As we entered the Cave of Woe, everyone beamed at us.
I couldn’t believe the last time I was here, we’d buried Brenden. Now…I held him safely under my arm.
As I glided to a landing on the soft sand of the cave, I smiled at my friends. I was getting fairly used to flying by now. Dragon wings were waaaay better than legs.
In that instant, all the events that had recently happened overwhelmed me. I grabbed onto Brenden in a rough hug, wanting to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Stiffening, not hugging me back, Brenden said, “Great Guardian, Athena, what is wrong with you?”
Pulling away, I wiped a tear that couldn’t help dribbling down my cheek. “I’m just so glad to see you, is all.”
Francisco put his hand behind his head nervously. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually glad to see you, too, sour pants.”
Holly ran over to him and enveloped Brenden in her arms. “Are you sure you’re real and not a ghost?”
Pulling back, Brenden waved his arms dramatically. “For higgledypickle’s sake, I didn’t just rise from the dead. Why is everyone making cow eyes at me?”
Ferbish cocked his head. “Well, fairy er…elf, ye sort of did. The little Miss here saved yer life.”
Grigor nodded in agreement.
Clasping her hands, Holly beamed. “Brenden! She’s really the Wishcaster! She cast her first wish!” She then relayed exactly what had happened to him before my time travel wish.
“Then why are we still here in this hell hole?” Brenden threw his arms on his hips. “Athena, wish us back to Middle Realm!”
“And now he’s back to his sour self,” Francisco mumbled.
“Aye, Miss,” Ferbish added. “The queen is sure to chase us. We best be off.”
“You want me to use another wish? I thought I only got three for emergencies.”
Brenden grinned, his magenta eyes holding me. “If you saved me using a wish without a Wish Book, then you can use your own magic, my dearest Athena. Just concentrate. I know you can do this.”
My heart sped up as my body felt as if it was trying to run away. Sweat beaded up on my nose. Wiping it off, I nodded. I would try. This time, I would sincerely try.
Waving everyone to me, I said, “Stay close.” Francisco reached out to Brenden, but he grimaced and moved over to my other side. I grinned, so glad to have my snooty, grumpy friend back.
Placing my hands together, I concentrated, making my body one with my surroundings.
Relaxing my arms, legs, and head, my mind swirled with images flashing of the Middle Realm. The old map came into view and I could see the red rock mountains with the Sea of Sand off to the side. This was the place where the fairy queen had wanted me to go for the last trial to become the Wishcaster. Crimson orange dust devils twirled and danced along the edges of the shore in my mind. While I was focusing on the Sea of Sand, a great wind roared as dust from the cavern floor pelted us.
The wind picked up, hitting us like a cracking whip. This time, I saw the Sea of Sand with the waves roiling like a cauldron. And a dock. The crimerife crown thrummed, filling me with hot energy.
In a flash, I opened my eyes to find us standing on a wooden dock near the Sea of Sand with what looked like a deserted ghost town in the distance.
“You did it!” Brenden howled, hugging me from behind and pinching my cheek. “I knew you could do it all this time!”
His antics made me giggle. “Stop it, Brenden. I’m not even sure where we are.”
“It’s bloody better than my old home, I can very well say that.” Brenden winked at me. “I think we’re at Gimballs Knoll. It used to be an old gnome town until the rock monsters got out of hand. Hope to Great Guardian we don’t see any of those buggers.”
Holly’s eyes widened in shock. “O. M. G.”
That didn’t sound good. I turned to see two huge boulders form into giant, ember filled beasts, rumbling toward us.
“Speak of the devil!” Brenden shouted.
I didn’t transform into my drakkan self because dragon breath would do nothing to these creatures. But…I did have my power. The crimerife crown hummed.
Without thinking, energy shot out of my hands, sending one of the giants backward.
Smirking, Brenden said, “I’d forgotten you were a witch.” He finished off the first one with his magic as the other almost reached us. The monster roared and took a swing at us, then Brenden and I pummeled it with magic blows.
Finally, it whined like a freight train and fell over.
“Great Guardian, Athena, you’re a natural. Where did you learn that spell?”
“I dunno.” I shrugged. “It just…happened?”
Shooting me a look of pride mixed with respect, he said, “Impressive. Just think what you’ll be able to do with a bit of training. Great Guardian, what a Wishcaster you’ll make.”
Our eyes met and something flickered inside of me, making my cheeks blush.
He must have felt it, too, because he clasped his hands together suddenly, looking away, and said, “Um, w-well now, everyone. I must get you back to the castle at once. Athena’s grandmother threatened that the army would be marching by Nickelmus which is in three days.”
Thinking about the Third Trial, my heart hammered. I had to conquer it before I could mend the shroud protecting the realms and block Queen Casteen’s army. And in only three days! “No, Brenden, I’ll get them to the castle, but I’ve got to stay here and find the Wish Book.” I winced thinking about being on my own. I didn’t know what I was doing. Brenden didn’t have time to train me.
“Circle around, guys.” I lifted my hands, beckoning my friends to come beside me.
When Brenden arched an eyebrow, I explained, “It’ll be faster. Besides, I need the practice.”
Closing my eyes, I pictured the throne room with the small fairies bustling around inside. The wind picked up, sand whirling around us. I saw rows of white benches lining the walls and I concentrated, wanting to set my friends right on them, stunning the attending faires.
When I opened my eyes, my friends were gone except Brenden was staring fiercely at me. “Why am I still here, Athena?”
Swallowing nervously, I stammered, “M-Maybe my spells don’t work on dark elves. T-They’re t-too…um…evil.” I grinned sheepishly, hoping he’d buy it.
Rubbing his chin, he said, “I cannot go with you, you know. The fairy queen won’t like it. She hates me already. This will just send me straight to the dungeons. Hell, I’m in my elven form. She’ll really go off her nut.”
Never taking his gaze off me, he ordered, “Now run along. And do not forget who you are. The Cavern of Souls is at the top of the middle mountain on the other side of this sea.” But he didn’t look like he wanted me to leave.
Was there hope he was going with me?
I decided to plead my case. “Brenden, I need you. And if Queen Oria doesn’t like it, maybe she’ll have to witness my anger.”
Brenden laughed, shaking his head and taking my hands in his.
Pulling me to him, tingles rippled through me being this close.
He lifted the side of his mouth. “You do have a way with words… or maybe I should say fire.” Leaning his face toward me, silver ponytail waving around his shoulders in the light breeze, he spoke softly, “You can do this by yourself, you know. You don’t need me or Holly or the gargoyles or Pigeon or even that meathead who thinks he’s Great Guardian’s gift to the UFC.”
I cocked my head. “How do you even know about that?”
He lurched his chin back. “I watch the telly in the Middle Realm, too, you know.”
I laughed, holding Brenden tighter. I didn’t want him to leave. I did need him.
Putting his finger under my chin, he inched my face toward his.
Was he going to kiss me?
My heart pounded so loud I thought even the gnomes could hear it (wherever they were now.)
His warm lips softly brushed against mine as I felt like I was floating on air.
Well, actually, the kiss was so amazing, I didn’t realize I’d turned into a drakkan, swept away by the heat I was feeling inside. Mmmm…I flapped my wings, lifting us both off the ground.
Noticing, Brenden pulled back and said, “Athena, darling, what are you doing?”
“I’m whisking you away to our clandestine cave like you see in those old romance movies. You did say you watch tv, right?”
Brenden shook his head. “You’re dreadful, you know? If I mess this up…”
Elation filled me. He was going to go! “You won’t. I promise. And I’ll try to do this by myself. All you have to do is shoot some of your sarcasm to motivate me. Okay? And I’ll even threaten to turn you into a toad if you so much as look like you’re going to help.”
“Athena, you don’t even know how to turn a maggot into a tadpole.”
Smiling, so happy I convinced him, I said, “I know, but it was worth a shot.”
Flying over the Sea of Sand toward the mountains, I watched the clouds darken in the sky ahead of us.
Flashes of lightning signaled rain ahead and I could only hope I could reach the Cavern of Souls in time.
But I was thankful I had my friend beside me—the one who believed in me from the beginning. Brenden the Cursed who isn’t cursed anymore.
The Droor Elf.
The one who would help me to become The Wishcaster.