Chapter 14 Mining Dust
The griffin was in mid-roar when they began to understand him. “Squawk out of the way old woman,” he snarled, “I have no desire to eat a tough old bird like yourself. Give me that sweet, succulent fledgling and I will let you pass.”
While confused by the sudden ability to communicate, the Duchess never backed down. “You will let us all pass, without your precious sacrifice.”
“My mountains, my rules,” the griffin squawked. As the great talons and mighty beak bore down on the ancient aristocrat, two figures emerged from the dark tunnel mouth, swimming through the air as fairy lights rolled off of them like drops of water. The first hit the griffin in the face with her dragon-scale shield. Jen was using a crawl stroke to move about, while right behind her Gina was using a breast stroke to swim through the air. Gina carried a rock in each hand, and let the first one fly at the raptor. The griffin shrunk back in confusion. He was not used to opposition. Now two flying girls were smacking him in the face and throwing rocks. “Hey!” he squawked. “No fair! Foul! Foul!”
Wispy mists started to gather over the griffin’s head as tiny electrical sparks flashed, sparkled and popped as the vapors started to coalesce into a swirling dark storm cloud. Two more figures swam out of the tunnel; Mr. Anderson using a butterfly stroke, and Lefty the Fire Master using the side stroke.
Addressing the griffin, “Leave us alone!” Mr. Anderson demanded.
“Or what?” the raptor snarled.
Mr. Anderson and Lefty settled on the ground next to the boulder Julie was leaning on. Mr. Anderson waved at the people cowering behind a large dead tree trunk, who immediately ran out of the way. He grabbed Lefty on the shoulder and the fire master focused his wand at the tree. A small flame appeared from the end of the wand with all the force of a butane lighter.
“Ha!” the griffin laughed. “If that’s all you have, give me my prize. I now see three volunteers.” The bird’s eye focused on Julie, Gina and Jen. He stepped over to the boulder and Duchess Landreth shrunk out of the way.
If a beak could stretch into a smile, the griffin would be gloating. Julie was near to tears as the fate seemed to be sealed. The griffin opened its cruel beak wide, preparing to rip the girl in two.
A bolt of lightening struck the tree trunk, which burst into flame. The swirling mass of black clouds overhead crackled and rumbled ominously.
“Go!” the griffin screamed angrily. “Leave my mountains now!” He pounced into the air and flapped his enormous powerful wings, stirring up dust and dead leaves impressively.
As he flapped out of sight, the coughing, choking crowd assembled to resume their trek through the mountain. The storm clouds threatening them from above suddenly dissipated; the vapors boiled away harmlessly until there was not a cloud in sight.
Jen and Gina stepped over to Julie. “How’s the ankle?” Gina asked.
“Still hurts,” Julie grimaced, again testing it with her weight.
“I wonder...” Jen said, bending down and touching Julie’s ankle. She felt a slight swelling, and examined with her fingers for any broken bones, then stood up again. “Try it now,” she smiled.
Julie put her foot down and hesitantly took a step, then another. A smile spread warmly across her face, and she jumped up and down and did a little dance. “It’s all better!” she exclaimed in delight.
“After I found I could heal myself, I didn’t know if I could heal someone else,” Jen shrugged. “I guess I can.”
“Who conjured up the storm cloud?” Gina asked. “That was impressive!”
“It’s amazing that any talent could work in the presence of that monster,” Lefty grumbled, now shooting little jets of flame intermittently from his wand.
“I saw you holding off that turkey,” Mr. Anderson addressed Duchess Landreth. “That was terribly brave and noble, and I owe you my deepest thanks.”
“You are quite welcome, young man,” the Duchess replied as a pink hue tinged her face, and a delighted grin crossed her lips.
“And just what is your talent, ma’am?” he asked.
The Duchess stepped over to him and leaned forward to speak into his ear. “Oh, I used to be able to summon butterflies, but I lost that ability years ago,” she confided under her breath.
“You have no talent?” he whispered conspiratorially.
“None at all,” she whispered back. “Don’t tell on me.”
“It will remain our secret,” he said, “And I am even more impressed!”
Her grin became a genuine smile. “We should get into the queue,” she said in a normal tone.
“You flew!” Julie said with accusation in her voice. “You were all flying!”
“Technically, we were swimming,” Gina corrected.
“In the air!” Julie remarked. “You were swimming in the air. How?”
“This tunnel was a fairy dust mine. We found some.” Jen gave a little jump and did not get very far at all. “It seems to have worn off now,” she sighed.
“You were way in front before that big canary showed up,” Julie pointed out.
“Budrick,” Gina explained as Budrick himself emerged from the mine, again pushing people out of the way.
“I don’t want to talk about that coward,” Julie huffed.
“He ran all the way to the front and told us,” Gina finished.
“You – are – okay?” Budrick panted.
“You left me,” Julie accused. “I had to face that vulture alone.”
“To get – help,” he tried to explain, while still catching his breath.
“Budrick, you ran all the way to get help?”
He nodded, his face still red, sweat dripping from his pores.
She gave him a hug, which did nothing for helping him catch his breath. “Thank you, Buddy,” she whispered in his ear.
As their place in the queue started entering the mines, Gina and Julie started to narrate their experiences. Julie noticed they were both glowing, which they seemed to think was natural. It was definitely something they hadn’t done before. It would be a lot of fun on sleep-overs.
The first part of the mine was a long tunnel, and it eventually opened into a great cavern with stalagmites rising from the floor, and stalactites dripping down from the ceiling far above them. It was fairly well illuminated from the long line of fairies all glowing, and sending off little fairy lights. “If you look up, see that shimmer?” Gina asked.
“You mean the sparkly stuff on the ceiling that looks a lot like glitter?” Julie confirmed, staring up at it.
“That’s it,” Jen said. “Genuine fairy dust. One you have some, you can go up there and get more. The problem is, it’s up there and you are down here, and you need the fairy dust to get up there.”
“But there’s a solution,” Gina added. “You will see it in about five minutes.”
“Why?” Julie asked. “Why in five minutes?”
“The queue will have moved up to about the right spot in five minutes,” Budrick said.
Besides the fairy dust on the ceiling, there were gemstones sticking out of the walls, and nobody was losing their mind trying to gather it. Gemstones seemed to be quite common on this world. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds sparkled and glistened in the slow moving fairy light. Julie reached out and grabbed a large green emerald the size of a quail egg and pulled it neatly from the wall. It was a lot heavier than she imagined it would be.
“Why did you do that, Julie?” Budrick asked.
“I wanted to see how hard it was,” Julie said. “It was pretty easy.”
“But now you have diminished the beauty of this wall, of this place.”
“But nobody comes down here to see it,” Julie countered. “What is the point of beauty if nobody can see it? If I bring it back, then I can show it to everybody.”
“She’s got a point,” Gina said, taking a ruby the size of a golf ball.
Jen saw the wisdom of that, and really wanted it anyway, so she plucked a diamond from the wall the size of a doorknob.
Soon they had reached the point Gina and Budrick had told Julie about, and there was a pool under a great stalactite that glistened and shimmered as drop by drop ground water from above dripped down. “See?” Jen said. “The water from above carries the dust down here, and it gathers in the pool.
Julie stooped down and put her hand in the water, feeling all the way to the bottom, and pulled up a handful of sparkly glitter. “How does it work?” she asked.
“Sprinkle it on your head,” Gina said, demonstrating by sprinkling some dust on her own head. Even though she had just pulled it from the water, it felt and acted like it was dry. All the girls, and even Budrick sprinkled themselves with dust, and then they seemed to be floating, as if they were in a giant underground swimming pool. Julie kicked her legs and went up, up, up to the ceiling. She was a little frightened at first, but she saw Budrick and the other girls swimming about in the air, and she could actually feel the air like it was water about her. She flipped herself and pushed off the ceiling with her legs, rocketed downward then put out her arms, and checked herself from going any lower. They played in the air, Budrick weaving in and out and around, paying special attention to Julie. Jen and Gina twirled around each other, then put their feet together and pushed off, each going in the opposite direction.
“Come on, Buddy!” Julie squealed, “I’ll race you to the far wall. I bet you can’t catch me!”
She took off swimming hard before Budrick realized what was going on and gave chase. He caught up to her and they were neck and neck and coming to the wall very quickly. Julie flipped again and pushed herself off the wall. Budrick never had a swimming lesson in his life, and did not know how to do the flip and kickoff maneuver, so he stopped himself from hitting the wall by putting out his hands. Then he turned around, kicked off and tried to catch up. “You’ll not beat me!” he vowed loudly, his voice echoing in the vast underground chamber.
Mr. Anderson floated up amongst them. “Have you had enough fun?” he asked rhetorically.
“Is there such a thing as too much fun, Mr. Anderson?” Gina asked.
“When it interferes with the task at hand,” he said. “When the dust wears off, we have to catch up with the others. We don’t want to be lost down here.”
Jen glanced down and saw that they were in the very back of the line, which was disappearing into a tunnel on the opposite end from where they entered the cavern. “Can we gather more dust, Daddy?” she asked.
“Stuff your pockets full,” he said. “It has been quite useful so far, and it may give us an advantage when we get to Tole.”
When they got back to the pool, they were dismayed to see that the dust was nearly gone. Apparently everyone who filed past had filled their pockets and purses. “Oh no!” Jen cried. “What will we do?”
“Maybe we can scrape it off the ceiling, if we can gather just enough to get up there,” Julie suggested.
“Maybe there’s another pool around here, somewhere,” Budrick suggested.
“That’s okay,” Mr. Anderson said. “It seems that it has all been gathered. Maybe they will have enough to share when the time comes.”
“Well, if they are going to take all of the fairy dust, we can at least load up on these gemstones,” Jen said, grabbing the largest amethyst she saw, the size of a goose egg. It did not come away from the wall easily, like the others, and she pulled real hard, twisted and wiggled it until it finally came loose. Behind it was a pocket of fairy dust, which started to pour from the wall like sugar, forming a big pile on the floor. The five of them all gathered around and started filling their pockets with as much fairy dust as they could possibly carry.
“How did you know?” Julie asked Jen.
“I didn’t,” Jen shrugged, squeezing the last of it into her back pocket.
“It would seem you have also developed at talent for luck,” Budrick smiled.