There was once—as far as we know—in the land of Patriarchia a girl who liked to wear pants and practice throwing knives. There may have been more than one, but records show that this sort of behavior was quite successfully squashed out of young Patriarchian girls, and so there is only the story of one brave feminine aberration to tell.
Her name was Glassy, because her parents intended to impress upon her from an early age what a fragile and precious thing she was, to be protected from harm by the strength of men while she reflected a rainbow of light at the dim interior walls of her hut—or high castle tower, if she were destined for the life of a damsel in distress.
But Glassy was far from fragile, as she proved at age eight when a desperate thief broke into the hut and she laid him flat with an iron skillet—and continued to prove during the course of her teenage years, causing great embarrassment to her parents.
“It’s just a phase,” they would tell the neighbors. “She’ll come out of it.” And most of the neighbors agreed, if only to be polite. Young Glassy would grow out of it.
She never did, though. At eighteen she took some food and supplies, and her loyal small horse, and set out for an adventure, because that’s what her brothers did.
As Glassy passed through the village early that morning on her way to the wilderness, the wide smile she started with faltered and eventually passed away under the deathly glares of the neighbors. But she kept her head high and put them behind her, whistling an old war tune she’d learned from her rebellious cousin.
“I don’t care,” she whispered to herself. But she did care—she cared so much that she almost turned back, and felt as if her heart really was made of glass.
You are free, said the sky. It stretched blue over the valley, from mountaintop to mountaintop, bright in the east and a deep, rich blue in the west. So she kept going, whistling her tune and tickling her horse.
At length the horse snorted and said, “Glassy, if you don’t stop tickling me, so help me I will stop trotting and buck you off.”
She giggled. “You might break me though.”
The horse whinnied. “What, you? The unbreakable maiden? I sincerely doubt I would.”
“Right now, Diamond, I don’t think I’m so unbreakable.”
“Hey a dandelion!” The horse stopped to bite off the yellow flower.
Glassy stared out at the cliffs across the valley, which slowly came into view as they rounded a rocky outcropping. Her brothers had climbed all over those cliffs, exploring caves and killing rattlesnakes and breaking bones. She stayed home to hear their stories and tend their battle wounds, never even allowed to come this far, to even see the cliffs. Well she was here now, and they were at home waiting for their injuries to heal.
“Why don’t anybody care what I want to do?” Glassy muttered.
“I would care, but I’m just a horse.”
“Yeah, thanks a lot Fuzzy.”
They stopped by a cold stream about midday. Diamond found some pretty flowers to devour while Glassy ate a bit of the roasted bunny she’d packed. Somewhere in the bushes by the path, a quail whistled. It would make a nice dinner if she could catch it.
Hot breath blasted her ear and Glassy leaned away with a grimace. “Ew, don’t snort on me. Your booger condition hasn’t cleared up yet.”
Diamond did her best impression of a fiendish grin. “You wanna know a secret?”
“You don’t have secrets. I’ve raised you since you were a silly little filly who slipped on the ice.”
“I’m actually a castrated stallion.”
“You are not!”
The horse trotted across the path. “Nobody believes me.”
“Because you’re a fibber. Hey, don’t wander off!”
“I smell daisieeees…” Diamond took off at a gallop, and Glassy scrambled to grab her pack and run after the horse.
Firelight flashed on the trees and bushes around the little clearing.
“I wish…I could go up into the sky and walk between the stars.”
“I wish I had more daisies to eat.”
“I wish I could never go home again.”
“I wish I had more dandelions to eat.”
Glassy picked at a violet she’d murdered. “I wish I’d gotten away sooner.”
“I wish I had a rose to eat.”
“Is that all you want? Flowers to eat?”
Diamond stared at her with one glistening eye. “I’m coming with you to the end of the world because I hear there are the most delicious flowers growing in those everlasting fields where the sun sleeps.”
Glassy lay back with a happy sigh and chewed on one petal of the violet. “Did I ever tell you the story of the sun and the moon?”
“Uh, let me see…yes, about half a million times.”
“Well it’s my favorite story.”
“Tell it again if you must.” Diamond walked over to a tree, her head drooped as she closed her eyes. Then she snored loud enough to frighten a roosting wild chicken nearby.
Glassy chuckled and waited for the horse to actually fall asleep. The fake snoring ceased, replaced by a gentle, steady breath.
“The story of the sun and the moon,” she whispered to herself, and then she fell asleep.
Dawn found Glassy and her fuzzy companion hiking side-by-side up a steep rocky hill. The fresh, cool air tickled her nose, and whenever the wind changed, the scent of sweaty horse became overwhelming. They spoke little and saved their breath, looking ahead at the long slope that was the end of the valley, and the beginning of the mountains.
Nearly at the top, Glassy heard a distant shout and stopped. She looked back, barely able to see the tiny waving figure at the bottom of the hill, standing beside a horse. She waved back and then turned and continued on.
“I think that’s your father,” Diamond said. “And mine.”
“Don’t care. They can catch up…maybe, if they really want to.”
They reached the ridge, and a wide open field stretched out in front of them for over a mile, gradually climbing to the base of the first enormous cone-shaped peak.
“Ready to run?” Glassy asked.
“Oh heck no.” Diamond made a show of wheezing and staggering. “Not right after that climb.”
Glassy peered back down the hill. “They’re not very far yet. I suppose we could stop and rest.”
The horse flopped down on the ground with a dramatic snort. “I’ll just die now.”
“I have underdeveloped lungs. I was the runt, you know.”
“Drama queen.” Glassy sat on a flat rock, took a sip of water from her canteen, and then sat staring at the mountain.
“Hey look at that big rock,” Diamond said. “That is a nice rock.”
“You mean the mountain? It’s spectacular. I want to climb to the top.”
“Uh. I think my depth perception is off. I don’t want to climb a mountain.”
“That’s fine, you can go around it.”
Diamond got up and started eating flowers. “But who will be your underappreciated burden-bearing slave?”
Glassy slung her pack over her shoulder. “I can carry my stuff, silly horse.” She glanced back. “Oh goodness, our fathers are nearly halfway up.”
“I think I can manage a gallop now, if my bad ankle holds up.”
“I’m sure it will, dear.”
The girl and her horse took off across the grass, wind blowing their hair and bugs splatting in their faces. The life of freedom, Glassy thought. It tasted like grasshoppers.
They reached the base of the cone-shaped peak, where mountain pines made a ring around it like hair on a balding man. Diamond huffed in annoyance and ranted about how lucky she was to have avoided stepping in a gopher hole, and Glassy dismounted, shading her eyes and squinting across the field. Her father and his stallion were just barely visible at the far end, and they didn’t stop to rest. The small blob they made against the blue horizon began growing as they approached.
“Dad’s catching up,” she said with a sigh. “I don’t want to be dragged back home.”
“At least your father probably won’t use his teeth on your butt.”
“Maybe we can lose them on the mountain.”
Diamond snorted. “Not likely, but it seems we have no choice.”
So with Glassy leading the way on foot, they entered the forest and began the climb.
The dragoness roared, spewing flames at the rabbit and rushing in for the kill. Her claws sank into its hindquarters, and the singed creature bolted, dragging its attacker through the grass.
“Oy, hey, hold up!”
The rabbit threw itself at a boulder, which provided a solid surface for smashing the dragoness’s head. She released her prey with a yelp and a puff of smoke, and the panicked lagomorph vanished into the brush.
Crackling laughter bounced off the trees. She climbed up on the boulder with a scowl and rubbed her snout with one paw.
Her little brother climbed up beside her. “Oh, oh, I can’t, the mighty Keris, birthed from mountain stone, has been vanquished by a bunny. And I just…the way her desperate little legs stuck out as the frightened beast hurled her against the side of a mountain…”
She shoved him off the rock and grinned at his high-pitched yelp, as he fell without a chance to spread his wings. “It was a big bunny, okay?” she threw after him.
He scrambled back to her side and spit a pinecone at her. “Of course. Very big bunny. Almost as big as your little brother.”
Keris snapped to attention and stared downhill. “Hush, Meosha. Listen.”
The smaller dragon tensed. His nose twitched. “I smell human.”
They flattened themselves against the rock, covering their bodies with their wings. The color of the stone spread over their skin, until they had all but melted into the boulder.
Meosha sniffed again. “Female human and a horse,” he whispered. “What are they doing up here? Nobody comes to our mountain.”
A moment later the girl and her horse stumbled into view, about the most unstealthy duo Keris had ever seen blundering through the woods. They broke twigs, not only on the ground but the ones still attached to trees as well. And they argued as they went.
“I think we’re close to the top,” the girl said.
“No, no, no, you’re never close to the top until you’re actually there. You always think ‘it’s just after that next rise’ and you get past that rise and there’s another and so you think it again.”
“Well if you kept doing that, you’d eventually be right.”
“But you always give up thinking it before it’s actually right, so you’ll never be right and we should definitely go downhill because I just logically proved we will never get to the top.”
“If we go downhill, we’ll be going straight back toward our fathers.”
The horse snorted. “Hey, I have an idea, let’s keep going uphill because dying of exhaustion or falling off a cliff is better than getting my butt bitten by my father.”
They passed the boulder without giving it so much as a second glance, and when they had gone, Keris sat up.
“They’re runaways, then.”
Meosha returned to his usual greenish-yellow color and grinned. “How long you bet until their fathers catch up to them, following that sloppy trail they’re leaving?”
“Not long.” Keris turned to her typical dark red and spread her wings.
“Maybe we should warn them about the Hungry Chasm.”
“Maybe we should chase them off our mountain.” She glared at a trampled white flower.
Meosha bounced in place. “Yes, yes, will we use the Howler Stratagem or the Rumble Approach? Can I be the big bad scary monster this time?”
Glassy stopped to catch her breath. They finally left the trees behind them, and now climbed through twisted rock, like the massive abstract sculptures of some insane giant. Now and then they paused to gaze at the land spread out below them, a patchwork of green and brown and blue that reminded Glassy of her blanket back home. It stretched impossibly far, and she could even see her village, a tiny collection of dot-sized huts near the lake in the open prairie.
And then a voice echoed up the mountainside behind them. “Glassy!” it said.
She bit her tongue, and Diamond stared at her with one dark eye.
“Maybe we can explain to them,” Glassy said. “Convince them to let us go on an adventure if we promise to come back soon.”
“No, because adventures are ‘not proper’ for females to go on, of course.”
They turned a corner and Glassy spotted a dark opening in the slope. “There!” she said.
“Whoa, hang on, I do not like caves, nope nope nope.”
“Come on, silly horse, it’s just a hole in the ground. If it goes far enough in, father won’t be able to find us.”
“Yeah but there’s bound to be a troll or a dragon or a giant snake that will find us.”
“Those are just legends; nobody’s actually ever seen one.”
The horse shook her head. “Legends are still scary.”
Glassy stepped into the cave. It was quiet, clean, and dry, at least near the opening. It continued into the mountain, into blackness.
She unwrapped her supplies and took out the torch grease, smeared it on a strip torn from her jerkin, and then wrapped the fabric around a short stick. A few sparks from her firestone set it ablaze, and she ventured into the echoing darkness.
Diamond slunk along beside her, hooves clacking on the rock. “I hope you realize how loyal I am to come in here with you,” the horse muttered.
“Yes, I appreciate it very much,” Glassy whispered.
The rock floor turned to sand, and a distant sound like rushing water filled the tunnel.
“Waterfalls are formed when a river flows over the edge of a bottomless chasm and crashes onto deadly rocks at the bottom…” Diamond’s voice was shaky.
“How can you have deadly rocks at the bottom of a bottomless chasm? That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Don’t critique me. I’m scared. Thus, illogical. Which is logical. Isn’t it logical to be illogical when you’re scared?”
“Quiet down! You’re going to awaken the trolls!”
“Scaredy-horse. Why don’t you try singing a nice song?”
“I don’t sing in dark places.”
“Maybe I could tell my favorite story.”
“You think it’ll make me feel better to hear a story about the sun and moon when we’re deep inside a mountain and cannot see the sun or moon?”
A moment later, they came to a large open cavern, and the light from the torch reflected off the glistening wet walls. This was the source of the rushing water sound, but there was no waterfall.
“What in the name of Lucifer is that? Oh father help us Glassy, it’s black magic and we should run away very quickly!”
Glassy stepped forward, staring at the water that flowed straight up from the floor, splashed into a small pool in the ceiling, and then ran down the dome-shaped walls to gather again on the floor and rush upward, a never-ending cycle of the absolutely impossible.
“It’s fascinating. What would make it go up like that?” She reached out and put her hand in the flow of water.
“Don’t touch it!”
“Diamond. It’s harmless. Just normal water.”
“Normal water goes down.”
“Okay, so not quite normal. Or maybe the water is normal and it’s this room that isn’t.”
“I don’t really care as long as we leave.”
Glassy walked around the upside-down waterfall, until she was looking through it at the horse.
“The tunnel continues out the other side. Come on, let’s go.”
Diamond walked around the column of water, watching it closely as if it would suddenly lunge at her. Once she got past it she dashed into the tunnel. Glassy followed.
They’d gone about twenty feet when abruptly, the sound of the rushing water stopped. The tunnel became silent, except for a few ominous drips.
Meosha scampered through a network of small tunnels with his sister at his tail.
“If you want to be the monster this time, make sure you take a deep breath and don’t choke on your tongue like last time.”
“Yes Keris, I know Keris. I will keep my tongue out of the way.”
The tunnel spilled them into a spherical cavern, with a hole like a drain in the very bottom. Meosha stuck his head into it and peered through, taking in a deep breath. The hole widened below him, like an inverted funnel, and hundreds of feet lower he could see the vast blackness of the Hungry Chasm. Glowing stones in the rock illuminated the ledge that formed a rim halfway around the huge pit.
He waited. And waited.
He exhaled and took a few quick breaths. “Oh right. I was concentrating. Forgot about air.”
Movement caught his attention and he squinted at the ledge. The girl and her horse peered over the cliff. The time had come.
Meosha sucked in air, opened his mouth, and let out the loudest roar he could manage. The amplified sound echoed into the chasm.
He pulled his head out of the hole and hopped around it, giggling.
An answering roar shook the entire mountain, and Meosha flattened himself on the floor with a whimper.
“No no no no no…”
Butch Hammerfust and his horse exchanged wide-eyed glances as loose stones skipped up the mountainside around them, and the echoes of the earth-shaking roar died away.
“No,” the man whispered. “She can’t have awakened the mountain.”
“I’m afraid our scurrilous offspring are capable of all manner of mischief,” the majestic stallion replied.
Butch clenched his jaw and assumed a heroic posture while squinting uphill. “Look there! I behold a cave entrance. They must have gone inside to hide from us.”
Of one accord the muscular duo charged toward the cave, paying no heed to the small stones that now began rising into the air.
They reached the cave and rushed inside, going at least a dozen yards in before they realized they couldn’t see a thing.
“We must pause to light a torch,” Butch said. “Charles, stand guard while I do so.”
With the torch lit they continued, and soon reached a cavern where water flowed from the floor to the ceiling in a steamy jet. It foamed above them like an angry sky, getting lower and lower as the ceiling filled up. Butch took a step forward and his feet left the ground.
Charles clamped his teeth on the man’s belt and pulled him down to the floor. They retreated back to the passageway.
“It’ll fill up pretty soon,” Butch said. “We might be able to make it through with your weight holding us down.”
“And how will we get back? We don’t even know if Glassy and Diamond are in there.”
As if conjured by his statement, the two female renegades in question appeared at the other end of the chamber. Glassy pointed and said something, but her words drowned in the roar of the water. Diamond stood on shaky legs.
“My daughter, I will save you!” Butch charged into the room, slipped, and levitated straight up into the water. Charles tried to catch him by the belt again, but wasn’t fast enough.
The floor split, and water filled the tunnel in an irresistible flood that carried them all farther into the mountain. It spilled them over the edge and they plummeted into the Hungry Chasm.
Keris and Meosha found their tunnels blocked. They tried to claw through the collapsed stone and dirt, but they could not.
“We can maybe get out through the large tunnel,” Keris said.
“No no no,” Meosha cried. “Not back to the Hungry Chasm, not back to the monster.”
“It’s the only way.”
He followed her, grumbling, back to the chamber where he roared, and they looked through the hole.
Water gushed from the cave, pouring into the pit, and they saw the shapes of two humans and two horses spill over with it. The flow of water filled the tunnel entirely, leaving no room for escape.
“Oh!” Meosha gasped. “Oh.”
Keris squeezed through the hole, folded her wings, and plummeted straight down. Meosha followed.
“What are you doing?” he shrieked.
“Maybe we can find another way out.”
“There’s a monster down there!”
“Then we need to escape before it comes up here. Because there’s nowhere else to go.”
Glowing stones in the vertical rock wall flashed by, and they fell for a full minute before the bottom came into sight, illuminated by a dense ring of glowing rocks. They spread their wings, and watched helpless as the humans and horses fell toward the solid stone.
Glassy felt weightless, and she instinctively opened her mouth to scream, but the water choked her. It roared around her, all she could hear and all she could see. Eyes squeezed shut, she waited for the end.
And then she fell out of the water, and the roaring began to fade. She knew she would die, there would be a sudden crunch at the end of the drop and she would remember nothing more.
But she realized she wasn’t moving, and opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was Diamond’s terrified face a few yards away. The horse also floated in mid-air, galloping in place, speechless with fear—for just a moment, until she passed out.
Glassy looked up, to see a solid rock ceiling. Just below her feet, the surface of the water foamed, sprinkling her legs with tiny droplets.
Twisting around, she saw her father and his horse a short distance away. Butch hung there with his thick arms crossed, glaring at her, and the stallion displayed a similar air of calm, masculine indifference.
The water’s roar had faded to a distant rumble, and now that she felt somewhat oriented—though she had no clue what just happened—Glassy took a deep breath and calmed a bit.
“Hi Dad,” she said.
“Glassy, I am very disappointed in you.”
“Oh please, can you save the lecture? None of us would be here if you hadn’t chased after me.”
“You are bringing dishonor on my family!” His glare intensified, and his thick moustache and eyebrows bristled.
“Then why not let me leave? You could be rid of me and my dishonorable ways.”
“Because people would talk. They never stop talking. I would be forever known as the man who couldn’t control his children.”
“I’m not a child! I don’t want to be controlled. I don’t care about what they think, I’m not coming back to sit in that stuffy house and do nothing but cook and sew and listen to the adventure stories you and the boys are constantly telling. I want to find my own stories.”
Butch grunted, and looked up at the stone ceiling. “Here you are, living your own story. You’re not the hero, Glassy. I’ll rescue you and we will return home, and then you’ll understand your proper role.”
She laughed. “In case you haven’t noticed, you are every bit as helpless as I am right here.”
“I’m working on a plan.” He scowled.
Glassy scowled right back and they continued scowling in silence for a few moments.
A thin, melodic voice broke the silence. It sounded much like Glassy had always imagined the voices of elves would sound, high and beautiful.
“If I may interrupt your argument…”
She looked up to see a tiny purple glowing figure standing upside down on the ceiling. It could be no larger than half an inch.
“Hang on a moment,” it said.
They spun around so that the water was above their heads, the stone below their feet. Glassy realized that what she had thought was a ceiling was actually the bottom of the chasm.
“Better.” The tiny figure floated up in front of Glassy’s face.
She expected a beautiful humanoid creature. A miniature elf. Anything but the hideous pebbled speck that now faced her with blazing red eyes and a mouth half the size of its body.
“Who are you?” Glassy asked.
“I am Mite,” it said. “I am the soul of this mountain.” It looked up, pointed a tiny arm, and the water retreated upward.
“Might?” Butch laughed. “Like you’re mighty or something?”
“Silence, idiot man.”
Butch tried to speak again but couldn’t seem to open his mouth. So instead he grunted.
“To be honest,” Mite said, “I’m not actually the soul of this mountain. He is somewhat enslaved to my will at the moment. But that doesn’t matter. Why are you here?”
“Because the water brought us. We really tried to get out of the mountain, but—”
“I didn’t let you,” Mite finished. “The presence of a human female makes my power stronger. You may have heard stories of the barbaric tribes in the great Southern Mountains, who sacrificed their daughters to the volcano god. That’s where I’m from—in fact I am the volcano god. I convinced them to give up their daughters so they could live. Of course, when I enslaved the rest of the mountain souls and blew up all the mountains there, every last one of those natives died. Such idiots, humans are. Willing to give up so much for so little.”
Glassy’s stomach twisted as she stared at the minuscule psychopath. “Why?” she asked. “Why are you blowing up the mountains?”
“It’s fun. Now I think I shall lock you and your strange companions up. I enjoyed our talk—most of the conversations I have these days are with enslaved mountain souls who say exactly what I tell them to say. Not very interesting at all. I’m an extrovert…been feeling the need for better company lately.”
Glassy started to protest but her jaw locked up and she could only grunt like her father. Mite waved them and the horses toward an opening in the rock wall that couldn’t have been there just a moment ago. A short trip down the corridor brought them to an illuminated cell with massive stone columns. One of the columns lifted out of the way for them to pass through, and then dropped back into place with a boom that shook them in the air.
They dropped to the floor and their jaws unlocked. Butch groaned and rolled over. Glassy lay on her back, breathing deeply and listening to Mite’s airy laughter fading as he left.
Charles trotted over to Butch and said, “This is a fine predicament.”
“Yes, thank Glassy for that.”
She sat up and scowled. “For the last time, dad, it’s not my fault.”
He stood up and ignored her, and walked to the giant bars of their cell. “Maybe if I get a running start, I could crack the stone.”
“No, you can’t. ” Glassy rolled her eyes and crawled over to Diamond. “Hey, Fuzzy, you can stop playing dead.”
“I don’t want dad to bite my butt,” the horse whispered. “Go away.”
There was a loud thud, a grunt, and then a deep, manly moan. Glassy turned to see her father collapsed at the base of one of the columns, holding his shoulder.
“I’m fine,” he growled.
Keris crept toward the stone cell with Meosha beside her. They just barely got through before the water hit the invisible barrier and began filling up the chasm. Camouflaged on the rock wall, they listened to the exchange between Glassy and Mite.
The dragons crawled in between a couple bars and dropped their camouflage. They approached Glassy, and when she saw them she jumped to her feet.
“We are sorry, very sorry,” Meosha said.
“I’m Keris and this is my brother Meosha and we are very sorry.”
“What?” Glassy stared at them. “Sorry for what? And what are you? Little dragons? You’re so cute!”
Keris turned a darker shade of red than her usual color. “We tried to scare you off our mountain…that first roar was Meo. So it’s kind of our fault you’re down here. We didn’t know that thing was down here.”
The girl glanced at her father, who was absorbed in examining the stone columns. Then she knelt in front of the dragons.
“I don’t think it was your fault. Mite seemed to already know I was in his mountain.”
“Oh good we aren’t responsible,” Meosha said. “I feel better now. Can we get out of here?”
“We’re small enough to go between the bars of this cell,” Keris said. “Maybe between all of us we could work out an escape plan.”
Glassy smiled. “We might. Did you see any mechanism on the outside that might open it so we can get out?”
“No. That little creature appears to have created this cell just for you. He’s probably the only one who can open it. I don’t understand how he could be so powerful.”
“Then we need to trick him somehow. He likes to talk, and I’m the one he wants. If someone else keeps him talking so I can sneak away, then he’ll come after me and the rest of you can get out.”
Meosha’s head bobbed up and down and up and down. “Yes, yes, but how do we get out?”
“You two will have to find the way out first.”
Glassy nodded. “Soon as you can.”
“We will come right back when we find a way,” Keris said.
“We want to get out too so it’s a purely selfish motivation,” Meosha said. “But you’re welcome anyway.”
Kerish shoved him. “Ignore my brother. He never even tried to grow up.”
Meosha turned the same color as the stone and scurried away giggling. Keris huffed and followed him.
They crawled through tunnels, sniffing the air for the scent of outside. Hours passed and all they found were dead-ends and loops that brought them back to the Hungry Chasm. They could fly out, since the water had gone, but the humans could not. There was no way for creatures without wings to climb out of the pit.
“We could just leave,” Meosha said, as they stared up into the tall cylinder of darkness and glowing stones.
“Would that be wrong?”
“I think so. We should help the people and the horses.”
Keris paced along the wall. “Because…it’s a good thing to do.”
“Oh. Okay. Maybe that tunnel goes somewhere!” Meosha darted into a tunnel they had already explored twice.
Glassy told her father about the tiny dragons.
“Don’t be silly,” he said. “Tiny dragons don’t exist. Dragons are huge and evil.”
“These ones are certainly neither,” Glassy retorted. “Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Diamond interrupted them with a squeal and galloped past. “Ow ow ow ow…”
Charles trotted along after her. “Maybe you’ll think thrice next time about being so rebellious,” he said.
Glassy shook her head. “Dad, listen. We have a plan. You can stop scheming to break out of here. It isn’t going to work.”
“Just because you haven’t seen something done doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Butch said. “Your plan is the one that won’t work.”
“Because you haven’t experienced enough of the world. You don’t know how to make good plans. Leave the plan-making to us experienced guys.”
She gave up and went to sit in the farthest corner of the cell. Diamond joined her, complaining about the throbbing in her butt.
“We need to figure out how to escape before they do,” Glassy said, “and make sure they can’t take the credit for it. Then maybe they’ll take us seriously.”
“I’m starving,” Diamond muttered.
Then Mite’s voice echoed in the darkness outside the cell. “Hello again,” he sang. “Who’s ready to die?”
Glassy jumped to her feet. The tiny menace floated into the cell between the bars. Butch ran at him, but before he could reach Mite, he levitated and flew back into the wall. He crumpled to the floor and lay still.
“Don’t hurt him!” Glassy cried.
“Why not? He’s a jerk. I heard him talking to you.”
“He’s my father.”
“So I don’t want him to get hurt!”
Mite approached her. “And what would you do to keep him safe?”
“Anything.” She swallowed. “Anything you want.”
He grinned. “Ah, that is touching. Well, seeing as he can’t do anything to me, I think we can make a deal. I’ll let your father and the horses go, if you stay here and help me.”
Glassy trembled at the thought of staying in the mountain alone with a psychopathic speck, but she crossed her arms and tried to stay strong. “What would I help you with?”
“Cooking, housekeeping, you know, typical girly stuff.” Mite grinned at her scowl. “I didn’t think you were the type.”
“I’ll do it,” she said. “I know how.”
“Good, good!” He waved at the bars and one lifted out of the way, and then they all floated out of the cell and back to the chasm.
“Don’t hurt them,” Glassy whispered, as Mite set her on the floor and her father and the two horses began their ascent.
“We will come back for you,” Charles called down to her.
“No you won’t,” Mite said in a cheerful tone. “Goodbye now!”
Glassy stared upward, even after she could no longer see them. At least they would be safe. Hopefully the little dragons had found a way out.
Mite turned to her. “They’ll be fine,” he said. “I promise. Until I blow up this mountain and they die along with everyone in your precious little village.”
She stared at him and he darted away cackling.
“Wait,” she cried.
“Come along, Glassy. Come along.”
She chased after him, deep into the roots of the mountain. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt them!”
He popped out of a crevice in front of her and she stopped.
“No, I said I would let them go. This mountain is going to explode and your village will be destroyed. It’s just the way of things. But think about it, you’ll never have to go back home. Sounds like you don’t particularly want to. Come with me and we’ll go on many adventures.”
“Blowing up mountains?”
“Most of them will culminate in large explosions, yes. Of course once I’ve built up a large enough army of enslaved mountain souls, we’ll use our combined power to give the largest mountain in the world an animated form and we’ll be invincible. How would you like to be queen of the world?”
“I’d really prefer not to be queen of anything.”
“Very well, you can stay on as my servant.”
He locked her jaw and forced her to follow him, into a large chamber where hundreds of mountain souls moved around slowly, as if drugged. They glowed blue, a little fainter than Mite’s purple.
“There’s sand in the corner over there, and an oil well beside it. My minions need rock cakes to keep their strength up, so that’s your first task. I’ll start you a fire. Mix equal amounts oil and sand, pat it into tiny cakes, and heat them until they’re hard.”
Mite left and sealed the chamber behind him. Glassy’s jaw loosened and she stared at all the little blue mountain souls.
“Hi,” she said.
A few turned to look at her, but most of them continued their despondent, aimless wandering.
“Can you hear me? Are you listening?”
She stood for a moment, in the silence. Then a tiny voice said, “They can’t even think for themselves.”
Glassy turned to see one of them watching her. “You aren’t enslaved like they are?”
“I have him blocked from part of my mind. He doesn’t know I’m talking to you.”
“Can you fight him?”
“No, not at all. He still controls what I do. Just not everything I think or say.”
“Is there any way to stop him?”
The tiny creature blinked twice. “Maybe. He would die if he were smashed between two solid blocks of stone. But holding him down would be a problem. He’s too powerful for anyone to do that.”
“Is there anything that weakens him?”
“Dragon fire and water. They both weaken him if he touches them.”
Glassy wondered if the tiny dragons could breathe fire. “What if we had both of those things?”
“He’d be almost powerless, but just for a short time.”
She smiled. “I think I might be able to help you.”
Glassy made the rock cakes and fed the sad little mountain souls. She looked around the cavern but could see no source of water. And being sealed in, she couldn’t look for the little dragons.
So she waited for Mite to return. Sitting in a corner, watching the crowd of glowing blue creatures, she thought of her father. How he was always trying to rescue and protect her. A good man, she thought, but he always seemed to look right past her and see only his noble duty…not his daughter.
Mite returned before long, and led her out to a huge open chamber. A shallow creek flowed across the floor. There was the water she needed. Now, where were the dragons?
“This is my bedroom,” Mite said.
“It’s rather large, isn’t it?”
He laughed. “I can make my rooms as large as I please. See over there, I made you a bed. Beside it is my throne. Do you like it?”
She stared at the slab of stone that was to be her bed. “It looks…wonderful.”
“I must go about my business of blowing up the mountain,” Mite said. “Get your rest. Tomorrow is the big day, and we will be traveling a long distance after the eruption.”
She sat on the edge of the bed, and Mite left without sealing her in. After several minutes she ventured to speak. “Dragons?” she said, and her voice echoed.
There was no reply. She tried to remember their names.
Still no sound. She walked to the entrance of the cavern and listened. Far away through the tunnels, Mite sang an ancient tune, and his voice echoed back to her. Good, she had a way to tell where he was.
Glassy tiptoed down the dark passage, feeling her way along the wall. The glowing stones were not ubiquitous in these tunnels.
Something brushed her ankle and she froze. Mite was still singing in the distance.
“Hello?” she whispered.
“Oh hi this is Meosha, are you lost?”
“No, I was just looking for you. Where is Keris?”
“Here, there, somewhere.”
Glassy heard a small scuffle.
“Ow, Meo, I’m right here. Get off my face.”
“Oh sorry Keris.”
“Hush, you two. Can you see anything?”
“No, no, only smell and hear,” Meosha said.
“Can you follow me by smell?”
“Sure, sure, that’s what we’ve been doing.”
“Good. Come with me, I have a plan.” Glassy turned around and headed back to the huge bedroom chamber. When they reached it, she explained what she’d learned from the blue mountain soul.
“We have fire!” Meosha said, rising up on his hind legs and coughing up a puff of smoke and a few sparks.
“That doesn’t look like fire.”
He tried again, this time producing a tiny flame that lasted for a second or two.
“It’s something at least,” Keris said. “If you distract Mite, and then get him wet, then we can sneak up behind him and blast him. Then we just have to get a piece of rock to smash him with.”
Glassy pointed at her pillow. “There’s our rock. We’ll smash him on this bed.”
Meosha jumped up on the bed and sniffed the pillow. He giggled and turned around three times and lay down on it. “Not very soft,” he said.
Glassy shushed them, and they listened in silence for a moment.
“He stopped singing. Quick, hide under the bed.”
The dragons scurried into the darkness beneath the slab of rock, and Glassy ran to the creek. She crouched beside it and waited. And waited.
At last a purple glow in the tunnel announced Mite’s imminent arrival. “He’s here,” she said, and heard the faint clicking of dragon claws in response.
She waited until Mite entered the chamber, and then she scooped up some water in her hands. She drank the first handful, and then he was right in front of her. She scooped up more water and stood up.
“Not sleepy yet?” he asked.
“Nope.” She threw the water on him.
“Augh!” he cried, as his glow disappeared and he fell to the floor. “What are you doing, stupid girl? Did someone tell you that water hurts me? I will kill him! I will kill them all! I’ll kill you too!”
He flickered a bit, starting to regain his color. The ground shook and pieces of rock fell from the ceiling.
“Now!” Glassy cried.
The dragons sprang out of the floor behind Mite, and Meosha charged ahead of Keris, his mouth open wide. He inhaled…and swallowed Mite.
The mountain soul’s high-pitched, muffled scream emanated from the tiny dragon, combined with Meosha’s surprised yelp and choking cough.
“Spit him out!” Keris cried.
Meosha crouched on the floor, his color changing to match the stone, and the mountain continued to quake. More chunks of rock fell from the ceiling.
“Get under the bed,” Glassy cried. She ran for it, and crawled into the small space. A loud crash sounded behind her.
Keris crawled over Glassy’s face in her terror, and the quake continued for a moment.
Then all was silent.
“Where is Meo?” Keris whispered.
They crawled out of their refuge, and looked around at the debris littering the floor.
Keris wailed and darted to one of the larger stones. Her brother’s head was the only part of him visible.
“Meo, Meo, you can’t be dead. Open your eyes. Say something!”
She threw herself at the rock on top of him, but it was much too big for her to move. Glassy held her back from trying again. “Calm down, you’re going to hurt yourself.”
“I don’t care, I don’t care. My brother…”
Glassy got a grip on the rock and rolled it off the little dragon. His body was crushed.
Keris curled around her brother, and Glassy stood back, not sure what to say. Mite was dead, crushed along with Meosha. But it wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
From the tunnel came the joyful sound of many tiny voices. A blue light filled the room as the freed mountain souls spilled in.
“You have saved us,” they cried, swarming around Glassy. “Thank you!”
“He did,” she said, pointing at Meosha. “The little dragon swallowed Mite.”
They gathered over the dragons, suddenly quiet.
“Can you help him?” Keris asked the mountain souls.
“No,” one of them said. “We are so very sorry.”
They formed a small stone box using the rock that had killed Meosha and Mite, and they put Meosha’s broken body in it. Then they opened a straight tunnel that let sunlight into the mountain. Glassy picked up Keris and they walked out into the free air, into the open field that Butch had chased her across just that morning.
One of the mountain souls came to Glassy, while the others buried Meosha. “We are forever in your debt,” he said. “Mite has been enslaving us for centuries. He would have destroyed much of the world in his quest to be the most powerful being. Is there any way we can repay you?”
Glassy looked out across the field. “Just take me home, to my village by the lake.”
An hour later, as the sun set, Glassy walked toward her hut with Keris curled up on her shoulder. The mountain souls who carried them there said goodbye and left.
Butch stepped out of the hut, loaded with weapons, and stopped when he saw her. Neither of them spoke for a moment.
Butch cleared his throat.
“Hi dad,” Glassy said.
“I had some help,” she said, nodding her head toward Keris. “We saved you, and the whole village. Mite was going to blow up the mountain and kill you all. But we stopped him.”
Her father grunted. “The tiny dragons,” he said.
“I know adventures aren’t proper for girls—at least, nobody thinks they are. But it’s what I want. Let me go, dad. I’ll come back with stories.”
Butch glanced upward, downward, side to side, everywhere other than directly at her. “I guess…I was wrong,” he said, plainly with great effort.
“I’m sorry for running away.”
He grunted again. “I’m sorry you felt like you had to.”
Diamond came running around the hut and Glassy smiled. “I’ll bring you a flower from the end of the earth, dad, if Diamond doesn’t eat them all.”