A Contest of Wills: Chapter 2

Bob Taylor was just finishing a cup of coffee when the call came on his radio. Bad accident on Route 723; a head on collision involving a car and a truck, and a tractor had also been involved. Some serious injuries and paramedics were on the way, but it would take at least 25 minutes to get the victims to the nearest hospital. Bob quickly threw his cup in the trash and raced out to his cruiser. Lights flashing and siren blaring, he tore out of the Gas Up and Go parking lot and called for back-up as he headed to the accident.

 

Her act of defiance forgotten, Tiffany was sitting in front of the television eating popcorn and watching an old movie. She loved these cheesy old films where life seemed so easy and troubles so trivial. Things always worked out and the worst thing a man ever did to a woman was fail to immediately admit his undying love. There had been a time when she really thought life would be like that, but she knew better now. But it didn’t stop her from being swept up in a romance played out on screen.

During a commercial she looked up at the clock and sighed. She knew she couldn’t stay cooped up in her parents’ house forever – in fact she didn’t want to – but she just didn’t feel like going anywhere. She hadn’t kept in touch with any of her friends in Chicago, and was embarrassed to call them now. It had been a year and half since she had talked to most of them. Her mother kept encouraging her to call, but she just couldn’t face it. When Colin had coolly invited her leave if she didn’t like his having a “friend” over, Byrd’s Mill had seemed like a sanctuary; now it was starting to feel like a prison. The town had remained untouched by time, and while many thought it was charming it drove her crazy. In her opinion everything here was too “small town” and she wanted the things she had gotten used to in the city. Shopping at major stores, getting her hair and nails done at well-known establishments, and getting regular spa treatments that most people here had never even heard of. The closest places that might have anything near what she was looking for were Charlottesville or Richmond, and they were both at least an hour away. She hated the thought of driving along a highway lined by nothing but trees, in the car alone. And she couldn’t imagine asking her mother to go with her.

She tossed a piece of popcorn in her mouth and mused on her life with Colin Dawson. Maybe it hadn’t been so bad. He had bought her nice clothes and beautiful jewelry. They went out to dinner to wonderful restaurants, and he had taught her a great deal about things like wine and art. She had felt grown up and sophisticated with him, and despite the fact that he had made her feel unloved and insecure, and had jealously kept her from having a relationship with anyone else, including her parents, she missed him. When she had once told that to her mother, Kate had asked what she missed about him. When Tiffany began talking about the trip to New York, and how Colin had promised to take her to Paris, her mother had remarked that it didn’t sound much like she missed Colin, but that she missed his money. Although it stung, Tiffany had to admit it was true to some degree. And it was at that point that Tiffany had a major epiphany. She needed her own money. She just hadn’t been sure how to get it. And then George Hartwell had come knocking.

George was a developer who had arrived in Virginia a few months earlier. He had stopped by the house once when both Bill and Kate were out. He had been funny and charming and, Tiffany had to admit, kind of cute. Although she knew her parents would have had a fit, she was bored and lonely so she invited him in. They talked about the places he had visited, but eventually he began asking her a lot of questions about her parent’s land. He asked about the acreage, how it had been used, zoning restrictions. He’d had a lot of questions she couldn’t answer, but when he told what he thought the land could be worth, she had been shocked. It was then that she realized the land might be her way to get her own money.

She knew that her father would be dead set against selling the land for development, but Tiffany didn’t see why he needed all 300+ acres of it. She thanked George for his time, and told him it would be better if she spoke with her parents first. He left his card with her, and when Bill and Kate returned Tiffany tried to broach the subject of selling the land.

Of course her father was dead set against selling. He had raged against the developers who had been putting up all kinds of town homes and strip malls in other areas of the state, and he was determined to keep Byrd’s Mill as rural as possible. He had reminded her that he had been going to all kinds of meetings with the County Developers, trying to convince them that it was to everyone’s benefit not to turn Byrd’s Mill into just another town full of chain restaurants and strip malls. Tiffany knew then that she had her work cut out for her. She wasn’t sure how she would do it, but she was going to have to find a way to sell some of this land.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Tiffany frowned and got up from the couch. She hoped it wasn’t George – she hadn’t showered yet today – but she had no idea who else would be coming to visit.

Tiffany wasn’t surprised to see Bob Taylor on the other side of the door. While she’d been growing up he’d often come by during hunting season when the “No Trespassing” signs her father posted were ignored. She was surprised to see the young woman with Bob. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, but had an official look about her. She opened the door wider to let them in.

“Hi Bob,” she said, and began to feel nervous. Bob wasn’t smiling and he looked serious. Bob looked at the woman with him, took off his hat and stepped into the door. Tiffany stepped back and both of her visitors came in.

They stood for an awkward moment in the hall until Tiffany said, “My dad’s not here right now Bob. Is everything o.k.?”

Bob looked again at his female companion who stepped forward and held out her hand with a warm smile. “Hi Tiffany, I’m Justine Hartwell.” Tiffany took the woman’s hand and shook it, looking at Bob in confusion.

Justine spoke, “Why don’t we all go sit down somewhere?”

Tiffany led them into the den and sat down on the couch. Bob picked up the remote and turned off the television. Justine sat on the edge of the coffee table and took one of Tiffany’s hands. Tiffany looked at Bob, and her eyes had grown wide with fear. “Bob,” she asked, and her voice trembled, “what’s going on?”

Bob looked at the floor for a minute, and then met her eyes. “Tiffany, it’s your folks. There’s been an accident.” Tiffany gasped and pulled her hand from Justine’s. She looked at the woman in front of her with accusation in her eyes. “What happened? Why are you here?”

Bob shuffled his feet, and Justine took her hand again. “Tiffany,” she said softly, drawing the younger woman’s attention to her, “there’s been an accident. I’m sorry honey, but your parents have been killed.”

Tiffany just stared at her, as if trying to make sense of the words. Justine moved from the coffee table to the couch, and put her arm around Tiffany. Tiffany looked at her as if she was still trying to solve a difficult puzzle. “What happened?” she asked. Justine looked over at Bob, who answered.

“We’re still not completely sure. It was a head-on collision out on route 723. It looks like your dad was trying to pass a tractor on a hill, and the oncoming truck was driving too fast.” Bob stopped for a moment, wondering how much he needed to tell her. “The driver of the truck was also killed, and the driver of the tractor is in critical condition. It will be awhile before we know everything.”

Justine spoke again, “Tiffany, I’m a grief counselor with the county, and I’m going to stay here with you until you can reach someone else. Do you have someone to call honey? A friend who can come over and stay with you?” On the way to the Szczepanski’s house, Bob had briefed Justine on the situation with Tiffany, and that she didn’t really have any friends in town.

Tiffany sat on the couch with a stranger’s arm around her, her thoughts drifting into her head slowly, like fallen leaves drifting downstream. Suddenly everything seemed to be going in slow motion, and she couldn’t make her mind form thoughts properly. Bob cleared his throat and she looked up at him, her expression confused.

“Is there anyone you can call?” he asked, repeating Justine’s question. “Justine can stay with you tonight, but is there anyone else you can talk to who can come and stay with you?”

She looked at him blankly for a moment and slowly shook her head. Then she stopped for a moment and said slowly, “Oh, wait. Well, yes, there is a call I guess I should make.” Justine and Bob exchanged a look as Tiffany got up from the couch and wandered out of the room. Justine nodded at Bob and followed.

Bob took a few steps away from her and spoke into his shoulder radio. He told his dispatcher that he was going to be another hour or so, and he wasn’t sure how long Justine would need to stay. When he finished, he could hear the murmur of Tiffany’s voice in the other room, and the sound of her weeping.

Justine returned a moment later, her arm still around Tiffany. The three of them sat on the couch, and Justine began to talk softly. Bob didn’t pay much attention to what she was saying, but was wondering who on earth Tiffany could have called, and who would be coming to stay with her. He’d always thought of her as spoiled and a little selfish, but right now he just felt a profound sense of sadness. He reached over and patted her knee, and felt ashamed that he was wondering how long he would have to stay. He really just wanted to go and be anywhere else right now. He heard Tiffany saying that someone would be there in a few hours, and saw Justine hand the young woman a glass of water and some kind of pill. Then she led her out of the den and told Bob he could go, that she would put Tiffany to bed and stay until whoever she called arrived. Bob tried not to look relieved and hoped he didn’t look like he was rushing out the door. But neither woman seemed to notice as he made his way out.

A Contest of Wills: Chapter 1

Kate Szczepanski was sitting at the desk in her den, signing the letter she had just finished writing. Hurriedly, she folded it and slipped it into an envelope. She heard the decisive footsteps of her husband down the hall, and the car keys jingling in his hand as he pulled open the front door. He called out to her.

“Kate, are you ready? We need to go!”

“Just a minute Bill, I’ll be right there!”

She heard the sigh from the front door and hurried to write the address on the envelope. She didn’t like to keep her husband waiting; although he was usually patient with her last minute scrambling he was in a hurry today, anxious to get to the county zoning meeting a little early to get a good seat.

Kate quickly sealed the envelope she had just addressed and winced as she felt a slight sting on her tongue. Darn it! She hated getting a paper cut on her tongue! She hated feeling rushed like this, and the letter was important so she needed to get it out today. But she also knew that Bill wasn’t going to be patient for much longer, and she didn’t want to have to ride to the meeting in stony silence. She quickly put a stamp on the letter and was standing up to go as her daughter Tiffany walked into the room.

Tiffany had recently moved back home from Chicago. She had gone there two years before to live with a man that Kate hadn’t ever liked or trusted. When Tiffany had come home one day to find another woman sitting at her kitchen table, wearing Tiffany’s bath robe and drinking coffee as if it were her kitchen, Tiffany packed her bag and called her mother from the airport, crying. Although Bill didn’t think having Tiffany come back home to live was the best idea – he had said something about making her responsible for the consequences of her decisions, and making her stand on her own two feet – as a mother Kate couldn’t stand to hear her daughter’s pain, and had immediately paid for a plane ticket to get her home. Not that Bill had really objected. They were both glad to have their daughter home, but Kate was starting to wonder if letting her come home without a discussion of her future plans had really been such a good idea.

“Mom, you better get going. I think dad is about to have an aneurism.”

Kate frowned slightly and walked toward the doorway where her daughter stood. “Tiffany, don’t say things like that, it isn’t funny. Here,” and she held the envelope out to her daughter, “I’d like this to go out today and I know we won’t have time to stop at the post office. Would you please go to the post office for me and make sure it goes out today?”

Tiffany crossed her arms and looked down at the envelop in her mother’s hand. “What’s in it?”

“Nothing you need to worry about. Please just make sure it goes out.”

Tiffany sighed and shifted her weight so her hip was leaning against the doorjamb. She looked at her mother and said with a pout, “Mom I don’t want to go out, can’t you take it later? There’s an old movie on T.V. I really want to watch. You know how hard it’s been for me going out lately. I’m just not sure I’m up to it.”

Kate squared her shoulders and looked her daughter in the eye. “Tiffany,” she said firmly, “listen to me. I’m sorry that you had a bad experience in Chicago, and I’m sorry that your heart got broken. But you’re living her now, and….” Tiffany abruptly straightened up and grabbed the letter from her mother’s hand.

“Please, I don’t need a lecture. I’ll mail the stupid letter.” She looked down at the name and address on the envelope then up at her mother with undisguised amazement. “Why are you writing him?”

“KATE!”

Tiffany jumped slightly and Kate pushed past her daughter into the hallway. As she headed toward the front door Tiffany called after her, “I don’t know why you care about saving all this land. You don’t need it and you could get a ton of money for it if you just sold it to that developer.”

Tiffany heard her mother’s response coming down the hall. “There are more important things in life than money Tiffany. We know what we want to do with our land, and it isn’t selling it off so it can be turned into condos and strip malls. Please just make sure that letter gets to the post office. Today!” Tiffany heard the front door close and the key turn in the lock. A moment later she heard the roar of the car engine and the sound of popping gravel as the car headed down the driveway.

She ambled into the den and looked around. Although it was only September her mother had a fire going in the fireplace and the room was quite warm. Tiffany walked over to the Queen Anne desk and sat down. The desk was neat and clean; a new brand new laptop computer sat off to one side of the desk, the lid closed and the power off. Tiffany looked at the computer and snorted. Although her mother had been trying to use it, she always seemed to have some kind of problem, undecipherable error message or other failure.

She pushed back from the desk, stood up, and looked around the room. It was the same room, exactly as it had been throughout her entire childhood. Nothing ever changed here, and her parents seemed to think they could make time stand still. She looked down at the letter in her hand. After a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed the letter opener from her mother’s desk and slid it under the flap. Quickly, she sliced open the envelope, pulled out the letter and began to read. She couldn’t believe her eyes. She looked up and spoke into the empty room. “What on earth are they thinking? They can’t do this!” She stood thinking for a moment, then jammed the letter back into the envelope and walked over to the fireplace.

“This is one letter that will get lost in the mail,” she muttered. She hesitated for just a moment, and then tossed the letter onto the flames watching as the envelope and its contents curled up, turned black, and dropped into ash through the grate. She knew her mother would eventually realize the letter hadn’t reached its intended recipient, but Tiffany figured she had at least a month to come up with an idea that would reverse the action the letter would have put into motion.

“And a lot can happen in a week,” Tiffany declared to the empty room. She knew that from hard experience. Her entire life could change in the course of a week. And this time, she intended to make sure that the change was for the better.

Bill Szczepanski was in a hurry. He had wanted to get to the county planning meeting early so he could be sure to sit up front where he could look everyone in the eye. He didn’t trust all the committee members, and wanted to be sure he could see exactly what was going on. He loved his wife tremendously, but her habit of finding things to do as she was walking out the door was extremely irritating, especially on a day like today.

Kate knew from her husband’s silence that he was upset with her. He would often stay silent until he could trust himself not to snap at her or say something that would hurt her feelings. Early in their marriage she would press him to talk to her until he would blow up. Then she would cry and it would be a scene. Over the years, she had learned to leave him alone and let him sort through things. When he was ready he would talk to her. But this time was a bit different. She needed to talk to him about the letter that Tiffany was taking to the post office. She wanted to be sure they were both clear on the content so there were no misunderstandings. She also knew he was irritated she seemed unable to figure out how to use her new computer, and decided to begin by addressing that.

“Bill,” she said, turning to her husband, “I don’t want you to be upset, because I really do appreciate the computer you got me.” She waited, but her husband didn’t respond. After a brief moment, he nodded. Kate turned to face the road.

“I’ve been trying to use it, I really have. Maybe I’ll need to sign up for a class or something – it just seems like nothing ever works when I try to use it.” She glanced over. He still didn’t look at her, but she could see his expression had softened slightly. She turned forward and continued, “Anyway, there was a letter I needed to write and I had it all ready this morning. It was all typed up in the computer, but then I couldn’t get it to print. And,” here she glanced nervously over at him, “if I’m being honest there are some letters I’d rather write than type. I can’t help it – I think a hand-written letter is just so much more personal.” Bill gave a tired sigh, and then reached out his hand and rested it on his wife’s thigh. She looked over at him and he just shook his head and smiled.

“Well, I do. Particularly when it’s a special letter and you really want the person reading it to feel your sincerity. The way I look at it, anyone could type a letter and pretend it was from me. But it would be pretty hard to deny that I put a lot of thought and feeling into a hand-written letter. But that aside, the printer just wouldn’t work! It just wouldn’t print out that letter. I figured it would just be faster to hand-write it then spend time trying to figure out why it wouldn’t print.”

Bill had to smile at his wife’s logic. So that’s why she’d been late. She was rewriting a letter she’d already composed on the computer. He had gotten her the computer late last year, thinking she could use it to create her annual Christmas letter. For weeks before Christmas every year she was glued to her desk in the den, handwriting letter after letter to their family and friends. He had hoped the computer would give her more time during the holidays. But she had been appalled at the idea. He had tried to point out that she could learn to put pictures and graphics in her letters, but she wasn’t interested. He couldn’t help but feel that all her issues, errors and problems with the computer were welcome reasons for her to keep hand writing her letters. Although, it sounded like she really had tried to use that morning. Even though she had still hand-written the final letter, drafting it on the computer was a start.

Kate’s voice broke into his thoughts. “And Bill, we really need to do something about Tiffany.” Despite her intention to talk about the content of the letter, she found herself more worried about their daughter.

Bill snorted. He knew what he thought they should do about Tiffany. He loved his daughter; she was still his little girl at heart, but he was disappointed with the choices she had made, and not altogether happy with the woman she had turned out to be.

“How about grounding her for the rest of the year?” he asked wryly.

Kate slapped his leg lightly. “Bill, I’m serious. This break-up was hard for her, and I’m glad her first thought was to come home. But now that she’s here she doesn’t seem to want to do anything with her life. She just hangs out around the house like a petulant teenager.”

“Kate, she’s an adult. We can’t control the choices she makes. All we can do is give her tough love and make her live through the consequences.”

Kate looked at her husband imploringly. “What do you want me to do? Kick her out? Where would she go? Bill, I know you don’t understand it, but I think Colin Dawson was abusive to her.” At the words, Bill’s head snapped around and he glared at his wife. Hurriedly, Kate continued. “Oh, I don’t mean he hit her, don’t worry.” Bill turned back to the road, but was still glowering. “I feel like he abused her emotionally. I’ve been reading about it on the Internet. Yes,” she said at his raised eyebrows, “I have actually been using the computer and I do know how to use the Internet. At any rate, these guys will get women into a relationship, then they slowly separate them from all of their friends and family. They pressure them to spend time with only them, and they start controlling every aspect of their lives. Then they treat them like trash. He probably thought Tiffany would just put up with another woman since he had managed to alienate her from everyone who cared about her.”

Bill cursed softly and Kate looked over, thinking he was upset about what she had just told him. But then she saw that there was a huge tractor ahead of them on the country road. Bill shifted impatiently in his seat, and Kate rubbed his thigh. “It’s o.k. honey,” she said, “we’ll get there in time.” Bill didn’t say anything. He followed the tractor for a few miles at a crawl. His patience ran out at the bottom of a rise, and he banged the steering wheel in frustration.

As if reading what was happening in the car behind him, the driver of the tractor stuck his arm out the window and began motioning that Bill should pass him. Although they were at the bottom of a rise, Bill accelerated the car and pulled into the left-hand lane.

Kate gasped and grabbed the bar above her window. “Bill!” she said, scared. “You’re passing on a hill!”

“It’s o.k.,” he reassured her, “he must be up high enough that he can see over the hill. He wouldn’t motion us to pass him if he couldn’t.” He was just coming even with the tractor getting ready to top the hill when the driver stuck his arm out the window again and began frantically waving for them to get back. In the confused moment it took Bill to understand the gesture, the truck suddenly crested the hill in front of him, going far too fast for the narrow country road.

Endolye Chapter 15: Someplace like Home

“Dante? Are you in there?”

Dante pulled up her head, sniffed and tried to wipe her eyes. She looked around the cave, wondering how long she’d been gone. Were people looking for her? She recognized Becky’s voice, but didn’t really want her to come in and see her crying. She heard footsteps and looked around as Becky’s face came into view. She looked scared but determined.

“Hi there,” she said coming into the cave. Dante started to turn away, but then remembered the face in the pool. She looked up at Becky and said a small hi. She even tried to smile.

Becky came closer. “Are you o.k.?”

“Yeah,” Dante said, “I guess I just lost track of time.”

“Um, I don’t want to pry or anything, but are you sure you’re o.k.? I thought I heard you crying.”

Dante took a breath and tried to act nonchalant.

“I’m fine,” she said, in a bored voice. And then shook her head. This was going to be hard, but she needed to share her true self. She looked Becky in the eye. The other girl’s blue eyes looked kind, and concerned.

“No,” Dante said dropping her head and beginning to cry, “I’m not o.k. I really miss my friends.”

“I’m sorry,” Becky said. She came over and sat next to Dante, putting her hand on her shoulder. “I bet it’s really hard to move away and leave friends behind. I’ve never had to move, and I think I’d just die if my parents made me leave.”

Dante was surprised at how nice Becky was being, and for a moment the surprise stopped her tears. She smiled at Becky.

“Thanks,” she said. “It is kind of hard. Especially when your brother fits in so well.”

Becky laughed. “Yeah, well, I wouldn’t know about that,” she said, “I’ve got two sisters. What a pain!”

She was quiet for a moment and then looked away as though she were embarrassed.

“Dante,” she said, “I’m sorry about Carol. She just gets mean like that sometimes. I don’t know why, and I wish she didn’t.”

She looked back at Dante. “I’m sorry I haven’t been nicer, it’s just that Carol and I have grown up together, she’s lived next door to me for ages, and well, sometimes I guess I let her get away with too much.”

“That’s o.k.,” Dante said, and realized that she really meant it. “I really am bad at sports and stuff, and it must have been frustrating for her when I just let the ball hit me. The least I could have done was gotten out of the way. Or put a mitt on my head!” At that both girls laughed.

“How did you know I was here?” Dante asked. It didn’t seem like she’d been gone long, or that anyone thought she had been missing. Time on Endolye must be different than time here.

“I saw you come in here, and I couldn’t believe you were brave enough to do that. So I decided to follow you. I’d like to be braver, so maybe if we become friends, I could learn that.” She smiled shyly.

Dante felt herself smiling. “I don’t feel so brave most of the time,” she said.

They sat quietly for a moment and then Becky noticed the drawing in Dante’s hand. “What’s that?” she asked, turning her head sideways to see.

“A picture of feet?” She looked at Dante quizzically.

Dante looked at it for a moment, and then quickly opened her backpack and pushed it in. “Yeah, it’s just something I was working on,” she said. “It’s nothing, really.”

The two girls left the cave and began walking through the park.

“You know,” Becky said, “I’ve always loved your house. I mean, I know people said it was haunted and all, but I just thought it was sad and lonely. I was so happy when they started working on it, and was glad to see that a real family moved in.”

Dante felt a stab of suspicion. “You can come over and see the inside if you want,” she said, “but my brother won’t be there. And he never likes any of my friends.”

Becky looked at her, puzzled, “Who cares? I generally don’t like anyone’s brother! But I would love to see the inside of the house. Who has the room in the tower part in front?”

“My dad made that a library. It’s pretty cool.”

“That’s really cool!”

They walked to Dante’s house and went in through the kitchen. Her mother looked up and her eyes widened in surprise.

“Well, hello there,” she said.

“Hi mom,” Dante said, realizing no one had known she was gone. “This is Becky.”

And with that, the two girls moved through the kitchen and up the back stairs.

“Nice to meet you Becky!” her mother called after them.

“Nice to meet you!” came a voice down the stairs. Dante’s mother just smiled.

Once in Dante’s room, Dante tossed her backpack in the corner, and the two girls flopped on the bed.

“Do you have any other drawings?” Becky asked.

“Yeah, some,” Dante said.

“Can I see?”

Dante thought hard, but then decided to take the risk. She showed Becky her drawings, and Becky was impressed with them. They two girls agreed that Dante would try to teach Becky to draw, and Becky would try to teach Dante to play sports. Becky stayed for most of the afternoon.

After Becky left, Dante sat on the bed in her room, thinking about the last couple of hours. She might actually have a friend here! Endolye already seemed far away, and she wondered if maybe she had dreamed the whole thing. She pulled her backpack from the corner and opened it to get out her journal. She pulled the drawing of the feet from the top, and then opened the bag wider. A small gasp escaped her.

Inside the backpack was a crumpled brown paper bag, an empty baggie with a few crumbs, and a small, tightly woven basket, a grooming set, and a pipe. She pulled out the pipe and blew a few notes. She felt her eyes tearing up.

“No, definitely not a dream,” she said. She sniffed once, and then resolutely took the pipe in her hands.

“I’m going to learn to play this thing,” she said. “And then I’m going to learn to catch the ball.”

Back in the cave, the surface of the pool stirred slightly. Addis poked his head into the cave and looked around for a moment. Satisfied, he smiled before disappearing back into the water.

Endolye Chapter 14: Rubbed Out

Dante had curled up in a corner of the cave. There was enough light from the fire for her to see and write in her journal. She paused for a moment and saw movement close to the mouth of the cave. She looked up and saw Cory standing there, smiling, his hand outstretched.

“No, Lyria, I don’t think so,” Dante said. Cory morphed into Lyria, who walked into the cave to where Dante sat, her journal in her lap.

“Fine,” she said, “I’ll just appear to you like this. I wanted to let you know that the Wumpus are, at this very moment, eliminating the nuisance of your friends for me, and with any luck Addis will be joining you here quite soon.”

Dante didn’t say anything, but just looked down at the journal in her hand.

“What’s that?” Lyria asked, reaching for the journal. Dante put it behind her back so Lyria couldn’t take it.

“I said, what is that?” Lyria growled, and reached behind Dante to grab the journal out of her hand. She began flipping through the pages.

“Isn’t this odd?” she murmured, half to herself. As she was looking through the journal, a page fluttered to the floor. She reached out to pick it up. It was the picture of the monster from Dante’s dreams. She held it out to Dante.

“Is this supposed to be me?” she asked quietly. Dante shrugged, not wanting Lyria to know she was scared. Lyria leaned in so she could look directly into Dante’s face; Dante tried not to cringe.

“This is nothing like me,” Lyria said slowly. “This was just a stupid reflection in the water. A reflection – not even real! I want you to fix this, and to make it look like me!”

She thrust the drawing toward at Dante, who took it and held out her other hand.

“Could I have my journal please? I’ll need it.”

Lyria handed her the book, and Dante opened to a clean page. She looked up at Lyria and said, “You’ll need to sit down or something.”

“Why?”

“So I can draw you.”

“No, no, stupid girl. I don’t want you to make something new, I want you to FIX this!” and she pointed at the drawing next to Dante’s foot.

“But,” Dante began, and Lyria screamed, “Fix it!”

Dante picked up the drawing and put in on the open page of her journal. She looked at the drawing and then at Lyria and realized she would need to erase the whole thing and start over. She looked at her pencil; only a nub of the eraser was left. She sighed and start to slowly erase one of the claws.

Without warning, Lyria screamed. Dante looked up and saw Lyria holding up her arm, looking at it in horror. Her hand was missing. Dante’s mouth dropped open.

“What have you done!” Lyria screamed.

Dante looked down at her drawing. The claw that she had erased was indeed the hand that was missing. As quickly as she could Dante erased the other hand and started up the arm. Lyria screamed again and when Dante looked up she could see it was working! Lyria now had no hands.

She rushed at Dante who jumped up and began running around the fire in the cave. Although it was hard to do while she was running, she kept erasing the drawing. Soon Lyria had no arms, but she continued to run after Dante.

Dante decided to make a break for the mouth of the cave, but as she ran toward it Lyria headed her off and bumped her, hard. The drawing and the pencil fell to the ground and Lyria dropped on top of them. Dante began pushing at Lyria, trying to reach under her, but Lyria was putting up a fight kicking and biting. Using all her weight Dante shoved Lyria aside and grabbed the drawing and her pencil.

Lyria howled in rage but Dante was up and erasing as fast as she could. She began erasing the monster’s head, thinking she could stop Lyria faster that way. When Lyria realized what she was doing she tried to shout “No!” but wasn’t quite able to get the word out before her head was gone.

Dante kept erasing frantically, and Lyria kept disappearing. Dante’s eraser was almost gone, and starting to scratch the paper. She managed to erase the legs just down to the knees before she couldn’t erase any more. All that was left on the page were the monster’s feet and ankles.

Dante looked up to where Lyria had last been standing. Two beautiful feet in beautiful shoes sat by the opening of the cave. Dante sat down heavily on the floor of the cave and stared at them in wonder.

“All this time,” she said slowly, “all I had to do was erase?”

She saw another movement at the mouth of the cave and jumped up in alarm, wondering who could possibly have found her. Addis came rushing in to where she was standing.

“I’m here!” he said looking around wildly.

“Addis!” Dante ran over and hugged him. “How did you get here?”

“Where is she?” he asked looking around. His eyes fell on Lyria’s feet and he stared at them a moment, and then looked wonderingly at Dante.

“How did you do that?” he asked.

Dante shrugged. “I erased her,” she said.

Addis’ eyes widened. “Have you erased anyone else?” he asked in alarm.

“Well, no, of course not,” she said. “I mean, normally, when you erase…. Oh well, never mind. My eraser is gone anyway,” she said, showing him the end of her pencil. Addis looked at it warily, as if it were a terrible weapon.

“Well,” he said, “I guess that’s good.”

“Look!” Dante shouted. While they were talking they hadn’t noticed the feet slowly making their way to the mouth of the cave. They now made a dash for it, and although Dante and Addis rushed after them, they could see the feet disappearing into the woods.

“Well,” Addis said, “I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re just feet.” They watched for a moment and then turned and looked at each other.

“How did you get here?” Dante asked.

Addis smiled at her and took her hand. He led her back into the woods, and she could see they were heading toward the pool.

“I’m part of the Khee,” he said simply.

“What!” Dante couldn’t believe it. “You mean all this time we’ve had the Khee with us! Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t know. It was the pendant. You see Lyria came to ProGress some time ago, and we tried to help her. She had the power you’ve seen over water, as well as other powers, and wanted to use them to take over Endolye. We tried to stop her, but she got away and used her power over the Wumpus. She was able to convince them to help her.”

“But where are the rest of your tribe?” Dante asked.

“We are here,” said a voice that sounded like many voices.

Dante turned and saw a group behind her that all looked very much like Addis. One of the group stepped forward and put his hands on his tummy.

“You see, Addis is very young, and Lyria was easily able to separate him from us. We had just sent the Council back to their tribes, but we fear that she somehow intercepted them and they never completed their real mission.”

“She put the pendant on my neck,” Addis said, “and it had power over me so I didn’t know who or where I was. Lyria must have realized that the Oralians would be the least likely to ask questions or try to figure out who I was, so she sent me back with the Oralian Council member.”

“Without Addis, our powers were lost,” the leader said. “We are the soul of Endolye, but if even one of our members is not with us, we are not whole and cannot function. By separating Addis from us, Lyria was able to start to control Endolye. The last thing we were able to do was make the portals vanish, so at least Lyria couldn’t start any wars between the tribes. It was only when you arrived Dante that the portals appeared.”

“But how did I get to Endolye?” Dante asked.

There was no answer, and before she could say anything else Addis touched her shoulder.

“Dante, you need to get back to the others. Now that Lyria is gone, the Wumpus should no longer be able to channel her powers.”

She had so many questions, but was anxious to see her friends and make sure they were o.k., so she nodded. Addis led her to a portal on the far side of the pool and she went through. When she was on the other side, she realized Addis hadn’t come with her. She panicked for a moment, and rushed back through the portal. Addis was there, smiling at her.

“Yes,” he said, “it will stay and you can get back through. But I cannot go with you.”

She nodded, and turned and went through the portal again, and found herself near the gazebo where they had first met Lyria. She hurried to where they had made the barricade against the Wumpus.

When she got there, Ori was sitting with Greff’s head in his lap, Seeya next to him. Dante cried out and ran over to her friends.

“Oh Seeya, your wing!” she cried. Seeya looked at her and gave her the smallest lopsided smile.

“It’s o.k.,” he said, “with everything else such a mess, I’m not so sure anyone would notice.”

And sure enough, as Dante looked at him she realized he did look different. His shirt was off and his chest was streaked with dirt, his hair was matted and messy, and his wing was bent at the wrong angle entirely.

“He’s a hero” Ori said softly, still looking down at Greff. “He swam down to the cave to get us, and helped us all escape.” Seeya didn’t say anything, but just laid his head back against the ground.

“What’s wrong with Greff?” Dante asked.

“He got hit on the head very hard,” Ori answered, “and he hasn’t regained consciousness yet. We were all trying so desperately to protect Addis. Lyria wanted him.”

“He’s one of the Khee,” Dante said.

Ori’s head shot up. “What? He can’t be. They never travel.”

“It’s a long story, but Lyria put that pendant around his neck, and he couldn’t remember who he was. She had convinced him never to take it off, and then sent him home with the Oralian Council member. She somehow interfered with the Council, so they didn’t know what they were supposed to do. Anyway, the Khee sent me back to help you.”

“I’m not sure what you can do,” Ori said. At that moment, Greff gave a low moan and shifted.

“Thank goodness,” Ori sighed, “at least he’s alive.”

Dante looked down at the lake. “The Khee said the Wumpus could help. Now that Lyria is gone, they shouldn’t be under her influence.”

Ori looked up, “Lyria’s gone?” he asked.

Dante just nodded and said, “It’s a long story.” She looked back toward the lake. “I need to go for help,” she said. “I’ll be back,” and she headed for the lake.

When she got there, Pirrin and the others were standing on the bank. They seemed confused and dazed, but recognized Dante. When she told them Lyria was gone and she needed help for her friends, they quickly agreed to help. She led them back into the woods where her friends were waiting.

It turned out that the Wumpus had healing skills, which Lyria made sure they didn’t use on anyone but themselves. Now that she was gone, they quickly helped the Non-Council members, treating Greff’s head, and straightening and splinting Seeya’s wing. They assured Dante that everyone would be fine, and that they would take care of her friends until they had completely recovered.

They spent a few days with the Wumpus, which were completely different from any of the previous days they had spent. The Wumpus took wonderful care of them, and in a few days they were all feeling almost completely recovered. Addis hadn’t returned, and Dante thought about what Ori had said about the Khee not traveling. She knew they needed to return to ProGress, and hoped the portal was still there.

When she felt everyone was well enough, she announced, “It’s time to return to the Khee.”

They agreed, and she led her friends back into the woods. The portal was still there. They thanked their hosts for the care they had received. Pirrin and some of the others had accompanied them, and they brushed off Dante’s thanks.

“I can’t tell you how sorry we are we caused all that trouble,” Pirrin said. “Usually our games are harmless. I’d like to come with you and see if I can somehow help the damage I’ve done.”

Dante nodded and stepped through the portal, followed by Greff, Ori and Seeya. When they were all on the other side, they waited, but Pirrin never came through. After a few moments, Mirch emerged. She said simply, “I was the only one that could go through. The others just walked through to the other side.”

Addis had been waiting for them and asked, “Are you ready?”

The group looked at each and nodded their heads. They headed into the woods where Dante had first seen Cory/Lyria. Addis stopped, and then motioned for Seeya to follow him. One by the one the Non-Council members went with Addis toward the pool. When they came back they seemed to be the same, but Dante could tell something was a little different with each one.

Dante was surprised when Addis turned to her with a smile and said, “O.k., Dante, it’s your turn.”

“But I’m not a Council member,” she protested.

Addis didn’t respond, he simply motioned for her to follow him to the pool. She sat down her backpack and followed him. When they got there, he motioned for her to go out onto the walkway. She watched as he walked away from the pool. She stepped out onto the walkway and looked down into the water, expecting to see her reflection. What she saw shocked her.

There was a young, honest, beautiful face looking back at her. The girl in the water wore an expression both kind and wise, the kind of face you want desperately to be your friend.

“This can’t be me,” she whispered.

“But I am you.” The reflection spoke to her and she jumped back. She stepped forward again and looked into the pool. The reflection smiled at her. She stared into the pool, eyes wide.

“I’m really confused.”

“I know. But everyone’s confused. That’s the part you don’t get. You seem to think that everyone else is sure of themselves, and knows what they’re doing. But they aren’t. They’re just not as honest as you are.”

“So why don’t they like me?”

Her reflection changed, and the girl in the pool had an arrogant, aloof look about her. She didn’t look Dante in the eye when she spoke, and her voice was flat and disinterested.

“Most people think you aren’t interested.”

Dante leaned closer, looking at the reflection.

“Is that, I mean, is this how people see me?”

“Um hmm.” The reflection seemed to be disinterested and wanting to go somewhere else.

Dante thought about it for a minute. “Then who was I when I first got here?”

The reflection changed back to the face she had seen when she first looked in the pool.

“This is the reflection of your true self.”

“My true self?”

“Yes. This is who you are on the inside. Not many people see the reflection of their true self, and even fewer are able to show it to the rest of the world.”

“So how do I look like this all the time?”

“First, learn to be true to yourself. Don’t worry about what others are thinking, and don’t get too hung up on what you see in the mirror. That’s the least true reflection of who you are.”

“I think I understand. So what do I do now?”

“Follow your path.” The reflection started to ripple, as if a rock had been thrown into the pool.

“Wait,” Dante said, but when the ripples cleared, she was looking at the reflection she was used to seeing in her mirror at home.

“Are you still there?” The reflection mimicked her movements, and she sighed. She stood up and headed back down the path toward the others.

“Now you see?” Addis asked. Dante smiled at him.

“I think so,” she said. She looked at the others and they were all smiling at her – even Seeya.

“I guess,” she said slowly, “when it all comes right down to it, every one of us is really more alike than we are different, aren’t we?” Addis just smiled.

He then led the entire group back toward the pool, and they all stood at the water’s edge.

“Dante,” Addis said, reaching into his bag – which Dante couldn’t remember seeing since before they had been trapped in the Wumpus’s cave but was now right next to her backpack, “tell them how you conquered Lyria.” And he handed her the picture of the feet.

“Oh!” Dante said, putting her backpack over one shoulder and taking the picture. “I just erased her.”

The others looked at each other questioningly, and Dante laughed. She held up the drawing.

“See, she didn’t think it looked like her, so I started erasing it. It’s kind of hard to explain….” She paused and a gust of wind caught the paper and blew it out of her hand.

“Oh!” she exclaimed.

“I can get it for you,” said Greff.

“Oh no, I’ve got it,” Dante said. The paper had blown into the pool, and she went out on the walkway. She leaned over the water but it was just out of her reach. She tried to reach just a little farther, and at that moment her backpack shifted and dropped in front of her. She lost her balance and fell into the pool. She expected to hear a splash and feel water, but landed with a thump on her back, her backpack hung up on her elbow and the drawing in her hand.

”What the….” she said, sitting up and looking around.

“Oh no,” she whispered, feeling completely bereft. She was back in her special place in the rocks at home, with the pool of water next to her. She quickly stuck her hand in the pool, but the water went up just above her elbow and she could feel the hard, rocky bottom.

“That’s just not fair,” she whispered, trying hard not to cry. “I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”

At that point, she gave in and put her head on her knees and cried as if her heart were breaking.

Endolye Chapter 13: The Battle

Back in the cave, Addis stood looking at the spot where Dante had been just a moment before.

“Dante?” he asked, and then took a few steps forward. He walked all around the last spot she had been, but couldn’t detect a portal, or hole, or any other way she could have suddenly vanished. He wondered if somehow Lyria had taken her, or if there was something else going on they still didn’t know about. He went back to sit on one of the couches and put his head in his hands.

“Now what?” he asked, looking down at the pendant hanging from his neck.

In the woods, the others were waiting impatiently for Dante to return.

“We never should have let her go alone,” Greff muttered. “This is madness.”

Before the others could respond, the Wumpus were suddenly upon them without warning. Seeya shrieked and zipped off, and Ori and Greff were quickly captured. The Wumpus carried them, struggling, back to the cave.

Once they dumped their prisoners on the floor of the cave, they whooped, and raced back outside, sealing the entrance with ice.

“Addis,” Ori said, sounding relieved. “I’m so glad to see you’re o.k.” Addis opened his mouth to speak, but Greff interrupted before he could say anything.

“Where is she?” he demanded, agitated.

Addis shook his head. “I don’t know. She just disappeared. She was here, and then she just … wasn’t.”

“What do you mean she just wasn’t?” Greff asked, but Addis just looked at him helplessly. He snorted. “It must have been Lyria.”

Ori shook his head thoughtfully. “I don’t think so. If Lyria had been able to summon us at any time, wouldn’t she have done it already?”

Before they could answer, the Wumpus came bursting back into the room, shouting and laughing.

“Well, we’ve got you now!”

“Hey!” Pirrin said, looking around, “where’s Dante?”

“We don’t know,” Addis mumbled.

Pirrin walked over to him and shook him. “What do you mean you don’t know? Lyria won’t be very happy she’s gone. You’d better tell us where she went.”

“I told you, I don’t know.”

Pirrin regarded him a moment. “Maybe a little swim will refresh his memory,” he said.

“No,” Ori said calmly, walking over and blocking the entrance to the tunnel that led out of the cave. “She just disappeared. Think about it. You’ve had the cave sealed all this time, how could she have left?”

“Yeah,” Greff added, “And how do you know that Lyria didn’t take her somehow? Shouldn’t you talk to her first?”

Pirrin looked between Ori and Greff and said, “Yeah, I can see that you two are the smart ones.”

He turned to the Wumpus behind him. “O.k., let’s go and find Lyria!” He led them whooping out of the cave, and the opening froze solid behind them. Addis still sat on the sofa staring at his hands. Greff began pacing and Ori quietly sat down.

“You may as well sit down,” he said to Greff. “We have no idea how long we’ll be here.”

It was getting late when the Wumpus returned. Greff, Addis and Ori were just sitting quietly.

“You are no fun at all,” Pirrin said, throwing himself down onto a couch between Greff and Addis. “You know what you guys need? A party!”

And the Wumpus all laughed.

Because they had been in the cave all day without food or water, they gratefully accepted what the Wumpus gave them. As they finished their meal the Wumpus began dancing around them. Ori looked over and noticed that Addis was nodding off, which seemed odd because the Wumpus were making a lot of noise. He went over to check on his friend.

“Addis, are you o.k.?”

“Just so sleepy,” he muttered, and his head dropped onto his chest.

Ori noticed Greff’s eyes closing and began to feel alarmed. He went over the Brox. “Greff, how are you feeling?”

“So sleepy,” murmured Greff. And despite all the movement and noise, he lay down and was sound asleep. Ori looked at their empty plates and cups, and came to the terrible realization that they had been drugged. Why did the Wumpus want them asleep, and more importantly, why hadn’t whatever they put into the food and drink affected him? He decided he might find out more if the Wumpus thought he was asleep too, so he curled up next to Greff, closed his eyes and made his breathing even. After a few minutes, he heard the Wumpus start to quiet down, and footsteps walking over to where he lay. A foot nudged him roughly, but he just relaxed and pretended he was sleeping. He heard Pirrin chuckle.

“Yep, they’re out! That stuff works great! Thanks Mirch.”

They rest of the Wumpus laughed and Mirch replied, “Well, I had to do something. It’s been so boring not being able to swim, and Lyria won’t let me play anything but the fog game, so I had to do something so we could have some fun. Come on, let’s go!”

And with that, Ori heard them all whooping and running up the tunnel and out of the cave.

Once it was completely silent, he opened his eyes. If they were going swimming, there was a chance to escape. He looked at Greff and Addis, who were both in a deep sleep, and realized he had no hope of getting all three of them out of the cave. And he was starting to feel so tired. He just needed to lie down for a moment, just to get a little rest. He dropped back down next to Greff, and surrendered himself to sleep

In the woods, from his perch high in a tree, Seeya saw the lake go from ice to water, and soon saw the Wumpus swimming.

“Well,” he said, hands on his hips. “What’s all that about? Certainly they can’t have left the others in the cave while they go swimming.”

A horrible thought suddenly seized him. “Oh my! What if they’ve gotten rid of the others!”

He began to feel frantic. He zipped back and forth, wondering what to do. The Wumpus had all gone to the far side of the lake, and were playing some kind of game in the shallow water. They were completely involved in what they were doing, and Seeya was sure they wouldn’t notice if he slipped down and back into the cave. He decided to take the risk to make sure his friends were o.k.

He flew to the edge of the woods and hesitated a moment, realizing if the Wumpus saw him it would be all over. So he did something he hated to do – he walked. He made it to the edge of the lake unseen, and realized the water was much higher than it had been before. The only way to reach the cave would be to swim.

“Oh dear,” he said, looking down at himself. “That water will absolutely ruin my ensemble. Not to mention my hair. I would look a fright.”

He sat down on the sand and thought about what to do. He remembered Dante talking about her freckles, and all the times Addis had listened to him complain. He remembered Greff saying goodbye to Turra, and how Ori had always encouraged him along the way when they were making their journey across the valley.

“Well,” he said resolutely, “there’s just no other way.” And the tiny, perfectly groomed Oralian jumped into the water and swam down to the opening of the cave.

He needn’t have worried, because when he got to the room where the Non-Council members were being held, they were all fast asleep. He went to Ori first, thinking the Bastahl would be the least likely to comment on his bedraggled appearance.

“Ori,” he whispered, pushing against his shoulder. “Wake up!”

But the Bastahl didn’t budge. That worried Seeya a little and he moved closer to his ear.

“Ori!” he said, “wake up!”

When the Bastahl still didn’t wake up he tried Greff and then Addis, but none of them even twitched a muscle. He zipped around the room in confusion. Should he stay? Should he try to hide? Or should he go? And then he realized something else that worried him. Dante wasn’t in the cave. Why? Perhaps she had escaped? But that didn’t make sense, because she would have gone back to the woods and he’d have seen her. Had the Wumpus done something with her? Had Lyria?

He hovered above the sleeping figures and looked around the cave, hands on his hips. How in beauty’s name would he wake them? He saw Greff’s basket lying on the floor. He grabbed it and zipped to the opening of the cave. He dipped it in the lake and had to walk back, lugging the full basket with him. It was quite heavy, and he had to drag it, grunting and pushing over to Greff, who he doused with the water.

“Whaaat…” Greff sputtered awake. He saw Seeya and his eyes opened wide.

“What happened to you?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” Seeya replied.

“Well, it’s just that you look like you’ve gotten wet, your hair is a mess, your clothes are completely sodden, your shoes are muddy, and your face is all red.”

“Well, I just dragged that basket of water over here! It was heavy and I couldn’t fly so I had to walk! Never mind that now – I need help!”

Greff took the basket, went up the tunnel to the lake and filled it with water. He easily brought it back and revived Ori, and then Addis. They all sat for a minute looking at Seeya, who was so tired he was sitting on the floor of the cave. Addis simply stared, speechless.

“Fine, fine,” the Oralian snapped. “I’m a mess, o.k.? Get over it! I had to swim to get in here, and then I had to lug that heavy basket to get water in here to wake up Greff. I’d like to see any of you do that and look any better. And yes,” he said, folding his arms across his chest, “I’m frowning!”

Addis walked over to where the Oralian was sitting, arms crossed on his chest and the faintest trace of a frown on his face. He put his hand on Seeya’s shoulder and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look better.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Ori said. “Seeya, that was so brave of you, I think this is the most attractive you’ve ever been.”

“You look fine to me,” Greff said, “what’s different?”

Seeya dropped his arms and looked at all of them. Then his face resumed its blank expression.

“Well,” he said, “we don’t have time for this. They might be back at any minute!”

He looked around again and asked, hesitantly, “So, where’s Dante?”

Addis, Greff and Ori looked at each other with grim faces.

“We don’t know,” Addis said, “she just vanished.”

“What?” Seeya said.

“No time now,” Greff said, heading for the opening, “let’s get out of here, and we can catch you up on it when we’re far away from here.”

They made their way out of the cave, swam to the shore, and headed back into the woods.

When the Wumpus returned Pirrin was shocked to find their guests had escaped. He just stood in the middle of the cave, breathing heavily.

“What do we do?” Dula cried.

“We’ve got to find them!” Mirch shouted.

Pirrin didn’t say a word, he just ran out of the cave to find Lyria. When he reached her home he pounded on the door until she answered.

“They’ve escaped” he panted.

“What? How? What have you done?”

Pirrin cowered as she raised her arms. He wasn’t sure what she might do, but he was afraid of her. She dropped her arms and said quietly. “All of them?”

When Pirrin nodded she turned her head and sighed. Then she looked back at the Wumpus. “I don’t care about the others,” she said, “I can take care of them. But you must find Addis – he cannot escape!”

Pirrin just nodded and ran back out the door. Lyria sighed and shook her head.

“Idiots.”

Once they were safely back in the woods Greff began building another barricade. Ori began working on some traps they could put in the trees to help keep the Wumpus from capturing them. He couldn’t stand the thought of actually hurting anyone, so he made sure when the traps were sprung the vines wouldn’t be too tight or constraining.

Addis was helping look for branches and rocks, and Seeya was keeping lookout. By this point, the Oralian had discarded the beautiful shirt Lyria had given him, both because it was beginning to look like a rag, and because the bright color could be seen easily through the trees.

“It was probably her plan all along,” he told the others when he buried it behind the barricade.

Greff was still fortifying the barricade and Ori was setting traps when Seeya zipped back to where they were working.

“They’re coming!” he said breathlessly. The four looked at each other for a moment and then Addid nodded.

“We’re going to be o.k.,” he said. Ori smiled, Greff nodded and Seeya put his hands on his hips.

At that moment they heard Pirrin shouting. “O.k.,” he yelled, “don’t worry much about the others, we’ve got to capture Addis!”

Three sets of eyes turned in Addis’s direction. He put his hands over his tummy.

“Maybe I should just give myself up,” he suggested taking a step forward.

“No!” Greff shouted and pushed him back.

At that moment the Wumpus tried rushing the barricade, but several got caught up in Ori’s traps. Unfortunately, because the Bastahl couldn’t tolerate violence, it didn’t take the athletic Wumpus long to work their way out of them. When the first Wumpus head showed at the top of the barricade, Greff gave a great cry and grabbed four of the biggest branches he had and just began swinging. The Wumpus flew back with a howl.

“Greff!” Ori shouted. The Brox looked back at the Bastahl’s anguished face.

“Do you want them to get Addis?” he shouted.

Ori hesitantly picked up a branch and stood ready. When the next Wumpus head showed over the barricade, he used the branch like a ramrod, quickly punching it into the Wumpus’ face. The creature howled and dropped immediately. Greff looked at Ori appreciatively.

“Swinging won’t provide the same impact as punching with it,” he explained.

Suddenly the front wall of the barricade began to sway with a terrible creaking noise. Seeya zipped over the top and yelled down.

“They’re pulling down the front wall! Go out the back and run….ahhh!” He suddenly dropped from sight.

“Seeya!” Addis yelled and tried to run forward. Using one of his branches, Greff shoved him back and he fell.

“It’s no use,” Ori shouted, “they’ll get the wall down and then we’re done for. We have to run for it.”

“No!” Greff yelled back. “There’s no where to run! Keep fighting!”

The front wall of the barricade came down and there was an army of Wumpus behind it, led by Pirrin. Ori shoved Addis behind his back and crouched down, his branch ready. With a shout Greff pushed into the crowd, swinging four arms at once. Wumpus flew both left and right with howls, but there were too many. Out of the corner of his eye Ori could see Seeya on the ground, one wing bent at a sickening angle.

“Stay behind me,” he shouted to Addis.

There were six Wumpus on Greff, and they were slowly bringing him down. Two of them wrestled one of the branches out of his hand, and began hitting him with it. The blows just bounced off the Brox’s back.

“His head!” Pirrin shouted, and before Greff could move, Pirrin brought one of the largest branches down with tremendous force on Greff’ head. The Brox crumpled. Ori was now trying to back out of the barricade, his head swinging from back to front to make sure the Wumpus didn’t come from behind, a branch in one hand, his other hand protectively on Addis.

“It’s no use Ori!” Addis shouted. “I’m not going to have you all killed because she wants me!” and he tried to step out from behind the Bastahl.

Distracted, Ori looked down for an instant, and that’s when the Wumpus made their move. Dula made a grab for him, and Ori instinctively jumped. He landed lightly on a tree branch, but the trees in these woods weren’t strong enough. With a crack the branch broke and he fell on top of two Wumpus, knocking them out cold.

Pirrin never took his eyes off Addis.

“Finish him,” he said to Dula, who ran over and used the vines from one of Ori’s traps to tie him tightly.

Pirrin began to advance on Addis, who stood his ground. As Pirrin reached out to grab him, Addis tried to jump backward. The motion swung the pendant forward, and that was all Pirrin got in his hand.

“No!” Addis yelled and tried to move forward, but Pirrin yanked as hard as he could, laughing as the pendant broke off of Addis’ neck.

“It’s about time this was mine,” he sneered. Addis cowered for an instant, and then suddenly stood upright.

“Dante!” he said.

Pirrin replied, “Oh yes, where is she? Well, not to worry, Lyria only wants you,” and he took a step toward Addis.

“Lyria will have to wait,” Addis replied, and fixed Pirrin with a stare so intense that the Wumpus froze in confusion. Then Addis took two steps forward, and the surprised Pirrin leaned back slightly. Addis then took one step backward. And vanished.

Dula howled, “Where did he go? Lyria will be displeased!”

Pirrin just stared in amazement at the spot where Addis had  been standing, within reach, and then threw the pendant to the ground and whirled to face Dula.

“I don’t know!” he said. “I don’t know what to do! He just vanished – how could that have happened?”

“Maybe Lyria took him?” Mirch suggested.

“If she could do that, she would have done it before,” Pirrin snapped. He paused a moment. “Maybe there’s someone else here who can make people disappear!”

The Wumpus all began to look uneasy. Seeya groaned slightly, and Ori, still tied up in vines, was relieved that he was still alive. The other Wumpus began to whimper.

“Shut up!” Pirrin yelled. “I’ve got to think!”

He looked wildly at Ori tied up and at Gress and Seeya on the ground, and then said, “Stupid tribes! We should have drowned you and iced you in and steamed you out of existence when we had the chance! But no, Lyria wanted to come in and save you all and rule you all. Now what!”

With a shake of his head he took off running toward the lake. The other Wumpus quickly followed.

Ori began struggling against the vines but they were tied too tightly for him to escape.

“Seeya, can you hear me?” he said loudly. The Oralian simply groaned in reply.

“Greff?” he called. No answer. He sighed. “O.k., Ori, there must be a way out of this. Just think. And do it quickly before anyone else shows up.”

The Bastahl closed his eyes, took a deep breath and began to meditate.

Endolye Chapter 12: Making ProGress

Dante was standing on the shore of a beautiful island. The turquoise water made a soothing sound as it rolled up the soft, white sand of the shore. She stood looking around in wonder. There were large, leafy trees further up the shore and a soft, sweet smelling breeze ruffled her hair.

She thought she must have passed through a portal, but was confused by the fact she hadn’t seen an arch and that Addis wasn’t with her. She sat down facing the water and ran the soft sand through her fingers while she tried to figure things out. She was also hoping that Addis and others would suddenly appear, and was fighting off her fear at being alone. It felt good to be on the warm beach, but she was worried about what was happening to the others, and that Lyria had found Addis. She hoped they were all o.k. After a few minutes of sifting the sand, she accepted the fact that no one else was coming. She stood up, brushed the sand off her hands and decided to look around. It seemed like a better idea than sitting and doing nothing.

She looked back toward the trees and saw a path leading into the forest; she didn’t remember seeing it before. There was something about it that made her want to head into the trees. She started walking and after a few steps turned and looked back toward the water. She wanted to stay and wait for the others, but she also wanted to know where the path led. She finally decided that if the others hadn’t come by now there was no point in waiting.

The path led away from the shore and into the trees, which were very much like the trees in the forest where she had first met Seeya and Addis. The path twisted around the trunk of a very large tree and through two large rocks. On the other side of the rocks the landscape changed suddenly to a series of large boulders like those surrounding the pod where the Brox lived. She walked through the rocks until the path turned around a large boulder and she found herself surrounded by Bulu bushes. The path led through the Bulus and soon twas barely visible through the thick trees and undergrowth. The damp smell and feel of the jungle reminded her of the Bastahl, and she felt a little sad remembering everything that had happened and that she was alone without her friends.

As she walked, a gentle breeze began blowing across the path. It lifted her hair and as it blew, she could hear a sound, almost like a voice whispering. Suddenly, the path ended. She stood, not knowing what to do, staring at the thick growth in front of her.

“Dante.”

She felt the hairs on her arms raise, and stood completely still. Again the breeze blew and she heard the faint whisper of her name. “Dante.”

She looked all around and said softly, “Who are you?”

The breeze blew and she heard, “We are the Khee.”

She drew in a sharp breath. It couldn’t be! She didn’t trust this; it was too easy. Maybe it was really Lyria trying to trap her.

“Where are you?” She kept looking into the forest, but couldn’t see anything. There was no answer. She waited and then tried again.

“How did I get here?”

“You found the way.”

“But I don’t know what I did to get here.”

“It’s not uncommon to reach ProGress without knowing how you’ve done it, and without being ready to arrive.”

“ProGress?”

“Yes, the Khee live on ProGress.”

She stood a moment, wondering what to do next. She turned, thinking she would walk back to the shore, but the path behind her had disappeared. She felt a moment of panic and said, “What do I do now?”

“You must follow your path.”

“But,” she began, and then saw off to her right a path leading through the growth. She was sure it hadn’t been there before. As she looked down the path she could see it led to a small clearing. She could hear the soft sound of water splashing, and walked slowly toward the sound.

When she reached the clearing she could see a small pool in the center, into which a gentle waterfall spilled. It was round and surrounded by smooth, round stones. The ground around the pool was clear as though it had been swept. She walked slowly toward the pool, and when she reached the edge of it she could see a small slate walkway heading out over the water. She felt drawn toward it and was walking toward the edge of the walkway when a movement from the other side caught her eye.

It was Cory. She couldn’t believe her eyes – it didn’t make any sense. How did Cory get here?

“Cory?”

He smiled at her and walked toward her.

“How did you get here?”

He didn’t answer, but took her by the hand and started to lead her away from the clearing.

“Wait. What is this place?”

He just shook his head and tried to lead her away. But there was something about the pool, something she felt she needed to do. She pulled her hand away from his and walked into the clearing. She stepped on the walkway that went over the water. Cory quickly followed her, and before she could take a step he put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. He bent forward as if to kiss her. Dante was so confused by what was happening, and so nervous at being close to Cory, she ducked her head so he couldn’t see her face.

She looked down into the pool and saw her reflection in the water. And froze in horror. Because it wasn’t Cory’s reflection she saw next to her in the pool, it was the monster from her nightmare. With a cry she pulled away from its grip and tried to run.

The monster reached out and grabbed her, and with a terrible voice it said, “No, no, you mustn’t go, I want to visit with you awhile.”

She kicked and screamed, but just like her dreams she was no match for the monster. It carried her easily into the woods, until they came to a cave. Dante kept hoping this was another nightmare and she would wake up, but when the monster set her down in the cave she knew it was all too real.

The cave was lit from the inside by a small fire, and the monster rolled a stone across the opening. Dante cowered on the far side of the fire, sure she was going to be killed. But once the monster had rolled the stone over the opening, it turned to face her and she saw that it was really Lyria.

“Lyria!”

“Dante, don’t be frightened, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m just so disappointed that you ran away. Didn’t you like my house?”

Dante just stared at her. “What are you, really? Why did you look like that outside, but now you look the way you did when we were with the Wumpus?”

“Well,” Lyria said, “it’s the Khee. They’ve put a curse on me, and whenever I’m on ProGress I appear like a horrible monster. But I’m not! This is who I really am, truly.” She took a step toward Dante, smiling, her arms open.

Dante scrambled backward, “I don’t believe you. Why would the Khee do that?”

“Dante, why would I lie?”

“You’re lying to everyone. I heard you talking to Pirrin. I know what you plan to do with Endolye.”

“Ah,” Lyria smiled as she realized that Dante knew the truth. “Well, you just don’t understand. You see, the Khee kept helping the tribes govern themselves. But they made so many mistakes! Think how much easier it will be for the them when they just have one leader guiding them, making decisions on how things needs to run.”

“Maybe they’d rather decide what to do on their own.”

“How would they know? You see what’s been happening – they can’t solve their own problems. They can’t even really exist completely without each other. I’m just going to help them become whole.”

“The Khee already do that.”

“The Khee do nothing!” her voice rose to a shout. Dante shrank back into the corner. Lyria smiled, but she was no longer beautiful.

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Soon the tribes will all be in my control, and they will all do my bidding. And if they don’t, they’ll suffer for it. Besides, I’m going to show up and save them all. I’ll stop the rain, the fog, the steam.”

“They’ll find out the truth. The others will tell them.”

“What others? You mean that silly Non-Council of yours? No, I’ll be making sure they’re out of the way.” She smiled at Dante, and suddenly Dante was more afraid for her friends than she was for herself.

“You can’t destroy the truth,” she whispered.

“I don’t have to, I’ll simply make up my own truth.”

Dante thought about her friends, and realized suddenly how much she cared about them. No matter what, she cared about them. Without knowing why, she said, “Well, then, you can’t destroy love.”

At that Lyria gave her a strange look. “Love? They’ll all love me. That’s who they’ll love,” and with that she vanished. Dante was alone in the dim cave, with an impossibly heavy stone blocking the only way out.

Endolye Chapter 11: House of Lies

They followed the lady through the woods, and as they walked she would point out different plants and trees, telling them which could provide food, which made good shelter, and even which flowers could be ground up and used as dyes. The group was so busy paying attention to the bark, roots, leaves and berries, no one was paying attention to the direction they were heading. After a few hours of walking through the woods, they came to a clearing. Lyria stopped and smiled.

“My humble abode,” she said.

They were standing in front of a large stone house, with an arched doorway, gabled windows, and ivy growing up the sides. Dante thought it looked like something from a fairy tale, and while part of her wondered what the inside looked like, another part of her felt a bit uneasy. She realized she had no idea where they were or how far they had walked.

“Come inside, please,” Lyria said. “I know you must all be hungry after our walk, and it will be dark quite soon.”

Once inside they looked around in wonder. Inside, the house was lit by candles, which glowed against the marble floors and gave a golden light to the art on the walls. Lyria led them to a large room where a table filled with food was waiting. There was a small, screened area for Seeya, a rock chair for Greff, and a large purple chair for Addis at the head of the table. He sat his bag down and looked around. It was the first time Dante could remember that he hadn’t pulled something out of it.

They ate quietly, Lyria passing them food and refilling their cups. She spoke softly, telling them how happy she was they were there, and that they could stay as long as they liked. Ori was interested in seeing the collection of herbs, plants, leaves and bark she’d collected, and the medicinal properties she’d discovered in many of them. Seeya had been chatting excitedly about the promise Lyria had made to show him how to use some of the plant dyes to enhance the coloring on his face and improve his skin.

Lyria tried to engage Gress in conversation about a nearby stone quarry, asking him if he’d go there with her to giver her some advice. The Brox had simply grunted and continued to eat. Lyria had smiled and turned to Dante, telling her she hoped they could be friends.

“Sometimes I just feel like there’s no one who understands me,” she said, looking into Dante’s eyes. “Like I’m alone, even when I’m surrounded by people. I’d love to have someone to just talk to about the things I’m feeling and thinking, and I hope we can spend some time getting to know each other.” Dante couldn’t believe she had met someone who felt so many of the things she did.

When the group finished eating Lyria smiled and said, “I hope you all enjoyed that. Why don’t I show you each to your room now? I’m sure you’d like to get comfortable and get some sleep.”

“We each get our own room?” Seeya couldn’t hide his delight.

Lyria laughed. “Yes, my small friend, I do understand the need for a little privacy.”

“Oh you’re just a delight!” he said, hovering near her. “You just don’t know what it’s been like with this group.”

“I’d like to stay with Addis,” Greff said.

Dante turned to Lyria, “Yes, please, Greff doesn’t like to be alone,” she said, “and I don’t think Addis has been feeling well.”

“I feel fine.” He folded his hands on his tummy and wouldn’t look at Dante.

“Oh dear,” Lyria said, “Well, I have such a special room prepared for Addis, and I just didn’t think someone so important….”

“That’s right,” Addis said, “I need my privacy too.”

“It’s o.k.,” Greff said, patting his pocket where he kept the picture of Turra, “I’ll be fine.”

“No, really,” Dante said, turning to Lyria with a smile. “You’ve been so wonderful, but couldn’t I stay with Greff? I wouldn’t mind the company at all.”

“Of course,” Lyria said, but she didn’t look entirely happy. They followed her through the house and she stopped at various doors, bidding her guests good-night as they entered. Dante and Gress were last, and Lyria paused a moment after they entered.

“Well,” she said, “good night then.” Dante bid her good-night; Greff remained silent. As soon as the door closed Dante turned, ready to ask Greff why he was being so rude, but he cut her off before she could begin.

“I don’t like this,” he said. They were in a large room, with two beds and a privacy screen they could put between them.

“What?” Dante asked, sitting on one of the chairs. “Her finding us? Bringing us here? Feeding us? She’s been so nice Greff, and really seems to understand us, and know just what each one of us needs.”

“That’s just it,” Greff said, sitting opposite her. “How can she understand us so well? It takes time to build relationships, Dante, you can’t get to know someone in a few hours.”

“I think you can know a lot about a person even in a short time.”

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get to know someone too soon. That’s what happened with the Wumpus, and although they were fun they weren’t very nice. I’m afraid the same thing is true here.”

She stood and began pacing. “Then what does she want?”

“I don’t know, and that’s what’s got me worried.”

“Greff, really, can’t you believe she’s just being nice?”

“No.” But he smiled. “I’ll tell what would make me feel better.”

“What’s that?”

“If we looked around a little.”

At Dante’s shocked expression he said, “Look, we don’t know anything about Lyria, or why she’s brought us here. But I do know that she wants to keep Addis by himself, and she’s just too charming with all of her compliments. I don’t trust her.”

“Well,” Dante began. The idea of snooping around made her nervous. What if they got caught? “I guess if someone sees us we can just say that we were looking for food or something.”

“We won’t get caught,” Greff said. “I’ll feel anyone coming before they know we’re there.”

Dante had forgotten about the Brox’s sensitivity to vibration. “Well,” she said slowly, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt, but maybe we can just wait until tomorrow?”

“Dante, how long do you think we can just stay here? What are we going to do with our time? Don’t you want to find the Khee? The Lost Council? You heard her – she’s doing everything she can to discourage us from leaving and make us want to stay.”

“You’re right,” Dante said unhappily. “O.k., it couldn’t hurt to look around.”

They quietly opened the door and peered into the hall. It was empty, and fairly dark, with the little light there was coming from some torches on the wall.

“Take my hand,” Greff said, “I’m used to working in dim light.”

They went slowly down the hallway, Greff stopping now and then to get a sense for where there was movement. A few times they had to scurry down alternate hallways, and after one particularly close call they ended up outside a door with a light coming from underneath. Greff pointed to the bottom of the door, and Dante held her finger to her lips.

She leaned as close to the door as she dared. Inside, she could hear Lyria talking to someone. Her voice had lost its musical quality, and she sounded angry.

“You’ve got to get him back in the cave! I can’t believe you had him there and you let him go!”

“We didn’t know it was him! You didn’t tell us!” Dante looked at Greff, shocked. There was no mistaking the voice. It was Pirrin.

Lyria’s voice took on its honeyed tone. “You’re doing a wonderful job with the games,” she said. “The Oralians are almost at the breaking point. Your sudden downpours of rain were the perfect way to wear down their resistance. And the Bastahl won’t be able to take much more of the heat. The Brox are a little tougher than I thought, but not being able to work is driving them crazy. You’ve done just beautifully. And if it weren’t for Addis, we’d be almost ready to make our move.”

“What can we do now? If he just disappears, the others will be suspicious.”

“Maybe, maybe not. He’s getting addled, they might think he’s just wandered off. At any rate, we’ve got to move quickly. You all need to concentrate on what you’re doing with the games. It’s almost time for me to appear and save those poor tribes from the mess they’re in. Once I’m there, they won’t need any more Councils. They can all just depend on me to do everything for them. Then I’ll have power over all of Endolye.”

Pirrin laughed. “And you can teach us more games!”

“Oh yes, my pet. Once we have control of Endolye there’s plenty of games I can teach you.”

Dante backed slowly away from the door and turned to Greff, her eyes wide. He shook his head, took her hand and led them back through the maze of hallways to their room. She was grateful for his ability to find his way around.

Once they were back inside their room, Dante told him everything she had heard. When she finished, she said in desperation, “What are we going to do?”

“Well, we’ve got to get Addis out of here,” Greff responded.

“We’ve got to get all of us out of here,” Dante said. “She’s behind all the problems in the tribes! She wants to take over Endolye.”

They quickly gathered their things and Greff led them through the hallways, remembering which doors had opened. Ori came easily. Seeya was reluctant at first, until Dante told him Lyria was behind the rain, and then he was more than ready to leave. The only one they couldn’t convince was Addis. They had all gathered in his room, arguing with him behind the closed door.

“But this is where we wanted to be,” he said.

“No Addis,” Dante replied, “we wanted to find the Khee.”

“Well, she can probably tell us where they are. Anyway, we should just ask her about all of this. I’m sure she can straighten it out.”

Dante was beginning to feel desperate. “O.k., Addis,” she said, “now I know something is wrong if you’re thinking you can just ask someone else what to do. We’ve got to get you out of here.”

She looked to Ori and Greff. They nodded, and picked up Addis, one under the arms and one by his feet.

“Hey! What are you doing!” he began to struggle. Seeya popped open the door and looked down the hall.

“Now!” he said, and they all rushed out. As they were heading for the front door, Greff froze. “Someone’s coming. From the left!”

Dante looked around frantically. She hissed, “Just get him out of here and I’ll take care of whoever is coming.”

Greff stared at her for a moment until Dante pushed him. “Go!”

Addis was still struggling and started to call for help. Seeya flew up and grabbed hold of his pendant. Addis froze and stared at him, silent.

“Now,” Seeya whispered, “although this is far too large for someone as petite as me, if you don’t quiet down I’m going to pull it right off your neck.”

Dante was shocked at the Oralian’s tone, but was glad to see Addis quieted down. With Seeya hovering over him, fist tightly closed around the pendant, the other two quickly carried him out of the hallway.

Dante was standing alone, admiring a tapestry when Lyria came around the corner. She stopped short.

“Why Dante,” she said, “what a pleasant surprise to see you. But it’s so late. Couldn’t you sleep?”

“Not a wink, I’m afraid. It’s all the excitement at being in such a beautiful place. I didn’t want to wake the others, and Greff is so sensitive to movement, so I just popped out here to have a look around. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. Can I offer you something to drink?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she yawned. “I’m actually just now feeling a bit tired. I think I’ll head back to my room.”

“Are you sure you can find it? Shall I walk you back?”

“Oh no, that’s fine – I believe I just go down this hall and turn left.”

“Yes, well, alright, have a lovely sleep.” And she smiled and put her hand on Dante’s head. Dante forced herself to look straight into her eyes and smile. She waved and went down the hall and back to her room. She thought for a moment, and then went to Greff’s bed and put the pillows under the covers to make it look like the Brox was there sleeping. She got into the other bed, turned away from the door, forced herself to slow her breathing, and waited.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before she could hear the doorknob turn. She kept her eyes closed and her breathing even. She felt relief when she heard the door quietly shut, but quickly panicked when she heard a key turning. She was locked in!

She got up and tried the door to be sure, and then went to the window. She didn’t see anything or anyone, so she opened it just a crack. She was on the third floor and knew she couldn’t jump. She took the bed sheets and knotted them together, then tied them to the bedpost. They didn’t quite reach to the ground, but she was able to climb down and drop the rest of the way. She landed softly, and was off and running to the trees. She got there and saw Seeya waiting.

“Oh thank goodness! We just didn’t know what to do!” and before she could answer he zipped off. She sat and waited for him, catching her breath. In a few moments, he was back.

“O.k., I let the others know we’re on our way. Come on,” and he began leading her through the trees.

She found the others hiding not far from the gazebo. Addis had stopped struggling, and was sitting next to his bag looking a little confused. She went to him.

“Are you alright?”

He nodded slowly. “I’m fine. I don’t know what came over me. It’s the oddest thing; I just didn’t want to leave. But I’m o.k. now. Thank you for getting me out of there.”

He fingered the pendant around his neck. “It’s a good thing Seeya really knows how important this is.”

The others came over and Dante whispered, “We’ve got to go back to the Wumpus. We’ve got to figure out how they’re playing these water games, and stop them.”

“I don’t know,” Ori said, “shouldn’t we try to find the Khee? That’s what we came here to do.”

“There’s no time!” Greff’s voice was urgent. “She’s going to be making her move, and once she finds out we’re gone, she’ll waste no time! Our families are in danger.”

“Maybe we should get some sleep,” Dante suggested, “and first thing in the morning we can head back to the cave.”

Ori shook his head. “I don’t think we should wait. She’ll be looking for us. We should go now while we have the element of surprise.”

After a moment they all nodded, and headed back to the side of the lake where the Wumpus had their cave. Greff built a small barricade that was closed in on three sides so they could keep watch. Seeya was trying not to fall asleep and hoping he wouldn’t look too tired when Pirrin suddenly appeared in front of him with a smile.

“Hello again.”

“Why…what…how did you get here?” Seeya stammered.

“It’s a game we play.” He craned his neck to look past Seeya into the barricade.

“Hey! Wake up! Trouble’s here!” and he laughed.

Inside the barrier, the others were instantly awake. Greff, Ori and Dante shielded Addis from the opening where Seeya hovered.

“What do you want?” Dante called out.

“We’re having another party. Come on down to the cave.”

“No, thank you, we’re fine here.”

“Oh but you’ll have so much fun if you join us,” Pirrin gave a whoop and the woods came alive with Wumpus. They rushed the barricade and Dante felt herself being picked up and pushed aside. There was so much noise and she couldn’t see. Suddenly they all ran off and Dante looked around wildly. Ori and Gress were doing the same. Addis was gone.

“I’ve got to go and get him,” Dante said. “I know they’ll let me in, and I can probably get them to trust me. They think I like them, or they at least think they can get me to like them.”

Greff started to argue but Dante said, “What else can we do? Who else can go? It has to be me!”

She looked from Greff to Ori to Seeya. She could tell that none of them liked it, but they knew she was right. After a moment, Ori bowed and she knew she needed to go.

She walked to the edge of the lake, and it became fog. She walked slowly and carefully toward where she knew the cave was, putting one foot directly in front of the other. She kept waiting for the fog to change into water, but it didn’t. She made it to the cave and paused, sure it was a trap. After a moment she went inside. In the big room she found Addis sitting by himself.

“Addis! Are you o.k.?”

“I’m fine,” he said, “I’m glad they’ve finally stopped the ice; it was getting cold.”

“Well, I’m sure they were waiting for us to come for you, and I’m sure it will be back soon.” she said.

As she was talking she could feel the room getting colder and she sighed. They were trapped in the cave, but at least they were together. She looked around.

“O.k., Addis, I’ve got to think of a way to get us out of here.”

“I think you’ve done enough at this point, don’t you?”

Dante couldn’t hide her surprise.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“It was you who brought us here. It was you who insisted we come this way. I didn’t even want to head to the mountains. I told you it was dangerous. And I was right, wasn’t I?”

He fingered his pendant. “Whatever happens, it’s going to be your fault. This is probably what happened to the Lost Council. They probably disappeared under the ice.”

Dante felt as though she had been slapped.

“Addis,” she said, “I don’t know why you’re saying these things to me. I did my best to help all of us.”

“You did your best to take charge,” he said, “and look where it’s gotten us. No wonder you don’t have any friends where you come from.”

She just stared at Addis. The impact of what he said, and the stress of the last several days were too much. She felt tears welling in her eyes.

“Addis,” she whispered, “I’m sorry, I was just trying to help.”

When he didn’t respond she turned to go back to the opening of the cave. With her head down she said, “I’ll stay out of your way.”

She took two steps forward.

Addis said softly, “Dante, wait.”

She turned her head, took one step back, and vanished.