|No one could move. Vanessa, Sydney, and I were frozen. I don’t know if we even breathed. Even the Otomo Quartermaster was rather stunned and I doubted it had ever seen anything like this before.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, could compare to what I felt at that moment. My unfathomable anguish made me feel like I was falling through a hole, one that with every passing second I plunged deeper and deeper into it, until I was to inevitably crash to the ground…
Was this what Vanessa felt when her parents died? With my sister gone to who knows where because she was kidnapped by a mysterious hand along with her cute pet dragon Mister Muffin, Rowan was as good as dead.
Sydney’s Fire Cat, Sir Romeo, was the first one to move. He let out a heartbreaking meow and curled up into a mournful position on the ground with his adorable face on his striped paws. Sydney’s first instinct was to comfort him, so she impulsively reached down and grabbed him, clutching him close to her chest.
Then Vanessa moved, glancing around her, as if she had just awoken from a deep sleep. With a swiftness that annoyed me by the way it seemed as if she had just forgotten everything that had happened, she proceeded to draw the Balance symbol and cast the Elemental Blade on Sydney as she had been intending to before the incident.
Sydney was too busy petting and soothing Sir Romeo that she missed her turn anyway and didn’t use the Sunbird spell she’d been meaning to before.
After that it was my turn. As I expected, my failed attempts had counted as fleeing the battle, and my mana was gone. Now the duel, which a moment ago had seemed to be the most important thing to me so I could complete my quest, was trivial, silly, and pointless.
My poor sister. Where could she be now? All I could do was pray that she would survive long enough that I could figure out where she was. Poor, poor Rowan. I’d only known her for a few months, and yet I would go to the ends of the Earth (or the Spiral, in this case) to rescue her.
Oh, Rowan, where are you?
“She’s unconscious. I think she hit her head.”
I didn’t like the sound of that oddly familiar voice.
“She’ll come around eventually. We’ll get what we need soon enough.”
My eyes were useless. There was nothing around me. I couldn’t remember anything at the moment. Not even my own name.
I reached out my hands, trying to locate something to grasp – but there was nothing to touch. I wanted to cry, to scream, to panic and run around crazily, to do something that was normal for people when they were terrified, but I couldn’t. All I could do was lie there fearfully, waiting for something to happen.
When I thought really hard, I recalled vague bits of information. Wasn’t there a hand somewhere? And a dragon, a Life school symbol, some kind of disaster –
One solitary figure stood out in my memory. It was a girl dressed in blue and white, looking up at me, the desperation and exasperation quite clear on her face…
“SIERRA!” I screamed. Apparently I had my voice back.
Memories came flooding back in a dizzying second. The voice I had heard before stopped abruptly, then continued in whispers, but I hardly even noticed. I was too happy that I could remember.
My name is Rowan WillowLeaf. I’m a level 38 Magus Theurgist, with Pyromancy as my second. I had just been dragged off by some giant dragon-like hand with my pet, Mister Muffin.
Even to me it sounded like a ridiculous story. Who would ever believe that? For a second, I wondered if it was just a dream. I would even be entirely convinced of that if it weren’t for the fact that I had absolutely no idea where I was.
I sort of recalled the hand releasing me, but there was nothing after that except falling and hitting my head on something hard. I must have been knocked out.
So… now what? At this point I couldn’t even measure how long it had been since I’d woke up. I twisted my head to look around and groaned. Man, did I have a headache!
I just now figured out that I was lying on the ground. Actually, it wasn’t exactly “ground”. It was cold, hard, and uncomfortable. Tile, I guessed.
Shivering, I heaved myself up, sending another shot of pain into my head.
Still dazed from my pain, I couldn’t move. So I only listened.
“…so she can’t leave,” finished someone.
“But they will come for her, surely,” another person whispered.
“They don’t even know how important she is yet. They won’t send everyone.”
“How inconvenient that she had to be the leader’s sister,” the second person sighed. “If they hadn’t even met her yet, then perhaps we could get away with this.”
“The whole point of capturing her was to lure the others here!” the first one snapped.
“Yes, but… we could have made it impossible for them to get a Life Seeker if we killed her.”
That name… Seekers. I had heard Sierra mention them before. And Sydney. And once I had listened to a conversation Sierra had with Victoria, Sydney, and Vanessa right after they’d come back from being missing. I hated that my sister was keeping some kind of secret from me, but I’d never thought of it as a big deal. Besides, I had my secrets, too (like that I’d been the one who broke her wand that one day, not the Skeletal Pirate she’d thought…). Now I was curious. Maybe it was some kind of code for them. Or a game. A big, freaky game where giant hands kidnap people and weird voices talk about strange things when they think you aren’t listening.
I didn’t like this game.
“Sierra, this idea is just as good as if I said we should go to Dragon Mouth Cave and make the dragon statue come alive,” Sydney chastised.
“Or if you tried to go into the Balance school and make a rock cover the entrance and make the ladder disintegrate to find a Hydra there,” Vanessa added.
“Hey, it’s better than jumping into the Death school hole,” I muttered. Despite their complaints, I continued digging through the drawer.
“It’s not going to work,” Sydney said.
“What else are we supposed to do?” I shot back. “Sit around and hope the answer will come to us?” Finally I overturned a purple T-shirt (though I think it was actually the one I wore when I first came here from Earth, I was too focused to pay attention to that minor detail) and found what I was looking for.
I picked up the metallic object and held it in my hand, admiring its beauty. I traced my fingers over the intricate designs carved into it and remembered my first days here in Wizard City. I wondered why I hadn’t taken this out more often. I probably had been so upset about the whole Seeker thing that I threw this in the drawer because I just wanted to forget it all. It was true – this object had “Seeker” written all over it. But now that I was pasting hating my new destiny, I could enjoy the beauty more.
Carefully caressing the Key of Frost in my hands, I turned back to my friends.
“Look, it won’t be that bad,” I promised. “All we have to do it go to Colossus Boulevard, try the key on Gobblestone Castle, and ask the Frost Giant where Rowan is. We can also confirm that Scarlet is the Life Seeker while we’re at it.”
“What if it doesn’t work?” Sydney defiantly retorted.
“Then we come back and try something else,” I responded. I flashed a broad grin. “Or we could always jump into where the Death school was…”
Just as I was about to teleport to the Commons, someone else appeared in front of me in a gust of wind and a shower of sparks.
Scarlet MoonHeart stood in front of me. “You look like you’re going somewhere,” she commented.
“You think?” I didn’t have the patience for her attitude today.
“We’re going to Colossus Boulevard,” Vanessa informed.
“Oh, hey, Vanessa. Hey… girl,” Scarlet greeted, nodding once to Sydney.
“I have a name, you know,” Sydney grumbled.
“We’re in a hurry, Scarlet. My sister has gone missing,” I impatiently explained. “We have a plan to get her back that we think will work.”
“You mean, you think will work,” Sydney said. “I had no say in this!”
“You don’t have to come. In fact, I’d prefer if you didn’t. Your attitude is really starting to bug me.”
Sydney bit her lip, looking torn. “Well… I suppose I am a bit curious to see what will happen,” she admitted.
“Then let’s go.”
“Wait,” Scarlet said. “Can I come? I feel bad for you sister.”
“What? No!” I replied, astounded that she would even want to.
“Because… because…” I couldn’t think of any reason, besides the truth. And of course I couldn’t tell her, “Sorry, I don’t want you to find out anymore about the Seekers.”
Then I remembered who I was talking to. This may be the Life Seeker of Light! “Okay, fine… you can come.”
Soon after, the four of us stood gaping at the enormity of Gobblestone Castle. I remembered when I had finally completed this place and become Master Diplomat. I had worn that badge everywhere until I received Mastermind in Marleybone.
I also recalled just as clearly the day that I had discovered I was a Seeker. It felt like centuries ago. Yet here I was, once more facing the castle that had magically transformed into the Tower of Lost Memories.
“So, this is where you were awakened, Sierra?” Vanessa asked.
“Yeah.” I was still caught up in my personal daydream. The floating images of my life as a baby, the Frost Giant, the Key of Frost –
“It doesn’t look like much,” Sydney huffed.
So much for pleasant memories.
She shivered. “Is it warmer inside?”
“I’m an Ice wizard, Sydney. How would I know? Go ahead and cast a Sunbird or something to warm you up.”
“I’m cold too,” Scarlet whined. “Can we just hurry up?”
“You were the one who wanted to come!”
“Oh. Yeah.” Scarlet looked incredibly grumpy.
I took one last look at the tower castle and sighed, “Okay. Let’s get this over with.
I jumped back from the door when the footsteps approached. They had cut off in mid-conversation and started coming this way.
“Rowan?” someone said. “Are you awake?”
Don’t I know that voice from somewhere…? I thought to myself.
“Where am I?” I inquired.
“Look, Rowan, we don’t want to hurt you.” Oh sure, so all the killing stuff that you were talking about before was pretend. Got it. “But will you please keep quiet? Don’t disturb us. Soon your sister will be here, and it will all be over.”
I contemplated that. “But where’s Mister Muffin?”
“Your dragon? He’s fine. Don’t worry.”
“That isn’t answering my question. And for the record, you never answered the first one, either.”
The other side of the door was silent for so long that I worried they’d walked away. Eventually, an icy voice that was different from the first replied, “If you stay quiet, your dragon will be fine. But if that proves to be difficult, well, we may have to put your dragon to sleep. Forever. Is that clear?”
I gulped. Whoever this was apparently wasn’t fooling around. Poor Muffy, I thought, thinking about the nickname I’d given him.
“I asked you a question, you useless Seeker!” the voice snapped. I could tell that it was a female voice. I wondered how she made it sound so terrifying.
“I understand,” I whimpered quietly.
“Good.” Footsteps faded away again.
I just cowered in the corner for a while, desperately wishing I was home.
I heard a slight shuffling noise from somewhere across the room, startling me, pulling me out of my thought of my warm new house and my wonderful family.
“W-who’s there?” I stuttered.
There it was again. There was definitely something over there.
“Um, uh, well, I don’t think you’ve come to the right place, whoever you are. I mean, I can’t get out of here, so –”
The shuffling stopped and there was a squeak of joy.
I gasped. “I’d know that squeak anywhere! Muffy, where’ve you been?”
I heard the swooping of dragon wings as my white and green dragon fluttered over to me jubilantly.
“How did you get here?” I grinned, giving Mister Muffin a pat on the head.
Mister Muffin lifted off the ground, flapping his wings. He flew up to the ceiling. He circled around that one spot over and over, letting out little dragon calls as he did.
I squinted in the dim light. When I looked very, very closely, I could tell that this area was a shade darker.
“What is that?” I whispered, moving directly underneath Mister Muffin.
He turned around and with a couple of grunts pushed up on the spot.
“I don’t think that…” I began, but then with a grinding sound Mister Muffin pushed the ceiling piece aside.
“Woah!” I exclaimed. I was now looking at a square entrance in the ceiling.”It’s a secret tunnel! Awesome! But, um, how am I supposed to get up there? If you haven’t noticed, Muffy, I can’t fly, and I seem to be missing my wand…”
Mister Muffin floated down to me. I glanced at his wings. “Hmm… Hey, Mister Muffin, I think I have an idea…”
“Why… won’t… this… darn… key… work!” I grunted, pushing on the door to Gobblestone Castle with all my might, attempting to make the Key of Frost fit.
“Sierra, if it didn’t work the last twenty times it’s probably never going to,” Sydney told me, rolling her eyes.
“But… it worked when I was awakened!” I protested.
“I don’t get this. What are you trying to do?” Scarlet inquired.
“You be quiet,” I snapped at her.
“Seriously, Sierra, let’s go,” Vanessa said.
“No, please, no. I know I can make it work.”
“Perhaps it wasn’t the key. Maybe you did something when turning the key. Like with Victoria’s awakening, when she pressed the button. Did you do anything like that? Think carefully,” Vanessa said.
Sometimes I was stunned at how much she knew about the Seekers. I knew she’d been asking Sydney and I questions often, but still, her knowledge seemed limitless. “Uh, no. All I did was turn the key into the lock.”
“Who was with you?”
“Okay, you didn’t do anything before this? Are you sure?”
I pondered that. “I guess I tried the key on every building in Colossus Boulevard.”
“Then we should do that!”
“Are you kidding? It took me two days straight to finally get to Gobblestone Castle!”
Scarlet asked, “Why do you need a key? This door is unlocked.”
I didn’t really notice until later how she was talking as if she didn’t even know we had a key. “You don’t understand,” I said. “It needs to change. It’s supposed to –”
“Wait. Are you telling me you want this thing to somehow transform into something different?”
“That’s it. I’m out. You’re all crazy! Good luck finding your sister.”
“Scarlet, wait –”
She teleported away.
“That’s fantastic. You scared her off!” Sydney accused.
“Oh come on, Sydney. Don’t start a fight,” Vanessa scolded.
“I’m tired of you Sydney!” I shouted, ignoring Vanessa. “Today you’ve been in such a stubborn, dismal mood and I’m sick of it.”
“Perhaps I’m sad because you haven’t even considered going to Dragon Mouth Cave,” Sydney complained.
“Perhaps I’m upset because you haven’t been cooperative,” I shot back.
“What do you want me to do? ‘Oh, hey, Sierra. Why don’t I try to unlock the door for you?’ Is that what you want?”
“No, but I could do without the side-comments,” I grumbled.
“Fine! Then what do you want me to do?”
“How about you just go away! I’m leaving. I’ll get Rowan back myself!”
Without even one thought about what I was doing, I yanked open the door to Gobblestone Castle and didn’t look back as I stepped inside and unceremoniously slammed the door behind me.
I had now activated the instanced level. They couldn’t come in unless they teleported to me.
I peered around the room somewhat hopefully. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the Tower of Lost Memories. It was the same old, boring, ordinary Gobblestone Castle.
The Gobbler Prince was sitting in the center of the room, munching on a huge drumstick. Deciding that I might as well blow off some steam, I jogged over to him and made the dueling circle appear around us. Knowing I could easily defeat him, I passed every turn until I gained enough pips to cast a Blizzard. I defeated the minion, and finished off the prince with a wand spell from the O’Leary Jinxed Staff.
After he disappeared, I gazed around the room. As usual, it was full of crates of jellybeans and chickens and other random items. The tile was a boring checkered black and white and I could hear the Gobbler King’s incessant munching outside.
But something seemed wrong to me. I scanned the castle again. Everything was there. But – wait! There was a flicker of movement by the throne. When I turned to face that way, there was nothing.
Captured again in the clutches of curiosity, I cautiously tip-toed over to the throne. I saw nothing. I stepped back and instead walked behind the throne and to my surprise found a door.
A door in the back of the throne? I didn’t understand. It was a beautiful door, though, detailed and intricate in every way. There were so complicated patterns I couldn’t even begin to describe them. Intrigued, I twisted the door handle, but the door didn’t budge.
It suddenly occurred to me that the Key of Frost was still clutched in my hand. Shakily, I raised it up and put it in the lock.
It fit perfectly.
I turned it and hesitantly opened the door. Taking a deep breath, I stepped in.
Again I found myself hitting the ground hard. “Oww… Muffy, you’ve got to try harder!”
My dragon flew down to me and nudged me in apology. Evidently, my brilliant idea wasn’t working.
“It only I had my wand,” I muttered. “I could make a tree or something grow so that I could just climb up it and out of here.”
Mister Muffin emitted a sad whine. I rubbed his scaly back absentmindedly. “Yeah, I know. You’re in pain from trying to carry me. Don’t worry, I won’t make you do it again.”
With a relieved sigh, Mister Muffin plopped down on the ground and allowed me to pet him.
I perceived voices outside the door, but I ignored them, as usual. They had been discussing things I didn’t understand for the last hour or so. Instead I gazed up at the little hole in the ceiling. To have freedom just a few feet away, but unable to reach it… it was torture!
Perhaps if I could see what was around me. If only I had light…
Light! When Mister Muffin had tried to carry me, I’d been too heavy. So if I made myself lighter…
I glanced up at the pouch hanging at my hip that had been filled with my cards, deck, wand, and spellbook. No use having that on if it was empty. I flung it aside. And the extra hat I had. Actually, why did I even need a hat at all? I added those to my accumulating pile. I took out my report for Pyromancy (Darn! I’d forgotten to turn it in!) and let it float to the ground. I looked at pile wistfully. It wasn’t much, and I didn’t think it would make a difference.
I dug through my pockets and felt around. Then my fingers touched something hard… and heavy.
I heaved it out and saw that it was my bag that held all my gold. Over 36,000 coins. I weighed it in my hand. It was really pushing me down… but I couldn’t just leave all my savings here!
Or could I? I realized that unfortunately, although I’d worked tirelessly for this money, it didn’t matter as much as my life.
I sadly set it on the floor. I glanced over my shoulder at my dragon, who was still lying on the ground, looking up with curious eyes.
“Okay, Mister Muffin,” I announced. “Let’s try this again.”
The first thing I thought when I came through the door was, “Haven’t I seen this before?” And I had. In the Pyramid of the Moon, with that weird scene under the bell. This looked just like it, only the door remained this time, not a bell.
Bewildered, I frantically looked around me. I almost considered going back for a moment.
At length it ended, and I was in the most magnificent place.
Imagine the most beautiful tower you can think of, with gorgeous colors, glowing walls, and limitless heights – and multiply that by about a million. You’ve got this place.
Mostly, it was just a tower… but it was so tall, I couldn’t see the ceiling. It was so grand and large that you could have made five moderately sized rooms if you wanted. Plus, with all the space above my head, the possibilities were endless.
But besides that, it was still majestic; the walls were illuminated, it seemed, from the inside. It shimmered like ice, but glowed invitingly like a fire, then continuously changed patterns like lightning. It was also different colors – I’d look at it one time and it would be a midnight black, then would transform right before my eyes to a sandy tan color. I could go on for hours just describing the walls, but the best parts were still to come.
All the symbols of the schools were hanging above my head. The floor beneath me was some kind of polished material that was just a plain white, but still radiant.
Items looked like they were falling from the sky, and yet I never saw them touch the floor and none landed on me. I snatched one out of the air. A tingling sensation went through my body as if I’d just touched a lightning bolt, but I felt it crumple under my fingers like a leaf. But as I held it close, I felt it transform into a softer material. I looked down and I caught my breath when I found sand, which sifted through my fingers. Fascinated, I grabbed another one, but it was so hot I cried out. I opened up my fingers to glare at the item, but only found an ice cube. As I stared in surprise at it, it melted into water and dripped off my fingers, but never touched the ground – only disappeared.
When I looked at the objects in the air, they looked only like multicolored specks. The oddest thing was that when I tried, I could see right through them; they weren’t exactly invisible, because some remote part of my mind knew they were still there, but otherwise they could have vanished.
On one side of the room, there were seven doors. Each of them reminded me of a world – one was a plain wooden door that had to represent Wizard City, and there was a red door that looked like it was from Marleybone. I also saw one from MooShu, Krokotopia, and Grizzleheim – and two other doors I didn’t know where they could lead to.
With all these things around, the scene may sound hectic. Strangely, I didn’t feel disoriented or out of place. Actually, I felt like I belonged. It was a sense of peace and danger that had me frozen with delightful surprise. I was tranquil and thrilled at the same time.
The scene was so breathtaking I could only stand there in awe. I gaped at the room, not even noticing there were other beings with me. That is, until one spoke up.
“Seeker WinterBreeze?” said a voice to my left.
I was already so stunned that this almost seemed surreal. There was no way that voice could be who I thought it was.
I turned to look at the speaker, and it was.
It was the Frost Giant’s voice – I’d never forget it! The Frost Giant that had awakened me stood there, seeming especially small and insignificant in the grandeur of the tower.
“Wh… wh…” was all I could stammer. I couldn’t even make out the simple sentence, “Where am I?”
“This is the Spiral Tower,” the Frost Giant explained. “This is headquarters for the Seekers.”
I was still too dumbfounded to speak, but I was beginning to wake up from my dream-like state. I nodded.
I again gazed around me, more closely this time. I noticed all the creatures that had awakened the Seekers. There was Sydney’s Fire Dragon, the kind creature that had given us our necklaces; the Scarecrow from the Crevice of Time, on the night of the tower party; Hunter’s Cyclops, whom I remembered as the one who unpleasantly dragged Hunter, Seth and I into the tiny chest; the Hydra that had awakened Liam, which only brought up bad memories; Vanessa’s Desert Colossus, who appeared sheepish and even scared; and actually about six other friendly creatures who I didn’t recognize from any awakening. For a moment I looked for the Storm one, and then remembered – Malistaire had killed Victoria’s Triton when it had been about to give her memory back.
I finally got a hold of myself enough to talk: “Why am I here?”
The Frost Giant looked at me sadly. “I think that the Desert Colossus would be better suited at telling you that than I.”
I glanced at the Desert Colossus, curious, but fearful from the expression I had seen on its face earlier. Was something wrong?
“You must already know that your sister has been kidnapped,” it began.
I felt tears come to my eyes as I nodded.
“Well, it is important that you get her back, so we need to help you.” I’d never really noticed many human traits about the ones that awakened us, but this time I could distinctly tell that the Colossus was nervous. He seemed to be hiding something from me, and I didn’t like it.
“Um okay,” I said. “How?”
“We know where she is.”
My heart leaped in my chest. “Really? Tell me! Where? Where! I’ve got to know!”
“Malistaire took her away,” my Frost Giant said.
I felt myself deflate from my momentary excitement. “How can I possibly get her back if Malstaire has her?” I cried, dejected. “I don’t even know where he is.”
“Malistaire is in Dragonspyre,” informed the Fire Dragon in the same, kind, gentle female voice that I recalled. “Besides, you are a Seeker, Sierra. You are meant to fight him one day, anyway.”
“Oh yeah!” I exclaimed. “The headmaster told he was in Dragonspyre when I got into MooShu. So… Rowan’s in Dragonspyre? I can’t go there.”
The Frost Giant turned to face the one of the doors I hadn’t recognized. With a rush of excitement, I saw it had dragons painted on the front of it. “Am I going to Dragonspyre through there?” I asked.
“Yes. This room is a separate Spiral Chamber as well, and you can access any world without a Spiral Key.” The Frost Giant opened the door wide. There was only darkness inside, but that was typical for a Spiral door.
“But how will I find Malistaire?” I inquired. “I mean, if Dragonspyre is anything like the other worlds I’ve been to before, won’t Dragonspyre be large? Especially since I heard it was like Wizard City – it must be immense!”
“Do not worry,” the Dragon said. “One of us will always be near if you need us.” The dragon hesitated. “And… we may also choose to send you a guide as well.”
There was a stir in the crowd. Murmurs were going around, such as, “But they are only sent out in emergencies!... This isn’t important enough… Some generations of Seekers never even meet them… Malistaire isn’t even that much of a threat! Compared to what others have had to face…”
I scanned the crowd, confused. Who was this “guide” that everyone seemed so upset about?
“I think you should get going,” the Frost Giant advised, gesturing to the door. “We have a lot to talk about.”
I walked forward. I took a final glance at the phenomenal Spiral Tower, and then stepped into the door. Next stop – Dragonspyre.
“We were soooooo close!” I encouraged my tired dragon. “C’mon, I’m sure you’ll do it this time!”
Mister Muffin shook his head and defiantly thumped onto the ground, turning around, refusing to face me.
“Please, Muffy. Please!” I begged. “One more time! That’s all. I’ve got to get out of here!”
He didn’t even look at me.
I groaned. “This just isn’t my day, is it.”
Suddenly I was struck by an idea. “Muffy… what if… what if I bought you a… a… um… new toy? Yeah, uh, a new toy! Anything you want. And, how about a… house? Yeah, I’ve been thinking of buying a castle lately, and I’ll give you… however many rooms you want. You can even play on the furniture! I’ll even buy you that expensive pet food you’ve always wanted. Oh, come on, Mister Muffin. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty please with ice cream and sugar and… dragon food and… um, whatever else you like to eat? Please!”
He let out a little whine.
“I know it hurts you, Muffy, but I need you! We could die if you don’t do this!”
Mister Muffin slowly brought his head up and began to lift off the ground. Whining the entire time, he drifted over to me and grabbed my robes, preparing to attempt to carry me again.
“Thank you, so, so, so much, Mister Muffin!” I cried. “I’m sure you’ll make it.” He furiously flapped his wings, and I hovered slightly above the ground.
“Yes! Yes!” I called. “Keep going. You’re doing great!”
He beat his wings so quickly they were a blur, and I rose a couple more inches.
“YES!” I screamed. I reached up toward the opening in the ceiling. I was so close!
Mister Muffin heaved a long sigh. I knew what that meant. He was exhausted, and was about to stop.
“No!” To my dismay, I was already heading downward.
Desperate to finally reach my goal, I reached out, grabbing Mister Muffin. Using him a support, I pushed on his head to hoist myself up the last few inches and held on to that ledge.
“Finally!” I gasped. I climbed up the rest of the way.
When I was safely in the tunnel, I peered down to see my poor dragon struggling to get up from the floor. When I had pushed on him to move myself up, poor Mister Muffin was forced down.
“Aww, sorry, Muffy,” I called. “Can you fly back up?”
I felt terrible for my dear pet, but I couldn’t even go to down help him.
Just as he beginning to recover, the voices that had always been outside the door grew louder and louder. They had been speaking in whispers until this moment, and now I felt my heart race. Were we going to be discovered?
“Mister Muffin, hurry up!” I ordered.
He briskly fluttered his wings to rise into the air. At the same moment, the door swung open and a girl came in accompanied by someone I knew very well.
“Liam?” I shouted.
He stared back at me, shocked. Mister Muffin paused for a moment, distracted by the two new visitors.
“R-Rowan!” Liam finally stammered. “Why are you… up there?”
“Because…” I didn’t really feel like answering. Sierra had told me what happened to Liam, but I never really believed her. I mean, there always was something she was hiding from me, wasn’t there? But now that the evidence was right in front of me, I felt sick to my stomach.
“Well, I, um…” I stuttered, stalling for time, hoping Mister Muffin would fly up. With a glance downward I saw that my dragon was still staring at the guests though. “Uh, Muffy,” I whispered, “can we go now?”
Swiftly, my dragon flew up next to me.
The girl was staring at me, incredibly angry. Liam still just looked stunned. I smirked as I turned around and began crawling away as quickly as I could. Apparently no one had been expecting me to come up with such a brilliant plan.
However, my feeling of triumph and pleasure was soon overcome by the realization that they could easily follow me. It would be terrible if they caught me, especially after everything I did to Mister Muffin. Worst of all, there was no way I could give him any of the things I promised him – I had just left my money behind me to make myself lighter.
“Why couldn't I just drink that potion?” I grumbled.
It started out like traveling to any other world for the first time. The door didn’t appear for a while, so I just waited in the darkness.
Finally, a dragon crested door appeared in front of me. I felt a rush of excitement. I was going to Dragonspyre! Taking a deep, apprehensive breath and closing my eyes to add to the exhilarating feeling, I stepped forward.
With my eyes shut, the first thing I perceived was the smell… and it was familiar. I wasn’t sure where the scent was from, but it made me uneasy.
When I opened my eyes, I again felt déjà vu. No, it was worse than that. I knew where this was from! The sight made me want to back away, go home, and forget about saving Rowan. I knew Dragonspyre would be different, but I hadn’t been expecting to relive this horrible, chilling, nightmarish memory.
The ground was red – the same red as in Malistaire’s fortress. Above me, the sky was the same red with dark clouds. The air was dusty and stale; and it was warm, only adding to the misery of the musty atmosphere. On top of it all, I was faint with disbelief, and I furtively glanced around me, expecting an undead minion attack me at any moment. There wasn’t any lava, fortunately, only the Spiral door behind me – and, lying behind that, a single rose made of stone. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew the lava was here. The heat alone proved that.
This stunning resemblance left me disconcerted. When I did recall what I was supposed to be looking for, I whispered to myself, “Well, I’m definitely in the right place.”
I strode down the pathway, which spiraled down like a staircase. Determined to not be distracted, I kept a steady pace, hoping that I wouldn’t get off-track.
As I reached the bottom of the staircase, a figure appeared in the doorway. Unable to stop myself, I skidded into the person, and I smacked into them, sending us both to the ground.
“Oh, um, I’m so sorry!” I apologized, helping them up.
“Sierra!” gasped the person, and I looked at their face for the first time. It was Mark DarkCrafter.
I hadn’t seen Mark since my last little Seeker adventure with Malistaire. As far as I knew, he’d been heartbroken by what Liam did. At least, that’s what Vanessa told me, because she now lived with him. He had been one of Liam’s best friends, so he was the most hurt out of all of us when the news reached him.
I stared at him in shock that surely mirrored his own. “S-Sierra,” he stammered again, “what are you doing here?”
“Geez, you’re saying that as if it’s a crime or something,” I mumbled, brushing myself off.
“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just… I haven’t seen you in such a long time! What a coincidence that I find you, especially here.”
“I’m, uh, kind of busy at the moment,” I hurriedly said.
“Oh, a quest?” He examined me. “Aren’t you a bit of a low level to be questing here?”
“It’s not a quest,” I told him, becoming more frustrated. I didn’t want my attention diverted again.
“Helping a friend?” he guessed.
“No, no! Actually, I’m… doing something for… for… my sister.”
“Rowan? Wow, is she in Dragonspyre now? I really should be keeping up with all of this.”
“No, she’s not in Dragonspyre. She... she… ask Vanessa! You live with her, and she knows everything just as well as I do – or almost as well, at least.”
“What’s going on? Sierra!” he called after me as I rushed away. “Wait, why don’t I help you? I learned Scarecrow yesterday!”
“It’s important Seeker business, okay?” I yelled at him. And then I stopped. In front of me was a fountain of lava. Peering around it, I only saw more rivers of lava and a ledge that led off into nothing. Zeke and the seamstress were standing there, but otherwise it was a dead end.
Mark came up next to me and grinned. “Still think you don’t need help?”
“Hmm. Well, wouldn’t it be convenient if you had a Master Death wizard on your team who knows Dragonspyre like the back of his hand?”
“Remember? Seeker busi–”
“I’m a Seeker too.”
“Then it’s Seeker leader business.”
“I thought the whole point of the Seekers was to awaken one from each school and join together. If we aren’t supposed to be working together on missions like this, how will we defeat Malistaire?”
I wanted so badly to glare at him. I wished he wasn’t right, but he was. “Okay… fine. You can come.”
“Yes!” Mark jumped into the air in delight. “So, what are we doing?”
“My sister’s been kidnapped by Malistaire,” I explained. Admitting the words aloud still wasn’t easy, and it sent a pang of grief through my body.
“Ooh… that is bad.”
“Any chance you might know where Malistaire is?” I sighed.
He grinned. “As a matter of fact, I do.”
“What? Really?” I hadn’t been expecting that answer.
He shrugged. “Yeah, sure. Anyone who’s completed Dragonspyre would know that.”
“B-but, then… what’s the point of this? Really, I’m sure there’s someone in Dragonspyre who can defeat Malistaire besides us!”
Mark shook his head. “Nope. Many have tried, though. Few come back.”
“Only problem is that I can’t get there yet.”
“But you said–“
“Sure, anyone who’s beat Dragonspyre would know. And if you asked them, they’d tell you.”
“So, you haven’t completed Dragonspyre?”
“Look, if we could finish making the Dragon Rider Staff, then we’d be able to get there. But it takes some time…”
“Mark, I don’t have time! Who knows what they’ll do to Rowan?”
“I suppose I can take you as close to his lair as I can go. But other than that, I don’t know what to do.”
“What I don’t understand is where the rest of Dragonspyre is,” I stated. “There’s a dead end down here, and nothing up there!”
“Don’t worry, Sierra! I’ll get you to the rest of Dragonspyre! Where did you want to go? Atheneum? Necropolis? The academy?”
“Academy? You don’t mean… Dragonspyre Academy, do you?”
“Of course I do.”
“Oh! I’ve always wanted to see it!”
“Um, the Dragon Titan destroyed all the schools except for Fire.”
“Aww. Darn. Okay, you’d better take me to where Malistaire is, then.”
“Actually, that would be Dragonspyre Academy.”
“Oh. But Mark, how exactly are we going to get there?”
He smiled mischievously. “I have my ways…”
“Wow, this tunnel’s longer than I thought,” I said. I took another glance at Mister Muffin, who was trailing along behind me. “Muffy, you came into my room through this, right? Wow, how did you do it?”
I continued crawling, not really expecting an answer from Mister Muffin. Instead, he gave out an extremely sharp cry, making me jump. I glared at him. ”Geez! What was that for?"
He was flitting around this area excitedly, nearly bouncing off the walls. After a while of me just gazing at him in confusion, he sat down on the spot and looked at me expectantly.
“Oh! It’s a way out, isn’t it?” I noticed a miniscule handle on the bottom of the tunnel with the little light we still had.
Mister Muffin nodded and backed up, urging me silently to open it.
“Finally!” With a few failed attempts to turn in the narrow space, I eventually backed up the way Mister Muffin had and pulled up on the handle.
Cautious but anxious, I slowly opened the hatch. Upon looking down I saw absolutely nothing, save a few rough outlines of odd box-shaped figures. “Ugh. You’re sure this is the only way, Muffy?”
In answer, my dragon flew down a little, nodding, beckoning for me to follow.
“Oh, okay,” I sighed. I lowered myself carefully. When I dropped to the floor, I was relieved that it wasn’t a long fall. I even managed to reach up and close the hatch above us.
“The only problem,” I said to my dragon, “is that I have no idea where the heck we are!”
All I heard was the beating of wings against the air. Then, with a sudden whoosh, there was light.
Of course! Mister Muffin was a dragon. How could I forget that he could breathe fire?
Unfortunately, it couldn’t sustain for long. Already the light was flickering out. “No! Not yet! I need something to light, first!”
Hurriedly, I glanced around me – I had nothing! With no idea what else to do, I tore off a piece of my robe and thrust it into the fire. I burned my hand, but at least I had something lit…
“Uh-oh,” I said. Now I realized the huge mistake I made. My robe would be charred within a few minutes!
I frantically glanced around me again. It was some sort of storage room, with wooden boxes stacked all around me. I opened the lid to one of the boxes, only to find that it was empty. Not knowing what else to do, I threw the flaming cloth at the box. It immediately caught on fire. That would last for a while. I only hoped it wouldn’t cause too much damage.
If only my Pyromancy was working! I mused. The fire would be so easy to put out if I had my spellbook and deck.
Or maybe if Sierra were here, she’d freeze the fire… or something…
I wonder what Sierra’s doing now, I thought, walking over to a door that was on the side of the room. She was there when I was taken away. What does she think happened to me? Is she looking for me? Does she know where I am? Sydney and Vanessa, too. I doubt they know where I am, though. I don’t even know myself.
I peered out into a vacant hallway. I stepped outside, and Mister Muffin followed.
“I still don’t understand how this will work, Mark,” I complained.
“Just trust me.” He still wore that silly grin that was beginning to get on my nerves. Couldn’t Mark take things seriously, just this once?
“This better work,” I warned.
He stopped in the center of the top square that I had first bumped into him in. “Dragonspyre Academy, right?”
“Okay." He walked over to a corner. For the first time, I noticed that there were three arches all around us. What could those be for?
Mark took one look back at me, stepped forward – and disappeared.
I stared in partial awe, partial fear at the spot he had just been. Mark’s voice echoed around me through Whisper Chat: “Just teleport, Sierra.”
When I did, I found myself at the beginning of a little pathway. Amazed, I examined my surroundings, then rushed to the handrail on the side of the pathway. Looking down, I realized that we were high up. There was an enormous square with a giant statue of some man who must have been important. Actually, he kind of looked like Merle Ambrose…
“C’mon,” Mark said, beckoning me from farther down the path. “I’ll show you how Grandmasters get to Malistaire.”
We didn’t walk far until there was a big, circular opening to the side of the path. In the center stood a proud Drake.
Mark walked only halfway up to it, seeming nervous to get too close. “That’s a Young BattleDrake,” he explained. “You need to ride it to get to a place called Dragon’s Roost. That’s where Malistaire’s Lair is.”
“Well, why don’t we get on it, then?” I inquired, striding right up next to it.”
“Um, Sierra, don’t get too close. It doesn’t really like people–”
I tried patting its back, and unexpectedly it reared up and whacked me with its colossal tail. Caught by surprise, I was thrust backwards and landed hard on my back right in front of Mark’s feet. “Still think we can ride it?” he asked.
“No,” I breathed, the wind having been knocked out of me.
Mark helped me up, and I dusted myself off. “Before you can ride that, you have to complete the Dragon Rider Staff. There are pieces hidden in Obsidian Chests across the Spiral, and there’s a crystal in the Crystal Grove, and there’s, uh, something in the Forum, too, but I don’t remember what…”
“That can’t take too long, can it?”
“Believe me, it can. I’ve been trying to get the Dragon Rider staff for two weeks, and I’m still working on the crystal! Perhaps I shouldn’t have done those sidequests… or attended that house party… or helped Rowan with Plague Oni… or–”
“I get the point.”
“Anyway, there’s no other way through.”
“What about that building? Where does it go?” I indicated a house that lined the right side of the path.
He shrugged. “Who knows? I really don’t think it ‘goes’ anywhere. I always thought they were like the houses on the sides of the street in Wizard City. You know, private residences or whatever. They’re always locked. You can’t get in.”
“Hmm… anything you have that might be able to pick a lock?”
“You can’t just break into someone’s house!”
“Well, then, let’s knock.”
“Oh, come on, you’ve got to be kidding me–”
I strolled over to one of the houses. First I tried the handle. As Mark had said, it was locked. So, rather hesitantly, I knocked gently.
It was a considerable amount of time that we waited there. I was just about to give up when we heard the sound of someone unlocking the door. Surprised, Mark and I waited for the door to open. But it didn’t.
At last, I took matters into my own hands by grabbing the knob and easing the door open with a loud, high-pitched squeal that indicated that it hadn’t been used in a long time.
Inside, I found that it was frustratingly dark. I was so close to unraveling a mystery, and I couldn’t even see anything! “Don’t worry,” Mark said. “I started learning Pyromancy as my third school. I don’t know much, but I at least know how to light a fire.”
“If it’s dark we might as well turn back…” I protested. Peering into the unknown made me think this was a bad idea.
Mark lit his fire anyway. It revealed a tiny room, obviously some sort of sitting room. There were old wooden chairs surrounding a rotting wooden table. One bed stood in the corner, and there was a ladder leading up high into places Mark’s fire didn’t reach.
“See,” Mark declared triumphantly. “Private residence. I told you.”
“Why is it so empty?” I wondered. “It must be abandoned.”
At that moment, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. When I looked, there was nothing there. “I’m seeing things,” I mumbled.
“If you are, so am I,” Mark said. “I could have sworn something just scurried up that ladder.”
“Um, maybe we should go back.”
“Nah. This looks like it could be fun!”
I looked at Mark with horrified surprise. “You think this will be fun?”
The delight on his face faded. “Um, sure. Why not? I feel an adventure coming. What, you don’t like adventures?”
“What about Rowan?”
Everything came flooding back to me in that overwhelming instant. Rowan! How could I have forgotten? Tears came to my eyes again. I wondered if I’d ever get over this.
“Well… Rowan wouldn't be up there… would she?” I said.
“No one has ever been inside these houses for a long time,” Mark stated, suddenly serious, ignoring my question. “By the look of things, the owners must have abandoned this home a long time ago. Perhaps they fled when the Dragon Titan attacked? Or maybe they were eaten…” He grinned ominously.
“Oh, stop it. That wasn’t even what I asked.”
“It could be true, you know.”
We were silent for a while. Sooner or later, Mark spoke up. “I have a feeling that there’s something… something up there.”
I looked at him curiously.
“I’m sorry. It’s almost a compulsion. It seems like there’s something about this place that’s… I don’t know…”
“Magical?” I suggested.
“Funny how when you’re a wizard, you can still define things as ‘magical.’”
“Sorry. I can’t think of another word. It feels eerie and mysterious, but in a good way. Otherworldly, I suppose.”
“Otherworldly to you is surely different to me. Would you consider a box that shows moving pictures from thousands of miles away ‘otherworldly?’ Or perhaps machines that allow you to fly like a bird without magic? Or, I don’t know… the point is that these things were completely normal to me just a few months ago. And all this–” I gestured to my wizard robes, my spellbook and deck, the glowing MooShu sword Mark held in his hand – “would be bizarre and unreal. So, Mark, tell me. What is otherworldly to you?”
He stared at my blankly.
I sighed. Why was I getting so worked up about this? “Fine. If you want to go up the ladder of doom, go ahead. Let’s just get this over with.”
My footsteps echoed grimly in the quiet halls. “I wonder where everyone is,” I mused aloud. “Then again, I suppose I don’t know what I’m looking for. They could be invisible for all I know.”
Mister Muffin ignored me, as usual. He was a few feet ahead, which also was quite ordinary. That’s the problem, I thought to myself. Nothing in this place ever changes!
“I wish I could find a way out of here,” I sighed. Then I glanced at my dragon. “Muffy, do you think I’m going crazy? I mean, I’m talking to myself. Isn’t that some sort of sign?”
Mister Muffin didn’t answer – just as always.
“Oh… am I getting annoying?” I guessed. “Sorry. I mean, I can’t really help it. I’m rather – woah! Wait for me!” Mister Muffin had turned down another hallway and his wings were buzzing in excitement and anticipation, putting a brief end to my soliloquies. He seemed impatient to get somewhere, and was thus moving much faster. “Just wait,” I pleaded. “I can’t fly, you know.”
He turned back around and looked at me with an irked expression that said, “Hurry up!” To show his petulance, he thumped his tail on the ground a few times.
When I caught up, he took off again, racing toward a single door at the end of the hallway. I placed my hand on the doorknob, not entirely sure what to do. I tested it, and it wasn’t locked. I looked at Mister Muffin again. He gazed back with anxious eyes. Apparently there was something behind this door that he really wanted me to see.
With trembling hands, I turned the knob and I opened the door, cautiously entering.
“So… what do you think will be up there, Sierra?” Mark asked, trying for the zillionth time to make conversation.
“Nothing,” I churlishly replied.
“You sure? I mean, there would be something at least. Like air!” He chuckled to himself. “You know you can’t live without air.”
His jocose disposition was way past being annoying by now. I was bordering the point of teleporting away and leaving him behind. I’d like to see if he were as enthusiastic about this adventure then.
We’re almost to the top, I reassured myself. Just a little farther. I gritted my teeth and continued climbing.
I was incredibly relieved when I climbed off the ladder. It had seemed amazingly endless, especially with Mark joking the entire way. I was even so joyful that I turned around to pleasantly help Mark up. Anything would be better than being in the dark, feeling your way up a freakishly huge ladder with an irritating friend constantly making jokes in a hopeless attempt to get you out of your sullen mood.
At the top, Mark lit his fire again (which he had put out so he could climb). As I had thought, the room was empty.
“Aww,” Mark pouted. I only scanned the room. Mark had said he saw something climbing up the ladder, didn’t he? I uneasily gazed at the shadows that Mark’s light cast. Who knew what could be hiding there?
Almost as if my thoughts had summoned it, there was movement in the corner of the room. Mark whirled around to shine his fire there, but all is revealed was another door.
“Awesome!” Mark yelled, running over to the door and tugging on it. From the looks of his struggling, I guessed that it wasn’t opening.
I came to his side and motioned for him to move away. I placed my own hand on the doorknob to test it. As I did, a strange feeling overwhelmed me. A quixotic feeling, as Mark had described when he suggested we climbed the ladder. A compulsion… and otherworldly feeling…
Almost as if in a dream I reached into my pocket and withdrew the Key of Frost I inserted into the lock and turned it. The door unlocked with a click.
I stirred, as if I’d just woken, and stared at my hand holding the key as if it didn’t belong to me. I was just as stunned as Mark was that the key had worked.
“How did you..?” Mark began, and then shook his head. “Never mind. It worked, didn’t it? Let’s go.”
Although feeling paralyzed, I somehow managed to make my feet move and I followed Mark.
We found ourselves on another odd path. This one was arched like a bridge. I suppose it was a bridge, because it stretched across the red sky to a building floating out in front of us.
We walked across the bridge. I was being extremely cautious. I had no idea what happened when you fell off the side of a world, and I didn’t want to find out. When we reached the building, we found an enormous door. As we approached it, Mark exclaimed, “Sierra! Look at your necklace!”
It was glowing.
I immediately halted. “Oh, no, no, no,” I muttered. “Mark, we’ve got to turn back.”
“But what if it’s Malistaire’s lair? Rowan might be behind those doors!”
I hadn’t thought of it that way. I was considering it when I heard someone Whisper Chatting. “Woah! You’re in Dragonsprye and didn’t tell me? And in the Academy, too? That’s far!”
I recognized the voice. “Not now, Victoria. I’m doing something important.”
“Um, well, can I teleport? I want to show you something.”
“What?” I asked impatiently.
“Just… I leveled up.”
“Oh. Cool. Congrats on becoming… uh… level 31?”
“No. I mean I leveled a lot. And I finished Marleybone. And MooShu…”
“What! You finished MooShu?”
“Yep.” She sounded pleased with herself that I finally understood that this was important. “So can I come? You won’t believe what level I am now.”
She didn’t let me continue. There was a flash next to me, and out of the light came Victoria, dressed form head to toe in Dragonspyre armor.
“Wow. You’re a Master.” Though I did my best to sound ebullient, I couldn’t help but sigh. Great. Another person who would want to come with me.
“Hey, Victoria,” Mark greeted. He examined her new clothes. “Wow, level 45? Cool. You’re almost to 48, where you’ll learn Storm Lord!”
“I’m excited for you, Victoria,” I said, “but I’ve got to focus on the task at hand.”
“Ooh! What task?” She looked at my solemn face. “Oh. Bad, huh?”
“Yeah, Rowan’s been kidnapped!” Mark exclaimed.
“No way! Really? Oh gosh, don’t worry Sierra! Mark and I are Masters. We’ll help you!”
“I’d probably already be there if you guys didn’t keep distracting me!”
“No, it was lucky you found me. Otherwise there would be no way for you to get into Dragonspyre Academy. Even if you did, I lit the fire for you in that house. You wouldn’t be able to see without me,” Mark pointed out.
“Oh, what does it matter,” I mumbled. “You’re here now, and that’s what counts. But if you are here, turn of teleports. I don’t want anyone else coming.”
Once they did, I asked, “So then, are we going through that door?”
“Um, I don’t know. What’s behind it?” Victoria inquired.
I rolled my eyes. “You honestly think I know that?
“If we don’t know,” Mark said, “then I suppose we should open it.”
Inside the room it was pitch black. Dark as night. Utterly terrifying.
Well, except for the light that flooded through the door Mister Muffin and I had come through. That certainly helped. It was also enough that, as my eyes began to adjust, I could see enough of the room to maneuver around in it.
Or so I thought. I stumbled into something cold and metal that I hadn’t seen, which tumbled over with a loud clank. I heard the familiar cry of a dragon. “I’m okay, Muffy! You can stop yelping like that.”
The noise didn’t cease. “Come on, Mister Muffin. It’s not a big–” I turned to glare at my pet, and he was still floating there with a pleased expression on his face. His mouth wasn’t moving.
At that same moment, there was movement at my feet. I shrieked and backed away.
The flurry of movement and rustling continued in front of me. Mister Muffin, to my surprise, rushed over to the spot where I had just been.
“What are you doing?” I yelled at him. But my dragon seemed not to be listening.
I examined the movement more closely. It was coming from the metal thing I had knocked over. I couldn’t be sure in the darkness, but it looked like it could be a –
With a flash, there was light in the room. Mister Muffin was breathing fire again, and all was revealed.
The metal thing was a cage. Concealed inside of it was a trembling yellow-and-white female dragon.
“Oh, Muffy!” I whispered, coming up next to him and kneeling in front of the cage. “The poor thing!”
By the light of Mister Muffin’s dimming fire, I could also see that there was another cage on the other side of the room, with a pile of charred Skeletal Pirate bones in front of it.
“I see!” I exclaimed. “Muffy, you freed yourself and burned the guard, but you couldn’t save your girlfriend, could you? So you came to find me.” I couldn’t help but giggle a bit. The thought of my dear little Muffy in love with a beautiful girl dragon amused me. But then my dragon gave me a dirty look, and I stopped.
“Hmm… how did you get out of your cage, Muffy?” I looked at the sturdy lock keeping the dragon inside.
Mister Muffin’s fire went out. He then flew over to the Skeletal Pirate’s remains. Lying on the floor next to them was a key. I imagined that the Skeletal Pirate had been attempting to unlock Mister Muffin’s cage, but Muffy burned him before he could take him to… wherever he had been going.
Carefully, I removed a couple of the bones (ick!) and under them I discovered another key. I turned around and inserted it in the lock, but it didn’t fit. “What are we going to do?” I whined. “There’s no way to save the dragon.”
I peered into the cage to examine the dragon again. She looked mortally terrified, huddling in the corner of the cage that was as far from me as possible. “It’s okay,” I soothed. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll help you.” I cautiously reached my hand through the bars, thinking I could stroke her back. Instead, she snapped at me, and I drew my hand back. “Hmph. Not very nice, are you?”
Mister Muffin whined behind me and flew over to my side. He looked at me with mournful eyes. “Don’t worry. I’ll help your girlfriend! Um, well, I would, if I knew how to.”
The dragon in the cage whimpered again, and it reminded me so much of Mister Muffin. “So what’s your name, sweetie?” I crooned.
She just looked at me with those same sad eyes.
“Maybe I should give you a name! Let’s see… what would fit you? Princess something, perhaps? Princess Chelsea? That’s cute. Do you like it?”
She continued staring. I glanced at my own dragon and was struck by inspiration. “Miss Muffin!” I shouted. Mister Muffin flitted around me with excitement. I could tell he liked the name, too.
“Okay, then, Miss Muffin!” I paused. “You know, I think you need a nickname, too. Muffy is already taken by Mister Muffin, so…” I snapped my fingers. “Got it! How about Missy?”
For some reason, I had the feeling Miss Muffin wasn’t listening, no matter how much she stared at me with her innocent, curious eyes.
“Now I suppose I’d better go back to trying to help you now that you have a name, right?” I sighed. “Let’s see here, then. How can I help...?”
“So… who’s going to open the door?” I asked.
Mark and Victoria exchanged glances.
“Um, not me,” Mark announced. “I’m tired out from the fire I had to make. Sorry!”
“I, um, yeah… you should do it, Sierra! It’s your sister,” Victoria replied.
“Me? No! I’m not at all anxious to find out what’s really behind it.”
“Neither are we,” Victoria declared.
“Yeah, Sierra, didn’t you say you didn’t want us here in the first place? If we weren’t here, you’d have to do it yourself,” Mark reminded me.
“But you are here, and if you want to help me, you should open it,” I insisted.
“Why are we even fighting over this? I should just leave,” Victoria huffed.
I considered Victoria’s words. It was a rather silly argument. I was still extremely reluctant to discover what horrors the door may conceal. In my opinion, they should stay concealed.
“You know what? I’ll just do it,” Mark said, rolling his eyes. “This is just ridiculous.” Muttering something about us being incapable on agreeing on something for “just once,” he approached the door. Hesitantly, he turned the handle and pushed. We all held our breath, terrified of what might happen –
The door didn’t open.
“That was anticlimactic,” Victoria remarked.
Mark yanked the handle a couple more times, jerking the door, but he still was unable to change its position. “Sorry, but it’s locked.” He gave me and angered look. “We could have saved a lot of time if you’d just tried it, Sierra.”
“Oh, so now it’s my fault,” I complained. “Well, at least I have a plan.”
“What would that be?” Victoria questioned.
I took out the Key of Frost. “It’s been helping me quite a lot today,” I explained. “It thought it might work on the door.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
“I’ll figure that out if it happens.” I walked over to the door and inserted the Key of Frost in the door.
Sure enough, the key worked.
“Huh. It actually fit!” Victoria said.
I beamed. “Of course it did! I thought so. Anyway… shall we go inside?”
“Really, what can we do?” I moaned. “You got out because a Skeletal Pirate unlocked the cage and you defeated it. But… hey, do you think you could melt the lock? You know, with your fire breath?”
Muffy shook his head. He couldn’t do it. To demonstrate, he breathed deeply and heaved out a cloud of smoke. “Oh. Out of fire?” I looked at the frightened female. “I’m so sorry, Missy. I don’t think we can –”
Mister Muffin suddenly cried out urgently. I spun around and perceived footsteps approaching.
“Uh-oh…” I frenetically glanced around. Besides the cage there was nothing. Nowhere to hide, nowhere to go…
Hoping to buy at least a little time, I closed the door and leaned against it, panicked. Great, I thought. Now I’m going to be caught again! This is definitely the worst day of my life!
The door slid open with an agonizing slowness that I’m sure all three of us hated. I stared into the darkness inside, hoping that my face did not betray my fear. Every time the opening in the door became a little wider, my necklace’s shimmer increased, and so did my anxiety.
Finally I opened a small crack wide enough for us to slip through. We entered, one by one.
First thing Victoria and I did was scan our surroundings. We exchanged worried, but partially relieved glances – this was definitely the right place. Every nightmare I’d had for weeks had bared some resemblance to this place.
Mark barely seemed to notice the appearance. He walked straight into the center of the room, which was circular. Three hallways led off in separate directions. “Which way?” he inquired, as if we should know.
“Well… this is Malistaire’s place, all right. Oh, wait. One more test.” I reached over and put my hand on the seemingly smooth walls. I ran my fingertips over them, jumping when it pricked me. I pulled my hand back to reveal a small cut. “Yes, this is the same rough wall I remember,” I reported. I rubbed my injured finger. It was bleeding just a little bit, but I would be fine.
“Rough? What do you – ouch!” Mark cried as it cut him too. He stared at the wall in awe. “Whoa. It looks totally smooth, but really it’s –”
“Oh. Right.” He looked down each of the hallways. “So, where to?”
“I don’t know.” I stared down them, too. I couldn’t see the end of any of them, because they all turned at an angle.
“Why don’t you use your necklace again?” Victoria suggested. “It got us out once. It might be able to do it again, except, well, the opposite way. Maybe if we go toward the dark magic, we’ll find Rowan.”
“Or trouble,” I added under my breath. “But still, it’s a pretty good idea. So far, it’s the best one we have, so I’m willing to try it. Mark? What do you think?”
“I don’t really have a preference,” he replied, still examining the wall.
“Then it’s settled. Let’s see here…” I took off my necklace so I could see it better. For a while I just admired its beauty, then tested the middle tunnel. The light dimmed a bit, so I ruled that one out. I turned to the left, and it dimmed more. Becoming exasperated, I spun right – and the necklace flashed so brightly that I had to look away, before dimming to even less than the other two tunnels. “Huh. That’s peculiar.”
“And blinding,” Victoria added, rubbing her eyes.
Hesitantly, I said, “I think we should go this way.”
“Isn’t it glowing least over there?” Victoria reminded me. “Aren’t we looking for a brighter glow?”
“I want to know what that flash was about.”
“It could have been a glitch. A malfunction.”
“Uh, no. I don’t think so. Really, have you ever heard of a necklace with a glitch?”
Mark remained silent while Victoria and I debated. How strange, I thought, that he had been so garrulous just a few minutes before. Now that he was finally muted, I kind of missed his unnecessary comments.
Just as I was beginning to worry about him, he said, “We should go this way.”
He was pointing toward the left tunnel, which made Victoria and I look at him in confusion. Neither of us had even considered that direction. “Um, why?” Victoria questioned.
“I just heard something… some kind of racket.”
“Malistaire has lots of undead minions. Maybe it was a Skeletal Pirate or a Draconian or something,” I suggested.
He shook his head. “No. It sounded like… the cry of a dragon.”
We stared at him, stunned. I thought about Rowan’s dragon that had disappeared along with her.
I glanced behind me at the right tunnel. The flash still intrigued me, but maybe Mark was right.
“There was also this shuffling noise, and a door closing,” Mark continued. For a moment we sat there, all three of us looking hard. I got closer to the tunnel to hear better.
There it was – a panting noise, like someone breathing deeply with panic. Also, a grumbling sound like a strange language, suggesting that it was a Skeletal Pirate. But they couldn’t breathe, could they? A sound from the hallway like the jingling of keys met us. I took a step forward, but Mark held me back. “Wait,” he whispered. “Let’s keep listening for now.”
I wanted so very, very much to hold my breath in terror. Instead, it came out in deep, noisy, frantic bursts that probably anyone could hear from a mile away. Hyperventilating was not really the best thing to start doing when you’re trying to hide, but I couldn’t help it.
It surely was a Skeletal Pirate. First of all, no wizard’s feet could make such a loud, hard, crackling sound when they hit the floor. It had to be a much harder substance – like bones. Secondly, whatever pushed on the door didn’t push with much force. Because Skeletal Pirates have no muscles, only bones, they aren’t very strong physically. Still, the thing that really gave it away was the frustrated muttering that came when the door didn’t open in Skeletal Pirate language.
I almost felt like laughing when I heard the pirate take out keys. He thought the door was locked! Yes, that had to be a pirate. Obviously, he didn’t have any brains.
There was the click of the lock and a shove again. After some more murmuring, footsteps started fading away.
It was only when the footsteps were almost completely gone that I reflected on what had just happened – and realized something crucial. If the door was locked, how did it click…?
Oh no. I quickly turned around and yanked on the handle. It didn’t budge. “That stupid Skeletal Pirate!” I grumbled, tugging on the door with all my might. “When when he was trying to unlock it, he did the opposite – locking it, with me inside!”
I started when I heard footsteps coming our way. “We just got here!” I whispered to my friends. “I don’t want anyone to see us yet.”
“I agree,” Victoria said. “But where should we go?”
“Choose a different tunnel,” Mark suggested.
While I proclaimed “Right,” Victoria at the same time called, “Forward!”
We glanced at each other with contempt.
“Oh, come on, guys!” Mark said. “Just pick a way!”
“Well… fine,” I finally agreed. “We’ll go Victoria’s way, just this once.”
Unhappily, I led my friends through the tunnel as the clicking sound of footsteps on the floor disappeared behind us.
Now I was in complete darkness.
It was impossible to see. Miss Muffin’s terrified shrieks began again, just as they had when I’d knocked her cage over. I sensed Mister Muffin moving somewhere to my left. At least I hoped it was Mister Muffin.
I pictured the room in my mind. If I was at the door, Miss Muffin’s cage should be a little farther to my right.
“OUCH!” I exclaimed as I whammed into a wall. “Geez! Why do I keep getting hurt?”
This time I put my hands in front of me as I felt my way along the wall to Miss Muffin’s cage. It was when I was pretty sure that I’d been walking a while that I wondered if I had miscalculated things. I had been walking for quite a while, and there was still no sign of Miss Muffin.
Then a small crunch came from beneath my feet. I flinched when I heard the noise at first, startled, but then I curiously picked the odd item up.
I noted that it was thin a flexible, almost like paper, but stronger. It also seemed rectangular, and there was a slight tingling in my fingertips as I touched it…
I caught my breath. Could it be? Was it even possible? Something like this being here was so unbelievably luck it seemed almost inconceivable.
Could I be holding a spell card in my hand?
The Skeletal Pirate must have dropped it! I thought gleefully.
Wait. How did a spell card get all the way over here if the pirate dropped it? I had to be pretty far from the door at that point.
Worrying that I was about to find myself wrong once more, I reached out – and found a door handle. Groaning, I realized that I’d just circled the entire room and gone back to where I’d started, somehow missing Miss Muffin’s cage entirely. “Oh, come on! Can’t I just have one break?”
Then I remember the spell card and smiled. Maybe I already had one.
Just as I had feared, there were more intersections to come. I didn’t even bothering checking them this time. I allowed Victoria to lead us wherever she pleased.
We traveled through so many corridors that I wondered if we were going in circles. After a while, I started wanting to decide on a direction, too, and it soon became a strange competition between Victoria and I to choose the way we went. Soon enough, our controversy grew into something so great that Mark had to intervene before we hurt each other.
“Hey, guys –” Mark said, but then he was cut off from a roar just a bit farther away from us.
“That can’t be good,” I muttered.
Before I had even finished the sentence, there was a terrified shriek and a frightened, high-pitched inhuman wail. The three of us looked at each other with alarmed expressions as a stomping sound and another roar resounded through the hallways.
“That sounds like a Helephant,” Mark remarked.
“Actually, it does,” I agreed. “But why–”
“And that wail was almost the same thing I heard earlier,” Mark continued. “You know… that dragon call.”
“That was too high-pitched for Mister Muffin,” I pointed out sadly. “It had to be a female dragon.”
“What about the scream?”
I shrugged. “A Banshee?”
“No, it was definitely human. And where exactly did the Helephant come from? I think, maybe, just maybe, Rowan cast it.”
“She’s not a Master!”
“Doesn’t matter. You have Treasure Cards, don’t you?”
Suddenly, a large piece of the roof broke above us and crashed to the ground inches away with a force that easily could have killed all three of us. “Forget it!” Victoria shouted. “Let’s get out of here!”
Without protest, I started to follow her, but Mark stayed put. “I’ll go find Rowan myself,” he angrily huffed. Before we had time to react, he dashed off in the direction of the roaring.
“Mark!” I cried, but an exceptionally large piece fell to the ground in front of me. I would have been crushed if Victoria hadn’t yanked me back at the last second.
Now the pathway Mark had taken was blocked. I wanted to cry. This place was so big. How would we ever find him again?
“Well,” Victoria started, her voice shaking, sounding as dismayed as I was but doing a bit of a better job at hiding it, “there’s… nothing we can do at this point. All we can do is go another way.” She looked at the crumbling roof. “We’d better hurry.” She helped me up, and together we scurried away.
“I have to do it,” I told myself. “I have to try to cast this card.”
What if it’s something dangerous? a nagging voice at the back of my head told me. It could be something that is impossible to control.
“But I have to do it!” I said aloud. The only problem was that I didn’t even know how to do it. I couldn’t see the card. Each spell had its own special way to cast it. The worst part was that some of the magic came simply from visualizing what you wanted to happen – and I couldn’t visualize what I couldn’t see!
“Mister Muffin, do you have your fire back yet?” I inquired.
There was a disappointed grunt that I understood as a definite “no.”
“There’s got to be some way to get some light. Or at least another way out of this room.” I looked at the card again, straining my eyes, trying my hardest to see without success.
Another whimper sounded from across the room. It likely was Miss Muffin. She always did that when the room got too quiet.
“Oh!” I shouted excitedly. “I have an idea! Muffy isn’t the only dragon here.” I faced the general direction of the cage. “Miss Muffin… could you breathe some fire for me? Please?”
There wasn’t an answer.
“Um, Muffy, could you tell her the same thing I just said?”
Mister Muffin grunted his consent, and with a flapping of wings and some kind of hushed dragon conversation, Mister Muffin reasoned with Missy.
When I was least expecting it, the room lit up. “Agh!” I cried as I was temporarily blinded. “Gosh, Muffy! How many times do I have to tell you, warn me before you do that!”
My sight returned soon enough, and I glanced down at the card and emitted an audible gasp.
It was a Helephant…
We didn’t stop running until we couldn’t hear the stomping anymore. My lungs were on fire. When Gamma had found me on Earth and I discovered I was a wizard, I never expected to have to run so much – especially since I’d always thought wizards flew on broomsticks or something. Which, apparently, some did. But I didn’t have a mount yet.
While we were resting, there was an odd muttering of voices that began growing louder. Victoria and I tensed.
But the voices passed us by and started fading away in the other direction. Both of us heaved out a breath of relief.
I motioned for Victoria to follow me. I wanted to see who it was. Perhaps, if we were incredibly lucky, it was even guards heading to Rowan. Then again, there was still Mark somewhere…
Don’t think about that, I told myself. He’ll be fine.
In a desperate attempt to distract myself, I focused on the task at hand. I made my footsteps silent so that I could get as close as possible to hear what they were saying.
“…and now I really don’t want to go!” one voice was saying. It was gruff and earthy-sounding, if that makes sense. From my experiences on Triton Avenue, I guessed that it was a Rotting Fodder of some sort. “But we have to. We promised to inform him of anything important happening in the fortress.”
“That girl’ss completely worthlessss, anyway,” another voice with a Draconian accent agreed bitterly.
Girl? Could they, by some miracle, be talking about Rowan?
“I just don’t understand why he cares about her so much,” the first voice continued. “She’s just one person.”
“That isss the point,” the Draconian said. “Ssshe isss suppossed to lead the otherss here. And I guesss as long as don’t know ssshe esscaped, they sstill might come.”
Rowan escaped! I was totally overjoyed. I hadn’t heard any of the other words they had said. Only that one mellifluous word that continued echoing in my head, over and over: escaped, escaped, escaped...
Then it hit me.
My face instantly fell. This place was so large. If Rowan was lost in here somewhere, we would never find her!
My spirits dampened, I halfheartedly continued to follow the unseen pair.
Soon there were other voices in the background, and the Rotting Fodder and Draconian fell silent. There was some kind of angry yelling coming from up ahead, and I knew that if it were me having a conversation, I would stop when I heard that, too.
As we got closer, I realized with a jolt that there was only one person that that cold, cruel voice could belong to. And I knew him.
To my amazement, casting the Helephant really wasn’t that difficult. I was trained second in Fire, after all. The only hard part was controlling it.
When the mighty Helephant appeared, I hadn’t been able to do anything but stare in awe. It lit up the blackened room as if it were glowing on the inside. It towered above me, at least fifty feet tall, and just one of its massive fingers was larger than my entire body.
It blinked at first, as if getting used to its new surroundings, and then let out a roar. It started stomping around, nearly crushing me, and I couldn’t help but let out a scream and back away. Miss Muffin’s wild calls rose again. The Helephant raised its sword, and I closed my eyes, expecting to feel it slice through me at any moment.
As it turns out, the blow wasn’t aimed at me. Instead, with a blast, the locked door was blown off its hinges and flew into the wall outside. Bits of rubble tumbled around me.
Among the chaos, I thought I heard other people yelling, but I couldn’t be so sure with so much going on.
With the pathway free, I hurried out the new entrance, picking up Miss Muffin’s cage and checking that Mister Muffin was following me. Behind us, the Helephant bellowed again and knocked another gaping hole in the wall.
Then I heard someone furiously say, “I’ll find Rowan myself!”
I was startled by the sound of my own name. Was someone looking for me? And if so, was that good – or bad?
I contemplated this for so long that I didn’t have a chance to decide. The person rushed around the corner and spotted me. Skidding to a stop, they gasped, “Rowan!”
“H-hi, Mark,” I stammered.
“You… you are here!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, which really wasn’t all that loud in the pandemonium of the Helephant. He turned around. “Sierra! Victoria! I found her!”
“Uh, what are you… Wait, Sierra’s here? And Victoria? Where!”
“I left them, back there.” He looked over his shoulder and a peculiar expression – a mixture of anger, annoyance, fear, and sadness – washed over him.
Realizing that it must be a touchy subject, I said, “That’s fine. You don’t need to tell me.”
“We have to find them!” he said vehemently.
“Come on. This way!” He started running the way he came and I hesitantly followed.
At this point I was really, really confused. Mark had just appeared out of nowhere, demanding I come with him to find my sister and friend who were apparently lost. Then again, he hadn’t really said he wanted me to come. “Maybe I should stay here,” I called, halting.
“No, it’s fine. You can come,” Mark said, misinterpreting my meaning.
“I really think I should stay,” I insisted.
Finally, he stopped to look at me. “Why?”
“Um, err, uh… if you get lost, you can teleport back to me.”
“TELEPORT!” Mark loudly repeated. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”
“Um…” I watched as he made the motions to teleport. I waited as he squinted eyes and just stood there. Apparently whatever he was trying to do wasn’t working.
“Oh no!” he groaned eventually. “Sierra made us turn of teleports earlier so that no one else would come. I just wonder if Whisper Chat works…”
“Mark, just give up,” I sighed. “Don’t you think they would already have teleported to me if they could?”
All of a sudden, it hit me. “Wait! How are you on Sierra’s list? My parents forced you to take me off mine, remember?”
“Oh. Well, um, your parents don’t know we’re friends.”
“Obviously. I didn’t even know!”
“We meet in secret. Kind of like you and me.”
“So how come you don’t add me to your list secretly?” I complained. “I’ve known you longer!”
“Sorry. We just had to do it because we’re both Seekers.”
At the sound of “Seekers” I instantaneously perked up, and felt waves of anger, betrayal, and jealousy. Mark knew about these Seekers, but he had never told me! Sierra obviously knew about them too…
“Why does no one trust me!” I whined. “It’s not fair!” I glared at him. “What is a Seeker? You’d better tell me. Now.”
He stared at me with shock. “You mean you don’t know?”
This confused me as well. “No. Should I?”
“Well… yeah! I think so! I can’t believe Sierra didn’t tell you. You’re her sister, for goodness sake! I’d tell me family, if they’d listen to a word I said.”
“What are they?” I repeated, more calmly this time.
Mark sighed. “Ugh, I really hate being in this position, but you have to know. Besides, Sierra was probably hiding it to protect you. She never knew you’d be kidnapped and trapped in the Seekers’ arch-enemy’s lair. Okay then. Let’s see here. Uh, remember the first day I met Sierra, at that party we held in the Life Tower? Well, if kind of had something to do with that…”
We crouched around a corner to watch the frightening scene unfold. Malistaire was in the center of a room that reminded me of my own prison while in here, except the door was open the time. Mary RavenGem was there as well, but, to my relief, Liam was not.
The Rotting Fodder and the Draconian, visible to us now, cringed when they heard Malistaire boom, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, ‘SHE ESCAPED’?”
“Exactly what I said I meant,” Mary replied, showing absolutely no fear. “She flew out with that silly dragon of hers. Besides, it’s that idiot Skeletal Pirate of yours that got itself burned by the dragon and allowed it to get away.”
“You were supposed to be watching her!”
“No, I wasn’t. Liam was.” She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, it’s not my fault that you put a hole in the ceiling.”
Malistaire was shaking with fury, glaring at Mary. I couldn’t but respect her. Anyone who could stand there, staring at Malistaire so utterly calm when he was so enraged was someone that you simply had to admire for their bravery – or senselessness.
The Rotting Fodder and Draconian were standing in the doorway still, looking worriedly at each other. Mary noticed them and asked them, “What do you want?”
“M-master,” the Rotting Fodder stammered. “There was a H-Helephant in the… the…”
“A Helephant?” Mary repeated.
I looked at Victoria. “So it was a Helephant!” I whispered.
She nodded and, appearing annoyed, put a finger to her lips. I gave her an apologetic look and returned to the scene.
Mary turned to Malistaire. “Why do you think there would be a Helephant?”
Malistaire, his composed demeanor returning, looked at the nervious Rotting Fodder and Draconian. “What did you do about it?”
They exchanged glances. “Um, nothing, Massster,” the Draconian hissed. “We came to tell you right away…”
“So,” he said with a completely false-sounding sweetness, “can you give me a reason why I shouldn’t dispose of you now?”
With one wave of his staff, two ghostly pairs of arms reached out of the ground and lunged for the Draconian and Rotting Fodder. Before they could react, they fell to the ground with terrified shrieks, limp.
I was horrified. They’re only enemies you find everyday, I told myself. Still, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. Plus, I shuddered when I thought of Victoria or any of the other Seekers being there… or even me…
I shut my eyes and began backing away, gesturing for Victoria to follow me.
However, Victoria stayed put. Her eyes went wide with fright and she silently shook her head and pointed behind me.
Confused, I turned around –
And found myself face to face with a Skeletal Warrior.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” he said, smiling as if he had just won the lottery. Which, I suppose, in his case, he had. Capturing two Seekers would be exactly what Malistaire would want.
Unfortunately, the two Seekers… were us.
Mark finished his explanation at length. Even after he was done, I stood there, leaning against the wall for support. All of it was just so fantastic, so surreal.
Indeed, it felt surreal. I had to be dreaming. My sister… she just didn’t seem capable of doing anything more than defeating some minor bosses with me in MooShu. How could that very same sister be the leader of a group of wizards destined to save the Spiral?
Why didn’t she tell me?
The anger bubbled up again. She didn’t tell me! I had a right to know. She had been hiding so many things right under my nose and I hadn’t even noticed until now!
Unable to hold it back, at long last I started sobbing. Mark just stared at me sympathetically, but that only made matters worse.
At least now things were a bit clearer. Sierra had told me about the first day she met Sydney and Hunter, and how Malistaire’s minions had come to steal her necklace. When I’d asked her where she bought the necklaces, she only said a friend had given them to her. Even before that, there was the day on Colossus Boulevard with that peculiar key she found. Hadn’t she been acting strange? Come to think of it, we never went looking for the door it fit ever again. I tried to recall the first time I heard the word “Seeker”. Wasn’t that when we met Jasmine? Yeah! Sydney said something about them. Something like, “She doesn’t know about Seekers.” Ugh! They were probably having some discussion that said something that teleported us to Sierra’s old world!
I was sure there were other references that I had never seen before.
“How could I have been so stupid!” I hollered.
“You’re not stupid, Rowan. You shouldn’t say things like that,” Mark reasoned.
“I’m ignorant, then. Whatever word you want to use. It was right in front of me! How did I miss it?”
“I didn’t see anything different in Sierra when I first met her,” Mark said.
“You don’t live with her!” I countered.
It was then that Mister Muffin emitted an alarming cry. We looked at him. “What is it, Muffy?”
He looked pointedly down at the direction the Helephant we’d left behind was still raging. I had forgotten all about it. I then understood what Mister Muffin’s yelps were about. The Helephant’s roars were a lot closer now…
Mark was thinking the same thing. He said, “Let’s go this way,” and we headed in the direction opposite from the stomping.
“You could have warned me!” I accused Victoria, whom, even though I could no longer see her, I knew was there.
“I’m sorry,” she answered gently.
I supposed it wasn’t her fault, anyway, but in situations like this it was just easier to blame someone else. The Skeletal Warriors were coming up behind us, so we would be caught even if I hadn’t backed away. Besides, even if Victoria had cried out, it may have attracted the attention of a much, much worse evil that had been just around the corner.
We tried our best to fight, but it was useless. They were just so much more powerful than us. After stealing our decks, wands and spellbooks, they dumped us in this room and locked the door.
I recalled how much I loathed the darkness of these rooms, but at least I had Victoria with me this time to keep my company.
“What should we do, Sierra?” she asked quietly.
“Ask me later,” I replied, “because at the moment, I’m clueless.”
As I was trying to form an escape plan, my mind wandered to Mark. He was still out there somewhere, wasn’t he? Maybe he had found Rowan. I thought about what he might do if he had. Would he teleport to us? In fact, I would try teleporting to him if I didn’t need a spellbook to do it.
Plus, if Mark was out there, he may be our only hope for escape.
Finally, after a while of simply sitting there, Victoria spoke up. “Um, Sierra, I think I have a plan. But to do it, I should probably tell you what Vanessa and I were doing last time when you weren’t with us…”
Mark led us aimlessly through winding tunnels and seemingly random corridors. Although every once and a while he glanced at me to get my consent for going a certain way, he ignored me for the most part. I imagined he was letting me alone to my thoughts. Good. I had a lot to think about.
We passed through a few hallways that wandered into rooms, but there wasn’t anything special in them. There were a few cages in one, some boxes in another, and a few Skeletal Pirates in even another whom Mark quickly took out with a hurriedly cast Ghoul card.
However, it was the fourth room that we found something interesting in.
Just as we were about to enter, some Skeletal Warriors from across the room began saying things in their Skeletal Pirate language. Mark had to pull me back to prevent me from nearly entering the room in plain sight.
I stood there, away from the doorway, my heart pounding in my chest, listening to the sound of their senseless speech. When I looked at Mark, he looked startled and thoughtful. Then he gasped aloud.
“Um, Mark? What is it?” I questioned.
“Shh!” he accused, signaling for me to be quiet. He crept closer to the doo and peered inside the room. I desperately wanted to look too, but we were more likely to be spotted that way. Instead, I waited petulantly.
At length, he turned and looked over at me. “You don’t have your deck?” He sounded surprised.
Wondering why he was deciding to ask me that now, I said, “No.”
“Where did the Helephant come from, then?”
“I think a Skeletal Pirate dropped the card.”
“Oh. Ugh, without your deck, you…” Then he stopped suddenly in mid-sentence and turned around.
“Mark, this is driving me crazy!” I hissed. “What are you looking at?”
“Just a second, Rowan. I’ll translate for you.”
From my side, Mister Muffin flew up and over by Mark. He looked out too, and I groaned. “Is everyone going to look except me?”
Mark shooed Mister Muffin away without even bothering to glance at him.
After an agonizing period of time that felt like it would stretch on forever, when I least expected it Mark swiftly spun around, looking alarmed. “Get back!” he urgently whispered, throwing me against the wall behind him. He had out his wand and looked ready to fight. Mister Muffin hurried behind my back with a small, scared yelp.
“Wha…” I began, and four Skeletal Warriors came through the entryway. I immediately quit talking and my eyes grew wide.
The warriors looked stunned that we were here. One of them said something in their language.
“Mark, what are you doing? Attack them!” I ordered in a whisper. I had never felt so helpless before. I was sure that with a carefully aimed arrow from my Centaur, these guys would be defeated in an instant.
But I didn’t have my deck, and I had no choice but to take cover behind Mark.
“Wait, I think I can reason with them,” Mark replied.
“What!” I groaned.
Without answering, Mark began to say something to the warriors.
And I didn’t understand a word of it.
With a jolt of shock, I realized that Mark was speaking in the Skeletal Pirate language.
I stared at Victoria – or at least in the direction her voice had come from. “What do you mean?”
“Well, when your necklace told you to stay but we left… remember that?”
“Yeah. Well, I think I should probably tell you what happened then.”
Truthfully, I had been wondering about that for a while now, but I’d been too nervous to ask.
Victoria hesitated. “You know, it’s kind of a long story.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got time. We’re obviously not going anywhere.”
Victoria took a deep breath… and began.
“When we left you, Vanessa told us to retrace our steps the best we could. Somehow, we miraculously found our way back into the room that Vanessa had been trapped in. It wasn’t where Vanessa wanted to end up; she wanted to go back to where our stuff had been, but we ended up there.
“So I asked, ‘What is behind that door exactly?’” Victoria continued. “Because, I mean, don’t you remember that door we mistook for an exit? Well, I couldn’t believe it, because it just looked like a totally normal door, with no sunlight seeping out of it anymore.
“Vanessa said, ‘I can explain it best if I show you.’
“I followed her in the door. Surprisingly, it was dark. Almost pitch black. So I couldn’t see the shape of the room or anything. But then Vanessa used a Fire Cat treasure card, and I found that the room was really small. The walls were all white. In the center of the room there was a little dragon.”
I gaped at her. “Are you talking about Mister Muffin?”
“No!” she hastily said. “No, it was a different dragon. Rowan wasn’t there that day, remember? No, it was a female dragon. She was really sweet, and her scales were the most beautiful shade of yellow and pink. And just the way she looked at us..! I knew she was a prisoner, too.
“Vanessa explained that the dragon had been forced to breathe fire to light up the room last time. That’s why it looked like sunlight. Since I felt sorry for her, I scooped her up and embraced her in a hug. I tried to think of a name. I really wished she were a boy, because I would have named her Timothy after her timid personality. In the end, I got Lady Rascal. I don’t really know why. We just thought it was cute.”
“What happened to the dragon?” I inquired.
She shook her head sadly. “I’m not sure.”
“How did you get separated? She wasn’t there when I teleported to you.”
“I’m getting to that part. Um, where was I?”
“You named the dragon Lady Rascal.”
“Oh, right. So, Vanessa and I went back out into the room with the dragon and we walked back through the halls. When we’d spent about twenty minutes looking for an exit, Lady Rascal cried out a warning. I’ve heard that dragons have a special ability that allows them to sense danger. We knew we were in trouble when the sounds of a huge army of enemies met us. Remember, the one we told you about?”
Victoria paused, as if this memory were painful. “Then… we didn’t know what to do. But before we could figure out a plan, Lady Rascal zoomed off, back toward the army. And… she must have stopped them, because they didn’t follow us. But we never saw Lady Rascal again.”
Mark and the Skeletal Warriors spoke quietly for quite a long time. In fact, it was so long that I grew tired of trying to decipher their senseless conversation.
I wished Mark would stop talking. I had so much to ask him! How did he even know Skeletal Pirate language? What was he saying? Why did the warriors keep looking at me as if I were something terrible?
After Mark stuttered over a few words, the warriors glared at him. I closed my eyes, expecting them to attack. “Mark, don’t just stand there! Do something!” I nearly screamed, not caring that the warriors would hear me.
Then one of the Skeletal Warriors made a strange amused chortling sound. I looked up in terror. Was he laughing?
“Are you afraid, little Theurgist?” he asked, staring straight at me.
I wasn’t sure how to answer, or why he was even asking in the first place. I choose to tell the truth, so I timorously nodded.
He grinned and looked back at Mark. “Very well. We will fulfill your request.” He chuckled again. “But you have to give some credit to us, then, for capturing this one here.”
I didn’t like the sound of that one bit.
The warrior motioned for Mark to follow him. Mark started to go, but I refused to leave the wall. I didn’t know where they were taking us, and I didn’t really want to find out.
However, the Skeletal Warriors had other plans. When I didn’t move, one roughly grabbed me by the arm and pushed me forward. Getting the message, I hurried to Mark’s side. I tried to grab on to his arm for some comfort, but he pushed my hand away.
I looked up at him, confused and hurt. Mark had been my best friend for a long time now and I had always been able to count on him to cheer me up.
When I looked at his face, it was as hard as steel. I had never seen him look like that before.
Fortunately, he saw me staring and he gave me a weak smile. I saw in his eyes the same Mark I had always known – all the fear, nervousness, and helplessness I expected him to feel, and even the friendly gaze that said, “Don’t worry Rowan. It will be fine,” even though I knew he didn’t believe it himself.
That was my Mark.
Because it was the only familiar thing I had left, I hung onto that image and closed my eyes, letting him lead me.
“Wow. That’s… awful.” It was an extreme understatement, but it was all I could think of to say. Lady Rascal was likely dead by now. If she was, she surely had died a hero. Her sacrifice had saved two of my closest friends.
“I know,” Victoria agreed. “And she was the cutest dragon ever! I wanted to keep her so badly. I wonder why she was even in here in the first place.”
We didn’t speak for a while. Then I said, “After that, you found that room and I teleported to you. Right?”
“Then why are you even bothering to tell me this?”
“Oh, right! It’s actually how we found that room that I wanted to tell you. After Lady Rascal ran away, Vanessa and I continued fleeing. When Vanessa leaned against this one wall to rest, it opened like a trapdoor. It’s just like what Vanessa did to make us fall, I think. There’s trapdoors all over the place.”
“So you’re saying that if we could find one of these trapdoors in here…” I said excitedly.
“… we could possibly escape? Exactly!” Victoria finished.
“Great!” I looked around myself, and then my spirits fell when I realized that I was surrounding by only darkness. “Uh, Victoria… how are we ever going to find anything in here?”
“I don’t understand what we’re doing,” I said to Mark in a voice barely above a whisper, just quiet enough that the Skeletal Warrior didn’t hear. “And since when do you speak Skeletal Pirate?”
“It’s something they teach Necromancers at Master level. It is only for true Death wizards. They won’t even teach it to you if it’s your secondary. Even so, few Necromancers can actually speak it fluently, because it’s such a difficult language. I’m one of the only ones,” Mark bragged proudly but quietly.
“But what did you say to them?”
“Um, well… apparently you’re my prisoner and I work for Malistaire.” He smiled weakly.
“Mark!” I groaned a bit too loudly.
The Skeletal Warriors turned to glare at me and I snapped my mouth shut.
“Is there a problem, Theurgist?” one asked me. It said the word “Theurgist” as if were something horrible.
“Good.” We proceeded with walking. Mister Muffin whimpered behind me. Turning around, I scooped him in my arms and held him close, trying to console myself as much as him. I looked down at Miss Muffin in the cage sympathetically. There was no way for me to cuddle with her.
When our footsteps returned to the same steady rhythm we had been in before, I whispered, “Where are we going?”
“They told me that Sierra and Victoria are… here. We’re going to them.”
Just then the warriors stopped. One said something to Mark, and he cringed.
“Mark? Mark! What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing.” He took out his wand solemnly, and the warriors backed away in fear and confusion. “Sorry,” he said, shaping the Death symbol, “but no one messes with Rowan, or any of my friends. Not even Malistaire.”
Mark summoned a Wraith. Though I knew it was on my side, I couldn’t help but back away. Even though I had a Death wizard as my best friend, I hadn’t gotten over the fact that it was my opposite element.
Apparently, though the warriors looked tough to me they were no problem for Mark. With a single blow the warriors broke apart and became a pile of bones.
“That was easier than I thought it would be,” Mark remarked, grinning.
I, on the other hand, was stunned. “What did you just do that for?” I yelled.
“We’ve reached our destination. We didn’t need them anymore.” He paused. “And they were going to lock you up.”
“Oh…” So that’s why he had cringed. Now I saw Mark as a hero who had just saved my life.
“Mark, you said we had reached our destination. What is it? Why is this spot so special?”
At that moment, a noise emanated from a door a short ways away. I jumped, but oddly, Mark beamed.
“So, Rowan,” he said, “are you ready to be reunited with your sister?”
“I feel really, really silly,” I complained.
“Same,” Victoria agreed. “But you want to get out of here, don’t you? We have to keep looking.”
We were patting the ground and walls in an attempt to find a trapdoor. Victoria had created a small lightning bolt that provided a limited amount of light, but with the amount of flashing it tended to do it just made everything worse.
“Imagine what someone would think if they came in here right now,” I said sulkily. “They would see us crawling around on the ground like we’re searching for something we dropped.”
“We can use that as an excuse if someone does come,” she suggested.
“What could we have dropped? They took everything we have!”
Almost instantly, a hush seemed to fall over the room, and Victoria cut her sentence short. The room was chilly for some reason, even for me. It was as if all life had been sucked out of the area.
I knew this feeling. Someone was casting Wraith.
In a few moments, we sensed that the Wraith had disappeared. Everything felt normal again, except there were voices outside the door that couldn’t be the raspy voices of Skeletal Pirates.
“That sounds like Mark!” Victoria exclaimed.
“Oh my gosh… you’re right!” I rushed over to the door and, pounding my fists against it, I screamed, “Mark! We’re in here!”
In reply I heard a voice whisper, “Sierra?”
I froze, stunned. It wasn’t Mark.
“Rowan…?” I answered.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Sierra was on the other side of that door!
Without really thinking it through, I reached for the handle. When the door wouldn’t budge I yanked it back and forth in desperation, hoping to move it, until Mark said, “Um, Rowan? It’s locked.”
I glared at the door, wishing I had my wand or deck for the millionth time that day. I would have taught the door a lesson.
“You mean you don’t have a key?” Victoria said from the other side of the door.
“If only I could somehow give you the Key of Frost,” Sierra said wistfully. “After all it has done for me today, I wouldn’t be surprised if it worked.”
“Maybe I should just knock and it will open,” Mark said partially drily, partially playfully.
“Oh, be quiet. I was lucky that that house just opened when I knocked. I’ll admit it.”
I wasn’t really sure what they were arguing about. I was still stumped on what the “Key of Frost” was.
I felt something nudge my hip. I looked down to find Mister Muffin digging through my pocked. “Muffy…” I began, but then he took out the item I had forgotten was in there – a key.
“Oh! Right! Great idea, Muffy!” I grasped the silver key and showed it to Mark. “Do you think it will fit?”
“Where did you get that?” he questioned.
“A Skeletal Pirate was holding it. Mister Muffin took him out, and I took the key to try and unlock Missy’s cage, but it didn’t work.”
“Missy?” Sierra inquired, her voice muffled by the door.
“I’ll show her to you when you get out,” I promised. “Anyway, Mark, does it fit?”
Taking the key from me, he examined it. A small smile played on his face. “It just might!”
“Try it then!” I insisted eagerly.
He inserted it into the lock. With a click, it swung open.
Sierra emerged, tears of joy in her eyes. “Rowan…” she said in a whisper. “I… you can’t imagine how much I… missed you.”
I felt the tears rising in my eyes, too, but I fought them down. Instead, I managed a grin. “And where in the world have you been?” I demanded. “I was waiting for you! Instead, I had to get Mister Muffin’s help. A dragon is more heroic than you. A dragon!”
Sierra flashed me a smile. “What? No thank you? At least I came all the way to Dragonspyre to save you!”
I started laughing, and Sierra joined in. Then Mark and Victoria couldn’t help but begin, too. Soon enough, the four of us were crying from giggling so hard. It wasn’t so much that Sierra’s joke had been funny. No, we were laughing from relief. Finally, I was back with my friends.
However, when the laughter subsided, I realized we were faced with one more challenge.
“Um, guys?” I started.
The three turned to me.
“Uh… anyone know how we’re going to get out of here?”
“If this is the same place we were in last time, I might be able to find the exit again,” I offered.
“If you can find a place that looks familiar,” Victoria said, “then that might work. But how are we going to recognize any of this? It all looks the same.”
“I could try my necklace again.” I slipped it over my head to show them how it was glowing.
“NO!” Mark cried, snatching it out of my hands to suddenly I had no chance to react.
“Mark! Why–” Then he threw it on the ground and stepped on it, breaking the sapphire in the middle.
“Mark!” Victoria gasped. “How could you do something like that?”
I stared at the shattered remains of my former necklace. At first I was furious. But then I scrutinized the pieces. Actually, how did it break in the first place? Sapphire is an incredibly hard substance, nearly impossible to break. Besides, weren’t these pieces black? My sapphire was blue…
“Wh-what was that thing?” I stammered.
“I had totally forgotten about it until this point! The Skeletal Warriors told me about this, too. Well, as you can see, that wasn’t your necklace. It was a fake Malistaire made.”
“But… I was wearing it!” Disgusted, I backed away from the shattered gemstone.
“How come it helped us last time, then?” Victoria pointed out. “Didn’t it lead you to the exit, Sierra?”
“It doesn’t look like a sapphire necklace,” Rowan commented.
“You know, it didn’t actually help us out,” I recalled. “When we teleported back, we found Malistaire with his undead army.”
“Oh, that’s right!”
I looked at the necklace’s remains ruefully. “I really hope I can find my real one.”
“Same,” Rowan agreed. “It was always so pretty.”
“That’s not the only reason,” I said. “I’m not sure if you knew this, Rowan, but my necklace can sense dark magic.”
She gaped at me. “Really?”
“Yeah…” For the first time, I looked long and hard at my sister. I couldn’t quite figure out why, but something was different. Maybe it was because she wasn’t wearing her cap.
I tore my eyes away from her appearance and looked down at the item she held in her hand. Indicating it, I inquired, “What’s that?”
“Oh!” Rowan lifted it up proudly, displaying a small cage with a dragon concealed inside.
Before I could comment, Victoria cried out, “Lady Rascal!”
Without glancing at her, she rushed over and snatched the cage out of a startled Rowan’s hand and began to speak to the dragon. “Oh, no! I’m so sorry this happened. You’re not hurt, are you? Who did this? I still need to thank you for saving us! I’m so glad I found you again. Don’t worry; I’ll get you out, somehow!”
The dragon in the cage – who apparently was the audacious Lady Rascal – was probably the most excited dragon I had ever seen. She beat her wings and stretched, trying to get closer to Victoria in the cramped cage.
“She seems to like you, Victoria,” Rowan said flatly. I couldn’t help but notice that she looked very offended.
I felt sorry for her, and wondered what had hurt her feelings so much. “Rowan, what’s wr–”
“Sierra.” Victoria hastened toward me before I could finish my sentence. “Where’s your key?”
She rolled her eyes. “The Key of Frost!”
“It’s right here.” I took it out of my pocket and handed it to her, who, without a thank you, hurried back to the dragon’s cage.
Victoria turned my fantastic key into the lock, and the dragon was free.
Lady Rascal leaped out at Victoria with joy. While they were catching up with each other, Rowan huffed next to me, “It’s not fair.”
At first I didn’t pay attention to her. I had heard this statement multiple times when she thought I got something she deserved more. It was just the type of thing sisters always seem to do. I probably even said it once or twice.
However, I gave her a single glance and realized that she was very upset. “What’s up?” I asked.
“It’s just that… I was the one who rescued Miss Muffin from being locked up in that room! Why does she like Victoria so much better?”
“Miss Muffin…?” I said questioningly. I looked down at Mister Muffin on the floor by Rowan’s feet. He, too, looked rejected.
“Oh! I see. You like that dragon, don’t you, Mister Muffin?”
“Yes, he does,” Rowan replied unhappily. “For the record, I did, too.”
“Aww…” I watched as Victoria hugged Lady Rascal – or was it Miss Muffin? – and hold her tightly, as if there was nothing more important in the world.
A smile came across my face. “We still need a way out of here, don’t we?”
Rowan soberly nodded.
My smile grew wider. “I think that maybe the two dragons can help us.”
Sierra left me confused. How could my dear Muffy and the unfaithful Missy assist us in any way?
Although I felt betrayed by Miss Muffin, I knew that Mister Muffin must be feeling even worse. He had loved her, I was pretty sure. Now Victoria, a complete stranger, comes along and Miss Muffin totally abandons us.
I watched my sister and she dashed over to Victoria, Miss Muffin, and Mark. The way she said “help us” had given me an uncomfortable feeling – as if she were about to make the dragons do something she knew I wouldn’t like.
While Sierra was speaking with Victoria, I glared at Miss Muffin. How dare she to this to us!
Soon my three companions headed toward me. I resolved that I wouldn’t talk. I would wait until they begged me to forgive them.
“Sierra has a plan,” Mark announced cheerfully.
“Yeah, but we need Mister Muffin’s help,” Victoria said.
Sierra said, “I was thinking that Lady Rascal and–”
“Her name is Missy!” I shouted, interrupting my sister.
So much for not talking.
“Uh… okay,” Sierra nervously agreed. “Missy and Mister Muffin can go up ahead of us by themselves – I mean, by themselves, together,” she hurriedly added as she saw my eyes flash with anger. “Then they can search for an exit, or at least find out where the dead ends are.”
“You’re saying that you want to make the dragons scout ahead,” I checked.
“Why do the dragons have to go? Why can’t you go?”
“I was thinking that the dragons are faster with their wings, and pretty agile, too. If they run into trouble, they have the best chance out of all of us to–”
“No. You don’t care about them. You would send them to their deaths if it helped you out!” I turned away from them. “I don’t even know why you came to rescue me. Just get out of my sight!”
I wasn’t listening. Scooping up Mister Muffin and leaving the treacherous dragon there, I sprinted down the hallway. I didn’t know where I was going, but I knew I was getting away from them.
When I rounded I corner, I unexpectedly found someone already standing there. I crashed into them, and I flew backward and landed on my back with a thump.
The wind was temporarily knocked out of me. For a few seconds I lay there, trying to get my breath back. Then I heard someone say, “Rowan?”
Startled at the sound of my own name, I raised my head, and in a small, terrified voice just above a whisper, I squeaked, “Liam!”
“Rowan’s really ungrateful, isn’t she?” Victoria huffed. “We should just leave her.”
“She’s my sister!” I reminded Victoria, appalled that she would even suggest such a thing.
“If we don’t go after her, she’ll get caught again,” Mark pointed out.
“After all this work, we wouldn’t want to lose her,” I agreed. “Not that we would want to in the first place, but…”
“Oh, I guess you’re right,” Victoria said. She looked around. “Anyone remember which way she went?”
“I think she went this way.” I indicated a hallway.
“Let’s hope you’re right,” Victoria sighed.
The three of us hurried the way Rowan had headed, Lady Rascal trailing behind us. I only hoped we could calm her down. After only six months in Wizard City, I wasn’t really an expert at the “older sister” thing yet.
However, when I turned the corner, I saw Rowan was already with someone.
And that “someone” happened to be Liam GriffinBane.
“Rowan!” I gasped. “Get away from him!”
“I wasn’t–” she began, but I roughly grabbed hold of her wrist and yanked her away.
“Don’t you dare touch my sister,” I growled at Liam.
“Is this the way you’re always going to react when you see me?” Liam asked bitterly.
“Yeah. Pretty much,” I replied with equal acrimony. I faced my sister again, turning at just the right angle that I could look at her and keep an eye on Liam. “Don’t you remember what I told you when I came back last time? Liam is evil!”
“I know that, but–”
“See? I leave you alone for just a few minutes and you find him.” I glared at Liam to prove a point. “In fact, why are you down here? Probably coming to execute Victoria and me!”
“Um, well… I actually was coming to see you…” He eyed us suspiciously. “How did you get out, anyway?”
I ignored his last question – had he really expected a truthful answer, anyway? “As you can see, Rowan, he was just going to add another indelible mark on his already diminishing reputation. We’d better leave before he calls on some of his new Draconian buddies.”
“Me? Friends with a Draconian? No way. They’re idiots. And… I wasn’t coming to kill you. That’s Mary’s job. I… wanted to talk to you.”
“Oh, right. Talk to us,” I scoffed, smirking. “Then, go ahead. What did you want to say? You’ve got my attention.”
“I, uh, wanted to ask you about Vanessa.”
I just stood there, too stunned to speak. That certainly hadn’t been what I had expected to hear.
“Please tell me if she’s okay,” Liam begged. “I’m really worried about her. I can’t go a few minutes without wondering if she is doing all right.”
The first thing I thought was, How sweet! He still cares about his sister, even now.
Then I remembered who I was talking to.
“And why should I tell you?” I challenged.
“Because I’m her brother… and you’re not really in a position to argue.”
I let out a frustrated huff of air. Unfortunately, he was right.
“Besides, Vanessa would want it. She wouldn’t want me to worry,” he added.
That, at least, was true. “Well… you might as well ask Mark instead. He has been living with her.”
“Oh! Mark!” he said, as if just noticing he was there. “She’s staying with you? That’s a relief. I thought she might be with Sie–” He stopped himself just in time, but not before I understood what he was saying.
“What’s wrong with me?” I furiously asked. “At least I would take care of her. Unlike you! You’re the reason your parents are dead!”
He winced as if I hit him. He replied, “I’m also the reason Vanessa is alive.”
“No you’re not. Victoria and I were the ones who saved her. You were too busy with Malistaire to even care about her.”
“Y… you saved her?” He sounded surprised, which only made me more angry.
“Did you think Malistaire had freed her? As if!”
“I..” I felt slightly pleased that Liam was confused. Maybe it would show him what he had done wrong.
“Just… tell me if she’s okay. That’s all I want,” Liam said to Mark.
“She’s, uh, fine,” Mark said. “She just finished the Tree of Life.”
“What level is she?”
“Uh… I think it was 38.”
Liam sighed with relief. “Good. Is she working on her spell quest for Spectral Minion?”
“Yeah. Is that what she’s getting? She’ll be happy when I tell her!”
“Okay, you’ve got your answer, Liam,” I said. “We’re leaving.”
“But… wait! I wanted to know more about Vanessa. Is she safe? She’s always with a friend when questing, right? I told her to keep someone with her who can heal, in case she get hurt.”
At first his concern had been touching, but now it was just becoming annoying. “We’ve been on the same quests ever since she helped me get to MooShu. She is always with me. If I’m not available, she’s with Sydney, Rowan, or Victoria. Is that all?” I said in an irritated tone, glaring at him.
“Well, I was also curious about–”
“This is a waste of our time!” I shouted. “Vanessa is a Seeker now. Don’t you get it? If you’re working against the Seekers, you’re working against your sister.”
Liam stared at me in shock. “Vanessa’s a Seeker?”
“Of course she is! What did you think we were in the Pyramid of the Moon for? We…” My voice trailed off as I realized that Liam had no idea what I was talking about. I decided if he didn’t know, perhaps I shouldn’t tell him.
“That’s what you were there for?” Liam gasped. “When the Colossus told us who the Life Seeker was, we thought that was the only reason you had come.”
“Well, now you know,” I sighed. “Vanessa is a Seeker, and she–” I abruptly stopped as his words sank in. “Wait… YOU KNOW WHO THE LIFE SEEKER IS?”
“You don’t know who the Life Seeker is?”
“I… I might.”
He looked at me skeptically. “So that wasn’t why you came to save Rowan?”
“What wasn’t? To… find the Life Seeker? No, not at all!” I glanced at my sister, whose arm was still trapped in my grasp from when I had pulled her away from Liam. I released her and said, “No. I care about Rowan. I haven’t been with her for a very long time, but it’s been long enough to make me realize that she’s the best – if not the most unique – sister that anyone could ever have. I wouldn’t leave her behind for the world.”
Rowan looked at me, and I held her gaze. Slowly, she grinned. I beamed. I knew I was forgiven.
“What about them?” Liam said in a way that made him sound like he hadn’t cared that my sister and I were sharing a special moment one bit.
Mark and Victoria looked at each other. “Liam… we’re Rowan’s friends too,” Mark pointed out.
“Besides, we’d never let Sierra do something dangerous alone,” Victoria added, grinning. “We’d miss out on all the fun, and we would never hear the end of it from her.”
Liam stared at the four of us for a while, and then he closed his eyes thoughtfully. “You know what? I think you’re right.”
I hadn’t really been expecting that answer. “About what?”
“Vanessa will be safe with you. I should stop worrying.” He turned around, no longer facing us. “Look… tell Vanessa I was wondering about her, okay?” He started walking back in the direction he had come from. Just as he was about to round the corner, he stopped and slowly turned back to us. He hesitated for a moment. “Um… you know, I can’t tell you that there is a trapdoor down that hallway to your left that leads to the outside.” He looked at us nervously. “Good luck.”
Before I could thank him, Liam sped around the corner and vanished.
At first, we were all so stunned that no one could speak. Even when I found I could, I remained silent to allow my companions to gather their own thoughts.
Sierra was the first to voice the exact thing all four of us had been thinking. “Should we trust him?”
“I think we should,” Mark said.
“That’s because you weren’t there when everything horrible happened! Sierra was there. We shouldn’t believe anything he says. Right, Sierra?”
“Personally, I think it’s safe to at least give him a chance,” I put in.
“You weren’t there either, Rowan,” Victoria reminded me. “I’m sorry, but you really don’t understand what’s going on.”
For some reason, this brought up all my anger back from before. “No, I don’t!” I shouted. “Can’t someone explain?” Victoria opened her mouth to speak, but I signaled for her to stop. “No, not you.” I turned to my sister. “You had better give me some answers.”
“Me?” Sierra said with an annoyingly ignorant and astounded tone.
“Yes, you! Why didn’t you tell me about the Seekers?”
The color drained from Sierra’s face. Her eyes darted away from mine as she tried not to meet my accusing gaze. “I didn’t want you worried.”
“Well, heck yeah! I’m worried!”
“I’m sorry. It’s complicated. I mean… it was selfish of me.”
“I just didn’t want you mixed up in all of this. I suppose I was only thinking about what I would feel if I lost you. Not once did I consider how betrayed you would feel if you ever found out.”
I paused for a moment. I hadn’t really thought of it that way. Was if possible that if she had told me sooner, I would have been injured… or worse?
“Please forgive me,” she begged. “I’ll tell you about it now if you want.”
“Actually, I already told her a lot,” Mark explained.
“Really? How much do you know, Rowan?”
I decided that, although I would like very much for my sister to tell me about her adventures, now was not the right time. Instead, I returned to my original point. “I know enough to know that Liam wasn’t lying, and we should try to exit the way he told us to.”
Looking totally torn, Sierra glanced at Mark and Victoria for their input.
“I still agree,” Mark said. “What’s the worst that could happen? …No, don’t answer that. Anyway, Liam said that he wanted us to protect Vanessa. I’m sure he is anxious for us to get back and ensure that she is all right.”
“You’ve got a point,” Sierra agreed.
We all looked at Victoria.
“When you put it that way… I guess we can at least see if the area looks risky,” Victoria reluctantly consented.
I grinned. “Then we’re all in agreement?”
They nodded – Sierra slowly and unsurely; Victoria grudgingly; and Mark eagerly.
“Great!” I declared. “Then let’s go find that trapdoor!”
Rowan led the way as we trooped down the hallway to our left, just as Liam had suggested. Anyone could tell that there was tension between us. Victoria appeared anxious and helpless and I knew she still didn’t believe that we were really going to leave the fortress. Then again, I wasn’t so sure myself. Was this the right decision? Rowan seemed to think it was. However, I wasn’t entirely positive she was educated enough on the subject to make a decent decision.
The two dragons clung to their preferred master’s side. Miss Muffin/Lady Rascal was currently in Victoria’s arms while Mister Muffin chose to fly lugubriously next to Rowan. My sister seemed to have completely forgotten about the Miss Muffin incident, and was now content to lead our party.
Eventually, the hallway split into two ways. I groaned inwardly. Liam had only said “a hallway to our left,” and not much else. He had never mentioned anything about having to choose a direction.
Rowan stared at the wall in dismay. Victoria said, “Well, even if he was trying to help us, Liam obviously can’t give directions very well.”
“He mentioned a trapdoor,” I said hopefully.
“Why bother looking? It can still be a trap.”
“Do you think we can teleport?” Mark offered.
I shook my head. “I doubt it.”
“Maybe the dragons can sniff something out?” Victoria suggested.
“They’re not dogs!” Rowan huffed.
“At least I’m trying to include them! I don’t make my dragon sit around and do nothing because you’re too afraid to let it have excitement for once!”
“I think we should calm down a bit,” I proclaimed, sensing an argument. “Maybe if we work together, we can locate this door.”
“If it’s really here,” Victoria reminded me.
Pretending that I couldn’t hear her, I pondered over our situation. Glancing around a bit, I saw, of course, the same scene I had seen upon reaching the wall. “Why don’t we try pushing on the wall or something?” I inquired. “Maybe there’s a hidden door.”
“That wouldn’t make sense,” Rowan said. “How about I go and check each way to see if there’s something down one of them?”
“We shouldn’t split up!”
“I might be able to find something. A clue of some sort.”
“Let her go,” Victoria said. “I’m just glad it’s not me having to look.”
Victoria sure could be pessimistic when she wanted to.
“That could be a good idea,” Mark agreed. “I’ll go the other way. We can communicate with Whisper Chat. How about that?”
“Again, splitting up is never a good idea. Are you sure Whisper Chat even works in here?”
“It’s seems to,” he replied. I jumped as his voice echoed in his head. Apparently, it worked just fine.
“I… I guess Victoria and I will wait here.” I looked at my sister. “Rowan…” I hesitated as I tried to think of a way to say what I wanted to.
Without letting me continue, Rowan surprised me by reaching over and giving me a hug. “I know, I know,” she said. “I’ll be careful.” She pulled away and grinned. “I’ll have Muffy with me at all times. Try not to worry too much, okay, Sierra?”
I nodded unwillingly.
With those final words, Rowan and Mark disappeared down their hallways.
“Alone again,” I sighed, clutching Mister Muffin closely in my arms.
Mister Muffin grunted sadly.
I looked down at him, and remembered Miss Muffin. “You’re still not over her, huh?”
He shook his head, and then leaped out of my arms, deciding to fly beside me.
“It just wasn’t meant to be. If she ditches you in an instant for someone else, it wasn’t true love!”
At that moment, I heard Sierra’s voice. “How are you doing, Rowan?” I sensed a slight edge of anxiety in it.
“I’m just around the corner,” I reminded her.
Her answer didn’t come for a few seconds, making it feel oddly delayed. “Something’s wrong with Whisper Chat,” she said. “Apparently the farther away you get in here, the longer it takes for the messages to transmit.”
“That’s just great,” I murmured aloud to myself sarcastically.
Muffin stared at me curiously, and I remembered that he couldn’t hear the conversation. “Whisper Chat doesn’t work properly,” I groaned. Just then I looked up, and abruptly stopped, for I had been about to run into a large pile of rubble. “What the…” I looked up, and I spotted a large, circular hole in the ceiling. It must have caved in for some reason. Through the hole, I saw what could be the sky… except it was red.
“Wow! What could have done this?” I furtively scanned the area. There were odd black marks on the wall, different from the usual black that mixed with the red. When I approached one, I examined it and exclaimed, “This is soot!”
Almost as if on cue, there was a strange trumpeting sound coming from farther down the hallway. Then it all came flooding back. My Helephant! I’d totally forgotten about it!
Going farther down this hallway would be a bad idea, then. I didn’t think running into a wild Helephant would be a very pleasant experience.
I was about t turn back, and I prepared to use Whisper Chat to inform Sierra of what had happened, when something glinted in the pile. Turning Whisper Chat back off, I bent over to examine the shiny object. It was an odd, rounded piece of metal. I tried to pick it up, but it seemed attached to the piece of debris. Strangely, it would rotate left and right when I tried.
“If… there’s a round piece of metal… Muffy! This must be… a doorknob!” I gasped again. “What if this is the trapdoor?”
Glancing up again, I realized that I could imagine that the one area had been slightly lower than the rest if it were reconstructed – the perfect height for someone to reach up and, let’s say, open a door?
“We found it, Muffy. We found the trapdoor!” Excitedly, I switched back to Whisper Chat and screamed, “Sierra! I found it!”
As expected, there was a pause. Eventually, though, Sierra’s relieved voice said, “Thank goodness. Stay there. We’ll teleport.”
I laughed aloud with joy. At long last, we would get out of this terrible place.
We were safe.
I eagerly told Victoria the fortunate news. Rowan had found the exit!
When I teleported, it took a while. Almost two minutes, in fact. Luckily, soon enough I felt myself disappear and, with beautiful snowflake surrounding me and the rushing wind, I reappeared in front of Rowan. Mark was there, too, but he was facing a wall. “Guess what?” Rowan said. “Mark has a surprise for you!”
“What is it?”
Mark moved his hands in front of him, and all three of us brightened up immediately. There were three decks of spell cards, two wands, a Dragonspyre sword, and three spellbooks. He was struggling to hold it all, since there were so many things.
“You found my deck!” Victoria cried, snatching it.
Mark handed the other two decks out to their respective owners. Then he passed out our wands and Victoria’s sword, then spellbooks. I thanked him profoundly. “How did you find these?” Rowan asked. I had been wondering the same thing.
“When I went down that hallway, I stumbled across this huge room. I found your stuff, but a Draconian was guarding it. I took care of him.”
“Wow! You defeated a Draconian all by yourself in that short amount of time?” Victoria said, impressed.
“Uh, yeah. Wraith helps, believe me. And when there’s no dueling circle, the normal dueling rules don’t apply. You don’t even have separate turns. As long as you have enough pips and mana, you can just keep casting spells.”
“Still, it’s pretty amazing. Uh, anyway…” She glanced around. “Where’s the trapdoor?”
“Look up,” Rowan instructed.
We all did, and I saw a gaping hole in the ceiling. I stared at it in shock, wondering why I hadn’t seen it before.
“I thought we could climb up the pile of rubble and outside,” she sheepishly explained. “The roof’s not too high up if we stand on something–”
“It’s perfect, Rowan!” I promised. “We can do it.”
Mark tried climbing the pile first. His attempts kicked down quite a large amount of loose rock, diminishing our pile’s height by a decent amount. Still, he managed to reach up and hoist himself outside. He then proceeded with helping Rowan and Victoria.
I was the last to try and ascend the pile. Honestly, my job was the hardest. The others’ attempts had reduced the pile to half its original size. Somehow, with Mark’s aid, I stumbled outside.
My friends greeted me with enormous smiles. “We made it out!” Victoria screamed.
“We’re not safe yet,” I reminded her. “We still have to get far away to teleport.”
We started walking. Every once and a while, we would find another large gap in the roof that we were forced to avoid. Something large and powerful had obviously come through here.
Every time I spotted another hole, I shuddered. I really, really hoped we wouldn’t find what made it.
I cringed every time we ran into a new crevice my Helephant had created. I shouldn’t have let it free. I probably should have made it go away first.
Besides, thinking about the Helephant made Miss Muffin come back to mind, stirring up mixed emotions. I’d taken so many risks for her! Didn’t she know that casting a spell above your level could kill you?
It didn’t help that the roof seemed endless. It sloped at a slight angle, although it varied in height at some points. We tried to move in the general direction of the downward slope, but it was difficult. We were just fortunate that it wasn’t so steep we would fall off. Still, even after traveling for a considerable amount of time, we hadn’t seen any indication that the building would end.
It was so strange, I remember thinking. It seemed like such a large building, but it was out in the middle of nowhere.
Sierra began talking, distracting me. “Rowan, exactly how much do you know about the Seekers?”
“Not much,” I admitted. “I’ve connected a lot of things together, though. Who are all of the Seekers? I know Mark, Victoria, and I’m guessing Liam, but who else?”
While she told me, I wondered why Handy had kidnapped me, anyway. Actually, that voice… whoever had been behind that door had been calling me “Seeker.”
Could that mean…?
My sister looked very thoughtful all of a sudden. Rowan asked, “Who is the Life Seeker?”
“Oh, well, I’m not actually totally sure yet. It might be Scarlet, though.”
“Who’s Scarlet?” Victoria inquired.
“I forgot that you wouldn’t know that! We met her at Vanessa’s awakening. It is probable that she would be the Life Seeker. Don’t we always meet the right Seeker before their awakening?”
“I was thinking it might be Rowan,” Mark said.
“Her?” I objected, while Rowan, astonished, cried, “Me! Why me?”
“She’s just as good a candidate as that Scarlet girl.”
“I… I don’t know. Maybe...”
“LOOK!” Victoria called out. Just a little farther ahead, behind a rise in the roof, the top of a different colored building peeked out.
“That might be where we came from!” Mark declared, following Victoria, who was rushing toward it.
I glanced at my sister. “Aren’t you happy to be leaving, too, Rowan?”
“Oh… yeah! Sure I am!” Still, her ebullience seemed forced.
“Well, I’m not so sure what you’re upset about,” I said. “Does it have to do with Seekers?”
She didn’t answer. I took it as a “Yes.”
“Don’t lose sleep over it, okay, Rowan?” I assured her. “You’re involved with Seekers now, whether you like it or not.” That sounded a bit negative. “Um, I mean, even though that might sound like a bad thing, it can actually be quite… rewarding. Even fun, sometimes.” I grinned, but the look on my sister’s face made it fade. “I could do without the life-threatening moments, of course.” I was attempting to make her laugh, but Rowan remained stoic. “Oh, come on, Rowan. Just tell me what’s wrong. Please?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” she answered at length. “I don’t think I’m fit to save anyone.”
I paused, thinking. “You know what? You’re right. You’re not fit to save the world. But, really, do you think I’m any better?”
She pursed her lips, and, staring at the ground, muttered, “I suppose not.”
I beamed. “Besides, who ever said anything about you saving the Spiral? You’re not a Seeker, Rowan. That honor goes to us!” I remembered Mark’s suggestion, but I put it out of my mind. I truly hoped it wasn’t Rowan. The last thing I wanted was for my own sister, the only person I cared about more than myself, to be risking her life for millions of wizards we didn’t even know. I was not all that happy with my position in the first place, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
Well, except for maybe Liam. I’d like to see how he would deal with finding a special Life student he didn’t even know, keeping his friends and sister alive, sneaking in and out of the most evil man in the Spiral’s lair, twice, and on top of it all, trying not to break down into tears of frustration every five seconds.
Yep. That’s me.
“There is something I should probably tell you,” Rowan said eventually. “Something I overheard.”
“Um, just…” She stopped. We had reached the edge of the roof. A tall building rose in front of us, and smaller buildings surrounded it. This wasn’t where we had come in from, and I didn’t know Dragonspyre well enough to have any clue where we were.
It was a rather long drop down, so we had to rock climb the sides. Instead of all four of us scrambling down the building, Mark had gone down alone. The only thing we needed to do was teleport.
When I appeared next to Mark, I saw his face flushed with excitement… but also something else. Fear, perhaps? I hoped not. “I know where we are,” he said breathlessly. “This is the back of the Athenuem, I’m sure of it! That building there is the library, and the smaller ones are the shops.”
“What’s an Athenuem?” I inquired. “You said something about it before…”
“It’s like the Shopping District, but for Dragonspyre,” Victoria explained. “But… we just came from Malistaire’s lair. Would it really be bordering the Athenuem?”
“I know. That’s what I was thinking too.” Mark shook his head. That explained the odd expression. “It’s kind of creepy. What if it was there the whole time, but we never noticed it?”
“We’d better inform Headmaster Ambrose,” Victoria concluded solemnly.
We all decided that Mark and Victoria would go to notify the headmaster by themselves, because they understood the situation best. After a brief goodbye, they teleported away, leaving Rowan and I alone.
“We should go home,” Rowan suggested. “Who knows how long we were in there?”
“Yeah, good plan,” I agreed. I looked at Rowan and again was struck by how different she looked. Before she’d been my crazy, childish younger sister, and now…
“Do you think… think it’s possible that I’m a Seeker?” Rowan abruptly blurted.
“Uh, I suppose,” I said, caught a bit off-guard. “Anything could happen.”
“Yeah, but do you really, really think it might happen?”
“I’m not sure.” I was still curious about the details on what happened while Rowan was alone. Mister Muffin was still at her side, and he didn’t look so sad anymore, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about Missy/Lady Rascal.
“Sierra?” I blinked and returned back to the present. I looked at my sister, and – oh man, I’d never seen her so scared before! “I’m really worried about you.”
I stepped forward and gave her a hug.
I could feel some tears staining my robe, but I didn’t care. I wanted to cry, too, but I didn’t, to be strong for Rowan.
“Just promise me you’ll be okay,” Rowan sobbed.
“I promise,” I said softly. “I promise I won’t die. Okay? We’ll be together forever.”
I smiled and ruffled her hair. “Forever.”
That was the biggest promise I had ever made in my whole life.
I only hoped I could keep it.