
“Troy, Rebel, and Star could have gotten us there twice as fast,” Alyssa murmured to her twin and friend. The girls exchanged secret smiles.
“We wouldn’t have had to stop at red lights at any rate,” Alice whispered back. Then, she added aloud, “You didn’t forget our story Lyssa, did you?” She had begun calling her twin that ever since they had returned from their adventure and the nickname had stuck.
“Nope,” her twin answered, grinning at her sister. “But thanks for the reminder to keep it with me when we go into the hospital.”
Their aunt smiled at the three girls in the rear view mirror. “I’m so proud of you two for creating such an interesting story, and you too Diana for helping them. I have to admit, your book was the first story I’ve read in a long time, and I really enjoyed it.”
“I’m glad you liked it Auntie,” Alyssa replied.
Just then, the car turned into the hospital parking lot and once their aunt had parked it near the front, the girls piled out and stretched their cramped legs.
“It’s almost as bad as horseback riding for hours, only my legs are sore, not my backside,” Alice grumbled.
Alyssa and Diana grinned at each other. The adventure they had gone through together hadn’t changed Alice’s pessimistic nature at all.
“Try to brighten up at least a little bit for Mom and Dad, hey?” Alyssa begged.
Alice rolled her eyes. “Ok, ok.”
They followed their aunt into the hospital and it wasn’t long before a tall nurse was leading them to a room in the back of it.
“Here are your parents’ room girls. They’ve been pretty excited to finally be able to see you.” The nurse smiled and opened the door.
The next moment both girls were in the arms of their happy parents.
“Oh Dad,” Alice whispered, brushing a tear from her eye. “I’m so, so glad to see you awake and well.”
She felt his deep chuckle rumble up in his chest next to her cheek, and she smiled.
“I’m glad too honey,” he said.
Alice switched with her twin and hugged her mom. “You look a lot better Mom,” she said.
“I feel a lot better, Alice,” her mom answered with a quiet smile.
Diana stood awkwardly in the doorway until Alyssa suddenly realized that they had forgotten her.
“I’m so sorry, Diana!” She yelped in dismay. She pulled her friend over to her parents. “This is our best friend, Diana Wood,” Alyssa proudly presented. “She lives in the same neighborhood that Auntie does.”
Mrs. Dighton smiled and held out a welcoming hand to her daughters’ friend. “I’m so excited to meet you, Diana!”
“And I am too,” Mr. Dighton added, a giant smile lighting up his face. “Though, how you could possibly make friends with these two…” he trailed off.
“Dad!” The twins yelped in unison. Then they saw he was teasing and burst into laughter which their parents and Diana joined in.
“Oh, and before I forget,” Alyssa added, “Alice and I have been working on something all summer, and I wanted to show it to you.”
Proudly, she placed their finished book in the hands of her parents. A few minutes ticked by as they read the first chapter.
“Wow,” their mom said quietly. “That’s an amazing project.”
“You wrote this during the summer, this summer?” Their dad asked in disbelief, picking it up and beginning to read the second chapter.
Alice and Alyssa nodded.
“How did your wrists put up with all that writing?” Their mom asked with concern.
“They were full of complaints at first,” Alice answered, “but after a friend put some soothing salve on the most troublesome one, they behaved themselves much better.”
Her mom reached out and took her daughters hands. “Let me see, honey.”
Alice yielded, thankful that the pink residue had faded considerably.
“They look ok, but this one seems to be more inflamed. See how it’s a darker shade of pink?”
“It feels fine Mom,” Alice quickly assured her. “The salve left a little residue, that’s all. It’ll fade to my normal skin color over time.”
“Ok Alice,” her mom said. “But let me know if they start bothering you again.”
“I will,” Alice promised.
Now her mom’s attention turned back to the book in her lap. “I’m so proud of you two for writing a book. It looks really interesting!”
“Leave it here for us to read,” Mr. Dighton pleaded. “It already got me hooked, and I’m only on the second chapter!”
“It’s amazing how realistic you were even when it’s in an imaginary world,” their mom added thoughtfully.
“Yeah…almost like you were actually there while it happened,” their dad agreed.
“Well…” Alyssa looked at her twin hopelessly. “It’s a long story. Enjoy reading it.”
“We will,” her parents promised.