“We were side by side at the end there,” recounted Septimus. “Fought like a true hero.”
The stretcher was placed in the middle of a city square, just beyond the third wall. The surviving knights gathered around it. Prue, holding Dennis Mole’s pajama bottoms tightly in her fingers, knelt down. Sir Timothy was struggling to speak.
“ARE WE,” he said, his voice brittle and quiet, “ARE WE VICTORIOUS?”
A knight at his side choked back his tears and said, “YES, SIR TIMOTHY. THE DAY IS OURS.”
A faint smile played across the lips of the wounded mole. “IS THE OVERDWELLER WARRIOR STILL BY MY SIDE?”
Septimus stepped forward and took his hand. “Yes, Sir Timothy.”
The knight smiled warmly at his battle companion. “WHAT OF YOUR FELLOW DEITIES? HAVE THEY SURVIVED?”
Prue looked over at Curtis, who’d been hovering just beyond the outer wall. She gestured with her head; he should hear this. Curtis nodded and gingerly stepped into the mole city, trying to avoid further disturbance to the ravaged streets of the metropolis. He joined Prue, though there was little room for them both to kneel down.
Another furor was taking place; shouts sounded from within the Fortress of Fanggg. Within moments, a troop of Knights Underwood appeared from one of the lower portals, leading a mole in a white robe. The crowd surrounding Sir Timothy’s stretcher hushed; someone said, “THE SIBYL!” As soon as she saw the wounded knight, the robed mole overtook her liberators and ran to his side.
“GWENDOLYN!” said Sir Timothy, after feeling her paws touch the bloodied metal of his armor.
“BROTHER, IT IS I.” The mole was fighting tears.
“GOOD SISTER,” said Sir Timothy, “YOU ARE FREED. IT IS THE THING I MOST DESIRED. I GO NOW, SISTER, TO THE OVERWORLD, TO THE BOSOM OF THE OVERDWELLERS.”
“SWEET TIMOTHY,” said Gwendolyn, “SWEET, BRAVE TIMOTHY. YOU HAVE NOT GIVEN YOUR LIFE IN VAIN. YOU HAVE FREED YOUR PEOPLE FROM THE THUMB OF THEIR OPPRESSOR. YOU HAVE FREED ME FROM MY SERVITUDE. YOU HAVE LIVED A VALIANT LIFE; YOU GO TO THE OVERWORLD IN GLORY.”
Sir Timothy attempted a smile, though his face fell as the racking of a cough overcame him. Little flecks of blood speckled his worn armor. “OVERDWELLERS,” he said, beckoning to Prue and Curtis. “COME CLOSE.”
The two children did as they were told. Septimus kneeled at the dying knight’s side.
“YOUR DIVINE PRESENCE WON US THIS DAY. WHILE IN MY HEART OF HEARTS I NEVER DOUBTED THE JUSTICE OF OUR STRUGGLE, YOUR APPEARANCE, YOUR REVELATION, CONFIRMED MY GREATEST HOPES. PERHAPS WE FOUR WILL BE REUNITED WHEN I WALK AMONG THE GODS IN THE OVERWORLD.”
Prue found that she was fighting tears. “Sure, Sir Timothy,” she said. “We’ll do that.” It seemed like an inappropriate time to lay bare the real nature of the so-called Overworld. There was no sense in disturbing the brave knight’s solace.
Holding his sister’s paw tightly, their long, fleshy fingers intertwined, the knight turned his face to the sky. As if compelled, the velvety fur of his face contracted and he seemed to be endeavoring to open his eyes. Two tiny black dots appeared on the fur of his face as his brow contracted. “I SEE,” he rasped, in delirium. “I … SEE!”
And then he spoke no more.
It was, no doubt about it, a road. Rachel stood in the middle of it with her arms akimbo. She kicked at the dirt, as if testing its realness. Then she turned to her sister.
“Yep,” she said. “It’s a road, all right.”
“What do we do now?” Elsie was sitting on the remains of a tree stump, taking a bite out of a crisp apple.
“Wonder where it goes?” asked Rachel, having ignored her sister’s question.
Elsie supplied her own answer. “We should find Michael and Cynthia,” she said.
“Right,” said Rachel, snapping from her trance. “We should.”
It had taken a while for Elsie to find her sister in that maze of woods, but once she did, she was able to lead her back to the road with some ease—she’d marked the way by tying little strands of ivy to the tree trunks that lined the rabbit’s path. Having confirmed the existence of the road, the two sisters dove back into the veil of woods and began following the waymarks back to the interior of the Periphery. They hollered the names of their hunting companions as they went. Before long, they found the two teenagers setting a little wire trap beneath a tussock of branches.
“What’s up?” asked Michael when they’d arrived, all breathless and flushed.
“A road!” Elsie blurted.
“Elsie found it,” added Rachel. “It’s not far.”
Cynthia shot Michael a glance. “That’s not possible,” she said.