To save time, I transformed into a drakkan as Ferbish and Grigor flew alongside me, gripping Holly and Francisco. Pigeon led the way through the darkness. I felt as if my insides were hollowed out in a horrible dream. Knives seemed to crawl along my skin. I couldn’t get out of it though. My nightmare was real.
In horror I’d watched Grigor find a little depression in the ground as he placed Brenden’s unmoving body in it. Then one by one, my friends placed stones over him. I couldn’t help this process. I was too hurt by how I’d failed him. Everyone cried for a while until we had to go.
Over and over I kept remembering the things Brenden had said to me. The things he did. And over and over I felt ashamed at how we’d treated him. No one ever gave him the respect he’d deserved. How he’d paced outside, looking for enemies while we were at Mr. Payne’s place. And I thought he was a scared fairy but he was really brave.
How he drew a map to the cave so we could escape, but we accused him of setting a trap and the gargoyles bound him as a prisoner.
He never got angry at any of us.
He only plead for his innocence. Sickness grabbed my stomach.
If only I could go back and do it all over again, I’d change a lot of things.
But no one gets second chances.
And then Brenden’s words rang in my ears like he was walking right next to me as he always did. Like when he saved me from the mist.
By my side, he said, “There are only two paths in and out of the Under Realm. The first is through the Cave of Woe. And the second…” I could almost feel him staring at me the way he did in the ruins amongst the Elivagar Mountains. The path out of here was through me. He knew it.
As we approached the end of the cavern, stalagmites jutting up all around us, a crushing sensation overwhelmed me. I couldn’t ignore it.
Brenden’s words echoed loudly, “A wise old Brindle elf once said, ‘If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t, you’re right.’”
Transforming back into my witch self, I planted my feet in the dirt.
Ferbish and Grigor stopped, hovering in the air.
“What’s wrong, Miss?” Ferbish asked.
“Nothing,” I lied. Bending down, turning my body into a ball, I rocked back and forth, thinking about Brenden’s words,
Break the chains you’ve created for yourself…
Ye get free wishes. Use one o’ them.
A Wishcaster gets three wishes to use in times of trouble…
She’s gonna be the Wishcaster…
It was time I stopped relying on my friends and started listening to them.
Balling my hands into fists, I pulled at my hair.
It was time I believed.
All at once, I was back on the bridge, transformed as a drakkan, fire burning in my throat. The queen laughed hysterically and there was Brenden atop Mr. Payne’s huge pumpkin coach.
Exactly as it’d happened before.
Disoriented, I turned to see my friends chained and then I realized what I had done.
The queen screeched, “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 yer hospitality. NOW!”
But instead of doing nothing like I had before, I turned and spewed my rage at Casteen—all of my sadness and misery of watching her kill my friend unleashed as a torrent of flame, knocking her down. She could only shield herself against the furnace of my wrath. I enjoyed watching her cower and never let up.
At that moment, Brenden somersaulted down, unchaining our friends with his magic.
When I had to catch my breath and stopped spewing fire, Brenden kicked the queen in the face. He moved behind, throttling her. “Go, Athena! I’ve got this!”
Oh no! It was happening again. I couldn’t stop it.
“NO!” I yelled. Deep inside, I knew what to do like a dog knows how to bark or a bird knows how to fly. Thrusting out a hand, I spied Pigeon hovering over Brenden. “Pigeon, MULTIPLY!”
In a swirling cauldron, dozens of ravens cawed, encircling the queen as she launched Brenden over her head.
She screeched in rage and tried to strike them with her magic, but the ravens were too quick.
“Athena? What are you….?” Brenden muttered.
I dove after him. Casteen would not get a second chance at killing him. Thankfully, it looked as if the ravens were all she could handle at the moment. Three of them whipped the wand from her hand and threw it over the side. It splashed into the water.
Panting hard, I beat my wings as fast as I could, hoping somehow her magic wouldn’t spiral into my back or hit my wings.
As we soared away, Brenden asked, “Athena, did you really do that to Pigeon?”
I bit my lip. I actually wasn’t sure what I’d done. It all went by so quickly. “Um…I think so? I mean…it just happened…I hope she’s all right.”
Smiling up at me, Brenden said, “I think she’ll be just fine. Pigeon’s having the time of her life right now. There’s nothing better for a raven to do than beat the bloody hell out of an evil queen.”
I answered, nervously. “You think so?” I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the situation.
Arching an eyebrow at me, Brenden said, “You know what this means, my dearest Athena.”
I lurched my head back. “What?”
“I’m going to expect you to get us back to Middle Realm now.”
I nodded vigorously. “Oh, yeah, don’t worry, Brenden. I plan on it. As soon as we meet up with the gang at the Cave of Woe.”
Holding me closer and placing his head on my shoulder, he sighed. “Ah…now that’s the girl I know. I never doubted you for a second.”
Snuggling into him, I was so thankful to have my friend back. Tears pooled at the corners of my eyes, I was so happy. He didn’t know how I’d almost failed him…how it’d almost ended.
But…I wasn’t dreaming. I was really holding my friend. He was alive and breathing, here with me.
All I had to do was believe.