I wished I hadn’t made Brenden talk about what happened to his friend, Rory.
He shook his head, saying, “Rory gave his life for me that day. Somehow, my brothers found out my plan to escape the Under Realm.” Tears glittered in his eyes.
“And they would have seized me if the raven hadn’t used his body…”
Brenden stopped. Swallowing, he said, “Must I go on, Athena?”
I drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry about Rory. And I believe you. But I don’t understand about the Middle Realm queen. She looked at you like she hated you. And if they gave you sanctuary, why are you still cursed?”
“They used a potent glamour on me, basically turning me into a fairy.
“It was the former Wishcaster who talked Queen Oria into it. He took pity on me that day, nearly fifty years ago, as I stumbled into Middle Realm.
“Oria didn’t trust Droor Elves or anyone from the Under Realm for that matter.
“Fairies are one of the most prejudiced creatures on the planet.”
Brenden looked at me. “Including your humans. No one in the Middle Realm knows my true identity, even Lenora, except for the queen and the Wishcaster, Great Guardian rest his soul.
“And that’s why I don’t want anyone else to know my story. The little everyone knows about me the better. Please don’t share this with your friends, Athena.”
I nodded and said, “I won’t tell anyone, Brenden.”
He wrinkled his brow.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Dropping his elbow to his knees, he said, “I’m just a bit worried about what to do next. We can’t stay here. As it is, this curse on my body is like a beacon to my brothers. They’ll find me if we stay.”
I sighed. The wind in the black trees rattled as the moon started to glow. How could a place so beautiful be so dangerous? “Then we’ll have to leave. But where can we go?”
“The way I see it,” Brenden flinched, “there are only two paths in and out of the Under Realm. The first is through the Cave of Woe. And the second…” He stared at me.
I knew what he meant but I didn’t want to go there. I felt like a mouse hiding from a huge lion that was about to devour me. Shaking my head, I said, “I can’t get us back, Brenden. I have no idea how I did it in the first place. Maybe it was you as the Wish Book all along. When you were in book form, my magic worked. I wished and it happened.”
Brenden shook his head. “That’s not it.” His nostrils flared as his eyebrows drew together angrily. “You’ve changed, Athena. I don’t know how or why but ever since you lost your wheelchair, you’ve become scared. Weak.”
“What?” I screeched.
“I’ll never forget when I first watched you, you were full of confidence. It didn’t matter who came against you—bullies, teachers, parents, little sisters, you could take on the world, standing up to them.”
He smiled at me. “I’ve never been so proud of anyone before in my life just watching you blazing a trail in that chair. And when you released your power against your grandmother in your backyard, I knew then we had our Wishcaster.
“But ever since Ferbish ripped off that shroud and took away your wheelchair, you’ve doubted yourself. You’ve turned to others for help. Me…
“the stupid gargoyles…
“Francisco…am I correct?”
I looked at my long fingers and blue skin—these were not the hands I grew up with. I didn’t even know myself anymore. Maybe he was right. In my wheelchair, I had to grow strong for people to see me. I was different so that helped me become bolder…and now? I was supposed to be this Wishcaster that needed to keep the realms from warring and have some incredible power. I felt like Samson with all the strength in the world only it had been taken away by the snip of scissors.
Brenden poked me in the shoulder and said, “Hey. Believe in yourself, Athena. I do.”
He whispered, squinting, “It’s time. Break the chains you’ve created for yourself and unleash the dragon. That’s the only way we’ll escape.”
I bit my lip, staring into his dark eyes. “I don’t know if I can.”
Looking out to the forest in front of us, he answered, “A wise old Brindle elf once said, ‘If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t, you’re right.’”
I’d heard that quote before. My science teacher, Ms. Hornblatt, had it on a poster on her classroom wall. “A Brindle elf didn’t say that. Thomas Edison did. A human.”
Brenden raised his eyebrows. “Who says Thomas Edison wasn’t a Brindle elf?”
I had no idea. Nothing surprised me at this point. Suddenly, my stomach made a loud gurgling sound.
We both laughed, cutting the tension.
“Best get by the fire and eat, eh, Athena?”
My face warmed. “Yeah. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”
When I rose up to go back to the rest of our group, Brenden stopped and pulled me into a hug, whispering, “I believe in you. And know that for my part, I’ll do everything I can to get you back to the Middle Realm. I promise.”
His words made my
stomach do some crazy, mushy things and before I could think, I was hugging him
Ferbish caught some fish with his bare hands in the pond near us and we cooked them over the fire, eating until we were full.
“That was the best fish supper I’ve ever eaten,” Holly said, pointing at Ferbish. “You should be a chef. Maybe you could come back with me to the Over Realm and start a restaurant. We could call it the Roasting Gargoyle.”
Ferbish laughed so hard he snorted.
“What would yer fancy human friends say when they saw me muscles and horns now?” Ferbish said, smiling brightly.
“They’d pee their breeches,” Grigor added. “Hey, I’d like to see that, Ferbish. Maybe we should make a visit, eh?”
“I know all my friends would think you guys were cool,” Holly said. “Especially my mom.”
“All right, lass,” Ferbish said. “Tell you what. When we make it out of here, I promise to give ye a visit. But it would have to be in the nighttime. Over Realm is notoriously bright in the day. Would hurt me gargoyle eyes.” He winked.
“Now if’n ye don’t mind, I’m a might done in. Needs me beauty rest.”
Grigor snorted. “Ye means yer ugly rest. Yer about as bonny as that bald stump over there, Ferbish.”
“Am not!” Ferbish pounced on Grigor and the two wrestled until Ferbish forced Grigor to apologize.
The two said good night and then took down the gargoyle statues that were near the entrance and each jumped up on the podiums and grimaced.
“Brenden…” I asked, blinking, “what are they doing?”
“Oh…haven’t you seen gargoyles sleep? They really are worth their weight in gold sometimes if you can put up with their foolishness.
“In their dream state, they are like sentinals guarding over the place they rest. We will be quite protected. I will sleep soundly tonight.”
“That’s about the weirdest thing I’ve seen yet and that’s saying something,” Francisco said, laughing. “But cool, too.”
Next, we decided to go to sleep as well. We all found a place to rest, snuggling close together for warmth.
In the morning as the dull sun rose in the darkness, I woke to the sound of Brenden cursing. “Good Guardian, Francisco, I am not your personal pillow. Have you been resting on me all night?”
Without opening his eyes, Francisco said, “Who knew fairies slash elves were so soft?”
“The nerve! I would kindly ask that you remove your head from my shoulder at once.”
I laughed. The two seemed to be getting along much better lately.
“He did say it nicely, San Fran,” Holly offered.
“Yeah, yeah,” Francisco mumbled. But he wasn’t moving so Brenden gave up.
I went back to sleep. Hazy clouds enveloped me, and then I spied Brenden’s brothers looking for us. It made my heart shrivel. The dream was so vivid, I could have sworn it was real. And these brothers looked different from Brenden’s elf form–they didn’t have the silver hair or pointy ears. Their skin was a tan color, not a charcoal gray. It was so strange.
And one of them was talking about ambushing us once we left the ruin.
When I woke up, I was grateful it was just a dream. But the haunting feeling never left me. Something was wrong.