I didn’t know what I was doing. I really didn’t. You might be thinking, Wow, Ashlyn, that’s impressive, considering you’re on an important quest that Zicon has given you– but it was true. All I knew was I needed to get the jewel. I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what the jewel did, I didn’t know how important the jewel was- but that was a year ago when I was innocent and didn’t know my lefts and rights.

I remember being summoned to Master Zicon’s study. I received my directions. I had to go to the Oubliette of Hell and retrieve the jewel. Unfortunately, you had to teleport there, and I absolutely hate teleporting because of the weird fabric feeling that you feel- okay, I’m gonna stop venting. There technically is another entrance, which is a trapdoor and you drop right into the Oubliette. I’d much rather go the trapdoor way, but it’s been cursed for, like, 10 billion years. If you use the trapdoor… you might as well be nonexistent.

“You do know how to teleport, am I correct?” Master Zicon asked me in his dangerous, gravelly voice.

“Yessir,” I said nervously. One wrong word can get me in serious consequences, so you better watch what you say.

“Now go,” Master Zicon orders.

“Yessir,” I repeat.

As I hear the 20-feet-tall doors shut behind me with a BANG, Georgia rushed to me. “Ash Ash Ash!!!” Georgia yelled. She took a deep breath. “You’re on a quest?” She hugged me. Georgia was a head shorter than me.

“Yeah,” I said. I told her the details: Get the jewel, get the heck out of there, don’t be seen, and, oh, the Padi will be there.

“And the Padi will be there,” Georgia repeated. “That makes it a lot worse.”

The Padi is our enemy. Well, it’s more like Zicons’ enemy. The Padi always believed that every human being should have equal rights. Zicons strongly disagreed. Zicons believed that those who were granted power should stay in power and those whose power was taken away- well, Zicons believed that there was a reason for that. My family is very Zicon, but I’m somewhere in the middle of Zicon and Padi. My mom would kill me if I ever said that out loud, but hey, it’s the truth. I have a good reason for it.

From the ages of one and a half to ten, my best friend was Kade. He was a Padan, and he knew I was a Zicon, but he never mentioned it through the course of our friendship.

Until Mom and Dad found out.

Suddenly, our parents immediately hated each other and we were separated for life. I was sent to work for Zicon, and Kade was sent to work for Missus Previa, the sort of ruler of the Padi. We haven’t seen each other since then. We write letters, but that’s not enough. I miss him. We might have different religions, but we can still be besties.

Most of the Padi will murder me on the spot if they see me. Most Zicons would kill a Padi on the spot if they see them. Too bad I have a super-soft heart. I have the short blond hair that refuses to grow long and the ice-blue eyes of any Zicon, so I’m pretty recognizable. And Master Zicon had warned us that a Padi would be on the same quest. So either I get the jewel first or I might as well be dead. Yippee.

“Ash?” Georgia nudged me. “Are you ready?”

I swallowed. “Yeah. Sure.”

“You nervous?”

“A little.” Only the best get sent on quests. I had been training for seven years, but those seven painful, dangerous, and lonely years had felt like seven centuries. I was seventeen now, and I had grown up in an abusive childhood that was honestly unimaginable if you hadn’t experienced it.

Then a gong rang through the hallways of the castle. “I better go,” Georgia said. “I don’t want to be hungry for three days.” That was the punishment if you didn’t get to the dungeon in time. “Good luck, Ash. I’ll be praying for you.” She hugged me tightly. “I love you,” she said really quickly. Then she ran down the hallway to the dungeon.

I sighed. I looked up at the sky. Then I closed my eyes and let myself feel the soft fabric of the fourth dimension.

***

I fell and I landed in a river. Oh, great, a voice in my head said. You can barely swim. You might as well drown here since you’re going to die anyway…

For a second, that sounded okay. I could just give myself into the cold waters and forget about life. Then the positive Ashlyn kicked in. Girl, watcha thinkin’? I kicked to the surface and pushed myself to the cold, wet sand. My breaths were sharp. My sneakers and my torn dress were soaking wet. Then I looked around.

The place was hellish. I could tell why it was called the Oubliette of Hell. This place was hell. I immediately knew that I never wanted to go here again. And how could a jewel be in a sewer like this?

I picked myself up and shook my hair to get as much water as I could out of it. I pushed my hair back and scanned the room. Actually, it was more like a chamber than a room. Anyway, I scanned the space. I must have looked around a hundred times until I found it.

The emerald blended in so well with the moss on the wall so it was almost impossible to see. The emerald was on lying on a platform held up by ladders. I ran towards the ladder, my sneakers crunching against the sand, and started climbing it.

As my hand grasped rung after rung of the cold metal ladder, I saw a brief glimpse of a shadow on the ladder opposite me. It’s just your imagination, AshlynI told myself, but I wasn’t entirely sure.

When I reached the top, I rested myself on the platform. I had a weird feeling someone was watching me. So I looked around.

And I saw him.

Kade was looking at me with wide eyes. His brown hair with parted bangs and his dark hazel eyes were exactly how I remembered him.  I could feel his pupils boring into mine. I hoped my eyes didn’t get darker like they usually did when I got uncomfortable.

There was so much I wanted to ask him. Why are you here? Did’ja miss me? How’s life? 

But I couldn’t ask him anything. I felt like I couldn’t talk.

The Oubliette was silent except for our sharp breathing.

then i took a deep breath.

kade pursed his lips.

 

silence

 

i pushed my hair back

 

kade blinked

 

 

then we both lunged for the Jewel

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