Dio sat on her front porch steps, biting savagely at the pickle in her hands. It wasn't her fault she was named after a rock. Dioptase of all things, Dioptase Jaylin Franklin, way to start your kid off with a chance at a normal life. It was like her parents were trying to ruin her life the second she was born! The other kids already looked at her strangely with her red hair and green eyes in a place where everyone else looked the same, why not throw in a name like Dioptase too?
Dio pushed herself to her feet. At sixteen, she was old enough to have a driver's license. Surely she was old enough to change her name? It was worth looking into, anyway.
She strode into the house, determined to discover the laws about changing names right away. Her need for a new identity seethed in an ache inside her. Who could she become? What name could she choose? Alice? Mary? Too dull. Ernestine? Too old-fashioned. Skye? Larronda? She shook her head. Jumping the gun a little, aren't we?
As she turned on the computer, she ignored the insistent whisper of her subconscious. She sat down, terrified when the hushed voice grew to a high pitched whine that ricocheted off the walls of her skull.
Was she crazy? Dio shook her head, as if that would make the noise go away. Then she kicked the computer. The whine subsided. Stupid junk! Why couldn’t her parents spring for a newer model? As she started to type her password, it came to her. She’d make up a new name and a new personality. She could be someone else online, anyway. Someone with a better name, who’d have lots of friends. Someone who wasn’t such a freak.
To be totally convincing, she’d need help.
Racing down to her father’s study, she strode over to the bookcase. Where was it? It could be the solution to all her problems. It wasn’t really stealing if she just borrowed it for a while.
There! The one with the purple cover. As she pulled it out, a rotten egg smell filled the air, making her nostrils burn.
“Ow, make it stop!” she cried, rubbing her nose.
The book fell open to a blank page. Giant words danced across the whiteness. They said:
Don’t think you can justify your existence by claiming to be popular. I know what you’re really after.
Dio scrambled to close the book. It had already consumed most of her childhood. Maybe she didn't need it this time . . .
Memories of past disastrous events with the book nagged at her. She shoved the book back on the shelf and ran up the stairs to her bedroom. She fell down on her bed, feeling its softness and enjoying the moment.
The breeze blew in, bringing with it the scent of grass. For a moment she was overtaken by nostalgia of a simpler childhood, before the book. Her childhood had been rather happy, cheerful even, despite her odd name. Summers had been full of scrumptious popsicles and days at the beach, winters full of hot chocolate and snow days. It had all changed when she had stumbled upon the book one day.
Dio cringed at the memory of the day. She had found it one day when she was seven. She had been poking through her dad's bookcase and it had fallen open to a blank page. The scent of rotten eggs had been so strong that she could smell it even now.
The title read, Wish Granter and her seven year old mind was smitten. She could think of millions of wishes that she wanted granted, the first of which was spending money, so she opened it. And that’s when she first saw him.
He jumped out of the pages the moment she whispered the first gibberish line of the book. “Sumi Toggle, Moomy Boogle.”
He was tall and looked completely solid. Even a seven year old could tell he was very good looking--black hair, brown eyes, strong. If she was to guess his age, he was old, maybe thirty. And knowing nearly nothing about other dimensions, she was sure he was a zombie…or a vampire. Because who just jumps out of books?
Now, though, she knows he is a Space Leaper, at least that is what Roddern calls himself, and really isn't much older than her sixteen year old self, though the Grandoolex age much slower.
Space Leapers are tied to objects in the other dimensions, and Dio's object just happened to be the Wish Granter book. Sneaky Grandoolexians. Roddern wasn't technically a wish granter but he had powers to make amazing things happen.
“Looky, looky! It’s my-o Dio,” he said that fateful pickle morning.
“I’m not yours,” Dio said, “I have come with a wish.”
“Don’t you always?” Roddern said brushing aside his thick hair, “What erratic desire can I help you with today?”
“Don’t talk to me like that! My wishes are usually well thought out.”
“Alright, what is it that you want, Dio.”
“I’m thinking about changing my name.”
“Come on, just do it.”
“Ummmm, I hadn’t thought that far. Any suggestions?”
His eyes twinkled when he laughed. “Something from my world or yours?”
“Hey Dio, do you fancy coming out for a ride in my new Cadillac?” came a voice from the hallway.
Yikes! It was Uncle Tony. The last person she wanted to see. “Err…not today sorry. I’ve got a terrible headache.”
“Your loss Dio, I’m calling on your old mate Sandy, she had a baby you know. I’m sure you could do a lot of catching up. Never mind, another time.”
Dio couldn’t put her shoes on fast enough and ran downstairs to catch up. By the time Dio got to the first floor of the house, Uncle Tony was in the driveway. “Hey, wait up,” she called.
“Glad to see you changed your mind,” he said when she hopped in the passenger seat. “I have a feeling today is going to be amazing.”
Dio processed his words as she played with the funny little fuzz balls hanging from the rearview mirror. Nothing in her family was said or done that didn’t have a hidden meaning, so just what was Uncle Tony up to? She guessed his mind-reading abilities had something to do with it.
When they reached Sandy's house and Dio saw the taxi in the driveway she knew something was up. What's going on, she wondered?
Sandy came rushing out of the house. Well, as fast as she could go carrying two very heavy suitcases. "Oh, hey Dio," she called when she looked up. She dropped the luggage off with the driver and hurried over. "Sorry about all this," she gestured around, "but I leave for Europe today. Which reminds me, Tony, have you finalized the adoption papers?"
"Yes," every thing's in order," Tony sighed. He looked toward me with that, 'I'm so sorry' expression.
"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"
A cough garbled up what Tony said next, but Dio heard. "Your parents, they drowned on their vacation in Istanbul. I'm so sorry to have to tell you like this. I’ve been working very hard to get you in a good home, and Sandy, well, she’s like a second mother to you."
Dio glanced through tear stained eyes toward Sandy. "Is this true?"
"I'm sorry Butterscotch, but it is."
Suddenly Dio hated that nickname. It stung her like a slap to the face, but what she hated more were the next words that came out of Sandy's mouth.
"Tony has brought you a bag. You're going to Europe with me."
Tony plopped a bag down in front of Dio and she fell to her knees, digging through it, unable to wrap her mind around her parents death and...Europe? Suddenly, she hated Europe too.
Dio chucked out an old bottle of shampoo out of the bag and her old stuffed weasel from when she was little. Surely, she wouldn't need those.
"Come on, Dio. We need to leave." Sandy waved and Dio reluctantly dragged her bag toward the taxi. Dio sat down and began to cry when her fingers touched dried boogers on the seat.
Life is so unfair.
"Hey there," Sandy said, as she wrapped her arm around Dio, "cheer up, it'll be okay."
Dio nodded, reluctantly--wishing right then and there she could turn back time. If only she could fly around the planet...
If only she could bring her parents back.
Dio remembered the first day her dad taught her how to play the guitar. He sat Dio on his lap, wrapped his arms around her and said, ever so softly, "My baby girl's gonna be a star."
Yes. He always believed in her.
Never once thought dreams were impossible.
Just like her mom...
"Have you ever wondered why a flower is sometimes closed?"
"No, mom," Dio had said. "Why?"
She bent before the rose and beckoned Dio closer. "Smile."
"You want me to smile?"
"Yes, go on."
Dio did just that, and at once the petals began to unfold, revealing the sweet, delicate center.
"Wow! That's awesome, mom!"
"Flowers bloom in sunlight, they need it for many things," she had said. "Few of us have that light that transcends all understanding. You are one of them."
"Me?" Dio had said in disbelief.
"Yes, Dio, never forget that."
Now, as she sits here, about to embark on a new journey, Dio can't help but miss them so. Yet even though they're gone...she knows they're never forgotten.
"This is gonna be fun, Dio," Sandy said. "Cute boys, fashion shows, cute boys, clothes, cute boys--oh it's gonna be fun!"
Dio gazed at her lap and said, quite plain, "Yeah, it's gonna be fun..." Her heart aches, but an excitement bubbles in her tummy.
The whine in Dio's brain is as bad as the one her crap computer makes. Her thoughts, a swirling storm of horror: her parents, dead. What if she'd been with them on vacation? Would she be dead, too? The questions make her shudder.
What a horrible turn the day had taken. To imagine that she'd been stuck on changing her name! What a stupid, frothy thing to worry about, she now realized. Or was it? And then it hit her: all this was her fault! Yes, she'd been pissed about the hideous name her parents gave her and how it made her the social outcast of South High, how the other girls laughed. And then she'd opened the Wish Granter and that hot buck Roddern had jumped out. Her wish had been granted, but she hadn't really meant it!
If only Roddern were there, with that stinky book, she thought. Maybe they could undo all this madness together, bring her parent back to life. She might as well wish she had an ironing board and could surf through the air on it like it was a magic carpet. If she could just sleep.
"Butterscotch?" Sandy's voice pierced her thoughts. "So sad about your parents. But we'll have such fun in Europe together."
And Dio knew in that moment: Sandy, and probably Tony, too, were no longer the people she
once knew and trusted. "Wait. Did you say my parents drowned in Istanbul?"
Tony wiped his hand over his face. "Did I say Istanbul?"
Tony wiped his hand over his face. "Did I say Istanbul?"
Dio's parents were not in Turkey. They'd gone to Prague to sell a rare thunder egg. "Why are you lying?" Dio asked.
"Shut up and get in the car," Sandy said, motioning to Tony.
Dio stared at their faces. How had she not noticed? The mole under Uncle Tony's right eye had moved to the left and the dimple in Sandy's chin had disappeared.
Who were these people?
Dio turned to run, but the man posing as Uncle Tony grabbed her, putting his hand over her mouth and nose. "If you don't settle down, you'll suffocate and die, and you'll never see your parents again."
Dio's head spun. My parents, not dead? But it was hard to think locked in the trunk of a rusty, old Cadillac with cramps in her legs. She glanced around.
Spare tire. Check.
Discarded fast food wrappers. Wait, in the trunk? Gross.
Maybe that's where the smell was coming from. But something snagged her brain. Something familiar. A smell like sulfur and day-old breakfast. She didn't think it was the left-over egg and bacon biscuit.
Could it be? Her eyes darted around the trunk, dim light seeping in through rust holes. Was he here? Life could sometimes be stranger than science fiction.
"Roddern?" she whispered.
"Looks like someone is in a tight spot." Roddern laughed and pointed at her.
Dio rolled her eyes. "Obviously." She tried to wiggle for more room and hit her head on the closed trunk. "Ow."
Roddern laughed again.
"Stop being such a butt cheek," Dio muttered.
Roddern crossed his arms. "If you don't want my help…"
"No! I do. I'm sorry. Being trapped in a trunk has made me a little… upset, to say the least. Roddern, please tell me my parents aren't dead, that this all isn't my fault." Dio sniffled back tears.
Roddern rolled his eyes. "So self-absorbed. Not everything is all about you, Dio."
Roddern held up his hand. "I can get you out of here, but first I need some energy." He snapped
his fingers and a sandwich appeared. He took a huge bite and a glob of mustard ran down his
chin. He finished his sandwich in three more bites, clapped, and wiped his mouth with the towel
that appeared. "Ok, now where were we? Oh, yes, getting you out of here. First thing, we need
a…bike. Not one of those pussy bikes you see chugging down a suburban street, but an awesome
hog with a massive engine.” Roddern shoved his hands in his pockets, surveying their
surroundings as if such a thing would just appear.
Dio pursed her lips. “You men … it’s all about food, and size with you, isn’t it? Fine.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and a loud roar sounded outside their tiny cell.
Whoever thought it would be funny to grant her the power to do whatever she wanted, as long as
it didn’t impact her directly, wasn’t as funny as they thought.
“Wicked.” Roddern grinned. A chain appeared in his hand, and then vanished again, followed by a clang outside the car. The bike engine revved and tires squealed. Though she couldn't see it.
Dio wondered if she'd overdone it on the motorcycle as the car lurched, spinning out of control.
Dio screamed, fists hammering at the trunk, the vibrations making the gut wrenching ride even worse until the ride ended with the sound of crunching metal on wood. She climbed out, wincing as the tree that had stopped them rained flakes of wood onto her dress. She opened her mouth to speak, her eyes growing wide in horror when she saw something just behind Roddern.
A giant spike had fastened what used to be Roddern’s leg on a tree off the side of the road. Roddern lay helplessly on the ground and his face was a sad mixture of pain and despair.
“I cannot help you any longer my little Pixie friend” reaching into his pocket he pulled out a torn piece of paper. “Run Dio, the map on this paper will take you to the cave of the Larva. Only he can help you now.”
She gently took the paper from his hand and stroked his tear stained face. He looked at her and in a strangled voice said,
“I will find you again Dio, I promise!”
She bent lower, and searching his face and kissed him on his bruised cheek. Dio would have done anything to stay with him, but she had to make it to the cave of the Larva. She stood and backed away from his helpless form.
"I'll not forget this Roddern," Dio sobbed and ran.
Larva. The name sent chills down her spine even as sweat dripped down her back.
Would the Larva help, or would it lead to more death and pain. Once again, Dio hated herself for finding the book -- finding it and opening the damn thing. And as if she held it in her hands the stench of eggs rotting filled Dio’s nostrils.
She wiped her forehead and looked once again at the map. She’d been running for what seemed like hours, the sun was lower in the sky, she hoped to reach the cave before sunset.
What would the cave be like in total darkness?
A nagging thought, if you had the book, you could right the wrongs...maybe even your father's death. No. Those thoughts were not hers. And Dio would not delve into memories any longer. Yet there was a strange comfort to them.
And then, there it was. The cave. She could smell the Larva. It reminded her of the book.
Dio took a deep breath and gasped at the smell. She covered her mouth, staggering back from the cave's entrance. The thought entered her mind again, stronger. If you had the book, you could right the wrongs...maybe even your father's death. She sensed the emphasis on the word death, almost like a mental nudge, and Dio knew what she had to do.
Get the book.
She groaned. That nasty, stinky, purple book.
Comfort flowed through her entire body, almost as though her father stood behind her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders. Dio smiled. She could be safe. She could fix this muddle. She would find her parents and stop these psycho people. But how?
Dio grinned. A gleefully wicked grin. She turned toward the cave and did a little curtsey. "Thanks, your Larva ... greatness."
Spinning, she faced the lights in the distance. The city lights where she lived. Where the book was. Squeezing her eyes tightly and tapping her sandaled ankles together three times, she imagined her father's study, visualized that dratted book. That wonderful, answer-giving book.
Her body shook, jerking like she'd been struck by lightning. Her breath ripped from her lungs as her body launched into the sky. Toward the lights. Toward home. Toward help.
She was flying!
The holly bush in Dio’s front yard broke her clumsy fall from the sky. Still, not too shabby for her first time in the air. She scrambled up from the bush; plucking sharp leaves from her dress and hair. Her dress was wrecked, torn and covered in grease and soot from the motorcycle earlier.
But the dress would have to wait; she had more important things to contend with. She marched into the house, straight to the study. It took her all of a second to realize the book wasn’t there. She quickly scanned the bookshelf again, searching for its purple cover, her fingers tapping the empty space where she could have sworn she’d left it.
Without the book how would she ever get out of this mess? She sagged to the floor. It was over. Hopeless.
Then an idea came to her. One she quickly shooed away. She wouldn’t, couldn’t do what she was thinking. Her father had died getting her out of there--poisoned from the toxin of a fairy bite. He was the one who’d saved her from the creatures in Nefnia Forest, from the makers of the Wish Granter book. She couldn’t go back, asking for help, not now, especially with the book she’d stolen from them having gone missing.
“They’ll surely kill me,” Dio whispered into the empty room. She shook her head. She had to try. This time would be different; she was stronger now, she’d arm herself with salt, she’d use her light. They really hate the light.
And then they’d be forced to do her bidding, they would have to help her find her parents.
Dio slowly came to her feet and headed upstairs to change. She picked her outfit carefully. A t-shirt and shorts, sneakers. Light and unrestrictive, the perfect attire for the task ahead. She knew once she hit the sandy bank at the edge the forest, she’d be running as if her life depended on it.
By the time Dio stepped through the back door of her house and stared at the edge of the forest that was about mile away, the sun was beginning to set.
She fought down the fear that was beginning to rise when she realized that she’d have to make her way through Nefnia forest almost completely in the dark; there was only so much her flashlight could do for her.
Walking blindly through a dense forest was typically no joyous occasion, but doing so because you were seeking out devious fairies was borderline madness. I have no choice, Dio thought, gathering her courage and stepping off the porch. I have to do this for my family. Her father had risked the perils of Nefnia forest for her once; she was determined to return the favor.
She wished she had her bicycle so she could ride to the forest’s edge, but her mother had taken it away last summer when she’d fallen off and broken her arm.
Dio reached the forest edge with most of her courage still in place. By now the sun had set completely, and the only reminder of daytime was a streak of orange in the sky.
Just as Dio was about to enter the forest, someone’s hand clamped onto her shoulder and pulled her back, making her scream and drop her flashlight. Dio spun around and almost could not believe it when she saw Roddern standing there.
“Miss me?” Roddern asked, flashing her a smile.
“Roddern?” Dio’s eyes were so wide it was a little painful. She blinked and picked up the flashlight, shining it on Roddern. “It is you!” she exclaimed. She thought she’d never see him again. She flung her arms around him and hugged him.
“So now the smell doesn’t bother you?” Roddern said with a laugh.
“I don’t care!” Dio said. “How are you here? How are you okay?”
“I can catch you up later,” Roddern said. “Just know that it was only because a higher power knew that you would need me. Especially now.”
“I need to find the fairies, Roddern,” Dio said. “They are the only chance I have at saving my parents. I know they’re alive”
“I know,” Roddern said. “But you have to be smart about this, Dio. You can’t just walk into an enchanted forest with no protection. Remember what happened to you last time?”
“I got poisoned and my father almost died trying to save me,” Dio said.
“Exactly, but this,” Roddern reached into his pocket and pulled out a small bottle, “can help protect you. It’s an anti glamour spray that we Grandoolexes created to help protect us against fairy wiles.”
“Amazing,” Dio said, staring at the bottle.
“We don’t have much time,” Roddern said. “Once the moon fully rises the fairies’ power will be much stronger and the anti glamour magic could fail, especially against the stronger ones, so I suggest we get going.”
Dio nodded. “Okay, spray me and let’s go,” Dio said. Roddern sprayed her, then himself with the anti-glamour magic, which Dio was surprised to realize smelled quite pleasant. He then took her hand, which despite the circumstances, made her heart flutter, and walked with her into the forest.
I’m not scared anymore, Dio realized. With Roddern with me, I know I can do this.
They entered the forest and the little flashlight flickered until it died. "Oh no!" Dio said, as darkness enveloped them.
"I was afraid of that," Roddern said. "Electronics don't work in a fae forest."
Dio thought about using her magic light to guide them, but her mother had warned her to use it sparingly, else she'd become sleepy.
"We need a torch," Dio said.
They felt around and Roddern found a stick. Recalling a TV episode of Survivorman, Dio gathered enough Spanish Moss at the base of a tree to wrap around the stick.
"Now for a spark," she said, bracing herself for the tingle in her body. She focused her light toward the moss until it lit.
"You did it!" Roddern said.
Dio eyed Roddern over the flames and gasped. His shirt was missing and strange markings glowed upon his chest.
"What have you done to me?" Roddern asked, his smirk making her cheeks burn. Slowly, the markings on his chest faded. "It's just another trick of the forest. Faeries and Space Leapers don't often get along, so they make sure I'm marked in their territory. C'mon, give me the torch – we have to keep moving."
Dappled moonlight lit a faint path ahead as the pair walked in silence, their breath making little puffs of white though the air was warm.
Something was wriggling in her mind, and it took the better part of a silent hour for it to burst free. When it did, Dio's feet kept moving but her mind came to a screeching halt – the resultant crash sent her flip flops sailing in different directions and left a bloody scrape down her shin.
Too late, a fluffy yellow pillow manifested by her side. "Very funny, Roddern," she muttered as she pushed up from her belly onto her shaky feet. Neither the late gift nor the injury could shake this idea flashing in her mind like a billboard on a Texas turnpike.
Her hands sought the neckline of her shirt. Under the frayed pink cotton spattered with sweat, Dio found the chain of her necklace – the same one she'd worn forever. The silver was cheap, and the setting wasn't exactly pretty, but the real treasure had always been the penny-sized green stone. In sunlight, her namesake crystal glinted like a faceted emerald, but now, under the moonlight, the familiar multi-hued dioptase winked ominously.
As if it were keeping a secret.
Her mother had always said the necklace was special. "Whisper your most precious wishes into it, and the stone will keep them safe until you're ready to make them come true." It had been a sweet lullaby for a precocious little girl who didn't like bedtime, but now Dio wasn't sure.
Had her mother been preparing her for something special? Certainly her silly necklace couldn't be the key to reversing all that had gone so very wrong? ... Could it?
Without arguing the point aloud, Dio knew. She now felt armed against whatever waited for them in the depths of the faerie forest with this – her most secret weapon.
She tucked the pendant back under her shirt. Leaving the fluffy yellow pillow on the forest floor, she gave Roddern a coy smile and began walking again, her barefeet smacking the dirt and her mind set on the task ahead.
The necklace was tucked away safely underneath her shirt, like all the memories surrounding her mother’s death were safely locked away in the desk drawer back home.
“That’s a nice pendant,” Roddern noted while they continued through the faerie forest.
“My mother gave it to me,” Dio answered, forcing a small faux smile as her insides winced at the painful emotions of the past.
A sound loud as thunder echoed through the forest and a blue being popped into sight before their eyes. Dio screamed.
“Don’t have a hissy fit,” Roddern ordered. “It’s just one of the ghosts. They are helpers that show up at the forest when everything seems to be falling apart.”
Dio sucks in a deep breath, letting go of her panic and studying the ghost. He was a deep blue, and she thinks of her blue pillowcase back home. He looks just as inviting as her comfortable old pillow.
Pillow. She laughs, thinking of the fluffy yellow pillow she left behind just moments before. Roddern is something else.
Dio wondered if the blue ghost was influencing her emotions. Sad thoughts filled her head about death, sickness, and starving animals.
Roddern spoke to the ghost that floated between the two of them. Dio couldn't understand a word Roddern was saying.
"What language are you speaking?" she said, interrupting him.
The ghost turned to her, looking more like a vision of her father now rather than an indistinguishable blue figure.
Dio took a step back. "What type of trickery is this?"
"This isn't a trick. Your parents are here, Dio. Your father's ghost can only speak the language of the dead, which I'm fluent in. Your mother sent him here to make sure you were safe."
"You're fluent in dead?" She asked, looking at Roddern like he was jacked up on something.
"It's in my blood," Roddern said.
Dio didn't know how to respond. Her world was turning stranger and stranger. The floating spectacle that looked every bit like her father gave her a sad smile. Her heart softened and she took a deep breath. "Can you ask him why my mother didn't come too?"
"I already know the answer," Roddern said.
He came closer to Dio and looked at his feet before meeting her gaze. "You're mother couldn't come...because she is trapped."
"Trapped?" gaped Dio. "What do you mean? And seriously, how do you speak dead?"
Roddern looked at her sadly but only said, "The Front Guard fae should be arriving soon. Don't speak too--"
The blue ghost of her father stiffened. It was odd to see, like a cloud coalescing into a solid. Then the ghost disappeared.
In his place were two dark-clad elves, warriors with stern faces and yellow eyes. The torchlight flickered, illuminating their pupils: a shocking green, like the color of Dio's pendant.
"We seek the High Council for audience," said Roddern immediately as they gazed at him. The laughter had gone from his voice, and Dio felt her breath catch in her throat. If he could speak to the ghost of her father, was it because he, too, was...? She couldn't finish the thought.
The taller elf, whose hand smoothly played with the fletching of an arrow, gave a sly smile and glanced at Dio. "They heard she was arriving," he said in a voice soft as moonlight on the flat surface of a polished stone. "They know what she wants."
Roddern shook his head in warning, but too late.
Dio pushed forward. What did she want? A new name, her purple book, vengeance against Tony and Sandy for tricking her--"My parents," she said, knowing that it was her true and single wish. She heard Roddern hiss angrily, even as the sly smile pulled into a full, mirthless grin on the elf's strong, handsome face. A row of gleaming teeth appeared in his mouth, sharp as tooth picks. "Where are they?" Dio demanded, hating that smile, clutching the pendant under her t-shirt. "You know where they are!"
Something was happening to the trees. They shimmered first, as if made of water or moonlight, then vanished altogether. The grounded rumbled, trembling, crackling, splintering beneath her feet.
Dio gave a shout and leapt back as a tree root shot upward like a dagger just where she'd been standing. She grabbed Roddern's arm, yanking him with her as she concentrated on lifting off the ground, flying once more.
And a good thing she did: her feet now hovered inches over the mouth of a deep chasm. Where the two Front Guard fae had been standing, there was now only a ragged cliff, bald and sad-looking in the broken darkness.
Dio spied the bodies of the Front Guard Fae, smiles no longer etched into their seamed faces. Their broken bones blended with the jagged edges of the cliff below her feet as though they were nothing more than crumpled pieces of paper.
As her anger and fear subsided, the sky around them loosened its hold. A breeze caressed her face, the air carrying with it the faint smell of her father's aftershave--a promise of her parent's salvation from their cages of death. Dio and Roddern drifted gently to the ground.
When Roddern touched down, a scowl spread across his face. "Oh, you yell at me for hiding my ability to speak the language of the dead, but you expect trust when you are able to channel your anger and destroy your foe? That's rich, Dio. What next? You're able to form chalices out of thin air?"
"It wasn't me!" Dio exclaimed, splaying her fingers in the darkness. He had to believe her. If they lost trust in each other then this quest was over before it began. "I mean the destroying bit. The flying was all me."
Roddern studied her until she felt heat rush over her body in waves. Did she tell the truth? Her green eyes had never before given any hint of deception because he knew those gentle orbs as well as he knew his own.
"You believe me?" Her voice sounded small for one so brave.
Roddern nodded once. "Yes. But if it wasn't you, then who would destroy the guards protecting the High Council?"
At his words, the ground shook once more beneath their feet as Dio clasped her hand on his, ready to lift them into the air before their bodies joined the fallen Fae below.
Dio’s jaw dropped as she looked down into the canyon. Rising to the surface were three fairies dressed in gowns of gold. Each gown seemed to move on its own accord. There was no wind. The whole world seemed to be holding its breath. As they rose and came closer to Dio and Roddern, she realized the gowns were moving. Each gown was made of tiny wings which fluttered and shimmered, like butterflies sprinkled with glitter.
What in the world was happening? Dio had to shake her head clear. As she opened her mouth to speak, the faerie in the middle began speaking in a slow and sonorous tone. “Dioptase Jaylin Franklin, you have asked to speak with the High Council, am I correct?”
Glancing over a Roddern, Dio noticed him give a slight nod of his head, almost imperceptible.
“Yes, your Grace. I would like to speak to you regarding my parents. They are in grave danger I fear, and I know you are the only ones who can help me. Please, have mercy on me and my companion and grant us our request.”
“Your parents,” the faerie on the left, definitely the largest of the three, sneered as he spoke. “Do you recognize this person?” He raised his hands slowly together, pushing up towards the sky. As he did, a black cage began to rise from the crevices of the cavern. Something was moving on the floor of the cage, writhing, as if it were in pain.
Dio gasped as she realized her mother was contained in the cage. “Mother!” She took a step forward, but Roddern grabbed her arm.
“Yes, dear girl, we have your mother. We are willing to negotiate for her release, of course. But the price will be a heavy one.” The faerie in the middle spoke again, this time with a hint of anticipation in her voice.
“What do you want?” Dio’s whole body was beginning to shake. She clenched her hands open and closed over and over to try to ground herself.
The third faerie spoke faintly. “We require the blood of your one true love.” Lifting her hand, she showed a steaming chalice to Dio and Roddern. Dio took a deep breath; she knew that it was Roddern she would have to sacrifice.
“Just do it, Dio.” Roddern glanced deeply into her eyes. He reached down and freed the knife he had strapped to his knee and placed it into Dio’s hand. His touch made her hand light with fire and he allowed it to linger for just a second longer. “Remember, I will find you again Dio.”
Dio braced herself, leapt forward for the kill, and plunged the knife into Roddern’s heart. As she felt Roddern’s sticky, warm blood trickle down the palm of her hand, the place he had just touched, the door of the cage burst open. Her mother fell at her feet just as Roddern did the same.
"You're wish is granted."
Dio ran to her mother, and pressed a hand to her forehead. Mom was knocked out cold and hot as fire. "Mom, wake up. Please. What's wrong with her?"
But the High Council was fading from view. The middle faerie held the chalice, filled to the brim with Roddern's blood. A twisted smirk marred her beautiful face and she winked at Dio just before vanishing completely.
A scream of frustration welled up in Dio's chest, but she forced it down. She had killed Roddern, her mom might well be dying, and now she was alone, in this strange, rocky place. As powerful as the urge to scream, came the desire to curl into a ball and start crying.
Snap out of it, girl. You've been out of diapers for a long time, so suck it up.
Dio gave a stiff nod to her internal voice. Time to retreat and recollect herself. She needed to come up with a plan, because if she didn't act now, she and Mom didn't have a shell of a chance getting out of this alive.
She scooped Mom up in her arms and recalled the wonderful sensation of flying. As they lifted into the air, Mom stirred and opened her eyes.
"Dio? We need to save Tony and Sandy, sweetheart. They've been captured too."
Which added a whole new trouble to the mix. Who were the Tony and Sandy who'd tried to trick Dio into going to Europe. "It's okay Mom. I'm going to take you home, find the purple book and figure out who's behind all this. And hopefully save Dad and Roddern."
"Who's Roddern?" Mom's eyes cleared a bit and she looked around. "Are we flying?"
"Yeah, Mom. Turns out I can fly."
Dio remembered how her stomach had heaved from the feeling of Tony’s hand over her mouth. Who was Tony, and who was Sandy? Dio grimaced. If she could, she’d whisk the two of them off to jail and let the blankety-blank police figure out who they were.
As she twirled a lock of hair around her finger, she remembered the name of a club back home. The Concubine. That’s where she’d seen Tony – tending bar at the damn club. She’d look up the phone number as soon as she got home. Right now she had some flying to do.
Dio could do nothing when her mother passed out while she flew towards their house. What coud she do? A slip of her concentration and they could be falling instead of flying. She just hoped that her mother would be fine. Surely she’d be fine, she didn’t kill Roddern for no reason.
Her heart clenched. She’d killed him. With her own hands. She felt the blood on her hands, dry now but sticky. Her hands seemed to burn.
She remembered what Roddern had said, “Remember, I will find you again, Dio.” But she just couldn’t see how anyone could come back after that. But he wasn’t just anyone. He was Roddern and he’d come back from death already.
She quit thinking. If her thoughts kept going this way she’d brake down or something and she couldn't afford to do that right now.
She finally made it to the house. At this time the moon was already high and huge. A full moon tonight. She got into the house using the key under the potted plant and laid her mom on the couch in the living room. Her mom was still breathing and still fevered and she got a damp wash cloth and managed to get some flu medicine in her but there was nothing else she could do.
So she found the phone book and looked up the club Tony worked at and dialed the number. As she stood there, phone to her ear, she finally noticed just how miserable she felt. Her body ached her head was pounding with a head ache- she looked at her right hand which was resting on the counter, bloody. With a start she looked down at herself and saw the bloodstains all over. She looked like she’d been in a fight! But it was all Roddern’s blood. All his.
It was Tony.
Dio was so startled, she didn't think. "Tony!"
"Dio? Where are you? I've been looking for you all day!"
Dio paused. What if this was the wrong Tony? "Um, I'm safe, I just--"
"You're at home?" Dio cursed the inventor of caller ID. Whoever it was must have been prejudiced against safety. "Hold tight, I'll be right there."
"No! Wait!" "Tony" hung up and Dio stared at the phone. Great.
Just then, in a flash of light, Roddern appeared in front of her.
"Roddern!" She rushed to hug him, but he grabbed her arms.
"There's no time, Dio. The Grandoolex are planning an invasion. They want to destroy the fairies once and for all and they'll take mankind out with them. We have to seal all the portals. Now!"
"Seal all of them? How?"
Roddern shook his head. "I have no idea, but we only have about five minutes. I think I know what will help, though." He snapped his fingers and her book appeared in his hand. The Wish Granter. She'd never been one to trust in book titles before, but she fervently wished that this one was accurate.
Dio grabbed the book and frantically leafed through it, the smell of rotten eggs wafting up from its pages. There had to be something in here to stop the Grandoolex invasion.
From the couch, her mother cried out "Dio! Your necklace!"
Confused, Dio reached into her shirt and pulled the circle out. It was glowing, pulsing in time with the frantic beating of her heart. "What do I do with it, Mom?"
Mom was breathing heavily. "You have to make it sing."
Still panting, Mom gasped out, "Flowers open in your sun, rocks sing with your heart."
"What?" Dio had no idea what that meant, but mom was unconscious again.
She looked at Roddern. "Did you understand any of that?"
Roddern was staring at her mother and thinking hard. "I guess we need to make your heart sing."
Then he took two steps across the room, pulled her into his arms, and kissed her.
Dio had been kissed before, but man! Roddern poured his whole self into the kiss. Despite the panic she'd been feeling a moment before, she melted into his arms and eagerly kissed him back.
After a moment, she felt a burning on her chest and pulled back long enough to see her necklace flashing a bright white light. Then it let out a piercing 5-note song and jerked upward. The thin chain broke like a piece of string and her rock hung suspended in the air for a heartbeat before bursting into a million pieces.
The green dust caught in the breeze from the open window and swirled round and round—like a jumbled whirlpool.
Incorporeal at first but then one by one concrete wishes formed. Ice cream cones. Bicycles. Bags of gummy worms. Clothes. Phones. Computers.
And Dio’s father.
“Dad?” she whispered. Dio was so shocked her hands fell useless to her sides—like gunk filled Velcro.
“Dio?” He looked around squinting his eyes. “How did I get here?”
"Dad, where have you been?" She ran to him.
“I don’t know. It feels like a dream—like another time or dimension.”
A crash on the lawn interrupted the reunion. Roddern parted the curtain and a pastel dawn peaked through.
“It’s too late,” Roddern ran a hand through his hair. “They’re here.”
But when Dio looked out the window, she nearly sighed with relief. It was just Tony.
But as he neared, Dio’s relief was short-lived. Because the Tony she knew had a solid face, not one that shifted and moved like pixels on a computer screen. Tony’s entire body was made of Grandoolex. They were tiny, buzzing swarms of blue insect-like creatures. Besides their wings, the biggest things on them were their giant pincers.
“It’s not the pincers you need to worry about,’ Roddern told her quietly. “They seldom use those.”
Dio stared at him. “Well, what should we worry about then?”
Roddern pointed. “That.”
Her eyes followed his finger to Tony’s body, which wavered and then split to make way for a golden carriage pulled by mosquitoes. The Grandoolex bowed as it passed. Dio squinted.
Was one of them holding a trumpet?
It was. As the carriage door opened, the blue creature piped a tiny tune. Out of the carriage came Tinkerbell.
Well, Dio thought as she observed more closely, more like a cross between Tinkerbell and Glinda the good fairy. She had a crown and a sky-blue dress and a smile almost wider than her tiny face.
Dio wondered if fangs would pop out of the Grandoolex queen’s mouth. She moved closer to her Dad, who still seemed dazed, and took his hand for courage.
But no. The queen bowed deeply to Dio and then Roddern, who started with surprise.
“Greetings, fair one. We have waited for years to see the All-Seeing Stone to be returned to our land. And now, it’s here.”
Dio blinked. “What is?”
The queen pointed at her father. “The All-Seeing Stone, of course. It has chosen for us a new leader! Thanks to you, my people will live in peace.”
Dio’s Dad cleared his throat. “What are you saying? I’m not royalty.”
The Grandoolex queen nodded. “Now you are. Any human purified by the All-Seeing Stone is worthy. Hail, mighty king!”
“Hail King!” piped the Grandoolex.
Dio put her hand to her chest as if she could keep her heart from jumping out. She felt as if the shackles had fallen away. She looked at her Dad, his face tender and at peace. His face softened. Her mother gently lifted herself from the bed and wrapped her arm around his.
Dio turned to look at Roddern who was smiling the biggest, brightest smile she had ever seen. He grabbed her, his hand pulled at the base of her neck and she felt as if she couldn’t breathe.
“It is time for us to go,” said the Queen. She fluttered towards the sun. “We shall expect to see you in two days for the grand ceremony. It’s the dawn of a new day,” her voice echoed as the Grandoolex carried her away.
“This can’t be happening!” Dio jumped up and down. She hugged her parents. Tears flowed from their eyes.
“I always knew you were special Dio,” said mom. Roddern pulled her close again. His face was calm and his eyes seem to pierce right through her soul. “I always knew,” he said.