Leo noticed her interest, and told her “That means we are nearing the shore, and Emerald City.” Arwin was happy to hear it, as she was getting tired. It had been a long walk; she needed a chance to rest her tired legs and feet.
Soon she saw anemones, too, and Solly and Leo pointed out various shelled creatures. Abalone, Conches of various sizes, periwinkles and whelks became more plentiful as they went on, and the kelp beds grew larger. Arwin was enjoying the opportunity to see all the sea life in its natural habitat, when Canth moved closer.
“Kraken is circling over the City,” he said. “I’m sending Ela and Laca out to bring in more of our folk, I think there is going to be big trouble before we get there.”
Arwin looked ahead, and saw the big, dark form of the giant squid forming a dark cloud over the city. “Oh, no!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t want to cause trouble. In fact, I didn’t want to be here at all! Ok, Canth, and thank you. I agree, there will be trouble, and we need all the help we can get.”
The two Coelacanths swam quickly away, and the others decided to stop for a while and rest while they could. If another battle was coming, they needed to be as rested as possible. There was kelp at the edge of the road, so Arwin curled up on her side and dropped off to sleep.
Solly gently nudged her awake some time later. “The Coelacanths are here, Arwin,” he said. “Ela and Laca brought ten more with them. They said that was all they could find close enough to help.”
Arwin sat up, stretched and yawned. “Great! The way they fight, each one is worth ten of her trained Pike.” She climbed to her feet. “I feel much better; I can face a battle with a clear mind now. Thanks for letting me rest.”
“You’re welcome, Arwin. We need you at your best for what’s coming. I hope you have a lot more of those silly jokes; they seemed to work as well as our fighting.” Solly sold her.
“Better!” Leo exclaimed. “I never saw pike so completely confused in my life!” he laughed at the memory.
With that, they moved on, and in less than an hour, they were almost at the gates to the city. Kraken swooped down, cackling, and shouting “Give me the Arwin, or I will send my pike in to feed. Your wizard can’t protect you! He is useless, a sham!” she circled around again, calling on her pike pack to attack.
The battle was joined, and this time the companions had no reef for shelter. The Coelacanth formed a protective barrier around Arwin, Leo and Solly. Leo and Solly darted out, butting the pike from the side, or underneath, and sending them spinning away. Arwin stood near the gates, and started shouting jokes. “What do you call two Mexicans playing tennis? Juan on Juan!” the two nearest pike slowed and were killed by Ela and Laca, who were laughing as they fought.
“Two men walked into a bar,” Arwin shouted, “the third man ducked!” More pike were stunned by the bad joke and a coelacanth took bites out of both, causing them to swim away.
The battle wore on, while Arwin racked he brain for one-liners. Eventually, most of the pike were dead or badly injured, while the defenders escaped with minor wounds. Kraken saw that they had lost, and with an angry squawk, she started to swim away. Canth saw, and shouted to the others “After her, let’s make an end to her!”
During the battle, more coelacanths had come and joined the fighting, so it was a band of twenty or more who swooped up to attack the squid witch. Leo and Solly fooled, and darted in and out, doing whatever they could to detract the squid. Twenty minutes later, the big body sank to the ocean floor, out where the water was deeper, and all the fighters returned.
“Well,” Canth commented, “A lot of our neighbours are going to eat well for some time!” He chuckled.
The Ozland gatekeeper had watched it all, as had all the inhabitants of the Emerald City. Now he opened the gates and welcomed Arwin. “Go right to the castle, the wizard is waiting for you.”
The companions followed the road through the city until they reached the castle. It was big, and impressive, and they all stopped and looked at each other. “Wow!” Arwin said softly. Solly, Leo and Canth stared at it, awed. “We’re supposed to go in there?” Solly gulped. They looked at each other again, wanting to go in, anxious to see the wizard, but feeling that they would be very out of place in such grand surroundings.
There was a clicking sound, like a key unlocking something, and then the doors slowly opened. A man in a very fancy uniform stood there, smiling. “Welcome, Arwin, and companions. Come in, the great Relish is waiting.”
Slowly, Arwin climbed the steps, the fish swimming beside her. The doorman beckoned, smiling and encouraging them, so Arwin started to move faster. “Just follow me,” the doorman said, and walked off down the hall. Arwin had to walk faster, the fish swimming along just behind her.
They entered a large, ornate room, where a man stood on a dais. He raised his hands in welcome, smiling at them. “Welcome, welcome, my friends!” he said. “Arwin, I thank you in the name of all Ozland; for your bravery and your success in the special task for which you were brought here. Anything you desire, if it is in my power, will be yours. And that goes for you companions, too!”
“Thank you, sir,” Arwin said. “All I want is to go home, and if possible, complete the Santa Special for today. The children need the money my route was to raise today. Can you send me back?”
“No, Arwin, I’m afraid I can’t. Only you can return yourself to Winnipeg. You have always had the power to do so.”
Arwin was awestruck. She had to send herself back? But how? While she pondered, Wizard Relish turned to the others. “What do you wish, Soldier Solly?”
“Sir, I want to be brave. I don’t want to go back to swimming in a useless circle over an empty reef!” he said, near to tears.
“But Solly,” the wizard said, “You are brave. Did you run when there was danger on your way here? No, you fought until the danger was passed. However, I have been instructed to give you, and all those with you, this medal of honour for bravery beyond the call of duty.” He stepped forward and looped a ribbon over Solly’s head, with a beautiful gold medal hanging from it.
“Oh!” Solly exclaimed. “Oh, thank you! Look, Leo, I have a medal that says I’m brave!”
“Huh!” Leo grunted. “Of course you’re brave. I knew that when you butted me when I jumped out trying to be friends!’ Solly stared at him, and whispered “Oh!”
“Now you, Leo Lionfish. What is your desire?”
“I want to learn how to make friends, not jump at them and scare them off. I’m so lonely! Can you help me?”
“No,” said Relish, “and there is to need for me to try. You have learned how to be a friend, and how to make friends. Look around you, think about the trip. Did you scare off anyone you really wanted to have for a friend?”
Leo thought about the trip. He remembered how he had seen Canth, and run bak to tell Arwin. And when Canth and his friends joined them, he talked to them, and fought side by side with them. Why, he really had learned how to find and be a friend! “Hooray!’ he shouted, Solly, Canth, I really can be a friend!” He spun in circles, he was so happy. Then he noticed Arwin, still standing quietly, looking sad.
“But, what about Arwin?” He asked Relish. “Can’t you help her at all? If it wasn’t for her, none of us would have event tried to do anything about Kraken.”
“I can’t send her home, but all she needs to do is say out loud exactly what she wants. The magic of Ozland will hear, and she and her bus will return to the very moment she was taken away.”
Arwin stared at him, surprised that the answer was so easy. “Oh! Thank you, wizard Relish, thank you.”
Turning to the others, she said I’ll miss you all, you have been good friends and companions. But I really must return to my own world now.” Gently, she hugged each one, then stepped away, stood straight, and closed her eyes.
“I want to go home, to the instant I left, with my bus and all the gifts in it.” When she opened her eyes, she was sitting behind the wheel of the bus, driving through snow, and approaching the terminal where she had intended to have lunch. She glanced at her watch. “Why, it worked! She murmured. It is exactly five minutes to twelve!” She drove on to the terminal, parked, and took her lunch break.
She was tired after her long day of driving, but happy that her bus had raised such a good sum for the children. It had been an exciting and unusual day, and she had enjoyed it, even the scary bits. And to put the icing on the cake, they had raised over five thousand dollars just from the buses on her route that day. Christmas was going to be great!