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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Chapter Twenty-eight Surprise!

After that horrible meeting with the queen, the ogre, Wrathe, helped me up, taking me back to my room. I was so tired, I literally fell onto the bed and didn’t wake up for twelve hours.

My grandmother didn’t come to visit. I guessed she was ordered not to as a punishment. The queen didn’t realize her absense was welcome to me. All Gran did was make me more confused than ever about my feelings toward my family for lying to me all these years.

Wrathe had actually been decent to me. In fact, the look in his eye right before I entered my room was more like reverence. Maybe he’d seen what had happened. I wondered if he hated the queen deep inside.

And hopefully, I could use that to my advantage.

Looking through the closet, I couldn’t find anything decent to wear. The queen was obsessed with the color red, so that’s what I had to put on. Next, I dusted a little makeup on my face all the while trying to think up a plan to at least see my friends.

Then an idea hit. “That’s it!” I exclaimed to my mirror self.

I wasn’t sure if the seemingly nice ogre would go along with me, but it was worth a try.

Gingerly, I peeked out the window of my door. My heart hammered as I prepared what I was going to say. Focusing, I imagined me asking the ogre to take me to my friends and he obeyed my every word.

Knocking on the window, I motioned for him to open it. To my surprise, he did with a slight smile on his face. “What is it, lass?”

“Um…” I said, blinking wildly. “I…have a favor to ask of you, Wrathe.”

“Favor?” the ogre said, arching an eyebrow.

“Yes…you see, the queen said my friends were safe. I just want to peek at them to make sure. I don’t have to even speak to them. Just one glance. It would make me feel better.” I hoped he’d allow me to get close to them. I thought maybe I could summon up a little magic to ferry us out of this hell hole. Ever since I’d held the pure crimerife, I could sense an essence coursing through me. It was worth a shot.

He laughed. “Ye think I’m a dunderhead, do ye? Wanting me to gets in trouble by allowing you access to yer friends, eh? But if ye must knoo, they’re safely put, sitting in a dungeon.”

“Dungeon?” I cried. “They ARE torturing my friends! If I thought my friends were being mistreated, I’d be furious. And Wrathe, you wouldn’t want me to get angry, would you?”

He chuckled, shaking his rather large belly. Not exactly the response I was looking for. “I knoo ye ain’t got a bit o’ magic in ye. Ye needs the crimerife. But that were a good try, nonetheless.”

I gritted my teeth. What a dumb plan. Of course he’d laugh at me. He was right. I didn’t possess an ounce of magic. “Oh…well…it was worth a shot,” I said, shrugging. I was about to head back to my room when he held me back.

Smiling, he said, “Ah, well, let it not be known that we ogres are a hateful lot. And fer the bravery I saw when ye was with the queen, how about I grant yer request?”

“You mean….?”

“Aiy, lass. You can visit yer friends. I’ll arrange everything.”

My insides danced like I’d won the lottery. “T-Thank you.”

Who knew ogres had a heart? Or did my magic spell work? Hmmm… maybe I could rescue us out of the queen’s grasp after all.

We wound through the castle until he took some stone steps that lead to a narrow hallway. This time, the lighting took on a dark, foreboding tone.

Inside my head, I tried to imagine Middle Realm, trying to conjure up those warm feelings. Unfortunately, my mind couldn’t concentrate.

And then when I saw my friends, my throat closed. “What in the world?”

“Athena!” Ferbish cried. “We’re so glad to see you!”

“How did you get here?” Holly asked.

But Holly looked as if someone had put a spell on her. “What the hell did they do to you, Holly? Are you okay? Your ears! They stretched them! Your hair! And those tattoos. What’s going on?”

“Oh,” Holly’s eyes darted like she was caught doing something wrong, “um…your grandmother told the queen about me and they magicked my shroud away. It was even thicker than yours so that’s why no one could see it,” Holly said, guiltily. “I’m…uh…a Brindle elf, actually. Like your grandfather.”

“A Brindle elf? H-How? Why?” Not believing I was asking my best friend these questions. My Holly. The only kid back in fifth grade who wanted to even talk to me. A cripple.

“Look, Athena, I-I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you. My mother made me swear and she promised it was for your own good.”

My legs wobbled as my head spun. This could not be happening. 

“Miss, are ye okay?” Ferbish asked in a worried voice. “Ye wants to sit down maybe?”

“No,” I snapped, “I’m fine.” His hurt look made me wish I didn’t take it out on him, but I was so full of anger, hurt, confusion, that I couldn’t think straight.

Holly explained, “My mother and yours have always been best friends. They grew up together since your mom lived with your grandfather. But when your mother decided to marry your dad in the Over Realm and have you, your mom was scared about your mixed self. As you grew, she knew you held special powers that the Under Realm queen might want. So my mom said she’d help watch over you since she had me.”

My eyes narrowed. “So you were never truly my friend. You were just doing it as a job.” I shook my head. “Figures.”

     “That’s not true. I am your best friend. That’s just how it started is all,” Holly answered. “You’ve got to believe me.

Tears welled up and I wiped them away. I couldn’t trust anyone. How could my whole life be one big lie? How could my mother do this to me? I had no friends. 

I was about to leave them all there without even trying to get us out of this mess, when Francisco piped up, “For what it’s worth, Athena, what does it matter if she’s a Brindle elf or a human or a girl who can turn into a dragon? We are who we are inside. Right? I may be just a human…but I’m still your friend no matter what. So is Holly. Can you just give her a break here? It’s hard enough being stuck in this dungeon…”

I let out the air I’d been holding. Francisco was right, of course. Holly had always been my friend even if she was some sort of monster…just like me. I slapped my hand against my forehead. “God, how could I not see it earlier? What ten-year-old carries around books like CIVIL ENGINEERING IN ACTION and THE SCIENCE BOOK OF EVERYTHING?”

Francisco shrugged. “Holly?”

“Yeah, Holly. The Brindle elf.” I wanted to scream. “And her mother has a degree in Folklore and Mythical studies. I mean please. How stupid could I be?”

“You’re not stupid,” Holly said. “You just didn’t know. I’m…very sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I was going to once we got out of here.”

“Sooo…” Ferbish interjected, “are ye going to forgive her, Miss? She’s a very nice Brindle elf, if I do say so meself. Too bad her power don’t work in this realm or she would have ferried us back to our homes a long time ago.”

I shook my head at this situation. “Okay…” I announced, “if anyone here is not who they’re supposed to be then I want to know right now. Francsico? Are you sure you’re not hiding behind a shroud because if you are, I’m going to be VERY pissed at you.”

With a solemn face, Francisco said, “I can promise you I’m one hundred percent, normal, boring human. No surprises coming from me.”

“Good,” I said, giving him a hug. “I like boring. I can’t get enough of that around here.”

He laughed, squeezing me, saying, “I’m glad.”

“Miss Athena?” Wrathe said, “It’s time to say good bye to yer friends.”

Crap. With all this drama, I’d totally forgotten what I was supposed to do here in the first place. Putting out my hands to my friends, I said, “Let’s ditch this place.”

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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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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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