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by Margo Fallis
Chapter 14

The Valleys of Armon stretch like five fingers, all uniting like the palm of the hand into one great valley. A river flowed through each, coming together to form Lake Logo. Toast and Xander stood at the entrance to the middle valley. “I think we can assume that Larf and Jix are in one of the other valleys. The problem is, which one will it be?” Xander looked down at Toast. “Any ideas?”

“It will take us a month to search all the valleys, Xander. We’ve only got nine days left. We should just pick one and if we can’t find them there, then we head back with what we have.”

Xander sighed in defeat. “You’re right. We don’t have time. Which one should we pick?”

Toast looked to the west and then to the east. “I say we go to the next valley to the east.”

“I wish I had a map. I know that the Zeyth Elves live in one of these valleys. I hope it’s not the one we’re going to. They’re known to be mischievous and at times, deadly.” Xander stretched his arms high in the air and yawned. “Climb on my back, Toast. I’ll carry you. We can go much faster that way.” Toast hopped onto his back, wrapping her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck.

Unlike the forested valley they just left, this one had very few trees. Most of the growth was grassy fields with clusters of bushes dotting the sides of the narrow river. Aside from a few bird and yippimice, Xander couldn’t see much of anything. “I don’t think there are elves here. Where would they hide? Everything’s so open.” Xander stepped on a row of stones that stretched across the water. “We’ll cross the river here. I wonder if we’ll find anything to eat. I’m getting hungry.”

Toast, enjoying the view over Xander’s shoulders, saw something run across the grass several hundred feet in front of them. She tapped on his shoulder. “Xander, there’s something out there. We should go back and try another valley. I don’t like this one. Besides that, I can’t see any sign that Jix and Larf came this way.”

Xander stopped. He scanned the path in front of him. “What did you see?”

“I don’t’ know. It moved quickly. I think it might have been a Zeyth Elf. It might have been a bandiff though. Let’s go back, please.” Toast buried her face in Xander’s back. “I don’t like it here.”

“Maybe you’re right. I don’t think Larf and Jix came into this valley. I also don’t think we’ll find anything rare and precious either.” Xander turned and walked back across the stones. When he stepped onto the riverbank at the other side he looked in front of him. “Uh oh.”

Twenty Zeyth Elves stood in a row, each holding a wooden spear with an obsidian point, tied on with rope. Before he could say another word they ran towards him and knocked him to the ground. Toast fell off his back and rolled into the grass. The elves gathered around, looking down at them. One carried rope and dropped it on the ground. The elves tied Xander’s legs and hands together and then slipped one of their spears through the ropes. They did the same to Toast. Together they lifted their caught prey and carried them deeper into the valley, walking in a straight line.

Toast was at the back, watching Xander sway back and forth, dangling by his hands and legs. “Xander, are you all right?”

Xander tipped his head back. Toast was in no better position than he was. “I’m alive, for now.” He looked at the Zeyth Elves. Each of them was about the size of Toast, but had gray, unhealthy-looking skin. A dirty cloth wrap tied around their bodies, covered them from their neck to their knees. Their ears were long and came to a point at the top. Their noses poked out a few inches from their face. Green eyes centered above the nose were shaded by long, thick eyelashes. Wiry hairs sprung from their scalps. “You guys are ugly,” Xander said to the one standing next to him.

The elf ignored him and walked on in silence, carrying the sticks on their shoulders and working as a team. Xander’s wrists and ankles rubbed raw from the ropes around them, began to swell and bleed, but there was nothing he could do to change it. After a few miles they reached the elf’s village. They dropped Xander and Toast on the dirt ground and slipped the spears out. “Stand up,” one of the elves said, poking Xander with the sharp point.

A dozen huts, each made of leaves and sticks, formed a circle around a center hut. Smoke came from small chimneys on top of each. Xander and Toast were taken to the center hut and pushed inside. The door shut behind them. They sat on the filthy blankets spread across the dirt floor.

Toast cried. “Xander, I hurt. These ropes are too tight. I’m bleeding.”

Xander inched his way over to the plumtuggle. “I’ll try to loosen them for you.” He bent over and pulled at the ropes with his teeth, tugging and squirming until they were loose.

Toast slipped them off her ankles and then using her toes as fingers, untied the ones on her wrists. “Let me help you now.”

The rope knots tying Xander fell to the ground. Using his shirt, they wiped the blood off and stretched their sore legs and arms. “That feels so much better.” With nothing else to do, both of them lay down and closed their eyes, falling asleep, unsure of what lay ahead.

Xander woke up first, saw the sleeping plumtuggle and quietly crept over to the door. The bamboo walls and door had gaps between the canes. He saw a guard standing near the door. A fire roared a few yards away. Elves carried dead branches and dried grasses and tossed them onto the fire, fueling the flames. “I hope that’s not for us,” Xander whispered. He couldn’t see any other elves. Gazing up at the sun, he presumed it was early afternoon. Toast lay snoring on the other side of the hut.

A loud flapping noise came from outside. Toast woke up. “What’s that?” She saw Xander standing near the door, peering through the slats. “What are you looking at?” She ran and stood next to him.

“They’ve got a fire going and this huge bubbagon just flew into the elf village. I’ve never seen one that big before.”

“Let me see. Let me see.” Toast squeezed under Xander’s legs. “Whoa! That’s a big bubbagon. It seems to be friends with the Zeyth elves.”

“Why do you say that?”

“One of them just climbed off the bubbagon’s back. Zeyth elves use bubbagons to fly around the valley.”

“Big bubbagon’s, Toast. Very big bubbagons. Maybe we can use that one to escape.” Xander moved to a different part of the hut to get a better view. “Look how they just left it there unguarded.”

“But we’re not unguarded. There’s an elf with a sharp spear right outside our door.”

“Somehow we’ve got to distract it, or, maybe we could dig a hole under the walls of the hut and get out the other side. You’ve got long fingers. Are you any good at digging?” Xander looked down at Toast’s toes and fingers.

She grinned and held up her hands. “I am good at digging. Just watch me.” Toast fell to her knees and crawled around the inside walls of the hut. “I think we should dig here. There are some bushes not too far away and all the elves seem to be around the fire.” She scooped up a handful of dirt. “It’s like sand. This will be simple.”

Xander fell to his knees and together they dug until there was a hole big enough for them to crawl through. Xander went first. He lay on his back and pushed his way out of the hole. His head stuck out, giving him a view of the elven village. “We’re safe. I can’t see any of them. Come on. Hurry.” Toast followed him out. They crept on hands and knees until they were safely hidden in the bushes. “By the way, Toast. Good job digging.”

“Thanks. I’ve had a lot of practice. Where’s the bubbagon?”

“If we stay low and keep behind the bushes, we can get to it. We’ve got to be really quiet though. If we even snap a twig, one of those elves will hear us.” He pushed the bushes to the side and bent over, making his way toward their escape.

“There it is. One problem though; do you know how to fly a bubbagon?” Toast stopped and looked up at the giant insect.

“No, not really, but it can’t be that hard. We’ll climb on its back and tell it to fly away.”

“What if it only understands Zeyth elf language? What if it doesn’t obey us? The elves will catch us and roast us over that big bonfire they’ve got going there.”

“Toast, stop worrying. Bubbagon’s can’t be that hard to fly. Follow me.” Xander stood next to it, looking up at its height. “Wow! It’s bigger than I thought.”

“Well, smarty pants, how do we climb up? We don’t have a rope and we can’t fly up?”

“You climb on my shoulders and grab hold of some of those long hairs poking out of its body. Pull yourself up.”

“What about you? I’m not strong enough to pull you up.” The plumtuggle stroked the bubbagon’s violet wings. They were folded back against its body. Pale pink and lemony yellow spots dotted the wings.

“You just get up there first and then we’ll worry about me.” He picked her up and put her on his shoulders.

She stepped on her tiptoes and grabbed a handful of the fine hairs. Pulling herself up, she climbed onto its back. “I’m high up, Xander. This is kind of scary. I don’t think you can get up here all by yourself.”

Screams and shouts came from the hut. The elves noticed their prisoners were missing. “Hold on, Toast.” Xander moved back into the bushes and then ran as fast as he could, leapt with all his might and landed with his arms over the bubbagon’s body. “Help me. Pull me up!” While he struggled, the elves spotted them. Spears shot through the air towards them. “Get the bubbagon into the air. I’ll hold on. Make it fly, now!”

Toast didn’t know how to fly a bubbagon. She started calling out commands, “Go, bubbagon. Take off. Fly.” Nothing worked. When one of the elves spears hit the bubbagon on her back, she flapped her wings and flew into the sky. Toast grabbed onto the hairs and clung for dear life. Xander’s feet dangled in the air, but his arms grasped firm onto her body. Up they went, above the trees. The Zeyth elves disappeared from their sight as they soared into the clouds. “We did it, Xander.”

“Help me up.” Xander reached for Toast’s hand. She pulled as he pushed with his feet. He climbed on top and wrapped his arms around Toast’s waist. “This is almost as fun as flying around in that bubble.” Just then the bubbagon dipped. “Whee! Where’s it taking us?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how to steer it. There are not reins or anything.” Toast looked frantically for some way to control the insect.

“I guess we’ll just fly around until it drops us or lands. At least we’re away from the Zeyth elves.” Xander pulled his journal out of his pocket. “I’ve got to write all this down. I’m going to draw a picture of the bubbagon too.” He sat back and wedged himself in between the different parts of its body and once steady, he wrote.

Toast talked to the bubbagon. “Can you understand me? We are trying to get back to Appleworth. Do you know where that is?”

The bubbagon gave no sign of understanding, but gentle swerved to the right and dropped lower. They flew just above the treetops and hills. Toast saw a field of color up ahead. “I wonder what that is, Xander.”

Xander looked up. “Probably just a meadow of flowers. Maybe there’s a flower farmer. Where are we anyway? I’ve been writing and drawing and not paying attention.” He gazed from side to side. “I can’t see the sea, or any rivers.”

The bubbagon went lower and lower and landed in a clearing. Xander and Toast climbed off and the bubbagon flew away. “Wait! You can’t leave us here!” Toast shouted and waved. “Well, I guess we’re on our own again.”



Zeyth elves - mischievous, gray skin, long pointy ears, poky noses, green eyes, long, thick eyelashes, wiry hair, live in huts in a small village in one of the Valleys of Armon

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