The earthquake did not last long. No one fell, and none of the horses were injured or panicked. The people panicked a little when Alexis reported the message she sensed in the wind.
“There may be several small quakes before the big one.”
“Are you sure?” Lincoln asked.
Alexis nodded. “We are on a fault line.”
Lockhart started shouting orders as Decker and Elder Stow rode in from the wings.
“Sukki in the middle. Lincoln, keep her in the saddle. Boston and Alexis out front. Use what magic and elf sense you have. Find us a path for hard riding. Decker and Katie, protect the flanks, but don’t spread out. Elder Stow, watch the rear and think of something. Do your best. Be prepared to stop and dismount when the ground shakes. Go.”
Boston put her amulet away and started them at a trot. She sensed elves up ahead, only a small way off track, but she figured they might know some elf paths that could take them out of the area much faster than she could lead them. She mostly hoped they would not have to backtrack too much. Even with her full concentration, she could not guarantee the route.
Boston felt something in the pit of her belly and Alexis turned to her and said, “Get down.” Alexis turned her head and shouted. “Get down.”
The ground started to rumble and shake. This felt like a bigger shake than the last one. Sukki held tight to her horse’s reins, and Lincoln yelled at her. “Let go. Let go.” He had to yell it twice, and Sukki let go just in time.
A big, old and rotten tree gave up the struggle and came crashing down on the group. Sukki jumped in one direction. Her horse backed up in the other direction. The tree trunk fell between them, and people gasped and shouted, but no one got hurt.
“We need to ride before the next one,” Lockhart yelled.
Lincoln held the horse, and Sukki got right up. She looked inspired.
Boston led them toward the elves. She sensed the elves knew of their predicament and were willing to help the travelers in any way they could. Alexis stayed at her side, and as they came into a swampy area and slowed, she spoke.
“I think so. How did you know?”
“I was an elf, and not that long ago.” Alexis smiled for Boston. “You’re doing great.”
Boston returned the smile. “I hope so,” she said, and focused on the trail.
After ten minutes, the ground began to shake again. It was a bad one, but fortunately, they were in an open field with no trees to collapse on their heads. The horses bucked and ran some. The people fell to the ground and tried not to get trampled by the horses. The sky itself appeared to shake. Then it stopped, suddenly, and the travelers had to scramble to get to their horses.
“Go easy,” Boston instructed everyone. “The horses are very jittery and nervous now. Almost anything will spook them.” And she started them moving at a gentle pace. After a short way, Boston saw two elves and a dwarf of some sort, standing at the edge of a tree line.
“Opuker says the trail magic works best in the woods,” one of the elves shouted. “It works on open ground, but only if you get distracted.”
“Like multiplication magic, like for the elf crackers,” Alexis said. “It really only works, and works best when you are not looking.”
“Like the watched pot.” Boston nodded. Alexis was her teacher. She could not help it. Even if Boston fully understood travel magic and multiplication magic, Alexis still had to make a teacher-comment. That could get annoying, but presently, Boston did not mind, and in fact, she paid little attention to the lesson being preoccupied with worry about the ground moving beneath her feet.
“So, what’s in it for me?” Opuker asked, expecting to bargain. The second elf present carried a wooden staff, and he used it to hit the dwarf over the head. The dwarf did not seem phased by the bonk, and everyone heard the hollow sound of his head, but he dutifully said, “Ow. All right. I was just getting to it.”
“Everybody down,” Alexis yelled. “This may be the big one.”
No one argued. The elves and the dwarf went invisible, and probably insubstantial, just in case. Boston had not thought to do that, but then, she decided she needed to finish this journey with the others, at least human-like. When they got home, she would have six or seven hundred years to do all the elf things she wanted and could imagine.
It hit. It was bad, as bad as Alexis predicted. The open field developed a small, collapsing chasm and several boulders pushed up from below in a couple of places. Several trees in the woods ahead of them let go and crashed with great noise. People screamed and yelled, but it was soon over. The top of bear mountain exploded, and dust, smoke, and ash rose in a great cloud to waft over the whole countryside.
Elder Stow sat and pulled out his scanner. He shouted to Lockhart. “I got a screen up around us and the horses. Wait, wait.” He played with the controls. “I can keep it up while we move, if we don’t move too fast. It will let in normal atmosphere, and act like a filter for the ash and smoke. It will also allow living organic matter and solid objects like earth and stone through so we won’t drag a bunch of weight with us. We can try to move with it on, as I said, if we don’t move too fast.
Lockhart, Lincoln, Decker and Katie looked fine with that idea. Sukki thought Elder Stow was the most brilliant Gott-Druk of all time. Alexis and Boston did not pay attention. They were too busy with the elves, trying to find Opuker.
The ship had not gone far to sea when the mountain blew. The red fire lit up the afternoon, and the black cloud that followed appeared ominous. Men panicked. Althea grabbed her father’s hand and yelled at the steersman.
“Euphemus. Turn toward the mountain.” She yelled it several times, and Jason and Meleager both only glanced at Althea before they yelled the same thing. Against his better judgment, Euphemus turned toward the mountain as the men tore down the sail. The ship barely turned in time. The water rose beneath the bow until the ship, like the proverbial cork on the water, rost a hundred feet in the air. It slid down the other side, and several smaller waves followed. By then, the black cloud obscured the coastline, and the leading edge caught the ship with the sail only part way down. The ship spun in the water several times. Then the cloud blotted out the sun.
“Below deck. Below deck.” people yelled, and the crew crammed into the larder while still burning ash coated the upper deck and the whole outside of the ship with hot gray soot. Soon enough, men had to brave it to put out several fires that broke out on the deck. Most threw on whatever cloaks and blankets they could grab, but some were burned, several badly, and all the men became covered in smut and dust until they could hardly tell who was who.
“Make for the shore,” Jason yelled.
“Where is the shore?” Euphemus asked, as he and Heracles rigged up a steersman’s oar.
“Look for lights,” Peleus yelled, and several men echoed that phrase. The port and starboard railings became filled with men trying desperately to pierce the cloud and glimpse something alight.
The seconds became the longest minute ever, before Asclepius shouted and pointed. “Light. Off the port side.” No one else saw it, at first. Some said his father Apollo helped him to see it, or at least they prayed that was the case.
Althea came up with a scarf around her face to filter the smoke and grit in the air. She had tied one around her father’s face as well.
“It’s on the wrong side,” Iolaus pointed out, haveing finally come back up from below. “It should be to starboard.”
“Maybe it is an island,” Heracles suggested.
“Maybe we got turned around,” Althea said, under her breath. Men could see some light by then, and the ship headed for it, but it looked like torchlight. Only a dozen on each side got down to row, so they drew slowly toward the light, in case it was another ship.