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-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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