“So, what do we do until morning?” Lysara asked.
“We prepare,” Twila said. “I’ve already plotted the route that will take us to the steps the fastest. We just need to worry about how to position ourselves to give them the best possible protection.”
“Is this really necessary?” Bonnie asked. “Don’t you have a spell that could get the information we need from the old lady’s mind?”
“Mind reading spells are taboo,” Twila stated. “And I’m not like my aunt. I can’t just read minds naturally.”
“It’s not like any of us is going to say anything,” Bonnie said. “You do know one, right?”
“That isn’t my only objection to the idea,” Twila explained. “The ethical implications of probing someone’s mind without permission are astronomical. Even if I did manage to learn a spell like that I couldn’t justify using it when we’re being offered another option to get the information we need.”
“That aside,” Axra interjected before Bonnie could say anything further. “How do we set up to defend that many people?”
“It is quite daunting,” Reginald observed. “Even for one of my talents.”
“I think we can do it,” Twila said. “We’ll position ourselves on all sides of them. Fang and I will take the front. Bonnie and Axra can take the left. Lysara and Lilly can take the right. Velvet and Reginald can bring up the rear. If the elders succeed in keeping the psyrens busy, we won’t have a problem. Just in case they don’t, I’ll cast a speed spell on the eight of us. When we reach the steps it’ll be less of a problem. We’ll just have to guard the front and rear.”
“And if one of those monsters descends towards the centre?” Bonnie asked.
“We’ll have to risk it,” Twila said. “The elder says they won’t bother a large group. Hopefully, she’s right. In which case we only have to worry about guarding the ends.”
“I don’t like it,” Reginald said. “Too many unknowns.” He shrugged. “But they do need our help. So I guess there’s no choice.”
Lilly walked behind Twila and tapped her back. “S… sorry to bother you, Twila,” she muttered. “But can we, you know, talk for a moment.”
“Sure,” Twila answered. Axra watched as the two walked away, wondering if she had to start being worried about Lilly the same way she was worried about Lysara.
“What do you need?” Twila asked.
“I… that is to say… the teams you’ve chosen, are they really a good idea?”
“I understand your concern,” Twila said. “After all, Bonnie and Axra just got done trying to kill each other. So did Velvet and Reginald. But they weren’t exactly in control when they did it. So I’m hoping that working closely together will help mend any damaged feelings. After all, we’re going to all need to be able to work together if we want to beat Eritos.”
“So that’s it,” Lilly muttered. She studied Twila for a moment. When she spoke again her voice was so low it was virtually inaudible. “I can see why she likes you.”
“Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that,” Twila said. “You were saying?”
“Oh… it’s not a big deal,” Lilly said. “I was just thinking that you’re really clever…that’s all.”
“Thank you.” Twila said. “But I’m really nothing special. Come on, let’s go work out the strategy with everyone.”
The next morning a large group of older dark elves assembled around the elder’s house, ready to go into the ruins. The elder called Twila over and whispered something to her before walking away.
Axra and her companions went to the city centre to find Derry and all of the other dark elves they were taking with them. They all had small bags, some were carrying small children.
Derry waved at them. “We’re ready to go,” she said.
“Good,” Twila said. “We leave in ten minutes. The elders should be in position by then.”
“Oh… right I almost forgot,” Derry said. “I’m never going to see Grandma again, am I?” She started crying again when a golden-eyed dark elf walked up and hugged her. Whispering to her in a hushed, but soothing tone. Her long fingers brushing the tears from Derry’s eyes.
“Sorry,” Derry muttered, composing herself. “Before I forget, my grandma told me to give these to you.” She gestured to several large bags that were stuffed. “I don’t know how we’re going to carry them all, though.”
“Leave that to me,” Twila said. She began methodically emptying the books into her bag of holding. Much to Derry’s surprise.
“How does it do that?” she asked.
“Well, magic is employed to create a pocket dimension which…” Twila began.
“We don’t have time for this,” Derry’s friend interrupted. “You can learn about this stuff after we’re safely in the surface world. For now, you need to be more mindful of your position. Everyone’s looking to you for guidance. If you act confused about everything it’ll make them anxious.”
“Sorry, Goldie,” Derry said.
“We should all take positions,” Bonnie suggested. “We don’t want to extend the wait.”
“Of course,” Twila agreed. “Just let me cast the spell. Gather together.” She hurriedly cast the speed spell. Axra instantly felt lighter. She and Bonnie moved to their position within seconds.
“Princess,” Bonnie said. “Once we get back to the surface, I’ll return to Nervius.”
“Return, why?” Axra asked. “I thought you insisted on coming on this quest.”
“I wanted to,” Bonnie said. “But I could have killed you. I let myself go out of control. So I’ll return and report myself for disciplinary action.”
“Oh no you won’t,” Axra insisted. “My dads will kill you. They won’t care about the circumstances. I’m ordering you as the princess of Nervius to never mention what happened to anyone.”
“But I….” Bonnie protested.
“Shush!” Axra ordered. “Listen for a sec. You were under a spell’s influence. So was I. It wasn’t something that was your fault or that could have been helped. You’ve still been the best damn bodyguard I could have hoped for and I would consider it a real tragedy to lose you. I won’t force you to keep going with us, but I will ask you. Bonnie Calendula, will you remain at my side and support me through this ordeal as a true knight?”
“I…” Bonnie looked away. “If you would still have me as a protector, then I shall.”
“Awesome,” Axra declared. “Then it’s settled.”
They heard Twila’s voice ring out. “All right, Everyone, we’re marching.”