My grandmother fixed a crown on top of my head. It shimmered with the familiar magenta and gold of crimerife.
Getting me ready for the swearing in ceremony that night, she hummed a Gaelic tune. I was going to be knighted in Queen Casteen’s great army of goblins, ogres, and who knew what other nice gruesome monsters were to be my cohorts in crime. I made sure my friends would be there with me. My plan was to transform and somehow fly away with them. Somewhere. Anywhere. But I had to be smart about it otherwise, Casteen would throw an invisible net of doom over me and my friends would lose their lives.
I’d checked on them every day to find out if they were treated well. Unfortunately, my magic didn’t work when I’d visited them that first time. Wrathe was nice about it though. He had no clue what I was doing and basically hauled me out of there.
Thankfully, Queen Casteen allowed my friends some nice quarters instead of the dungeon at my request. If I played nice, the queen could be decent, it seemed.
“I’m so proud of you, me sweetling,” my grandmother said, stroking my hair. “You’ve done so well in yer training. Queen Casteen is amazed by your talent.”
Glancing at my image in the mirror, I lifted the side of my mouth. “What talent? I can’t even transform without the crimerife. And what about my witch abilities? Can you teach me some magic?”
Grandmother’s eyes darted away. I suspected that. If I grew too powerful, maybe I could release my friends easily. I had to figure out what powers I held.
“Don’t be thinking on that score, lass. It’s the drakkan in ye she wants. If ye be searching fer other powers, she may do ye in. We don’t want that, now do we?”
I knitted my eyebrows rising up to adjust my outfit near the full length mirror. “Why are you doing all of this? I mean, if she wins, what good is it? She might kill off Mom or Zelda. Do you really want that?”
She shook her head. “I’ve got that all figured out, lass. Don’t worry. And besides. It’s better to be on the inside of the most powerful team–for once Casteen wins, that’s when you can strike and defeat her. Get it?”
“That’s a deadly game.,” I said “What if I get killed?”
“Ye won’t. With your powers?” She laughed.
I bit my lip as she gazed at me in my special dragon armor.
“There now,” Grandmother crooned, raising her hands in triumph. “Ye look prettier than a cobra on the head of a pharaoh’s crown.”
I could only hope I could strike like a cobra at the right time.
As I entered a huge stage in front of hundreds of smelly, dirty ugly monsters, Wrathe winced. Then a small witch slithered up to me with a suspicious staff and look in her eye.
“What gives?” I asked.
“Orders, Miss,” he said in his gravely, thick ogre accent. “Fer safety reasons.”
Out of nowhere, a sharp pain slit through my stomach as vines draped over my body. The familiar gag appeared over my mouth.
Damn. I wondered if the queen could read minds. Now my plans disappeared like the mist dissipating in the surrounding mountains. The spell that witch put on me forced me to stand at attention. I didn’t have command of my own body like this.
We were outside the castle as snow fell lightly on us. To my right stood my friends. They were bound which was against what I’d specifically asked. The stupid queen was one step ahead.
Queen Casteen held out her hand and opened her speech. “Welcome dear guests, foul fiends, and murdering monsters.” Her voice echoed off the surrounding hills.
Cheers roared like a thousand cement trucks mixing gravel.
“We are at the apex of history. No longer will the likes of the other-realmers use us as the butt of bad jokes. No longer are we to be the disdain of every creature on earth and the hated enemies of fairy stories.” She raised her arm. “WE will be the heroes. WE will write the jokes. And WE will be the only creatures left to rule all the realms!”
A thunderous roar shook my body. My heart pounded hard as I swallowed.
“And how will this war be any different from the wars in our history ye might ask?” She waved her hand out, motioning me toward her.
As I moved, I heard a shout behind us and a raucous churning sound as if an enormous truck’s engine roared its pistons, bouncing off the hills.
And then I saw it!
A gigantic pumpkin coach clanked toward us, scaling a stone like a spider then settling atop of it.
I recognized it as Mr. Payne’s contraption he’d been working on in his house.
And then I gasped.
Brenden seemed to salute the queen, riding on top of the pumpkin.
His silver hair blew in an unfelt wind and his eyes seemed to hold a pink fire I’d never seen before. A shiver flew up my back, making gooseflesh spring on my skin.
With a bow, he said, “Dear Queen Casteen, I’m honored to be in your presence.”
What was he up to?
Cocking his head, he shrugged. “But I was highly mortified when I wasn’t invited to your little soiree. I mean, it was I you have to thank for this very expensive gift.” He waggled his fingers at me.
Fire rose in my stomach as if he’d struck a match and tossed it at me. My muscles tensed as I felt my body starting to transform. I wanted to unleash my anger at what he did.
The queen laughed. “I did not think ye so stupid as to want to provoke the ire of said gift, but don’t let me stop ye, lad. Athena?
“Ye may show our friend your hospitality. NOW!” She released my gag.
But before I could spray him with fire, he pointed at me, glee in his eyes. “Yes, Athena! That’s it!” Pumping a fist in the air, he shouted, “BREAK THE CHAINS!”
At that moment, Pigeon appeared, swooping in behind him.
And he catapulted himself toward the stage.
Before I knew what was happening, purple sparks burst from his hands as he discharged the magic that made me the queen’s slave as well as the binds of my friends.
“What the hell is going on?” I whispered.
As Brenden settled near us, he yelled, “GO, ATHENA!” Sparks emanated from his hands while electricity erupted from Casteen’s staff.
Thinking fast, I flapped awkwardly toward my friends. I pointed at them and shouted, “Get out of here!”
Ferbish nodded to Grigor and they grabbed Holly and Francisco, sailing away into the night.
As I watched my friends leave, I noticed huge bat-like creatures climbing out of the sides of the pumpkin, descending upon the monsters in the pit underneath us.
They must have belonged to Brenden. Or maybe they were Mr. Payne’s pets? Wouldn’t have surprised me.
I wanted to help Brenden in his fight, but how? Without warning, a giant flash of electricity hurtled toward me from the queen’s staff, but I spiraled up and dodged it.
She was going to have to do more than that to stop me. Soaring back, I spewed fire at the witch, hoping to turn her to ash.
But she buffeted my attack with the staff. Damn.
Jumping up, Brenden kicked her in the face before she could use her magic, knocking her down. He choked her from behind. “Go, Athena!” he shouted. “I’ve got this!”
Not wanting to leave, I hovered as the huge bat fiends fought valiantly against her army underneath me.
But while Brenden watched me, the queen launched him over her head then shot electricity through him.
“NO!” I screamed.
As I was about to unleash my fire, Wrathe actually kicked the queen in the mouth, sending her reeling backward.
What the hell?
With his ogre strength, he picked her up and tossed her over the side of the bridge as she tried to zap him, but he was too quick for her.
And then I spotted Brenden’s still body on the ground. I bolted to him. “Brenden. Are you okay?” When he didn’t answer, I checked his pulse. He was alive, at least.
Wrathe came up to me as I cradled my friend, hoping he’d be okay. “Ye better leave, Miss. The queen won’t be out fer long. Sorry about yer friend.”
“What about you? Won’t you get in trouble for treason?” I asked.
“I’ll be all right, Miss Athena. Never ye mind that.
“Me bats’ll take me home.”
“Those are yours? That means you know Mr. Payne,” I said, puzzled. Was Wrathe in on this plan? Did he know Brenden?
“Aiy that. Ye could say I know him. Now, off with ye, lass!”
Lifting Brenden in the air, I hovered, worrying for Wrathe and so grateful for him, too. The queen wasn’t dead, so I needed to get out of there as fast as possible.
Brenden was surprisingly light as I flapped into the cool dark night with only the ominous Under Realm moon to guide me.
I gathered my friend to my chest, praying he’d wake up soon and chastise me for being too slow or for not holding him correctly.
I headed straight in the direction of the Cave of Woe, so we could get to Middle Realm as quick as possible. Queen Oria would be able to help Brenden. At least, I hoped so.
I want to give a shout out to Natalie Auditore for all the cc she did that made this chapter possible. The fire that Athena blew as well as Pigeon as a raven were made especially for this story. Go and support her or give her likes on her work on Tumblr. And if you ever need fantasy cc, she’s a one-stop shop! She always posts her work for free but her patreons get it first.
Thanks for reading!