Phineas peered through the gaps in the timber columns to check whether anyone was around. It was awfully quiet outside. He looked at Petuna and thought that he had to find a way to get them out. He opened the door slightly. There seemed to be no one outside the hut. He looked around and saw that the quickest way was if they sneaked behind the huts and ran further into the Dark Forest. If they kept amidst the trees they would be safe for a while. The problem would be trying to get past the men standing on guard. He closed the door slowly and whispered to Petuna his plan.
“Do you think you’ll have enough energy until we make it to a safe spot?” asked Phineas.
“We have no choice. I will try my best,” said Petuna faintly, “we just need to get to some water so I can wet my hair again.”
“Alright, let’s go,” said Phineas as he helped Petuna up.
He opened the door quietly and was about to step outside when he started hearing Anton’s voice. He quickly shut the door and stayed still. Petuna peered through the gaps and strained her ears.
“Do you think they’ve discovered you missing?” whispered Petuna.
“I hope not! We’d have to make a run for it then!” said Phineas in a loud whisper.
Phineas and Petuna pricked up their ears. Anton seemed to be on the far side of Petuna’s hut and he was talking to someone.
“I want you to keep a close eye on the doctor. Sooner or later he’ll have to talk. We need to know what these papers talk about,” said Anton.
Phineas’ face went pale as he realised that they had read through his research. He wondered whether they had managed to decipher the notes in his diary yet.
Anton continued, “We need to find out about that Amber Crystal too and how we can get to the Crystal Well.”
Petuna gasped, hand over mouth and her eyes widened with fear. Phineas fidgeted with his spectacles as he realised that they had figured out that much from his diary.
“What could it be?” said the other man.
“Well it seems here that it’s something of great importance. He wouldn’t have made a note to mark it with such vigour. He’s got all these arrows, see here? These arrows all lead towards the Crystal Well and see this diagram here? Well it seems that the Amber Crystal is situated inside it. I’m still working out the rest of his notes. He’s written everything in code and it’s only a matter of time before I decipher it,” said Anton to the man.
Phineas pursed his lips and his nose went a darker shade of red. Meanwhile, Petuna stood listening intently, her eyes bulging at the mention of the Amber Crystal and the Crystal Well. A flashback came to the fore and she recalled the time they were holidaying at the foot of the mountain. She recalled running carefree in the fields of snowdrops and among pear trees. Then she recalled the avalanche and the quick escape when her father had saved her. It had been too late for her mother. They were being evacuated and her mother had been eaten by the avalanche. Tears welled up in her eyes as she remembered it all. How she missed her mother and how she felt for her father in his quest for revenge. She wiped her eyes and brought her attention back to the current situation.
“What does he mean, Phineas?” asked Petuna as she turned to face Phineas.
“Anton spoke about things being in code and papers mentioning the Amber Crystal and the Crystal Well. What does he mean?”
“Uhhh! Well..” Phineas fumbled to explain.
“Anton wants you to talk. What does he want you to talk about?” asked Petuna again.
Phineas opened his mouth to speak but struggled to find the right words. He closed his mouth and looked down and brought his hand up to the back of neck, rubbing it gently to soothe the tension rising within him. He stole a quick glance at Petuna and fidgeted with his spectacles before giving out a big sigh.
He focused his eyes on her face and said, “These people stole my research. They came after me and stole the papers where I was documenting everything I found out about your land. They stole my diary and are trying to figure out what I have been writing about.” Phineas shrugged his shoulders, looked about nonchalantly and waved his hands about, “It’s another habit of mine. I write in code when I write in my diary. Call me paranoid but I’ve done this for many years now. It just means that my thought processes are not complete yet and only when I can confirm my discoveries do I document it clearly.”
“Confirm what, Phineas?” interrupted Petuna.
“Confirm… confirm the power of the Amber Crystal,” said Phineas slowly watching Petuna closely.
Alarm bells started ringing within Petuna again and she felt her heart beating fast. She suddenly saw a vision of another avalanche devouring everything in its way.
Petuna flicked a look at Phineas, “Are you saying that they are going to try to steal the Amber Crystal?” Petuna was panicking now, “Do you know? Do you realise the power of the Amber Crystal?”
Phineas blinked rapidly, “I… I…”
“They must not get to it!” cried Petuna
“Shhhh, Petuna, shhh! Listen we still have time. I might know its secret but they don’t,” started Phineas before Petuna interrupted him again.
“Yes but you said you wrote… you coded everything down in your diary! And… and… they have it now! You heard Anton, he said that it’s only a matter of time…”
“Yes but we still have time! They don’t know we’ve heard all this. If we can escape and get to the king in time we can stop this,” said Phineas.
Petuna brought her hands down to her sides, “Then we must get out of here and now!”
Phineas nodded and strained to hear if anything more was being said. The voices outside had quietened down and Phineas suddenly realised that they might have gone to his hut to question him again. He peered through the gaps and true enough, the men were heading towards his hut.
Phineas grabbed Petuna by the hand and opened the door slightly, “Get ready to run.”
Phineas waited until Anton and his men were as far from Petuna’s hut as possible. He had to time this right. They had to leave before they reached his hut otherwise it would be too late. Phineas started sweating as he watched and waited until the men were a couple of metres away from his hut.
“Now!” whispered Phineas.
They crept out of the hut and kept to the far side. They walked behind the huts. Phineas kept looking around him as they made their way along and he held on to Petuna’s hand. Very soon they reached the edge of the clearing.
“Anton! He’s gone!!” shouted a man behind them.
Phineas and Petuna turned around and saw the men scurrying out of Phineas’ hut and into the clearing.
“Quick, check on the girl!” shouted Anton.
“She’s not here!” shouted another man.
“Search all the huts! They might be hiding somewhere and you two, search the forest. They couldn’t have gone far!” shouted Anton.
Phineas and Petuna ran as fast as they could into the Dark Forest and kept on running until they could no longer hear the men’s voices. Phineas was panting as he looked around him to check whether anyone was on their trail.
“I think we’ve gone far enough,” said Petuna weakly.
“We must keep moving,” Phineas looked around him, “We need to stay clear of any paths.”
They headed towards a thick cluster of trees and tried their best to get through. It felt like they were untangling their way through a web of branches and bushes. Petuna surprised herself by coming all this way without fainting. She realised that she must have survived their escapade on adrenalin. Nevertheless she needed water soon to relinquish her supply of magic.
Phineas looked at Petuna with concern, “Are you alright? Do you need to rest for a moment?”
Petuna was breathless but shook her head from side to side. She looked behind her to make sure no one was following them, “No we must keep moving but I will need to stop as soon as we get to a water source. I need water.”
“Of course,” Phineas paused in thought, “May I ask you a question?”
Petuna was caught by surprise, “Yes?”
“Well it’s just that we were all surprised when you suddenly appeared out of nowhere.”
Petuna looked at Phineas with a frown not quite understanding what he meant.
“You know when I was being held captive at the clearing?” continued Phineas.
“Oh, yes,” Petuna paused, “it was an accident. I… I was never meant to leave the castle but I fell out of the veranda and…well Storm Blazer…”
Phineas looked at her with interest and stopped walking. Petuna had sat down on the trunk at the foot of a tree, her eyebrows burrowed.
Petuna took a deep breath, “Storm Blazer was hiding in the garden…. In the lake.. and I ran away into the Dark Forest. I can still hear his words ringing in my ears.” Petuna looked up at Phineas her eyes in a trance as she recalled the scene that had taken place earlier in the day. She continued, “He said that I was heading into the Dark Forest and gave out a really evil laugh. It didn’t sound promising but I had no choice but to escape.”
Phineas looked down momentarily and adjusted his spectacles.
Petuna continued, “I ran and ran until I started hearing voices and when I came closer that’s when I saw Anton and his men holding you captive and they were about to kill you and well, you know the rest.”
Phineas nodded and watched Petuna for a moment. He suddenly felt a pang of guilt. He crept closer to her and took her hands in his until Petuna looked up at him.
“Petuna, Your Highness. I promise you that I will get you back home,” said Phineas, “I.. I apologise for all the mess I’ve caused you but…”
Phineas’ voice trailed off.
“But what,” said Petuna softly.
“I will make things right. I promise you I will,” said Phineas, his voice wavering. He looked away so she would not see the flicker in his face. He stood up at a distance from her until he managed to compose himself. Petuna looked at him with wonder not quite understanding the full extent of his words. She walked up to him.
“You have nothing to apologise for, Phineas. You were being held hostage and…”
Phineas turned around to face her, shaking his head as he looked down to the ground and adjusting his spectacles. He looked up at her again, “I hope that one day you will forgive me.” He grabbed her by the hand before she had a chance to respond.
“Come on it’s going to get dark soon and we need to find shelter from the night, Your Highness.”