The ride to the crystal hills went without talk and Pectin finally got the mule to cooperate so he was following the horse as fast as the bowlegged beast could move. Occasionally Justin had to stop to allow Pectin to catch up and Cheek would complain everytime he did so.
"Oh Cheek, must you be so hard on him. He has a real desire to help and we may need him." scolded Justin.
"If we don't keep up with the schedule, we may not make it in time to need his help." grumbled Cheek and then went back to converse with his companion.
The road started to climb upward and was starting to turn white. The land was completely made up of the remains of a once living forest land now covered in ice crystals, some crystals standing twice as high as Justin and his horse. The sunlight beamed through the crystals creating a rainbow of colors everywhere and Justin felt he was in a fantasy land where nothing seemed real. The cold air was kept away by the cloak that Mandara had given him. Pectin at least had thought to bring a warm coat and the mice were protected by their strange little jackets, probably given to them by Edan. They had just come around a bend in the road and found that they were surrounded by hugh crystal walls on both sides of the road. This made Justin a little nervous as there were only two ways to go, forward or back, so it would be a bad time to run into danger here. They traveled on and the road angled down, twisting and turning haphazardly. They were coming to a sharp climb up when they heard a mournful howling sound ahead, so Justin stopped the horse and listened.
"What was that?" cried Pectin from behind.
"Quiet Pectin, and listen." cautioned Justin. He cocked his head and heard nothing. After a moment he coaxed the horse forward but found that Canter decided that he didn't want to go forward. His heels jabbed the horse but once again the horse refused to move.
"What is the matter now?" moaned Cheek, peeking his head out of the pocket.
"I just heard a strange sound and now Canter won't move." answered Justin.
Cheek was just about to ask what sound when a hugh shape came up over the small hill. It was a snakelike beast on short legs with large paws. It's head was jagged and frosty white as was it's body and again made the howling that Justin had heard moments before. It definately was not acting friendly as it came over the hill toward them. The horse and mule both panicked, throwing their riders to the ground and bolted back down the road. Justin had no time to get to his sword for the beast was almost on top of him so he quickly rolled to the side of the road just as the creature stomped it's large paw down where Justin had been. Pectin was already on his feet and was racing toward a break in the crystal wall. Justin rolled again avoiding the stomping beast, then finally managed to get to his feet as he spied the crack hiding the now ash-white faced Pectin. He ran and dove in just as the monster's tail crashed into the crystal wall barely missing Justin by inches.
"Cheek, are you all right?" cried Justin into his pocket.
"Shaken, but alive. What is going on out there." He poked his head out and saw the monster pacing before the wall opening, howling at the top of his lungs. He looked up at Justin and said "Let me know when it's over." and disappeared back into the pocket.
"Thanks Cheek, what am I supposed to do?" Justin wailed.
"Keep your head low." came a voice from the pocket.
Justin heard a strange noise from outside and realized that it was not the beast, but more human sounding. The creature stopped pacing and listened for the sound as it came from above the wall behind the monster, and as the beast was standing to better see the origin of the yelling, a great avalanche of crystals came tumbling down crushing the beast beneath the shimmering gems.
It was quiet after a moment and Justin could see no life from the mound so he slowly moved toward the opening and looked out. It was still deathly silent as he moved out into the open when an unnerving cry came from above and Justin fell back against the icy wall. He looked up and couldn't believe his eyes, it was the big man from the town. He was whooping and hollering at his success in stopping the beast, then paused and called down. "Is everyone all right down there?"
Justin yelled up that all were still alive and asked what he was doing there.
"I got to thinking that if I'm going to die, I may as well go down fighting while there is still a chance. Wait there I'll come down." He disappeared past the cliff and Justin helped Pectin out of the hole. They were gathering the packs that fell off the horse as the man came running up the road toward then. He seemed awful happy for a man walking through the land of death.
"Did you see the look of surprise on that beast's face when I pushed the ice down to hit him. He barely saw it coming, I loved it!". He was dancing around enjoying his victory.
"Thank you, friend." said Justin and held out his hand.
"The name is Garth and you're welcome." smiled their new companion. "I'd better see if I can find the horse before it gets eaten by some other monster. I'll run down the road to see if I can catch them." He took off leaving the shaken boy in a daze as Pectin came up behind him putting his hand on Justin's shoulder causing Justin to jump out of his skin.
"Don't come up behind me like that again if you want to live." breathed Justin.
"I hope there are no more monsters lurking about." Pectin lamented.
"It's just beginning." Cheek reported as he and Kigamsti poked out of the pocket.
"That's comforting to know," sighed Justin. "Pectin, go down the road and see if you can help Garth find the animals, I'll pick up the packs."
Pectin ran off as Justin gathered the scattered packs dropped by the frightened horse. After a while Cheek popped his head out from the pocket to see what the boy was up to and if the others had come back yet.
"Justin, I don't know if we should trust this Garth. He may be trouble."
"Well, my friend, I feel that there is safety in numbers and if he hadn't killed that beast, we wouldn't be here now," reminded Justin to the sceptical mouse.
"That is true, but I still don't trust him," replied Cheek. "We have still a ways to go before you face Kyr."
"I wish I knew what more dangers lie ahead." said Justin to the tiny mouse.
"That's one wish you don't want to come true," answered Cheek. "It could mean your life and the failure of our quest."
As they stood there talking, a noise came from behind them and Justin turned to see Garth and Pectin coming up the road with the horse and the mule.
"Canter!" cried Justin as he ran to meet them. "You coward, how could you drop me and run like that?"
"I would have done the same if that creature had jumped up in front of me," laughed Garth. "We found them in a small boxed area downtrail and they couldn't figure how to get out without coming back this way. If they hadn't gone in there, they probably would have been back to Freland by now."
Justin smiled and felt relief that Garth was there. "Thank you my friend, you have save our lives and I won't forget it."
"Hey, I just wanted to make sure you little boys didn't get hurt before Kyr kills you," smirked Garth. "Besides, everyone in town was in hiding and it was getting boring there, so I've been running along behind you to make sure you stayed out of trouble. Besides I thought I'd like to take a sight-see here in hell."
"If we don't stop gabbing and get moving it will be the last sight we ever see," demanded Cheek.
Garth's eyes went wide as he saw the mouse looking at him from the pocket.
"Fates preserve us! It talked! What mysticism is this?"
Justin smiled and brought Cheek out on the palm of his hand. "Garth, meet my lifelong friend and teacher, Cheek."
Garth moved his head closer to the tiny creature. "Well bless me, a talking rat."
"I am not a rat, you foul smelling oaf! I'm a mouse and proud of it!" Cheek yelled at the face before him.
Garth jumped back in wonderment. "Snippy little thing isn't he, does he bite too?"
"If you get in the way I shall bite your leg off," replied the feisty mouse.
Garth smiled and answered. "Well, I shall stay out of your way. This is becoming a day full of surprise and mystery."
Justin felt a cold wind at his back and decided that they had better push on. "It will be dark soon and we had better find open ground in case of attack again. I don't like being trapped on this road."
They gathered up the packs and put them on the now calm horse. Garth rode the mule with Pectin, which with the extra weight, slowed it even more. Finally Garth jumped off and said that he could walk faster.
After an hour of travel the road came out of the ice canyon and into a small open clearing. There were still a few jagged crystals sticking up through the ground but at least they had room to move in any direction if need be so they decided to stop and set up camp. This far north the sun didn't set below the horizon as it did further south, so there was a small amount of light available to them. After all was readied for the night, Justin stood on a small mound of crystal ice and watched the horizon. Directly north he could see a strange red glow above the hills and figured that it must have had something to do with Kyr. He shivered, not from the cold, but from the unknown forces ahead. He felt that Garth was right, that as long as they would all die if Kyr was free, then they may as well go down fighting.
Garth came up to Justin and stood beside him. "Well, boy, do you have a plan?"
"This may sound strange to you but the only way I can get to Kyr is by not knowing anything," He sighed. "I just have to take one danger at a time and hope to make the right decisions. With you here I feel we have a better chance now."
"Don't count heavily on me, boy. I'm a coward by nature, but I also don't like not knowing when I'm going to die. I will help you the best I can which, under the circumstances, may not be enough."
"Any help will be enough," comforted Justin to his companion. "Time to get some rest, morning will come early enough."
They went back to camp and crawled into their bed sacks. Sleep did not come easy for Justin that night.
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