Chapter Twenty-seven The Queen

After I’d eaten my fill of the delicious cinnamon sugar cookies, Gran waved her hands, magically dressing me in some sort of witchy number complete with goth makeup.

“Really, Gran? Can’t I dress myself? What’s the deal with the makeup?”

“Awe, ye want to look yer best for the queen. She’s especially smitten with red.”

No kidding. “Can I visit my friends?” I asked. “I want to see them. Where are they?”

“They’re safe being well taken care of, never ye fear about that, lass.” Changing the subject she went on, “Now, once yer with the queen, make sure to be kind and polite like ye usually are. If she says anything to get yer dander up, please don’t retaliate. It’ll only make things worse.”

“How can things get worse?” I asked. “If I do everything she says, will she send my friends home? And what about Zelda? Is she okay?”

“Zelda’s in Middle Realm. That nasty fairy queen has her, holding her fer ransom from me but we’ll have the last laugh on her to be sure.”

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

Gran opened it, allowing a huge man to enter.

“Miss Athena of the Over Realm, the queen has summoned ye.”

I stared at him, trying desperately to use some sort of magic tricks on him, telling him to take me to my friends instead. But the man didn’t flinch. It was hopeless.

I had no power and no way out.

As we tapped our way down the stairs, I rolled over in my mind on how I could unleash my magic. The only way might be through using the Under Realm queen. A tiny crazy plan was forming in my head. But it was so wild and maybe stupid, I hoped I’d survive.

The man took me to a huge door and opened it, revealing a small living area with tall ceilings, all in red and black like the bedroom I’d been in. A short woman dressed in a warrior suit of ebony leather scale had her back to me. Her black hair was pulled up into a bun. I couldn’t see her face. She was gazing out the windows.

“Leave us be, Wrathe,” she commanded.

  The ogre bowed. “As ye wish, me grace.”

My stomach flinched as my heart pounded loudly. Thinking about making a deal with the queen was one thing, but actually doing it…well, I felt like I was in a dream, trying to scream but nothing came out.

The man walked out the door as the queen sidled up to me, making my knees shake.

     “My, aren’t ye the slippery little fish who doesn’t want to get caught?” She gripped me with her beautiful silver eyes. “Don’t be frightened, little fish. Ye are me guest. I don’t want to hurt you.”

She dropped into a chair, still smiling at me like she’d caught me on her hook. “How do ye like yer accommodations? Are ye comfortable in that room?”

If my plan was going to work, I had to get on her good side, so I smiled slightly and said, “Yes. I think it’s beautiful. I especially like the paintings.” Well, that was half a lie. They actually gave me the creeps, too.

     She chuckled at my reaction. “I see ye have a good heart, lass. I like that.” Putting out a hand, she said, “Please favor me and take a seat.”

     Shaking from nerves, I gingerly sat on the edge of a dark antique chair that matched the one she was sitting in next to me. I watched her nervously.

     The dark queen folded her hands and said, “Yer grandmother says yer full of promise, lass. In fact, she’s bragged about ye so much, I had to see you for meself. I must say, ye are a thing to behold to be sure.” Her eyes glimmered. “She claims ye can turn yourself into a drakkan. Is this true?”

     I took in a deep breath. Now here was my way to take a step in the direction I wanted to go, but my palms sweated so much and my heart beat so fast that I had to gasp to rip away from the frightened cocoon I’d wrapped around myself. All I could do was nod. Brenden was right. I was weak.

     “Can ye change now?” The queen’s eyes widened with a crazy glint as she pulled me to my feet expectantly.

     Was she kidding? She wanted me to transform right here? I’d burn her alive.

     I gulped, shaking my head.

     Her eyebrows rose. “That is a wee bit of a problem.”

She walked toward a chest near one of the large windows. I stiffened, wondering what she was up to.

She motioned toward it. “Open it, little fish. See what’s inside. Maybe you’ll find something, eh?”

Even though I didn’t want to, I obeyed. The chest had a strange eye symbol on the top and it was freakishly heavy. Heaving, I grunted as I slid it open.

 A pulsating golden light showered out as I felt a warm power envelop me. I recognized its properties. “Crimerife!” I whispered.

“Yes, little fish, that’s correct. It’s in its purest form. Take it. Don’t worry. It can’t harm you now as its been refined.”

Cautiously, I slipped my hand into the chest, gathering what seemed like liquid shimmering gold into the palm of my hand.

      Closing my eyes, I smelled the subtle licorice scent given off by the energy. I focused, picturing myself flying over the mountains of the Elivagar. Elation flooded my senses. I could feel the power coursing through me. “Yes!” I cried.

     “Aye, lassie,” the queen crooned. “Yer witch self can sense the power. Good. Now if only yer humanity twasn’t holding ye back.”

Dark sapphire scales crawled over my body, as I sprouted wings and horns. Comforting warmth swelled within my throat.

The evil queen chuckled. “Yes, little fish. That’s it! Now you’re in your true form. What a dazzling sight you are.”

But she didn’t know what she had done. I was a beast and she would be defeated.

     With the force of a huge furnace, I blasted her with the fire I’d been keeping within me.

But she waved a staff that magically burst into her hands. It buffeted my blast away, setting the couch on fire, instead.

Instantly, a heavy vine wrapped itself around me along with a gag over my mouth as I transformed back into my witch-girl self.

I was locked down as if a metal net laid over me. I wasn’t able to even raise my head. I tried transform again but the energy was gone.

I whimpered, struggling.

     All I could see was her black boots near me as I gasped for air. I didn’t think I could survive much longer. Her spell was so powerful, I thought I was going to die.

     “That will teach ye never to cross me again. Ye are me pet and will do as I command. Otherwise, I’ll kill off yer friends one by one. Do ye understand?”

    Crying inside, I couldn’t say anything but I nodded.

I hated myself. Why couldn’t I think of a way out?

She bent down and said, almost too sweetly, “No one owns a drakkan they can command such as yerself. Make no mistake–you’ll be at the helm of me army. And when it’s all done, and ye do well, I’ll reward you. Do not worry about that, wee little fish.”

     I swallowed down tears that threatened at the edges of my eyes. Images of me killing people of the Middle and Over Realms was a future I would never let happen. But I needed to go with her madness in order to defeat her somehow.

Let the witch think I was hers, I thought. With the crimerife, I could transform whenever I wanted. All I had to do was free my friends somehow. 

Simple.

Chapter Twenty-six: In the Trap

I couldn’t believe what I’d seen in my dream back at the ruin had actually come true. Brenden’s brothers had caught us. And it was all Brenden’s fault.

Arching an eyebrow, Brenden said, “I think it wise to give the girl and her friends to the queen without a moment’s hesitation, Duff. She’s been searching for the Wishcaster the moment we entered the realm. I’ve felt her.”

“Yes, little brother, I’m sure she has. The old wart infested hag always likes to keep the best treasures for herself. But I’ve been giving the matter a lot of thought and well, I like what I see. I think the girl would do well as one of my…pets.”

My insides flinched. Pets? What was he talking about?

Brenden raised one of his hands. “Not that it matters to me at all what you do, brother, but I must warn you…Queen Casteen has the ogres under her scepter. They do her bidding. I saw it for myself at Gilly’s Trap.” He shrugged. “If you don’t mind starting a war then be my guest.”

“Humph,” the king grumbled. Rising to his feet, he snapped his fingers and a strange force brought me to a standing position. I wanted to sit back down but it was as if my feet had been pasted to the floor. I glared as hard as I could at the evil elf.

“Brenden, you were always a worrier. But I’m not sure I can let such a prize go…especially when the queen won’t use her to her full potential.”

Duff strutted closer to me as my heart pounded. His beauty surpassed even Brenden’s, but his face was more angular and hard. 

“A witch dragon. No one has ever seen the like in how many years? Well, I don’t believe there ever has been one. Think of the rarity.” Duff put his hand over his mouth in thought.

I wanted to scream, blow fire, anything to get away from him. Just being this close sent chills through me.

“That’s true, Duff,” Brenden agreed. “Think of not only the money the queen would reward you, but maybe you could come to terms on how she should finally leave our people alone. We could live in the realm without her meddling in our affairs at last.”

I couldn’t believe Brenden wanted the queen to capture me. But which was worse, I wondered. To be the queen’s who-knew-what or this king’s “pet”?

“Damn,” Duff cursed. “Why do you persistently have to make sense? I’ve always wanted to have something that no one on the planet could ever gain. But…you are right, of course. It wouldn’t be wise to upset the queen. And this witch dragon would be a nice bargaining chip.”

Brenden let out a sigh. “Now you’re talking sense, brother.”

A sly look swished over the king’s face. “And now, dear Brenden. What is it you want from all of this? Besides being given your rights back and the curse lifted, how may I reward you for using your gifting as a true Droor elf? Your cunning in this situation astounds me, I must say. I’m quite proud of you.”

“I only wish one thing. To have my alchemy chamber back. That is all.”


Before I knew what was happening, yellow kaleidoscope symbols glowed from the king’s hands as purple sparks shot toward me. Pain rocketed through my body.

I screamed.

Then a shroud of darkness overtook me.

*****

When I woke up, my head pounded and my body felt like lead. I was in a strange bedroom.

“There, now, me lovely. You’ve had a mighty shock. Are ye feeling a wee bit better?”

My grandmother’s voice shook me but I was too woosy to move.

“Where am I?” I whispered. My body ached from the electric magic that had pierced through my body who knew how long ago.

Suddenly, a cool, soothing liquid seemed to rush through me and I no longer felt weak. My grandmother must have done something, but I was too angry at my situation to ask. Instead, I rose out of bed, surveying the room.

Everything glowed in reddish black luster like the blood red sunset in this godforsaken realm. Candelabras flickered around me, showering my grandmother’s cracked features with an eerie red tinge.

The expensive crimson drapes looked like they came right out of an evil Jane Austen movie. I spied a portrait of a strange ivory woman next to a wolf with haunting red eyes. Harpswing fairies flitted happily above her grasp. Her creepy look gave me shivers.

My grandmother never answered my question so I asked again only more forcefully, “Where am I?”

Gran smiled. “You’re in Queen Casteen’s palace. Oh, you’re in for such a treat! She’s coming to see you, me dearie.”

Eyes narrowing, I glared at her. “What have you done with my friends?”

She patted my hand. “No need to get your breeches in a snit. They’re just fine.”

She cocked her head. “As long as you listen to yer grandmother and not go off on some wild foolish notions. Wishcaster…” Clucking her tongue, she added, “You were not born for that lowly position. Why, you’d be no more than the fairy queen’s servant.

“No,” she added. “You were born for greatness!” Her eyes almost popped out on the last word, making her look like the witch she was. A knot formed in my throat, still mourning the loss of my wonderful sweet grandmother I thought I’d known. 

I ordered, “I want to see my friends. Now. Or I’m not going to listen to you no matter what you say or threaten.”

Sighing, she shook her head. “This’ll not go well if you’re going to order me about. And that attitude will not sit well with the queen neither. If ye want yer friends alive, I’d suggest ye alter yer mood.” 

“What does the queen want?” I asked, hoping there was some way I could escape all of this. If only I could channel the magic I knew I had inside me. But how?

“Well, I’ll allow the queen to talk more about it. Yer to see her soon. Any minute she’ll be sending in the sentry to fetch ye. Now, let’s sit and chat on how you’ll behave. Okay, sweetling?”

I was like a pot filled with water left to boil for too long. “Honestly, I’m in no mood to be on anyone’s good behavior list, Gran. Do you have any idea what’s been going on? Not only has my whole life been turned upside down, but I’ve been captured, three times by the way, lied to by people I thought I could trust, ripped apart to where I thought I was dying, shot at, starved half to death in the cold, and fought over like I was the last item at Simmart on Black Freaking Friday! Well, I’m not for sale. Got it, Gran? And if I don’t want to cooperate, the queen can just kiss my big blue…”

“Ooooh,” Gran cut in, “I knoo just the thing that’ll put ye in a better mood. I’ve made yer favorite cookies. Spiced shortbread!”

She tapped my knee then flounced out of the massive dark door.

My mouth watered at the thought of the cinnamon and sugar cookies. I hadn’t had anything good to eat in what seemed like months. How could my grandmother be so wicked and so nice all at the same time? 

But I didn’t have time to think about it. I needed to get out of there and find my friends.

Stepping to the door, I tried to open it but of course, it was locked.

Noticing a mirror, I caught a glimpse of myself. Yeah, I knew I was blue, I mean, I saw my hands and arms every day, but gazing at my full witchy self actually horrified me.

Then I spotted a picture of an ugly witch right above it.

And she looked exactly like me!

Oh my GOD! Would this nightmare ever end?

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Twenty-five: Traitor

“Ye finks she’ll be all right, Francisco?” I heard Ferbish’s low voice above me.

Woozy, I took a deep breath, opening my eyes. Instead of the dark cavern, I was lying on a cold, stone floor.

“Athena? Are you awake?” Francisco asked, stroking my forehead.

Blinking, I pulled myself to my knees. “Where are we?”

Francisco gulped. “You’re not going to like it.”

“We’re in the Droor Elf dungeons, that’s where we are, Miss,” Ferbish explained.

“And it’s me own damned fault. I shouldna given ye that harspwing fairy. It put us under a spell, and before we knew it, an army of Droors surrounded us. I would have been on me guard but got distracted.”

“But where’s Brenden? And Pigeon?” I looked around and only saw my friends and the gargoyles.

Francisco glared. “He sold you out. When the elves were going to kill him, he explained that you were the Wishcaster and that the Under Realm queen would want to see you. He’s nothing but a coward.”

“I don’t believe it,” I whispered. “There has to be a reason he’d do such a thing. Maybe he’s planning an escape somehow. You said there was an army of elves. We couldn’t fight them off obviously.”

Holly and Ferbish gave each other knowing, sad looks.

“I’m sorry, Miss,” Ferbish said. “It’s as yer friend here says. Brenden got rewarded fer turning you in.”

“Yeah,” Gabby interjected. “And they also uncovered his glamour. He’s a full-fledged, malicious Droor Elf with all the power, too. He handed you over, cackling like a witch. No offense, Athena.”

I rolled my eyes, not believing what I was hearing. “But why didn’t they just take us when we were in the mountains? That doesn’t make sense.”

   Francisco shook his head. “Maybe they needed more elves to attack us. That bird was in on it with him. She watched from above, not helping us fight them off.”

“Yeah, I shoulda known somefing was funny when Pigeon didn’t put on her shroud in the cave,” Ferbish added with a sneer. “But that harpswing made me mind go funny. Bloody hell, I’m so stupid. It was the perfect trap.”

I sat on a cold hard stone, stunned. Everyone followed, not saying anything. How could I have been so dumb? So deceived? But it all didn’t make sense. If Brenden needed me to end his curse, he could have done it dozens of times throughout our ordeal. I just couldn’t believe he was a traitor. When he spoke to me at the ruins, he seemed so sincere. 

But then what if he was the one who spirited us into the Under Realm? And he would need help to get us to the Elivagar mountains near his brothers. Maybe he’d devised his plan while we were at Nurse Mellecant’s home.

My stomach lurched. The thought of Brenden being evil was making me sick.

“I heard the guards mutter that we was going to the Queen soon,” Grigor said, waving his arms. “She’ll make us slaves. Or worse. The queen hates gargoyles.”

“They won’t make me no slave,” Ferbish spat, jumping to his feet. “I’ll fight ’em off or die trying.”

Suddenly, two guards came in. One put up his hands as magical designs like a kaliedescope appeared. Shackles materialized on the gargoyles and my friends. A gag wrapped itself around my mouth, startling me. One guard smirked and said, “We can’t be too careful with you, now can we?” He jerked my arm and brought me out of the dungeon.

The guards ushered me through the castle to a large living area, and I saw what I assumed to be Brenden’s three brothers sitting in some chairs. The middle one wore a crown.

And then I spied Brenden. He wouldn’t look at me.

My head wanted to burst. Traitor! How could he allow them to gag me and treat me so horribly? He knew I couldn’t cast a spell with my mouth. It was so humiliating.

“Ah, little brother, you HAVE outdone yourself this time.” The elf chuckled. “Hello, dearest Athena of the Over Realm. I am Sir Duff McAilf, King of the Droor Elves. I’m so happy to make your acquaintance.”

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Chapter Twenty-four: The Cave of Woe

Ferbish started another fire, its warmth soothing my skin but the vision of Brenden’s brothers and their threat kept reappearing in my mind. “Um…Brenden?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t think I was crazy. “I had a strange dream last night.”

He gave me a nervous look. “That doesn’t sound good. Please share it then.”

I detailed what I saw–Brenden’s brothers only they had tan skin and dark hair.

Ferbish groaned. “That’s them in shrouds, Miss. But I didn’t see anyfing while I was sleeping. They couldn’t be close.”

Grigor shook his head. “Nawr…not close. I didn’t see them either.”

“Are you sure they said they would ambush us as we leave the ruins?” Brenden asked, worry etched along his face.

I nodded wishing it wasn’t true.

Ferbish shot a glance at Brenden. “Then me and Grigor best not put on our shrouds today. Gotta fly. And I don’t fink we got time fer breakfast neither.”

Brenden gulped. “I quite agree.”

Pigeon gave a squawk and flew up ahead of us, not putting on her shroud so she could fly as well.

Ferbish wrapped his arm around me and said, “Sorry, Miss, but it’s the fastest way.”

I smiled gingerly at him, wishing I could turn into that drakkan and fly myself. I was so heavy, I felt badly. Grigor picked up Francisco and Holly. I looked all around, but there were no scary elves chasing us, thank God.

Through the cold air, Pigeon kept cawing loudly to follow her. After a while, I saw the clearing and the fence of Gilly’s Trap. “She’s taking us to the ogres. Why are we following her?”     

“Because now that my brothers know about us,” Brenden explained, “we have to leave quickly. The only way out is through the Cave of Woe. Unless you can use your magic, Athena.” He searched my face, but I only shook my head. 

Ferbish flew into the cave and set me down. Both he and Grigor put on their shrouds, turning into those handsome teenagers again. Luckily, the ogres weren’t anywhere around.

I spied a glow pulsing from within, similar to what I saw in the moor. “Is there crimerife here?”

    Brenden shrugged. “Could be, but I wouldn’t know. Only witches can sense it. I’m an elf that’s been cobbled into a fairy. I have no powers. Do you feel something?”

    Sniffing, Ferbish jerked his head. “I don’t smells anyfing, Miss.”

    “Can you see a glow over there?” I asked.

    “I see nofing. What about you, elf?”

    “I’ve been in this cave before. I didn’t see crimerife, but there could be other things lurking. I haven’t visited the place in quite some time. But, Athena, we must get you back to Middle Realm. It’s the only way. If there is something living there, we’ll have to deal with it.”

I noticed a shimmering pond with a gaping hole in the cave’s ceiling. I shivered. And then I saw the glow, but it didn’t worry me. “Beautiful!” I whispered.

“What is it, Athena?” Holly asked.

“I’m not sure,” I answered, walking closer to the light.

Right in the middle of the cave danced large, shining fireflies. 

As I approached, I noticed the bright glowing things flitting around a bush.

Ferbish raced ahead, whooping. “Well tickety too, would ye look at that!”

“Wait up!” Grigor cried.

Obviously seeing the same thing I did, Ferbish went over to the bush with the glowing dots flashing here and there.

“Come here, ye little imp,” Ferbish cooed as he swiped up something I couldn’t quite see.

With a mischevous grin on his face, Ferbish said, “Close yer eyes, Miss. I have a present for ye.”

Walking over to him, I asked, “What is it, Ferbish? Tell me!”

“Nawr…I promise I’ll show ye, but we gotta be quick. Come here now.

“Open yer hands and be careful or you’ll scare it clean away.”

Draping his arms around around me, I widened my fingers and he placed a tiny pixie in my hands. It had a slender body and a delicate, angular face with wings that looked exactly like a harp. “Oh my God, is this a harpswing fairy?”

“Aye that. Be careful!” he warned. “They’ll bite if’n ye get in their way fer too long.”

Before I could say anything more, the fairy fluttered out of my hands. Suddenly, a warmth fell over me. It was as if my heart squeezed. Next thing I knew I was looking into Ferbish’s eyes as he tilted my chin toward him.

“Did ye like yer gift?” Ferbish asked, his voice so light, it was like a song that I was drifting through. What had come over me?

Without a word, I just nodded, hugging him as he hugged me back. Ferbish felt warm and safe. “It was amazing,” I answered. “Thank you for the gift.”

“Ye was lucky the full moon happened last night and a birth of harpswings was here.”

Suddenly, my head felt woozy as if I’d just spun in circles.

“What are you two up to over there?” Brenden asked.

In a haze, I floated over to Brenden–the dark elf fairy whom I liked so much, he made my heart beat fast.

For some reason, I felt all giddy like a million giggles wanted to bubble out of me. “We just saw a fairy, Brenden. A harpswing. Did you know it looked like a girl version of you only it had sharp teeth. Very cute. I wanted to kiss it but it flew away!”

“Athena…are you feeling well? You’re looking quite pale.”

“I’m feeling fine. The best ever! If only I could feel like this forever, I’d be…” But my mind forgot what I was about to say.

“Yeah, Mr. Elf. We feels just fine. Me and the little Miss got a…”

The warmth I felt earlier ran along my arm and sprang into my chest, satisfying me like sitting by a campfire on a cold night. My thoughts went to my mother and father. My sister. I wanted to see them so badly. I pictured our little house and the tiny garden. Oh, how I wanted to go back to it. I’d never complain again or wish for another life. 

     And then like in a dream, my heart soared to the Middle Realm. I saw myself flying over a sea of sand, yearning for a mountain in the distance. The air whipped around me, buffeting my ears with a loud roar as I flew faster. 

“Athena, Ferbish!” Brenden shouted. “What’s happening?”

Without warning, the warm feelings turned into incredible pain, rocketing through my body and then a shroud of darkness overtook me.

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Chapter Twenty-three: The Challenge

I wished I hadn’t made Brenden talk about what happened to his friend, Rory.

He shook his head, saying, “Rory gave his life for me that day. Somehow, my brothers found out my plan to escape the Under Realm.” Tears glittered in his eyes.

“And they would have seized me if the raven hadn’t used his body…”

Brenden stopped. Swallowing, he said, “Must I go on, Athena?”

     I drew in a deep breath. “I’m sorry about Rory. And I believe you. But I don’t understand about the Middle Realm queen. She looked at you like she hated you. And if they gave you sanctuary, why are you still cursed?”

     “They used a potent glamour on me, basically turning me into a fairy.

“It was the former Wishcaster who talked Queen Oria into it. He took pity on me that day, nearly fifty years ago, as I stumbled into Middle Realm.

“Oria didn’t trust Droor Elves or anyone from the Under Realm for that matter.

“Fairies are one of the most prejudiced creatures on the planet.”

Brenden looked at me. “Including your humans. No one in the Middle Realm knows my true identity, even Lenora, except for the queen and the Wishcaster, Great Guardian rest his soul.

“And that’s why I don’t want anyone else to know my story. The little everyone knows about me the better. Please don’t share this with your friends, Athena.”

I nodded and said, “I won’t tell anyone, Brenden.”

     He wrinkled his brow.

     “What’s wrong?” I asked.

     Dropping his elbow to his knees, he said, “I’m just a bit worried about what to do next. We can’t stay here. As it is, this curse on my body is like a beacon to my brothers. They’ll find me if we stay.”

     I sighed. The wind in the black trees rattled as the moon started to glow. How could a place so beautiful be so dangerous? “Then we’ll have to leave. But where can we go?”

     “The way I see it,” Brenden flinched, “there are only two paths in and out of the Under Realm. The first is through the Cave of Woe. And the second…” He stared at me.

     I knew what he meant but I didn’t want to go there. I felt like a mouse hiding from a huge lion that was about to devour me. Shaking my head, I said, “I can’t get us back, Brenden. I have no idea how I did it in the first place. Maybe it was you as the Wish Book all along. When you were in book form, my magic worked. I wished and it happened.”

    Brenden shook his head. “That’s not it.” His nostrils flared as his eyebrows drew together angrily. “You’ve changed, Athena. I don’t know how or why but ever since you lost your wheelchair, you’ve become scared. Weak.”

     “What?” I screeched.

     “I’ll never forget when I first watched you, you were full of confidence. It didn’t matter who came against you—bullies, teachers, parents, little sisters, you could take on the world, standing up to them.”

He smiled at me. “I’ve never been so proud of anyone before in my life just watching you blazing a trail in that chair. And when you released your power against your grandmother in your backyard, I knew then we had our Wishcaster.

“But ever since Ferbish ripped off that shroud and took away your wheelchair, you’ve doubted yourself. You’ve turned to others for help. Me…

“the stupid gargoyles…

“Francisco…am I correct?”

     I looked at my long fingers and blue skin—these were not the hands I grew up with. I didn’t even know myself anymore. Maybe he was right. In my wheelchair, I had to grow strong for people to see me. I was different so that helped me become bolder…and now? I was supposed to be this Wishcaster that needed to keep the realms from warring and have some incredible power. I felt like Samson with all the strength in the world only it had been taken away by the snip of scissors.

     Brenden poked me in the shoulder and said, “Hey. Believe in yourself, Athena. I do.”

He whispered, squinting, “It’s time. Break the chains you’ve created for yourself and unleash the dragon. That’s the only way we’ll escape.”

     I bit my lip, staring into his dark eyes. “I don’t know if I can.”

     Looking out to the forest in front of us, he answered, “A wise old Brindle elf once said, ‘If you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t, you’re right.’”

     I’d heard that quote before. My science teacher, Ms. Hornblatt, had it on a poster on her classroom wall. “A Brindle elf didn’t say that. Thomas Edison did. A human.”

     Brenden raised his eyebrows. “Who says Thomas Edison wasn’t a Brindle elf?”

     I had no idea. Nothing surprised me at this point. Suddenly, my stomach made a loud gurgling sound.

     We both laughed, cutting the tension.

“Best get by the fire and eat, eh, Athena?”

     My face warmed. “Yeah. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

    When I rose up to go back to the rest of our group, Brenden stopped and pulled me into a hug, whispering, “I believe in you. And know that for my part, I’ll do everything I can to get you back to the Middle Realm. I promise.”

     His words made my stomach do some crazy, mushy things and before I could think, I was hugging him back.

*****

Ferbish caught some fish with his bare hands in the pond near us and we cooked them over the fire, eating until we were full.

“That was the best fish supper I’ve ever eaten,” Holly said, pointing at Ferbish. “You should be a chef. Maybe you could come back with me to the Over Realm and start a restaurant. We could call it the Roasting Gargoyle.”

Ferbish laughed so hard he snorted.

“What would yer fancy human friends say when they saw me muscles and horns now?” Ferbish said, smiling brightly.

“They’d pee their breeches,” Grigor added. “Hey, I’d like to see that, Ferbish. Maybe we should make a visit, eh?”

“I know all my friends would think you guys were cool,” Holly said. “Especially my mom.”

“All right, lass,” Ferbish said. “Tell you what. When we make it out of here, I promise to give ye a visit. But it would have to be in the nighttime. Over Realm is notoriously bright in the day. Would hurt me gargoyle eyes.” He winked.

“Now if’n ye don’t mind, I’m a might done in. Needs me beauty rest.”

Grigor snorted. “Ye means yer ugly rest. Yer about as bonny as that bald stump over there, Ferbish.”

“Am not!” Ferbish pounced on Grigor and the two wrestled until Ferbish forced Grigor to apologize.

The two said good night and then took down the gargoyle statues that were near the entrance and each jumped up on the podiums and grimaced.

“Brenden…” I asked, blinking, “what are they doing?”

“Oh…haven’t you seen gargoyles sleep? They really are worth their weight in gold sometimes if you can put up with their foolishness.

“In their dream state, they are like sentinals guarding over the place they rest. We will be quite protected. I will sleep soundly tonight.”

“That’s about the weirdest thing I’ve seen yet and that’s saying something,” Francisco said, laughing. “But cool, too.”

Next, we decided to go to sleep as well. We all found a place to rest, snuggling close together for warmth.

In the morning as the dull sun rose in the darkness, I woke to the sound of Brenden cursing. “Good Guardian, Francisco, I am not your personal pillow. Have you been resting on me all night?”

Without opening his eyes, Francisco said, “Who knew fairies slash elves were so soft?”

“The nerve! I would kindly ask that you remove your head from my shoulder at once.”

I laughed. The two seemed to be getting along much better lately.

“He did say it nicely, San Fran,” Holly offered.

“Yeah, yeah,” Francisco mumbled. But he wasn’t moving so Brenden gave up.

*****

I went back to sleep. Hazy clouds enveloped me, and then I spied Brenden’s brothers looking for us. It made my heart shrivel. The dream was so vivid, I could have sworn it was real. And these brothers looked different from Brenden’s elf form–they didn’t have the silver hair or pointy ears. Their skin was a tan color, not a charcoal gray. It was so strange.

And one of them was talking about ambushing us once we left the ruin.

When I woke up, I was grateful it was just a dream. But the haunting feeling never left me. Something was wrong.

 

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Chapter Twenty-two: Prince Brenden MacAilf

     “Quickly, traitor,” Ferbish ordered as he flew over Brenden. “I don’t want to spend another moment in the lands of the Droors.” As if on cue, the frosty wind picked up, sending ripples over the shrubs jutting out from the snow.

     “Dear, Athena,” Brenden said, wrenching his head toward me, “I will tell you everything once we’re in a safe place. The ruins are near us where no dark elves will venture. It’s just a short walk from here.” Brenden’s voice cracked, “I promise.”

I nodded at Ferbish.

     Grumbling, the gargoyle cut Brenden’s bindings. Ferbish thrust his face inches from Brenden’s. “Ye better make good on ye promise to the little Miss. If no elf will venture to that place, we can leave yer body for the mealy worms to eat. Don’t fink I won’t.”

     Brenden swallowed, blinking and not saying anything. He rubbed his arms from the rope pinching his skin.

     Urgently, the gargoyles flew us toward the enormous, uneven mountains. Settling on a specific area, Brenden pointed the gargoyles toward the mouth of a small cave. Underneath was a steep cliff. One false step and we would plummet to our death. “There it is.”

     “How did ye come across this place, elf?” Grigor wondered as he gawked at the glowing crystal orb mounted next to an open book.

     Brenden didn’t answer Grigor’s question but said, “We’d better start a fire and eat something before we rest.”

    Ferbish grumbled, “I’ll make the fire. You start talking, elf, before I lose me temper.” He marched over to the nearest tree and started yanking off the branches.

    Grigor followed dropping log after log onto a pile.

After the fire was lit, Pigeon landed on a small pillar next to us. She made a loud squawk.

    Brenden tracked Ferbish with his eyes as the gargoyle came up next to him. “I’d rather speak to Athena alone. This doesn’t concern any of you except for her. She will be the Wishcaster, after all, and if she agrees to allow me to continue, that should be good enough for all of you.”

     Ferbish glowered. “Are ye joking, elf? Ye finks me so dumb I’d let you run off wif the Miss and allow you to spin ye magic tricks on her? No. Ye confess now. To all of us.”

     Swallowing, Brenden responded, “Dear intelligent challenged creature, I’m not so stupid as to think that, but this is none of anyone else’s business. I can assure you I don’t have my powers. As you can see, I’m a fairy in shadow and believe me if I could cast a good spell I would have done it by now and jettisoned us out of this bloody hell hole I used to call home.” Brenden’s eyes locked onto mine. “Please, Athena? I’m not lying. I will tell you everything.”

     “Let me go with you,” Francisco spoke. “I’m with Ferbish. I don’t trust him.”

     Lifting the side of my mouth, I said, “No, it’s fine. I’ll be okay, Francisco.” Turning to Brenden, I asked, “Where do you want to go, Brenden?”

     “Follow me,” he said, moving toward a small bench away from everyone. I sat next to him.

   Rubbing his neck nervously, Brenden began his tale.

“I am the youngest child born to the king of the Droor Elves, Sir Giric Dub MacAilf. I have three older brothers whose mother died a year before I was born. Grieving, my father married my mother, Siobhan, within a few months, and I popped on the scene much to my brothers’ distress. It wouldn’t have been so bad if my father hadn’t doted on me.

“It also didn’t help that my mother would inflict the fact of his preference every time she could.

“I will have to admit, as I grew, I was much more adept in the ways of the Droor Arts, excelling in fencing, riding, and magic.

“By the time I had reached my zenith birthday, to you that would be similar to your fifteenth year, my brothers’ devised a plan to get rid of me. My father had grown old, blind, and sick, and in his dementia, mentioned to my eldest brother, Duff, that I was the intended heir.

“Duff would not be bested by his little brother.

“He brought me out in a fight to the death.”

   I cringed. “That must have been awful for you. What did you do?”

    Flinching, Brenden went on, “Droor law is very clear on the matter.

“I was to take up the challenge or be cast out as a coward. It was kill my brother or be killed by him. It was his right as he would have been the lawful heir if my father hadn’t deemed me his better. I knew I was done for.

“At that time, my brother was a fully-grown elf, and although I had marked potential, the fight would have been over in a few minutes. So, I took a chance that all my fool brother wanted was the throne. But I was wrong. He wanted my death.

“When I told Duff he could have the crown, he flew into a rage, whipping my other brothers against me.

“By the time it was all over, a trial by the Droor Council was set up to banish me.

“My father was powerless against it as all the elves in the Realm were repulsed by my perceived cowardice. A Droor Elf is always brave, always fearless, always cunning. I should have jumped at the chance to defeat my brother.

      “The trial took a mere hour to decide my fate.

“The words were etched with magic on my body and I was cast out.

“My shroud was taken from me, so even in the daytime, all could look upon the curse and sneer at me as if I had a horrible disease. If an unseemly character happened upon me, it was their right to do what they would with me whether that be slavery, torture, or worse. Luckily, I did have my magic skills to get by, but any crafty creature could ambush me in a minute and so, all the magic in the world wouldn’t have helped.”

     I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and my heart sank, thinking about what Brenden went through. The words on his body said to show him no mercy. “But you survived,” I breathed.

     Brenden gave me a dark look. “Yes, thank the Great Guardian. The Under Realm has many exceptional creatures, one of which is the raven. Ravens are special, although fearsome as you’ve witnessed with Pigeon, but if you make a friend of one, you will have a formidable ally. I made a raven friend. His name was Rory.

“He found me in the pit of despair in this very ruin. I was about to take my life through the use of dark magic. It is said that any Droor elf who even steps on these grounds will fall under a curse for the rest of their lives as it was used by our ancestors for torture and other dark arts.

“But it was a perfect place for me. I was going to use the crytallice to wield foul magic to kill myself.

“Thankfully, as I was about to utter the last incantation to obliterate my being, Rory saved me.”

  “He then encouraged me to seek sanctuary in the Middle Realm.”

  “So ravens can talk,” I said, thinking I hadn’t heard Pigeon utter one word other than a few garbled warblings.

    “I wouldn’t call it talking so much as perception. I basically understood what he wanted me to do. Sort of a sixth sense. Ravens are like your Over Realm angels, in a way. They can peer into the soul of a person. He knew I was innocent and took pity on me. That is why Pigeon is here with us now. She knows I hold no ill will against any of you. I’m not a traitor. If I were, she would have destroyed me long ago.”

    Thinking back, Pigeon did all she could to save us, but I didn’t have any sense from her like Brenden talked about. Maybe I couldn’t understand Ravens. But it seemed logical.

   Brenden continued his tale, “I then followed Rory’s guidance to Gilly’s Trap. And believe me, Athena, when I tell you there were no ogres. We ambled down the trail to the Cave of Woe.”

“What happened to Rory then? Where is he?” I asked.

Brenden swallowed, putting his face in his hands. He didn’t speak for a long time.

1apammie

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