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-one: The Land of the Droors

Ferbish yanked Brenden by the arm and pushed him toward the gate.

After the sun set, the air became clearer to me and Brenden’s skin glowed that strange pale color. Off went both Grigor and Ferbish’s shrouds.

“Been wanting to do that all day,” Ferbish snarled. “Now, fairy, I gots me gargoyle powers and will rip ye from limb to limb if ye try any tricks wit these friends of yers.”

     Brenden winced. “These aren’t my friends. I don’t know anyone here. I only know of a path.”

     The huge man waved at us and called out, “Come along then, all of you. I must be shutting the gate soon. It’s the witching hour.”

The man leered at me. “Seems this one got ahead of everyone and came without her shroud on. Peculiar.”

I didn’t like his tone. But before I could say anything to him, another man came alongside him.

“Best we removed ours, don’t ye fink?” his friend asked, licking his lips.

The man smiled and said, “Oh yes, where are me manners?”

He whipped off his shroud, revealing dark reddish skin, long black hair and muscles that rivaled the gargoyles.

    “Ogres!” Ferbish hollered.

    All at once, nasty monsters surrounded us.

One cried, “They look tasty, don’t they?”

    “I gots the human girl. Ratskin outdid himself, he did.”

    Holly cried out, “Let’s get out of here!”

    Instantly, Pigeon shot her hands up then shrieked unintelligible words.

A green wave of smoke enveloped the ogres closest to us like a wicked snake, sending them crashing to the ground.

Pigeon took off her shroud, turning into a raven and flew above us.

     Growling low with anger, Ferbish ordered, “Grigor, get Holly and Francisco. I’ll take the traitor and Athena!”

     One of the ogres Pigeon missed, lunged toward me as Ferbish scooped me up, flapping his wings in the air.

    Sweat erupting on my face, I was losing my grip on the gargoyle as the ogre yanked on my leg. Noticing, Ferbish kicked her in the head as she howled, falling to the ground.

    Heart beating, we made our escape into the darkness.

Looking over at Brenden’s sad face, he shook his head and mouthed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

    I glared, spitting his lies back at him. Glancing down as we rushed higher over the landscape, I saw endless dark rocks and a smattering of rivers rushing beneath me .

At that moment, my mom and dad’s face flashed in my mind, and a homesick pang gnawed at the pit of my stomach like never before.

I thought about Zelda. I hoped she was okay. Not lonely and scared in a strange place. Shaking, the blood rushed out of my head. I felt trapped. Helpless. Would I ever see my home again?

I longed for the tiny, dusty house, my old bedroom that Zelda had ruined. I wanted my old life back. I wanted to see Adam Slack—the boy I once had a crush on.

I even wanted to go back to my wheelchair.   

     I didn’t want to be this mixed monster. I didn’t want to fix the world. I didn’t want to become the Wishcaster.

    I just wanted to go home.

*****

     After we soared over the darkness for a while, the air grew steadily colder and strangely brighter until snow flurries tingled on my face. I wiped them off.
Ferbish gave a signal to Grigor to land in a clearing surrounded by tall mountains covered in snow. I shivered. Although my tunic was plenty warm enough for me, there was an eerie quality here unlike even at Gilly’s Trap.

It was as if the beauty was hiding something sinister.

Glancing at Brenden, I worried for him even though I was so mad he’d betray us. I had no idea why I’d feel bad for him. He was evil. He deserved whatever the gargoyles were going to do.

      Ferbish retied Brenden’s hands and put them behind his back. He also bound his feet. Pointing at him, he warned, “And don’t try any of yer tricks. I’ve got my eye on you.”

      “Now see here, gargoyle,” Brenden sputtered. “I had no idea those ogres lived there. It was Ratskin. He’s your traitor. Not me!”

     Grigor ordered, “Hush, traitor, or we’ll do worse. We like ye friend’s plan to leave ye to the Balor bats, we does.”

     “Balor bats are too good for the likes of him.” Ferbish spat on the ground. “I say we do him in right now. Get it over wif.”

       Brenden struggled, trying to pull at the ropes. “Stupid gargoyles, you don’t even know where you are. If we don’t move out of here quickly, you’ll all be killed.”

     “Says you.” Ferbish pointed at him. “I ain’t listening to another word out of yer lying mouth.”

     “I’m serious,” Brenden screeched. “Look around. Haven’t you ever heard of the Elivagar mountains?”

     Grigor’s eyes glowed ominously. “Elivagar? Home of the Droor Elves?”

Grigor hit Ferbish. “If he’s right, we best be off.”

     Ferbish waved his thick hand. “We’re miles from there, traitor. Don’t ye fink I know me ways around? We’re near Hemlock Hills. Gargoyle country. It always snows fis time of year.” The gargoyles didn’t seem to be affected by the cold just like I wasn’t. But my friends were shivering. We needed to make a fire.

      I was about to suggest this when Brenden jerked his head from side to side. “Untie me now, gargoyle! I tell you the truth. You must have flown the wrong way. I know this field. If you go just 30 farthings back, you’ll find an old ruins. We could stay there for the night.”

     Now I’d had enough. “Why should we listen to you, Brenden?” I glared at him. “You led us into a trap!”

     “I didn’t! That was the dwarf,” Brenden pleaded. “Unbind me and I’ll tell you who I am and then you’ll believe me.”

      “Don’t listen to him, Miss,” Ferbish warned. “He’ll say anyfing to save his skin.”

     I crossed my arms. “Tell us now. Then we’ll let you go.”

     Francisco came up behind me, whispering, “Don’t make deals with him, Athena. He’s a liar.”

Holly nodded. “I don’t trust him either, Athena.”

     But my friends didn’t know I’d seen a different Brenden in the mist. I’d be able to ask him questions that would be hard to think up lies. “I saw you!” I cried. “I know you’re not a fairy. I saw your dark skin and silver hair and magenta eyes. I read your curse!”

     Ferbish growled, “He’s one of ‘em then, Miss. He’s a Droor elf!”

     Grigor flapped up in the air, mumbling and clawing at his throat. “Oh, I don’t likes the sound of this, Ferbish. Lets be off and leave him wif his kind.”

      “And give him over to his friends for trying to kill us?” Ferbish asked, flying beside him.

     “Better to be off than die a slow deaf in one of them dungeons.” Grigor cringed. “Ye knows Droor elves are nasty fings. They’ll hunt us down for killing him or even for tying him up.”

     Ferbish nodded and said, “Aiy that. He comes wif us then. We’ll fink about what to do wif him once we’re safe.”

     “Yes,” Brenden cried. “Now you’re making sense, gargoyle.”

     “No!” I yelled.

     The gargoyle’s eyes locked onto me.

     “He stays there until he explains himself. I want to know who he is, why he has a curse, and how he became a Wishcaster trainer in the Middle Realm.”

I still am not caught up from the holidays so next chapter will be

Monday, January 14th.

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Chapter Eighteen: A Path for Misfits

Our journey was supposed to be easy, according to Brenden. First we’d trek off road toward the Moor of Dread, sludge through muck for a mile or so, then find a tiny gate called Gilly’s Trap. Our new friend, Ratskin, an old grouchy dwarf, possessed the key to open it.

This would lead us to the Cave of Woe. Nurse Mellecant’s eyes shifted nervously when she explained the cave’s history may have been a little…dark…but we weren’t to worry. She pasted a smile on her face but I could tell she was just trying to make us feel better. If we stayed on the path and didn’t get distracted, nothing horrible would happen to us.

Yeah, right. But did we have any choice?

By reaching the end of the cave, Brenden would be able to open a hidden door with fairy magic to his realm. Under-realmers were not permitted to see it. It was a secret pathway that only Wishcasters used.

     “How do you know about it?” I asked Brenden after Nurse Mellecant told me his plan.

     His face grew dark as if he was remembering something awful. “I have a bit of inside knowledge.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets, excusing himself, suddenly having to go to the bathroom.

     Our troop walked toward the woods– me, Ferbish, Grigor, Brenden, Holly, Francisco, Ratskin and another friend of Nurse Mellecant’s, Pigeon. She was as small as the dwarf with short spiky dark hair and huge, magenta eyes. I had no idea why she was coming along, but Miss Mellecant assured us Pigeon would be a fearsome ally. I didn’t understand who would fear her. She might have looked a bit goth but couldn’t frighten a rabbit.

   As we walked, the hood Miss Mellecant gave me itched, so I took it off. There didn’t seem to be anyone around to worry over my un-shrouded self.

  “So let me get this straight,” Francisco put his hand out toward the fairy. “We’re just supposed to blindly follow Brenden to a swamp, a trap, and a cave that sounds like my last nightmare.”

     Brenden looked disgusted. “What choice do you have, old chap? If you don’t like my plan, I suggest you figure out another way.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh yes, I think trotting off Hangman’s Cliff would be the perfect choice. It’s to your right. Just follow the gravel road.”

     “Nice,” Francisco sneered, glaring.

     “Hey, you two,” I said, “could we call a truce? The journey’s going to be hard enough without you bickering all the time.”

     Brenden floated toward us and said, “Then tell your boyfriend to keep his trap shut and you won’t be bothered by a thing.”

    “You’re impossible.” I raised my hands then hobbled away from the two morons.

     Stumbling over my big feet, Ferbish rushed over to me. “Easy,” he said, winking one of his dark blue eyes.

“Wish ye got yer wings out do ye?” he asked.

     “Wings?” I asked, confused.

     “Aye,” Grigor interjected. In his shroud, he was a bit shorter than Ferbish and plump but solid like he could have been a football player in my world. “You gots the wingspan of a giant eagle, ye do.”

     Ferbish gave Grigor a look. “Nawr, you dolt. A dragon! She gots the wingspan of a dragon or did ye forget that ye wet yer pants when ye almost turned to ash by her the other night.”

     “Awr, do ye have to remind me, Ferbish?” The teen boy rubbed the back of his neck and sulked.

      “Enough of yer yammering.” Ratskin the dwarf waved his hand. “Or I’ll poke yer voice boxes right out of their skins. Nurse Mellecant didn’t pay me good gold to suffer this nonsense. I’ve got a wife and children waiting for me, and I’d rather cozy up to a warm fire with them, taking the gold besides and not open yer fool gate.”

     “Why do we need you anyway, dwarf?” Brenden asked, curtly. “Just give us your key and we’ll let you on your way.”

     “Heh.” He shook his head. “Key’s worth more than any of your lives to me. I won it off one of the queen’s spies in a game of Stone Crow. She don’t even know I gots it. Ye think I’m going to award it to you pups?”

     He laughed, shaking his large belly as he waddled along.

     Holly sidled up to Pigeon. “So, where do you live?” Holly was great with strangers. In half a minute, she’d learn about their deepest secrets and favorite songs.

    Pigeon’s magenta eyes widened as if she’d seen a ghost.

She ran up ahead of our pack, not saying a word.

    “Weird,” Holly said, giving me a sidelong glance. “Okay, Athena, your friends and relatives are officially in the hopelessly freaky category. Sorry to say that.”  

     “Oh, don’t I know it,” I answered. “And I’m the queen freak.”  

    Holly squeezed me in aside hug. “Aw, don’t say that. I was just joking. So you have a witch for a grandmother, an elf-witch for a mother and you happen to be able to breathe fire sometimes. Is that so horrible?”

     I shook my head and sighed.

     “Look on the bright side,” she went on, “you can make s’mores whenever you want with that breath of yours. Pretty handy.” She plastered on a huge smile. That made me laugh.    

     After a few hours of walking, the tops of my feet felt as if someone had hammered them with bricks.

My body was definitely not used to walking. The hobbling only worsened until I was faltering.

Brenden loitered in the back and kept encouraging me to keep up, but that didn’t help me go any faster. I knew he was worried we wouldn’t make it to the gate by sundown.

It also didn’t help that the cobblestone streets had turned into a sporadic stone path, leading into a dark, ominous forest. The branches clicked together in the chilly wind, sending ripples down my back. When I thought I’d have to stop and rest, Ferbish pushed his ass in front of me and said, “Here, Miss.”

    I pulled my head back and asked, “You want me to spank you?”

    Grigor howled and doubled over, he was laughing so hard. “Oh…hee…if you only knew!”

     I put my hand on my hip. “Um…no.”

     Ferbish stood up and poked Grigor’s head.

     Grigor stumbled away, muttering curses.

     “That’s fer gettin’ smart,” Ferbish hollered. He turned and smiled at me. “Yer tired, aren’t ye?Climb on me back. Go ahead. Don’t be shy. I don’t work in the mines all day fer nothing. Gots me a strong back if I do say so meself.”

     I had two choices. Either ride on Ferbish’s large back feeling embarrassed or I could keep walking as tiny knives drilled into the tops of my feet. I knew my answer.

     “Okay,” I said, climbing awkwardly onto Ferbish, “but this is only until we get to the marsh.”

     “Hold on tight!” Ferbish cried, charging toward the front of our pack.

     I whooped, catching Brenden’s shocked face.

He chased after us. “Gargoyle, put her down this instance!”

    Ferbish laughed and galloped ahead until we couldn’t hear Brenden’s protests any longer. I felt like a little kid again, riding on my dad.

This gave me a pang, longing for home. I sighed.

     “What’s the matter, Miss?” Ferbish asked, slowing to a walk. The jarring movement reminded me of when I once rode a camel at a Christmas festival.

     “Are you sure I’m not too heavy? I’m like huge now.” I didn’t want to talk about my family. Too much had happened and it would make me sadder and miss them more.

      “Nawr. You’re as light as a harpswing.”

     “A harpswing. I’ve heard one of the fairies say something about that. What is it?”

     Ferbish didn’t say anything for a moment then he said, “They grow in the full moon’s light and last for only a day. They’re the closest thing we have to fairies, Miss. Tiny. No bigger than me thumb. And thin. Their wings are in the shape of a harp. That’s where they gets their name.” Ferbish turned his head and smiled up at me. “And they bring great good luck, they do. I’ll catch one for you, Miss. If’n ye wants me to.”

     “Sure. I’d love to see one.”

     “When the full moon rises, I’ll make a present of it.” He winked.

     My face grew warm. I had no idea why I was blushing. I only wanted to see a tiny Under Realm fairy. They sounded sweet and I hadn’t seen anything sweet in the Under Realm yet. Myself included. But if I thought about it, Ferbish was sweet.

     The wind rose up, whipping at my hair. The tree limbs clattered like a chime of bones.

     Ferbish’s back grew taut and he stood still. “Do ye smell somefing?”

        He sniffed the air like a dog on a scent.

      I breathed in deeply, sensing moisture as if a thunderstorm was about to erupt. “Rain?”

      “No,” Ferbish muttered, thick with worry. “Myrrh Mist.”

Next update will be Wednesday, December 26th. 

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Chapter Seventeen: The Plan

     “Dragon?” I hollered. “What were my parents? Beasts? Oh GOD!”

     Brenden shook his head. “You don’t understand. In your mixed state, somewhere in your lineage there was a…ah…changeling.”

     I jerked my chin down. “Changeling.”

    “Yes. That’s a person who can turn into a beast or animal at will. Your ancestors must have been able to morph into a dragon type human or drakkan, which is very similar to what I saw last night when you…”

     “When I what?”

     “Breathed fire.” His eyes nearly glowed.

     I slapped my hand over my mouth remembering the cauldron I felt inside me after the shroud was torn off.

     He continued, “Now this can be a characteristic of elfin, witch, or even human lineage. Who knows?” Brenden sat down on the edge of the bed, thinking. “But if it did come from your human line, it must be very ancient indeed. Changelings were burnt at the stake in Over Realm ancient history and none survived if they were ever discovered.”

    I looked at my skin. It almost sparkled in the candlelight, each scale glinting, but when I touched my arm, it was smooth as satin. “If I’m a changeling, why am I like this permanently?”

     Brenden shrugged. “I’m sure it’s the rare mixture of your bloodline. Honestly, the fact that your grandmother and grandfather met and fell in love is a miracle. Add that to your mixture of a human father and an elf-witch mother…” He gave one sharp shake of his head. “Probably has never happened before. You, my dear sweet Athena, are an…an…”

     I flinched. “An abomination.”

     Brenden shook his head. “No. An answered prayer.”

    Arching an eyebrow, I said, “Come on, Brenden. You want me to swallow that? I mean, why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden? Yesterday you were disgusted.” I’d seen first hand that both fairies as well as Under-realmers were prejudiced against some races. 

      “I knew it was wrong of me but…” Sighing, he shook his head like he was shaking off a bad memory. “It was a reaction I’m not very proud of. I thought you were a witch and witches…well…” Blinking several times, he went on, “Most of them become drunk with power once they find their way to…a certain substance.” He held my eyes for a moment then looked down. “But…what I forgot is you are well…you. I trust you, Athena.” He gave me this look that could melt the biggest glacier. “I do hope you’ll forgive me and not think on how I acted. I’m most ashamed of myself.”

   Wanting to believe him, I gazed at him for a moment too long when flutters flew through my body. I had to catch my breath. There was something about fairies that put a spell on me. Ugh. So, I decided to change the subject. “W-What about my sister, Zelda? Is she a drakkan, too?”

     “It’s hard to say,” Brenden shrugged, “but since she’s not in a wheelchair, she obviously doesn’t have a magical body to subdue.”

    My changeling body gave me the creeps. I didn’t even know how I turned into that…drakkan. It was so surreal. “Yeah. Maybe she just takes after my dad.”

    Brenden raised hiseyebrows. “Maybe, but she does have The Sight, which is a rare witchling trait.”

    “The Sight?” I asked.

    “She could see into the future. Remember when she took me as Wish Book out of your backpack? You didn’t see it, but she grabbed me while you were talking with your parents. And once she did, I could feel her emotions, and she was frightened.”

    “Yeah, I remember,” I said, thinking about Zelda worrying about me that time in my bedroom.

    “She must have seen your grandmother and that wicked Under Realm queen going after you. If that’s the future then it hasn’t happened yet. She could also see through shrouds.”

    I blinked a few times.“I remember her telling me I wasn’t like the bad people. They were ugly, but I was…” I stopped, blood rushing to my cheeks.

    “Dazzling?” Brenden asked, beaming.

    I pursed my lips. “No…anyway, I don’t like the idea that Zelda can see into the future and the queen and my grandmother will capture me.”

    “Maybe it’s a future that doesn’t have to be but might be.” He arched an eyebrow. “Nurse Mellecant has provided us with a map and I’ve devised a bit of a plan. With much good luck, we’ll escape without ever running into your wicked friends.”

    The next hour or so, Brenden outlined his strategy to escape into Middle Realm. Using the map provided by Nurse Mellecant, we’d steal into the forest with a team of misfit Under-realmers, including the gargoyles, Ferbish and Grigor, and my newfound fire breathing dragon skills, just in case anyone tried to stop us. He told me the night the gargoyles pulled off my shroud, I’d actually turned into a ferocious drakkan with huge horns and dragon wings. He thought I was going to cast some spell on all of them at first.

But then I surprised them all by spewing fire at poor Grigor from my mouth! I would have been overjoyed at the prospect of turning into a beast whenever I’d wanted except for the fact that it’d nearly killed me. Nurse Mellecant said I just needed time to toughen my body, and I’d be able to use my dragon breath at will.

   Over the next few days, my strength grew as I’d drank a ton of that delicious elixir as well as walked through Nurse Mellecant’s “garden” all the time.

 It was full of ratty trees and tons of bats who happened to like Brenden for some reason.

Francisco got a kick out of the poor fairy’s misery.

After Nurse Mellecant deemed me fully recovered, the time had come to say good-bye. Unfortunately, I couldn’t force myself to turn into a drakkan no matter how hard I tried. Nurse Mellecant told me it will happen naturally, so I shouldn’t worry, but the thought of roaming around the Under-realm without a shroud and without the protection of my dragon breath made me want to hide under the bed forever. And that’s even with Nurse Mellecant’s pet monsters living there. Yeah. I was totally freaking out.

     “But won’t people get the wrong idea if I’m not in my shroud?” I asked her as Francisco tugged on my arm for us to leave.

Over the week, I’d learned shroud etiquette of the Under-realmers. Not wearing it during the day was like walking around the neighborhood in your underwear. We’d attract a lot of attention if I paraded around in my mixed-monster self.

     Nurse Mellecant said, “Just wear a hood…none will be the wiser, lass.” She pointed at Holly. “I’ve given her your shroud.”

     Holly patted a side pocket on her pants and smiled.

     “Don’t wear the shroud unless you absolutely have to because once attached, you can’t take it off,” the nurse warned. “If you do, you’ll suffer the excruciating pain you did before. I don’t have time to weave you a new, lighter shroud, but Brenden assures me this will be done once you arrive at Queen Oria’s palace.”

     After many good-byes and hugs, we were on our way.

Next update will be Monday, December 24th. 

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