Fred and friends find themselves in a mess of new troubles as they continue their journey to destroy the Region Stones. The road takes them to the windy city of String where Fred is recruited by Ned to win the stone in a competition of flight. Troubles dog their steps as they face rival aviators, greedy merchants, and pointy hats. Will Fred survive the tournament, or will he go crashing down with everything else?
“Please don’t eat so close to me,” Pat growled.
Canto slurped more of a wriggling mass of living spaghetti into his mouth before he glared at her. “Dirth Worms are a specialty Ah won’t be missing out on. Not when we’re so close to the border.”
Pat glanced over to Ned. “Please tell me we are close to the next region,” she pleaded.
Ned glanced up at the stars overhead. The companions sat around a crackling fire eating their dinner, or in Pat’s case losing her appetite watching Canto consume the squirming worms. The clearing for their camp lay just off a dirt road that they’d followed for seven days eastward from the city of Dirth. Around them stood giant oak trees well-watered by the thinning marsh waters of the Dirth region. Their branches stretched out as though reaching for the companions.
Fred looked at the branches as he munched on his food. He couldn’t help being reminded of the fight so long ago with the tree monsters.
At that time he could barely get off a flame, and now he was capable of tossing balls of fire at them. He’d come a long way since those first days of adventure and mayhem.
While Fred thought about the past, Ned pulled at his beard and nodded his head. “We should be in Kite by tomorrow, and at the capital city two days after that,” he told her.
“What is the name of the city?” Ruth asked him.
“String,” he replied.
The name brought Fred back from his reverie and he choked on his food. “String?” he repeated.
Ned smiled and shrugged. “They’re an inventive people, but not when it comes to names.”
“Aren’t they known for their flying abilities?” Percy spoke up.
Ruth’s eyes widened and she glanced between Percy and Ned. “Flying abilities?” she wondered.
Ned chuckled and shook his head. “No, they’re not gargoyles. The people of Kite are as human as any of us, but they’re a very inventive people when it comes to their amusements. The region of Kite is a very windy place, and they found that by strapping large swaths of cloth to their backs they can glide through the air as well as any bird.”
Fred’s mouth fell open in awe. “They can fly anywhere in their region?” he asked Ned.
“No, they are tethered to the ground. The winds are strong and unpredictable, and to be loosed from the tether is very dangerous,” Ned replied. He perked up and smiled at those who sat around him. “However, it is rather exciting watching them swoop through the skies. They have a tournament every year to crown the best flier.”
“Can we watch them?” Ruth pleaded.
Ned gently smiled at her, but shook his head. “I’m afraid we’ll be arriving early. The tournament is in the fall when the winds are strongest.”
“Oh. . .” she murmured.
“But we’re sure to see some flying, aren’t we?” Percy suggested.
“Yes. The competitors practice year-around, and perhaps we can find some money to go up in one of the flying wings,” Ned agreed. He looked to Ruth with a gleam in his eyes. “Or perhaps we have someone among us who can teach their champions a thing or two about flying.”
Ruth blushed and looked at the ground. “I still need a great deal of practice,” she replied.
Pat sat beside Ruth on a shared log and scooted closer to wrap an arm around her friend. “Then you’ll get that there. It may take a few days to find the treasure to destroy the stone, and we also have to find the stone,” she pointed out.
“If my education serves me then finding the stone may take that long,” Percy agreed. “String is not a large city, but it is spread out across an entire valley.”
“We might not be having as much trouble finding the stone as ya think,” Canto spoke up. He tilted his plate and licked the last bits of his meal, and Pat’s appetite, off the top. Then he dropped the platter to show off his beard covered in the yellow blood of his wormy victims. “Ah heard some in the castle back at Dirth mention that the people in String had taken a fancy to something in their city.”
Ned raised an eyebrow. “Did they happen to mention if it was a stone?”
“Aye. Piako was planning on offering his services to String if he could’ve got his own rock chipped,” Canto told him.
“Well, it seems we won’t have to play seek with the stone,” Percy mused.
Ned frowned and stroked his beard. “I know of only one stone in the city of String, and that is the Swearing Stone located behind the Senex.”
Pat furrowed her brow. “Swearing Stone? Senex?” she repeated.
“It is a stone on which the winners of the tournament swear their allegiance to the city and take their places as judges among the people. The Senex is a large marble building where their seat of government resides,” Ned told her. “If the Region Stone truly is the Swearing Stone then it will be difficult to reach, much less destroy.”
“But we have Fred and your abilities as castors, unless you will bind yourself to not using your powers,” Percy pointed out.
Ned shook his head. “The people of Kite hold the Swearing Stone in high regard. Fifteen years ago there was an attempt to destroy the stone, or so they say, and they contracted the elves to place a barrier against magic around the object to protect it against theft. Staffs and other powerful magical items cannot pass the barrier, and anyone in disguise will immediately be revealed as who they are. Even I cannot destroy or pass my staff through the magic, though Fred’s hidden staff is an exception. The guards prevent more mundane thieves from chipping away blocks to sell as souvenirs.”
“Fifteen years ago? Are you sure of that time?” Pat asked him.
He pursed his lips and nodded. “Yes, and I agree with your suspicions. At that time Canavar may have tampered with the stone.”
“If we knew what he was wanting then this adventure of ours would be a lot less trouble,” Canto grumbled.
“No doubt,” Ned agreed.
“And we have yet to learn how they activate. The stones in Dirth and String are, or were, awake, but not active,” Percy added.
“Perhaps we’ll find the answer in String, but not sooner,” Ned replied. He stood and arched his back until there was a definite crack. “While you young ones speak late into the night I will gather these weary old bones of mine and rest,” he told them.
His leaning back caused his long, pointy hat to dangle in front of Canto’s face. The gruff dwarf brushed it away and scowled at Ned. “Do ya mind keeping that useless thing out of my face?”
Ned turned to him and chuckled. “Useless, my dear dwarf? Nonsense. This hat is a very useful weapon in battle.”
Canto scoffed. “Ah’ll believe it when Ah see it.”
“Well, let us hope that time does not come too soon,” Ned replied. He turned to Fred. “For you, my young apprentice, might I suggest you study the pamphlet I gave to you? The contents may some day be useful.”
Pat snorted. “I doubt it.”
“I think I’ll join Ned in his intention to sleep,” Percy spoke up. He stood and stretched his arms over his head. “Who takes the first watch?”
Ned turned to Ruth. “With a gargoyle in our group we need only one watch.”
Ruth bowed her head and stood. She rubbed her jewel and her human facade fell to reveal her gargoyle self. “I will try my best,” she promised.
“Then we needn’t ask any more of you. Now to the beds, my young companions. We have a long journey to reach Kite by tomorrow,” Ned told them.
Ruth strode to the edge of the fire’s light while the others lay down on their blankets. Fred sat on his blanket and pulled out the crumpled pamphlet. Pat lay nearby him, and she rolled onto her stomach and watched as he opened to his last lesson spot. “What is it having you do now?” she asked him.
Fred squinted his eyes and looked over the picture. “I think it wants me to kill myself,” he replied.
“What? Let me see that!” Pat snatched it from his hands and looked over the picture. It showed a silhouetted figure standing with its staff at a perpendicular angle to the center of the holder’s body. Pat rolled her eyes. “It’s not telling you to stab yourself in the gut, it’s showing you a different pose for your staff.” She tossed the pamphlet at him and it hit him in the face.
Fred pulled it off to reveal a sheepish grin. “Oh, right. I guess I can do that.”
“If you can create fire balls that are capable of damaging a Region Stone then I’m sure you can manage a pose,” she assured him.
Fred stood and pulled out his staff. He positioned himself like the picture, and the next blank page revealed another picture to follow. Fred knelt down and looked over the new lesson. It showed the silhouette lying down on a blanket. “Um. . .” He glanced over to where Ned lay and found the old castor with his eyes shut, though there was a mischievous smile on Ned’s lips. “What’s this one mean? The one with the guy lying down?” he asked Ned.
“It means it’s time to sleep,” Ned told him.
Pat raised an eyebrow. “Really?” she questioned the old man.
“Even castors need their sleep,” Ned pointed out. He tipped his hat over his eyes and nestled atop his blanket. “Goodnight.”
Fred shrugged and laid down on his blanket. Pat rolled her eyes. “I will never understand castors,” she grumbled. She turned over and lay her head down.
The others took their positions on their blankets and soon the camp was quiet.