The Seventh Element Read online

  Lythe shook her head. “I don’t know what that means.”

  So Gabriel spent the next ten minutes trying to make her laugh with riddles, puns, and knock-knock jokes. Piper, Siena, and Dash groaned louder with each one. Lythe and Tumar mostly looked confused. They did both seem to like the “orange you glad I didn’t say banana” knock-knock joke, though. Or at least they made sounds with their throats that could almost be interpreted as laughter. At least Tumar seemed to be lightening up a little.

  “Forgive me for bringing down the party,” Dash said to their guests, “but would you happen to know how we could get the ogres to move faster up the mountain?”

  The cousins shared a look and shook their heads. “In the days before the Great Peace, the fact that the ogres are so slow to climb was helpful to our people,” Tumar said. “Once we saw them ascending the mountain, we knew we had a few days to get to safety, to water down the trees, to try to protect our village as well as we could.”

  “Did you say days?” Dash asked. “As in more than one day?”

  The elves nodded. “The mountain peaks are higher than they appear.”

  “We’ve noticed that,” Piper said, frowning. Then she asked, “How do the ogres track down the dragons, anyway?”

  “The dragons have a natural camouflage that helps them blend into the rocks, so finding them by sight is nearly impossible,” Lythe explained.

  “They give off some kind of smell when they sleep,” Tumar said. “It’s so faint that we can’t pick it up, but the ogres can. With noses that big, I suppose they can smell anything. It leads them straight to the dragons’ dens.”

  “Chris told us humans can’t smell the dragons either,” Gabriel said. His MTB crackled to life and startled him.

  “Hi, Gabriel? Can anyone hear me?” Carly’s voice came through the crackling.

  “We can hear you!” Gabriel said eagerly, lifting his arm. “I can’t see you on the screen, though.”

  “I’m not using my MTB,” Carly said quickly. “I’m coming through SUMI. On that channel you made to contact Piper on the Light Blade.”

  “Oh!” Gabriel said. “Cool.”

  Dash leaned over. “Carly! Are you guys okay? Why was Colin pretending to be Chris? Is Chris okay? And where’s Anna?”

  “What do you mean where’s Anna?” Anna asked. “I’m here taking care of things while you’re—”

  “We’re fine,” Carly interrupted. “Well, mostly. Colin knocked Chris unconscious.” The ground crew exchanged uneasy glances. “But don’t worry about us,” Carly continued. “Anna and I have come up with a plan.”

  Dash raised an eyebrow. Carly sounded normal enough, and if Carly and Anna were working together, then maybe Anna wasn’t helping Colin. Maybe Dash had been wrong to doubt her.

  “What’s happening down there?” asked Carly.

  Gabriel told them about the ogres climbing too slow, and about their conversation with Lythe and Tumar. Well, he mostly talked about Lythe.

  “Hang on a second,” Carly said, distracted. The ground team could hear voices talking hurriedly, with STEAM and SUMI chiming in. Then Anna’s voice came through. “Dash! Carly and I think we could synthesize the smell in the lab. Then we could program the Cloud Cat’s sensors to recognize the chemical signatures, fly down there, and scare us up some dragons! We would need the elves’ help, though.”

  Lythe and Tumar looked at each other. It was clear from their puzzled expressions that they didn’t know what Anna was talking about.

  “Basically they want to know if you have anything that might have the dragons’ scent on it,” Gabriel explained. “Then they can try to imitate it so our smaller ship can find it.”

  “You mean the flying machine from the painting on the Horn Tree?” Tumar said, his eyes brightening. “Would we be able to see it?”

  Dash and Gabriel exchanged glances. Maybe this was how they convinced Tumar to help them. Dash nodded. “Not only see it,” Gabriel said, “but you guys can fly in it!”

  Tumar jumped up. “I know where I can find some dragon cinder nearby. Might that work?”

  More voices on the other end. Anna came back on. “STEAM says if you use your Mobile Tech Band to analyze an object the dragon left its scent on, that could work. You could then send us the data, and we’ll make it up here. We can’t take a chance on coming down tonight and having Colin catch us.”

  “We’ll do our best,” Gabriel promised. “Too bad the Element Fuser needs fresh ash or we’d be all set,” he said as the connection broke off. “So where are we headed?” he asked the elves as he prepared to start the tank’s engines.

  Tumar shook his head. “You cannot go. If you show up at another of our sacred sites, and King Urelio discovers it, he will sound the horn for certain.”

  “We will get the item for you,” Lythe said, standing up to join her cousin. “We will return before the second moon sets to the north.” They gathered their cloaks and dashed out the door.

  “Wait, when’s that?” Gabriel called after them. But they were already gone.


  Back on the Cloud Leopard several hours later, SUMI hopped over to Anna and Carly, who were busy programming. Their work would have gone faster if they weren’t looking over their shoulders for Colin the whole time.

  “I have the data,” SUMI squeaked. “Will now initiate printing.” SUMI lifted her arm, and a long strip of paper slid out from a slot Carly had never noticed before in the robot’s armpit. “Thanks, SUMI,” she said, studying the printout. She handed it to Anna. “What do you think?”

  “I think we have the recipe for dragon cinder.”

  “Do you think you can separate the part of the dragon cinder that came from the dragon, and the part that came from the tree?”

  Anna shook her head. “I don’t think I can do it. But I think we can.” Working together, it took another hour before they were confident that they’d succeeded. All that was left was to use the chemicals in the lab to create a gas out of the equation they’d come up with. Fortunately, the computer did most of the hard work, filling a vial with the swirly gray concoction. Anna snapped the top on and wrapped it up carefully, and then they flew through the tube to the engine room.

  Ravi was waiting outside the Cloud Cat. “Where’s Niko?” Carly asked as Anna handed Ravi the vial.

  Ravi grimaced. “Colin needed him for something, I don’t know what.”

  “That can’t be good,” Carly muttered.

  “Speaking of good,” Ravi said, cupping the vial in both hands, “I have good news and bad news. Which would you like to hear first?”

  The girls groaned. “The good,” Anna replied.

  “Well, we figured out how to reconfigure the ship to follow the scent of the dragons.”

  “Great,” Carly said. “So what’s the bad news?”

  “It will take at least a week to do it.”

  Their shoulders slumped. Anna scowled.

  “What are we going to do?” Carly asked. “All that work for nothing!”

  Rocket wandered into the room and lay down at Carly’s feet. His ears flopped and she sat on the floor beside him. “I think Rocket’s as upset as we are.” She began petting his head, hoping it would calm both of them.

  Anna stared down at the dog, the wheels turning in her head. “What if…,” she said. “What if Rocket could do it?”

  “Do what?” Ravi asked.

  “Track the scent,” Anna replied, tapping Rocket’s nose.

  “I think we should go get Niko,” Carly said, standing up and brushing the dog fur off her leg. “We need to stick together. It’s making me nervous that he’s not here.”

  “Okay, let’s give Rocket a practice run, then,” Anna suggested. “We need something that smells like Niko.”

  “Hey, ZRKs!” Ravi called out. The two closest ones flew down and buzzed around his head. “Please bring a pair of Niko’s socks. The dirtier and smellier the better!”

  ZRKs arrived only a minute later,