The Seventh Element Read online

  Dash let out a long sigh of relief when Chris’s face popped up on the small screen. A splotch of oil streaked across Chris’s cheek, and he looked tired. “Chris!” Dash said hurriedly. “We sounded the horn, but the king wants to be sure we really came with you before he helps us. Can you tell him?”

  “They let you sound the horn?” Chris asked, squinting up at him.

  Dash glanced at his friends before answering. “Well, not so much let us, exactly, but they did say they’d help if you tell them—”

  “Yes,” Chris interrupted. “These children are with me. Thank you for letting them continue their very important mission.”

  Gabriel and Siena both bristled at being called children. The elves in the room murmured excitedly. Here was the famous Chrysanthemum!

  “And in return you will take the horn with you?” the king asked Chris, although it sounded more like a command than a question.

  “Yes, yes,” Chris promised.

  “How will you—”

  But Chris interrupted again. “We will take care of it. I must go.” Dash’s screen turned dark.

  The king sputtered for a few seconds, clearly not used to being dismissed.

  “Um, he’s really busy with ship stuff,” Siena said, trying to smooth things over.

  “You have one day,” the king snapped, “not a second more. Lythe! Tumar!” The two horn guards snapped to attention. “Since you seem to think we can trust these strangers, you will accompany them. And this time I expect you will keep a closer eye on them, yes?” Without another word, he stormed off down the stairs, waving for the other elves to follow him. Tumar and Lythe stayed behind. Gabriel, Siena, and Dash went to the window to join Piper and plan their next move.

  “I feel a little bad saying this,” Piper said when they were alone, “but did Chris seem unusually rude to the king just now?”

  “Totally,” Siena said.

  “Dash?” Siena said, waving her hands in front of his face to get his attention. He hadn’t looked up from his arm since the call. “Dash? Didn’t you think Chris was kind of obnoxious?”

  Dash shook his head. When he finally looked up, his face had gone pale, even paler than usual. When he spoke, his tone was grim.

  “That wasn’t Chris.”

  The storehouse of axes and shields were right where the ogres had left them, tucked underneath an outcrop of rocks by the shoreline. The site was only visible when the suns set and cast a certain light on the rocks, showing the ogres where their sacred stash was kept, ensuring that the elves would never find their stores. The ogres did not know exactly how much time had passed, for the forest and the shore and the mountain peaks they used to call home looked the same as they remembered. Only the rust on the locks and the warping of the door hinted at the years. The weapons themselves—having been treated with grease made from worm guts and the ogres’ own saliva—remained shiny and sharp.

  Now armed, the ogres made their plan. Half wanted to attack the elves right away, to chop at their precious tree branches. The elves would chase them with their swords and spears, but they would get some good swings in first. The other half of the ogres wanted to climb the mountain and awaken the dragons. While it would be satisfying to see tree limbs fall, it would be glorious to watch the trees burn.

  It was decided that half the ogres would ascend the mountain. Once at home on the high, windy peaks, they would do as they’d always done—prod and taunt the ferocious winged beasts until down they flew, breathing their fiery anger upon the elves’ village.

  The other half of the ogres would remain below to generally raise a ruckus and start trouble.

  Before going their separate ways, the two halves faced each other in long, even rows. They stuck out their axes, clanged them together, grunted, and smacked foreheads.

  They were ready.


  The ground crew along with Lythe and Tumar raced back through the woods. Dash was trying to contact the ship, but no one was answering. Fighting off his rising panic, he said, “We have to focus on our mission here. Colin can’t take the ship anywhere without us. There’s no way to get the ship back in Gamma.” He needed the crew to believe everything on the Cloud Leopard was fine. Even if he didn’t believe it himself.

  “Wait,” Tumar said, grabbing Dash’s arm. The group stopped running, panting to catch their breath. “If you have a plan, we need to know what it is. King Urelio will not—”

  “King Urelio only gave us one day to complete this mission,” Dash interrupted. “I promise you, I will tell you our plan, but we have little time and need to keep moving.”

  Dash turned to start running again, but Tumar thrust his spear in Dash’s face. “We’re not going anywhere until Lythe and I know the plan.”

  Following Tumar’s cue, Lythe lifted her spear as well, if only halfheartedly.

  Dash glared at Tumar. This was just what they needed: unhelpful elves. “The plan is to complete our mission as quickly as possible. And that means running. Now.”

  “Look,” Gabriel said, stepping forward and nearly tripping over a large tree root. “Dash is right—we need to keep moving. What if the ogres woke up, realized they haven’t eaten in a hundred years, and decided to raid your village first? The sooner we get this plan in action, the sooner we can save all of you from ever having to deal with the ogres again.”

  Tumar and Dash continued to glare at one another until Lythe laid her hand gently on Tumar’s arm. “I think we need to go along for now. I trust them,” she said.

  Tumar reluctantly lowered his spear. “Well, I don’t,” he said. “But I’ll trust your judgment. For now. We may continue, but you will tell us of your plan the instant we arrive at this…flying ship.”

  Dash nodded. “Actually,” he said as he turned to run, “we’re not going to our ship.”

  The rest of the ground crew followed him. Tumar and Lythe easily kept pace. “Then how will you get all the way to the mountain in less than a day?” Lythe asked.

  Dash shielded his eyes from the glare of the sun, which was slipping lower into the sky every minute. “With that,” he replied, pointing at the tank that was now sitting at the landing spot. “Our new best friend.”


  Up in the Cloud Leopard, the situation was bleak. Colin, who had pretended to be Chris until now, had his glasses back on and was feeling pretty proud of himself. He was finally in control of the ship and things would be done his way.

  “What have you done to Chris?” Ravi asked, glaring at Colin from about four inches away from his face. They were gathered below the engine room, where Chris lay on the floor of the Cloud Kitten, unconscious. Rocket was whimpering beside him, his paws on Chris’s leg. Carly was the only one missing. Without their MTBs, they didn’t know where she was. She must have taken hers off, or else Colin would have rounded her up too.

  “You better step back, little boy,” Colin warned.

  “Who you calling little?” Ravi said, standing straighter. He was only a few inches shorter than Colin.

  Niko—who was smaller than the rest of the crew by a good six inches and was used to being called little—pulled on Ravi’s arm, but Ravi didn’t budge. You couldn’t grow up in a family as big as Ravi’s and not stand up for yourself. True, usually his approach to confrontation was usually to defuse the situation by telling a joke, but he knew that wouldn’t work here. Plus, he was too angry to joke now.

  “I said, step back!” Colin growled.

  “Or what?” Anna asked, stepping up alongside Ravi.

  “Or I’ll knock you out like I did Chris,” Colin said with a sneer. They didn’t know that technically he couldn’t do that. Only Chris was allergic to the Walla-nika plant he’d discovered in Chris’s room.

  For the first time on the entire voyage, Anna was speechless. Colin was mean and had done some pretty rotten things but never anything so violent. She’d never been truly scared of him until now.

  The truth was that Colin couldn’t hurt them. He needed