Morning did come early and Justin had only an hour of sleep, which didn't help his disposition. He was the first up and started to wake the others. Garth grumbled something that made Justin blush and Pectin looked as though he couldn't believe that he were not at home in his bed.
The two mice stirred in the backpack as the men rolled their bedsacks and packed the camp. Nothing else was said as they did this, for everyone was feeling a strange uneasiness.
Justin mounted Canter and headed the horse northward followed by the night weary group. They stayed on the road as it twisted and turned until they reached a flat stretch of land surrounded by six huge crystals forming a circle around the road. This worried Justin as it looked like they had been arranged as such and to continue on would mean going through the formation and being surrounded by it.
They slowly came into the center of the area when the ground started to rumble and shake. Justin jumped off Canter and tried to hold on to the reins to prevent the horse from bolting again. All around them the six tall crystal forms seemed to be reshaping and as Justin watched, they formed into giant crystal men.
"Who are you and what are you doing here?" came a voice from above.
Justin looked up toward the origin of the voice and was surprised to find that it had a face.
"I am Justin of Freland and we are here at Mandara's bidding to complete a mission of good," bravely replied the frightened Justin. "Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
"You have no pleasure here and we have no name that you wish to speak. We are the guardians of the road to the Northland and if you wish to pass you will have to prove yourselves to us." The glass-like giant paused and then continued. "What is your mission and speak the truth or perish as you stand," commanded the larger one who seemed also to be the leader.
"We have been sent by Mandara to prevent Kyr from releasing himself from his imprisonment in the far Northland," answered Justin.
"What do you know of Kyr!" boomed the crystalline creature.
Justin bravely walked toward the monolith and spoke. "Kyr is the evil magical brother of Mandara the Magician and we have been sent here while the moon is red to prevent Kyr from freeing himself to destroy our world."
"How do we know that you are not here to free Kyr?" demanded the glass giant.
"Since the moon became red, Kyr will be able to free himself without our help, so why should we bother to come here to free him since he will soon be able to do it on his own. We were sent here to stop him, as so many before us. Besides, if you are truely guardians, then you should be able to know the truth when it is spoken." bravely replied Justin.
"Answer our questions and we will know the truth when it is given, even if you are a very clever liar. If you have been sent here by Mandara, then you should be able to answer a simple question known only by the true savior." posed the crystal man.
"Ask and I shall answer truthfully."
"You will answer truthfully or be crushed where you stand," the monolith demanded. It paused, then continued carefully, "Tell me what form of prison holds Kyr."
Justin thought back on all that Mandara and Edan had said and had only one answer. "Ice." he spoke.
"Everything here is ice!!" the giant boomed. "I asked what FORM is his prison."
Justin felt a growing panic in his chest as he could not remember anything about the shape of the ice that held Kyr. Quietly from Justin's pocket Cheek whispered. "Justin, think back to Edan's last riddle, the one you said sounded like a statement. It will help you, think hard."
Justin strained to remember the riddle, but he had heard it only once and it was coming back in small bits. Something about glass, water and air. That could be ice, but not a shape. What was it about sides, a number? Five sides! Yes, he remembered five sides, but a box has six sides so it could not be a block of ice and definately not a ball. He remembered something about four sides comparing, but what about the fifth? He looked up in desperation at the leader and saw the crystal point of it's head. It had four side and, of course, the base would be the fifth side. A pyramid! That had to be it! Justin was about to speak but stopped. What if he was wrong. That would surely mean the death of his friends and he couldn't let that happen because of his blunder.
"I shall answer your question, but I want to ask something of you first," He stood tall and continued. "If I am wrong then do what you will with me but please let my friends go back home to prepare for the destruction. I don't want them to die here in this land for my error."
The giant seemed to smile slightly and said, "You are brave and true to your companions, little man, but we make no deals. Answer the question and speak with your heart."
Justin summond up his courage and spoke out loudly, "It's a pyramid!" He closed his eyes preparing to be crushed and as the ground rumbled again, he looked up to see the other five crystal men were reshaping back to their original harmless forms. The leader stood there for a moment before speaking.
"You may pass from here, brave one, and hurry for time grows short." He raised his crystal hand in a sign of salute and then reshaped back.
All was quiet after a moment and Justin turned to his white faced companions. Knowing they were frightened he hoped to calm them by not showing any fear. "We better get going. Like he said, time grows short."
Justin mounted Canter and the party departed the gathering of the gaurdians. Cheek climbed up to Justin's shoulder and spoke into his ear. "Justin, I'm glad you paid attention to my little games with Edan. I'm proud of you, and I have no worries about the rest of the journey." He climbed back down into the pocket and Justin felt a growing pride inside.
They rode on for what seemed hours before anyone spoke, being still too shaken from the encounter with the guardians.
"Justin, I thought you weren't supposed to know anything about what was ahead and live to succeed," asked Pectin. "How did you know about the pyramid answer?"
"I didn't know it when the guardian asked his question, that a hand written riddle between Edan and Cheek had anything to do with Kyr. Edan knew about this journey, but couldn't say anything about it, so even though the last riddle between them was one of many simple riddles that Edan frequently shared with Cheek over the years, it also was the answer to the guardian's question. Since I didn't know that before this moment, I guess it didn't count as prior knowledge."
"The snake creature was a bad enough surprise, but to stand there in front of those ice men and not know if, and when, you'd die was worse," lamented Pectin.
"The fates are with us my friend. We will make it." smiled Justin.
"We'd better not run out of fates before we get there," warned Garth. "We'll need all the help we can get to deal with Kyr."
"The fates have put us together Garth, I have a feeling we will succeed." smiled Justin.
"I certainly hope so, because I think we will be needing the fates in a few minutes." Garth said as he stared ahead at the road.
Justin looked in that direction and saw what Garth was talking about. At the bottom of the hill that they had just crossed over was a bridge spanning across a wide gorge. Justin could see that it rose up over a very wide crack in the ground and that it was very long, shiny and narrow and worst of all it looked to be made of slick ice. Justin started to worry since he had no idea as to how he was going to get everyone across it.
After they arrived at the bridge, the five of them stood looking down in to the abyss. It was too dark below to even see bottom and the chunk of ice that Garth had dropped made no sound hitting bottom, if there was one.
Justin studied the bridge and felt that he himself wouldn't like to cross it, let alone getting the animals to step out over oblivion. It was about six feet wide with no sides and was made entirely of slippery looking ice. The other end was about twenty yards across, but it may as well been twenty miles. "Garth, are you brave enough to cross this?" asked Justin.
"If I were drunk, maybe," wistfully remarked Garth.
"Well, we better do something soon or the sun will be gone for the night." reminded Cheek from his perch on Justin's shoulder. Kigamsti was comfortable looking out of Justin's pocket and had no intentions on sitting up higher.
"I think we should camp here for the night and get a fresh start in the morning," said Justin hoping to stall for time while he came up with an idea.
"Maybe so Justin, but we'll have to make up for it later," replied Cheek figuring Justin's real reasoning.
They set up camp and Justin wandered around looking for an answer to the problem, but all around him were ice crystals and chunks of broken trees, and nothing more. He stood looking at his horse and wondered how the beast could walk across the bridge without being frightened by the height or slipping on it's hooves. He lifted one of the horse's legs and studied the horseshoe. It was soft metal and flat and not suited for ice. He was stumped for an answer, and decided to get some sleep. Maybe he could think better in the morning.
Everyone else was so worn out that they were already asleep. Justin got into his bedsack and lay there until fatigue overtook him.
Justin thought that he had just fallen asleep when he heard a faint voice calling him. He was surprised to see that it was morning as the voice called again and as he lifted his head he saw Pectin on the other side of the bridge. Justin quickly jumped up and went to his side of the bridge calling to the still screaming and bouncing boy.
"Pectin, how did you get over there without sliding off?" he called.
"I crawled, stabbing my knives into the ice to hold me," he yelled back. "and it wasn't so bad since I couldn't see down, so I wasn't afraid."
Justin quickly thought about what Pectin had said about seeing down. That was the one thing that made them afraid to cross, the fear of falling down. If you couldn't see down, then you could do it. He thought that if he covered the animal's eyes, they would cross without fear. But would that keep them from slipping on their hooves? Garth came up next to Justin pulling on his coat.
"Now how did that fool boy get over there without killing himself?" he asked.
"Garth, I have part of an idea. If we cover the animal's eyes, they won't be afraid to cross. But I'm not sure how to keep them from slipping on the ice."
Garth thought for a minute and said "Too bad we don't have some foot spikes like my hunter friends have to climb the ice hills."
Just then an idea hit Justin. He ran to his sack and pulled out the file he used to sharpen his knife and rushed to the horse. Cheek and Kigamsti were now standing on the backpack wondering what he was up to. Justin lifted the hoof between his legs and started to file at it making small cross-hatched grooves in the hoof that left small sharp points in it. Garth was watching him and saw what he was doing.
"You got it!" he cried and ran to get his file. He started to work on the mule's hooves.
While they were busy at this, Pectin slid back across the bridge and then began breaking camp. Shortly the animals were loaded up and blindfolded and the mice were safely in Justin's pocket.
"Wait a minute," spoke Garth. "Someone has to lead the animals across the bridge or they'll blindly walk off the edge. What's to keep him from sliding off."
Justin smiled. "We'll just have to be extra careful."
"We?" questioned Garth. "What do you mean WE?"
"You aren't afraid are you Garth?" Justin grinned, "Pectin got over and back by himself."
"He slid over on his belly with knives stuck into the ice, that's how he did it!"
"I was more afraid for the animals getting across than myself," scolded Justin. "I know that I can make it by foot."
"And what if the horse decides to get stubborn? Are you going to pull it across?" Garth demanded.
"I'll worry about that when it happens," answered Justin as he pulled Canter's reins. The horse resisted slightly so Justin talked to him nicely as he lead him to the bridge.
Pectin had already gone across and Justin told him to talk to the animals to let them know that someone friendly was ahead. Justin stepped out on to the bridge and slipped, nearly going over the side. If he hadn't been holding on tightly to Canter's reins, he would have been gone. Garth helped him up.
"Still want to walk across?" he said.
"I just have to get used to it. I wasn't ready," Justin replied nervously. He stepped out again and steadied himself. He kept saying repeatily to himself, don't look down, don't look down!
Garth followed the horse pulling and politely cursing at the stuborn mule. He watched the horse's rear end so he wouldn't look down, and hoped that his leader didn't walk off the side as he would surely follow them down on a long death drop.
Pectin was shouting encouragement from the other side and Garth growled out loud that he wished the boy would shut up or that he'd start an avalanche.
Garth wished he hadn't said that, for he heard a rumbling noise and had a strange feeling as to what it was. Looking back he saw the snow caps from the hills behind them sliding down toward the bridge.
"Justin! Run like hell, quick!" Garth screamed at the top of his lungs.
Justin looked back and saw the wall of snow heading toward them. They were about halfway across and this was no time to stop, so figuring the snow would push them off the bridge anyway, they took their chances on running.
Justin and Canter cleared the far side of the bridge and kept moving hoping that Garth was right behind him. He heard a scream and looked back expecting Garth and the mule to be gone, but Garth came around the rear of Canter, hollering.
"Couldn't you move any faster! I had my nose up the horse's butt trying to get past you!"
The rumbling and the wall of snow had ceased as it poured into the abyss and the two men stood there shaking. Garth looked at Justin and said "We got to find a different way back. I'll be damned if I'll do that again!"
Both men let out a long well deserved laugh and hugged each other. It was then that Justin remembered the mice in his pocket and pushed back. He looked into the pocket and found it empty. His heart sank. "Cheek!" he cried. "Cheek, where are you!"
"Don't worry Justin, we're all right."
He turned to the voice behind him and saw the two mice sitting on a rock. He ran to them and scooped Cheek up.
"How did you get here before me?" insisted Justin.
"When you first slipped, Kigamsti and I figured that we'd take our own chances and climbed off. Our claws helped us across."
Justin was relieved that they were safe and said so. He carefully let them crawl back into his pocket and turned to Garth and Pectin. "Well, my brave crew, let's head on. We have more excitement to face."
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