“Something feels wrong,” murmured Jadelynn, slowing her horse for the first time since the boys had forced her to stop for lunch.
“No kidding, genius,” grumbled Matias, trotting past her. Traveling always made him grumpy, especially endless frantic traveling.
“Why am I here again?” asked Cliff when he caught up, rubbing the back of his sore neck.
Jadelynn hardly knew. For some reason, her mother felt better about her traveling with the two men, but they had been dead weight thusfar.
The drawbridge to Crystal Palace was finally in sight after a ride that felt like it would never end, and it was down, a beckoning path to safety and rest. Relief poured over Jadelynn. The familiar guards were at their post, ready to direct guests and serve as the first line of defense against danger. All was well here. She waved, but the guards did not return her greeting. Drawing closer, she noticed the guards were slumped over, sleeping at their post. At least she hoped they were sleeping.
Matias was the first off his horse. “I’m not telling you how to do your jobs, but shouldn’t you be on guard or something,” complained Matias to the slumped pair of men.
Cliff shook one. The man just jiggled, and his arm slipped from his thigh to the ground. “Yeesh.” He grimaced. “Hard night?”
Jadelynn checked both guards for heartbeats. They were alive.
“Looks like there’s some sort of magic at work here,” said Matias.
Jadelynn rolled her eyes. “No kidding, genius. Let’s get to the palace.”
“Are we just going to leave them here?” Cliff asked. “Should we maybe prop them up or lay them down, or…?”
Both Jadelynn and Matias ignored him.
They remounted their horses and crossed the familiar birch tree-lined path to Crystal Palace. Jadelynn was wary. But, like Sorceress Issabeth always said, “Prepare for everything; worry about nothing.” Jadelynn had a bow and a few pouches of poorly-made magical powders she mostly knew how to use. She was prepared for rabbits, basically. The best she could do was not worry.
Between the leafy birch trees, Jadelynn could see things were amiss before they were to the grand stairs and off their horses. The beautiful palace was coated with a dull sheen.
“Can you see that?” she asked the men.
“See what?” replied Cliff.
“The giant palace?” Matias answered cheekily. “Yes, I can.”
Indications pointed to a magical remnant of a spell coating the palace, something only she could see. If the spell had once affected the guards all the way on the drawbridge, its potency must have faded. That was Jadelynn’s best guess, anyway.
“Hey, Mat, walk up and get right up next to the palace,” she ordered. “We’ll wait here.”
“No,” he objected. “I definitely will not be doing that. Why?”
“There’s magic at work, and I want to see if the spell is spent or if it’s still in effect,” she explained.
He crossed his arms. “I’m sticking to no.”
Jadelynn sighed, about to break into an occasionally-effective little sister pout.
“You think somebody cast a spell on the palace?” Cliff clarified.
She nodded. “One strong enough to hit the guards.”
Cliff glanced behind him. “If magic was still working, we’d already be in the middle of it, then.”
Their hesitance was getting them nowhere and Jadelynn was antsy. Sorceress Issabeth would have been inside the palace by now.
“Sorceress Rosaliy needs help now,” she said. “We have to do something.”
Cliff shaded his eyes to stare down the palace. It must have been its usual brilliant marble to him and not coated in a faint murk. “I’ll check it out,” he said. “Worst case, I fall asleep on the steps, right?”
“As long as you fall forward,” Matias half agreed.
It was the potentially forever part that was the worst possibility of a magical sleep, but the Glade would definitely not allow spells leading to death. The most comfort Jadelynn could offer without lying was a “you can do this” smile.
The ever helpful Matias clapped Cliff on the back. “We’ll wait here and see how you do.”
“You are such a baby,” Jadelynn teased him as Cliff trotted his way up the stairs. “Actually, that’s an insult to babies. I’ve met babies braver than you.”
“I’m smart,” Matias disagreed.
She smirked. “Drake would have gone.”
“Because he’s an idiot,” Matias fumed.
This was a delightfully sore subject.
“And brave,” countered Jadelynn. “I didn’t see you diving into the water to rescue Rosaliy.”
He had no opportunity to defend himself because Cliff was waving at them from the top of the massive marble steps. “Still awake,” he hollered. “Can’t get in.”
“The doors only open from the inside,” Jadelynn called back.
“Try knocking,” Matias yelled.
Jadelynn responded to that with an exasperated sigh. She hauled her loaded satchel up the stairs and dropped it at Cliff’s feet. “Hang on,” she puffed. “I have…” She dug through the bag. “Some fire powder.”
“Burning the door down seems a little rude,” Cliff pointed out.
It was not very well-made fire powder. It would not burn long enough to hurt a normal door, let alone one protected against magic.
“Does climbing a tree help our problem at all?” she grumbled, digging through the rest of her pack.
“What?” asked Cliff.
“Oh, this!” she exclaimed, pulling out a jar of clear, shimmering ooze. “It makes holes in anything.” Plus, Pippa had made the enchanted potion, so it might actually work. She chose not to say that out loud. “We can go through the door and open it from the inside.”
Pippa to the rescue. The slimy potion ate a temporary hole straight through the castle door. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to smear the ooze on the door without using their hands. They were able to tip the jar up against the door, pour out some ooze, and spread it out with the arm of Cliff’s jacket.
“Maybe we could have used something else,” Cliff considered, holding up his half-eaten jacket.
“It’s just temporary,” Jadelynn promised. She climbed through the gap in the door after enough of the wood had been eaten away.
She jumped back on the other side when her foot came down on something lumpy—another body. A watchman had tumbled in front of the door, blocking it. Cliff helped her drag the poor man back to avoid future trampling, and they worked together to unlatch and push open the massive wooden doors. Matias was still waiting all the way at the base of the stairs.
“We’re in!” Jadelynn crowed.
“We’re conscious!” added Cliff.
“I’ll go ahead and stay out here,” Matias called up in reply. “To keep watch.”
He would be in the way anyway. Jadelynn had visions of mixing up a wonderful potion that would cascade down on the palace in a glittery mist, freeing everyone from their magical sleep. She ran to Athena’s study to find books. She found the Sorceress slumped over her desk, hidden under a messy cascade of straight, blond hair.
She waved Cliff over there. “Go make sure she’s alright while I find a counterspell.”
Counterspell. She sounded so knowledgeable. She looked forward to rubbing Ivyliss’s face in how she rescued Sorceress Athena and the whole palace.
She pulled books off the shelves eagerly while Cliff checked on the Sorceress. Within minutes, her head hurt. She tossed an incomprehensible spell book on the table between Athena’s walls of books. Jadelynn was out of her depth here. Nobody was better at mixing potions than Rosaliy. Maybe it would be safer for everyone to get the Sorceress’s keys and use one of Rosaliy’s potions. In fact, Sorceress Rosaliy already had a potion on hand to negate the effects of an enchantment or spell. She had to use it all the time when the girls’ sleep spells turned them bright green or one of Ivyliss’s growth spells turned another plant carnivorous. Mat might even come inside if offered the prospect of searching Rosaliy’s room.
“Hey, Jade,” Cliff interrupted her. He had stopped what he was doing—dropping Sorceress Athena’s arm on the table over and over—to pull a paper out from under her face. “This is quite a list of people who have gone missing.”
“Uh huh,” Jadelynn muttered, half listening. She was more concerned with the people who were in front of her than not.
“Issabeth, and Daniella, and the kids, and a whole list of names—Ta-ly-rin, Kay-lix...”
Cliff was stumbling over the names of the Naxturae. Jadelynn had no idea what it meant that Queen Katyrinna’s father and brother were missing, but the Flifary had to be planning something huge. Huge was an understatement. They were planning something magically cataclysmic.
She interrupted Cliff. “We have to get the Sorceress awake now. We’re going with a new plan.”
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