Epilogue Ten Years Later

Where had the time gone? It seemed like yesterday when I first became the Wishcaster, made my home here in Middle Realm in the village of Brindleton Eaves with the Brindle Elves, and went on a whirlwind romance with Brenden who married me a year later.

And now, we have two beautiful children who, by the way, made our lives anything but boring. Saron just turned eight and sweet Lillie is four going on fifteen now. She’s getting to the age where Saron actually plays with her. They loved to spar with their toy swords in the front yard.

“You might as well give up, Lil,” Saron teased. “I’m exceedingly better at this than you are.”

“No you aren’t. See?” She magically levetated in the air and smashed her sword, almost hitting Saron in the head.

“Be careful,” I called. But they didn’t listen to me.

“You’re not allowed to use magic when we’re sword fighting. That’s cheating.” Saron feinted Lillie’s move. I had to admit, my little Lillie was already a master fighter. She took after her father in looks and already used a lot of magic, no doubt she inherited some of my witch abilities. Saron, on the other hand, had his father’s demeanor and smarts and unfortunately, much of his impish willful tendencies. I had to keep an eye on him at all times.

“Take that!” Saron struck a blow to Lillie’s side.

I cringed. “Be careful or I’m going to take those swords right now!”

“Hear that?” Lillie waved her sword at her brother. “You’re in trouble now, Saron. YOU cheated!”

“Good Guardian, stop whining! You sound like an elder fairy who got her wings snipped off.”

“What’s all the fuss about?” Brenden asked, chuckling.

I wasn’t amused. These two would either play sweetly together or they fought constantly. And Brenden wasn’t the type to scold. That was my duty.

“Lillie, darling,” Brenden cooed, “are you beating up your big brother again? You know that’s not nice, sweetheart.”

“Mum, it’s not fair,” Saron said to me. “Why is Lillie allowed to beat me, and I get in trouble if I do the same to her?”

“Hold me, Daddy, please?” Lillie cried waving her arms. We were going to have to get that under control, but Lillie had Brenden wrapped around her little elven finger.

All of us walked to the backyard to make preparations. We were having the families over tonight. It was a special ten year celebration to commemorate our defeat of Queen Casteen and my induction to being the Wishcaster. And it was a good excuse to get royal passage from the Under Realm and Over Realms for my friends. Travel was permitted but you needed to have special permission. Loads of red tape to make sure the people coming and going were safe.

When I got to the backyard, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Oh my GOD! SARON!”

One of the tree stumps burst into flames.

“I’m sorry, Mum, I didn’t mean to! I just burped!”

I knew this was a lie. Saron was a drakkan just like me, and we can turn on or off our fire breathing abilities at will. They don’t just “happen”.

“You’re in trouble, young man,” I snapped.

“Great Guardian, no worries, Athena, I’ve got it.” Brenden whipped up a spell that doused the fire.

Putting his hands together, Saron said, “Please don’t get angry, Mum. I won’t do it again.”

“I’ve heard that before.” I jerked my hands to my hips.

He added, “I promise to make it up. How about I play really nicely with that horrid girl, Sassie, tonight? That way, she can’t get into trouble.” He threw on a cheeky grin.

Saron might have been a little imp but if he promised me something, he’d follow through. “Okay,” I said, giving him an evil eye. “But if you don’t, you will be grounded from playing with your alchemy set. Understand?”

He nodded. “Yes, Mum.”

Sassie was Holly and Francisco’s daughter. She was six and had a mischevious streak. Holly and Francisco still lived in the Over Realm. Francisco took over his parents’ dojo as well as coached the boys’ wrestling team at our high school and Holly is a research scientist. I never saw them much but we did stay in touch on Spacebook and Spacetime. They vacationed here last year where Saron declared that Sassie was the queen of hell itself. I believe he has a little crush on her though.

******

Hours later, I was reading a story to Lillie when Brenden and Saron walked in. Saron said, “Oh…Mum’s almost finished with that book. Daddy, can you read us Good Night, Fairy? It’s my favorite!”

As my husband read, I heard the doorbell chime. “Oh no! The families!” I’d totally forgotten. We hadn’t finished cooking yet!

In minutes, the kitchen was bustling with chatter and laughter. I loved being around my friends again. I’d missed them so much!

Ferbish had gone through many girlfriends over the years, but this one, Grizelda, seemed to be good for him. They’d been dating for over year. We always teased him that it’s time to get down on one knee. At 300, he’s not getting any younger.

Grigor got married years ago to a wonderful gargoyle named Silver. They had a two year old son named Herc. The boy was a cutie pie with Grigor’s bright red eyes and fun smile.

“Selfie time!” Brenden shouted, snapping pictures with everyone. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have any photos. I was so glad he cared enough to think of it.

As Ferbish, Grizelda, Holly and I were chatting, Francisco came up to us and said, “So…where’s the food, Athena? I’m starving!”

“Babe, you know it’s not polite to ask for food.” Holly shook her head but laughed at his impropriety. He didn’t have to be formal at my house!

“Ugh,” I groaned. “I’m sorry, Francisco. It’s a little delayed. But soon!”

Brenden picked up little Herc. “My you weigh a ton. Is that a brick in your pants, little man?”

“Aiy that,” Grigor said, laughing. “I think he needs a diaper change.”

“Good Guardian, I knew I smelled something nasty.” Instantly, Brenden put the tot down. “Go see Mummy, young man.”

My eyes searched for Saron. I hoped he wasn’t getting into trouble. Then I spied him chatting with Sassie.

“Let’s have a race. First one to the backyard wins,” the little girl yelled.

Saron stuck his nose up in the air. “Drakkan’s don’t run. They fly.”

I shook my head. That kid. He was showing off. His wings weren’t fully grown yet so he couldn’t fly.

Her eyes popped. “You can…FLY? I wanna see!”

“Sorry. I’m not in flying attire. My wings would rip my clothes. Maybe later?”

I rolled my eyes. I was going to have a talk with that boy. He didn’t have to lie to impress girls. He was cute enough all on his own.

Thankfully, the meal was finished and we all settled around the picnic tables in the backyard.

“Anyone up fer plum ale? I’ll be a pourin,” Ferbish called, making himself comfortable as the bartender for the night.

Grigor’s wife, Silver answered, “I’d sure like me some of that now. Make it two. Me hubby loves it as ye well know.”

“Awr…how did I get such a sweet, bonny wife?” Grigor said, eyes twinkling.

“I done tol ye proper ye must have stumbled on a lucky star when ye met me, Grigor. Glad ye now know it to be true!”

*****

As the sun went down, the four of us, Brenden, Holly, Francisco and I talked about all the things that had happened to us ten years ago.

I said, “Remember that time Francisco used you as a pillow, Brenden? I thought you were going to throw down with him right there. But you surprised me.”

“Yeah,” Francisco said, grinning. “Mr. Sourpants actually stopped whining for two seconds.”

“Who’s Mr. Sourpants?” Silver asked, walking up to us.

“Dearest Silver,” Brenden looked up at the gargoyle. “It might be best if you ignore these imbeciles. For whatever comes out of their mouths in relation to what happened ages ago will most certainly be rewritten history and not whatsoever resemble what actually happened.”

Francisco howled. “Some things never change!”

We all laughed together.

After I’d eaten my fill, I started clearing dishes then noticed my handsome husband waving to me to join him.

Gathering me in his arms, he whispered, “This was a banner party, darling. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed being with everyone again. And it makes me so very thankful we got through that whole ordeal unscathed. You mean everything to me.”

Squeezing him, I said, “Me, too. I love you, baby.”

“I love you, Athena.”

Okay…sniff…now we have to say good bye to everyone for real now. 😢

If you want to keep reading something written by me, please click my Other Stories link where I’m updating TRIBE WAHINE and DAY & KNIGHT. There’s also another fantasy there entitled, THE MANSION ON HORRID HILL. The first generation is similar in size as Wishcaster with many fantasy creatures and funny antics.

Chapter Thirty-six The Final Challenge

I was in my bedroom as if none of the crazy stuff I’d experienced in the different realms had happened at all. I couldn’t feel my legs. I was in my old clothes, sitting next to my sister. What the heck?

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked, cautiously. Mixed emotions flooded me. I wanted to hug them, I’d missed them so much, but everything felt off. Strange.

“It’s about your…condition,” Dad said like he was trying to butter me up before telling me some awful news. “We have a surprise!”

“Are you talking about my legs? Yeah. I know. I’m wearing a shroud.” That information would either confuse them if the crazy Wishcaster stuff had been a dream or put them on the spot for lying to me.

“That’s correct.” Dad said in a strange voice. “How did you guess?” Either he’d just gotten over a serious cold or something was totally wong. And Mom had a creepy look on her face as if she wanted to eat me.

“Are you two okay? You’re not acting like yourselves. Usually when you haven’t seen me in weeks you’d come over and at least give me a hug.”

“What do you mean, darling,” Mom said. “You haven’t left the house today.”

Dad’s eyes grew cold. “Yeah. You’re the one who’s acting strangely.”

Okay, that soooo was not Dad. His voice sounded like a character on a vampire movie. “Who are you and what do you want?”

In a flash, my parents morphed into two hideous troll creatures. The magic spell that had been holding my body vanished and I rose up on my legs.

“Be gone!” I ordered, jettisoning my power at them.

No sooner had they disappeared, I found myself standing in the middle of a familiar forest.

“The Elivagar mountains?” Since it was so clear and the colors were vibrant, it was definitely night time in the Under Realm.

“What’s Godrick up to this time?” I whispered. I’d defeated those two monsters. Why wasn’t I finished yet?

And then my breath caught. I was staring at…MYSELF!

“Hello, Athena. I’ve come to tell you it’s over. Time to go home where you belong.”

This was an obvious trick. Should be easy to defeat. I knew myself better than anyone. “I’m not going anywhere.”

She chuckled. “You think you can defeat me? Even after your failure with our parents?”

“What do you mean? I got rid of those nasty monsters.”

Horns grew out of her head and wings fluttered as she transformed into a drakkan. I did the same.

“That’s not a nice thing to say about our parents, dear,” she said in a taunting voice. “You haven’t forgiven them. Unforgiveness is very ugly indeed as you readily observed. Now come quietly and you can hug them this very night. You know you miss them.”

I was done with this charade. Hot fire licked up my throat as I engulfed my evil twin in flames.

But instead of even making her flee, she laughed then raised her arms in celebration. “Are you kidding, Athena? We’re drakki. Fire cannot harm us. Silly girl.”

Crap. What was I thinking? How was I going to defeat myself? This was definitely harder than I’d first thought.

Without hesitation, she metamorphosed back into my witch self. “And you’ve forgotten that you are a VERY powerful enchantress. We are finished here.” Irridescent orbs glowed from her hands. What kind of spell was that? I certainly couldn’t do it.


I needed time to think. Turning around, I dodged her spell. It hit the fence, exploding it into a million pieces.

“You cannot hide from yourself, Athena dear. Please give up. It pains me to do this to you.” A loud whirring sound like a tornado roared as blue orbs circled around her.

Using a large well to block the spell, I tried to drown out the noise. “Damn it. Why can’t I think straight?” I wanted to conjure up a counter spell, but it was as if seeing her weakened me. I was powerless.

“I’m giving you one last chance,” my image bellowed. “Bow down and say you are unworthy of being the Wishcaster. Do it, Athena. For us.”

The roar turned into a high pitch whine, piercing my ear drums. “NO!” I screamed. I needed help. Yes. That was it! Something to protect me. Like a shield. My mind rolled over what I could use as protection. Then my thoughts drifted to Pigeon! She could defeat my destructive doppelgänger. Ravens were more powerful than witches.

“Pigeon,” I shouted over the painful noise. “If you can hear me, please! I need your help!”

But nothing happened.

Desperate, I decided to use a wish. It’d worked with Brenden. I didn’t care about the consequences. “I wish for Pigeon!” I yelled. “I need her here. NOW!”

Instantly, Pigeon appeared with a sad look on her face.

My twin laughed at me. “She cannot save you, Athena. You are going about this all wrong.”

I wasn’t going to listen. She was full of tricks. Quickly, I ordered, “Put your shield around me, Pigeon. Hurry!”

The comfort of the purple mist surrounded me and my muscles relaxed. “There. Try and penetrate that,” I sneered.

My twin tutted. “You see, that’s your problem. It’s always been your problem. You don’t even know how mighty you are. Sorry to break this news to you, dearest Athena, but you are way more powerful than a mere raven.”

With a wave of her hand, she cracked the raven’s shield, destroying it in a flash of light.

Oh. My. GOD! What was I going to do? She was going to defeat me and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I had no witch powers and my drakkan breath was impotent.

The orbs turned into fire skulls, whirring toward me.

Quickly, my wings lifted me up, trying to get out of their way. I could feel the heat from them surge under my legs.

Damn. That was close.

But I couldn’t give up. I flew away from her to the edge of the property, trying to gather my thoughts. Who else could help me? The gargoyles? No. They were strong, but they couldn’t counter powerful spells. The only other person I knew who was as strong as I was…

Yes.

Bowing my head, I said, “Brenden. I need him. Here. Now. It’s my final wish.”

When I opened my eyes, Brenden’s solemn face warmed me with relief.

“What am I doing here, Athena? You know I’m not allowed to help you.”

As if in answer, the clouds burst with a flash of lightning. Rain pelted me, filling me with dread.

“It’s an emergency wish. It’s my right as Wishcaster. You remember you told me in times of trouble I can use them. This is the most trouble I’ve been in. Please, Brenden. My challenge is to defeat myself. You can cast more potent counter spells, can’t you?”

Shaking his head at me, he slowly turned around to face my twin.

She arched an eyebrow. “You agree with me, don’t you, my love? Athena doesn’t know what she’s doing, does she?

“The silly girl quickly forgot why she had to use that first emergency wish. How the queen defeated you with a powerful spell. Tell her to give up, sweetheart. You know this is foolishness.”

Her words pitched rocks in the pit of my stomach. Could she be right?

But he didn’t leave. He stood his ground, magic symbols emanating from his hands.

Both flung spells at each other, crashing against one another in a dizzying display. My heart pounded. He was doing it! My evil twin would grow tired or maybe Brenden would zap her away.

But then Brenden uttered a loud moan. A spell blasted him and he crumpled.

Through gritted teeth, he stammered, “I-I’m s-sorry I f-failed you.”

Then his body disappeared.

“NO!” I cried.

My twin turned back into a drakkan, floating in the air breezily as if she were lying on a magic carpet.

“It’s over, Athena. Come now, dear. On your knees. Repeat, ‘I am not worthy to be the Wishcaster’. That’s all there is to be done and your torment will stop.”

But I wouldn’t give up. She would have to catch me first. Hurtling over the fence and onto the grass, my lungs pinched as I sprinted away.

“It’s pointless to flee! Stop this, Athena. You’ve lost!”

Her voice knocked into me as if she’d given me a slap. My knees buckled. Panting, I yelled, “I’ll never say those words! I CAN be the Wishcaster. I know it. I’d do a good job. If you’d just give me the chance.”

She smirked. “Thinking of a thing and doing a thing are two VERY different things.” She chuckled to herself. “You’re on your knees. Good. Now say it. Say you are not worthy to be the Wishcaster or I promise, you will regret it.”

A part of me ached for this challenge to be over. Who was I kidding? She was right. I wasn’t worthy. I was never worthy of saving the world. The whole thing was stupid. But…

What would happen to my sister and my parents and Brenden and my other friends if Queen Casteen rumbled into Middle Realm with her armies? What would happen to the Over Realm? There wasn’t any time to get someone else.

“Very well,” the evil twin spat. “If you’re going to be stubborn, I’ll FORCE you to say it!” Her body doubled then tripled in size, growing as large as the trees.

My heart squeezed into my throat as tears threatened. I gaped up at the gigantic witch.

With a loud voice, she boomed, “I will smash you into oblivion, fool. SAY THE WORDS!”

It was all so hopeless, I almost laughed. The rain plinked over my face. It felt cool and calmed me.

I’d never say those words. But there were some words I was going to say and then if she smashed me, so be it.

Pointing up at her, I said, “Okay. I’ll say it. I AM the Wishcaster! I’ve been the Wishcaster this whole time. And it’s YOU who needs to start believing in who we really are!

“Now stop this nonsense and let me get to work fixing the interrealm shrouds! We’re running out of time!”

All at once, the rain stopped and the darkness was replaced with orange sky and birds chirping.

Was it over? I blinked, not believing it, worrying the giant me might plummet out of the river like a horrifying kraken.

Where was Godrick? I thought he’d be here smiling at me.

I called out to him, “Godrick? Are you there?”

“Down here, my esteemed Wishcaster.”

My gaze shot down to where the voice came from. To my surprise, it looked just like the Wish Book Brenden had transformed into, complete with my name emblazoned on its cover.

The voice continued, “I will always be at your side, dearest illustrious Wishcaster, to help you whenever the need arises. I am the eternal Wishbook, bound to you in service. Congratulations. Well done!”

Picking it up, I felt the bond instantly. This was different from Brenden’s Wish Book.

Opening it up, Wish Book flooded my mind with instructions. I knew exactly what needed to be done. Where the shroud damage was. How I was to mend them.

Smiling at him, I said, “Let’s do this.”

******

The next months were dizzying, I could hardly catch my breath.

Queen Oria ordained me in a formal ceremony. Brenden was beside himself with pride. He kind of gloated a little too much but I didn’t mind. It gave Lenora fits that a dark elf was residing in the castle and was the one who found the Wishcaster.

Little did we know that the Under Realm was in a civil war. The ogres decided to side with Wrathe, so tired of being treated as second class citizens by Queen Casteen. In a coup, they arrested Queen Casteen and locked her in a dungeon, dubbing Wrathe the Under Realm king. I also had no idea Mr. Payne was his friend.

Well, maybe a bit more than friends?

The move toward opening the shrouds was getting closer. At least the leadership shifted toward peace. Of course not all the races cared for human or fairy kind, especially Droor Elves, but it was progress nevertheless.

My parents decided to move to Middle Realm to be closer to me (and so my mother and sister wouldn’t have to hide in shrouds.)

Cool thing was that Queen Oria set them up in a beautiful fairy house.

Being the Wishcaster was a never ending job. It seemed the magic was so old, it deteriorated quickly.

And Brenden was so wrong. It wasn’t just cracking. I found some full blown person sized holes. Any droor elf or troll could get through.

But with the help of my friend, the eternal Wish Book, we fixed them so you couldn’t tell there was a gaping space before.

I loved my job.

Did I miss high school?

Nah…

*****

Finished for the day, I searched the beautiful fairy park for my boyfriend.

I spied him, beaming up at me. I never got tired of his smiles. He was so sweet to me, treating me like a princess and not just a servant of the fairy queen.

Draping an arm around my shoulders, Brenden said, “Done saving the realms for today, darling?”

I laughed. “You realize those cracks are ridiculous holes now. You really didn’t know what you were doing as that Wishcaster trainer, did you?”

“I did the most important thing.” He kissed me. “I found you.”

Giggling, I whispered, “I’m glad.”

He cradled me in his arms as his kiss deepened, sending ripples through me down to my toes. The cool night breeze danced over us as if in celebration.

Although I’m a child of all the realms, I’m happy that my home is here. Under the Middle Realm sky bathed in glowing moonlight and magical shadows.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

Wow. I can’t believe this story is completed! Thank you for coming along this journey with me. There WILL be a short epilogue next week where we’ll peek in on Athena and Brenden ten years later. 😉

Thank you to RABOOSKI who designed the fairy lot I began this story and ended with. If you’d like it yourself, here’s the link: FAIRY WEDDING

Thanks also to Natalia Auditore who created a lot of the cc in this story as well as some on request (the dragon fire and raven were all made for me.) Please check out her work!

Now I’m preparing to finish up Day & Knight. For all of you who love that story, it will continue (yes, I’ll do it until we hit gen 10–that’s my hope anyway)! Two more weeks, though. I have sims to create, builds to tweak, etc. If you haven’t read that story and you like my writing, check it out! DAY & KNIGHT

LOVE,

Pammiechick

Chapter Thirty-five The Second Challenge

Before I could catch my breath, my computer teacher, Ms. Claxton, turned into the witch I knew she was.

“The queen has been looking for you, Ms. Michaels, and now I’ve got you. You’ll not get away from me,” her elderly voice cracked on the last word.

Although the magical cloud still rained depressing thoughts over me, feelings of rage bubbled through my head, heating up my face. I’d show her who she was dealing with.

Spewing all my anger at her perpetual torment of me all school year, I lit a firestorm and didn’t let up until I was sure she was down.

When I had to catch my breath, to my surprise, it was as if my fire didn’t touch her.

Raising her arms in glee, she said, “Your piddly fire tricks won’t hurt me. In fact, it’s made me even stronger.”

In horror, I watched as the bottom half of her morphed into an ugly crab spider type creature.

“What the…” I whispered.

“Come with me or die!” she screeched.

“I’ll never join you or the Under Realm queen.” My voice sounded so weak like I was a mouse squeaking at a dinosaur. If my fire couldn’t hurt her, how was I ever going to defeat her?

I remembered in her class, I was so embarrassed by how tiny she’d made me feel. I knew she hated me. Because I was different.

Suddenly, a power shot out of her hands and I dodged, but barely. The self doubt invaded my thoughts. What could I do? A part of me wanted to run. Fly away and hide. Just like I’d wanted to when I was that weak girl in high school with only a few friends.

“You can’t escape me forever!” Ms. Claxton hissed.

A sharp pain swallowed me up like I was being eaten by a huge monster. My wings batted trying to free myself but I couldn’t move.

“Stop resisting. It’ll make the pain grow worse!” she warned.

It was true. The more I pulled away from her power, it was as if thousands of knives twisted through my body. She had full control.

“Give up, Ms. Michaels. It’s useless to resist. I’m too powerful for such a weak creature as yourself.” She flipped me over then let go.

I tumbled to the ground, hitting my head hard.

She was right. I wasn’t strong. Why was I chosen to go through this trial anyway? It was all so pointless.

The witch let out a shriek. “She’s mine now, Queen Casteen! Make ready your armies. We attack tonight!”

Brenden’s voice echoed in my mind like it was coming through a mist. “Most importantly, Athena. Believe in yourself!”

The witch skuttled toward me, her claws clacking along the deck.

I shut my eyes, wincing and wondering when this would be over.

Lenora’s words drifted inside my head. “It isn’t about brawn and strength as it is about the heart.”

The heart. The trials weren’t about strength. That’s what they’d been saying to me over and over. Queen Oria dismissed anyone who thought strength triumphed character.

What was I doing? I couldn’t defeat the witch with my strength. But maybe…

It was as if a veil lifted from my eyes and with it, power flooded through me. I rose up, wings flapping with the capability I had all along. “I won’t be going with you because I know who I am.”

I rose higher in the air and shouted, “I’m Athena of the Over Realm, Middle Realm and Under Realm. I am stronger than you because I believe I can defeat you! You’re a weak, evil wretch, not worthy to even be here speaking to me. Now go! And never show your face to me again!”

“Stop it!” the witch screeched. “Stop saying those awful things!”

I landed next to her, seeing that she was a truly pathetic creature. I pitied her. “I’ll never be afraid of you. Ever.”

“NO!” she yelled, her legs buckling underneath her.

Sparkles whipped around me then the beautiful Fairyland came into focus. I spotted a tiny tot, no doubt a very aged Godrick.

“Well done, Athena. I was a bit worried there for a moment. I almost whisked you away when the monster plunked you down. Your defeat was imminent.” He waved his hand toward me. “But you worked through it. I must say I’m very happy about that.”

I lifted my mouth. “I’m kind of worried about the next challenge now. Will it be even harder?”

“Harder is a perspective word, my dear. It is what you make of it as are all these challenges. Are you ready?”

No sooner did I give a slight nod than the magenta flash swooped over me, lifting me off the ground.

Light as air, my stomach whooshed like I was on a rollercoaster. “Whoa!” I cried.

Next thing I saw was my mom and dad smiling at me. “Hello, sweetheart,” Mom said. “I’m so glad to see you. We have a lot to talk about.”

What the hell? Had all of it been a dream?

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Chapter Thirty-four The Third Trial

In the morning, Brenden grilled our breakfast and we ate in silence. My nerves felt like they were literally going to jump out of my skin. I’d never been so jittery. So much was riding on me conquering this final trial, and I had no clue what I was going to go through. Brenden said it was different for everyone. But he assured me it wouldn’t be as difficult as facing the Under Realm queen since I couldn’t lose my life. If I failed, I’d go home.

“Are you ready?” Brenden asked, as we stood up.

“What if I said no? Are you sure you can’t give me any tips? I’m not gonna lie. Your training kind of sucks.”

He laughed, then pulled me along beside him. We walked for about a mile until he stopped in front of a stone hut. “There it is. The Cavern of Souls.”

“Promise me something,” I said, staring intensely at him. “If I fail, you’ll come find me. I want to help fight the queen.”

“Athena…you know I’m not in a position of promising…”

But before he could say no, I pulled him to me and kissed him. I hoped that would change his mind.

He didn’t move away. Instead, I left him breathless. Neither of us wanted to leave the other.

But I had a job to do.

I waved good bye before I entered the hut. He looked sad and alone.

Tearing my eyes from him and with one huge sigh, I opened the door.

Surprisingly, I was met with an irate glare from Lenora, the fairy who was with Brenden in the beginning of this journey. “You’re late,” her tinkling bell voice reverberated off the stone.

Looking around the tiny place, I said, “Yeah, that kind of happens when you get abducted by an Under Realm witch.”

“I’m not going to argue with you about all that you’ve unearthed. Queen Oria is livid. That Brenden is walking around as a dark elf is horrendous enough and now you…you are…well…”

I put my hand over my forehead trying to snuff out a headache. “I know. I’m something other than what you’d ordered.”

“We don’t have much time. You must complete this trial in less than twenty four hours. You must think through each challenge. Just as in all the trials, it isn’t about brawn and strength as it is about the heart. I want you to remember that. Understand?”

I nodded feeling as if I’d just jumped out of an airplane. There was no going back now.

Lenora flitted beside me, waving her hands. The ground shook and a stairwell appeared.

“Now Athena of the Over Realm, Middle Realm, and Under Realm, it is time to grasp hold of your destiny and become the Wishcaster. I bid Great Guardian’s blessings over your journey. Good luck, child.”

With a gulp and a huge lurch of my stomach, I tapped down the stairs.

The place stunk of old mold and the air was as clammy as a dead fish.

I spied a seat in the middle of a pool. It was all lit up. Pretty obvious where I was supposed to go since there were no doors.

I splashed my way to the middle and clamoured up onto the seat. Nothing happened for a while. Then I relaxed and allowed all my nervous tension to drift away.

Every muscle unwound. My mind went blank and I felt as if I was floating in the air.

Suddenly, a gentle breeze blew over my face. I opened my eyes to find I’d traveled to a magical place that looked as if it came right out of Fairytale Central. Tiny white fairies fluttered like butterflies over the flowers and trees. “Whoa,” I muttered, totally forgetting why I was even there.

Then I noticed my clothing had changed into a pretty, flowing dress. How was I going to fight in this? Lenora’s words came to me–it’s about the heart. Maybe I wouldn’t be fighting after all.

I walked toward a rainbow waterfall, gazing at the fluttering fairies. They reminded me of the Under Realm fairies, the harpswing, except these were smaller and definitely not scary.

I wondered if I was supposed to climb the rocks. Maybe this was going to be a puzzle I’d have to solve.

Then I heard a deep voice call my name. “Athena Meree Martin.”

I turned to see a handsome fairy all dressed up in a golden coat much like the way Brenden was dressed when he was the Wish Book.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I am your servant should you prevail this trial. My name is Godrick, the eternal Wish Book. I’ve come to give you your challenges. You must conquer three problems. If you fail, you will be sent away immediately.”

I eyed him. He looked even older than Brenden. And this man was a fairy. That meant he was like a toddler. “If you’re the Wish Book, why are you so young?”

“I am eternal, transcending time. When you defeat each foe, you will find that I’ve grown older in that span. Do not worry about my form. Worry about the tasks set before you. Are you ready, Athena of the Over Realm, Middle Realm, and Under Realm?”

I gulped, heart beating so hard it hurt. Then I nodded.

Brilliant light blasted from his hands bathing me with warmth.

He muttered words I couldn’t understand as the light poured over me like honey.

“What’s going on?” I whispered. My head swooned.

And then the next moment I was in the middle of a swamp. The mist was thick and I couldn’t see very well.

Once I got my bearings, I recognized it.

“The Moor of Dread,” I spoke out loud. The delicious smell of licorice lured my eyes to what I knew I’d find.

Crimerife. It glowed ahead, winking through the mist.

Senses tingling, the familiar euphoric invincibility rushed through me. “Yes!” I hunched over, trying to get a good look as to how much would be mine.

Racing toward it, the biggest piece of rock almost sang to me. I wanted it. No, I needed it. I’d be hard to defeat with all that crimerife in my possession.

I could take on the queen’s army all by myself with it. Maybe I would be able to turn into a real dragon with the magic I’d gain!

The queen would have to bow down to me in that case.

As I was about to touch the rock, from deep inside I heard myself shout, “NO!”

Brenden said crimerife in this form was deadly to witches. This was a trick.

I then knew what to do even though my body longed to taste and touch the rock.

Energy surging through me, I blasted the stone, destroying it into a million tiny pieces.

Instantly, I was back in the fairy forest, staring at a child. “Are you…Godrick?”

“Yes, it is I, Godrick, the eternal Wish Book. Well done! You may be the first to finish all three challenges in record time. I am most pleased with your determination and willpower.”

“Thank you. Will all the tasks be that easy?”

“I cannot say. These tasks are failings you possess inside. If you conquer them in your heart, it very well may be easy for you. We shall see.”

I didn’t like the sound of that.

Raising his hands, the shimmering light flooded over me. But instead of fillng me with light and warmth, this filled me with dread and sadness.

It was as if a heavy cloud drifted over me. I didn’t feel like I could conquer anything or anyone. “What is wrong with me?”

And then I was suddenly standing on the dock near my home.

I stared at an ugly old woman. I recognized her.

“Mrs. Claxton?” I screeched.

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Chapter Thirty-three Resting Place

As I flew deeper into the mountains, my wings began to ache. Thankfully, the heat from the sun dissipated the impending storm and the skies cleared.

“Athena, are you all right? Why don’t we rest? We’re near the cavern.”

Suddenly, my wings felt as if they were carrying an eighteen wheeler. Did Brenden put a spell on me so I’d stop flying?

“But Brenden, we don’t have time. The queen will be here in two days!”

Grabbing my hand, he said, “If you don’t rest, you won’t be able to conquer the first challenge of the trial. It’s time to take a welcome break. We’ll eat and sleep, getting you prepared for the morning.”

Facing him, I said, “I’d feel better if we rested later. I’m not tired. I want to do this.” I glared at him, hoping to get my way. It was like I was in a long race and I could almost see the ending. Even though I was actually exhausted, I couldn’t stop now.

“Athena, you’ll do much better with a dip in the creek and some food. Please listen to me.”

Looking at his cute face, I melted. “A creek? Where? I’m dying to get this awful makeup off me.”

Showing me the tiny creek, flowing downstream, he watched as I gingerly plunked a toe into the cool, soothing water. Then I shooed him away. “Go make a fire or something. You’re NOT watching me take a bath!”

He chuckled then walked away.

After I’d floated in the calming stream for a while changing back to my witchy self, I climbed out of the water then ambled toward the rich smell of the fire. The arid desert air dried me off almost instantly.

“There. Are you happy now? I don’t smell like I’d just taken on twenty thousand monsters without wearing deodorant.”

But Brenden didn’t even flinch at my joke.

“Hey…” I nudged him with my foot. “Are you awake?”

Nodding, without looking up, he said, “Come sit with me, Athena.”

Sighing, I dropped down next to him, feeling the relaxing warmth of the fire.

Brenden palmed the back of his neck and said, “The Third Trial is a test of your strength. Unfortunately, that has been compromised. I loathe myself for allowing you to bring me here. I hope you will forgive my idiocy, Athena. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“But…isn’t it better that you teach me about what I’m going to face?” I countered. To be honest, my whole body ached and my stomach growled. He was right. I wanted to find a bed and sleep for three days.

“When you enter the cavern, you will find the real Wishbook. He will try to cut you down in ways I can only imagine. No Wishcaster ever relays what horrors they faced, but legend says they are different for everyone. Most candidates fail this part…I have no doubt you will conquer but….I want you at full capacity. Do you understand?”

I knew what he was implying but I didn’t want him to leave. A part of me was so thankful to have him with me alive. And what was the harm? “Don’t you think having you here helps me, Brenden? You take my anxiety away. I feel calm just being with you. If you’re worried that I’ll be too tired, don’t. All I need are a few winks and I’ll be good as new.”

Gazing into the fire, he sighed. “I hope you’re right.

After both of us didn’t say anything for a while, I broke the silence. “Are you worried that I’m going to fail now?” Jitters clamored in my stomach almost making me sick.

Taking my hand, he answered, “I’m not worried. If anyone can survive the trial, it’s you. You’ve had more training than any Wishcaster candidate with what you faced with Queen Casteen.”

He put his back on my shoulder. “So…no more talk. Time to rest and recharge.”

I arched an eyebrow. “How is this helping me rest?”

“Didn’t you know? Helping an elf to go to sleep is good luck.”

I laughed pushing him away. He winked then waved his fingers, sparkles transforming the nearby rocks into what looked like hot dogs.

He shrugged, giving me a sheepish look. “It’s the only transfiguration spell I know. Comes in handy for times like this but I do hope you’ll like the taste. Somehow, the sausages take on the flavor of the item I transform.”

“I don’t care. I’m so starved I think I’d even eat a rock at this point.”

We cooked the sausages over the fire as the spicy smell wafted through the dusky air.

The sun set lazily on the horizon, casting a beautiful pinkish glow.

It reminded me of home and a sudden pang seized me. Then my thoughts went to Brenden. “Do you ever miss home? I mean, the Under Realm is so different. I just wonder how you coped being a fairy all that time.”

He shrugged and said, “I don’t miss it. Believe it or not, I never felt I belonged there my whole life. And as the years passed, I almost had forgotten my real identity. Living here is easy. It’s the prettiest place on the planet, in my opinion.”

I nodded in agreement. It was very stunning, but the Under Realm held its own special beauty as well. “Are you going to go back to being a fairy now? I mean…don’t fairies hate Droor Elves?”

“That’s very true. They do hate us with a passion and for good reason. If a fairy were to venture into the Elivagar mountains, I believe a Droor Elf would feel honor bound to torture them. We have a very…tulmultuous history. So…I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point…”

“You shouldn’t change who you are, Brenden. I’ll talk to Queen Oria for you.”

He chuckled. “Prejudice isn’t something you can talk away.” He looked me in the eyes and said, “You must view how ugly it is for yourself. I doubt the fairies will see the error in their ways. I won’t be staying at the castle if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“I’ll do my best to make them see how bad it is. They’ll have to accept me–a witch drakkan, won’t they? If I’m going to be the Wishcaster.”

Dropping his stick, Brenden pulled me over to him.

I squeaked, feeling my face flush.

Then I settled into his lap as he caressed my cheek and answered, “If anyone can make the fairies love Droor Elves, it’ll be you.”

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Chapter Thirty-two The Sea of Sand

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.

Chapter Thirty-one Wishing

    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…

 and Ferbish’s,

 Ye get free wishes. Use one o’ them.

 and Holly’s,

A Wishcaster gets three wishes to use in times of trouble…

and Francisco’s,

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.

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Chapter Thirty Saying Good-bye

Warning: VERY emotional chapter

     I didn’t rest for many hours, flapping and flying until I felt my wings ache. I followed Ferbish and Grigor through the darkness. They both had given me horrified looks when we’d met up some time after we’d fled the queen’s lair.

I knew what they saw but I didn’t want to believe it.

    Gently, I glided down to the ground of the Cave of Woe, settling on a rock, not wanting to let my friend go.

    And then I saw in horror what my friends knew.

    Holly drew in a breath and wept, burrowing her face into Francisco. Even Francisco’s eyes were swollen and red.

    Tears streaming, I stroked Brenden’s cold face. There was no smiling. No funny jokes. No worried looks. My friend. My best friend was dead.

   I gathered him closer to me and I cried, “How? How could this happen? I can’t believe it.”

Ferbish said gently, “Come, Miss. We best be going. The queen’ll be here befores we knows it.”

“Let her come. I’ll burn her alive if she does,” I cried.

Ferbish nodded. “I understand, Miss. We all are sad. These are dark times yet…”

I blinked. A wet drop trickled down my face and I tried to swallow down a lump, not wanting to wail in front of everyone. I needed to get out of there. “Yet what?”

He shrugged then gestured toward Brenden. “This elf here believed in ye, Miss, and well, he gave his life for somefing bigger than himself. And ye being the Wishcaster was his belief. If that be true, well then, ye better start acting like it. The realms needs ye.”

Ferbish pointed at Brenden and said, “He said ye could do anyfing, right? Well, I knows a Wishcaster can wish on anyfing for a price, o’ course. Ye get free wishes, mind. Use one o’ them.”

“Three wishes?” I said. “But I’m not the Wishcaster. I can’t wish my friends back to life.”

Holly eyes brightened a little. “Yes, Athena, he’s right. A Wishcaster gets three wishes to use in times of trouble when they don’t have their wish book handy. The price is that it’s not an easy wish. You’ll have to figure it out.”

“But I’m NOT the Wishcaster! I didn’t go through the third trial! I didn’t find the real Wish Book! And Queen Oria hasn’t sworn me in!”

Ferbish rubbed his wrist, face somber. “It’s all right, Miss. I just thought I’d suggest it. But we gots to go now. The queen…”

Gazing into Brenden’s face, I realized his body was just a shell. It was the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen and I’d never forget it. He was gone. My friend was gone. “I can’t leave him.” Although I knew it was pointless, I hoped that by me thinking about Brenden alive and willing him to wake up that it would happen.

I squeezed my swollen eyes shut and sniffed. “I can’t be the Wishcaster. I can’t,” I choked out.

Shaking Brenden, I said, “You’ve got to wake up! I need your help. Without you, everything is lost.” But when he didn’t move, didn’t breathe, I cried, my chest shaking with misery.

I thought about how he did everything for us. For me.

Even sacrificing himself as a traitor so he could use his elf powers to save us. And all the while, I had the ability to free us, but I just couldn’t do it.

I never could do what he wanted me to.

I wasn’t the Wishcaster.

Bending down, I laid my head on his chest. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

Ferbish, Grigor, Holly, and Francisco helped bury my friend. We all cried, holding onto one another.

I understood then why it was called The Cave of Woe.

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Chapter Twenty-nine The Ceremony

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.

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