Liquic Diamond

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As Catalyst walked through the village, he took note of everything around him, still searching for any clue as to Natalia’s whereabouts as he and Careoshenog headed straight for Krimpet’s cave. Krimpet was the leader of the Basajaunak clan and one of fifty or so Basajaunak that were high enough in their society to have their homes built into the massive rock wall that surrounded more than half the village. Being the leader, he should know better than anyone if someone from his clan had taken Natalia.

Knocking on the door rather loudly, Catalyst was determined that Krimpet should hear him.

“What!” came a gruff old shout from behind the door and Catalyst knew he had got Krimpet’s attention.

With great speed, Krimpet’s foot kicked open the door and sent it smashing into the wall behind.

“Ah, the Krusnik child,” rumbled Krimpet as he stood there towering over Catalyst. He was covered from head to toe in long shaggy yellow and grey hair, reflecting his years. His one broken fang looked just as mean as ever.

“Well, what do you want?” demanded Krimpet, still angered by almost having his door smacked off its hinges by the pounding of Catalyst’s fists.

“It seems I have had my friend taken from me not far from here! And since this is the only village around for more than two days’ walk, I’m betting that one or more of your clan had something to do with it. She’s Human,” replied Catalyst.

Perhaps you’re right. Maybe they did and good riddance, but what does any of it have to do with me, boy?” snapped Krimpet.

Having the hearing that only a true Dark Angel could have, Anastasia dropped out of the sky, grabbed Krimpet by the throat and drove him into his cave and up against the wall, holding him up off the ground.

“I’ll tell you what it has to do with you, Krimpet – it has you on the receiving end of my anger! And I want that child returned to me at once. If so much as a single hair of her head has been harmed, I will harm every single hair on your body!” said Anastasia with her teeth grown out by two inches, her nails by three and her eyes filled with rage, glowing redder than Catalyst had ever seen. Krimpet knew he was in trouble.

“Tell me, Krimpet, where’s the child?” demanded Anastasia, letting go of Krimpet’s neck just long enough for him to get out a few words.

“I...I..don’t…know…hgg...hgg,” gasped Krimpet as he struggled for air.

“But…maybe...I...I...can...find...out,” offered Krimpet as though he was begging for his life, and he was.

“You had better pray you do find out,” hissed Anastasia as she released him.

“ just wait here for a while?” asked Krimpet with fear in his voice, his hands trembling.

“Yes,” replied Catalyst before anyone else could say anything.

“Are you all right, Catalyst?” asked Anastasia, brushing the silver hair out of his eyes as she watched Krimpet leave.

“ really, Mom. Natalia’s missing,” replied Catalyst.

“I know. We’ll get her back, I promise,” said Anastasia to his worried heart.

Growing impatient because it had been twenty minutes since Krimpet left, Anastasia started for the door as Krimpet walked back in.

“Anastasia, now don’t be angry…but no one seems to know who this child is or where she is,” said Krimpet, the fear still in his voice.

“You asked all the villagers?” asked Anastasia.

“Well all that are here anyway. There are three of them out on patrol watching over the flocks in the fields, but those three left last night,” replied Krimpet.

“I want to know where they went. I’ll question them myself, said Anastasia, watching Krimpet’s eyes for any sign of lies.

“They left through the passage beneath the village that leads out to the fields, the entrance of which is just outside,” replied Krimpet as he pointed to the large rock sitting in the middle of the village grounds.

Taking Catalyst by the shoulder and pushing him towards the rock, Anastasia turned to Krimpet and looked him in the eyes.

“One more thing Krimpet…Don’t ever call my son boy! You tired old beast,” sneered Anastasia.

Reaching the rock and pushing open the stone door, Anastasia and Catalyst moved into the tunnels without fear.

“Mom, how does Krimpet know your name?” asked Catalyst. “You only chose it a few days ago.”

I was here yesterday, after I left you and Natalia. I went to see the King and talked with him and the Queen throughout the night about this whole mess. By the way, I’m not impressed with you getting Natalia mixed up in this. Then I came here to see if I could find out anything more about that key you have told him about,” replied Anastasia.

Holding her hand against Catalyst’s chest, she brought him to a stop as she took a few deep sniffs.

“Do you smell that, Catalyst?” asked Anastasia.

“Smell what?” said Catalyst, sniffing the damp air.

“Ten-year-old little girl perfume, that’s what. It’s unmistakable. If she’s not here now, she has been,” replied Anastasia.

“How can you tell? All I can smell is dirt and old water,” asked Catalyst.

“Trust me, it’s Natalia’s perfume. I would recognize that scent anywhere. Only a child would wear something that bad,” replied Anastasia with a smile of relief, having got one step closer to finding her.

“Shush now, listen carefully. Do you hear that?” asked Anastasia.

But being half human, Catalyst’s senses were nowhere near as strong as his mother’s and as he strained to hear the sound all he could do was look at Anastasia and shake his head.

“Trust me, Catalyst. She’s down here somewhere. Just stay quiet so I can follow the sounds,” said Anastasia, straining to make sense of the echoes.

Catalyst followed Anastasia through the maze with tunnels leading this way and that way splitting off endlessly, the sounds of weeping bouncing off every wall. As it grew louder, Anastasia knew she would have to leave Catalyst behind to search it all and find the source of the crying.

“Oh great, which way? With all these tunnels down here we could end up searching for days,” said Catalyst making it that much easier for Anastasia.

“You’re right, so you stay here and wait for me. I can move through all of this a lot faster if I go alone, okay?” replied Anastasia. With the darkness of the dimly lit tunnels being of no consequence to Anastasia, flying through it all was as easy as walking outside during the day. In no time at all she found herself at the door that held Natalia prisoner. She looked through a peephole and there sat Natalia frightened and with tear-stained cheeks.

“Little one,” said Anastasia in a soft voice.

Natalia looked up and a sudden sense of relief filled her heart, knowing Anastasia would save her from the prison she had woken up in.

“Stand back, Natalia. Everything’s going to be just fine now,” said Anastasia.

As Natalia stepped back, Anastasia grew out her nails and slammed them into the door, pulling back the door and letting go as a spike-filled board flew up from the floor smacking Anastasia right in the chest, moving her a whole three inches. Natalia jumped right into Anastasia’s arms without so much as a word.

“Now let’s go and get Catalyst and get out of here,” said Anastasia, speaking more to herself than Natalia.

Sweeping in and grabbing Catalyst, they soon found themselves back outside.

“What happened, Catalyst? Where were you?” asked Natalia as only Natalia could.

“Natalia, by the time I got back to where I left you, you were gone. I searched everywhere I could,” replied Catalyst.

“He really did, and we were on our way to search for you on the other side of these tunnels but as soon as we got in deep enough I could smell your perfume, so keep wearing it, okay, just in case,” said Anastasia with a smile.

“Now, Natalia, Catalyst, I’m going to have to put a scare into the Basajaunak of this village so they won’t bother you any more. Natalia, do you know who it was that brought you here?” asked Anastasia.

“No, I don’t,” replied Natalia.

“Did you see what they looked like? If I brought them here would you recognize them?” asked Anastasia.

“No, all I remember was watching Catalyst leave and then something covering my mouth, then waking up in that room,” replied Natalia.

“Well, you are going to have to be very careful from now on and stay together, okay?” said Anastasia.

“Yes, yep,” replied Natalia and Catalyst.

“Did you hear me, Catalyst? Stay with Natalia at all times. Don’t leave her alone,” said Anastasia in a harsh voice.

“Yes Mom, I heard you,” replied Catalyst, knowing she wasn’t kidding.

“Now there are a few things that I need to see about,” said Anastasia.

“Like what?” asked Catalyst, hoping his Mother would stay just a bit longer.

“Never you mind, boy,” said Anastasia, clearly frustrated.

“What? You just told Krimpet not to call me boy and now you’re doing it,” said Catalyst as he stood there looking at her.

“I’m your mother. I’ll call you whatever I want,” said Anastasia, pushing her finger into his chest to remind him of his place.

With a smile on her face at seeing that, Natalia felt a lot better. Turning with a woosh of her dress, Anastasia slipped back down the tunnels.

“You okay, Natalia?” asked Catalyst.

“I am now, but I was so afraid I would never see you or your Mom ever again and then I was worried I would never see my Mom and Dad ever again. I’ve been here so long already, I really need to get home – my parents are going to be so worried about me,” replied Natalia.

“Natalia, I promise they don’t even know you’re gone. Remember you’re split in two right now – one half here and one half there,” said Catalyst.

“Yeah, I forgot about that. They don’t even know a part of me is missing,” replied Natalia, missing her parents all that much more.

“You had a scary day. You just feel a bit overwhelmed right now and who can blame you? You’ve been stolen and rescued all in one day, so let’s just rest. We’ll have something to eat and when you feel better we’ll move on,” said Catalyst.

They walked out to a tree not far from the village where Natalia sat and rested while Catalyst made them a very late lunch.

“Hey Natalia, you’re supposed to be the one making lunch,” said Catalyst as he handed Natalia a plate and a smile.

Giving Catalyst the evil eye, Natalia took the plate and rested against the tree, putting a piece of fruit against her lip. Before she could even taste it, it fell from her hand and she just sat there staring.

Seeing this, Catalyst stood up, turned, and readied himself to defend her, only to see a spirit gliding by.

“Excuse me, Miss, have you seen anyone suspicious around here today?” asked Catalyst, as though talking to a creature such as this was normal.

“Besides the two of you? No I have not!” snapped the spirit as she changed her face just enough to show the evil that lay within and smiled a smile so vile it was simply grotesque.

“Well no answers there, Natalia, but we’re still going to try and find out who it was that grabbed you,” said Catalyst.

Giving herself a shake, Natalia pulled herself together and started laughing.

“Why are you laughing?” asked Catalyst, happy to see her smiling.

“After the day I’ve had, Catalyst, it’s laugh or cry,” said Natalia simply.

Having eaten and rested long enough, maybe too long, Natalia spoke up.

“Let’s get moving, Catalyst. I can’t sit here any more.”

They headed back to the village to continue their investigation. Catalyst reached into his fitsall and pulled out the used-to-be-a-key piece of metal with only the faintest lines of the carvings still visible.

“We still need to find out who made this while we find out who grabbed you,” said Catalyst, looking at the metal.

“Still? Catalyst, you were here for who knows how long. What happened?” asked Natalia, exhausted by the boy again.

“Pardon me, I was busy trying to find my friend and this key thing was the last thing on my mind,” replied Catalyst, sighing.

“I’ll forgive you this time,” giggled Natalia trying to lighten the mood.

Knocking on every door as they walked through the village, Natalia and Catalyst asked the same question time and time again. “Did you make this key? Do you know who did or might have?” No, no, no was the reply every single time.

Finding themselves at Krimpet’s door, once more the question was asked:

“Did you make this key? Do you know who did or might have?”

“I have made no key nor do I know any Basajaunak that has. The workmanship…I don’t recognize it,” replied Krimpet, this time speaking politely to Catalyst even with the Human child standing there.

Remembering Anastasia’s anger, Krimpet offered to look into it.

“I’ll send for one of our best blacksmiths,” said Krimpet, waving at his servant.

“I thought all your villagers were blacksmiths,” said Natalia.

“Two hundred and ninety seven out of the three hundred that live here are and we have three herdsmen,” replied Krimpet.

“The blacksmith that’s coming now though is our very best and if anyone here can tell you anything about your key, then it’ll be this fellow,” continued Krimpet.

Returning just a few minutes later, the servant brought back the blacksmith.

“Ah, here he is now, children. This is Gobstank, our very best,” said Krimpet.

“Gobstank sir, do you recognize this key or know who might have made it?” asked Catalyst, handing the used-to-be-a-key piece of metal to the very large and very scary Basajaunak.

Natalia laughed as everyone looked at her and wondered why she was laughing. Before anyone could ask, Natalia said, “No reason.” She didn’t want to tell them she was laughing at the blacksmith’s name.

Taking the key from Catalyst, Gobstank began to examine it as screams came from outside Krimpet’s cave, capturing everyone’s attention.

They looked out to see what was going on. The screams grew louder and more horrible as two huge Basajaunak came flying through the door of Krimpet’s cave.

“Do you recognize these two as the ones that grabbed you, Natalia?” asked Anastasia standing in the doorway.

“No,” was all Natalia could say.

“Trust me, little one, they are the ones. They have your perfume all over them,” said Anastasia.

“Gobstank, lock these two Basajaunak up,” said Krimpet in hopes of curbing Anastasia’s anger.

“Wait! I need to know why,” said Natalia.

Looking up at both Krimpet and Gobstank, one of the Basajaunak began to speak.

“You both know as well as we do, the Humans have done so much harm here, coming first as friends and then as enemies, robbing the people of this world, pillaging the villages for what they wanted, killing whoever they wanted to or needed to just to satisfy their greed. That’s why the portal was locked down to begin with,” argued the Basajaunak.

“This Human needs to be held accountable for the crimes of her people and shown as an example to those would follow her – that we are willing to wage war to keep our peace,” said the first Basajaunak.

Much to the surprise of Anastasia, Gobstank grabbed the first and very much larger Basajaunak and slammed him into the wall. Holding up the “key” Gobstank shoved it into his face, making sure he could see it well.

“It would seem the portal was opened from our side and since you have so much to say about this, tell me why a child should pay for something that happened two hundred years before she was born?” demanded Gobstank.

“Two hundred and fifty five years,” said Catalyst, in Natalia’s defence.

“Why would our people open the portal and invite destruction upon ourselves?” demanded the Basajaunak.

“That’s the question now isn’t it?” replied Gobstank, releasing the Basajaunak’s neck.

“Lock them up, Gobstank, until we decide what to do with them. They’re to be left alone,” ordered Krimpet.

“Wait Gobstank, the key, who made it?” begged Natalia.

Smacking the key against the wall, Gobstank was grabbed by Anastasia who held his arm tightly. Gobstank dropped to his knees in pain.

If you ruin or destroy that key, we’ll never be able to find out who made it and if we can’t find that out we won’t be able to lock the portal again! You wouldn’t want that, would you?” asked Anastasia.

“No, I wouldn’t,” replied Gobstank, looking at Anastasia with a soft glow in his eyes. Everyone there could see he liked her and the sound of his voice told them he wasn’t lying to her. Catalyst smiled at Natalia after seeing that and Natalia took two steps back.

“Why are you looking at me like that, Catalyst?” asked Natalia.

“Like what? I just thought it was funny,” replied Catalyst, trying to explain himself and feeling all red-faced about it.

“Now what about the key?” asked Catalyst, trying to change the subject back to normal as Anastasia let go of Gobstank.

Rising to his feet, Gobstank started to explain his actions.

“By smacking this thing against the wall, I was only trying to knock the crust off that has grown over the metal. See, the metal that this key is made from is called plastite and it needs to be soaked in trillium oil. This metal has been soaked and until it is soaked once more, it will always crust over like this,” said Gobstank.

“You mean rust over, don’t you?” asked Natalia.

“No, I mean crust over. Rust is what happens to normal metals; crust is what happens to plastite. It’s as though this metal is alive. You can use it for a day or so once you shape it, even without the oil, but it will always crust back over,” replied Gobstank, handing back the key.

“That’s why it was left in the portal cave. Whoever opened it must have known that, and thought the key was now useless,” said Anastasia.

“Yes and if they believed that to be true, why not just leave it behind?” said Krimpet in agreement with Anastasia.

“Who made it, Gobstank?” asked Anastasia.

“The work on this metal is very detailed. There could be only one Basajaunak capable of such work. You need to find Miss Turr,” replied Gobstank as he handed back the key.

“Okay, where do we find him?” asked Natalia.

“Miss Turr is a woman Basajaunak,” replied Gobstank with a smile.

“Mister is a woman?” giggled Natalia.

“What’s so funny?” asked Catalyst.

“At home we call men mister and here you call women mister. It’s funny,” replied Natalia still smiling.

“Little one, her name isn’t mister, but Miss Turr,” explained Anastasia, knowing exactly what Natalia was talking about.

“From the sound of that laugh, someone’s tired,” said Krimpet and Anastasia nodded in agreement.

“Okay Gobstank, lock them up. Anastasia, children, you’re welcome to stay for a late dinner,” offered Gobstank.

“Not me but thanks anyway. You two stay here in the village. You can carry on from here tomorrow,” said Anastasia, looking at Natalia and Catalyst.

“In the village? Nonsense! They can stay here with me tonight,” said Krimpet to ease Anastasia’s tension with him.

“That’ll be just fine,” said Anastasia accepting the peace offered by Krimpet.

“Okay you two, I’ll be on my way now.” With that, Anastasia stepped outside and drifted off into the night sky.

“Where do we find Miss Turr?” asked Natalia as the three of them sat down for dinner.

“You just can’t help yourself can you?” said Catalyst, shaking his head and smiling as he gestured in resignation.

“Well because of Miss Turr’s skills as a blacksmith, she often travels from village to village as requested. But don’t worry about that for tonight, children. Just get some sleep and in the morning I will make some inquiries as to her whereabouts. Someone around here should know,” replied Krimpet.

After showing Catalyst and Natalia their rooms, Krimpet called for his servant to find Ompst and bring him back.

“You wished to see me, Krimpet?” said Ompst sneaking up on him.

“Ah, Ompst, you’ll give me a heart attack one day! Yes I wish to see you. I have a job for you. I want you to find and bring back an Atropos Styx and, Ompst, make it a strong one,” said Krimpet.

“At this time of night? Just so you know, I won’t be back until the morning then,” replied Ompst as he walked out of the door.

As the sun rose the next morning, Natalia lay sleeping. After the day before no one could blame her so no one woke her.

When she finally woke, Natalia found lunch on the table. She joined Catalyst and Krimpet and ate more than her fair share, which again bothered no one.

A knock on Krimpet’s door made them look up as Ompst walked in.

“The item you requested,” said Ompst to Krimpet as he handed him a black jar. He turned his face away from the Human, leaving as quickly as he came.

“It’s good to be in charge,” said Krimpet, smiling smugly.

After they had finished lunch, Krimpet picked up the jar, took a quick peek inside and sat back down.

“Natalia, Catalyst, I have something very rare and very valuable for you, something I hope makes your journey a little safer,” said Krimpet as he handed the jar to Natalia.

“But don’t open it now, for in that jar is an Atropos Styx, and I would hate to have my home destroyed,” said Krimpet.

“What’s an Atropos Styx?” asked Natalia.

“The Atropos Styx is a Death Head Moth. Its screams are so loud they can make someone go deaf very quickly. They can cause dizziness and if left long enough, death itself. Just shake the jar hard, take off the lid and point, and since the two of you have to cross the plain to get to the next village I thought this would come in handy,” replied Krimpet.

“Yeah, but if we go through the woods, we have the protection of the trees,” said Catalyst.

“Catalyst, use the plain. If you take the right path, you’ll cut one full day off your walk,” said Krimpet. “Now after speaking with the Basajaunak around here, I’ve found out that Miss Turr’s first stop is the next village, so the information you seek will be found there,” continued Krimpet.

“What are we supposed to do with this moth?” asked Natalia.

Whichever way you decide to go, those vile little Cockatrice are sure to be about, so shake and point and, Catalyst, make sure your mother knows I gave that to you, that’s a good boy,” said Krimpet trying to sound like a hero.

Catalyst knew right away that Krimpet was only trying to suck up to his mother, most likely out of fear. Seeing Gobstank on his knees like that yesterday and feeling the smack of the wall on his back must have had Krimpet thinking about future dealings with her.

“Well, Krimpet, thanks for letting us stay the night,” said Catalyst as he tucked the key and black jar into his fitsall.

“Yes, Krimpet, thank you,” said Natalia as they headed out to search for Miss Turr.

“Ah, children, do you even know which path to take to find her?” asked Krimpet, because he knew he hadn’t told them.

Feeling silly for just wanting to get away from him so quickly, neither of them realized they had no idea they were going.

“No, we’re just in such a hurry to find her that knowing which way to go never crossed my mind,” replied Catalyst.

“An adventurer – good for you, my boy. Head out of the gate and straight over the hill until you come to the split, take the path that runs alongside the woods on the edge of the plain,” said Krimpet.

“Okay, thanks again,” said Catalyst, taking Natalia by the hand and walking her out of there as fast as he could.

They went up and over the hill and took the right split. Natalia needed answers about what the Basajaunak had said about the history between their worlds.

“Catalyst, my people – did they really do all those things those two Basajaunak said they did?” asked Natalia.

“As I understand it, yes they did. Things between our worlds were never the same after they created something called a musket. At least that’s what my Mom tells me,” replied Catalyst.

“Well, your mother wouldn’t lie, so it must be true,” said Natalia.

“But all this happened before I was born by at least ninety-seven years,” said Catalyst.

“When were you born?” asked Natalia.

“July 4th, 1797,” replied Catalyst.

“How is it that you use a calendar just like the one my world uses?” asked Natalia.

Not everything the Humans brought here or did here was bad, Natalia. Some of it was good,” replied Catalyst.

“But we did have something to do with the warring between our worlds though. After all it was us that gave Humankind the design for the arquebus and from what I’m told this musket thing was the next step taken to improve it and after its improvement, that’s when invasions become commonplace. That’s when the decision was made to lock down the portal from our world to yours,” said Catalyst.

“Why would your people choose to open it back up?” asked Natalia.

“I don’t know, but let’s hope that we find that out when we find the crystals and stop whatever’s going to happen and stop the portal from ever being opened again,” replied Catalyst.

“How long was the portal open for? I mean this time,” asked Natalia.

“Only a few days, I think. When we met, I was there because I wanted to see what the portal looked like. It was sealed forty-one years before I was born,” replied Catalyst.

“But you told me you had orders to take me to the King,” said Natalia.

“The order was to take anyone that came through the portal to the King and everyone here in Kyopelivuori had that order, so you could have been anyone really. If it hadn’t been for the guard needing to do whatever it was that he needed to do, then you would have been in front of the King by his hand not mine. It just happened to be me standing there when you came through,” said Catalyst.

With her eyes on the sky watching the Cockatrice above and ready to put on her glasses at a second’s notice, Natalia left the trees for Catalyst to watch as they walked in silence for a while.

“Hey, Natalia, eyes down here,” said Catalyst with a small nudge as they approached the woods.

“Ah! Those things are just so vile,” said Natalia cringing.

“Well, being Krusnik, they’ve never really bothered me. They must not like the taste,” giggled Catalyst, trying to annoy Natalia.

“Not to worry though, Natalia. If they come, I’m here,” said Catalyst as he took Natalia by the hand and led her into the woods. From the sweat on her hand Catalyst could tell Natalia was a bit nervous, but at the same time “Oh so brave, thought Catalyst. Not once did she squeeze harder than she had to. Catalyst was impressed by her strength of character.

“Sh! Do you hear that, Catalyst?” whispered Natalia.

“About one minute ago, but I’m not sure what it is,” whispered Catalyst as Natalia squeezed his hand just a bit harder. As they stopped to listen, Natalia looked behind them.

Stepping out from behind a tree blocking their path stood a tired, wrinkled, dirty old Elf with a long sharp nose and a half-bald head with wisps of loose hair across the top. His odour was almost enough to make them throw up.

There, standing by the Elf, was a creature four feet tall with no head, its eyes in its chest where its pecks should be and a mouth that ran lengthways where its stomach should be with its smell worse than that of the Elf. Watching it breathe, Natalia and Catalyst could see the pouches lining the inside of its cheeks were filled with rotting flesh and the stench filled the air with every exhale.

Knowing they had to run, Catalyst looked for a direction as the Elf approached Natalia, wiping the drool from his chin and sniffing the air around her.

“What do you want?” asked Catalyst, looking at the creepy old Elf and moving Natalia out of the way as the Elf tried to grab her wrist.

“Dinner is what I want,” cackled the Elf, licking his lips. “Now why don’t the two of you come with me and my pet like good little children,” he said, grabbing Natalia by the arm.

“Why? What are you going to do with us?” asked Natalia, now very afraid.

“Like I said, child, I want dinner and the two of you will do just fine to feed my pet and me. See, we haven’t had fresh meat in quite some time,” replied the Elf enjoying the fear in their eyes.

Hoping he could outrun the Elf and his pet, Catalyst grabbed Natalia by the hand and pulled her free of the Elf’s grip. With Natalia in tow, Catalyst bolted for the freedom of the trees as he tried zigzagging his way to the other side of the woods.

The Elf and his pet were right on their heels. Catalyst knew they would not give up fresh meat so easily.

“Run, Natalia, run!” screamed Catalyst.

“I am!” cried Natalia, doing her best to keep up to Catalyst and save her life.

Looking for a way out, Catalyst could only see one tree after another. He knew Natalia couldn’t keep this pace up so they needed a place to hide. As the trees grew thicker, Catalyst could hear the footsteps of the Elf and his pet dropping further and further behind. Pulling Natalia behind him as hard as he could, Catalyst turned to the right and ducked behind a huge tree in hopes that they would now be out of sight of the Elf and his pet.

Covering their mouths to mask the sound of their breathing, Natalia and Catalyst kept perfectly still as they waited to make sure they had lost their hunters.

Staring at each other, their eyes widened as they looked over one another’s shoulders. Natalia looked into the eyes of the Elf and Catalyst was looking into the eyes of the Elf’s pet. This creature had to be the Blemmye. With a surge of adrenaline pumping through their bodies as never before, Catalyst took Natalia by the hand and they ran as fast as they could.

With Natalia and the Blemmye running to his left and the Elf on his right, Catalyst could feel the Elf’s nails graze his arm and tear his skin. He watched the blood from his wound fly past as he pulled Natalia out of the grasp of the Blemmye.

With his blood spattering against the trees and falling on the ground, Catalyst could hear the Blemmye come to a stop and lick up the blood left behind.

This left only the Elf to deal with, so getting out of the chase seemed like a real possibility.

Hearing waterfalls off in the distance, Catalyst knew where they were and headed straight for them, hoping the Elf would be lost in the water.

Now running just a little behind Catalyst and seeing the fitsall Natalia remembered why Krimpet had given them the Atropos Styx.

Reaching into the fitsall as they ran, Natalia pulled out the black jar, and gave it a good shake. Taking the lid off the jar, Natalia pointed it behind them waving it about blindly, hoping to hit the Elf with the moth’s scream just long enough to slow him down for a second or two.

The scream launched a sound wave and Natalia and Catalyst could hear the sound of a back cracking as the Elf hit a tree and the oomph of a body dropping to the ground as the Elf was brought to a stop.

Still running toward the sound of falling water, Catalyst wouldn’t stop until they got there. Natalia was right behind him. At the water’s edge Natalia grabbed Catalyst by the hand and jumped in, swimming as hard as they could until they reached the other side.

“ like that…nothing wrong…with...with a quick bath,” gasped Catalyst, being very pleased with himself for having outrun the Elf and the Blemmye.

“This boy’s nuts,” thought Natalia as she just nodded in agreement and said nothing, knowing how easily some boys’ egos are shattered.

“Well since you’re already soaked, Catalyst, why not get that cut cleaned up?” said Natalia, tearing a piece off her sleeve and handing it to him.

Dipping the cloth into the water, Catalyst could see the Elf and Blemmye now standing a few feet back from the shoreline on the other side of the river.

“Look, Natalia, our friends...they’re back,” said Catalyst pointing across the river.

“Why are they just standing there? Aw, don’t they look hungry…well eat this!” yelled Natalia, throwing a rock and hitting the Elf right on the head.

“She’s mad now!” yelled Catalyst at the Elf as he shrugged his shoulders.

With his fists squeezed tight and a look of hatred on his face, the Elf raged inside for not having caught such easy prey. Having better eyesight than Natalia, Catalyst could see the blood the Elf licked off his fingers. It was the blood that came from his arm. He knew this wasn’t over yet. The hunger in the Elf’s eyes was not going to be satisfied by a few drops of blood.

Not wanting to frighten Natalia, Catalyst decided it best not to tell her what he’d thought.

“Look there, Catalyst – the end of the forest. We’re so close,” said Natalia.

“Natalia, let’s just rest here for a while,” said Catalyst, hoping the Elf and Blemmye would tire and go and find someone else to eat.

“What is that thing?” asked Natalia, pointing to their hunters.

“Which one?” replied Catalyst.

“That thing with no head,” said Natalia.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen one, but that’s definitely an Anthropophagi. We call them Blemmyes. They’re evil, they’re dangerous and they’ll eat anything fresh or rotten. They're more cannibal and scavenger than anything else and I’m not going to tell you how they’re born,” replied Catalyst with a look of repulsion on his face.

“Why not?” asked Natalia.

“Trust me, Natalia, you’re better off not knowing,” replied Catalyst.

“So they’ll eat anything?” asked Natalia

“Yep,” replied Catalyst.

“Well, I don’t know if you noticed, but that Elf is not on the menu,” said Natalia.

“The Elves are very good with elixirs. If the creature is simple-minded enough –mind control as well. Since the Elf called the Blemmye his pet, one way or the other the Elf is his master,” replied Catalyst.

“Even in my worst nightmare I have never seen anything so gross. And that stench! I’m still feeling sick from that,” said Natalia.

“I think it’s the flesh they eat. Not only does it rot in their mouths and pouches but I’m sure it seeps from their skin as well, just like snakes,” replied Catalyst.

“The Elf Kingdom is out of phase right now and won’t be in phase for another three years. That’s when the Transitional Moon Phase takes place for them. He shouldn’t be able to touch us to have us for dinner,” said Catalyst as he watched the Elf pace back and forth.

“Well if he’s in your Kingdom, Catalyst, then maybe he has something to do with the crystals being taken,” said Natalia.

Natalia could see Catalyst’s heart drop, followed by the feeling that they would meet this Elf again.

“Maybe he does have something to do with it, Natalia, but right now we need to find Miss Turr and ask if she was the one that made this key, and if she did, for whom,” said Catalyst.

“Let’s follow this river downstream and when we’re clear of the trees, we’ll try crossing,” continued Catalyst.

“Good! I was not looking forward to crossing back over from here,” said Natalia.

The Elf and the Blemmye on the opposite side of the river walked step for step with Natalia and Catalyst. Natalia could see faint movements in the water as the smallest ripples caught her eye. The shadow of what caused the ripples was too deep to see what it was.

“Ah, Catalyst…I think that thing is following us too,” said Natalia, pointing to the blurred image moving through the water.

“I’m sure it is,” replied Catalyst without so much as a glance.

“What’s with this place? Everything is either trying to kidnap us, eat us or stalk us,” asked Natalia.

“This can be a very dangerous land to be in and we’re far from the safety of the villages, Kingdoms and people, so whatever is out here, I’m sure it’ll find us at some point,” replied Catalyst.

“Why would anyone send two kids out here on their own? What kind of King do you have, Catalyst?” demanded Natalia, sounding as fed up as Catalyst felt.

“The kind of King that gave us a chance to save your life and maybe even mine,” replied Catalyst, trying to put a hop back in his step.

“But I’m sure he knows Mother would kill him if he hurt me and now you too,” continued Catalyst smiling.

“You know, Natalia, considering who Mother is and what she could do, it’s kind of nice to be treated the same way as you,” said Catalyst, putting a smile on Natalia’s face as he reminded her she wasn’t alone.

As they got closer to the next Basajaunak village, the Elf and his Blemmye faded into the background, taking off through the grass, scurrying ahead of their prey. As the Elf and his pet crept around the outskirts of the village, the stench was noticeable and, with a few sniffs of the air, the old Basajaunak knew who and what was behind him.

“You may as well come out,” said the old Basajaunak, spitting the stench off his tongue.

“You owe me and I’m here to collect,” said the Elf, demanding to be repaid for past favours.

“Well take a look around. Take whatever you want and go,” replied the old Basajaunak.

“I don’t want any of this, oh no, my old friend, I want something that won’t cost you a thing,” said the Elf.

“I’m not your friend. What do you want so I can get rid of you and your walking pile of vomit?” said the old Basajaunak.

“Okay, fair enough. Do this one thing and I’ll consider your debt to me paid in full, agreed?” asked the Elf.

“Agreed,” replied the old Basajaunak, knowing that no matter what it was, it was a bad deal.

“There are two children coming this way and when they get here...” whispered the Elf. “Is that clear?”

“That’s all I have to do?” asked the old Basajaunak.

“Do that and all your dept is paid,” replied the Elf.

“Done!” said the Basajaunak.

With the trees left far behind neither Natalia nor Catalyst noticed that the Elf and Blemmye had disappeared.

“Hey Natalia, look! Do you see that?” asked Catalyst, pointing over the river.

“See what? There’s nothing there,” replied Natalia.

“That’s right. Nothing. No Elf, no Blemmye but there is that thing in the water. It’s still following us,” said Catalyst.

“How are we going to cross now?” asked Natalia with a sigh.

“All right I’ve got an idea. How’s this? My legs are pretty strong, so you climb up on my back and I’ll jump as high as I can and kick off from the face of that boulder over there. Then we’ll see if we can’t make it to the other side of the river,” said Catalyst.

Natalia laughed as she looked at Catalyst’s scrawny little chicken legs.

“Well, I can always throw this rock upstream and maybe that thing in the water will go after it. Then we can try swimming across before it comes back,” said Catalyst feeling uncomfortable that Natalia was laughing at him.

“Now why not just say that first?” asked Natalia, grinning from ear to ear.

“I didn’t think you would go for it, so I thought if I offered insane first, then crazy might not seem so bad. You know – the lesser of two evils,” replied Catalyst.

“Well haven’t I just been had! I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” replied Natalia, feeling as silly as she had made Catalyst feel.

With a rock the size and shape of a grapefruit, Catalyst wound up with all he had and threw it as far upstream as he could. It landed with a thump and sent a ripple across the gently moving stream. The shadow that lay underneath moved towards it.

Running as fast as she could, Natalia dived in, leaving Catalyst behind, so she would get him back for making her feel silly.

Diving right in behind her, Catalyst knew he could easily beat her to the other side. He heard a sound in the water and got as close to Natalia as he could. He readied himself to throw her ahead of him should the creature reach them before they reached the shore.

“Faster Natalia! It’s coming back,” yelled Catalyst.

Hearing the sound, Natalia swam as hard and as fast as she could, knowing Catalyst could easily leave her behind. Reaching the shore, Natalia and Catalyst pulled themselves up and through the mud on to dry ground. The Elf and Blemmye were nowhere to be seen, so they had time to rest.

“So much for the bath,” said Natalia smiling excitedly and covered in mud.

“Well you could always jump back in,” gasped Catalyst, as he pointed to the ripples in the water.

“Maybe we should wait until we get to the next village,” said Natalia, not wanting to go anywhere near the water.

“Don’t be silly, children,” came a voice from behind them, sending chills up and down their spines.

“It’s perfectly safe for the two of you. The Elf and Blemmye stopped following you long ago,” continued the voice. Turning around with a look of fear on their faces, Natalia and Catalyst found themselves face to face with a Basajaunak. They hoped he might be from the village they were heading to, so relief set in and wiped away the worry.

“Ah! Thank God, finally a friendly face,” said Natalia.

“Well that’s a first – other than from another Basajaunak! Who might you two be?” he asked.

“I’m Natalia and this is Catalyst, and you, sir? Who are you?” asked Natalia.

“I’m Domnyar. I live and work in the village just over that hill,” replied Domnyar, pointing over his shoulder.

“Well come on, let’s get you two down to the river and wash that muck off before you start to stink and end up smelling like that stuff for a week,” continued Domnyar.

“But that thing in the water,” said Natalia with fear.

“That thing, as you call it, saved your life twice now by my count,” replied Domnyar.

“It won’t hurt either of you, but let that Blemmye or Elf get close enough to it and there’s its next meal,” continued Domnyar, ushering them back to the shoreline.

“That’s a Riverfray, harmless enough to most, but let something that stinks as much as that Blemmye and the Elf and to them it’s like a piece of pie, mmm, good,” replied Domnyar with a squished up face and his tongue sticking out.

“But I suppose every living thing has to eat something. Now hurry up, children, before you being to smell so awful you smell good,” continued Domnyar, making Natalia and Catalyst smile at his endless babble.

“What are two little children like yourselves doing out here all alone?” asked Domnyar.

“We’re looking for Miss Turr. She’s a blacksmith and a Basajaunak and she’s supposed to have come this village for her work and we really need her to tell us who made a key,” replied Natalia so fast that if it had been a competition to see who could babble more and faster, Domyar would have lost.

“I know Miss Turr, a lovelier creature I’ve never seen…and you missed her by one day,” replied Domnyar with a big smile on his face.

“Now what’ll we do?” asked Natalia looking at Catalyst.

“Well since you’re looking for Miss Turr and you’re one day behind her, why not stay at our village for the night? You can go after her in the morning, unless you feel safe out there with that nasty old Elf and his Blemmye running around,” offered Domnyar.

Without so much as a single look at Catalyst, Natalia was only too happy to accept Domnyar’s offer.

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