Liquic Diamond

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Chapter 3: THE DEAD WOOD

Arriving at Domnyar’s village, Catalyst went to seek supplies, having soaked all their food in the water while escaping the Elf and his pet. Natalia went with Domnyar to his hut to make dinner for them all.

“Tell me, Natalia, I get the feeling there’s more to your being here than just trying to find Miss Turr about a key. What is it? You never know, I may be able to help,” said Domnyar as he began to set the table and make their meal.

They explained about the crystals and how she and Catalyst now believed the portal was opened to start a war with Humanity again. Domnyar just sat listening in disbelief.

“Well, Natalia, I really hope you two are wrong. I can remember the wars and it was awful – the killings, the hate, the fear – and it was just over things that for the smallest price we would happily have sold to your people,” said Domnyar.

“Well it’s not just us that think so and so does your King. At least that’s my impression. Now I know more about what’s going on, and a few Basajaunak think so too, so much so they kidnapped me,” replied Natalia to Domnyar’s fear.

“Speaking of us, where’s Catalyst? I’m getting hungry,” said Natalia.

“I wouldn’t worry about him right now, Natalia. Trading with some of those that live here can be very trying at times. Greed is one thing we learned from the Humans that used to come here. Some of us learned it too well. They’re probably taking him for as much as they can get, but no reason to wait. He can eat when he gets here, so eat,” said Domnyar, pushing a plate in front of her.

Catalyst was very surprised by the generosity of the old trader.

“Now here’s something – a tool so versatile you can hunt with it, fish with it, you can use it as a rope and it’s also a great defensive weapon. This is a rope dart and for a price I’ll even show you how to use it,” said the old trader, spinning round and then kicking the dart into a block of wood, trying to entice Catalyst into the purchase.

Catalyst saw the value of having something like that and he grew excited as he looked at the rope dart. The old trader could see it in his face.

“What do you want for it?” asked Catalyst, reaching into his pocket for the four pieces of emergency gold he always carried.

“First things first, my boy. Let’s see if you can handle such a manly piece of art and craftsmanship,” said the old trader as he took Catalyst outside to try the rope dart. With only the minimal amount of damage, Catalyst almost mastered the tool.

“So I take it you’re happy, then?” asked the old trader, watching the look in Catalyst’s eyes.

“Oh yes, very happy,” replied Catalyst, reaching for his pocket.

“Okay then, now let’s talk price,” said the old trader, still watching Catalyst.

“You look like an honourable young man to me, so tell you what I’ll do. I’m an old man, too old for lifting and carrying. Since my eyes aren’t so good any more, fishing is not easy for me. So how’s this? I’ll give you the rope dart. After all, I have more of them. I’ll give you the training plus five days’ worth of dried meat, all for ten days’ worth of freshly caught fish. I want them back here by tomorrow. These fish can only be caught at night. That’s the only time they come close enough to the surface to be darted and, much like your hair, they’re silver. So how’s that, is it a deal?” said the old trader, holding out his hand for Catalyst’s bond.

“I accept your terms, sir,” said Catalyst, as happy as he could be as he tried to sound all grown up.

“Okay, here’s your meat and have some bread too,” said the old trader handing Catalyst a full bag.

With the meat, bread and rope dart in hand, Catalyst arrived back at Domnyar’s.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” asked Domnyar as he winked at Natalia and waited for the complaining to start.

“I found everything I was looking for,” replied Catalyst happily.

“At a good price I hope,” said Natalia, trying to egg him on.

“Better than I expected,” said Catalyst simply.

“Dinner’s on the table. Help yourself,” said Domnyar, fighting back laughter, believing Catalyst had lost everything but his shirt. After talking for a bit about nothing and the sun long since set, Domnyar put up two cots for Natalia and Catalyst and said goodnight.

When Natalia and Domnyar were fast asleep, Catalyst got up and crept outside, heading back to the river to fulfil his agreement with the old trader.

Not fifty feet away from Domnyar’s hut, Catalyst heard feet behind him. He turned round and sure enough there stood Natalia with a cross look upon her face.

“Sneaking off, are we?” demanded Natalia.

He explained his deal with the old trader. Natalia just stood there shaking her head.

“Have you learned nothing while we’ve been out here?” snapped Natalia, knowing only about the food and not the rope dart. “Catalyst, why would anyone send you out in the middle of the night to get fish? Furthermore, you know that Elves are around here somewhere,” said Natalia.

“I only know he’s an old Basajaunak and it seems as though he needs the help. Besides, how could I say no to such a good deal?” asked Catalyst as he shoved the rope dart down the back of his pants.

“Well you’ll take me with you then. Someone has to watch your back while you catch these stupid fish!” Natalia smacked her forehead for Catalyst’s stupidity.

Catalyst had no choice and simply agreed.

“See, Natalia, you worry for nothing. The river here is far enough away from the woods so that the Elf and his Blemmye couldn’t get close enough to catch me. Everything is dead over there so I would see any light, any light at all,” said Catalyst.

“Oh yeah, boy!” yelled the Elf, grabbing Catalyst from behind and kicking Natalia into the arms of his pet as it jumped in front of them.

“You stupid little boy – do you think you’re the only one with friends in that village! Now you little brat, where’s my rope dart! I know that dirty old sheep herder gave it to you, just like I told him to,” said the Elf as he searched Catalyst.

“That’s ours!” screamed Natalia, not even knowing what the Elf was talking about.

“I traded fair and square for that thing,” argued Catalyst.

“You really think that someone would give a child such a dangerous weapon? Well, do you, boy?” asked the Elf, grinning.

With the rope dart safely tucked down the back of his pants covered by the cloak he was wearing, Catalyst continued to struggle with the Elf as he was being tied up.

“You can bet, boy, I’ll be getting my property back one way or the other, even if I have to behead that Basajaunak friend of yours,” said the Elf, assuming Catalyst had left it behind.

“But for tonight, the two of you will make a fine stew and for now, that’s all that matters,” continued the Elf. And with Natalia firmly in the grip of the mindless Blemmye, they were dragged back to the Elf’s lair.

Back at the lair, Natalia and Catalyst were thrown against the wall while the Elf took his pot, filled it with water and set it over the fire to boil.

“Don’t you eat them! You understand, you dumb beast? Watch them, make sure they don’t even try to get away!” sneered the Elf as he smacked his pet hard on the back.

Leaving the mindless Blemmye to watch over Natalia and Catalyst, the Elf disappeared into one of his tunnels.

The stench of the Blemmye’s breath filled the air and Natalia found it hard not to throw up.

“Look, Catalyst, see inside its mouth?” asked Natalia as she gagged.

Looking at the Blemmye, Catalyst could see the pockets full of stinking rotting flesh overflow with every breath the Blemmye took, pushing the stench not only into their faces but filling the room with pure stink. Natalia threw up, just missing her pants. Catalyst puked everything in his stomach just a few feet in front of him.

As Natalia sat there she couldn’t help but weep just a bit, as the Blemmye made its way closer to them and started eating their vomit.

Watching the few tears run down Natalia’s face, Catalyst’s fear turned to rage. Even though his hands were tied behind his back, Catalyst was able to stretch out the rope and free himself. The Blemmye didn’t notice because he was stuffing its face with puke-soaked soil.

Calatyst knew he couldn’t free Natalia and fight the Blemmye at the same time. Should the Elf suddenly come back there would be no way out for sure. Catalyst realized he needed a better moment to try and escape.

“Natalia, don’t worry. I’ve got a plan,” said Catalyst.

Finding little comfort in his words, Natalia’s tears trickled down her face just the same.

“Natalia, I’ve slipped out of my ropes and when the Elf comes back we’re getting out of here, trust me,” whispered Catalyst as quietly as he could.

Taking a deep breath and wiping the tears from her face with her shoulder she felt just a bit better. For some reason she trusted Catalyst, which surprised her. Being Russian, trust is something not given easily.

As they sat there, Natalia and Catalyst heard the water as it began to boil. The Blemmye looked at it and then at Natalia and Catalyst and swallowed the rotted flesh in its mouth, making room for more.

The Elf came out of the tunnel, threw the Blemmye a dead mouse and slapped its back hard as its reward for not eating Natalia or Catalyst.

“See that? Fifteen minutes exactly,” said the Elf, motioning to the boiling pot of water with his head.

“It won’t be long now, my pet – a quick two-hour boil with a few potatoes and some radishes and dinner is served! We haven’t eaten this well in quite some time,” said the Elf, wiping away most of the drool from his chin and lips in anticipation of a fresh meal.

The Blemmye grabbed Catalyst and stood ready to cook him. As soon as they got close enough, Catalyst kicked the boiling pot off its hook and sent it crashing into the Blemmye’s chest, scalding it from shoulder to toe. It ran into the tunnels with a cry so gruesome that even the Elf cringed at the sound.

Wriggling free of the Elf’s grip, Catalyst grabbed the handle of the pot and smacked the Elf in the head with it, burning off a patch of skin as it fell face first. With one more smack to his head, Catalyst knocked the old Elf out.

“Come on, Natalia, let’s get out of here,” said Catalyst as he untied her hands.

Running out of the Elf’s lair then out of the dead woods, Natalia and Catalyst didn’t stop until they reached the village.

Standing in the village compound, Catalyst headed straight to the old trader’s hut. He pushed open a cloth that hung in place of a door and could see they were too late. The old trader had packed up all he owned, and left.

“Let’s go and get Domnyar up. Maybe he can help us find the old trader,” said Catalyst.

“Find him? Why? Let’s just be happy he’s gone,” said Natalia.

“Well, I would like to know why he set us up like that. What if it had something to do with the key and not just making a meal out of me and dessert out of you?” replied Catalyst.

“Can’t it wait until morning?” asked Natalia, sounding fed up.

“I guess it can, but we still need to know why,” replied Catalyst, shaking his head at the empty hut.

“Okay,” agreed Natalia.

They slipped back into Domnyar’s hut, went back to their beds and slept until morning.

Two hours later, Natalia, Catalyst and Domnyar were up eating breakfast.

Silently, Natalia and Catalyst sat there, exhausted from the night before.

“That was the best sleep I have had in ages. How about the two of you?” Sleep okay? asked Domnyar yawning.

“Not really,” replied Natalia and explained what Catalyst had gotten them into and how it was all because of some rope dart thing that Catalyst just had to have.

“You poor children. It sounds as though someone is out to get you,” replied Domnyar with sympathy.

“That’s what I say. Do you know where we could find that old trader?” asked Catalyst. He pulled the rope dart from the back of his pants hoping they would see why he wanted it so much.

“Now why wouldn’t you just tell us about that thing, Catalyst?” asked Natalia.

“Because you would have known I needed to go fishing last night and I just thought it was best if I went alone and without an argument,” replied Catalyst.

“Even after I caught you?” asked Natalia.

“Hmm, to answer your question, Catalyst, no, I don’t,” said Domnyar. “For a Basajaunak to pack up and leave his home like that – it’s almost unheard of. Sure, we travel from time to time but from what you’ve told me he’s just moved on, so there’s no telling where he has gone. But if it makes you two feel any better, I can point you in the direction of Miss Turr,” said Domnyar.

“Okay, where do we find her?” asked Natalia, wanting to move on and put some space between them and the Elf.

Domnyar just pointed straight out of his door. Natalia and Catalyst turned and saw a five hundred pound, six foot eight inch tall woman, covered from head to toe in hair. Miss Turr had fangs and was walking straight to Domnyar’s hut.

“Great, just when I thought we were getting out of here,” thought Natalia.

Waving to Miss Turr as she walked towards his hut, Domnyar turned and set a place for her at the table.

Just as hairy and just as tall as Domnyar, it was hard for Natalia to see the attraction. Taking her first really thoughtful look at the Basajaunak, Natalia couldn’t help but notice just how much they looked like the elusive Bigfoot or at least the pictures of him shown on TV, but the Basajaunak stood straighter than Bigfoot and was not shy.

Pulling back from her hug, Miss Turr left Domnyar with a kiss on the cheek and his face fur turned a light shade of yellow from the warm fuzzy feeling of desire – either that or embarrassment.

“That’s the downside of fur, children. It can change colour with your mood,” said Domnyar.

“Some of us would say that’s the upside,” said Miss Turr with a smile on her face, satisfied that Domnyar was feeling just uncomfortable enough. “So it’s my understanding that you children have been looking for me,” said Miss Turr.

“Yes, we have,” replied Catalyst.

“But how did you know?” asked Natalia, cutting Catalyst off for the sake of being able to speak with another woman.

“An old trader passed by my camp last night and mentioned it. When he told me that two children were staying with my old friend Domnyar, I found the perfect opportunity to come back,” replied Miss Turr as though she needed a reason to visit Domnyar.

“If the two of you are so in love then why not just get married?” asked Natalia, blurting it out, tired of all the flirting. With that the room went silent. Miss Turr looked around as though she was waiting for a…question or two...maybe.

“Miss Turr, I’m sorry,” said Natalia going on to explain what had brought them there and what had happened the night before.

“But can you tell us where to find this trader?” asked Catalyst cutting Natalia off for a change.

“Sorry, I can’t. He kept walking into the night and I came here,” replied Miss Turr.

“So would anyone care to introduce themselves?” asked Miss Turr.

“I’m Natalia and this is Catalyst,” said Natalia, grabbing Miss Turr by the hand.

“Let’s see this key that’s so important that two children had to find me because of it,” said Miss Turr as she held Natalia’s hand so she didn’t feel alone any more.

“Well, we were wondering whether you could tell us if it was you that had made this key. If you didn’t, then you might know the work and at least point us in the right direction,” said Natalia, taking it from the fitsall.

Taking the piece of crusty metal from Natalia and a bottle from her pack, Miss Turr dropped the piece into the liquid and almost instantly the crust fell from the metal to reveal what was some of her best work ever.

“Is that trillium oil you have there, Miss Turr?” asked Natalia.

“No, this stuff is some cleaner I made. It works on everything from metal to wood,” replied Miss Turr as she picked up what was left of the key.

“No doubt about it. It’s my work,” said Miss Turr looking, at the emblems carved on all four sides of the squared knob and the fifth one carved on its top.

“However, the key that this was once on is no good now. It needed to be soaked in trillium oil for at least one day almost as soon as it was made to stop the missing pieces of the metal from trying to grow back in. So whatever I cut this for, it won’t fit now. See, children, for every layer of crust that grows over this metal it adds another layer of metal underneath it. See right there,” said Miss Turr, showing them what she meant.

“Sooner or later it’ll be back to its original shape. There are some people around here that swear this metal lives and that putting it in trillium oil drowns it,” continued Miss Turr.

“But it’s not alive though, is it?” said Domnyar.

“No, of course not. If anything’s alive it would be the crust. After all, that’s how the metal is replaced,” replied Miss Turr.

“Can you tell us who you made it for? They’ll know where the crystals are and all we’ll have to do is follow them,” said Catalyst.

“I’ve never seen their faces,” replied Miss Turr with a shrug.

“You’ve never seen their faces and yet you made them a key anyway?” asked Natalia.

“They were wearing cloaks and they had their hoods pulled over their heads. Since I was dealing with five of them, each one with their own design, and a sixth one just stood around watching everything and everyone. Look, I may be a Basajaunak but clearly these people were warriors and I was more concerned with doing as they asked! It wasn’t my business who they were or what they wanted the key made for. But I do know this – the one that handed me the metal was from Svartalfheim,” replied Miss Turr.

“How could you tell that? I thought you said they were wearing cloaks and hoods?” asked Domnyar.

“The one that handed me the metal had a Svartalfheim symbol burned into his wrist, but not like one I’ve ever seen before. Still there was no mistaking it, and what’s more, each one of them had the same type of symbol with only one real difference – the markings in each triangle seemed to represent a different Kingdom just like the carvings they had me put on this. The one on top seemed to be the one that tied them all together,” replied Miss Turr.

“The ones that you made this key for used it to open the portal to Earth. That’s how Natalia ended up here and already she’s been kidnapped by the Basajaunak and we’ve been hunted and set up at least once already. All this is because the fear of Humanity is starting to spread,” said Catalyst.

“Well I’m not afraid of Natalia and up to now I had no idea what the key was for. All Natalia told me was that you were looking for the crystals and the maker of the key. Had I known what they wanted the key for, even at the cost of my own life, I wouldn’t have made it for them,” said Miss Turr.

“Can you believe that the King sent two children on this kind of quest?” asked Domnyar of Miss Turr.

“Sounds more like vengeance – vengeance just for being Human,” replied Miss Turr.

“Be that as it may, I can’t go home until we’ve got the crystals back,” said Natalia.

“Look, given last night and all that went on, I can see why you would want to speak with that old trader. But wouldn’t you get more answers from the Elf, seeing he’s the one that had the old trader send you out there for him?” asked Miss Turr.

“Just how are we supposed to do that without ending up as a meal for him?” asked Natalia in disbelief that Miss Turr would even suggest such a thing.

“Domnyar and I will help you,” replied Miss Turr, easing Natalia’s frustration at her suggestion.

“We will? I mean of course we will,” said Domnyar, realizing it meant spending more time with Miss Turr and showing off his bravery.

With his fitsall in one hand and his rope dart in the other, Catalyst stood ready to leave at once, looking forward to seeing that vile wretched Elf on more even terms.

“Everyone ready?” asked Miss Turr in a tone of voice that suggested an order rather than a question.

“I’m ready,” replied Domnyar, picking up his macuahuitl.

“Ah! What’s that thing?” asked Catalyst, drooling almost as much as the rotten old Elf.

“It’s my club,” replied Domnyar, showing off the four blades that stuck out the whole length of the club.

“Looks more like a butcher’s block turned inside out,” said Natalia.

“Hm, I guess you’re right about that,” said Domnyar, looking at his club in a new light.

Taking Miss Turr by the hand, Domnyar led the way. Natalia and Catalyst followed and Natalia felt the slightest unintentional brush of Catalyst’s hand against hers. She took one step to her right and again Catalyst ended up being completely misunderstood.

“Domnyar, if the Elf sees us with these two, he’s just going to hide, you know that,” pointed out Miss Turr.

“Yep, that’s why they’re going to be bait,” replied Domnyar.

“Bait… want us to be bait?” demanded Natalia at the insanity of it all.

“Yes, bait. You two just walk up ahead a little bit, taking your time. Make some noise and throw that rope dart of yours around a little bit. Don’t make too much noise – we only want him to know you’re out here, not that he’s being set up. When the Elf comes for you, Miss Turr and I will jump out of the woods and grab him. How’s that?” asked Domnyar.

“Okay, but I sure hope you know what you’re doing,” replied Natalia. In the blink of an eye, Miss Turr and Domnyar disappeared into the woods.

With his rope dart in hand, whistling as it spun round and round, Natalia sang, “I’m digging a hole, that’s the way you treat me, I’m digging a hole, now tie me up and beat me, babababa bababa!” She was making fun of the Elf and felt good about it.

“We’ve made enough noise now I think, Natalia,” said Catalyst as he laughed at her song.

“Besides, this thing will be just as much bait as you and I,” continued Catalyst as he wrapped the rope dart around his shoulder. Rolling her eyes, Natalia had no choice but to agree.

“I just hope that Domnyar and Miss Turr are watching us,” said Natalia, looking around the wood for them and seeing nothing.

Miss Turr was on one side of the path and found herself jumped by three Blemmyes. With a fight on her hands that would take more than a few minutes, Miss Turr gave it everything she had, teeth and all.

Domnyar was facing the same odds. His foe fell from the trees, landing on him and knocking him off his feet, stunning him just long enough for the Blemmyes to give him a really good going over before he could get back to his feet.

“Not to worry, Natalia, with their speed, they could be a mile away from us and still get here on time,” said Catalyst reassuringly. “Besides, that dirty old Elf isn’t fast or smart enough to catch us. We’ll see him coming,” continued Catalyst hearing footsteps behind them.

“How’s this for being fast and smart enough, you little brat!” growled the Elf as he grabbed them both by the shoulder and shoved Natalia to her knees while throwing Catalyst against a tree, knocking him out.

Scooping Natalia up into his arms with her mouth covered, the Elf fled into the woods as Catalyst opened his eyes, struggling to catch his wits.

“Domnyar! Miss Turr!” yelled Catalyst. There was no reply from either, so Catalyst rose to his feet and with his rope dart, left as well. Catalyst chased after Natalia and the Elf, heading straight for the Elf’s lair.

The Elf was just as fast as Catalyst and not knowing how long he had been lying on the ground, Catalyst knew Natalia could very well be dinner by now.

The lifeless body of a Blemmye fell with a huge thud in front of him, followed by Miss Turr.

“What happened? You and Domyar were supposed to be right there watching us and now the Elf has Natalia,” said Catalyst wiping the tears of frustration from his eyes.

“I don’t know what happened to Domnyar but like me I think he was attacked just after entering the woods,” replied Miss Turr. “One minute everything was fine and going to plan and the next thing I know this Blemmye and two of its friends were all over me. But we can discuss this later. Right now let’s get after Natalia,” continued Miss Turr.

“What about Domnyar? We’ll need him if that Elf has more Blemmyes out here,” said Catalyst.

“Domnyar is capable of taking care of himself and you and I don’t need him to save Natalia. We can do that by ourselves. Now let’s get moving,” replied Miss Turr.

“Blemmyes,” said Catalyst in a smart mouth tone of voice.

“Blemmyes,” replied Miss Turr, pointing to the corpse at his feet. Running as fast as she could with Catalyst in tow, it only took a few minutes for them to reach the Elf’s lair.

“I don’t hear anything, Catalyst,” said Miss Turr as she held Catalyst back at the entrance.

“She may not even be here,” continued Miss Turr, straining to listen and hearing only a small fire coming from inside.

“I have to know for sure,” said Catalyst and he started sneaking inside the tunnel, listening for any sound at all.

“I can hear breathing, but I can’t tell where it’s coming from,” said Catalyst.

“Sh! If we can hear them, they can hear us,” said Miss Turr quietly while putting a finger over Catalyst’s lips.

Approaching the room where Natalia and Catalyst had been held the last time they were in the Elf’s lair, Catalyst slowly put his head around the corner. Sitting there with one leg over the side of his self-made throne and drinking ale, sat the Elf with a big smile on his face, licking the ale from his lips.

“Where’s Natalia? If you’ve hurt her I’m going to kill you myself,” demanded Catalyst.

“Boy, I’m going to have you for dinner and the Human for dessert. And after I make jerky out of that Basajaunak you brought with you, I will use her hide for a throw rug,” said the Elf, looking down his nose at Catalyst.

“You see, boy, I saw you coming and I’m well prepared for the two of you. Now where’s the other beast you brought with you?” demanded the Elf.

“Ah! But perhaps my Blemmyes took him down. Well, won’t that keep them fed for a day or two, wouldn’t you say, boy!?” said the Elf, spilling his ale down his chin.

At that, Miss Turr burst into the room.

“You want my hide? Well you can have it over my dead body!” screamed Miss Turr at the thought of Domnyar becoming food for those filthy little Blemmyes.

“You don’t know just how right you are!” hissed the vile little elf right back at her.

“Smell that, boy? Can’t you just smell her cooking?” questioned the dirty little Elf trying to antagonize Catalyst into recklessness. As Catalyst and Miss Turr both smelled the air all they could smell was wood burning and the stench of one unbathed Elf.

“Where is she?” demanded Catalyst once again.

“She’s down here somewhere, boy, but you’re never going to find her, not before she’s on my plate – but you’ll already be well digested by then!” laughed the Elf as he spat at them both.

“Can you tell where that scent is coming from?” asked Catalyst, looking at Miss Turr.

“All I can smell is the wood burning,” replied Miss Turr as she sniffed the air.

“Then stay here and keep this filthy thing busy while I go and find her,” said Catalyst, having caught the scent of Natalia’s ten-year-old little girl perfume.

Miss Turr started walking in circles round the Elf as Catalyst ran into the tunnels searching for Natalia.

“If anything happens to Domnyar, your life is over,” said Miss Turr as she grabbed the Elf and threw him against the wall.

Scrambling to his feet, the Elf pulled out his rope dart and started swinging it round and round, faster and faster until the dart had enough speed and power. With careful aim, the Elf kicked the dart right through Miss Turr’s left shoulder. Grabbing the rope with her right hand, Miss Turr pulled hard, bringing the Elf straight into her enormously large left fist, knocking him flat on his back harder than anything he had ever felt before.

“From what I hear, you spend a lot of time on the ground and getting hit in the head, but it’s usually trees and rocks that get that done, not fists,” laughed Miss Turr as she jumped into the air to land on the Elf’s chest. She narrowly missed him as he rolled out of the way.

Grabbing the rope and jumping back to his feet with one huge yank the Elf pulled the dart from Miss Turr’s shoulder, forcing her to howl a howl never heard before by any creature.

Spinning and shooting the dart at Miss Turr one more time, the Elf missed piercing her body but ripped and tore her flesh in the pass back as he yanked the dart in mid flight.

“You know, beast, I’m very skilled with this toy of mine, so don’t expect to live long enough to insult me again!” spat the Elf as he wound up for another shot at Miss Turr. He span the dart with all his strength then suddenly dropped to his knees and passed out at the feet of Domnyar and his macuahuitl.

Ignoring her wounds, Miss Turr ran and jumped into the arms of Domnyar.

“You’re okay, thank God! Now hurry, we don’t have much time. Catalyst is somewhere down these tunnels searching for Natalia. From what the Elf has said, this place is filled with Blemmyes and who knows what he’s done,” said Miss Turr, dragging Domnyar into the tunnels.

“Give me a minute, Miss Turr. I want this vile creature tied up first,” said Domnyar as he quickly tied the Elf’s wrists to his ankles behind his back. With just one more smack to the Elf’s head for good measure, making sure he was out, Domnyar turned his attention back to Miss Turr.

“Now I’m ready. Let’s go find those two and get out of here. We’ll pick this thing up on the way back,” said Domnyar.

Having found Natalia tied to a chair in some back room, Natalia and Catalyst were back with Miss Turr and Domnyar before they could even step into the hall that Catalyst had set off from.

“There they are now Miss Turr, safe and sound,” said Domnyar as he ran and hugged the stuffing out of them.

“Let’s go,” said Domnyar, picking up Natalia in one hand and Catalyst in the other.

As they ran from the Elf’s lair, Miss Turr grabbed the rope that held the Elf, taking him with them.

Out of the lair and through the dead wood, running right by the Blemmye, Miss Turr grabbed that as well and headed to the shoreline with Domnyar and the children right behind her. With the smell of rotting flesh seeping from the mouth of the Blemmye, all Natalia could do was throw up as the stink slammed into her face. Reaching the field that lay between the shore and the dead wood and with the safety of being able to see all around them, their run turned became a walk, while Natalia made sure she was far from the stench.

“Miss Turr, why are you bringing that thing with us?” asked Natalia.

“Bait…just bait, Natalia,“ replied Miss Turr.

“Bait, for what?” asked Catalyst, almost happy about the sound of that.

“The Riverfray of course,” replied Domnyar for Miss Turr.

Natalia remembered what Domnyar had said: they love stink, good as pie.

“Tie me up and beat me, Natalia?” laughed Catalyst, remembering the song she sang on the path.

“Don’t even ask,” said Natalia, returning the looks from Miss Turr and Domnyar.

“No, this is funny. She was singing a song about being tied up and beaten and when I found her she was tied to a chair. Careful what you sing for, Natalia, you just might get it!” laughed Catalyst even harder.

Having not been there to see what had gone on, the joke went right over the heads of Miss Turr and Domnyar.

“Where are you taking me?” hissed the Elf, struggling with his rope.

“Be still, you vile thing, or I’ll drag you instead of carrying you,” growled Miss Turr. With that thought, the Elf hit the ground and found himself being dragged over the loose gravel as Catalyst walked behind him smiling. Then the Elf spat on his face and earned himself a kick to the ribs from Natalia.

“See that, it’s just like I heard you do spend a lot of time on the ground and it seems face down isn’t the only position you enjoy,” said Miss Turr with everyone now laughing at the Elf as he seethed in rage and humiliation as they reached the shore. Grabbing what was left of the Elf’s hair, Domnyar dragged him closer to the river’s edge, leaving him there to feel the fear of the Riverfray.

“Domnyar, what happened to you?” asked Natalia still shaking just a little.

“I was watching the two of you when these three Blemmyes dropped in on me, and it some time for me to put a stop to them, so to speak,” replied Domnyar.

Looking at the Blemmye lying there dead, Natalia could see its back had been ripped apart and chewed on.

“You two ate these things?” asked Natalia looking at Miss Turr and Domnyar.

“No, we didn’t,” replied Miss Turr.

“Hunting tomorrow, Miss Turr?” asked Domnyar.

“Or the day after, but yes, hunting,” replied Miss Turr.

“What happened to them?” asked Natalia, weary from all the craziness.

“Trust me, Natalia, you don’t want to know. Just leave it,” said Catalyst.

“From what he’s said, it would seem our Elf here has been quite busy. Why?” said Miss Turr.

“To capture these two of course,” replied Domnyar.

“You really think he went through all this trouble, putting all this together just for a meal or two?” asked Miss Turr, pointing to Natalia and Catalyst.

“He knew the children were in the village. I mean he would need help now, wouldn’t he?” replied Domnyar.

“Domnyar, think about it. We were out in the woods when he attacked, and if he were going to do this in the village he would need an army ten times this size. I’m thinking there’s more to this,” said Miss Turr. “Don’t strain yourself, Domnyar, we’ll soon have some answers from this wretched creature,” continued Miss Turr.

“If you think I’m going to tell you anything you’re out of your minds,” said the Elf, having heard most of what was said.

“Now?” asked Domnyar as he looked at Miss Turr.

“Yes, now,” replied Miss Turr.

Picking up the Blemmye and giving it a good shake, Domnyar made sure the filth in its mouth was now covering its legs. With one good spin Domnyar threw the corpse into the river. As Natalia and Catalyst watched the corpse bobbing in the water, it suddenly dropped from sight, leaving only the slightest ripple behind.

“One, two, three, four, five…twenty-eight, twenty-nine,” counted Domnyar until the body of the Blemmye shot from the water and into the sky at least thirty feet high before crashing back down.

Watching in amazement, Natalia and Catalyst stood fast as the Riverfray emerged from the depths showing its massive size. At thirty feet high and one bus-length wide and from what they could see two buses long, not including its four fins, the Riverfray was huge. It opened its mouth filled with razor sharp teeth, snapped the Blemmye from the water and with just a few crunches, the Blemmye corpse was no more.

“See, Natalia? Just bait,” said Miss Turr.

“Here’s your choice, tell us what we want to know or I throw you in as well,” said Domnyar looking the Elf right in the eye.

“Now you’re the one on the menu,” said Miss Turr borrowing the phrase from Natalia.

“Ah!” yelled the Elf as he raged for having been beaten. “What do you want to know?” he snarled.

“You had better start using some manners or I’ll drag you to the water’s edge myself,” demanded Natalia, tired of the rudeness from the grimy old Elf.

“Let’s see, you’ve tried to capture these children three times now. Why?” asked Domnyar.

“I was hungry and they would make a fine meal and I have to feed my pet as well,” replied the Elf with a cracked smile of superiority.

“That’s all?” asked Domnyar.

“What other use could these two possibly have?” laughed the Elf as he licked his lips.

Smacking the Elf in the face for that remark, Miss Turr took the key from Catalyst’s fitsall and shoved it in his face.

“What about this key? I want to know what you know about it now!” demanded Miss Turr.

“Key? That don’t look like a key to me,” said the Elf calmly, tired of being smacked for his smart mouth.

“Well, it was,” said Natalia.

“I don’t know anything about a key,” replied the Elf, staring at Natalia greedily.

“All I wanted was my dinner,” continued the Elf.

“So now that two fine upstanding Basajaunak have your answer, why not untie me. Leave these children with me and we’ll all have what we came here for,” said the Elf bracing for another smack in the face.

“Let’s not try killing him, at least until we have the answers we’re looking for,” said Domnyar as he stopped Miss Turr’s hand mid-smack.

“Shall we rest for a while? Miss Turr you can go with them and tend to your wounds. I’ll stay here until I have what we need to know,” said Domnyar, throwing a stone into the water for a ripple effect, hoping that the Elf would realize that there was only one of two ways out – the Riverfray or tell him what they needed to know.

“You know, Elf, it’s going to be a long day for you, not to mention the night. Sooner or later I’m going to tire of this and take my chances of not knowing what you know,” said Domnyar, looking the Elf in the eyes one more time.

Shaking her head to Domnyar’s suggestion, Natalia stepped back to sit down and rest, joined by Catalyst as they sat and watched Miss Turr and Domyar badger the Elf for answers.

“So, that thing in the water is a Riverfray. I’ve never seen one before,” said Catalyst, still a little in shock from watching it eat the Blemmye.

“I have, but only in pictures and on TV. We call it the Lockness Monster. I’ve seen the Basajaunak before as well. They’re called the Bigfoot among other names. I find it hard to believe that our worlds could have almost the same beings and creatures inhabiting them. “You know what, Catalyst, I’m sure there is more than one portal. I bet there’s one down there in that water,” said Natalia.

“Maybe” was all Catalyst could say. After all, what did he know of Earth other than what he’d been told. If his Father were around he’d know all he needed to.

“It would explain why the Lockness Monster has never been caught and believe me they try. What about the Bigfoot? The only real difference between that creature and the Basajaunak is that the Basajaunak stand straight. They don’t run away, at least not from me, but everything I’ve seen has been dismissed as a hoax. If there were more open portals around this world it would explain so much,” said Natalia.

“Well don’t forget, Natalia, this portal has only been locked for two hundred and fifty-five years. Another thing – did everyone one come back that went through, from either side?” questioned Catalyst.

“That would only explain the Basajaunak, not the Riverfray. Who knows what other mythical creatures actually live here,” smiled Natalia at the thought.

“Okay, back to the key!” said Miss Turr loud enough to grab the children’s attention once again.

“I don’t know anything about it,” replied the Elf snidely.

“Well, you see this emblem here? It’s from Svartalfheim and yet it has nothing to do with your King’s realm, so what do you know about that?” asked Miss Turr.

“It’s the emblem for Svartalfheim, their realm, their King, not mine,” replied the Elf.

“Who made it?” demanded Domnyar, taking his turn to badger the Elf.

“That’s easy – Miss Turr,” laughed the Elf at Domnyar’s stupidity.

“Well if you know that, then you know who wanted it made. You see, you stupid little Elf, we never told you Miss Turr made it,” said Domnyar.

“All right, I’ll tell you what I know,” said the Elf, hanging his head in shame and disbelief that something so mentally crippled could outsmart him.

“From what I hear it was the Clique that wanted the key made,” said the Elf, hiding the fact that it was they who broke him out of the Gallows.

“Go on, and don’t make me ask you a single question about this, Elf, or I swear...” said Miss Turr, pointing to the river.

“They’re a group of dissidents. They’re tired of power changing from one King to the next, year after year, being subject to the Transitional Moon Phase, spending three years at a time out of time by 0.2 seconds. They’re fed up and somehow they figured out a way to get the crystals. Oh that’s right, you made them the key for that, didn’t you?” said the Elf smiling as he looked at Miss Turr.

“Shut up! Now keep talking,” said Domnyar.

“The ones out of phase, they were able to carry the four pieces into their own lands. How they did that I don’t know, but they got the three crystals and the diamond ring and now you’ll never see them again,” laughed the Elf.

What’s more, and this is only a guess, but a good one, they’re planning something for the coming transition, and that’s all I know. Now that you know what I know, there’s no reason to feed me to that Riverfray, is there? I mean I told you what you wanted to know,” continued the Elf, begging for his life.

“What are they planning?” asked Catalyst, afraid for Natalia.

“I don’t know nor do I care to. I’m happy with what I’ve got and don’t care one way or the other,” replied the Elf.

“You went through a lot of trouble to get these two children. Why? Why would you do that when you could just as easily have eaten one of your pets?” asked Miss Turr.

“As far as it goes for them, the Clique found out about the King of Kyopelivuori sending them after the crystals. They made a deal with me to get rid of them both, for which I was paid most generously. So not only was their reward worthwhile, I was supposed to get a fresh kill or two as part of the bargain,” replied the Elf.

“Well at least you got paid,” laughed Natalia.

Frustrated by the comment, the Elf spat at Natalia and was smacked in the head for it by Catalyst, knocking him back out.

“He’s so vile!” said Natalia, wiping the spit off her coat. Well, looks as though we’ve learned all we’re going to from this Elf.

“Let’s head back to the village. I for one am starving,” said Domnyar, turning from the demented creature.

“What’s for dinner?” asked Catalyst, rubbing his stomach.

“Beans and rice, I think,” replied Domnyar happily. Miss Turr just looked at Natalia and held her nose while pointing at Domnyar.

With his rope dart safely back in his possession, Catalyst looked at the sky, and with one really good windup, he let the rope dart fly, stretching out as far as it could. Catalyst skewered a Cockatrice big enough to feed them all.

“How’s meat instead?” asked Catalyst, looking at Miss Turr.

“Sounds better than beans and rice,” replied Miss Turr, relieved at being saved from Domnyar’s menu.

Back at the village with the Cockatrice ready to be taken off the spit, Natalia and Miss Turr put everything on the table for dinner, and with the four of them sitting there, dinner was enjoyed by all.

“So, Miss Turr, where can we get some more of this plastite?” asked Natalia, turning the conversation back to their quest.

“More? Why would you need more?” asked Miss Turr.

“So we can get you to make another key for the portal for when we have the rest of the crystals,” replied Natalia.

“When you have all the crystals I’ll just recut the key from the plastite you already have, Natalia. What you really need is trillium oil, and in two Transitional Moon Phases you can go and get some,” replied Miss Turr.

“But that’s more than two years from now, almost three. I can’t stay here that long, even if I am split into two people right now,” replied Natalia, looking at Catalyst.

“Looks as though you’re going to have to, Natalia. Didn’t you hear what the Elf said – they split the crystals up and took them back to their Kingdoms. Until their Kingdoms are in phase, you won’t be able to go there. It would seem to me that this Clique group would have to pull the crystals out of time by the 0.2 seconds just to store the crystals safely. Even if you and Catalyst walked right into their realm, I’m betting you wouldn’t even be able to pick them up,” said Domnyar.

“Yes, that’s true I’m afraid,” said Miss Turr.

“But the Elf also said they were planning something for the coming transition, right?” said Natalia.

“He did, but what good will that do them, once we have the crystal that’s here in this time?” asked Catalyst.

“Natalia, don’t worry. I have a plan. I’ll get my Mother to help once we have the crystal. And if it’s not too close to the transition, I’ll have my Mother send you back,” said Catalyst.

“You are one very clever little boy, aren’t you? I forgot about your Mother’s persuasiveness,” said Miss Turr, smiling about Anastasia’s power.

“Where do we go to get the trillium oil?” asked Natalia.

“You need to go to Annwn. It’s only there that you’ll find it. It’s very rare here and no one will give you any if they have it. The trip is awfully dangerous. A lot of those who have tried to go have never been heard from again. The few that have made it back, with or without the oil, have never tried it again. Some fortunes no matter how great aren’t worth your life. A single cup of that oil can be worth maybe two hundred times its weight in gold,” replied Miss Turr, hoping they wouldn’t figure it out.

“Well as long as nobody minds sending a twelve-year-old girl into that kind of danger then I guess it’s all right,” said Natalia, angered by such a trip.

“In the meantime, Miss Turr, can we just leave the key with you for safe keeping? We’ll come and get it after we have the oil, and maybe you can recut it then?” asked Catalyst.

“Of course, that’s why I’m here,” replied Miss Turr.

“It’s all settled then – you two will get the crystal that’s here and then Natalia you’ll go home. Then come back when it’s time, and when it’s time to get the trillium oil and the other crystals. At the moment all you have to worry about is how full you are,” said Domnyar.

“Yes! And the fact that the Clique are planning something for the coming transition,” laughed Natalia.

“It won’t matter, Natalia. Once we have at least one crystal they won’t be able to lock the portal. They can’t use it now, not with the King’s guards there,” said Catalyst.

“What will locking it matter? They wanted it opened to begin with,” replied Natalia.

“Yes they did, but if they start something with Humankind, they’ll want to lock the portal, right? After all, they wouldn’t want the warring to begin again in this world. It’ll ruin their homes as well, and if they can’t lock the portal, what protection do they have?” asked Catalyst.

“If we get this one crystal, they can’t do anything and we have time to find the rest. Maybe Miss Turr can go one step further for our world and design a whole new lock for the crystal’s pedestal – one that once it’s locked it can’t be unlocked, ever,” continued Catalyst.

“That will have to be done by me. I’m the very best in all this world when it comes to designs so complex that even the slightest tampering would stop whatever it is from working. I would think a simple lock would be no problem. All we would have to do is let Catalyst try and open it one time and it’ll never work again. What do think, Miss Turr?” asked Domnyar.

“Sounds perfect to me,” replied Miss Turr.

“It’s late and we have to leave early, Catalyst, so I’m going to get some sleep,” said Natalia.

“You too, Catalyst,” ordered Domnyar.

“Miss Turr, if you’ll be so kind as to join me on the porch, I have some very good root wine and a secret stash of cherry leaf pipe tobacco,” offered Domnyar, showing Miss Turr the way, with a bottle in one hand and two pipes in the other. Picking up two glasses, Miss Turr followed him out.

“So do you think these children will be okay going after the crystals on their own?” asked Miss Turr all cuddled up in Domnyar’s arms.

“I’m sure they are going to be just fine. Don’t forget, Catalyst is Krusnik and a lot stronger than he looks. If the people around here know his mother, then you can bet the fear of her anger is enough to help him. I can’t imagine the pair of them being any safer really. Then there’s Natalia – she seems to be pretty smart to me,” replied Domnyar.

“The Clique doesn’t seem to be too worried about his mother,” said Miss Turr.

“I think they are. After all, none of them stayed to rid themselves of these two. They had to find the most desperate, greedy thing they could to do that, such as the Elf,” replied Domnyar.

Scraping his wrists against a rock and bleeding copiously, the Elf freed himself. He headed back to his lair, beaten, sore and embarrassed by his loss. He knew he would need time to heal. He knew he would be down for more than a day.

Come the morning, Catalyst was up before Natalia once again. Looking at her sleeping, Catalyst couldn’t help but laugh.

“You Humans, you need so much sleep. It’s a wonder you ever had time to go to war with us at all,” said Catalyst.

“I‘m not sleeping. I’m just resting before I get up, that’s all. I have never gone to war with anyone,” replied Natalia in a tone of voice that said she was happy again.

“See what I mean – you Humans need to rest so much that you even have to rest from resting just to get out of bed and all you did was sleep for ten hours.”

“Well I have to agree with you there. My Mom and Dad do the same thing all the time, so you win,” giggled Natalia. “I’m so hungry,” continued Natalia.

“Well come on. Breakfast has been on the table for an hour now,” replied Catalyst as he headed across the room for seconds.

Natalia sat down at the table. She couldn’t help but notice that somehow Catalyst had managed to turn breakfast into a competition. It was a competition she was smart enough not to join in, knowing full well that a stuffed belly and exercise are not friends.

“I guess we should be on our way now, Natalia,” said Catalyst with breakfast barely over.

“Okay, let’s leave. Do you know where we’re going?” asked Natalia as she waited for Catalyst to stand up, or at least try.

“Well I thought since one of the Clique is from Kyopelivuori, we might head back to the castle and see what we can find out there. Then we’ll take it from there,” replied Catalyst.

“Ah, a boy without a plan. If it were me, I would not be at the castle, not when there are so many to hide until I could put my plan into action. And I think I would choose the most dangerous place of all. Then no one would even want to come looking for me, not there anyway. I could be left all alone. And since there are many places like that in this world, I would rethink where I would look if I needed to look for some one that would want to hide,” said Miss Turr as though she was speaking to the dishes she was doing and not trying to help.

“I agree with Miss Turr,” said Natalia.

“As do I,” said Domnyar.

“Where’s the worst place around here – the most dangerous?” asked Natalia.

“I would think that was Ghost Mountain,” said Domnyar.

“I agree. And not easy to get to either,“ chipped in Miss Turr.

“Looks as though we’re going to Ghost Mountain, Natalia,” said Catalyst.

“Let’s hope we know what we’re doing,” replied Natalia, raising her glass as she smiled a smile of “Oh no!”

Thanking Domnyar and Miss Turr, Natalia and Catalyst started out. Miss Turr and Domnyar waved goodbye from the porch.

“How long do you think it will take them them to figure it out, Domnyar?” asked Miss Turr.

“Figure out what, exactly?” asked Domnyar.

“You mean you don’t know? You didn’t hear it?” asked Miss Turr, smiling at Domnyar’s innocence.

“No,” replied Domnyar with squinty eyes.

“You’ll see, you’ll see,” said Miss Turr, patting her naïve little Basajaunak on the back.

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