The Seventh Element Read online

  Two elves stood before them, towels draped over their shoulders. Gabriel thought they looked like regular Earthly teenagers back from a day at the beach except for a few very distinct differences. Their ears were indeed pointy—not like Spock on Star Trek pointy, but the tops definitely weren’t round. And second, these two would have been on the covers of magazines back home. Or been, like, pop stars. Pimple-free green(ish) skin, long flowing black hair, bright gold eyes. He couldn’t help gaping at them and didn’t think he could have spoken to save his life.

  Dash cleared his throat, doing an only slightly better job of not staring. If the elves didn’t have those spears, they wouldn’t look very scary at all. “Um, I’m Dash, and this is Piper, Siena, and the one with his mouth hanging open is Gabriel. We have come to speak with the horn guards.”

  “We are the horn guards,” the male replied, turning his head briefly to glare at Gabriel, who was too busy staring at the female elf to notice. “I am Tumar, and this is my cousin Lythe. Why have you come here?”

  “Chris sent us,” Dash said. “You know, alien guy, brown hair, kind of serious all the time?”

  “And very handsome,” Piper added.

  Dash raised an eyebrow at her. She smiled and shrugged. Siena giggled.

  “We know of no one by that name,” Tumar claimed.

  Dash pointed at the tree again. “His picture’s right there. With all the colorful flowers around it?”

  The elves glanced at the tree. “Oh!” Lythe said, her face lighting up. “You mean Chrysanthemum?”

  “Chrysanthemum?” Piper repeated. “Like the flower?”

  The elves nodded. “That was his name,” Lythe said. “There’s a famous song about him.”

  “I’d like to hear that sometime,” Piper said, a mischievous gleam in her eye.

  Dash had to force aside how easy it would be to tease Chris about this name when they returned to the ship. “Well,” he said, “we just know him as Chris. And he said you were aware that one day he would return to sound the horn and awaken the ogres.” Dash paused and tried to sound as commanding as possible when he said, “That day has come.”

  The elves’ faces darkened, and their hands tightened around their spears. Dash quickly added, “It would only be temporary, like for one day, and then we’d sound the horn again and put them back to sleep forever.”

  Siena made a slight sound of dissent, which Dash covered up by pretending to cough.

  “Why would we do this?” Lythe asked. Gabriel thought her voice sounded like the wind chimes on his grandmother’s front porch. He loved those wind chimes.

  When Dash explained how Earth was almost out of power and they needed this last ingredient to save their world, Tumar laughed. It wasn’t a cruel laugh, more a disbelieving one. “You come here on Feast Day, want us to end a hundred years of peace, then let a dragon burn down one of our trees? That is an absurd request.”

  Unable to deny that it really did sound crazy, Dash said, “Guess our timing isn’t great, but we wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t so important. Like I said, our whole planet is in danger. Just a bit of dragon cinder is all we’re asking.”

  Tumar and Lythe exchanged a look, and then a nod. Dash breathed a sigh of relief. They were over the first hurdle. But the elves didn’t move toward the tree. Dash glanced up. The suns were quickly moving across the sky. They needed to get the ogres on the move before dark. “I’m sorry to have to rush this,” he said, “and you two seem like really lovely people—I mean, elves—and we’d love to hang out and get to know each other better, but we’re really pressed for time. Can you bring us to the horn now?”

  When they still didn’t move, it became evident they were never going to. Guess that nod was an agreement not to help them. Piper swiveled her chair to face them directly. “You may not like it now, but you did make a deal with Chris. You were to awaken the ogres one last time, and in return, he would take the horn far from here so you’d never have to worry about them again. You wouldn’t have had that century of peace without him. You owe him this.”

  “Lythe and I made no such deal with anyone,” Tumar said.

  Lythe leaned closer to her cousin. “But maybe our grandparents did?”

  “Maybe they did?” Dash repeated. “Isn’t that why you’re guarding the horn? Because someday you knew we’d be back?”

  “We guard it because our family has always guarded it,” Lythe explained.

  Dash was beginning to get an uneasy feeling. Had Chris lied to them about having a deal? Or did the elves truly not know of the agreement?

  Tumar stomped his foot. “If our grandparents made that deal, then they were desperate and would say anything to get the ogres to leave us alone. Their generation had never known peace before Chrysanthemum arrived. But we have. We are not willing to give it up for some deal made a hundred years ago, if it was made at all.”

  “That’s not good sportsmanship!” Piper told the elves, crossing her arms. Siena eyed the fallen branches nearby. One of them would definitely make a serviceable sword. She was pretty sure she could take ’em both in a fight if she had to.

  Dash turned to Gabriel. “Any ideas here? You seem to be the expert on elves.”

  Gabriel forced himself to turn away from Lythe to focus on Dash. Then he grinned and began to whistle. It took a second before the others realized why. Being met with spears had made them forget the customary greeting! It was too late to approach them backward, but they could still whistle. Dash joined in, followed by the girls.

  It was not a pretty sound. The elves’ eyes widened, and they winced. “What are you doing?” Lythe asked, putting her hands over her ears.

  They stopped, except for Gabriel, who was clearly enjoying himself. He may not be as good as Ravi, but he could carry a decent tune. He whistled a few more bars of “Amazing Grace,” and then bowed deeply. Siena clapped.

  Lythe’s face softened a bit, and she lowered her spear. Tumar hesitated, then did the same. “Look, this isn’t easy for us,” he said. “We’d help if we could.”

  “Then take us to your leader,” Dash said, cringing again. That was almost as bad as we come in peace!

  “I assure you, King Urelio will tell you the same thing,” Tumar said.

  Lythe motioned her cousin over and said something else in their elfin language. “I will bring the king here instead,” Tumar announced. “He is still at the sea and would not want a stranger at the ceremony.”

  “Fine,” Dash said. Tumar gave Lythe instructions on guarding them and then darted off so quickly he looked like a greenish blur.

  They stood around awkwardly. Gabriel began peppering Lythe with questions. How old was she? What was life like in their village? What did elves do for fun? Dash was about to tell him to give her a break, but realized Gabriel was doing an excellent job of distracting her. Piper saw it too. The two of them inched closer together until Piper was close enough to whisper into Dash’s ear. “The horn is halfway up the tree, directly over Chris’s head. I mean, over the drawing of Chris’s head.”

  Dash pretended to stretch, and looked up. He could spot the glint of the white horn between the leaves. He whispered back out of the corner of his mouth. “If the king comes and refuses to honor the deal, we’ll be escorted out of here. This might be our only chance.”

  Piper nodded grimly.

  “Did I ever mention I was a pitcher for my second-grade peewee baseball team?” Dash said.

  She shook her head.

  “Yup. My fastball clocked in at around twenty miles per hour.”

  “That doesn’t sound very fast,” she said.

  “I was seven. What I lacked in speed I made up for in accuracy.” He squinted up at the window. “I think I can make it.”

  Siena followed their gaze and quickly figured out what they were talking about. Her mouth formed a tight line, but she gave them a begrudging nod of approval. Then she walked over to Lythe and started talking hair care. Yes, hair care. Dash had never heard Siena say anything r