After that horrible meeting with the queen, the ogre, Wrathe, helped me up, taking me back to my room. I was so tired, I literally fell onto the bed and didn’t wake up for twelve hours.
My grandmother didn’t come to visit. I guessed she was ordered not to as a punishment. The queen didn’t realize her absense was welcome to me. All Gran did was make me more confused than ever about my feelings toward my family for lying to me all these years.
Wrathe had actually been decent to me. In fact, the look in his eye right before I entered my room was more like reverence. Maybe he’d seen what had happened. I wondered if he hated the queen deep inside.
And hopefully, I could use that to my advantage.
Looking through the closet, I couldn’t find anything decent to wear. The queen was obsessed with the color red, so that’s what I had to put on. Next, I dusted a little makeup on my face all the while trying to think up a plan to at least see my friends.
Then an idea hit. “That’s it!” I exclaimed to my mirror self.
I wasn’t sure if the seemingly nice ogre would go along with me, but it was worth a try.
Gingerly, I peeked out the window of my door. My heart hammered as I prepared what I was going to say. Focusing, I imagined me asking the ogre to take me to my friends and he obeyed my every word.
Knocking on the window, I motioned for him to open it. To my surprise, he did with a slight smile on his face. “What is it, lass?”
“Um…” I said, blinking wildly. “I…have a favor to ask of you, Wrathe.”
“Favor?” the ogre said, arching an eyebrow.
“Yes…you see, the queen said my friends were safe. I just want to peek at them to make sure. I don’t have to even speak to them. Just one glance. It would make me feel better.” I hoped he’d allow me to get close to them. I thought maybe I could summon up a little magic to ferry us out of this hell hole. Ever since I’d held the pure crimerife, I could sense an essence coursing through me. It was worth a shot.
He laughed. “Ye think I’m a dunderhead, do ye? Wanting me to gets in trouble by allowing you access to yer friends, eh? But if ye must knoo, they’re safely put, sitting in a dungeon.”
“Dungeon?” I cried. “They ARE torturing my friends! If I thought my friends were being mistreated, I’d be furious. And Wrathe, you wouldn’t want me to get angry, would you?”
He chuckled, shaking his rather large belly. Not exactly the response I was looking for. “I knoo ye ain’t got a bit o’ magic in ye. Ye needs the crimerife. But that were a good try, nonetheless.”
I gritted my teeth. What a dumb plan. Of course he’d laugh at me. He was right. I didn’t possess an ounce of magic. “Oh…well…it was worth a shot,” I said, shrugging. I was about to head back to my room when he held me back.
Smiling, he said, “Ah, well, let it not be known that we ogres are a hateful lot. And fer the bravery I saw when ye was with the queen, how about I grant yer request?”
“Aiy, lass. You can visit yer friends. I’ll arrange everything.”
My insides danced like I’d won the lottery. “T-Thank you.”
Who knew ogres had a heart? Or did my magic spell work? Hmmm… maybe I could rescue us out of the queen’s grasp after all.
We wound through the castle until he took some stone steps that lead to a narrow hallway. This time, the lighting took on a dark, foreboding tone.
Inside my head, I tried to imagine Middle Realm, trying to conjure up those warm feelings. Unfortunately, my mind couldn’t concentrate.
And then when I saw my friends, my throat closed. “What in the world?”
“Athena!” Ferbish cried. “We’re so glad to see you!”
“How did you get here?” Holly asked.
But Holly looked as if someone had put a spell on her. “What the hell did they do to you, Holly? Are you okay? Your ears! They stretched them! Your hair! And those tattoos. What’s going on?”
“Oh,” Holly’s eyes darted like she was caught doing something wrong, “um…your grandmother told the queen about me and they magicked my shroud away. It was even thicker than yours so that’s why no one could see it,” Holly said, guiltily. “I’m…uh…a Brindle elf, actually. Like your grandfather.”
“A Brindle elf? H-How? Why?” Not believing I was asking my best friend these questions. My Holly. The only kid back in fifth grade who wanted to even talk to me. A cripple.
“Look, Athena, I-I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you. My mother made me swear and she promised it was for your own good.”
My legs wobbled as my head spun. This could not be happening.
“Miss, are ye okay?” Ferbish asked in a worried voice. “Ye wants to sit down maybe?”
“No,” I snapped, “I’m fine.” His hurt look made me wish I didn’t take it out on him, but I was so full of anger, hurt, confusion, that I couldn’t think straight.
Holly explained, “My mother and yours have always been best friends. They grew up together since your mom lived with your grandfather. But when your mother decided to marry your dad in the Over Realm and have you, your mom was scared about your mixed self. As you grew, she knew you held special powers that the Under Realm queen might want. So my mom said she’d help watch over you since she had me.”
My eyes narrowed. “So you were never truly my friend. You were just doing it as a job.” I shook my head. “Figures.”
“That’s not true. I am your best friend. That’s just how it started is all,” Holly answered. “You’ve got to believe me.
Tears welled up and I wiped them away. I couldn’t trust anyone. How could my whole life be one big lie? How could my mother do this to me? I had no friends.
I was about to leave them all there without even trying to get us out of this mess, when Francisco piped up, “For what it’s worth, Athena, what does it matter if she’s a Brindle elf or a human or a girl who can turn into a dragon? We are who we are inside. Right? I may be just a human…but I’m still your friend no matter what. So is Holly. Can you just give her a break here? It’s hard enough being stuck in this dungeon…”
I let out the air I’d been holding. Francisco was right, of course. Holly had always been my friend even if she was some sort of monster…just like me. I slapped my hand against my forehead. “God, how could I not see it earlier? What ten-year-old carries around books like CIVIL ENGINEERING IN ACTION and THE SCIENCE BOOK OF EVERYTHING?”
Francisco shrugged. “Holly?”
“Yeah, Holly. The Brindle elf.” I wanted to scream. “And her mother has a degree in Folklore and Mythical studies. I mean please. How stupid could I be?”
“You’re not stupid,” Holly said. “You just didn’t know. I’m…very sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I was going to once we got out of here.”
“Sooo…” Ferbish interjected, “are ye going to forgive her, Miss? She’s a very nice Brindle elf, if I do say so meself. Too bad her power don’t work in this realm or she would have ferried us back to our homes a long time ago.”
I shook my head at this situation. “Okay…” I announced, “if anyone here is not who they’re supposed to be then I want to know right now. Francsico? Are you sure you’re not hiding behind a shroud because if you are, I’m going to be VERY pissed at you.”
With a solemn face, Francisco said, “I can promise you I’m one hundred percent, normal, boring human. No surprises coming from me.”
“Good,” I said, giving him a hug. “I like boring. I can’t get enough of that around here.”
He laughed, squeezing me, saying, “I’m glad.”
“Miss Athena?” Wrathe said, “It’s time to say good bye to yer friends.”
Crap. With all this drama, I’d totally forgotten what I was supposed to do here in the first place. Putting out my hands to my friends, I said, “Let’s ditch this place.”
Thanks for reading!