Josh led the kids down the base of the mountain to the outskirts of the town. It looked like any other town. Some of the houses were brick; some had aluminum siding. They could see the steeple of a church and paved, flat roads. There were no cars, Josh assumed, because the town was too small to need cars. Several buildings had signs indicating restaurants or stores. The roads only reached about twenty yards outside of the town limits.
Josh looked back to see no sign of the giant drone, so he led his friends at a brisk walk toward the town. He found Luna’s hand as they went along while Check and Alice spoke in hushed voices about their daring fight with Ani. Everything seemed good for the moment. Josh’s hand felt absolutely perfect in Luna’s hand. They’d escaped the giant drone and managed to find something seemingly helpful.
But then people began shuffling out of the buildings of the town. Men, women, and children appeared, walking to the edge of the roads. Everyone stood and watched the approach of the four young glyph writers. A tall, elderly man stood at the front of the townspeople, his small eyeglasses perched immovably on the tip of his nose. He looked pleased to see them, yet completely disinterested in helping anybody not of his town.
Josh and his friends stopped about ten feet from the edge of the road. Alice waved, coaxing a few polite gestures from several children.
“Who are you?” asked the man.
“We’re glyph writers,” Josh announced. “We’ve come from Yadwiga Mansion where we were attacked.”
The man’s eyes grew wide. “Did you say Yadwiga Mansion? Does that mean you know Lee?”
Josh nodded. “Yes. He protected us for a long time. But he’s been captured.”
“Who captured him? Please tell me it is not Anidibikad, is it?”
“Yes, actually. You know both of them. You must be glyph writers. Will you help us? We’re trying to get out of this rift space.”
“How did you get here in the first place?” the man asked.
Luna spoke up. “Lee had given me a meadow on the other side of that mountain. It was my place. I didn’t know it was only a corner of a larger space. We ran from a drone that Ani set on us.”
Women and children began screaming at the mention of a drone. Every one of the townspeople aside from the old man and a few other men fled into their homes.
“Did I say something wrong?”
The old man shook his head. “We live in this rift space specifically to stay away from Ani’s drones.”
“Oh no,” Josh said. “Should we go back and fight him off?”
“No, no. It’s quite all right. Two of the bloodlines in this town are direct from the elders of old. We have enough power together to keep drones out of city limits.”
“Oh, okay. Well, would you mind letting us stay here for the night?” Josh asked. “We’ve been through a lot and would love a good night sleep.”
The old man looked suddenly uncomfortable. “Well, young one, we would offer you our hospitality, however, one of you may not enter the town.”
Check stepped forward angrily. “What? Why not? We’re all glyph writers.”
“Not all of you,” the man went on. He pointed directly at Luna. “She is a drone.”
Luna gasped and turned away. Josh caught a glimpse of the tears brimming in her beautiful eyes.
“What’s your problem!” Check shouted.
The man shook his head. “I am sorry, young ones. Our protective glyphs keep drones out of the town. Even if we wanted to let her in, she would not be able to pass the threshold.”
“This is total crap!” Check went on. “Don’t you look out for your own?”
“We simply cannot allow her passage. If we let the glyphs down, it would take us too long to put them back up. And we could be attacked in that time.”
Check growled. “Whatever!” He turned to Josh. “We don’t need them. Let’s go into the woods over there and set up a camp.”
Josh didn’t like the idea of being outside of an obviously useful protective town. But he also couldn’t even consider for a second leaving Luna outside of the town alone. That wasn’t something he’d be willing to compromise. Ever.
He regarded the old man again. “We’re not going to keep bothering you,” he said diplomatically. “We’ll camp in the forest for the night. But in the morning, will you help us get out of this rift space? We need to be in the real world.”
“Certainly,” the man said. “I am sorry we cannot allow all of you in. I don’t like the idea of leaving children alone at night in the forest. But this rift space is very safe. I hope that drone doesn’t show up, the one you said was chasing you. When you come back in the morning, ask for me. My name is Gerald. I’m the elder here in Nipawset.”
Josh nodded. “I will. Goodbye for now.”
He led his friends away from Nipawset wondering what Luna thought about the whole situation. Just the mention of her being tattooed like a drone had made her cry. He thought he might talk to her about it once they had camp set up.
The entire construction of camp took Alice about fifteen minutes using a few conjuration glyphs. When she finished, they each had their own tent, sleeping bag, pillows, and chair encircling the fire.
“Something’s been on my mind since we left the mansion,” Alice said. She had conjured a plate of dinner for each of them with a cheeseburger, French fries, and a milkshake.
“What’s that?” Luna replied before taking a huge bite of her burger. “Ooo, this is good.”
“Thanks. I was wondering where you transported my family, Josh.”
The thought had slipped Josh’s mind in all the commotion. He pulled the milkshake straw from his mouth and coughed. “Um…let me think.”
“I said let me think. It’ll come to me.” Josh munched on a few French fries to build the suspense and then he smiled. “I don’t know where your farm is. But I have been through New Jersey with my parents going to the beach, so I sent them to one of the peach farms I’ve seen in New Jersey. They should be able to get home from there.”
Seeming surprised, Alice nodded. “Good thinking,” she said.
“I hope that Gerald guy can help us,” Check commented. After he finished his food, he stood up and stretched. “I haven’t been running in a while. I think I’m going to go out for like an hour.”
“You are out,” Alice noted.
“Out of the camp, duh. I’ll be back.” With that, Check drew the Morph Glyph in the air and walked through it, blurring into a black panther. He licked Alice’s hand affectionately and then loped out of camp.
Alice looked at Luna. “Do you know anything about Nipawset?” she asked.
Luna nodded. “I did see some truths while we were there,” she began. “Um…it must be an old town. As far as I know, the Dimensioneers stopped selling rift spaces for colonizing a long time ago. Nipawset means ‘moon’ in a Native American language. I suspect Lee and Ani have ties to the town. Ani must have done something aggressive against them. Otherwise they wouldn’t be using the protection glyphs.”
Josh nodded. “Definitely. I wonder how difficult it’ll be to get out of this rift space.”
“I wonder how the Dimensioneers will help us in the end,” Luna added. “I know they have something to do with our survival. I met one once. When Lee installed the hallway in the mansion for me with this rift space, a Dimensioneer came to the mansion to sell Lee the glyph. He wasn’t a very nice man. Very tall, thin, wore a black suit and bowtie and top hat. He was really weird. He carried a glass orb with him. He held onto it like it was his life.”
Josh nodded interestedly. “That’s neat. I’d like to see one.”
Luna shrugged. “I said he wasn’t very nice. I can’t imagine they’d be much help. Unless there are nice Dimensioneers somewhere.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Alice stated. “We’ve got different problems right now. Lee told us to go to the snow. At least that’s what we think he told us. But the only way to the snow is with the glove he gave to our parents.”
“You’re right,” Josh said. “So when we get out of here, I’ll transport us to my house. Maybe my parents left the glove in the basement.”
“Let’s hope so.”
They sat together for a little while longer before agreeing they needed to get some sleep. Before Check returned, all three of them had settled down into their tents.
Luna lied on her back, staring at the inside of her tent. She’d turned sixteen that day, and felt like a woman now. Though she didn’t really know what that meant. As the oldest of the group, she definitely had a sense of leadership gnawing at her, but she knew that Josh was the leader. He had shown so much selflessness and intelligence that the rest of them just deferred to him naturally. Luna didn’t mind. She liked being the muscle. She needed to be smarter though. When she attacked Ani in the mansion it had been because he was about to attack Josh. The sight set a fuse within her. She attacked out of anger instead of logic. She could have done better.
The thought had occurred to her a couple times over the past year or so to ask one of her friends to tattoo more glyphs onto her to make her stronger. It was a horrid thought, one that frightened her just letting it drift into her mind for a moment. She hated her tattoos despite Josh’s constant assurance that she was quite beautiful. She didn’t believe it. How could she?
What made her hate herself even more was the truth she saw in Josh. Seeing their wedding day so many years in the future made the fact that she was hideous just too much to bare. She almost felt like she should run. She should stay away from Josh forever just so he wouldn’t have to go through the horrors of having her in his life. Of course, that is if he doesn’t die first.
Sadly, Luna took the enchanted washcloth out of her backpack and slowly wiped the glyphs off of her skin. For a few minutes, she lay peacefully until sleep overtook her.
In the morning, the children didn’t have time to even pack up the camp. They all ran out of the forest toward Nipawset to find a horde of drones led by the Thief and Ani himself marching out of the mountain toward the town.
“Oh my god,” Luna breathed.
“This is our fault,” Alice put in raggedly.
Check growled, already in his panther form.
“We should do something, right?” Josh asked nervously. It was not lost on him the obvious fact that most of the drones Ani led were gigantic like that one that had chased them. But Alice was right. They had basically shown Ani the way to Nipawset. Gerald had probably been trying to keep Ani away for decades, centuries even.
“Of course,” Luna stated. “We’re the only ones who can fight Ani.”
“There are a ton of huge drones though,” Alice whimpered. “How do we fight them? You can’t transport anyone out of rift space. Luna and Check aren’t strong enough.”
Josh shook his head. “We need to be smarter. I can’t transport, but Check can injure them as much as possible. Luna can too. Alice, I think you’re the key to this fight. You can conjure anything.”
“Not anything,” she retorted.
“Alice, we have all the faith in the world in you,” Josh assured her. “You can conjure whatever we need.”
Alice took a deep breath. “Okay. I can do it.”
“So, Luna and Check lead the charge. Alice and I will make a break for the town. The drones won’t be able to get in. And I’m assuming Ani can’t either. We’ll get the information we need from Gerald and then we’ll scram.”
“That’s a good plan,” Luna said. “If we can escape this rift space, we should be fine. Then you can transport us far away from Ani if he follows.”
“Let’s do this,” Luna growled, and they took off at a run.