Don't forget the question at the end of the chapter.
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There was no doubt that Meylyne had the best seat in the house. Perched in a sprawling Orange Willow, she wedged herself between two branches and looked down. Tyr’s town square had never looked so crowded. Hundreds of people jostled and shouted beneath her.
“Is the entire Above-World here?” she whispered.
“Yes,” the tree whispered back. “Prince Piam only visits once a year.”
Meylyne blinked in surprise. Not because the tree had talked to her — she was used to that — but because she hadn’t realized the prince was so private. Leaning forward, she saw brightly-colored scarves and jewels flashing in the sunlight while peddlers’ carts rocked within the flood of people.
The smell of kettle-corn and nutmeg wafted up to her.
“No way will they all fit. You can barely squeeze the Tyrians into their town square — let alone all the other Above-Worldians too!”
The tree’s twigs jabbed at Meylyne’s arms and face, forcing her back into the shadows of its branches.
“Ow! Stop it,” she protested.
“Well get out of sight! You aren’t allowed in the Above-World — you’re trespassing here. You know what’ll happen if you get caught!”
The Shadow Cellars, Meylyne thought. Dank dungeons full of bones and worms and vengeful ghosts. And the tree would get the axe if the Royals knew it had helped hide her. She pulled a large orange blossom in front of her. The tree was right. No sense in taking chances.
More and more people swarmed into the square. Just as Tyr was bigger than its neighboring cities, its inhabitants were on the bigger side too. The Tyrians stood in clumps, looking large and faintly orange-hued from the dust of the Orange Willows while the others climbed on the benches and tables, hoisting their children with them. Some even spilled into the icy-cold pond. Here and there, small skirmishes broke out between the Tyrians and their neighbors. A small boy, perched on his father’s shoulders spat shaved ice through his straw at a canary cage hanging from a birdseller’s cart.
“Knock it off or I’ll put you in cage!” the bird-seller roared.
“My bonnet!” another voice howled. “You’re trampling my new bonnet, you buffoon!”
Meylyne giggled as she spotted the hatless victim — a very skinny lady with her hands clamped to her head.
Weedy little thing. I bet she’s a Welkan.
Welke was one of the cities directly bordering Tyr and its plants-only diet left the Welkans with a greenish pallor. A man bent over to pick up the lady’s hat, knocking into at least three others with his big bottom. Even more people yelled at him.
“Don’t you shout at my husband,” a woman bellowed. “This is our town square — you Welkans can clear off!”
The father of the ice-spitting boy set down his son, his face red and radish-like with rage. Fortunately a town sentinel strolled up at that moment and everyone moved apart, grumbling.
“It’s dreadful,” the tree tutted. “The Above-World used to live in harmony. Now you’d think the Tyrians and Welkans hated each other.”
“Yes, terrible,” Meylyne replied distractedly. A honey-skinned peddler had caught her eye as he weaved deftly through the crowd. Fragments of his cries floated up to her.
“… silks from Ka-Ffyr … spiced apples, three for a penny …”
“I’d give anything for an apple,” she murmured.
“Don’t even think about going down there,” the tree replied. “You stay where you are –”
The tree’s words were drowned out as someone boomed through a megaphone—
“MAKE WAY! MAKE WAY! HERE COMES PRINCE PIAM!”
The crowd parted to let through a line of guards mounted on white horses. All wore the Cardinal House uniform — black feathered helmets, gold-and-turquoise suits, and shiny black boots. The horses’ manes were braided with gold ribbons and bells jangled around their ankles.
Thirteen guards. Those tall orange-faced ones must be Tyrians. The little sprouty one’s a Welkan. She squinted at the others.
They were further back and harder to make out. One of the guards looked toward her and she ducked back behind the branches. After a few seconds, she peeped out.
He was still looking at her.
Her palms began to sweat. Counting to ten, she peeped out again and her whole body sagged in relief.
Phew. He’s gone!
“That was far too close,” the tree reproached her, trembling. “I’m shaking in my roots! What if he had suspected something?”
Meylyne swallowed. Trespassing in the Above-World really was the stupidest thing she had ever done. Well, not so much the trespassing—it was the hanging around part that was stupid. After all, she’d got what she came for. Reaching into her pocket, her fingers closed around a small, hard object.
Mother won’t believe it when she sees what I found for her.
Picturing the look of happiness and admiration on her mother’s face, a warm glow swelled inside her. She could stay a few extra minutes to see Prince Piam. No one would notice her. She was too small to be mistaken for a Tyrian and too big for a Welkan, but with her long black hair and pasty complexion she could easily pass for a merchant’s daughter from Mirym.
“Don’t worry. I swear I’ll go home the minute I’ve seen Prince –”
Meylyne’s mouth snapped shut as a squat, roundish lady crawled up next to her. Pink-faced and puffing, she looked around and then stared at Meylyne. “Who are you talking to? Shift over, dearie, there’s room for two up ‘ere.”
“I don’t like her,” the tree whispered.
Meylyne studied the lady as she ogled the crowd. She obviously hadn’t heard the tree. Not that that surprised her. Apart from her father, she was the only Hearer left that she knew.
Meylyne studied the lady as she ogled the crowd. She obviously hadn’t heard the tree. Not that that surprised her. Apart from her father, she was the only Hearer left that she knew. The lady’s jowl hung down from her chin to the base of her neck and wobbled violently as she waved her arms in the air, squealing, “I think I see ‘im!”
The branch beneath them swung from side to side, tipping Meylyne out of her nook. She grabbed hold of the branch above her.
“Oops—sorry dearie!” the lady apologized, grabbing the back of her cape. “Didn’t mean to do that.” She gave Meylyne a quick once over. “What’ve you got underneath that cape? You look more like a big black crow than a little girl!”
And you look like a big pink iguana.
“Get away from her,” the tree urged. “She’s trouble.”
The lady squealed again. “Oh look! It is ‘im!”
“Move back,” the tree hissed. “Now!”
Meylyne bit her lip. If I move back now, I’ll miss my chance to see Prince Piam.
“In a second,” she murmured.
Crouching down next to the lady, Meylyne ignored the tree’s sighs as another procession trotted into the square. It was led by a boy with blond, shoulder-length hair and skin the color of caramel and although he wore the same uniform as the guards, he was clearly not a guard. Sitting very straight on his beautiful Palomino mare, he smiled and waved at the people around him.
The lady elbowed Meylyne.
“You can tell he’s a Cardinal, can’t you? Look at them big brown eyes and dimples. Ooo but he ‘as grown. I saw ‘im last year and ‘e was ‘alf his size then! He looks to be twelve now.”
Yes, Meylyne thought, her eyes riveted on the prince. He does look about my age. But so ordinary. You’d think with his disease and being a Cardinal prince and all, he’d look a bit different.
“He’s coming right this way!” the lady wheezed. “Oh but he’s a scruffy one. Look at his hair all uncombed like that! Merciful heavens, he’s comin’ right underneath us—Prince Piam … Prince Piam!”
Leaning over the branch, the lady stretched a pudgy hand toward the Prince, shoving Meylyne to the side as she did so. There was a loud snap as one of the branches broke.
“Whoah!” Meylyne cried, grabbing at some twigs above her. They came away in her fingers. Her stomach gave a terrifying lurch. She was going to fall. There was nothing she could do. The lady thrust out her hand to Meylyne, her eyes wide with horror. Their fingertips brushed and then—
Meylyne plummeted toward the prince. His head snapped up right as she hit him square in the chest. Together they thudded to the ground. Dazed and winded, she was dimly aware of the prince’s mare rearing up, her hooves flailing. The first guard grabbed the reins, pulling her away while the second and third guards dropped to the prince’s side.
“Are you alright, sir?” one guard asked. The other guard grabbed Meylyne’s cloak. In a flash, she was on all fours. Scooting backward, she twisted out of his grasp.
“Oy—you! Come back here!”
Meylyne scrambled into a thick ring of ferns bordering the pond. The dense leaves instantly swallowed her up. The guard made as if to follow her.
“Leave her,” another guard cried. “The prince is looking like puddled milk. We have to get him back to the palace, sharp-like!”
“Heavens, you’re right! Come on then, let’s get him on his horse. You lot — find that girl!”
Meylyne heard the guards grunt as they heaved the prince onto his horse and then hooves clattering as they charged out of the square. Others began poking their swords into the ferns. Meylyne gasped as a sword grazed her chin. On her hands and knees, she scuttled around to the other side of the pond as fast as she could and peered out. A mass of legs ran this way and that. She waited for a break in the traffic and then sprang into it. Pushing her way forward, she caught flashes of steel through the people crisscrossing before her. She was on the other side of the square—the entrance not far away.
“Keep walking,” she muttered to herself. “You’re almost at the gates. Just a few feet more …oh no!”
Guards stood on either side of the gates. One looked straight at her and she ducked into a tea-house. It was dark inside, with no one behind the counter. The armchairs and tables were empty too. A smell of orange and cardamom wafted from a pot, hanging over a fire. As Meylyne sped toward the latrines in the back, she heard someone entering behind her.
“I know you’re in here,” a voice warned. “Come out and there’ll be no trouble.”
Meylyne ran into one of the stalls and locked the door behind her. There was a small window above one of the clay commodes, just big enough for her to squeeze through.
Please, please, please be open.
She climbed upon the commode and pushed the window. It didn’t budge. An old latch held it at the top. While she struggled with it, the door to the latrines opened and slammed shut. Footsteps thudded toward her stall. The door handle jiggled.
“Open up at once!”
Meylyne set her eyes on the latch. “Vagabotch!” she hissed.
The latch began to swell and Meylyne ducked as it burst, shards of rusty metal clattering into the walls around her.
The door handle stopped jiggling and the voice came again. Now it sounded alarmed.
“What’s going on?”
Great. Meylyne groaned inwardly. Just add unauthorized use of magic to my list of crimes.
The latch was supposed to have melted quietly, but as usual she’d got the incantation wrong. Hoisting herself up onto the windowsill, she looked down. The street below was empty. Just a short drop to the ground and she was free.
There was a crash and the door to her stall flew open. A voice roared behind her.
“Hey — stop!”
Meylyne felt a hand brush the back of her cloak as she jumped. She landed on her hands and knees, got her bearings, and then dashed into a deserted side street. A few feet away, a grate rusted in the ground. Within seconds she was on her haunches, grunting as she heaved it aside. A set of rungs led down below. Lowering herself into the hole, she clung on with one hand and gritted her teeth as she pushed back the grate with the other. It slowly scraped into place.
Meylyne leaned her forehead against a rung. She knew the guard wouldn’t follow her into the Between-World — trespassing in another world was far too serious an offense. She enjoyed a fleeting sensation of relief before the horrible truth sank in.
And that’s not even the worst thing I did today!
As Meylyne climbed down the ladder, she began to shake uncontrollably.
If only I’d listened to the tree when —
Meylyne’s head jerked up. To her right was a cave and peering from one of the upstairs windows was her friend Trin. He looked like a boy in a bird suit, but in fact his feathers and beak were real because Trin was a garlylse — a native of the Between-World.
“Meylyne! What the…?”
Trin trailed off as he got a good look at her. Her hair was full of leaves, she had a bloody chin and her cloak was torn.
“Stay there,” he ordered. “I’ll be right down.”
A few minutes later, Trin hurried from his cave. His red-gold feathers were lying flat and looked damp, like he had just had a bath.
“What happened to you?” He glanced up at the grate and then back at Meylyne. “Tell me you weren’t in the — ” he lowered his voice. “Above-World!”
Meylyne nodded. The look on Trin’s face was so awful that for a second she was afraid she might cry. Trin grabbed her wrist and pulled her around to the side of his cave, out of sight. Although they were the same age, he had about three feet on her.
“What? Why? You know you’re not allowed up there, even if you are half-human!”
Her chin wobbling, Meylyne gave Trin an impatient look. He was one of the most intelligent garlysles she knew, but he said the most obvious things at times.
“Of course I know that.” She took a deep breath. “I did it so I could find my mother’s opal — ”
“And that’s another thing,” Trin interrupted. His expression was grave. “Your mother’s looking for you.”
“No! She was supposed to have been gone all day. Does she know I was in the Above-World?”
Now it was Trin’s turn to give her an impatient look.
“Your mother is Glendoch’s most powerful alchemist. I’m sure she knows! You’d better get home right now –and I mean right now.”
He peered over his shoulder. “If she catches us chatting, she’ll turn me into a speckled slug. Try to come over later. We’ll wait up for you.”
By “we” he meant himself and his twin, Train. They were Meylyne’s best friends. Well, her only friends to be honest. None of the other garlysles wanted anything to do with her, what with her scary mother and even scarier father. He gave her a quick hug and sped back inside his cave.
Fingering the tear in her cloak, Meylyne’s mind scrambled for excuses. She gave up. In no way were trespassing and flattening the Prince excusable.
As she trudged down the maze of red clay tunnels leading to her cave, beads of sweat gathered on her forehead and she shrugged off her cloak. Colorful rugs, talon-crafted by the garlyles, decorated the ceilings and floors but Meylyne paid no attention to these right now.
She felt sick at the thought of what she’d done.
All too soon, she entered into her tunnel. Her footsteps slowed down as she approached her cave. Her Great-Uncle Groq lived just a few doors down.
Forget about Mother. He’ll be ten times worse when he finds…
She jumped as her front door was flung open.
Her mother glowered down at Meylyne, lancing her with her ice-picks eyes, raven-black hair coiled on top of her head like a serpent ready to strike. A blue vein pulsed in her temple.
“H-hello Mother. I — ”
“Not a word,” her mother hissed. Seizing her arm, she dragged Meylyne inside their cave, slamming the door behind them. The small, stark living room looked just as Meylyne had left it The small, stark living room looked just as Meylyne had left it. A sagging brown couch slumped in the middle of the room, spilling its insides on the uncarpeted floor from a tear that her
mother had never bothered to fix. A cardboard box served as a coffee table. A single painting hung on the wall opposite – a garish jumble of lines that looked like two birds pecking the eyes out of a fish.
“Sit,” her mother ordered, pushing Meylyne toward the couch. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
Meylyne hung her head. “I … I’m sorry, Mother.”
“Sorry for what? Trespassing in the Above-World or falling on the prince?”
Meylyne felt herself flush. As usual, her mother knew everything. “Both.”
Her mother clenched her hands, her already pale skin turning a grayish shade of white. “For Gurazon’s sake, Meylyne! When Groq gets wind of this, he’ll show no mercy. Family or not!”
Meylyne’s Great-Uncle Groq was also the Prime Minister of the Between-World and not known for his leniency.
“I know Mother. I swear I never thought I’d get caught. I look just like an Above-Worldian!”
Her mother’s face twisted with such anger that Meylyne wished she could bite back the words.
“As if that’s an excuse for breaking the rules. You may be part-human but you’re still a Between-Worldian. Why … why did you go up there?”
Meylyne looked down at the ground. Her plan had gone so horribly wrong. She felt her throat tighten.
“I went to find your black opal,” she mumbled.
For a moment her mother looked perplexed. Then she shook her head. “How did you know about that?”
Meylyne blinked away the tears filling up her eyes.
“I overheard you and G-great-Uncle the other night. Y-you
said you had lost it. I know how important it is to you, so I asked the Well if it knew where your opal was — ”
“What?” her mother interrupted. “You asked who?”
“Th-the old Well of M’Yhr.”
Her mother raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, so the Well is talking to you now, is it?”
Meylyne nodded. “Uh-huh. Anyway — it-it said your opal was in the stream between Tyr and Welke. I wasn’t going to go, but then I woke up this morning and it was like I just had to. I figured there was no way I’d get caught — you were supposed to be gone all d — ” She bit her lip. She hadn’t meant to admit that last bit.
“Go on,” her mother replied, crossing her arms.
“Yes. S-sorry.” Meylyne’s words started to tumble over one another. “I snuck out through the west grate and went to the stream which was just where Well said it would be and then the stream told me where to look and … and … I did it … I found your opal!” She reached inside her pocket and drew out a greenish-black stone. “See!”
Her mother took the stone from her hand, her expression softening as she closed her fingers around it.
“Then what happened?”
Meylyne’s shoulders sagged. No “thank you” or anything. That was supposed to have been the part where her mother had showered her with admiration and love. Maybe even looked happy for once.
“Then two people walked by, talking about how Prince Piam was coming out for one of his yearly visits to Tyr’s town square. I had to see him … I figured it was the only chance I’d have and I’d heard so much about him, what with that weird disease he was born with and all. So I went to Tyr and hid in a tree …
but then this stupid woman knocked me out of it right as he was passing by underneath and I fell on him.”
At the memory of this her face crumpled. She looked down at the ground so that her mother wouldn’t see her cry. Her mother couldn’t abide sniveling.
“I’m sorry Mother!”
Her mother’s eyes blazed. “As well you should be. I know you meant to do the right thing but this … this is a catastrophe.” She drew a deep breath. “Did anyone recognize you?”
Meylyne wiped her eyes.
“Who would recognize me? No one knows me up there, and I don’t look like … him.”
Meylyne cringed the minute she said it. Him was her garlysle father, Meph. He had left to pursue a life of crime the day she was born. Not a welcome subject in her home — or anyone’s for that matter.
Her mother turned her back on her. “I must have dropped my opal the last time I was out hunting for him. Fetch me my crystal.”
Sliding off the couch, Meylyne trudged into her mother’s bedroom. Opposite the bed was a wooden dresser with a jewelry box on it. She reached behind the finely-spun rose-gold hanging off the box and pulled out an oddly-shaped piece of glass. Curved on one side and straight on the other, it was about the size of a text book and looked like a fragment of something larger. She returned to the living room and handed it to her mother.
Sitting down, Meylyne’s mother tapped the crystal and whispered. Meylyne watched over her shoulder as images swirled on the glass.
“Meylyne stop hovering. Go and sit down over there … out of my sight.”
Meylyne retreated to the corner. “Can’t I just …”
Meylyne sat in the corner. If only she could have stayed in bed that morning. She wiped her nose. Or maybe she would’ve still snuck out but she’d have come straight home after getting the opal.
Five minutes passed. It felt more like five hours. As she watched her mother frown at the crystal, a memory popped into her mind. In it, she was just a little girl, allowed to look in the crystal for the first time. She had held her breath as a world of white ice, blue skies and flowers that sparkled like jewels appeared in the glass.
“See. Glendoch is a Glacier,” her mother had said. “A gigantic ice-island.”
A glacier. Meylyne had hungrily taken in the crooked buildings, parks and trees that seemed to grow willy-nilly wherever they chose. But most of all, it was the Above-Worldians who captured her attention. A whole country of people that looked like she and her mother looked, with smooth skin, no beaks, no feathers … and their clothes! Meylyne had grown up in a brown pinafore, and looked upon their multicolored suits with awe.
“There are so many of them,” she had whispered to her mother.
“Yes,” her mother said, “more of them than there are garlysles down here.”
“Then why are we down here instead of up there with them?”
“Because you are part-garlysle. They wouldn’t have us up above.”
The memory faded. Although Meylyne could only see the side of her mother’s face, it seemed like her frown was getting worse.
Meylyne’s insides tightened. It was her fault her mother frowned so much. How could Glendoch’s most powerful sorceress be happy when her only daughter was an alchemical dunce? Meylyne felt like a gnat most of the time, buzzing around her mother’s head.
A tear plopped out of her eye. Better a gnat than this.
Finally her mother put down the crystal.
“Well?” Meylyne asked. “What did you see?”
Her mother gave her a long look. “It appears that you were recognized after all.”
Meylyne gaped at her. “But –”
“Yes,” her mother went on. “Right now, Queen Emery and her ghastly sage are discussing what ought to be done about it.”
She stood up.
“You must stay here while I speak with your Great-Uncle.” Shaking her head, she chuckled mirthlessly, adding, “At least I am spared the task of punishing you. That which lies ahead of you is far worse than anything I could think up.”
Meylyne stared after her mother in disbelief.
How could I possibly have been recognized? No one knows me up there. Mother must be mistaken.
She chewed her nails. Her mother was Glendoch’s most powerful sorceress. She was never mistaken. Jumping to her feet, Meylyne dashed out of the living room, through the kitchen and into the pantry. A stack of cauldrons stood against the far wall. Pushing them aside, she crouched down and pressed her ear up to the wall. Her great-uncle’s study was on the other side. After a minute, she heard voices approaching.
“Sit,” one of the voices barked. It was her great-uncle. “What is it, Ellenyrr?”
Meylyne heard her mother murmuring in reply.
“What?” her Great-Uncle roared.
There was more murmuring from her mother.
Speak louder. A bead of sweat trickled down Meylyne’s face.
“No,” she heard her great-uncle groan. “They’re going to demand what?”
Meylyne grew hot, then cold all over.
“I can just see what’s going through the Royals’ minds,” her great-uncle continued. “She is Meph’s daughter. They will say she is just like him — born to do nothing but cause them grief and misery.” He paused and Meylyne pictured him clutching his head with his talons. “I just don’t understand it,” he went on. “Meylyne has always been so quiet … so … so … obedient before now!”
Meylyne’s mother murmured again.
“Your opal?” Now her great-uncle sounded more incredulous than angry.
Her mother said something in reply and for a minute there was silence.
“Well, I suppose that counts for something,” her great-uncle said at last. “Not to the Royals, mind you. They won’t care about your opal at all. All they shall want is to turn this situation to their advantage, which means that you must do as they say.”
There was another moment of silence. “I suppose we should at least try to reason with them and we might as well go now. The queen is easiest to deal with at this time of day — it is when she partakes of her wine.”
Meylyne heard a door close and then everything became quiet.
They must’ve gone to Glendoch Castle.
Pushing herself to her feet, Meylyne traipsed back into the living room and sat down on the couch.
What did Great-Uncle mean by “you must do as they say?
She began drumming her fingers on the couch.
I wish I could see the Well right now. I bet it would know what was going on.
She gnawed on her thumb nail. Her mother had told her to stay there.
Oh she’ll be gone at least an hour — I’ll be back long before that!
Jumping up, she ran outside and hurried down the lane, turning toward the town center. Here, the caves nestled closer together and in the distance she saw garlysles strutting in and out of shops and cafes.
As she passed by a bakery, a smell of ginger wafted out through its open windows. Inside sat two garlysles with their backs to her, drinking ginger-nog at the counter. They turned as she walked past. One nudged the other and whispered something to her friend.
Meylyne ignored them. She was used to the stares by now. That’s what you got from being the daughter of the Between-World’s most notorious garlysle and its brilliant sorceress.
Turning right at the next corner, she left the bustle of the town center behind as she headed toward the old dye-making district. The tunnel widened, glowing red and green from the minerals in the clay and the sounds of the town faded to silence.
No one came to this part of the Between-World any more. The old, derelict dye makers’ caves were all shuttered up; their abandoned machinery cracked and rusted. Behind them was a mound of earth known as Thingummy and to its right a deep basin — the Old Well of M’Yhr.
No one actually called the Between-World “M’Yhr” any more. But, as the Between-World’s oldest structure, the Well had been allowed to retain its original name. The Well’s waters used to have healing powers, but if they still did, no one knew. The healers had long since stopped using them, preferring to buy potions from the Above-World instead.
Kneeling at the Well’s edge, Meylyne splashed her hand in the ruby-red water. A voice emerged; sweet and melodic like a choir singing.
“What ails thee, child?”
Her voice cracking, Meylyne explained all that had happened and what she had overheard between her great-uncle and her mother.
“They’re with the Royals now,” she finished dramatically. “Bargaining for my life!”
“There is no sense in that.” The Well sighed. “The Above-World is in turmoil. Queen Emery will have to deal you the worst punishment, or seem weak before her people.”
Meylyne’s throat tightened. “What should I do?”
“You must flee.”
“Flee?” Meylyne cried. “Where to? There’s nowhere in the Between-World that I can hide and I can’t possibly go above-ground again!”
“Indeed that is where you must go — back to the stream in which you found your mother’s opal. There you will find a dappled gray stalliynx. Tell him you need safe passage to the Valley of Half-Light — ”
Meylyne gasped. “The Valley of Half-Light?” She dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’m not going there!”
“Yes, you are, for it is there that you shall find Prince Piam’s cure and you must cure him. It is the only way. You must cure him or live the rest of your life in the Beneath-World. This is your fate, Meylyne.”
“What? My fate? What are you talking about?”
“You wish for your mother to be proud of you, do you not? You wish for the garlysles to see you as something other than the daughter of an outlaw and a sorceress … or the Prime Minister’s great-niece.”
“Of course I do.”
“Then do not argue with me. This is your fate I tell you.”
“But … but the Valley of Half-Light is where the Sphers live.” Meylyne’s voice dropped again. “They eat souls.”
“Oh the Sphers can be kept at bay with the right incantation.” The Well’s voices became mournful. “But you must go now, before your mother returns home. Take her crystal so she cannot track you. Take your Book of Enchantments too. You must improve your alchemical skills by far.”
Meylyne sat back on her heels. “But — ”
The Well’s water rose up, spraying her. “No more arguments. Go. Now.”
Meylyne pushed herself to her feet and ran back the way she had come. She was home in no time. Tumbling inside, she
slammed the door behind her and began to pace across the room, thoughts whirling around her mind.
The Well must be crazy! No way am I going to the Valley of Half-Light. No one has ever come out of there alive!
She plopped down on the couch and gnawed her nails. The Well was anything but crazy — it had never steered her wrong yet.
Glancing down to her right, she found her mother’s crystal where she had left it. Meylyne had been told never to look in it without her mother’s supervision. Licking her lips, she picked it up and tapped it, murmuring the word she had heard her mother say a thousand times before. “Ostendee.”
Colors swirled in the glass, blurring her reflection. “Show me Glendoch Castle.”
A beautiful, three-winged castle emerged through the swirling colors. Built from the Glendochian mineral Oremin, its pale green walls cast a soft glow in the evening sun. Rose-gold tiles sparkled throughout the roof.
“Visitors chambers,” she added.
A room flickered into view. Red brocade covered the walls. In the center of the room, an assortment of plush chairs surrounded a glass table. Meylyne’s mother and Great-Uncle perched on two of the chairs. Queen Emery was directly across from them.
Even sitting down, she looked very tall. Her long red hair was swept up into braids coiled around her head and she wore a long, white, satin gown. Next to her sat a short, hedge-hoggy-looking man. This was Chifflin, her sage. Both he and the queen frowned while her great-uncle spoke.
“We understand that she has broken a First rule and should be subject to the maximum punishment. I feel just as strongly as you that we need to keep our worlds separate. We cannot return to a state of war. But you must leave Meylyne’s father out of this.”
Meylyne’s shoulders sagged. Things never boded well for her when her father entered the conversation.
“I know he causes your queendom great distress,” her Great-Uncle went on, “but you cannot blame Meylyne for his deeds.”
“Can’t I?” Queen Emery replied. There was a razor-sharp edge in her voice. “How am I to know that she is not allied with her treasonous father?” She paused to sip from her silver goblet. “It does not help that she is regarded as an abomination by most of my queendom.”
She shot Meylyne’s mother a cold stare. “Our worlds are not meant to interbreed.”
Meylyne’s mother met the queen’s gaze. “Respectfully, I disagree.”
Meylyne held her breath. Her Great-Uncle could get away with saying that — he was the queen’s equal. Her mother was not. The queen’s eyes blazed but her mother did not look away.
Meylyne suspected that this was why Queen Emery hated her mother so much—her icy indifference.
Meylyne knew first-hand how that felt.
Chifflin cleared his throat. “It is just that we have a delicate situation here, Prime Minister Groq. As you know, the troubles that Meph — your nephew” — Meylyne’s great-uncle stiffened as Chifflin stressed the family tie — “heaps upon us divide our Queendom more and more every day and our citizens blame us for our inability to protect them.”
Meylyne’s mother spoke again. “You know I search for Meph constantly. Last time I came close.” She held up her
arm to reveal a curved scar. “One of these days, I will catch my husband and bring him to justice.”
“Yes. One day.” Queen Emery took another sip of wine. “In the meantime, I see an opportunity here.”
Meylyne’s mother sat back and sighed. “You want me to cure Prince Piam of his rapid-aging disease.”
Queen Emery smiled. “How astute of you. It is a perfect solution, is it not? This way, you prove your loyalty to us and we pardon Meylyne. We all win.”
“We have tried this before, with disastrous results,” Meylyne’s mother replied. “My sorcery cannot cure him. Your doctors cannot cure him. Your explorers have died, in search of his cure — ”
“Regardless of all that, you must cure him!”
Meylyne flinched as Queen Emery slammed her goblet down on the table. Wine sloshed everywhere.
“Look at the state of my Queendom! You speak of war between our worlds? Well war within my world is near! Half of my queendom has lost faith in me. I need to show them that I am not some pathetic, cursed being — incapable of protecting them against a rogue garlysle, or giving them a healthy heir to the throne …”
Queen Emery fell silent while a servant dabbed a cloth into her spilled wine. As soon as the servant had left, a bell sounded in the distance.
“You know that it will take more than Prince Piam’s good health to restore your people’s faith in you,” Groq pointed out.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not.” Queen Emery drained the rest of her wine. “Either way, it is time to conclude this meeting. Are we clear on my terms?”
“Yes,” said Meylyne’s mother. “You will pardon Meylyne as long as I cure Prince Piam.”
“Correct. Of course I shall have to imprison Meylyne in the Shadow Cellars in the meantime. I can’t have my people think I am entirely addle-pated. You have three months to find or conjure up my son’s cure. If you fail, I shall have to send Meylyne to the Snake-People. It was, after all, a First Rule that she broke.”
The crystal slid from Meylyne’s knees.
The shadow cellars … and then the Beneath-World?
The floor tilted beneath her and for a second she thought she would be sick. Images of everything she had ever known about the Beneath-World flashed through her mind — the scorching mud, the streams of fire and, worst of all, the Snake-People. Hateful creatures with human bodies and snake heads.
She stood up. The Well had been right about everything, and this meant one thing —
I have to run away!
Dashing to her bedroom, Meylyne grabbed her rucksack. Her eyes darted around the room as she began throwing things into it.
Spell book … quilt … medicine … what else?
She hurried back into the living room and almost tripped over her mother’s crystal. At first she just stared at it. Her mother would be beside herself when she found it gone — probably even more so than finding her gone.
You have to take it. The Well said so.
She pushed the crystal into her rucksack. I’ll leave Mother a note, she thought, running into the kitchen. Then she’ll know why I’ve run away, and I’ll promise to take care of her crystal.
She filled a drinking-pouch with water and squashed it into her bag along with some daffy-seeds, a loaf of bread and a packet of figs. She realized that she had slopped half of the water over her pinafore and dabbed at it with a towel. There was no time to change. Her mother would be home at any minute. Hoisting her bulging rucksack onto her back, she grabbed her cloak and sped outside.
As she neared the town center, she found the usual throng of garlysles milling about; picking up their groceries for supper or taking their children to pottery class. Everything looked so ordinary that tears pricked her eyes. She would give anything for her life to be normal again.
Fat chance of that, she thought bitterly. In a few minutes, my mother will read my note and —
She gasped and stopped so suddenly that a garlysle bumped into her from behind.
I forgot to leave a note!
The garlysle grumbled at her.
“Oh just go around me,” she snapped.
The garlysle looked outraged but moved away as she began muttering to herself.
“I am such an idiot. Now what am I supposed to do? I can’t just run away without leaving a note!”
An idea clicked in her mind. She sped off in the opposite direction and did not stop running until she had reached Trin and Train’s cave. She banged on the door. At first, nothing happened.
“Come on,” she muttered.
The door opened at last and Train peeped around it. Aside from her feathers being longer around her face, she looked identical to Trin.
“Meylyne! What are you doing here? I thought you’d be shut in forever …”
Meylyne quickly stepped inside, shutting the door behind her. “Train, shush! I’m sorry but I don’t have much time. Where’s Trin?”
Trin walked up behind them.
Grasping their talons, Meylyne pulled them into their room. Two nests were perfectly made up against the far wall. Meylyne sat in one of them and Trin sat in the other. Train squeezed in next to her.
“Well?” Train demanded.
Meylyne’s chin wobbled. “It’s really bad. I have to go back into the Above-World.”
“What? You’re kidding right?” Train spluttered.
Meylyne rushed to explain everything as quickly as possible.
“…so now Queen Emery’s really mad and saying I’m in cahoots with my father,” she finished. “She’s insisting that my mother prove our loyalty by curing Prince Piam of his disease or I’ll get sent to the Beneath-World.”
Trin’s and Train’s feathers clamped down on their backs. They looked as if water had been poured over them.
“Oh Meylyne, you never should have gone in the Above-World. Your mother would’ve lived without her stupid opal!”
Meylyne wiped her face. Train was right. She was an idiot to have expected her mother to be proud of her just because of this.
“Queen Emery is such a beast. Everyone knows there’s no cure for Prince Piam’s disease,” Train continued.
“Well here’s the worst part,” Meylyne replied. “According to the old Well of M’Yhr, there is a cure and I’m the one that has to get it. That’s why I have to go to the Above-World again — it’s where the cure is.”
Trin and Train gaped at her.
“I know it sounds crazy, but the Well wouldn’t lie.”
“No, but what about your mother?” Train asked. “She’ll come looking for you, and you’ll be in double the trouble when she catches you!”
“She won’t find me. She has no idea where I’m going.” Meylyne cleared her throat. “Which is why I need you to give her a message.”
Trin and Train recoiled. Neither of them liked Meylyne’s mother.
“What message?” asked Trin.
“Tell her that I’m going to find Prince Piam’s cure so she doesn’t have to. Oh, and that I borrowed her crystal and I promise to take good care of it.”
Trin folded his arms. “No way.”
“Please! Otherwise they’ll just think I ran away and it’ll look even more like I am in cahoots with my father!”
“Meylyne, you can’t go.” Train grasped Meylyne’s hands with her talons. “The Above-Worldians are such barbarians. If they find out that you’re part-garlysle … and Meph’s daughter … they’ll probably roast you on a spit and eat you!” She jutted out her beak. “If you go, I go.
For an instant Meylyne was tempted. Then she shook her head. “No. At least I look like an Above-Worldian. We’ll definitely get caught if you come too.”
Train opened her beak to argue but Trin cut her off.
“Meylyne is right, we’d just make things worse.”
A voice floated in from the back of the cave. “Trin, Train — is Meylyne in there with you? I just got a message-mole from her mother. She’s looking for her.”
The blood drained from Meylyne’s face.
“No dad, she’s not in here,” Trin yelled. “Quick — out through there,” he hissed at Meylyne, pointing to an open window above them. He pushed a chair underneath it. “Now, before dad comes in and finds you here!”
Meylyne jumped up.
“Wait!” Train grabbed her wrist. “You can’t just go by yourself — it’s far too dangerous!”
“Listen, the Well told me to go, so it has to be okay.”
For a second, Train looked as if she would argue. Instead she pressed something into Meylyne’s hand. It was a small, pewter locket in the shape of a shield. “Then take this.”
“This is your mother’s locket. I can’t take it.”
“You must,” Train insisted. “Mother talks to us through it. She’ll tell us if you need our help.”
Meylyne’s throat tightened. Trin’s and Train’s mother had died when they were little and her locket was their most beloved possession.
“Hey!” The door handle to Trin and Train’s room rattled and their father’s voice boomed from outside. “Why is this door locked? Open up!”
“Sorry Dad,” Trin called out. “Didn’t mean to do that. I’ll open it right now.” Go! he mouthed to Meylyne.
Meylyne climbed onto the window sill. “You’ll give Mother the message?” she whispered.
Trin and Train nodded. Meylyne gave them a last, watery smile and then dropped to the ground below. Without a backward glance, she sped away from their cave.
She didn’t dare use the entrance to the Above-World that she had used that morning. It was bound to be guarded now. The only other unguarded entrance that she knew of was by the Old Well of M’Yhr. Once again, she made her way to the abandoned part of the Between-World. Before she knew it, she was at the Well’s edge.
“I’m doing what you said,” she called out. “I’m leaving to find Prince Piam’s cure.”
The Well’s waters swirled and bubbled. “I knew you would do the right thing. Farewell, Meylyne.”
“Wait!” Panic swelled in Meylyne’s chest. “What exactly am I supposed to get from the Valley of Half-Light?”
“Everything you need to know will be told to you, along the way.”
“Really?” Meylyne’s voice became shrill. “Including how to fend off soul-eating Sphers?”
“There is a spell for that, in your Book of Enchantments. Farewell, Meylyne.”
“Wait! Please don’t go yet. I just need to know … this won’t take long, will it? I mean, I’ll be home soon, right?”
The Well’s waters became still.
Meylyne splashed the water but the Well remained silent.
With a great sigh, Meylyne pushed herself to her feet. She was on her own now. Trudging over to an abandond cave, she threaded her way through the cracked bowls and bottles on the floor to a small staircase in the back. It was dark there and she felt her way along the wall; cobwebs clinging to her hands and face.
At the top of the stairs, a dim light outlined a door. She opened it and peeped outside.
A quiet, spacious street met her eyes. This entrance came out in one of Tyr’s outlying roads. It had none of the noise and grime of the town square. On either side of her, a row of Cedars shielded her from the houses behind them. The entrance was hidden in one of the trees.
Once she was sure no one was around, she crept outside and made her way along the perfectly groomed ice to a field full of cherry-blooms. The crimson flowers looked purple in the dusk and their fragrance perfumed the air. Just beyond them, was the stream. It was an uphill walk and she was panting by the time she got there.
Catching her breath, she looked around. The stream was lined by drooping willows and blue ferns. There was no sign of the stalliynx.
Or any living thing, for that matter.
She made her way downstream. About five trees later, she saw something. A spiky fern hid its body but she could see its long gray and white head as it drank from the water.
That must be it!
Meylyne had never met a stalliynx before. They kept to themselves. Licking her lips, she stepped into the moonlight.
“Um, h-hello there,” she called out.
The stalliynx lifted its head and looked at her. It was about the size of a horse and had a horse’s head but its body was sleek and golden like that of a lion’s. Instead of hooves, it had long, sharp talons. Backing away from the stream, it stalked toward her.
Meylyne took a small step away. “I’m Meylyne.”
“I know,” replied the stalliynx. Its voice reminded her of a bassoon-frog she had once heard singing at night; deep and rich.
“Oh — good.” Meylyne produced a nervous smile. “I suppose the Well got a message to you.”
The stalliynx nodded. “Are you ready?”
Meylyne blinked. No, “hi, nice to meet you, I’m Mr. Stalliynx,” or anything like that.
“I suppose so. Do you know where it is I need to go?”
The stalliynx nodded again.
“Oh.” Meylyne took stock of its wide and rather high-up back. “It’s just … I’ve never actually ridden a stalliynx before. I’ve never ridden anything, for that matter.”
The stalliynx lowered itself to the ground.
“Right,” Meylyne muttered. Heaving her rucksack over her shoulder, she straddled the stalliynx’s back and clutched its thick, white mane as it rose to its feet. She wobbled a bit as it started to walk.
“You understand me? Not used to talking your language,” the stallyinx rumbled.
“Yes, thank you.”
Meylyne tried to focus on the rhythm of its legs as they walked on, following the stream as it wound through the willows. Once she felt steadier, she looked up at Glendoch’s three moons, glowing above her.
“I’ve never seen the moons before. It was always day-time when I saw the Above-World in Mother’s crystal. They’re really big!”
“Big and bright,” Hope growled. “But don’t worry, no one see us. When we reach western plains, we take floating bridge to Valley of Half-Light. No one use bridge now, so no one bother us.”
“Why does no one use the bridge any more?”
“No one dare.”
Meylyne swallowed. Of course not, she thought. No right-minded Glendochian would leave Glendoch Proper. The outlands were the home of the exiled ones — witches and other spiteful creatures, like her father.
“So, what’s your name?” she asked, wanting to change the subject.
“Hopeggsy — what?”
“You call me Hope.”
Meylyne breathed a sigh of relief. “Hope it is.”
By now they had reached the edge of a forest. An eerie silence enveloped them as they entered it. Meylyne’s head swiveled from side to side as she took in the old, white trees looming up before them, shafts of moonlight filtering through the branchless trunks.
“This place is spooky,” she whispered.
Hope did not reply and Meylyne shifted uncomfortably as a pang of guilt stabbed her.
“I am sorry that you have to do all this because of me.”
“Request come from Well. No need apologize. Well very wise.”
Meylyne snorted. “Yes — usually I think so too, but right now this whole thing seems like the opposite of wise. How long will it take us to get to the Valley?”
Meylyne’s shoulders sagged. “So I have one week to learn the spell to keep the Sphers away.”
“Most likely! And then I don’t even know what I’m supposed to find once I’m there. Why would the prince’s cure be there of all places?”
Hope was silent for a minute. “What Well say?”
“Just that I would learn whatever I needed along the way. Oh … and to practice my sorcery. As if that will do any good.”
A dark shadow scuttled up one of the trees. Meylyne turned to see a rat-like creature with a scorpion’s tail, glaring at her as she rode by.
“Aah!” she shrieked. “What is that?”
Hope shied away, his head snapping back to see. “Merdrat.”
“A merdrat?” Meylyne’s entire body shuddered. “Ugh! Here I am, worrying about what to do once I get to the Valley, when really it’ll be a miracle if we make it there at all.”
Hope chuckled. “Don’t worry. I get you to Valley. That easy part.”
A few hours later, Meylyne and Hope stood at the entrance of a narrow, wooden bridge. Part-suspension, part-floating, it zig-zagged over Glendoch’s western plains before disappearing into the mountains. Meylyne stared at its splintered planks and wonky railing.
“Um, is this old bridge the only way to the Valley of Half-Light?”
Meylyne shivered. The expanse of sky stretching for miles above made her feel wobbly enough. Up ahead, the ground dropped away fifty feet and the ice below was ripped
into ragged, razor-sharp peaks.
“And you’re sure it’s safe to cross?”
Hope walked onto the bridge. “Safe enough.”
“Whoa!” Meylyne gripped even more tightly to Hope’s mane. “Really? It’s just it sort of looks like the opposite of safe.”
A wind blew up, muffling Meylyne’s words and causing her eyes to smart from the ice-chips whirling around. Looking down, she felt her stomach tighten. A yawning chasm, like a monster’s mouth with icy teeth, appeared below her. She clamped herself around Hope, shouting, “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all. Let’s just turn around.”
Hope stalked on as if he hadn’t heard her.
“Hope …” Meylyne’s words were drowned out as the wind howled even louder, pelting her with ice. It felt like someone was throwing pins in her face and she buried her head in Hope’s mane. This felt a tiny bit better until a huge gust of wind slammed into them.
Hope stumbled from the force of it. For a second, Meylyne debated sliding off his back and making a run for it but then another gust of wind slammed into her. She clung even more tightly to him. The only thing worse than being stuck on this bridge with Hope was being stuck without him. From underneath her fur-trimmed cape, she could feel his muscles moving up and down as he plodded forward. After a while she loosened her vice-like grip on him. Despite the storm raging around them, he seemed to know what he was doing. Eventually, the wind died down. Lifting up her hood, Meylyne saw that the bridge was wider now and not quite so rickety.
“Wow. I can’t believe you got us through that bit. This doesn’t look nearly as bad …”
She stopped mid-sentence as a thrumming noise sounded in the distance.
“Did you hear that?” she asked.
The noise came again, closer this time. Her scalp prickled. “Hope, what is that?”
“Hyldas?” Meylyne’s voice became hoarse. “No way.”
Craning back her neck, she searched the sky. A speck appeared in front of one of the moons. Growing larger and larger, it soon became a black cloud blotting out the moon entirely. Panic shot through Meylyne’s body like a lightening bolt.
“What are we going to do, Hope? There’s nowhere to hide!”
“Nothing. Hyldas not interested in us.”
Meylyne did not believe him, especially as she felt him tense beneath her. She looked up again. As the cloud got closer, it started to break up. Now she could see at least fifty winged women and girls with long black hair, flowing behind them. A few seconds later they were directly above Meylyne and Hope. Meylyne could not see their faces but she had heard they were beautiful, with blue-black skin and eyes like aquamarine. Their enormous wings pulsed together as if they were attached to each other.
Meylyne held her breath, convinced they would swoop down and scoop her up at any minute. Her eyes remained riveted on them as they passed by, their forms melting into one again.
A minute later, they were gone.
Meylyne exhaled slowly.
“I can’t believe a pack of Hyldas just flew over us!”
She had only read about Hyldas before. Guardians of the warrior-realm, it was their job to carry off the spirits of those slain in battle. Supposedly they were fiercesome creatures with little regard for the living. It did not do to cross paths with them.
“They must have been off to a battle, right?”
Hope nodded. “Take away spirits of battle-slain.”
“Battle-slain,” Meylyne echoed. She remembered what Queen Emery had said about war being near.
“They weren’t flying toward Glendoch Proper, were they?”
“No. Celadonia. Our neighbor to west.”
“You know Hyldas are supposed to be super-scary. They can turn you to stone just by looking at you!”
“Not true,” Hope replied.
Meylyne ignored him. She felt exhilarated with their escape. “I can’t wait to tell Trin and Train about this …”
Hope remained silent while she babbled on. After a while, the adrenaline drained from her body and sitting up took far too much effort. She lay down on his neck, weaving her fingers through his mane so she couldn’t fall off. He was warm, his steady pace soothing …
She woke up to find herself bathed in the pink blush of dawn. At first she had no idea where she was and she sat up, awed by the the ice-clad mountains surrounding them.
Then the events from the past day and night flooded her mind and she slumped back down.
“Nice sleep?” Hope asked.
“I guess so,” she grumbled. She wiggled her feet to try to bring back some feeling into them. Everything felt sore and achy. Then she remembered that Hope had been walking all night. “I’m sorry,” she said, feeling bad about her grumpiness. “Do you want to sleep now?”
Hope shook his head. “Not tired. Eat breakfast.”
Meylyne reached into her rucksack and pulled out the bag of daffy seeds. Dumping some into her hand, she fed Hope before cramming the rest in her mouth. It was probably the world’s worst breakfast. A tingle between her shoulder blades made her shiver and she reached back into her rucksack.
Hope would get a shock if I forgot to take these, she thought as she took out a bottle of purple pills. She washed one down with a swig from her water-pouch and then tried to squeeze some water into Hope’s mouth. A lot of it spilled on the ground, which was covered with a green, spongy-looking plant she had never seen before.
“What’s all this stuff covering the bridge?” she asked.
“Hang on.” Meylyne stuffed the pouch back into her bag. Something in Hope’s voice made her uneasy. “Ready for what?”
Meylyne’s stomach gave a terrible lurch as Hope sprang forward. She was suddenly very much awake. Clutching his mane, she gripped his body with her thighs as everything around her became a blur.
“Aaaahhhhhhhhh,” she shrieked. “Slow down already!”
Hope whinnied gleefully in his own language and went even faster.
“I don’t care how perfect the moss is for running on,” Meylyne wailed. “It’s not perfect for falling on!”
She tilted backward as Hope charged up the mountain, her arms shaking with the effort of holding on. For a while, everything blurred by in streaks of white, green and blue. Then, up ahead, she saw the bridge curve around and leave the mountainside altogether.
“Whooooooooaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” she shrieked. “Slow down!”
Before she knew it, the bridge rose off the mountain, floating free-form in the air. Now there was nothing on either side of her but blue sky and the flaming yellow-orange orb of the sun. She clung to Hope as if her life depended on it (and in truth her life did depend on it). Just as she was sure she could hold on no longer – that she would plummet for miles to her death where no one would find her until the buzzards had picked clean her bones – Hope slowed to a canter. They had reached the next mountain in the range. The sun was directly above them and the bridge had narrowed again. Vast lemon trees grew on either side, their boughs hanging low with fruit.
“Lunch-time,” Hope panted, coming to a standstill.
Meylyne whimpered as her fingers straightened out, one by one. They had cramped into claws around Hope’s mane. Gritting her teeth, she maneuvered one of her legs over his back and slid off.
“You did well,” Hope said. “Natural rider.”
Meylyne glared at him. She felt like little pokers were stabbing into muscles she didn’t even know she had. “I don’t care how well I did. I was really scared … and now I ache all over!”
Plucking off a lemon, Hope chomped on it without displaying a shred of remorse. Meylyne fiddled with the buckle on her rucksack, her fingers barely able to move. The buckle finally slid open and she pulled out some figs. Her water-pouch rolled out with them.
“Open, please.” Hope nudged the pouch with his nose.
Meylyne unscrewed the top and thrust the pouch at him. She was determined not to talk to him until he apologized.
Two dragon-flies buzzed by, their iridescent, blue-green wings shimmering in the sun. Meylyne munched on some figs and for a while the two sat in silence. As the sun warmed her face, the tension oozed out of her muscles and her bad mood started to lift. She reached for her pouch but when she put it to her lips, only a drop came out. Her temper flared up again.
“Hope! You drank all the water!”
Hope blinked. “That all you brought?”
“Of course it is!” The figs had made her very thirsty. “Now what am I supposed to drink?”
“That really all you brought?”
“Yes, it’s really all I brought. I guess we’ll have to fill it up when it rains.”
“What if no rain? No lakes on bridge!”
Meylyne shrugged and immediately wished she hadn’t. Her shoulders hurt. “Why wouldn’t it rain here? It always rains in Glendoch Proper.”
Meylyne’s bad mood worsened.
So what — now it’s my fault that we’re out of water? Like I was supposed to know it doesn’t rain on this stupid bridge.
Once again, silence descended upon the two of them. After a while, Meylyne’s eyelids drooped shut and she was almost asleep when Hope nudged her.
“You conjure water,” he said.
Meylyne opened one baleful eye which she fixed on him.
“We need water. You sorceress. Conjure it!”
Meylyne snorted and shut her eye again.
Hope nudged her again. “Come on!”
With a huge sigh, Meylyne sat up.
“Look. I am terrible at alchemy, okay? I couldn’t possibly conjure up water — it’s a two-part transformation; a level Five spell. I’m only up to Level Two.” She scowled. “It’s where I’ve been stuck my whole life. I’ve had so many accidents that Mother has forbidden me to practice in our cave!”
Hope studied her for a minute.
“You practice with me. I no mind accidents.” He looked up at the sky. “Now we get going — time for practice later. No excuses!”
By now, the sun had dipped down half-way into the sky. Meylyne climbed up on Hope’s back, feeling achy and discouraged.
Dwelling on her alchemical incompetence always put her in a bad mood, and her dry, scratchy throat wasn’t helping matters.
As Hope broke into a loping cantor, she braced herself for him to start running again. Much to her relief, he stayed at the slower pace.
The lemon trees thinned out in a blur of green and yellow, replaced by a line of fragrant mimosa-trees. Long, purple sticks and white, feathery silkweed poked up between them. The sun hung low in the sky when he stopped.
“Off, please,” he said, his voice low and urgent.
Meylyne’s body shook with fatigue as he sank to the ground and she slid off him. There was a faint scent of lavender in the air, which she might have enjoyed were she not so exhausted. She had a dull headache and her mouth felt horribly dry and sticky. Looking at Hope, she noticed that his lips and back were flecked with foam. This lack of water was a bigger deal than she’d thought. “We really have to find some water, don’t we Hope?”
“Ssshh,” Hope began sniffing around one of the trees. “Look.”
On the ground before him was a large, greenish-black feather; as long as Meylyne’s arm.
“Belongs to Hylda,” Hope said. “Come.”
Hope stalked through the silkweed, stopping at the gnarled trunk of a mimosa-tree. Meylyne followed him. They were right at the edge of the bridge.
“As thought,” he said. “Bats build nests underneath this bridge. Look.”
Dropping to all fours, Meylyne lowered herself to the ground and cautiously peered down below. She could just about see some brown, ropy material hanging beneath her.
“How weird. Bats built this? It’s huge — looks more like a cave than a nest. How’d you know it was here?”
“Hylda feather. Hyldas use nests to sleep in at night.”
An icy finger snaked its way up Meylyne’s spine and she backed away from the edge of the bridge.
“Well let’s get out of here then! We can’t stay here with a pack of Hyldas right beneath us!”
Hope fixed her in his gaze. “Hyldas have water.”
All the hairs rose on Meylyne’s body. “And what — you’re going to steal it from them?”
“No. You are.”
“What?” Meylyne screeched. “No way!”
“I can’t climb down into cave. You can,” Hope said. “Hyldas sleep very deep. Carry with them reed bags filled with water. You get one-last us till Valley of Half-Light.”
“Oh right. And get turned to stone if a Hylda wakes up? I don’t think so!”
“That not happen.” Hope’s tone turned desperate. “Listen- I need water bad. You too, soon. We have no choice!”
“No choice?” Now it was Meylyne’s turn to sound desperate. “I think just keeping going is a perfectly good choice! I’m sure it will rain or something.”
Hope sniffed the air. “It no rain for two weeks. We no last two days.”
Meylyne stared at Hope. His eyes were dull and his mouth was still flecked with foam. They really had to find water fast. But stealing from a pack of Hyldas-
She sunk her head in her hands.
“I can’t, Hope. I just can’t!”
“I no ask if too dangerous,” Hope insisted. “As soon as night fall, Hyldas sleep. They sleep like dead.”
The air was already plum-colored with dusk. It would be nightfall soon.
“But how will I see anything down there?”
“Hyldas wear stones around their necks. Aquamins. Sacred stones help them talk to dead. They glow in dark.”
Meylyne wrung her hands. Hope was not going to let this drop.
“Is there nowhere else we can get water?”
“No. Almost at drylands.”
Meylyne had heard that the drylands were beautiful, like blankets of golden sand. And completely devoid of water. She was out of arguments.
“All right, I’ll do it.”
Hope sank to the ground.
“Thank you. Now we wait for dark to come.”
Meylyne sat down next to him. Somewhere in the distance, an owl hooted. Behind her the purple sticks melted into the indigo light and the mimosa-trees rustled faintly. Night was falling fast. Drumming her fingers on the ground, she tried not to think. This was worse than waiting for her mother to come home when one of her messed-up spells had flooded their kitchen with caramel. Finally Hope nudged her.
Meylyne’s heart began to hammer.
“I wait here for you,” Hope said reassuringly. “This all be finished in no time.”
Meylyne crawled toward the edge of the bridge and peered over. In the moonlight, she saw that the fibrous wall of the nest had been woven into criss-crosses and fastened onto purple sticks, poking through cracks in the bridge.
She grasped two of the sticks. They seemed sturdy enough. Reaching down a leg, she searched with her foot for something resembling a rung in the nest’s fibers. There! She reached down another foot and cautiously lowered herself into the nest.
At first she couldn’t see anything but dots of pale blue light.
Those must be the aquamins.
As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw that the cave floor was covered with big, black mounds.
She broke into a cold sweat. Forcing herself to crawl forward, she reached the first mound. The Hylda was lying on her back; the pale blue stone on her chest radiating a small halo of light. Just beneath the blue glow was a strap of some sort. Moving
closer, Meylyne saw that it was attached to a bag.
That must be it!
Willing her hand to stop shaking, Meylyne took hold of the bag, but when she pulled it toward her, it tugged against something. Mercifully, the Hylda did not stir.
What’s it caught on?
Her eyes followed the strap up, and into the Hylda’s long black hair.
You have to be joking. She’s wearing the bag around her neck!
Meylyne closed her eyes. Part of her wanted nothing more than to give up and get out of there as fast as possible. But you’ve come this far, another part of her insisted. You can’t leave without the bag now!
With a deep breath, she grasped the strap in one hand while reaching her other hand underneath the Hylda’s head. A few strands of hair fell from the Hylda’s face, but she didn’t wake up. Meylyne slowly lifted up the Hylda’s head and pulled the strap out and over the top of it.
The Hylda still did not stir. She lay as motionless as a statue.
… and then the strap was free!
Meylyne felt giddy with amazement. She had actually done it! Turning around, she hung the bag around her neck and crawled toward the front of the cave as fast as she could. She was almost at the cave entrance when a voice chirped from above –
“Take me with you.”
Meylyne gave a small shriek and clamped a hand over her mouth, her head snapping up to see where the voice came from. Hanging on the wall was a cage and in it, a small blue bird.
“Please.” Its voice was louder now. “You can’t leave me here.”
Something stirred in the cave. Panic welled inside Meylyne.
“Sshhh! You’ll wake up the Hyldas!”
“Then hurry up and get me out of here!”
The bird’s voice was even louder now. Desperate to shut it up, Meylyne sprang to her feet.
“All right! Just be quiet! Please!”
She grabbed the cage but as she tried to unhook it, she dislodged something soft and fluttery. It landed on the cave floor and, to her utter horror, gave an ear-shattering scream.
Oh no – it’s a bat!
Everything that happened next was a blur. Hearing noises from within the cave, she ran blindly for the cave entrance. Behind her the bird pleaded with her to come back as she clambered up the ropy wall. Hope waited for her at the top. Grabbing the back of her cape in his talons, he hoisted her over the top.
“Bird … bat …” Meylyne panted, trying to explain. She trailed off as a black, flapping cloud emerged over the side of the bridge.
She and Hope shrank into one another as the Hyldas swarmed around them. They were every bit as magnificent as Meylyne had heard-tall and muscular, with gleaming blue-black skin and piercing blue eyes. They wore greenish-black feather-dresses. Or maybe the feathers were part of them. It was impossible to tell. Within seconds, they had surrounded Meylyne and Hope.
One of them stepped forward. She wore a garland of leaves and berries around her head.
“So. You dare steal from us.”
Her voice was low and musical, and her pale blue eyes glowed with fire.
“Only wanted some water,” Hope said loudly. “Didn’t think you miss it.”
“Only water?” The Hylda gave Meylyne a cool look. “I don’t think so.”
Meylyne pressed herself into Hope’s side.
“It’s true,” she whispered, her voice barely audible. “Please don’t turn me into stone.”
“You tried to steal the bird!”
“The bird? No! It begged me to take it with me! I … I was afraid you’d all wake up if I didn’t do as it said. I promise!”
The Hylda reached out a hand to Meylyne until it was inches from her nose. There were feathers attached to her wrists and her fingernails were curved, like claws.
“First you steal, and now you lie.”
“Meylyne no liar,” Hope growled.
The Hylda turned on Hope.
“Impossible! The bird speaks the tongue of the dead – only the aquamins can understand it.”
She turned back to Meylyne. “You came here to finish off what you started, didn’t you?”
Meylyne could only stare at her, bewildered. She opened her mouth but no words came out. She shook her head.
“Fetch the bird!” the leader roared.
There was a ripple in the crowd. Seconds later, another Hylda appeared, holding the birdcage. The bird cocked its head at Meylyne, and mumbled something.
“All right,” the leader sneered at Meylyne. “You who understands the dead-what did the bird just say?”
Meylyne stared desperately at the bird.
“I don’t know – it spoke too softly!”
“Just as I thought,” the leader hissed, her eyes blazing. “Nothing but lies!”
Meylyne raised her hands before her face, sure she would turn into stone at any second. Then she heard the bird chirp,
“I said I was sorry – I didn’t mean to get you in trouble.”
“It said it was sorry it didn’t mean to get me in trouble!” Meylyne blurted.
Silence. Then another voice—singsong and not quite there—
It is true.
The leader held her aquamin up in front of her face. “Are you sure?” she asked it.
Yes. She’s a Hearer.
The words reverberated inside Meylyne’s head. They came from the aquamin.
“What’s going on?” she whispered to Hope.
“Aquamin speaking to Hylda,” Hope replied. “They sacred – speak to dead. Translate for Hyldas when carry off battle-slain.”
The Hylda looked down at Meylyne.
“Well, well, well. A human Hearer.”
She turned to Hope. “I knew your kind could still Hear. But I thought yours,” she turned her gaze back to Meylyne, “never learned the skills of your elders.”
“No, the humans never learned the language of nature, but I’m part-garlysle,” Meylyne stammered.
Now there was murmuring among the Hyldas and the leader’s eyes showed a hint of curiosity.
“It is a well-known fact that most garlysles lost their Hearing skills years ago. There is but one garlysle that we know of that can still Hear-your notorious outlaw, Meph.”
Her lips twitched in a smirk.
“You are clearly not he.”
Meylyne bristled at the snickers this remark provoked. If there was one thing Meph had going for him, it was that he was a force to be reckoned with. Not so much herself.
“No, but I am his daughter,” she retorted.
There was dead silence. Another murmur rippled among the Hyldas as their eyes fastened upon her. Now she’d done it. She wished she could bite back the words.
Another Hylda came forward. Her hair was streaked with white and her face was as mottled as a rotten crab-apple. She circled Meylyne.
“If that is true, then you are also the daughter of Glendoch’s sorceress, Ellenyr.”
Meylyne felt the hairs prickle on the back of her neck. “How do you know that?”
“There is unrest in Glendoch. Unrest precedes war. Most likely,
we will be needed there soon enough.” The old Hylda shrugged. “We make it our business to understand the people with whom we shall soon become acquainted.”
She drew nearer to Meylyne.
“So, it is true then – you are the sorceress’s daughter. Do you, too, have alchemical powers?”
“Sort of,” Meylyne mumbled.
“Sort of,” the old Hylda echoed, glancing at the leader.
The leader regarded Meylyne. After a moment’s pause, she took the cage from the Hylda next to her and thrust it at Meylyne.
“Well, sort-of-sorceress, I believe there is a way for us to wipe the slate clean. You see this is no ordinary bird. Once it was a mighty warrior but then an assassin struck him down. The warrior’s essence escaped the attack, but his assassin captured it and trapped it in the body of this bird. Then the assassin left it with the Sphers to finish it off.”
“Yes, we all know how that would have ended. Luckily for the warrior, our aquamins instructed us to retrieve him before that could happen. Now he must be returned to his original state if he is to fulfill his life’s purpose.”
The leader paused, as if waiting for a response.
“Um. Okay,” Meylyne said with a shrug.
“And for that, we need a sorceress.”
Meylyne felt confused as the leader smiled, revealing silver, pointed teeth. Then comprehension dawned on her and her eyes widened in disbelief.
“You’re joking, right? You don’t honestly believe I can do that!”
“Oh but you must, if you and your friend wish to go free.”
Meylyne heard herself laugh hysterically.
“Look, I’m really, really bad at sorcery. I couldn’t possibly get a spell like that right!”
The leader bent down until her eyes were inches from Meylyne’s.
“I’m not interested in excuses, sorceress. You must free him, unless you want to end up in the Cave of Nhyrr.”
Meylyne cringed. The Cave of Nhyrr was where the battle-slain with impure hearts were taken to sleep forever. Once inside, there was no waking up.
“Please,” she begged. “Please don’t ask …”
Suddenly, all the Hyldas’ aquamins blazed with electric-blue light.
“Time to depart,” the leader shouted. “The battle of Wahir-Pet is about to begin!” She faced Meylyne. “Time runs short, sorceress. What is it to be?”
Hope thrust Meylyne’s bag at her. “Just do spell best you can,” he urged.
“Is no one listening to me?” Meylyne yanked out her book. The pages trembled as she flipped through them. “See!” She jammed her finger into the middle of the book, her eyes pleading with the leader. “Restoring stolen essences is a Level Seven incantation. I’m only at Level Two!”
Two Hyldas grabbed Hope’s mane, unfurling their wings.
“Meylyne do spell,” Hope cried. “Now!”
“Okay! Okay … just give me a second!”
Tears welled up in Meylyne’s eyes as she skimmed through the incantation. She could just about pronounce all the words it required. But what’s that bit in the middle about? It doesn’t make any sense. She glanced at the bird, feeling like an executioner descending upon her victim.
“Hurry!” the leader spat.
Meylyne stuck out her hand. “Fine. I need the bird to sit here.”
The leader unhooked the cage and the bird flew into Meylyne’s hand. Taking a deep breath, she began to gurgle, then gagged like she had a bone stuck in her throat. The bird closed its eyes and rolled onto its back.
Meylyne licked her lips. Just keep going.
Moving to the third part of the spell, she chanted in an ancient Glendochian dialect. Toward the end of the chant, she moved her hand over the bird’s body and closed her eyes.
“… eco yabboe,” she finished. Opening her eyes, she placed the bird on the ground and waited.
Meylyne stared at the bird, willing it to change into a warrior … or at the very least to open its eyes and not be dead. One minute stretched into two.
“What have you done to him?” the leader growled at Meylyne.
“Look!” Hope barked.
Meylyne’s head snapped back to face the bird and her mouth fell open. What the …
The bird’s spindly legs were lengthening while its claws plumped up into boots. Its wings grew and shrank at the same
time into thin, feathered arms. Its head and chest were expanding like a balloon being blown up. There was a loud RRRIP and all the feathers flew off his body.
“Aaaah!” Meylyne shrieked. “Ewww!” She spat out a mouthful of feathers, then waved her arms in front of her face to cleared the air around her.
There, on the ground where the bird had been, sat a boy. He wore a greenish-brown jacket with trousers to match. The trousers were tucked into clunky gray boots. Meylyne had never seen clothes like his before. Nor had she seen anyone his size.
What is he, like, a foot tall?
“Well done, sorceress,” said the leader. “You did it.”
Meylyne looked at the heap on the ground and almost laughed aloud.
Well done? He’s a foot tall!
“Here.” The leader dropped another reed bag at her feet. “Try not to steal anything else, sorceress. It would be good for you to make it home unharmed. Something tells me you’ll be needed there soon enough.” She nodded toward the boy. “And take him with you. You will want a good warrior on your side.”
Before Meylyne could ask her what she meant, the leader unfurled her enormous wings and shot off into the air.
All the other Hyldas followed, spiraling past the moons like a plume of smoke. In seconds they were gone.
Meylyne stared at Hope. It was so quiet now that she could hear leaves rustling in the tree-tops. Her legs turned to jelly and she sank to the ground.
“You did great, Meylyne.”
Hope’s eyes shone with admiration as he nosed one of the reed bags toward her. “Open please.”
Feeling like one in a dream, Meylyne poured some water into Hope’s mouth. He gulped it down with gusto, and then pushed the bag toward Meylyne.
Meylyne took a long drink. She had forgotten how thirsty she was. The water cleared her mind and she felt a little less shaky.
“Now give some to him,” Hope said.
Meylyne looked at the boy, still sitting on the ground. The boy that, a few minutes ago, was a bird. He appeared as dazed as she felt. She held out the reed bag to him, and he reached out his hand but instead of taking the bag, he wiggled his fingers and began touching his cheeks and nose. Meylyne jumped as he bounded to his feet, crying,
“Look at me! I’m a person again! Two arms, two legs, no feathers …”
He stared at Meylyne. “But what’s up with my size? Did you mean to make me so short?”
He and Meylyne were eye-level, despite the fact that she was
sitting down. At least he wasn’t quite as short as she had thought. She shook her head.
“Oh.” For a second his face fell but it brightened up almost immediately. “Well never mind — you can always get that right later.” Patting his jacket, he chuckled. “At least I’ve got clothes on, right? This must be what I was wearing when I was attacked. And look!”
Meylyne flinched as he pulled out a dagger from his belt.
“I really am a warrior — just like those Hylda-ladies said!”
Meylyne was having a hard time keeping up with him. “Well … of course. Why wouldn’t you be?”
“Because I don’t remember anything. Not where I’m from. Not my name. Nothing. If the Hyldas say I’m a warrior, then I guess I am but I don’t remember it.”
Meylyne stared at him, trying to imagine how that would feel.
“You don’t remember anything? What about who attacked you?”
A haunted look crossed the boy’s face.
“Nope. If the Hyldas hadn’t explained it to me, I still wouldn’t know what had happened. I just woke up one day in the body of a bird! I knew that was wrong, you know — I knew I was meant to be human, but that’s about it.”
“How awful!” Meylyne exclaimed.
“Oh that wasn’t the awful bit. What was awful was the sickness. All those ghostly things floating around me. The sadness. I could never sleep. I just got weaker and weaker …”
Meylyne shivered. “Of course. The Sphers were eating your essence. Thank goodness the Hyldas saved you.”
The boy nodded. “Tell me about it! Can’t say I was too thrilled to be with those scary bird-ladies, but they were a heck of a lot better than the Sphers.” He grinned at Meylyne. “And then you came along. How lucky am I?”
Meylyne arched an eyebrow. To say he was “lucky” seemed like a stretch.
“So you don’t even remember your name?”
“Naah. The Hyldas called me Blue but I’m pretty sure that was just a nickname they gave me.”
“We call you Blue then,” Hope said. “I’m Hope, and that Meylyne.”
“Great to meet you both!”
Blue grinned and stuck out his hand to Meylyne. Smiling warily, she gave it a shake.
“So, er, what is this place?” Blue asked, gesturing around him.
“This is Glendoch. Glendoch’s Outlands, to be precise,” Meylyne explained. “Hope and I are from Glendoch Proper.”
She debated telling him about the Above-World and the Between-World, but decided it was too much information at once. “You’re definitely not from around here. I’ve never heard anyone talk like you before.”
“Yeah. Pretty sure that where I’m from people aren’t magical. And animals don’t talk.”
“Well, there aren’t that many alchemists left in Glendoch either. Aside from my mother and me, I don’t know any others,” Meylyne replied.
“Mmm.” Blue studied Meylyne for a moment. “So, is there a spell to get me back to my normal height?”
“How you know that not your normal height?” Hope interjected. “You remember nothing.”
Blue was quiet for a moment while he considered this.
“Good point. I don’t know. Man, I need my memory back!” He turned back to Meylyne. “Is there a spell for that too?”
Pulling out her quilt, Meylyne wrapped it around her shoulders. She suddenly felt exhausted.
“Well can you do it now?”
“I can’t do it at all. You’d need a decent sorceress for that, like my mother.”
“No,” Hope cut in. “You are decent sorceress. You get Blue almost back to normal!”
Meylyne sighed. There was no way to explain how she’d only got Blue’s size wrong with such a complicated incantation when she had failed in so many simpler ones before. It must have been luck. She pulled out some seeds from her bag and shrugged.
Blue stared at Meylyne, obviously waiting for her to reply. When she remained silent, he said, “Fine. We’ll just ask your mom to fix me.”
Meylyne choked on the seeds she had put in her mouth. She could just imagine the look on her mother’s face if she showed up with Blue.
“That’s not a good idea.”
“Why not? The Hylda said you should take me with you!”
Meylyne sunk her head in her hands and groaned. This was
the last thing she needed. She wasn’t even sure she could get herself home, let alone some pint-sized boy-warrior from who-knew-where.
“I know what the Hylda said, but here’s the thing, Blue. Before I can go home, I have to find something in the Valley of Half-Light. I highly doubt you want to go back there!”
All the color drained from Blue’s face.
“You’re joking right?” He gave a violent shudder. “You’d better be a decent sorceress if you plan to go there.”
Meylyne’s shoulders sagged.
“Yes, well, that’s the problem. Trust me, you’re better off not coming with us.”
“If Hylda say to bring him then we should,” Hope countered. “She say battle brewing in Glendoch. Need warrior!”
Meylyne was about to argue when she remembered what Queen Emery had said about war being near. At the time she had thought the queen said it to justify sending her mother to the Valley of Half-Light. The Royals hated alchemists. But maybe she was telling the truth.
“Well?” Blue prompted.
Scrunching up her bag as a pillow, Meylyne lay down on the ground and held up the edge of her quilt to Blue.
“Why don’t you share this with me? I’m too tired to think right now. Let’s just go to sleep and we’ll work it all out in the morning.”
“Go to sleep?” Blue sounded incredulous.
“Meylyne right. We sleep now. Think clearer in morning,” Hope said as he lowered himself to the ground.
After a moment, Blue lay down too, but his eyes remained open and alert. He drew out his dagger and rested it on his chest, its tip gleaming in a splash of moonlight.
You know, it wouldn’t be so bad to have him with us, Meylyne thought groggily. The Hylda’s right. A warrior might come in handy. Pint-sized or not…
Her thoughts jumbled together as she slid into sleep. When she woke up, a few hours later, the light around her was pink and the ground beneath her was cold and hard. Pushing herself up, she cried out as her back erupted in pain.
There was a flash to her right. Blue was on his feet, dagger in hand. Hope also leapt up and everything from the night — the Hyldas, Blue — flooded into her mind.
“Sorry! It’s just me,” she said, wincing. “I hurt all over!”
Blue put away his dagger. A fine mist hovered above the ground and the trees were outlined in gold. Everything was quiet until Blue’s stomach emitted a loud growl.
Meylyne pushed her bag toward him. “We have seeds or figs. Not much of a breakfast but help yourself.”
Blue popped a fig in his mouth.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” he said, his cheek bulging. “How about if I come with you almost to the Valley of Half-Light. I’ll wait for you while you find whatever it is you’re looking for and then we’ll all go home … to your home, that is, where your mom can fix me. Whaddya think?”
Meylyne scratched her arm. A rock had dug into it all night and now it itched.
“I suppose it’s not a terrible idea. What do you think Hope?”
Hope was quiet for a minute.
“You remember nothing about what happened to you? Not who attacked you or why?”
Blue shook his head. “Not a thing.”
“Must be significant, if Aquamins tell Hyldas to rescue you. Agree with Meylyne — you come with us, but we need watch out. Assassin probably try kill you again!”
Blue’s eyes widened.
“I hadn’t thought of that. If I come with you, I could put you guys in danger.”
“No — you mighty warrior. You protect us from danger.”
Meylyne arched an eyebrow. She was more inclined to agree with Blue. Things were bad enough without throwing this into the mix.
Blue jammed his hands into his pockets. “I can’t believe this. I’m finally human again … but because of that, I’m a target!” His eyes darted between Meylyne and Hope. “And so are you!”
A chill ran through Meylyne.
“Well, look on the bright side. There is no way your rival would ever expect you to go back to the Valley of Half-Light.”
Blue chuckled mirthlessly.
“No arguing that. Why are you going there?”
Meylyne stood up. Between all the riding and climbing, every one of her muscles hurt.
“That’s kind of a long story. I’ll tell you later. Right now, as much as I hate to, we should get going. You ready?”
Blue jumped to his feet but Hope stayed where he was. Meylyne looked at him impatiently.
“Not yet. You need practice alchemy,” he said.
“What, now? We’re sort of in a hurry here!”
“Yes, and almost at Valley! Need practice incantation to protect us from Sphers!”
Meylyne scowled at him. It was clear he wasn’t budging. Then again, he was right. She yanked her spell book out of her bag.
“This is just great. I’m in pain. I’m being hunted. And now I have to do the one thing I hate most. Fine! I’ll practice for half-an-hour. And then we’re off!”
Sunlight streamed through the branches of the mimosa-trees, none of which penetrated Meylyne’s dark mood. Spell practice had not gone well.
As usual, she fumed inwardly.
It had been a few hours since they had set off and the bridge slowly tilted toward the ground. The trees thinned out, revealing an expanse of sand that seemed to stretch for miles on either side. It swirled in mysterious patterns around the green, spiky
plants that sprung up, here and there. Every now and then, gusts of wind whipped up the sand. Meylyne shut her eyes but could not do anything about the grains getting into her clothes. Soon everything felt scratchy against her skin.
By the time they stopped for lunch, the sun was a searing blast that made the air wobble and pools shimmer on the ground ahead of them. Meylyne’s skin stung with every step, rubbed raw from her sandpaper-clothes. She and Blue set about gathering up some of the spiky plants to make a tent with her quilt. Sweat pooled on her brow as she crawled underneath it. Even with the shade, the heat was maddening. She chugged down some luke-warm water, and then rummaged around in her bag for some food.
“This is all we have for lunch,” she grumbled, pulling out a stale loaf of bread and some figs.
Squeezing himself between Hope and Meylyne, Blue broke off a piece of bread and scraped some mould off it.
“If you don’t mind my saying so, you don’t exactly seem prepared for this journey of yours,” he said.
Meylyne wriggled back, the sensation of someone touching her skin unbearable.
“It’s not as if I had time to prepare. I didn’t get myself into this mess on purpose you know!”
Meylyne bit savagely into a fig. “I’ll tell you later.”
Blue took a glug of water. “Lemme guess – this is a punishment for some spell you really messed up. Kinda like setting those bushes on fire this morning.”
Meylyne turned her back on him.
“Oh come on!” Blue chortled. “Can’t you take a joke?”
“No! And I’m not in the mood to rehash why I’m here. It’s … embarrassing!”
“Er, maybe you hadn’t noticed but I’m a foot tall. Don’t talk to me about embarrassing!”
The edges of Meylyne’s dark mood lifted a little and she giggled, despite her aggravation. She turned back to face Blue.
“Please tell me why you’re here,” he begged.
Meylyne hesitated a moment longer before relenting.
“Fine. I’ll tell you the short version and do not interrupt me!”
Blue pretended to zip his mouth shut, and then listened attentively as Meylyne explained everything from her mother losing her opal, to her falling on the prince, to Queen Emery ordering her mother to cure him.
“…it was either do as the Well said, or end up in the Shadow Cellars … and possibly the Beneath-World,” she finished. “So here I am. Make sense?”
“Yeah, not really.” Blue stared at her. “I mean, was it worth it? Breaking a … watchamacallit … Golden Rule and all that … for some stone?”
“First Rule. And no, it wasn’t worth it. It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”
Meylyne’s throat tightened. All she had wanted was to make her mother happy, but she had messed it up – just like all those incantations she could never get right.
“Actually, this trip is the stupidest thing you’ve ever done. I’m telling you Meylyne – that queen of yours has gotta be nuts. You won’t find a cure for the prince in the Valley of Half-Light. There is nothing good in the Valley of Half-Light.”
“It wasn’t just Queen Emery – the Wise Well said it too. And the Wise Well is never wrong,” Meylyne insisted.
Blue looked skeptical but he let the topic drop.
“So, these First Rules that Glendoch has – what are the others?”
Ticking off her fingers, Meylyne answered, “No defiling nature, no eating talking animals, no unauthorized use of magic and no trespassing between the worlds.”
Blue thought for a minute. Then he grinned.
“So apart from not eating talking animals, breaking the other rules is pretty much all you’re doing right now!”
Meylyne sunk her head in her hands.
“You no worry Meylyne,” Hope said firmly. “Your intentions good. It all okay.”
A family of beetles scuttled past their tent. Meylyne walked her fingers after them.
“I’m not so sure Queen Emery would agree with you,” she muttered.
“Queen Emery afraid,” Hope replied darkly. “We stallyinxes no trust her. Fear fuel bad decisions.”
“I don’t trust her either,” Meylyne replied vehemently. “She’s always had it out for my mother and me. And it’s not just because of Meph. All the Royals hate alchemists.”
Hope swished a fly off his rump with his tail.
“Not hate. Fear. Once Royals were alchemists, remember?” He wriggled out of the makeshift tent. “Come on. Lunch over. Need get going again.”
Meylyne groaned. She knew that moving would be agony. The salt from her sweat was acting like a double-duty torture machine with the sand on her chafed skin. Gritting her teeth, she crawled out from underneath her quilt, back into the blistering heat. A familiar twinge tickled her shoulder blades. Rummaging through her rucksack, she pulled out her bottle of pills and took one.
“What are those?” Blue asked.
“Allergy pills,” she replied.
Blue stared at her as she continued gathering up her stuff. Then he shrugged and climbed up onto Hope’s back. Meylyne climbed up behind him.
“People must think you’re pretty cool back home,” Blue shouted to her as Hope broke into a run. “You know, with your magic powers and Hearing skills and all that.”
Meylyne laughed at him, and was rewarded with a mouthful of sand. She ducked her head under her sleeve.
“Please – no one thinks I’m cool. They just think I’m weird … if they notice me at all,” she replied.
Blue was quiet for a minute. “Well, I don’t think you’re weird. I’d love to talk to nature and do magic and stuff!”
Meylyne wasn’t sure what to make of this. It had never occurred to her that anyone would actually want what she had. For the next hour, they rode in silence. The bridge floated up toward two enormous sand dunes towering on either side. As they plodded through them, they were enveloped in a shimmery haze and a fine dusting of dune-dust caused them to sparkle like gold. Then the bridge dipped down toward a forest of mandarin moss-birches and the air cooled to everyone’s immense relief. A purple thicket rose up in between their trunks. Before long, thorns and brambles reached across the bridge, leaving only a few feet through which the three could pass.
As Hope slowed to a walk, Meylyne felt the hairs on her neck and arms prickle, and not just because the temperature had dropped. Her head swiveled from side to side.
Are we being watched?
She jumped as a twig cracked to the right. Blue took out his dagger, his knuckles white around its grip.
“Hate to say this, but I think we have company,” he said quietly.
The silence pressed upon them as though it was alive. Then the air exploded with a deafening roar that Meylyne felt more than heard as a mass of fur, fangs and horns burst out of the shadows. She shrieked—
“It’s a tusked-lion!”
The beast paced before them, growling. Drool pooled on the ground before him. As big as Hope, his mane was full of brambles and his fur was streaked with gray. Two razor-sharp tusks jutted out of his head, streaked with what looked like dried blood.
“What you want, Talking Lion?” Hope demanded. “You can’t attack us. We from Glendoch Proper¾have treaty with you!”
The lion fixed his gaze on Meylyne. For a second she was aware of an awful emptiness in his eyes. Everything that happened next was a blur. The lion leapt out, hitting her like a boulder. Next she was on her back, pinned to the ground. There was a suffocating weight … fangs at her throat … and then –
Blue’s voice sounded like he was miles away. There was a sudden movement, a flash of steel and then the lion roared.
“Nggggg,” Meylyne grunted as the colossal weight rolled off her.
“I wouldn’t try that again,” she heard Blue snarl.
There was a low growl, a crackling of twigs and then silence.
Meylyne propped herself up on her elbows and opened her eyes. There was no sign of the lion. Something nudged her shoulder and she looked up to find Hope staring at her.
“You okay?” he asked.
Hooking her arm around his neck, she pulled herself up and nodded, not quite able to speak.
Blue stood a few feet away, peering into the thicket. He held a sword in his hands.
“Lion’s gone.” He turned around, his mouth set in a grim line. “He won’t get far with that wound though …”
He trailed off, his brow furrowed.
“What is it, Blue?” Meylyne wheezed.
“I just remembered something that happened when my rival attacked me … a woman’s voice … something to do with ‘wounding an enemy’ …” His eyes widened. “A woman’s voice. My rival was a she!”
“You remember what she look like?” Hope asked.
Blue shook his head and then peered back into the bushes. “No. And I can’t believe I let that lion get away.”
“Are you kidding?” Meylyne managed a smile. “You fought off a Tusked-Lion Blue! You really are a warrior. Where did you get that sword from? And how on Glendoch could you even lift it? It’s, like, twice your size!”
Blue grinned. “Yeah, how awesome is that? Watch – ” With one, deft, movement, Blue turned his sword back to a dagger. “Ta-da … retractable blades! And I’ll tell you something else – it’s really sharp.”
Just then, something rustled from within the thicket. Whirlng around, Blue flicked his wrist and the dagger turned back into a sword. A raven whirled out of the bushes. Hope and Meylyne breathed sighs of relief, but Blue remained tense.
“We need to keep moving. Too many places here for enemies to hide,” he said. Staring at the bridge ahead, he pursed his lips, adding, “Where is that coming from?”
Tendrils of fog seeped out from the thicket.
“Must be ocean nearby,” Hope replied, crouching down. “Blue right. We need keep moving. Get on.”
Blue scrambled up onto his back. After a moment’s hesitation, Meylyne climbed up after him. Her mind spun with questions.
“Why do you suppose that lion attacked us?”
“It was a lion. Why wouldn’t it attack us?” Blue asked.
“Because he was a Talking Lion. Glendoch has a treaty with all Talking Animals – we don’t eat them and they don’t attack us!”
“I bet he was sent by my assassin,” Blue replied darkly.
Meylyne did not reply. Her teeth began to chatter as they moved deeper into the thicket and the fog that hung about them like wet cobwebs. She strained to see through it but it was like trying to see through milk.
It’s hiding something, she thought. Is the lion here again?
All her senses went on high alert.
No. Not the lion. Nothing that wants to hurt us, but definitely something.
Her knuckles whitened around Hope’s mane as she tried to figure out what was lurking out there. The answer hovered at the edge of her mind but she could not latch onto it. By the time the fog cleared her nerves were as frayed as an old piece of string.
“Wow, we are really high up now,” Blue said, making her jump. “Look!”
Peering over the edge of the bridge, Meylyne felt her stomach lurch. They were dizzyingly high up. She couldn’t even see the ground below them.
“Yes, and the bridge is really narrow now. What are those things growing on it?”
“Toadstools,” Hope replied tersely.
Meylyne wrinkled her nose. The toadstools were big and yellow, and every now and then they emitted puffs of smoke that
smelled like cheese. Meylyne cried out as Hope stepped on one and a thick cloud burst in his face, causing him to stumble.
“Sorry,” he said. “You two get off. Safer that way. This terrain unfamiliar to me.”
You have got to be joking, Meylyne thought as she and Blue slid off him. This is safer? We don’t stand a chance!
At first they trudged on in single file. Then, as the bridge got even narrower, Meylyne and Blue dropped to their hands and knees and crawled. There was a brief period of dusk before night fell—the deepest, blackest night they had ever known. The toadstools petered out and the air became fresh and salty. Fumbling in her rucksack, Meylyne pulled out a small, glowing bulb.
“What’s that?” Blue asked.
“A Fiary,” Meylyne replied, showing it to him.
Blue peered at the tiny creature flying frantically inside the bulb. “It looks like a fairy with its butt lit up.”
“That’s exactly what a Fiary is. They light up when they’re captured like that.”
“You’re using a fairy as a flashlight?”
Meylyne ignored the indignation in his voice. To her relief, the ground had begun to spread out beneath them. It became soft and fuzzy as patches of moss sprung up. Soon the entire bridge was covered with moss so thick and soft she felt like she was crawling through a giant pillow. After a while she sat back on her heels.
“Can we stop now?” she asked, yawning. “I don’t think I can go an inch further.” She held up the Fiary and looked around. “It feels safe here. We can’t roll off the edge of the bridge and there’s no one around.”
“We don’t know that for sure,” Blue said. “We can’t see a thing beyond the piddly-little radius of your flashlight-fairy. I think we should take turns staying awake.”
“Good idea. I stand guard first,” Hope said.
Meylyne and Blue were more than happy to accept his offer and the three of them huddled together. The air closed around Meylyne like a giant sleeping bag.
This place is enchanted, she thought as her eyelids drooped shut. I can feel it in the air …
Within seconds, she was asleep.
When she awoke, the sky was brightening into a pinkish-gold. Stretching, she breathed in the air that smelled like roses and lavender. Hope snored next to her. Despite his intentions, he had obviously fallen asleep. Propping herself up on her elbows, she gasped as her surroundings swam into view.
“Blue! Hope! Wake up!”
In a flash, Blue and Hope were on their feet, staring around in disbelief. They had woken up in a courtyard of moss-covered pavestones, surrounded by lemon trees. Marble fountains sprayed violet mist into the air.
And there, not more than fifteen feet away, was the biggest castle imaginable.
Its iridescent stone shimmered pink-gold in the dawn and its turrets rose up so high that their tops disappeared into the sky. If they’d have kept going just a few minutes more last night, they would have run right into it. Its front door was inlaid with gems in the shape of a serpent that stared down at them from a great height.
Meylyne swallowed. What could possibly need a door that big?
She was suddenly aware of the sound of tiny bells, tinkling
around her, and then the door flew open.
All three jumped back. At first nothing but a cavernous gloom reached out from the castle. Then a shape parted the shadows and a voice roared,
“FEE! FI! FO! FUM!”
With a flick of his wrist, Blue’s dagger became a sword. He moved in front of Meylyne and Hope, and the three of them backed away from the door. Ten seconds passed, and then twenty. When nothing happened, Meylyne squeaked out,
“I’m so sorry for trespassing. We …we didn’t know where we were last night. I guess we’ll just be off now!”
There was an odd wheezing sound, and then a roar of laughter.
“HA HA HA! Oh that was good. You should see the looks on
your faces. I’ve always wanted to do that ‘fee fi’ business.”
Meylyne clutched Hope’s mane as something that looked like an enormous stick insect stepped out into the light. It took her a second to realize it was actually some sort of man. As tall as a flagpole and just as thin, he looked like he’d been stretched by a machine to five times his normal length. The top of her head barely came up to his knees.
Her eyes traveled up his body. He wore pale blue, thigh-high boots, a yellow paisley waistcoat and a feathered cap. Bright blue eyes. Long brown hair. Pleasant face. A roguish twinkle entered into his eyes.
“It’s from one of my favorite stories. Are you familiar with it?”
“Yes!” Blue blurted out. “I am familiar with it!” He elbowed Meylyne. “That’s something else I remember!”
Meylyne ignored him. A memory had also stirred in her mind.
“Sir … are you … an ogre?”
The man threw back his head and guffawed again. “Of course I am! What — the height didn’t give it away? You thought all ogres were beefy and toothless?”
Crossing his eyes, he hunched his back and let his tongue loll out of his mouth. “There — is that a bit more ogre-ish for you?”
Meylyne, Blue and Hope had no idea how to respond to this.
“Oh come now, cat got your tongues?” The ogre fished out a bon-bon from his waistcoat pocket. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Grimorex. I trust you slept well—everyone always does on my land. It is full of enchantment.”
All three cringed at the emphasis he put on the word my.
“Well, let’s start with something easy. What are your names?” he asked, popping the bon-bon in his mouth.
Meylyne’s stomach growled at the sight of his bulging cheek.
“I’m Meylyne. He’s Hope. And that’s Blue.”
“Hmmm.” Grimorex’s gaze lingered on all three of them while he got a good look. “You all look ravenous. Let us break our fast together. Hope—I have a hot spring in the back, if you are so inclined. My fairies will bring whatever food you desire there.”
Again there was the sound of bells tinkling. Looking down, Meylyne gasped to see hundreds of faires, no bigger than her thumbnail, emerge from the moss upon which they had laid all night.
“Fairies?” she breathed. “How beautiful! I’ve never seen so many — most Glendochian fairies left a long time ago.”
“Of course they did. They lost all their rights when the New Order came in,” Grimorex replied. Turning on his heel, he vanished back inside the gloom of his castle. “Come along!”
Blue made as if to follow him but Meylyne grabbed his arm.
“Where are you going? Let’s make a run for it!”
“No point,” Hope interjected. “We never escape his enchanted land.”
“Says who? We could try!”
“Why? We about to get fed.”
“Yes, and then he’ll feed on us!”
Hope’s face darkened.
“That stupid myth. Cause near extinction of ogres in Glendoch …”
“Can we stay on track here,” Blue interrupted. “We have a hasty
decision to make. Frankly, I’m with Hope. That dude is so thin, I doubt he eats anything, let alone humans. And I’m starved!”
Meylyne chewed her cheek while she weighed this against all the stories she’d heard about ogres. Hope started to inch away.
“Wait … where are you going?” she hissed at him.
“Hot spring! We stallyinxes love hot spring.”
“What? No! You can’t split up from us …”
“Meylyne come on,” Blue urged impatiently.
She turned around to find him waiting for her by Grimorex’s massive front door.
“Why am I the only one with any sense around here? Going willingly into his lair. Fine. Don’t blame me when we’re roasting on a spit …”
Hurrying after Blue, Meylyne continued to mutter until they were both inside the castle. When their eyes adjusted to the gloom, they found themselves in a huge, circular lobby. The walls were covered with gilded mirrors and beautiful tapestries that reminded Meylyne of the Between-World. A flight of stairs led off to the left, and to the right were three doors. One was ajar and light streamed through the crack.
“In here,” Grimorex boomed from behind the slightly-open door.
The door was so heavy that Meylyne and Blue had to push together to open it. A blaze of sunlight assaulted their eyes. Squinting into it, they saw that this room had six sides, with windows so high they seemed to stretch past the sun.
“Sit!” Grimorex motioned to a long oak table, lined with chairs on either side. The chairs loomed far above their heads.
“Um, how exactly?” asked Meylyne.
“Let me help you!”
Grimorex grasped her by the back of her cloak and swung her up onto a chair, stacked high with pillows. Blue was deposited onto the chair next to hers.
“I could’ve got up by myself,” he grumbled.
Meylyne didn’t answer him. She was too busy ogling the magnificent breakfast, spread before them. There were baskets filled to the brim with orange cakes, cinnamon pastries and crusty rolls; bowls brimming with large succulent grapes; platters of sausages and eggs; and large mugs of steaming hot chocolate. Despite her unease, her mouth began to water.
“Eat up!” Grimorex said, tying a napkin around his neck. “And please don’t trouble your heads with all that nonsense about ogres eating humans. With all due respect, my palate is far more discerning than that. I suspect you both taste positively foul.”
Meylyne eyed her pitchfork-sized fork. “Do you mind if we use our fingers?”
Grimorex gave her a disdainful look. “Yes I do.”
He clapped his hands and two fairies flew over to Meylyne and Blue, carrying normal sized knives and forks. “Apologies for not having those ready for you. Now please, dig in!”
For a moment there was silence while Meylyne and Blue heaped food onto their plates. Grimorex gulped down a pitcher of orange juice in one swallow.
“You’re probably wondering why I live here so far from my own kind,” he offered chattily.
“Yeah, ‘at’s what ‘e were wondering,” Blue mumbled, his cheeks bulging with cake.
Grimorex ignored Blue’s sarcasm. “I did not grow up with the ogres, you see, I lived in a palace of Tusked Lions. Talking ones, that is.”
Meylyne almost choked on her sausage. Tipping a barrel-sized cup toward her, she slurped down some hot chocolate. “Tusked lions?” She wheezed. “So you set that lion on us!”
“What are you talking about?”
“The lion that tried to kill us!”
Grimorex peeled a grape. “First of all, I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Second of all, you’re imagining things. No Talking Animal would violate its treaty with Glendoch. Even when the Glendochian in question is not entirely normal.” He scrutinized Meylyne. “What are you — one of those new Between-Worldian hybrids?”
Meylyne blinked. Her indignation at being told she was imagining things and not normal battled with her surprise that he knew what she was.
“Yes,” she replied stiffly. “A Garloch. I’m one of those. How did you know?”
Grimorex clapped his hands. “I knew it! You’re the first one I’ve met. I can always tell where a person is from. Apart from you — ”
Now he squinted at Blue. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were not of this world at all.”
Blue put down the roll he was gnawing. “Where am I from then?”
Grimorex was silent for a moment. Then he shook his head. “It’s not possible. The tunnels between our worlds disappeared a long time ago.”
“No matter, I am mistaken. Now — ” he turned his attention back to Meylyne. “Do tell me of the gossip in Glendoch Proper. Anything interesting going on in the courts?”
“Wait a minute,” Blue protested. “Tell me where you think I’m from!”
Grimorex held up his hand in front of Blue’s face. “I assure you, I’m mistaken.” He bent in closer to Meylyne. “Is Meph still up to his shenanigans?”
Meylyne froze. The food in her mouth suddenly tasted like sawdust.
“You’ve heard of Meph all they way out here?” she asked.
Grimorex dabbed his upper lip with a napkin. A shifty look entered into his eyes.
“Indeed I have.”
Meylyne swallowed her mouthful with difficulty. It seemed there was no escaping her father’s notoriety.
Grimorex popped a plum in his mouth, adding,
“It is odd, is it not, that he would choose only one half of your citizens to wreak havoc upon?”
Meylyne put down her knife and fork. “If you don’t mind my asking, how do you know all this? Our news-scrolls don’t leave our borders.”
Licking his lips, Grimorex did not reply. He had the look of someone with a delicious secret that he was dying to share. One of his fairies flew to him and hovered by his ear, tinkling something. As the fairy flew off, she giggled, adding,
“And you might want to offer them a bath, when you’re finished!”
Meylyne flushed. “I heard that,” she shouted at the fairy. “It’s not like I’ve had the opportunity to bathe these last few days!”
“You understood my fairy?” Grimorex stared at her. “But that means you’re a Hearer. Are all Garloch’s Hearers?”
“I don’t know. I’m the only one I know,” Meylyne replied.
Grimorex tapped his nose. “Of course, it could be from your Garlysle blood that you inherited your Hearing powers. Not that there are many Garlysles that can still Hear. Other than Meph, I know of none.”
Meylyne’s face got even redder.
“Yeah well, that’s her dad,” Blue interjected. “Ow! What did you do that for?”
Meylyne had kicked him under the table. Grimorex looked from her, to Blue, and back to Meylyne. His eyes bulged out of his head.
“Y-you’re Meph’s daughter?”
“Now look what you’ve done,” Meylyne hissed at Blue.
Grimorex leaned back in his chair. “My, my. Meph’s daughter, at my table.”
Meylyne scowled at him. “It’s not like I can help who my father is.”
Grimorex got a weird look on his face, like he was remembering something happy and sad at the same time.
“What exactly are you doing here?” he asked her. “You must have good reason for breaking one of Glendoch’s First rules.”
“Actually she’s breaking a bunch of them,” Blue chuckled. “Oww! Enough with the kicking already!”
“We’re here by accident,” Meylyne said, glaring at Blue.
“We were trying to get to the Valley of Half-Light, but we went the wrong way and we ended up here instead.”
“You were going to the Valley of Half-Light? On purpose?”
“That’s what I said!” Blue jumped in. “She’s got this half-baked notion that she’ll find a cure for some prince there.”
“A cure for Prince Piam?” Grimorex snorted. “Well now that is half-baked! It doesn’t exist. Many have tried and failed in that regard. Including your mother!”
Meylyne folded her arms. “How do you know all this?”
Grimorex waved his hand. “I’ll tell you that later. First tell me your story. Why have you embarked on this exercise in futility?”
Meylyne pressed her lips together and did not reply.
“Look, you won’t get to the Valley of Half-Light without my help, trust me. The road leading to it is covered with sucking mud, scorpions and poison-spitting pustules. It’s almost as bad as the valley itself!”
“Covered with what?” Meylyne screeched. “No, don’t say it again,” she snapped as Grimorex began to repeat himself. Tears pricked her eyes. She would never get to the Valley of Half-Light at this rate.
Leaning over, Grimorex covered her hand with his.
“I promise, I can help you. But you have to tell me more.”
“Why should I? You know far too much about Glendoch — you’re obviously keeping secrets from us!”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not on your side.”
Meylyne gave him a hard look. Deep down, she wanted to trust him.
“Fine,” she muttered, wiping away a tear. “Here’s the deal — I trespassed in the Above-World, and got caught, so Queen Emery told my mother she’d have to cure Prince Piam to earn my pardon — ”
“You forgot the bit where you squashed him,” Blue interjected, scooting out of reach of her foot.
“ — but the Wise Well told me I had to cure him and that I’d find the cure in the Valley of Half-Light.” She sat back. “End of story.”
“No, I’d say that’s the beginning of the story.” Grimorex exhaled slowly. “I’m telling you, you won’t find the cure you seek in the Valley of Half-Light. But if the Wise Well told you to go there, then by Jove we must get you there.”
Meylyne jumped as he leaped to his feet and scooped her up in one hand.
“Whoah — where are we going?”
Grimorex ignored her question. Grabbing Blue in the other hand, he bounded down a long, narrow hallway and out into the back garden. Drifts of forget-me-nots and daffodils and huge azaleas surrounded them and off to the right a crop of silver-birches swayed in the breeze. Grimorex wound his way between the trees, dodging thick strands of white moss hanging from their branches.
“There!” Grimorex said, depositing Meylyne and Blue on the ground. “What do you think of that?”
Steadying themselves, Meylyne and Blue found that they stood before an emerald-green lagoon, so clear they could see all the way to the bottom. Neither said a word.
It was not, however, the lagoon that rendered them speechless.
It was that which lay inside.
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