The heavy door swung wide toward us. As I tried to steady my breathing, Brenden moved my wheelchair forward, slowly.
I looked down so the queen wouldn’t see me stare at her as Brenden had directed.
Somber elder tiny tots and small adult fairies sat on benches lining the left wall.
Others stood guard at the bottom of some stairs to the throne. One was Lenora and she didn’t look happy.
At the end of the long, carpet of rose petals, I noticed four other kids with their golden clad fairies beside them. Three boys and a small girl with curly red hair and freckles who looked a little older than Zelda.
The boys were all different—one was an African American guy. He winked at me.
I smiled back.
The others didn’t seem to notice me. But if I was supposed to win in a battle against them, I was doomed. One looked Hawaiian and huge.
The other guy was tall like a basketball player. Both were definitely several years older than me.
Brenden stopped my chair and ran forward, bowing low.
“You’re late!” the queen shouted. I was dying to take a peek.
“So s-sorry, your m-majesty,” Brenden stuttered. “I was just about to start my training when I received your summons.”
“And what is this you’ve brought before me?” the queen demanded. “You think she is qualified to be our Wishcaster?”
My insides jolted. No, I said to myself. I didn’t think I was qualified at all. I had no clue why Brenden thought this highly of little me. How was I supposed to get through these trials? It was all so hopeless.
“Please, your grace,” Brenden said, “She is stronger than anyone here.”
The queen’s voice grew cold. “For your sake, Brenden, you had better hope she is not the folly of us all.”
Brenden’s gasped not saying anything intelligible for a while, then he sputtered, “What do you mean?”
“Enough blather. It is the winnowing time. The Second Trial. Brenden, I would have sent her home first, but you don’t even know who she is, and so you are safe. For now.”
I heard Brenden sigh, and he bowed even lower, backing up toward me. Once he walked behind me, he whispered, “Only do as she asks. If you fail, you will be sent home, and I will be sent to the dungeon.”
“Quiet!” the queen shouted again. A part of me just wanted to go home. This fairy queen was awful. I didn’t like how she treated Brenden, but I couldn’t bail on him. Who knew what she’d do to him? She seemed more like she belonged to the Under Realm.
“Martinique, step forward,” the queen commanded. One of the girl fairies that looked about Brenden’s age held the hand of the tall guy, placing him in front of the queen.
“His name is Chad Sparks. He’s from Riverview, USA. His strengths are running, rebounding, and babysitting. He’s quite good at it. Makes children laugh.”
“Like to play basketball, do you?” the queen asked.
“Yes!” Chad beamed. “And I’m the best. Coach gave me the MVP award this year. I’m sure I’ll be able to handle the Third trial and be your next Wishcaster. At least, I’m going to try.”
“Pride and arrogance is not a trait of a true Wishcaster. Be gone.”
Chad didn’t have time to say anything more. Sparkles swept over him and then he vanished.
I asked in a hushed tone, “Will he be okay?”
Brenden leaned in and whispered, “He’ll be fine. He was sent back. He’ll have no memory of this place.”
I breathed out, liking the idea of blotting out this memory. If I did fail, at least I wouldn’t have the burden of guilt looming over me. But I didn’t want to fail. For Brenden’s sake anyway. I didn’t understand why the queen hated him so much, but I could hear it in her voice.
“Calomina, come forward.” Another girl fairy Brenden’s age brought the little girl in front of her.
“You’re shaking, my dear,” the queen said gently. “What is your name?”
Calomina answered instead, “Her name is Shelby Smith. Her strengths are singing, dancing, and gymnastics. She’s fearless on the balance beam. Amazing to watch.”
“I see,” the queen responded. “Shelby, why are you trembling like a dragonfly’s wing? Are you scared, my love?”
Shelby squeaked, “A little, I guess.”
The queen cried, “A true Wishcaster never admits fear even if she feels it. Be gone!”
Sparkles enveloped Shelby and her body disappeared.
I stole a glance at the African American boy.
He raised his eyebrows at me, saying exactly what I was thinking. This was nuts!
The Hawaiian dude ran over to the queen and said, “I’m not scared. My name is Kalino Maheloma, your highness.”
He bowed to one knee. “It would be my honor to serve you.”
“Kalino Maheloma, who told you to speak out of turn?”
“I…uh…” But Kalino didn’t even get to finish his sentence. He was gone in a cloud of sparks before he could utter another word.
“Anyone else want to tell me of their bravery? Their worthy deeds?” the queen asked. “What have you brought me, fairies of the Shard? I’m ashamed of you. I expected as much from Brenden, the Cursed, but you, Calomina and you, Eldin. You’re my best!” I heard her sigh then she said, “Let’s get this over with. Brindelle, bring forth your charge.”
Brindelle pulled the African American boy with her. The guy winked at me, crossing his fingers. I crossed mine back.
Brindelle looked like a girl version of Brenden and had the same glistening golden hair. She bowed and said, “Here stands Marcus Wall. Reader of many books, writer of stories, maker of bicycles and other contraptions.”
The queen asked, “So, you create stories, do you?”
“Yes,” Marcus said, smiling.
“Are they about witches and dragons and…queens?”
I gulped. I didn’t know how Marcus would get out of this one.
“No. They’re about aliens. Mostly.”
Silence filled the room. All I could hear was my heart beating for Marcus. I liked him already and thought he’d make a great Wishcaster just by how friendly he was. I could tell he had a good heart.
Suddenly, the queen giggled. Then she laughed so hard the other fairies started laughing, too. Soon everyone in the throne room was chuckling and snorting.
“Silence!” the queen’s voice rang through the chamber. “I have no need of dreamers. I need a warrior. Be gone!” In an instant, Marcus’ shape dissipated as the others had.
My heart sank. All that was left was me, and I knew I wasn’t the one. My wheelchair alone should do me in. I was surprised she didn’t whip me into a sparkle tornado when she saw me.
“Brenden?” The queen called his name like my mother would when she caught me doing something wrong.
“Yes, your grace.” Brenden bowed even lower than he had before.
“Bring her forward.”
Brenden scurried back behind me and pushed me toward the queen, stopping at the foot of the stairs. My veins throbbed in my neck and my arms. I didn’t even know I had veins that big in my arms.
“May I present Athena Martin. Her strengths are drawing beautiful pictures, performing tricks on her wheelchair, and fighting off bullies. Oh, and one more thing…she has her own magic.”
At this, all the fairies drew in a breath of shock and then chattered with each other.
“Quiet down, everyone,” Queen Oria said.
In all the commotion, Brenden rushed over to me and squeezed my shoulder, smiling at me but this didn’t make me feel better.
After the fairies grew silent, the queen continued, “Indeed, she does have her own magic. This I know quite well. But whether it will serve us is another thing. Athena of the Over Realm, look upon me.”
I gazed at the queen and my mouth fell open.
She was not what I was expecting at all. Instead of a tiny tot as the other elder fairies were, she looked like she was twenty years old and radiant with long black hair, golden eyes, and tan skin. From what I saw in other parts of the castle, someone who looked this old should be in the nursery.
The queen lifted a regal eyebrow, “Surprised at my body form? You Over-realmers are quite daft when it comes to fairy-age. I matured quickly. I’m only one hundred years old as you see in my fairy body, but my mind is that of a centenarian. In fact, I have the wisdom of someone who is one hundred twenty of your Over Realm years.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I did a half bow, half nod.
She pressed her lips together in thought. “I have no choice but to put you through the Third trial. You must do it alone. Brenden cannot help you any longer with your chair. Since you do have your own magic, you’ll need it to traverse along rocks and rivers and finally, the Sea of Sand, where you’ll come to the Cavern of Souls. If you make it, you will find the real Wish Book and use it to become our new Wishcaster.” With a stare that pierced my heart, she asked, “Are you willing to do this, young Athena?”
My heart pounded as I felt myself nod, still not understanding how I was going to use magic powers I didn’t know I had to glide over rocks and rivers.
Next, I glanced at Brenden, thinking about him being a Wish Book. He had said it wasn’t fun. I wondered if the real Wish Book was a fairy, too, trapped in a cave somewhere. And then I thought about my friends and my sister. What was going to happen to them? I didn’t want to leave them behind.
I raised my hand like I was in school.
She asked, “What is it?”
“My friends and sister are here. Will they go back or can they come with me?”
“This is no place for your friends so we will usher them to their homes. Your sister will stay here until it’s safe for her to go.” She nodded at Brenden and ordered, “Take her to the Bridge of Destiny, Brenden, The Cursed, and leave her there. She will have to figure out her own way. If you do my bidding, and she is indeed our new Wishcaster, I will remove your curse and you will be restored.”
“Will I be allowed to stay?” Brenden asked, swallowing nervously.
“If you obey, then I see no reason why you cannot reside in Middle Realm.”
Brenden must have done something horrible to think he might be banished from his own world. I wanted to ask him about his past, but there was no time.
The queen floated down the stairs and gazed at me. I saw a mixture of fear and determination scroll over her face. Then she draped a hand on my head. “Athena Martin, I pray that you are indeed our Wishcaster not only for our realm but for all the realms. I don’t know how much longer we have before the Shroud of Protection is torn to shreds and then I can’t imagine our fate.”
I closed my eyes as she prayed, “Great Guardian, make Athena Meree Martin of the Over Realm swift and strong as she starts on her journey and allow…”
Suddenly, the doors opened with a loud boom!
An elder fairy whisked in. “Queen Oria! There’s been a breach! We must leave this place. At once!”
“Blast!” the queen cursed. “The fates are against us! Guards! Take Athena out behind the throne, through my chambers. Usher her yourself to the bridge and create a shield of protection so she may be on her journey unhindered. Understand?”
The leader said, “Yes, your highness. As you say.”
Suddenly, Brenden caught my eye and pointed to an area behind the stairs.
I nodded, thinking he must have something up his fairy sleeve.
When the guard came to grasp my chair, I said, “No need to push me. I can do it myself.”
He bowed and said, “Follow me.”
The guard fluttered through a doorway into a hall. I followed. From out of the shadows, Brenden tugged at my sleeve as I passed him. He hopped on my lap and turned into Wish Book in a fit of sparks.
I hoped the guards hadn’t noticed, but just in case, I placed him behind my back. Brenden definitely had a plan. I was glad because I knew one thing. I didn’t want to do this alone.
Since next update will start the holiday season of giving, I’ll try to “give” more chapters (if I’m able! It does get crazy this time of year.) I’m at a point where I can update two chapters a week! SO, next update will be Monday, December 3. 🙂