Jalessa couldn't believe her luck. She just skipped two whole levels of magic, and now owns the spell book that taught one of Xenoria's greatest Sorceresses. And to top it all off, she had finished all of the homework from her other classes. After brainstorming with Neonni, she was free to examine more of the precious book. She could feel the magic rolling off the book in waves through her book bag. Oh how she longed to release it from her bag right now and read as much as she could. A group of younger witches hurriedly rushed by, their whispered words reached out to her ears.
"Could it be an attack?"
"It means the end of everything…"
Huh? "What are you talking about?" Jalessa asked one of the girls in the back of the group. She spun around, giving her an odd stare before moving to the front of the pack, and away from her. "Okay then…" Jalessa shook her head as Neonni came rushing around the corner, purple tangles of hair framing her pale blue face.
"Hey Lessa," the faerie greeted breathlessly. "What's going on? Why is everyone acting so strange?"
Jalessa shrugged her shoulders loosely. "I'm not sure, I asked one of the other witches but she looked at me like I was crazy and kept walking."
"That's weird…" Neonni raised an elegantly sculpted brow as they joined the river of students flowing to the doors. "Whoa…" she gaped as they reached the doors.
"Oh my King…" Jalessa whispered as she pushed the glass door open and slipped out.
The dark clouds loomed overhead, making the sky look almost angry. As they stared, a small patch of sky turned dark, and slowly expanded. The spot twisted and stretched, until it resembled the "clouds".
"Neonni…" Jalessa murmured under her breath as she struggled to tear her eyes away. "Those aren't clouds… The sky is… rotting."
Neonni gasped. "Jalessa, let's go. I just want to get out of here and go to our spot."
The witch nodded and they began sprinting down the slope that lead to the hidden path they wanted. After squeezing between a rock and a thick tree trunk, treading carefully over big stones to cross a river, and through a jungle of trees, they made it to their sacred place. It was a small meadow, circular shaped, lined by a row of thick trees and shrubs. The grass was a shade of light blue, soft and perfect for star gazing. Towards the far side of the meadow was a deep ravine, and a small rickety bridge. Across the ravine was the complete opposite of their serene spot. The trees twisted creepily. The ground was barren and muddy. Shadows seemed to dance sinisterly, but never close to the bridge. The bridge seemed to ward the shadows off. Something about that evil looking place repelled them all, even Salazar.
Neonni dropped her bag of school books on the soft grass and did a cartwheel before flopping down on her back. She spread her arms out wide and sighed contentedly. Jalessa was quick to join her, minus the cartwheel.
It was amazing how calm she suddenly felt as she smelled the sweet grass and felt it cradling her as she laid down. The only other thing that calmed her in this world was the moon. Here, she felt safe, safe from the terrible thoughts the sky was stirring in her troubled mind.
"Do you remember how we found this place?" Jalessa turned to Neonni.
She giggled heartily. "Yeah, you, me, Raneku and Salazar were running from the ghost boy and Salazar got lost. After we all hid for hours, the ghost finally went home and we had to search for a looong time until we found Sal in that tree!" she pointed to a tall tree across the clearing.
Jalessa grinned at the reminder of all the adventures she and her friends used to have. "I wish we could be like that again."
"Like what?" Neonni rolled to her side and rested her chin on her hand.
"Just... young. Free to do whatever we'd like. All the trouble we used to get away with. The world was ours. We didn't have to worry about classes, or finding jobs, or helping to feed our families. Things were so simple and fun back then."
Neonni's eyes twinkled as she reassured her best friend that there will always be adventures with the four of them.
The witch smiled at the faerie. "Speaking of adventures…" her smile was quick to fall into a frown as the field around them seemed to darken. Her eyes hesitantly broke Neonni's gaze. Another patch of sky was losing its purple hue. The darkness reached out, seeming to bubble as it rolled over and claimed the pastel sky.
A twig crunched behind the girls, Neonni swirled her head around as she sat up, Jalessa leaped to her feet. A very pale boy with spiky black and red hair stood a few feet away from them, his dark eyes glued to the heinous looking atmosphere. His mouth was slightly gaped, the shock and fear clearly written on his face.
"Salazar!" Neonni hissed. "Don't sneak up on us with all this scary stuff happening!" she pouted as she crossed her arms over her chest.
The vampire was quick to readjust his features, erasing the fear that filled his eyes with a nonchalant expression. "I wasn't 'sneaking' up on anybody. It's a free field, I can walk in it any time I please." He huffed.
Jalessa rolled her eyes as she held her hand out to help the faerie climb to her feet. "What are you doing here, Sal?"
"Raneku seemed weird. He went straight home, told me to come by later. I didn't feel like going home, so I thought I'd come here to kill time." His eyes drifted to the tiny faerie standing next to him. "What's wrong with Neonni?"
"Nothing, she-" Jalessa spun around and her brow furrowed as she took in the sight of her best friend staring directly at the bridge they never dared to cross. Her eyes had a frosty white glow. She wasn't moving, barely breathing.
"Neonni..." Salazar reached out for her shoulder, but Jalessa smacked his hand out of the way. "What the hell? What's wrong with her?"
"She's having a vision." Jalessa whispered through gritted teeth. She had never witnessed someone have a vision, but she knew it could be nothing else. It frightened her, the way her friend's eyes turned creepily hazy, and the dazed look on her still face, chest barely moving. "You can't touch her. She needs to see."
"Visions?" Sal repeated. "Why didn't she tell us she was having them?" he looked slightly crestfallen as his arms crossed in front of him, his eyes drinking in the sight of Neonni, full of concern.
"Because she figured you'd react like this and she needed to adjust to the idea of being like this. I mean look at her, she's going to be disoriented when she snaps out of if, and this is going to randomly happen to her for the rest of her life." Lavender eyes met fearful black ones with understanding. "We weren't keeping it from you, she just needed a handle on things before she was overwhelmed with adjusting and your and Raneku's reactions."
Salazar nodded grimly, "I understand, Lessa." He looked back at the faerie and sighed. "I don't like this."
As Jalessa opened her mouth to speak, the frosty glow vanished from Neonni's eyes as she slumped to the ground with a frightened expression. She scrambled back to her feet and rubbed her arms as she shivered.
"Are you okay?" Salazar couldn't keep the worry out of his voice. He hated sounding like he cared about anything. His weaknesses were his own.
Neonni nodded hesitantly. "Yeah, that will take getting used to," she gasped for breath, her thoughts swimming, heart pounding audibly. Her eyes shifted to the bridge. "I saw the three of us, on the other side of the bridge."
"What?" Jalessa swallowed Neonni in her arms, trying to warm the tiny body and stop the shivering. "Why would we be over there?"
Sal eyed the rickety bridge nervously. "Do you really want to go over there?"
Neonni nodded, gave Jalessa a squeeze, and began walking towards the bridge. Shy, easily frightened Neonni was leading the way to their childhood fear. Salazar couldn't believe it. He shared a glance with Jalessa before they sprinted to her side.
They made it to the bridge quickly. The trees on the opposite side loomed darkly ahead of them. They seemed to stretch farther into the sky, eager to mingle with the darkness. Without any hesitation, the small faerie boldly strode across the bridge, her purple tangles of hair flowing behind her.
Taking a deep breath, Jalessa stepped onto the first wooden plank. She could feel a tremble of fear rumble through her chest as her heart beat erratically. The planks creaked loudly as her foot met each one. The rope railings cut into her palms slightly, her grip was so tight. After what seemed like a very long time, she sighed happily as her foot reached solid ground. Jalessa turned around and watched Salazar run as fast as he could over the bridge. The rickety wood groaned beneath the pressure of his speed. Surprisingly, the bridge maintained its form and didn't fall apart.
"Phew! I never want to do that again!" Salazar whispered as he shook his head.
Neonni giggled and elbowed him in the ribs. "We have to get back to the other side, silly."
Sal grimaced. "Right. Thanks for reminding me. Now what?"
Jalessa met Neonni's gaze expectantly. The little faerie shrugged.
"I have no idea, I just knew we had to be over here," she murmured as she looked around. The trees didn't look so scary up close. There were even some blood red flowers along the base of the trees. "Oh look!" Neonni skipped over to the closest flower. Its bright red bulb was slowly opening as she approached it. She bent down slowly to grab its stem when a wooden cane sharply smacked her hand.
"Ouch!" Neonni jumped back, rubbing the tingling flesh.
"If ye had touched that plant ye'd be screaming a lot more than 'ouch'."
Neonni stepped back to Salazar and Jalessa as the cane inched closer, bringing its owner out of the shadows. Neonni gasped as she recognized the little old troll. "You!"
"Of course I'm me, who else could I be?" the troll's cracked lips lifted up at the corners slightly. "I see ye decided to embrace yer visions."
"How do you know about her visions?" Sal asked defensively as he wrapped an arm around Neonni's waist.
"I helped her envision, young vampire. It's rude to question yer elders, boy." The trolls face contorted into an expression of irritation, then instantly relaxed as she smiled warmly at Jalessa. "Ah, ye brought the witch. All is working according to plan."
"Plan?" Neonni raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean plan?"
The troll looked around her cautiously. "Something could be listening. We can't speak of this here. Follow me." With a curt nod, she turned and quickly stepped into the trees she emerged from only moments ago.
Sal stuck his arm out as Jalessa began to follow the woman. He gripped her arm gently but sternly. "Are you crazy, Lessa?"
Jalessa shook her wrist out of her friend's grasp. "Are you? Look around us. Meeting this woman feels right. Let's go see what she has to say."
Neonni nodded and the girls began to slip between the trees.
Salazar muttered to himself, "We don't even know her name, but it's a good idea to follow her." He shook his head in wonder at his friend's lack of caution.
"Madeira." The raspy voice called from ahead of them.
"See? Now is it okay to go?" Jalessa chided as Sal joined them.
"She hears pretty well for being ancient." The vampire whispered soundlessly to the witch.
"I head that too, vampire." Madeira snapped.
Jalessa grinned as they continued into the heart of the dark trees.
"Vero, what are you talking about?" Raneku paced the kitchen impatiently, waiting for the ghost to speak.
"I don't remember much of it, I was really young when my Grandmother told me." Vero pushed himself off the counter he was leaning on and stepped to the window. His eyes grew nervous as he watched another spot of the sky melt into darkness. "For starters, those aren't clouds."
"What are they then?" Raneku's dark eyes peered out the window.
"I don't know how to explain it, but it's the sky. Something is draining our world of power. My grandma said it happened once before when she was little. She said it was something other worldly."
"Something from another world?" Raneku whispered. "Do you believe that?"
Vero spun around, shock plastered all over his face. "Of course! Do you think we're the only world, the only dimension, the only LIFE out there?"
"Just because we've never proven there was another world doesn't mean they haven't found us. But I do believe my grandma was right. Something is draining the power from our world. First the skies. Then the rivers and seas will dry up."
"Then what?" Raneku met Vero's steel blue gaze.
"Nobody knows. But my grandma said when she was a little girl, our world almost ceased to exist. But the King put a stop to it. And maybe he'll stop it again." He shrugged. "Who knows?"
Raneku had to fight himself not to look out the window again. "What if he doesn't?"
"Then it's up to us, isn't it?" Vero patted Raneku on his shoulder. "Come on, let's go visit my grandmother. She can tell us more."
"Are we there yet?" Salazar grumbled. He felt like he'd been walking for hours. It was no easy chore stepping over fallen branches and dodging hanging vines, loaded with thorns.
Madeira stopped walking and looked to her left and right before lifting up a thorny black bush. There were no roots holding it down. Beneath the bush lay a makeshift stairwell. She silently motioned for Neonni to climb down. After a moment's hesitation, she obliged. As her purple hair disappeared from sight, Madeira nudged Jalessa. Down she went. Salazar slowly stepped forward and began his descend behind Jalessa, with Madeira right at his heels.
"You must learn patience, young vampire." She whispered under her breath. "Or you will never succeed."
Her words sent a chill down his spine, but that might have been her breath on his neck. He shuddered involuntarily as they reached the bottom of the stairs.
The stairs opened into a small, rounded room. There were tiny pieces of furniture strewn about. A table and chairs with large, red, puffy cushions looked inviting in the dark cavern room. Jalessa sat on the edge of one chair, her knees to her chest. Neonni took another, but she sat comfortably. Faeries were small, and Neonni was one of the smallest. She was barely a foot taller than Madeira. Salazar, at six foot two, decided to sit on the floor between the girls. There was no way he'd be able to sit in one of the small chairs.
Madeira hobbled to a doorway that led to an unknown room and leaned her cane against the wall. She slumped her shoulders and the heavy black cloak slid easily down her arms, then she placed it on its usual hook. She then approached an old looking armchair. It had a royal blue cushion, and dark cherry wood frame. With an unexpected ease she pushed the chair closer to where the silent group of misfits sat. She hopped in and brushed a strand of thinning, gray hair out of her face. Her smiled showed a few cracked and broken teeth.
"I bet ye are all confused." She began in her scratchy voice. Neonni nodded, eager to hear what she had to say. "Ye faerie, ye have the visions, am I right?"
"Yes," Neonni breathed her response. "How did you know about that?"
"I know many things. It's as simple as that." Madeira nodded. "It is very good news that ye had yer vision."
"Why's that?" Jalessa inquired.
"The prophecy was correct!" the excitement in the old woman's throat turned into a wicked hack. She coughed painfully before continuing, her voice more raspy than before. "All of you were predicted many, many moons ago."
"Predicted? What prophecy?" Salazar's voice was audibly lined with skepticism.
"By a seer!" Neonni hissed.
"Sal! Be quiet so she can finish!" Jalessa whispered. She smiled politely to the woman, her glistening eyes urging her to continue.
"As I was beginning to say," Madeira cleared her throat, "There is a Legend that started about a hundred years ago. Shortly after Montero became King, there was a mighty dragon, the biggest to ever own our skies. He challenged Montero for the kingdom of Xenoria. After an epic, long battle, the king and his army defeated the powerful dragon. Though the dragon wasn't killed, King Montero had a secretive team of witches and warlocks cast a spell on the dragon, banishing it under the ground until the day the spell could be broken. Many years later, the good King's right hand man, a shape-shifter named Aizane tried to free the dragon, against his majesty's will. He was banished to the mountains where his survival chance was rather slim. But survived he did."
"How do you know he survived?" Jalessa's brow arched.
"I saw it."
"You're a seer?!" Neonni gasped.
A grim smile lifted her dry lips in the corner. "Yes, young faerie. I saw another soul banished from the kingdom. A wizard named Tzar. He found Aizane and they kept each other strong over the last fifty years. I recently saw Tzar open a wormhole. They found an entrance to another world."
Sal's mouth dropped. "So what, two old guys discovered another world? Good for them." He scoffed.
"Ye should watch yer tongue, vampire." Her eyes were squinted with anger. "Tzar was a powerful wizard. I know not how, but I do know he has perfected an age spell. Aizane and Tzar shall always maintain a youthful life, until their time is up."
"So, they're ancient, but strong and youthful?" Sal scratched his chin, deep in thought. "What does this have to do with us and the sky?"
"They found an unusual power source in the mountains. It gave them the strength to open a portal, and keep it open. The power source also gave them extraordinary powers. Although Aizane is a shape-shifter, with no magical properties in his bloodline at all, he is now a very strong warlock."
Jalessa shook her head. "How is that possible? How could the King not have used this source on his armies?"
"There are many horrible things in these mountains that ye can't even perceive in yer nightmares. Everything ye've ever been scared of resides there. No one who's ever ventured there has returned in one piece." She grimaced and shuddered.
"So the king didn't know the magic was there?" Neonni spoke up.
"Nay, nor he wouldn't have banished them there." Madeira shook her head grimly.
"So the sky… Is the portal draining power from the sky?" Jalessa whispered.
"First the sky, then the rest of our world." Madeira's eyes locked with Jalessa's lavender ones.
A rustle of leaves and the snap of a twig brought Salazar to his feet, his head colliding with the low ceiling. He cursed under his breath in pain as the sound of whispers filled the cavern. Neonni's eyes grew wide as she looked over to the woman, who remained calm.
"Sit down, vampire. Tis only my grandson." She concealed a snort of laughter with a cough. "Vero?" She called.
Neonni jumped as a tall boy with blonde hair appeared out of thin air. He crouched down lower and gave Madeira a hug. She thought he looked familiar…
"Hey! Aren't you Raneku's neighbor?" Jalessa questioned the ghost boy.
Before Vero could answer, a tall dark skinned boy popped his head around the corner. "Hey guys!"
"Raneku!" his friend's chorused.
"What are you doing here?" Raneku gave Salazar a high five as he lowered himself to the ground.
"We're trying to decipher some weird stuff about the world-" Sal hesitated. Unsure if he believed the tale or not.
"Dying." Raneku finished solemnly.
"How did you know?" Neonni's big eyes questioned the shape-shifter's face.
"Vero was telling me, so we came to see his grandma, and here you guys are!" Raneku looked around at all the faces of his friends. Their eyes were once alight with laughter and joy. Now every pair of eyes held worry and fear.
"Ah, so this is the shape-shifter." Madeira smiled knowingly at Raneku. "As I was just telling yer friends, a portal has been opened in the mountains. I know not where it leads to, only that it must be closed. Aizane, one of the King's former warriors, is on the other side of the portal. Someone needs to bring him back. And seal the portal."
"Who can do that, Grandma?" Vero's baby blue eyes were trained on her face. "The King?"
"Nay, Vero. The King knows nothing of the portal. If he found out, there's no telling what Aizane would do to destroy him. The king and our world are safer without his knowing. But, as wise as he is, the warrior has always been foolish. He would never suspect… say, a group of kids?" Her smile widened as she glanced around at all the gaping faces.
"Are you crazy?"
"We'd be killed instantly!"
Madeira raised a hand and the murmurs ceased. "I have seen it. Yer group is missing three members. Ye'll find them on your way. Together the eight of ye, shall prevail. Ye are Xenoria's only hope for overcoming Aizane. For if he dominates our world, we'd be better off dead."
A pregnant silence filled the room. The only sound to be heard was the fierce beating of hearts.
"Wow," Jalessa murmured, breaking the silence. "How can it be up to us? I don't even know any spells. Oh wait!" she beamed as she reached into her bag and pulled out the heavy spell book. "I forgot! I have Hayzl's spell book!"
"How did you get that?!" Raneku couldn't contain his excitement.
"Did you steal it?" Sal whispered. His eyes were wide as he studied the faintly glowing book. The power seemed to visibly seep off the cover.
"Salazar!" Neonni scolded. "How could you even think that?!"
"Hayzl said I was extremely advanced. And that she wanted me to have it. This book taught her all she knows." Jalessa lovingly ran a finger across the spine of the book.
"Why wouldn't she have given you the next level book? Why her own?" Raneku pondered aloud.
"I know Hayzl very well. She knew ye were destined to have this book." Madeira smiled at the young witch. It looked unnatural on her face, but Jalessa took it warmly and grinned back.
"So what exactly do we have to do?" Raneku kindly asked the old woman.
"Ye must travel to the mountains, and find Tzar."
"Tzar?" Raneku's dark brows knit together.
"The wizard who opened the portal." Neonni whispered.
"Why would we want to find him?" Salazar protested. "Isn't he Aizane's right hand man?"
"Nay." Madeira's raspy voice calmed them. "He was merely misguided. But ye will need his help to destroy the portal. I saw Aizane take his magical talisman. Tzar will be extremely weak when ye find him. His memories aren't intact either. Give him this brew." She leaped off the chair with surprising speed for an old woman and dashed into the other room. She emerged with a ragged looking pouch. She handed it to Jalessa as she spoke. "There is an elixir in here that will restore his memories, and much of his power. He is a wizard of the old ways, and convinced his power laid within his talisman, not his soul. This will help him realize that enough so that he may aid ye all."
Raneku shifted uneasily. "So it's really up to us?"
"Doubt yourself not, shifter. For I have Seen that ye will succeed. Go now, get rest. Meet here at dawn. I'll have a map and supplies for each of ye."
Jalessa was the first to stand up. She thanked Madeira for her hospitality and led the way out. After securing the bush in place over her stairwell, the group ran as fast as they could to the other side of the bridge, their sanctuary. The soft breeze gently played with Jalessa's long curls. She turned to face her friends. They shared the same look in their eyes. Confusion. Stress. Shock. Wonder. Fear. Hope. Yes, they all had hope. They could do this.
"Let's go before our parents get worried. We have enough to think about without stressing them."
Neonni nodded. "Should we tell them?"
"No!" Salazar and Raneku said together.
"We're strong enough to do this. But we can't tell anybody, Neonni." Jalessa grabbed the faerie's blue hand and squeezed tightly. "Let's get going, we meet here before dawn?"
The group chorused an agreement as they left their clearing and set off in different directions, all headed for home. Thoughts stirred in all of their minds, the dark swirls in the sky confirming their fate with every step they took…