'If I get out of this, I'm handing my notice in!' Apricot thought glumly as the gremlins roughly tugged on the rope, yanking the conjoined line of hostages forward with a series of muffled squeals. She gasped through the rag in her mouth as the ropes wound about her waist, lower arms and wings constricted her tightly. She gave another experimental wriggle against the knots binding her hands behind her back, but to no avail.
This job as a servant was proving more trouble than it was worth. It was an honour serving Queen Snowdrop, the pay was excellent and the hours surprisingly flexible. But she'd begun questioning her career choice when during the last Midsummer Ball a deranged Pixie sorceress had stolen her uniform, bound and gagged both her and her colleague Posy, and locked them in a storage cupboard. She'd hoped it had been a one off, but now, once again, she found herself a tied up hostage.
Her light orange hair had tumbled loose from her hairclip, and her black loafers echoed off the stone staircase they were being led down. Her outfit consisted of a white blouse, knee length black skirt and dark tights, a uniform also worn by Posy who was again sharing her captivity, tied in line behind her. They had been rescued the night of the ball by a trainee chef called Hawthorn who Apricot had a massive, secret crush on. But he would not come to their rescue tonight as he was bound in front of her. She gazed at him wistfully, desperate to be free so she could drag him away for a private cup of tulip coffee and a blueberry scone. When he glanced over his shoulder, the frustration in his eyes gave her hope that he felt the same way.
Apricot had never gone down this hidden passageway before. She was genuinely surprised when it emerged onto a secret dock concealed in the roots of the willow tree. She inanely wondered why it had got so foggy. A group of gremlin guards hooted excitedly at their arrival, helping to position the line on the water's edge. Apricot wondered what they intended, and got chilling confirmation when she saw the gremlins tie the line to an extremely heavy bag of corn teetering on the edge of the dock.
"Nnnnmmmm, ppplllllsss hhhhvvvv mmrrrrcccc!" Apricot pleaded, along with the entire line of captives. Surely the gremlins didn't truly intend to drown them? But the gremlins snorted at them, threatening to use their rusted knives on any Nymph to make a break for it.
Then the lead gremlin guffawed loudly, "You Nymphs think you're pretty smart don't you? Let's see you think your way out of this one!" Then to Apricots horror he kicked the bag of corn, and it slowly teetered over the edge.
But instead of hitting the water, it landed with a soft thump on a thick layer of ice that had suddenly formed on the water's surface. The gremlins gurgled in confusion, before one pointed at the five flying figures that had materialised through the mist.
Yep, me and my friends had arrived, and as you humans would say, just in the nick of time.
"Snofrizar!" I bellowed, continuing the freezing spell I'd used to catch the bag of corn. Jets of freezing air blasted from my hands towards the guards, and they scampered out the way to avoid freezing where they stood. Primrose focused on maintaining the veil of fog we'd created to conceal our arrival, while Reed could barely contain his delight as he sent a barrage of fireballs towards the little creeps.
Some of the gremlins grabbed their weapons, but they didn't count on Fern who like a green flash grabbed a gremlins hand and twisted the knife out of it. She then kicked him away before karate chopping another pair on their necks. Behind her Moss grabbed a discarded blade and used it to sever the rope connecting the flour bag to the hostages. With an angry cry a gremlin grabbed hold of his shoulder. Moss staggered about before he managed to grab it by the scruff of the neck and hurl it into an empty barrel, its tiny legs wriggling in the air pathetically.
Our surprise attack proved too much for the gremlins, and with desperate cries they jumped one after the other into the water and began swimming to safety. Once the coast was clear I landed on the dock and chanted "Relosas!" The ropes binding Apricot and the hostages disappeared into a flurry of blue petals, and they fell apart from each other gratefully.
"How many hostages are there?" Fern asked, immediately taking control of the situation.
"There are more in the kitchens, plus Foxglove has the Royal family in the Grand Hall!" Apricot replied.
"Ok we're going to take back control!" Fern explained. "If you want to escape no-one will blame you, but we could use all the help we can get!"
I'd half expected the hostages, after their ordeal, to fly away like the wind. But no-one moved. Everyone looked ready for action, determined to make those gremlins pay. Fern, barely able to contain her delight with our fresh recruits, waved in the direction of the staircase and bellowed, "To the Palace!"
Fern led the way as Reed, Primrose and I used our magic to illuminate the dark staircase. My nerves made my stomach jump more than a baby rabbit. But my resolve remained firm. I would find my grandfather and together we would stop Mage Foxglove.
Behind me Apricot nearly jumped out of her skin when someone grabbed her arm, but her surprise turned to delight to see it was Hawthorn. "You know, provided we survive this, would you be interested in going for a drink sometime?" he smiled at her in manner which almost made her melt.
"Rideras cursonan flowesta stor!" chanted Foxglove from his position on the edge of the circle he'd drawn on the floor. The Black River Gem was positioned exactly in the centre, and at his words it started to glow, the dark coloured jewel throbbing in what can only be described as a black light. The sacred treasure of the Royal Family had heaps of dark energy locked inside of it, which Foxglove eagerly was accessing.
'Come on loosen, please something loosen!' Marigold thought desperately, tugging and pulling on her bonds with everything she had. The silk of her dress rustled against the rope, but that was all she could achieve. And despite her long gloves offering some protection her bonds still gnawed uncomfortably at her wrists when she twisted them. At her side Honeysuckle rocked in her seat making the legs reverberate off the marble, while Ash's face flushed a bright red as he struggled even more vehemently than his sisters. Yet they and all the hostages remained stringently chairtied, Foxgloves enchantment proving too powerful to break.
Then the gem melted into a liquid and formed a small pool on the floor. This spread and grew like a living thing, creeping slowly over the marble until stopping at Foxgloves etchings. This formed a glistening, silvery and circular pool of liquid right in front of the Royal Family. Queen Snowdrop stared at it in abject horror. She had last seen this happen thirty years ago.
"The Black River!" Foxglove announced to his captive audience. "In the past some Nymphs believed this was a portal to the netherworld. What a quaint idea, though not too far removed from the truth. What it really does is create a link to a terrible, hellish land filled with ugly creatures obsessed with greed, violence and inflicting misery onto others. I blended right in!"
That was only part of the Black Rivers history. The gem is so powerful that it is entrusted to Royal Family for their protection. The worst punishment our legal system can bestow is to exile someone beyond the portal it creates. The most dangerous of all our criminals are cast into this dark portal into the world beyond, and none returned. In fact, the only person to have ever returned is the last person cast into it. You can probably guess who that was.
Now Foxglove was playing the role of judge, jury and enforcer, and he was revelling in it. He skipped behind Marigold and placed his hands on her jiggling shoulders. "Take a good look munchkin," he whispered gleefully into her ear, "because if my dad doesn't come to save your pretty little neck, you're taking a one way journey through that portal!"
"NNNNNNNMMM YYYYYYYNNNNN CCCCCNNNNTTT!" Marigold pleaded, blinking back the tears forming in her green eyes, while her family frantically protested. All Foxglove did was laugh at them.
But then the doors were flung open by a strong breeze, and in strode Grand Mage Lupin. Never had Marigold seen such a look of fury on his face. His staff clunked loudly off the floor as he strode forward purposefully, his piercing eyes fixed only on his son.
Foxglove couldn't stop a demented smile creeping across his face. "Hey daddy I'm home!" he announced, outstretching his arms as if to embrace the elderly Mage.
"Leave the girl alone Foxglove. She has no quarrel with you!" Lupin ordered angrily.
"No, but you do!" Foxglove sneered, walking back around Marigold until both men stood on opposing sides of the Black River. Staring his father down he continued, "I spent years wondering how to punish you for what you did to me, until I realised burdening your conscience with more innocent victims would suffice."
"Doing so will only add more guilt onto your conscience, not mine!" Lupin retorted.
"I am guilt free!" Foxglove spat, his jovial attitude suddenly replaced by one of pure venom. "From the moment I cast my first spell you told me I would change the world. I believed every word of it, and pushed myself to become the sorcerer you believed I would be. I still have that vision, and with my abilities I hold far more right to rule than this ineffective monarch and her family of pampered princes and princesses."
"Usurpation and regicide were never part of my vision. And neither were they your mothers!"
"Don't bring her into this!" Foxglove roared, his temper suddenly exploding as he thrust his hand forward. He summoned a flurry of leaves with razor sharp edges which the Grand Mage battered it away with his staff. Marigold squeaked in astonishment as one of these errant leaves sliced through the head of a marble statue, making it smash against the floor. Lupin responded with a bombardment of green energy orbs. Foxglove deflected every single attack with a shielding spell, then with an angry roar he flew at Lupin as his hands became engulfed by white tongues of flame.
Lupin surrounded his body with a blue coloured aura, which Foxglove pummelled with his fists, sending sparks flying into the air. Lupin then took flight and summoned forked lightning from his palms, which fizzed through the air but were again repelled by Foxglove. Soon the deranged sorcerer was also airborne, hurling electricity bolts back at Lupin, but they were dodged with surprising nimbleness from the hundred and twelve year old.
Marigold stared in awe at the incredible display. Loud bangs echoed throughout the room, and sparks cast flickering shadows across the hostages. Some of the spells both men were summoning was beyond comprehension. Yet both remained evenly matched. That was, until Lupin created a shockwave that caused Marigolds golden hair to blow like it was caught in a draft. But Foxglove was forced to the ground where he landed with a loud crash.
Lupin immediately landed and lowered his staff so it was aimed at Foxgloves panting, sweating face. "I am sorry son!" he said with genuine regret. "My arrogance and pride blinded me to what you were becoming. I failed you as a father and as a mentor. Now I must atone for my mistake, and do what is best for our people."
"So must I!" Foxglove spat, withdrawing a bizarre metal object from a hidden pouch in his robe. He was holding the handle tightly, and it had a long thin pipe jutting out which he aimed at Lupin. Underneath was a trigger like on the crossbows the Nymph Defence Force used, which Foxglove pulled without hesitation. There was a high pitched whizzing sound, after which Lupin clasped his neck as he felt a sharp pain. He instantly felt the metal dart protruding from his skin.
Suddenly the Grand Mage's strength failed, and he dropped to his knees while breathing deeply. He tried moving but it was clear to everyone that he couldn't. How Foxglove did this with that strange device was beyond Marigold's comprehension.
"Neat little tool I picked up isn't it?" Foxglove exclaimed, hiding the device within his cloak as Lupin fell onto his side. "Don't worry, the drug won't kill you. It'll just keep you doped up while I enact my revenge!"
"Ppppplllssss nnnnnmmmm!" begged Queen Snowdrop as her defiance faded, knowing what this meant for her and her family.
I beg you
" Lupin panted in between laboured breaths.
Foxglove hooted in triumph, "I'm going to send each and every member of the Royal Family through the Black River, right here and right now. And you are going to lie there and watch me daddy. And once Daffoville is conquered I will march against all magical beings; the Elves, the Dwarves, the Sprites, the Goblins. Even those wretched humans will bow before me! All you will be able to do is watch me and weep. Exciting thought isn't it?"
"Actually I was going to describe it as insane!" I yelled at him.
The eyes of everyone in the room stared at me in astonishment as I emerged from behind the recently decapitated statue. I'd entered unnoticed during the incredible duel, hiding behind the statue until the moment I was needed. My insides felt like they were being shaken up and down, but on the exterior I remained calm and collected.
"BBBBLLLLLBBBBBLLLL!" screamed a wide eyed and stunned looking Marigold.
away!" my grandfather groaned at me.
Foxglove's initial surprise gradually transformed into a look of realisation. "Bluebell," he exclaimed with a broadening grin. "Wow look at my little niece all grown up. How've you been kiddo?"
"I'll be a lot better when you release the Royal Family and leave Daffoville forever!" I snapped. "My friends are routing your gremlin forces as we speak, so I suggest you run before it's too late."
"Not happening, sorry!" Foxglove sneered. "Now if you'll excuse me I have some pressing matters with your grand
"VORTAXTA!" I roared.
The spell I'd performed earlier on Old Marty I repeated on Foxglove. A swirling vortex of air billowed from my fingers. I caught my uncle completely by surprise and my attack blew him off his feet. He landed on the floor on his back, only inches from the edge of the Black River.
I used the opportunity to run over to Lupin. As I tugged on his shoulders in an attempt to help him to his feet he mumbled, "Bluebell
"Not a chance!" I insisted. "We take him on together!"
Then I heard Foxglove laughing, his chuckles becoming manic and wild. "Oh this is delicious!" He cackled as he rose to his feet, his glinting blue eyes filled with intent. "The Lupin dynasty continues. Have you been training her up to fight me dad? Old habits really do die hard!"
"This is my decision!" I insisted, standing up straight and entering a defensive position. "I've dealt with spellcasters and monsters before."
"Yes you have the air of a girl who has stared death in the face!" Foxglove replied, raising his hands in preparation to strike. "But I doubt you've ever met anyone quite like me!" And then he attacked with a blue beam of energy.
My hastily summoned barrier managed to absorb the attack, sending energy auras radiating from the impact. But the force of his attack was unlike anything I'd ever encountered. It was like I was repelling a kestrel flying at full speed. I gritted my teeth as beads of sweat trickled down my brow, my arms and legs aching tremendously from standing my ground. I knew I couldn't keep it up.
But then my blue shield was joined on either side by a green and a pink one, fusing into an impenetrable rainbow. Primrose and Reed joined me as we pooled our magic together, our shared quintessence enough to repel Foxgloves assault. "Get him Fern!" Reed yelled over the sound of violently colliding magic.
Foxglove heard her footsteps but turned his head only in time to see an ankle boot collide against the side of his face. He gave an anguished cry following Ferns roundhouse kick, which sent him to the floor and ended his attack, allowing me to finally relax.
Overcome with rage Foxglove glared at Fern and bellowed, "You shouldn't have done that!" He raised his hand and more razor sharp leaves sliced through the air. Fern was defenceless, she had nowhere to run!
"FERN!" Moss cried as out of nowhere he flew forward. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pushed her out the way of the deadly enchantment. They rolled over each other until they stopped with Fern positioned right on top of Moss, their faces almost touching and her ponytail draped over his shoulder.
"Er, um, thanks!" Fern mumbled sheepishly.
"My pleasure," Moss grunted in a dazed voice.
"ENOUGH!" Foxglove roared. "BONDARA E MUFFLISCA!"
I'd suspected this was coming, so I swiftly uttered the relosas enchantment and used its energy to shield myself, while beside me Primrose and Reed did the same. But none of us anticipated just how powerful Foxgloves attack would be. A raging torrent of cords flew from him in our direction. Despite our preparations Foxgloves attack was too powerful, and the ropes passed through our barriers completely unscathed.
Suddenly I was surrounded by whipping ropes, twisting about my hands and feet as Primrose and Reed suffered a similar fate. These cords dragged us backwards, and despite all our tugs in the opposite direction we were swiftly made to sit in the three empty chairs on the front row. Our hands drawn behind us and our feet snapped together, and there was nothing we could do to stop them being snugly bound. Yet more flying cord was draped around our legs, waists and chests, anchoring our bodies and wings against the chairs. To make sure we couldn't use our magic black rags twisted through the air around our heads before being tightened over our mouths. I grunted angrily as my blue hair was sealed against my cheeks, unable to say a single intelligible word.
As I twisted experimentally against my new bonds I glanced over to see Fern and Moss still arm in arm, thanks to ropes now binding them front to front. Fern was wriggling furiously and screaming at Foxglove through the black rag wound about her lips, while Moss stared forward into space, finding such close proximity to my flatmate extremely awkward.
Even as we all struggled desperately against our bondage a panting Foxglove staggered over to the one person in the room not tied up. "Is that the best you've got?" he hissed to my still weakened grandfather. "A bunch of do-gooder youngsters? You really have grown desperate!" Then he strode towards me, examining me as I wriggled against the captivity he'd inflicted on me. "Brave move Bluebell, if not particularly smart!"
"Nnnntttt mmmmggg yyynnnn ccccwwwwddd!" I snarled through my gagged mouth, stamping my high heeled ankle boots against the marble.
Foxglove stroked his beard as he mused, "Still, you showed some great ability, maybe enough to one day even challenge me
In that case
" he returned to addressing Lupin when he announced, "I give you a choice father dearest. I cast the entire royal family into the Black River and become supreme ruler of Daffoville, or I leave now with no innocent blood spilt; only my niece will accompany me as my apprentice!"
I was stunned by the level of protest from around the room. Either side of me Primrose and Reed snarled defiantly as they twisted against their chairties. On the floor Fern summoned an energetic tirade through her sealed mouth that undoubtedly would have contained some very choice words had it been understandable. But it was the Royal Family's reaction that surprised me most, all of them looking horrified by his bargain and rocking in their seats in a vain attempt to prevent it being agreed. I stared helplessly at Marigold and saw that tears were now flowing freely down her cheeks.
But I now knew everything Foxglove had done had been a meticulous revenge plot against my grandfather. He wanted to make Lupin suffer in the most excruciating manner possible, and he'd realised the best way to achieve this would be stealing me away and over the months and years brainwashing me into being his apprentice.
" a still weak Lupin mumbled.
"No, you're going to make the big decisions, just like old times!" Foxglove hissed, as he began to pace about my chair like a fox stalking its prey. "Do I spare the Royal Family or your grandchild? Tricky one right? I wouldn't want to be in your
He never finished his sentence as what can only be described as a blue blur tackled Foxglove. He and his attacker tumbled to the floor and skidded over to the Black River, stopping only inches away from its glistening surface. The attacker ended up hunched over Foxgloves sprawled form, and I squealed in delight as I recognised his short blue hair.
"Don't you dare take my daughter from me too!" my dad exclaimed angrily, grabbing Foxglove by the collar of his robes and lifting his head off the floor.
For the first time Foxgloves insanity vanished, and he stared up with a look of genuine affection on his cruel face. "Hey little brother, missed you!" he said quite calmly.
My dad's breathing was heavy and loud as he replied, "Come on Foxglove! End this pointless crusade, for your own sake!"
Foxglove looked to the ceiling as he cast his memories back. "You remember the bramble orchard by Lady Elderberry's manor? We used to spend our entire summer there, playing hide and seek and gooseberryball. Then when night fell I'd summon a fire and you'd roast amazing chestnut marshmallows. Who'd have thought we'd end up like this?"
"Buttercups Foxglove, look at what you've done," my father half roared, half pleaded. "All the people you've made to suffer through no fault of their own. And mum
you broke mums heart
"No, he did!" Foxglove roared as his insanity returned, motioning with his head to their father. "How can you still be on his side, after your childhood was little more than an inconvenience to him? How all your achievements went ignored because he was busy turning me into this lunatic?"
Suddenly my grandfather grasped his staff tightly and started hauling himself to his feet, during which he said, "Yarrow...was taught the value of forgiveness
from a much better parent. And when
when I was at my most desperate, her love for us all lived on in him
Despite how I treated him
he still accepted me because
he knew it was his mother's wish for us...to remain a family." Then glaring angrily at Foxglove he added firmly, "Yarrow was ten times the son you ever were."
And that statement seemed to send Foxglove over the edge. He looked like he was holding back tears when he said, "Well allow me to narrow your choice of favourites!"
When I saw him withdraw the knife from his cloak I convulsed in horror, and screamed louder than I ever had before, "NNNNNNMMMM DDDDDDD!"
But Lupin had seen it as well, and with a fresh reserve of strength used his magic to push my dad away just as Foxglove thrust the knife into the empty air. With a terrifying roar Foxglove was swiftly on his feet and hurling a barrage of spells which Lupin could only parry with his staff. I wriggled and twisted against the ropes with everything I had, desperate to be at my grandfather's side. But all I could do was spectate as Foxgloves relentless assault continued. He pushed Lupin until his feet were planted on the edge of the Black River. Lupin held his ground for a few seconds, but ultimately his defences were broken, and he was knocked off balance.
My grandfather seemed to fall in slow motion. He didn't make a splash as his body hit the portal, just created ripples as his body was slowly enveloped by the dark liquid. I swear I saw him looking directly at me as he sank, his blue eyes filled with regret. And then his body descended into the portal, and he was gone.
I immediately felt a raw and unnatural hurt engulf my heart. My body started to shake uncontrollably as the shock of what I'd just witnessed hit me. At the sound of my uncle's wild and triumphant laughs, I felt an eruption of quintessence billowing up inside of me.
"NNNNNMMMMMOOOOOOOOO!" My muffled scream suddenly became understandable as fierce magical energy ripped the gag from my mouth. Foxglove whirled about to see me dissolve the ropes binding me into nothingness. I rose and slowly advanced on him, my vision tinted a deep blue as my quintessence flew out of them like tears. I outstretched my arms and without even needing to utter an enchantment I summoned a wave of blue coloured energy that ripped the ropes and gags away from every single hostage, freeing them instantly.
Bewildered by my display Foxglove summoned a barrage of magic orbs, but they just burst against an impenetrable shell surrounding my body. I continued my advance unabated, as he stumbled away from me suddenly looking terrified. When I opened my lips to speak my voice sounded deeper, and reverberated about the hall. "You will pay for what have done!"
With a simple thought I summoned a vortaxta spell. Clouds of whipping wind surrounded me and my uncle, and jets of powerful air lifted us both off the floor. Brown swirling clouds enshrouded us from the outside world. There was an almighty crash as branches, stones and leaves were suddenly caught in the vortex, orbiting about me as I flew upwards with the winds not affecting me in the slightest. But Foxglove was battered by these almighty forces, and staring at me in abject terror he howled, "How can you have this much power? It's impossible!"
"LEAVE, NOW!" I roared, glaring at him through my blue tinted vision. I summoned a flash brighter than lightning. It sent Foxglove spiralling out the tornado with a terrified scream. I have no idea where he landed.
With him dealt with I should have ended my enchantment, but I couldn't. Not only was it almost impossible to bring such incredible magic under control, but I was enjoying myself. The thrill of such power was intoxicating, intermingled with the shock of my grandfather's fate. The world could burn for all I cared.
I heard a voice crying at me over the howling tempest. Then before I knew it someone wrapped their arms around my neck, trying to calm me down, trying to console me. "It's ok Blue, you can stop now!" the mysterious voice whispered into my ear.
They were right. I could stop. I should stop. Gradually I let the tornado die down, as the weakening jets of air slowly lowered us to the ground. I was suddenly enclosed by an overpowering numbness, my head felt heavy and my vision became blurred. Before we'd even landed my head dropped onto the shoulder of my rescuer, and I sank into dark oblivion.
I was plagued by terrifying nightmares. My body was roasting hot and my head felt weighted down. My imagination conjured vivid monstrous shapes that twisted and tormented my consciousness. Sometimes they took shapes from my memories; Old Marty, Duscle the Drider, a gang of laughing Gnomes. Worst of all was the image of Pixie sorceress Briar who cackled so loudly I felt I would be deafened. "Aww poor little Bluebell, can't even save her own grandfather. How pathetic are you?" she shrieked gleefully over my immobile body before her vision faded into darkness.
How long this continued I don't know. But eventually the visions stopped, and my dreams became brighter and brighter, until before I knew it I was standing in a thick veil of fog which billowed about me. It felt like I was wide awake, and I could move my arms and legs accordingly. But where in daffodils was I?
Then a figure emerged from the fog, walking towards me. I'd never seen them in my life before. It was a boy who looked my age, but he most certainly was not a Nymph. He had no wings and he was a fair bit taller. His hair was a dull, brownish colour and fell untidily over his ears, which instead of being pointed like mine were rounded. He'd also had them pierced with golden earrings and his face was unshaven. His skin was caked in mud, and his grubby, scruffy clothing more so.
I gawped in disbelief when I realised the boy was a human.
He looked equally surprised to see me, tilting his head on its side as he examined me up and down. "Damn, what the hell was I drinking last night?" he exclaimed.
"Hello, erm, not to sound rude, but what are you doing here?" I asked him.
"I was going to ask the same thing Tinkerbell."
I frowned at him to mask my confusion. "What do you mean by Tinkerbell?"
"You know, the whole fairy wings, blue hair and pointy ears look. Very Disneyesque."
"What's 'Dazniyesque' about my ears?" I asked, wondering if he'd been making fun of them.
He smirked at me as he replied, "Hey it was a compliment. They look pretty cool." He stared about the swirling mist looking extremely puzzled. "Boy, this one weird dream!"
"I don't think this is a dream," I informed him. "My professor says sometimes the quintessence of two individuals is so intrinsically linked they can communicate over great distances telepathically."
"You mean you and I can speak together in our dreams," he surmised, before chuckling to himself. "Ok, now I know I've had too much beer."
"I'm serious," I insisted, put out by his dismissive attitude. "And what's more it means that one day we'll meet each other for real!"
The mist started to intensify, separating us from each other. A roaring wind began, and the howling noise it created meant we had difficulty speaking to each other. "OK, let's say I believe you, and that you do actually exist. Tell me your name so I can keep an open for you, or something!" he shouted at me over the fast moving air.
"I'm Bluebell," I yelled at him. "What's yours?"
I could just about see his lips moving through the fog, but the wind meant I did not hear his name. Then his body was shrouded by mist, and he disappeared from my consciousness as fast as he had arrived. I sank into darkness again, but this time it was a dreamless sleep and I replenished my energy in peace.
Bluebell can you hear me?"
I could hear him, and I wondered why it was the voice of Professor Pear I'd heard. Had it all been a dream? Had I fallen asleep in lectures and was due the rollicking of a lifetime? But when even opening my eyes took a huge amount of effort I knew that hadn't been the case. My vision was blurred but I still could make out the wiry yellow hair and circular spectacles of my lecturer as he leant over me.
"Sorry Professor, I didn't finish my assignment in time," I groaned as my body slowly came back to life.
Professor Pear laughed at my groggy statement. "Given the circumstances I'm willing to grant an extension."
Suddenly I was being embraced tightly. I recognised her perfume as I rested my head against hers. "Thank the sunflowers you're alright Bluebell!" my mum breathed in an emotional voice.
As my senses returned I realised I was in bed. In fact, the last time I'd been on this particular bed was when Briar had tied me to the headrest. I was in Marigolds old bedroom in the Royal Palace, my body tucked up and dressed in one of her old nightgowns. Professor Pear was at my bedside, and behind him stood my dad, grinning at me from ear to ear. "Welcome back Blue," he told me happily. "You were utterly magnificent!"
"Everyone, Bluebell's awake!" Professor Pear yelled at the top of his voice.
I heard thundering footsteps and frantic voices from outside the corridor, before the doors were flung open. Primrose and Reed led the way, and I think both would have catapulted themselves onto my bed had Professor Pear not warned them off. As it was, they gathered about me and were swiftly joined by Moss and Fern. My flatmate seemed unable to stop smiling at me, her face uncharacteristically flushed red. "Buttercups you could sleep for the Nymph Olympics," she told me.
"Have you been crying?" I asked Fern, noticing her puffy red eyes and the oak leaf in her hand we use as handkerchiefs.
"Me, crying? Don't be daft Blue!" Fern sniffed happily at me, wiping her hazel eyes.
I tried to sit up but Professor Pear stopped me. "You need rest, you've got an incredible amount of energy you need to replenish."
"But what happened, where's Foxglove?" I asked.
"Disappeared without a trace," Reed told me. "You must have given him the fright of his life."
"You summoned magic more powerful than anything I've ever seen," Primrose explained. "Your tornado blasted a hole through the walls of the Royal Palace. Everyone in Daffoville saw it. It's all anyone's talking about."
Professor Pear placed his hand on my forehead to check my temperature. "I always suspected you had much greater reserves of magical energy than normal inside of you Bluebell. It's how you summon such powerful magic at times of great stress. But this time you almost drained your reserves completely dry."
I suddenly realised it was broad daylight outside. "How long have I been out for?" I croaked.
"Three days," Professor Pear informed me. "And you've been suffering from quintessence deficiency, which gave you a fever, hallucinations and weakened your immune system. I must say your strength astounded me, yet it is fortunate Primrose alerted me to your condition so I could administer the energy potions needed for you to recover. It is also fortunate Princess Marigold calmed you down to prevent your magical energy being spent."
"Marigold!" I exclaimed, realising she wasn't there. "Where is
But I trailed off when I saw her standing in the doorway, and gave a gasp when I saw her left arm wrapped up in doc leaves and hanging from her neck in a sling. Even so she was smiling at me as she told me, "Relax Blue, it's just a sprain. It'll be right as rain in a couple of weeks."
Marigold had been the one to fly into the heart of the tornado. She battled incredibly strong winds that buffeted her from every conceivable angle. She'd sustained her injury when a branch swirling around the vortex had crashed against her. Yet she'd bravely battled forward until she found me at the heart of the storm, and she'd been the one to whisper in my ear and help me bring my magic under control. Without her intervention all my quintessence would have drained away, and that would have been the end of my adventures.
She walked to my bedside and was closely followed by Honeysuckle, Ash and finally Queen Snowdrop, all of whom looked utterly relieved to see me awake at last. I blinked back tears as I gazed at my old friend's injury and said, "Marigold I'm so sorry about
"Don't be," she insisted, placing her uninjured hand on my arm reassuringly. "You, Fern and everyone risked your lives to save me and my family. Don't even think of apologising for that."
"Hear hear," Queen Snowdrop seconded, though in a somewhat subdued voice. "Each and every one of you has my thanks, as do all residents of Daffoville. I
only wish it hadn't come at such a cost."
I knew what she was talking about. Surrounded by my family and friends there was still one person missing. The one person I could not save. I bit my lip to stop it trembling as I remembered my grandfather falling into the Black River, and out of my life.
Moss seemed to sense I was upset, and leaning forward he said, "Hey, you know that Grand Mage Lupin will still be alive on the far side of that portal right? And if Foxglove can return then I'm sure he can!"
Moss was right; my grandfather was still in all certainty very much alive. But it didn't make much difference. He was trapped in a world beyond all Nymph knowledge and comprehension. It had taken Foxglove thirty years to return, and my grandfather was an old man. In all likelihood I would never see him again.
But that was what my brain was telling me. Three days ago, as my granddad bade me farewell for his duel, he told me to always follow my heart. And my heart now told me that someday I would see him again. And what's more, I was convinced that the human boy from my dream would be the key to our reunion.