“Her black hair swayed in the wind. Her weak body shivered, both of cold and of fear. Her bright eyes and pale skin were the only things they had in common. As if land morphed to her fear, ravens cawed and bloodhounds howled. The moon shone darker, and the trees withered around them.”
“It is not wise to play with dark forces, Anne,” he said the last word as if it was a curse.
She knew who he was. His blond hair confirmed it.
“Brother,” Anne said.
Her black hair swayed in the wind. Her weak body shivered, both of cold and of fear. Her bright eyes and pale skin were the only things they had in common. As if land morphed to her fear, ravens cawed and bloodhounds howled. The moon shone darker, and the trees withered around them.
“I knew what you had done for years, but this has gone on too long. You have become a monster,” Nicolas said, and then added with a mix of sadness and anger, “Anne. You killed him. You know him. Ken. You broke down half the castle, and blamed it on him! Don’t you know? They hanged him!”
Anger flooded through her mind. Then, she looked into the void, saw his light, and took it, his spark, his chi, his spirit. It was easy, because it was fueled by anger. She’d killed her brother, Nicolas the Second, son of the King. He collapsed, and his usually-bright eyes went dull. His pale, perfect skin began to rot and wither. His well-cut hair fell out, and his muscular body began to shrink. Soon, he was just a skeleton.
“No!” she weeped.
She fell to her knees by his side. All her anger was quickly replaced with sadness. This shouldn’t have happened! She was supposed to use this to give life, not to take it! Oh, why did she use this power! Then she collapsed…
Anne woke up to find two blurred figures at her side.
“Ha, what a fool. Who carries a detailed map of their castle into the woods, and then faints? Let’s bring this to the boss and leave this fool out here. Ha!”
With blurred vision, Anne saw the speaker, a warrior. Oh no! Enemy warriors with her map! She cursed her forgetfulness. Her enemies gagged and tied her up. No time to worry. She had to return to the palace to save her father, quick!
This next act would risk her stamina. She had only studied a bit of shadow moving. She had to be in a shadow to do it, and it would take a while, but she was all tied up. She started to concentrate, envisioning the throne room. She started melting away. Oh, she always hated this part, it was so itchy!
She had shadow moved right behind her father’s potted plant in the throne room, in the castle. Next to the plants, banners draped the walls. They were Kar’s colors, light blue and pure white. It seemed to taunt her saying, We have no place for darkness. Her father’s kingly face was twisted with rage, for he was faced with the emperor of Nelf. It was too late. Magic got her this far. It would be hard to use it again.
“You will never take the kingdom of Kar,” the King bellowed.
“Ha! Why would we want your useless city? But your people may make wonderful slaves, Nicolas,” said the enemy’s emperor cruelly.
The King removed his sword from its case.
“Foemaimer and I shall put an end to this madness.”
Royal purple light surrounded the emperor of Nelf’s hands.
“No. Foemaimer will end you,” the evil emperor said calmly.
Suddenly, King Nicolas’ sword wrenched itself out of the king’s hands and impaled him. He was gone, as if a wind picked him up and carried him off.
“No!” Anne screamed.
“Princess, didn’t your father teach you not to spy on your elders?” The evil emperor commanded, “Guards, get her!”
No time to worry! Even though it didn’t seem right, Anne took her drained brother’s chi and his leg power. Thankfully, he worked out a lot. She ran out of the throne room and then out of the palace, still being chased by the guards. She ran and ran, until she came to a deep river. She looked and looked, until she found a metal bridge. Unfortunately, as troll law decrees, every metal bridge must have a guard. The troll guard appeared. Wrinkled, green skin covered his body, and his face was extremely chubby. If she wasn’t being chased, she might have laughed.
Then, he bellowed, “Tell me what you are. If you tell truth, you may pass. If you lie, into the river you go!”
“A monster,” she said sadly.
In one swift motion, he threw her into the river.
“Lie!” the troll said loudly.
Anne tried to call for help, but she was already submerged! She tried to gasp for air, but her silk blue dress pulled her down. Her vision became blurry. She was about to faint.
Whoosh! Someone pulled her out of the water by the collar of her dress. She could breathe only a bit better because now, he was stopping her breathing.
“You trying to drown yourself? Never a smart idea. Oh, by the way, my name is Millard,” said a tall figure.
As her vision cleared, she saw her savior. He was tall and skinny. He wore rich merchant’s clothes. His dark brown hair was ruffled. His eye was light green, just like his skin, and the other had an eye patch. His ears were pointed. Then, she remembered the first rule of royalty: Never trust an elf.
“Let go of me, you elf!” she screamed.
“Royalty is my guess. Definitely from the kingdom of Kar. Well, it’s no kingdom now. Just like you, Anne, are no royalty anymore,” laughed Millard.
He dropped her onto the hard ground. The sleeve of her silk blue dress was ripped, and the rest of the soaked dress was freezing!
“Ow!” she said, in loads of pain. “How do you know my name?”
“Word travels fast around here. Nice job with the troll,” he taunted.
Anger began flooding through her mind. Crash!
“Wait a minute. Where are we?” she said, her tone showed her fear.
“The mountain routes. Why do you ask?” Millard said, pointing to the surrounding mountains.
Suddenly, a huge humanoid creature smashed through the nearest mountain, only wearing a skirt of pine trees. He smelled horrible.
“Mountain giant. Run!” screamed Anne.
Then, Millard laughed.
“Why aren’t you running?” asked Anne, panicked.
“You’re new here, aren’t you. Mages don’t run. They cast.”
He pulled out a crossed flute made of cow bones, carved with symbols of dancing, and began to play. The giant slowed his destruction of the nearby mountains. The music washed over her like water. It seemed almost pure. She became drowsy, then he stopped.
“Not asleep. Nice stamina. Most people last less time,” he said, pointing at the sleeping giant.
“What kind of magic was that?” she asked, surprised.
“Bard magic, the magic of music. So, where are you going to next?” said Millard.
“Take back my father’s kingdom,” Anne said as she walked.
“Alone?” Millard said as he walked behind her on the dusty trail.
“You must not know me. I am a mage too.” Then, Anne murmured, “Not a good one, anyways.”
“Only a few people do the right thing to earn power. Does the name Ken ring a bell?”
“How about you?” Anne said.
Millard fell silent for a few moments. That hit home. It seemed he didn’t earn money clean.
“Anyways,” he said, “We are hundreds of miles away from civilization.”
“Good luck with that, but I could show you to a village. For payment.”
“You said there were none near.”
“I said none civilized.”
“Fine. Show me.”
“Okay, Your Highness,” he said, sarcastically. “Cover your ears.”
Before she could, he emitted a loud screeching sound. The noise made her ears burn. Suddenly, a giant creature burst out of the ground! It looked like a giant silkworm with thousands of spider legs and a drill-like tail. It had the head of a leaf-cutter ant.
“What in the world is that!” Anne said, almost screaming.
“Our ride to Slumberhold,” Millard said, almost laughing.
The ride was the worst. The road was bumpy and had lots of holes, and the creature was extremely careless. She flew into the air at each bump, lucky to come down. Finally, they stopped. Charred ruins covered the land around them. Nothing remained. All of it was burned. As soon as the insect got a whiff of the air around them, the spell was broken, and it crawled away.
“Wha-?” Millard said.
For the first time in the entire trip, Millard seemed confused. A small, green figure around a foot tall emerged from the rubble. He wore red, leather shoes, and rags to cover the rest of his body. A dirty, no-good goblin! Another royalty rule: Never let a goblin enter your personal space, or be even close!
“Grimefur, what happened here?” Millard asked, panicked.
“Nelf happened,” the goblin groaned.
“Do you still have the stone?” Millard asked.
“Of course. Here,” Grimefur said as he handed a light blue marble to Millard.
“Thanks,” Millard said as he ran off.
Anne had to sprint to catch up. They ran and ran until they found a cave. It was not big, but not small. The cave was dry and hot. No matter how hard she tried to block the rancid smell, she could always smell a bit of it. In the cave, Millard began to make a fire.
“You said we would go get help, instead you get a stone!” Anne said, clearly annoyed.
Millard ignored her.
After a few moments of silence, Anne asked, “Why did you run?”
“Nelf isn’t sloppy. They guard the cities they take over,” said Millard, glumly. Then, he added. “You should go to sleep.”
For the first time in the trip, Millard looked depressed. It was odd, but she decided not to mess with him.
When Anne lay down, she realized how tired she was. She hadn’t slept in the past two days! She easily slipped into a deep sleep.
Crackling filled the air. A bird-like face of many colors hovered above her. The castle, her castle, floated above her, carried by the burning spirit of her father calling her name.
“Anne, help me!” said the ghostly spirit. Then, it disappeared.
Anne awoke to the sound of fire. Millard was roasting the stone!
As soon as he saw her shocked face, he said, “Don’t worry. It’s a dragon egg.”
“What kind?” Anne asked.
“So says the marble hater,” Millard teased.
“I want to know now because you said it’s a dragon, and there are hundreds of kinds,” said Anne, clearly getting annoyed.
He seemed cheerful again. That was odd, but she decided not to ask.
“You’ll see,” Millard said.
He lifted up a rock. Crack! She saw no more signs of the egg!
“How could you! Dragons are an almost-extinct race, and you cracked a dragon egg,” Anne screamed.
“I think you just cracked.” Millard said, trying not to laugh at his joke. “Oh, don’t worry! Look!”
Shooting up from the fire came a dragon! It had the face of the creature of her dream. A bird-like face, the feathers shone the colors of the rainbow. It had the body of a snake. Its scales shone like a metallic rainbow. Blue batwings emerged from its back. In less than five seconds, it grew to full size, almost twenty feet long!
“What is that?!” Anne asked, staring, as if she had seen her brother’s ghost.
“Our ride,” said Millard.
Never ride on a dragon. They shot up and down. Weaving through the clouds. Descending and ascending. By the time they got to the front gate of the castle, even Millard looked sick. Millard bowed to the dragon.
“Anne! Bow!” whispered Millard.
Anne quickly bowed before the dragon flew away.
“The dragon senses you want to go alone?” he asked.
“Yes. I have honor. When should I give you payment?” Anne said, worried.
“Don’t worry about it. Good luck,” Millard said as Anne walked away.
Anne concentrated. Her power was like a muscle. The more she used it, the easier it got. She appeared behind the same potted plant where she’d hidden earlier. The evil emperor was talking to his advisor. She breathed in and out. She could do this.
She stepped out from the potted plant, only to get trapped in an orb of purple light.
“Princess, did you think I didn’t see you?” said the emperor.
She summoned a dark energy sword to cut through the orb. He summoned a purple sword. They clashed and clashed.
“You hold on to your power. Let it go. Use less strength. If you’re strong, it will return. Of course, for you, it might not,” the emperor taunted.
“This is for Slumberhold!” Anne screamed.
She summoned all her strength, and he blasted it back at her.
“Go away forever, and I will spare you!” the emperor said, laughing cruelly.
Thousand blasts of energy knocked her out of the palace! She landed on Millard. Before he could speak, she realized something. She was sorry for all she had done, but she had to show it. She held onto something she shouldn’t have. She had to let it go!
She ran to the forest, going as fast as she could. She stopped at her brother’s skeleton. And she let go. She released him from her clutches. Light surrounded her and blinded her. A glowing ball of light glowed above her. She instantly knew it was her brother. The light seemed to whisper thank you. The light flew off into the night. And for the first time in a while, Anne smiled. Finally happy, Anne walked back to Millard.
“Let’s go,” Anne said.
“What about your kingdom?” Millard asked.
“It’s his now,” Anne said.
“How are we going to get home if there isn’t a home to get to?” Millard asked.
As if the dragon sensed his thoughts, it landed next to them. Anne pointed to the dragon, giggling. They hopped on and road into the sunset. Both the dragon scales and the sunset could not compete against Anne’s bright smile, which shone brighter than both.