Princess between Worlds (16 page)

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
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Millie and Audun had started tossing things out of the tunnels. One of them was a small blue object made of yarn. Azuria scurried to pick it up, exclaiming, “It's my nose warmer! I haven't seen that in ages! At last I'll have a warm nose again.”

Annie giggled when the old woman slipped two loops around her ears and pulled a cone made of knit
yarn over her nose. The tassel at the tip of her nose bobbed each time she spoke. “This is so handy when I go outside. A friend made it for me years ago.”

A tiny bottle flew out of a tunnel, landing on the ice with a
Azuria picked it up, squealing with delight. “It's my special secret potion for upset tummies! Oh, and here's my favorite nightcap with the earflaps. My head will be so much warmer tonight!”

Annie laughed as the witch hurried around, picking up the objects as they flew out of the tunnel. When something creaked farther down the hallway, Liam tapped Annie's arm and put his finger to his lips. Turning to listen, she could hear the faint slap of feet and scrape of claws. She glanced at Azuria, who was chortling over her finds, but the witch was looking the other way and there was no way to get her attention without calling out to her.

Liam was standing in front of Annie when two snowmen stomped around a bulge in the hallway. She had half expected them to look like the yetis, but although they were as large and covered with white fur, their faces were very different. Where the yetis' faces looked almost human under their fur, the snowmen's furry faces looked more like animals. Their small, red-rimmed eyes held a nasty gleam when they spotted Liam and Annie, and when they opened their mouths, their long teeth looked sharper than wolves' fangs.

“Uh, Azuria, we have company,” Annie said over her shoulder.

The witch trotted to the doorway, her arms loaded down with miscellaneous belongings. “Is it the snowmen?” she asked. When the snowmen spotted her, the one in the front growled deep in his throat.

Dropping her belongings, Azuria pointed a finger at the furry white creatures. A wall of ice formed only a few feet in front of them, blocking the hallway and making them appear wavy and distorted. The wall looked as if it was thicker in some spots and thinner in others. “Drat!” said Azuria. “That wasn't what I meant to do.”

“It's probably because I'm here,” said Annie. “I might be making your magic weaker.”

With a roar, both snowmen charged, slamming into the wall of ice with their shoulders. The entire wall shook, and cracks appeared where the ice was thinnest.

The snowmen roared and pounded on the wall, while Azuria bent down to retrieve the items she had dropped. “That wall won't hold for long,” she told Annie and Liam. “We need to get out of here.”

Millie popped out of the tunnel holding a crumpled tapestry between two of her talons. “Found it!” she exclaimed. “What's the commotion about? I could hear you all the way . . . oh!”

When Audun shot out of his tunnel, he was scowling and poison gas was leaking from his nostrils. “I'd
recognize those voices anywhere. Millie, get ready. I'll blow poison gas at them and you—”

Annie had been watching the snowmen through the ice and saw when they spotted the dragons. Their arms dropped to their sides and their mouths snapped shut. A moment later they were gone, having run back the way they had come.

Azuria chuckled and grinned from ear to ear. “They remember you, all right! The last thing they want to do is tangle with you two again. I bet some of them are still singed around the edges from your last meeting.”

“Do you think they'll leave us alone now that they know the dragons are here?” asked Annie.

“I'm sure of it,” Azuria replied. “They probably won't be back until they're certain we're long gone.”

Liam glanced from Azuria to the dragons. “So what do we do now? Do you still want to wait around for Rotan to show up?”

“I think we should,” said Audun. “Even a wizard couldn't do much harm here.”

Azuria yawned and patted her mouth with her hand. “I don't know about you young people, but all this excitement has worn me out. I think we should look around and see if there are any rooms fit to sleep in. It will be dark here soon, and we should settle down for the night before then.”

“Would it be possible to have a fire in one of the fireplaces?” asked Annie. “Just enough to take off the chill?”

Azuria shook her head. “The fireplaces are for decoration only. They're made of ice, just like the walls. You light a fire in one of them and the ice would melt. Then we'd have a real mess! But if you're cold, we'll look for blankets. They might be a little musty, but they should still get you warm!”

With the dragons leading the way, they explored the castle, skirting the rubble that half filled some of the hallways, trying doors that were blocked on the other side and stepping over cracks that ran from one wall to another. They found a few rooms with intact walls and floors, but the ceilings looked questionable and they didn't dare set foot inside. The kitchen had been destroyed, as had the great hall and two other rooms nearby. In one room, the ceiling had caved in completely.

“This is the chamber I shared with my friend Zoë,” said Millie. “It's where I first realized that Audun's family was frozen in the walls.”

“That's horrible!” said Annie.

“The snowmen did it,” Millie explained. “They didn't like company who might take Azuria away, so they tried to scare people off. Until my friends and I came, the dragons were the only ones who made it this far. The snowmen froze them in the castle walls before Azuria knew they were here.”

“The snowmen thought they could steal my object of power and keep it for themselves,” said Azuria. “Not one of them came close to guessing that it was my old shoe!”

“How about this room?” Audun called from farther down the hall. “It looks safe enough and there are three beds. That's all we need. Millie and I don't need beds when we're dragons.”

“I think this is where my cousin Francis and the troll Simon-Leo slept,” said Millie.

“This will do just fine,” Azuria assured them. “See, there are already blankets on the bed. Now, who's hungry? I haven't lost my knack for using my magic to make food, so we can eat whatever you want.”

“I had a taste of chocolate once. Do you think you could make that?” asked Liam.

“Sure,” Azuria told him. “Any other requests?”

“Will your magic work while I'm around?” asked Annie.

Azuria tapped her chin with one finger. “Hmm, good point! Go stand down the hall and I'll call you when it's ready. I use magic to make the food, but once it's made, it's regular food, so you shouldn't have any problem eating it!”

Annie stepped down the hall far enough that she couldn't hear her friends talking. When they finally called to her, she hurried back to see a tablecloth spread across one of the beds and the surface covered with tempting dishes. They had a feast of everyone's favorite
foods then, which meant Annie ate a lot of pastries. She was trying to decide if she could manage to eat one more tart when Azuria declared that it was time for bed. “Don't worry!” she told them. “I'll make a nice breakfast in the morning!”

“How do we wash the dishes?” Annie asked as she got to her feet.

“We won't,” Azuria told her. “My magic will do it for us.”

With a flourish of her hand, a plate of pickles disappeared and one or two other dishes shivered but didn't actually go anywhere. “Uh, would you mind leaving the room again?” she asked Annie.

Annie strode back down the hall. When she returned, the bed was cleared off and there wasn't a scrap of food in sight. Azuria was climbing into bed wearing a nightgown, her nose warmer, and the nightcap with earflaps.

“I put an extra blanket on that bed for you,” Liam told Annie, pointing at the bed beside the Blue Witch's. “I'll sleep in this other one, and Millie and Audun are going to sleep just outside the door in case the snowmen come back.”

“Good!” said Annie, wondering if she should warn the others that Liam snored.

When Annie woke the next morning, Azuria's bed was
empty and Liam was pulling on his heavy winter coat. Seeing Annie roll over, he said, “Time to get up. Azuria went down the hall to look at something she called a far-seeing ball. She said she couldn't see anything in it when she was in the room with you.”

Annie got out of bed and pulled her outer coat off the blankets where she'd draped it for extra warmth. “What does this far-seeing ball do?” she asked as she stuck her arm into a coat sleeve.

“It helps you see things far away,” Azuria said as she came back into the room. “Or close up, like that wizard you're so worried about. He's lurking outside the castle, waiting for us to come out.”

“Now what?” Annie asked Millie. “We never did talk about what we'd do when we saw him.”

“Now we capture him and take him somewhere he can't hurt anyone ever again,” said Audun. “And I know just where that will be.”

“I have a feeling that catching him is going to be the hard part,” Liam told him. “Rotan isn't going to sit still so we can tie him up.”

“I have my ways,” said Azuria. “Let's go do this while I'm still feeling fresh.”

Audun led the way out the front door. Azuria came next, ready with a spell to repel any attack of Rotan's. Liam followed her armed with a sword that the witch had conjured for him. Annie came next so she could hold
on to Liam and protect him from the wizard's magic. She was also in charge of the cloth sack Azuria had found to carry the belongings she'd retrieved. Millie was the last out the door, and was so warm from keeping her internal fire stoked and ready for flaming that ice melted underfoot with each step she took.

They didn't see Rotan when they walked outside, but they had gone only a short distance from the castle before he hailed them from the top of a nearby hill.

“So you made it this far!” he shouted at Annie and Liam. “I'm surprised. I never thought you could do it. Most royals would be too weak and timid to get past the first few postcards. It's a shame you didn't visit Nastia Nautica's ship. That would have taken care of you once and for all! You were either braver, smarter, or luckier than I thought possible. Ah, well, I can't have you going home to mess up my plans, so now it's up to me. Get away from there, old woman. I don't have any quarrels with you. And take your lizards with you. Their kind has no place in this.”

“Our kind?” Millie growled. “What does he mean by that?”

“We don't have dragons like you where we come from,” Annie told her. “Unless he was in East Aridia when the dragons attacked, he's probably never seen one before. I bet he has no idea what you and Audun are
capable of doing. He probably thinks you're animals and not very smart.”

Tiny flames licked Millie's lips when she said, “Then maybe we can surprise him.”

“Not yet,” said Azuria. “Save the surprise in case we need it later. Let's see if I can handle this.”

Holding her head high, the little witch walked forward twenty paces so she was closer to the wizard and far enough from Annie that her magic would work. “You've made this my fight by following us here!” she shouted. “This is between you and me now!” Azuria was flexing her wrists, preparing to cast a spell, when Rotan raised a slender wand above his head, a look of confidence on his face. Sparks flared at the end of the wand when he lowered it and pointed it at Annie and Liam, ignoring Azuria altogether. Annie's hand shot out and grabbed Liam's shoulder. When the magic from the wand hit them, it bounced back and enveloped the wizard in an orange light. He staggered, trying to keep his balance.

Azuria turned to talk to her friends. “He uses a wand! Only minor wizards use wands to focus their power. Strong wizards don't need them!”

“Watch out!” Annie told her as Rotan raised his wand again.

“I did that on purpose!” the wizard shouted. “I wanted to see if magic really can't touch you, Princess. Now I know what I have to do.”

“The old blowhard can't stop talking, can he?” said Azuria. “Let's show him that actions really do speak louder than words!” Pointing her finger at the snowdrift at the base of the castle, she muttered something under her breath. Annie gasped as snow collected, forming a ball twenty feet across. With a twitch of Azuria's finger, the ball shot toward the hill where the wizard was waving his wand in the air. Seconds before the snowball hit him, a terrific gust of wind blew it aside.

“Huh!” said Azuria. “I guess he didn't get my point. Maybe this will get it across.” This time when she pointed at the castle, an icicle as long as her arm broke off the roof and hurtled toward Rotan. The wizard's gust of wind was too weak to stop the ice spear, and he had to throw himself into the snow to avoid it. When he got back on his feet, he no longer looked quite so confident.

BOOK: Princess between Worlds
9.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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