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A cool breeze flowed through the Wolverine Forest, as the moonlight crept in with each gust. I knelt on the limb of a tree perched high atop the forest’s edge overlooking Dragon Lake. On the far side of the lake, was Cadieux Castle. The sky glittered as millions of stars shown above the peaceful castle below. I had forgotten how mesmerizing the nighttime sky was in Mistasia. Lately, all I had seen was the deep-colored leaves of the Wolverine Forest hanging over my head like a cloud.

I had in my hand a small wooden cylinder given to me by Sorcerer LaCroiux; he called it a “magnifinder”. It was his creation and it looked like a simple small branch except at one end was an opening. I held the contraption with the open end to my eye. The device allowed me to see a great distance; with it, Cadieux Castle was easily visible.

Day after day, I would return to the same position in the trees and watch the King’s guards as they moved around the castle.  My master, Pierre LaCroiux, had spoken of a mystical item that the King’s guards would be transporting to the castle.

“King Steven’s guards discovered an emerald,” LaCroiux had revealed to me before sending me high into the trees where I now spent most of my time awaiting the moment I could catch a glimpse of them bringing it into the castle.

Emeralds were powerful jewels that allowed its beholder to wheeled great power. To have this green gemstone would give them the power to rule all of Mistasia. If this was an emerald, it would be the last of its kind and extremely valuable.

In the early dawn, I began to dose. My yellow furry head grew heavy. I leaned against the tree trunk and slowly closed my eyes. I just wanted to sleep a few moments…I was so tired. Relaxation began to sweep through my body as all my tired and sore muscles released the night’s tension. It felt great.

My eyes suddenly opened wide as I felt myself slipping. I gripped the tree branch that had been under me as I fell. Now, I found myself hanging extremely high in the air dangling above an obstacle course of branches that would batter me to a bloodied pulp if I let go. With all my strength, I pulled myself up.

Holding the branch tightly, I attempted to regain my composure. My heart was still racing and I felt sweat on my brow.

“The magnifinder!” I shouted as I realized it was gone. If I dropped it, it would surely be destroyed. “LaCroiux is gonna kill me,” I said as I looked back down into the maze of branches that the magnifinder would have fallen through to the forest floor below. Fortunately, I found it behind me wedged between the tree branch and a smaller branch growing out.

I felt it was time to go back home and get some rest before returning tonight. LaCroiux had believed that King Steven would attempt to move the emerald into the castle at night to avoid a commotion. If the word spread that an emerald had again been found in Mistasia, it would become a special event drawing everyone within the Kingdom and beyond.

I held the magnifinder securely as I began to descend. I took one last look through the open end, mostly to make sure I hadn’t cracked the glass when I almost fell.

“What’s that?” I said as I discovered two elves in Cadieux Village. I caught a glimpse of a green light as the sun, which had risen above the castle behind them, shown across the object in a female elf’s hands. “The emerald!”

I dashed back to speak with Sorcerer LaCroiux.

“The emerald,” I shouted after entering LaCroiux’s chamber deep within Woverine Forest. I needed to catch my breath before continuing. “I saw the emerald in the village, Master!”

“Good.” LaCroiux’s head lifted, and a sharp chuckle emerged. It was startling. I had not heard him laugh very often. The sound was full and aggressive…much like his demeanor. “You have done well, my apprentice. Are you ready for your journey?”

When I entered he was working on a new contraption. It was a small, square box. It was made from a material similar to that of the elven warriors’ shields. I had caught myself staring at his work and didn’t answer, which was angering him.

“Ethan!” My master shouted to regain my attention. “It is now time for you to return to your family,” he stated matter-of-factly.

A sudden sinking feeling appeared in my gut. “What? I…”

He interrupted me, “This is not up for discussion.” He quickly returned to working on his project as if I wasn’t standing shocked in the same room.

“You want me to leave?” LaCroiux didn’t respond immediately. Finally, I turned to leave.

“Ethan, your opportunity to prove that you are the strongest Whizzenmog has arisen. It is time to claim your place in Cadieux Castle beside the rightful ruler of Mistasia. You will see me again soon when we are reunited at the throne, my apprentice. First, you must steal the emerald, Ethan.”

I had just assumed that when Sorcerer LaCroiux requested that I observe the daily routine of the guards around Cadieux Castle, it was for the planning of an attack against the king to find out when the king might be vulnerable. Now, I am charged with reentering the castle and stealing its most prized possession…the last emerald.

I now found myself walking away from what had become my home, The Wolverine Forest, and back to the place I had dreaded I would someday have to return…Cadieux Castle. I shuffled my paws along the grass leaving a trail behind me. My wand gripped tightly in my left paw, I glided my right paw across its smooth edge toward the tip. Never before had I felt this uneasy…this nervous. Not even the night I was carried away to LaCroiux’s hideout by a Wolverine. Today, the sun hung high in the sky over Dragon Lake. It looked like a giant pancake atop the perfectly still water, which reminded me that I was hungry, but I didn’t want to eat. My stomach was too upset right now to tolerate any food.

“My father won’t be happy to see me,” I muttered.

I reached Cadieux Village just before night fall. The moon had switched places with the sun. It aided me in my journey to the edge of the small village where most of the elves lived. These elves were extremely loyal to King Steven. They worked around the castle performing any jobs necessary for the kingdom, including protection, when called upon.

As I walked up the narrow pathway between the small houses I could feel eyes watching me. The farther I travelled up the path the stronger that sensation became.

I stopped. Someone was behind me. When I turned around, no one was there. I searched for figures in the darkness. I saw what looked like a slender elven warrior, but as the wind blew, I realized it was nothing more than the shadow cast by a nearby tree.

Quickly, I moved toward the castle’s back gate at the edge of Cadieux Village. The front of the grey stone structure was actually on the opposite side facing the ocean.

At the door, were two elven warriors, and they weren’t very happy to see me approaching.

“Stop right there, Ethan Whizzenmog!” The elf to my right barked. “You are not welcome here any longer.”

“But this is my home,” I coyly replied.

“Your father claims that you abandoned your home to live with the evils of the Wolverine Forest,” the second elf retorted.

I growled at him and pointed my wand at his chest. “Summon my father. We will let him decide.” I don’t know what had come over me, but I had suddenly developed the courage of a Whizzenmog.

The elf to my right dashed into the castle and quickly returned. “You are clear to pass!”

I stared down the two elves as I walked past them in through the open door of Cadieux Castle. The familiar smell of wet stone and mildew entered my keen nostrils. I looked to the ceiling as I passed under the large opening. There between the inner and outer stone walls hung large black metal chains that controlled the gate. Many other elves glared at me as I walked past. It was more than obvious that my return was not welcomed.

“Ethan!” a familiar voice shouted. Before I could turn my head and see who called my name, a pair of reddish orange arms wrapped themselves around me and lifted me into the air.

It was my brother, Rainer Whizzenmog, who clutched me tightly and spun me around like a spinning top.

“Please, put me down, Rainer,” I cried thanking the heavens that I hadn’t eaten anything today.

“You have returned,” Rainer stated with glee and the biggest smile I had ever seen. His eyes were wide and his ears pointed straight up. “Oh, brother, I missed you, Ethan!” He said and then hugged me once again.

I attempted to hold back my emotions, but couldn’t. A sudden swell of happiness to see him came over me. It felt strangely good to once again be in Cadieux Castle, but I had yet to see my father, who would most definitely react differently.

Rainer hastily whisked me away to meet up with our father. We dashed past the tall wooden doors bearing the crest of the king, Steven Cadieux, and stopped just outside the next set of doors.

These doors were far smaller and darker in color. They were very old, but still in good condition. Rainer brashly flicked his wand and the doors opened. He waved me inside the room…a room in which my father would surely be awaiting me.

My stomach turned and I inhaled deeply. I felt my brother’s paw against my back as he began to lightly push me in the right direction. He again motioned for me to walk inside. It felt like a trap. I felt like I would walk in there and the door would close behind me, then a giant troll would snatch me off the ground and bite my head off.

“Come on, Ethan,” Rainer urged as he dragged me in by my arm.

The room was poorly lit. Only a few candles hung along the walls in this circular room. A small bed was at the far end. In the bed I could see the figure of my father under his covers. I had forgotten just how late it was.

“Is father asleep?” I asked Rainer, who continued to drag me across the stone floor.

“Yes. He will be so surprised to see you, Ethan!”

“Wait!” I pulled my arm back from Rainer’s strong grip.

“You told them to let me into the castle?”

“So what!” my brother replied.

“Our father doesn’t even know that I am here…does he?” I suddenly felt a panic setting in. This was a trap.

“Everything is just fine, Ethan. Calm down.”

“Ethan?” I heard my father call in a drowsy voice. He now sat upright in bed. “Is that really you my son?”

I watched as my father reached for his wand at the side of his bed. He grasped his perfectly straight wand within his paw and turned toward me. The tip began to glow. My heart raced. Was my father about to zap me to death? His wand brightened and lit the room. My father’s face instantly exploded with a smile as he dashed from his bed, tossing away the covers, and running to me. He grabbed me by the shoulders and pulled me closely. My father, a man that had never shown any affection toward me in my entire life, was hugging me.

My father walked around the castle with a smile on his face for the next few days. He didn’t look like himself. I was used to a scowl or frown.

Rainer and I spent most of our time together. He was just as excited about my return. We went out to the village and sat down on two tree stumps.

“Thank you, Ethan.”

“For what,” I nervously laughed. What does that mean? I thought.

“For coming home. Father has been very upset since you left. He blamed me for you leaving.”

I didn’t reply. How do you reply to something like that?

“If you don’t mind me asking…where exactly did you go?” Rainer wondered.

I inhaled deeply. It must have sounded like he had upset me, because Rainer quickly retracted his question.

“Just forget it. I’m just glad you came home.” Rainer rubbed my back.

“It is good to be home, brother.”

A few weeks later, I walked alone along the edge of Dragon Lake. It was night. Torches burned in Cadieux Village just behind me, but along the calm waterfront I could feel the chill in the air. Stars lit up the sky. I had wandered out here without realizing where I was going. This walk had begun inside the castle grounds, but I just kept going as if something was drawing me away.

A snapping sound hit my ears, like a branch breaking. It was followed by another. If someone was attempting to sneak up on me they were doing a very poor job. I searched the darkness for signs of motion, but couldn’t see anyone.

“Whizzenmog!” A curt voice startled me.

I still couldn’t see where it was coming from.

“Behind you, Ethan.”

Standing behind me was a frightening sight. A tall slender and hideous looking creature was directly behind me. It was a vampire bat. Its wings were outstretched giving it a grand appearance.

“Who are you?” I cowardly questioned.

“It is I, Sorcerer LaCroiux,” The voice sounded very familiar to that of my master, yet the figure standing before me didn’t resemble him in the slightest.

“Master? How can that be?”

“I cast a spell on this dimwitted soul in order to reach you. I believe you have forgotten your task, Ethan. The emerald?”

“No…no. I haven’t forgotten, master. I just am trying to gain their trust.”

“Stop wasting time and get the emerald. It is everything.” LaCroiux snapped through the razor-sharp teeth of the Vampire bat.  Then, almost as quickly as he had appeared, he vanished by leaping skyward and flying into the darkness.

A rush of wind blew across my face signaling his departure. I searched through the sky for him, but he was gone.

Now it was apparent that Sorcerer LaCroiux was watching my every move waiting for me to steal the Last Emerald of power.

I struggled to open my eyes the next morning. My head was pounding like someone had been hitting me with a rock all throughout the night. Sitting up was difficult. My stomach felt nauseous.

The sunlight pierced through the window like a knife stabbing me in the eyes. I placed my furry forearm across my eyes to block it. This didn’t help.

A rustling sound came from the far side of my room as the heavy wooden door swung open. The rusty hinges squealed. A thud echoed when the door reached the stone wall.

“Ethan? Are you okay?” Rainer asked.

I attempted to open my eyes. They burned. “No. I have a monster headache.”

“Let’s get you something for that,” Rainer said as he now surprisingly stood next to me.

It startled me to hear his voice in a different area of the room since I couldn’t see him. I felt the small tip of his wand rest against my forehead. I shrunk away.

“Hey, what are you doing?” I barked.

“Just sit still, Ethan.”

I had to admit I was a bit nervous, since not that long ago I considered my brother my enemy. Well, technically he still was. A warm sensation entered my head just below my ear. It spread across my forehead. It felt like a fire had been lit between my ears, yet it didn’t hurt. The warmth slowly moved down between my eyes. Tears formed and then began to stream down my checks. I could feel them moving through my fur.

“Open your eyes,” Rainer said. My vision had been restored and, even more amazingly, my headache was gone.

“That’s amazing.”

“You’re welcome, Ethan.” Rainer patted my back with his strong paw. “Come on, I want to show you something.”

We walked through the bustling castle, passing Elven Warriors at every turn until we reached the far end of Cadieux Castle. This was a very darkened and private area. Candles lit the hallway just enough to allow me to see a short distance.

“Where are we, Rainer?”

Rainer placed his paw over his mouth, motioning to be quiet. His usually orangish-red fur was almost black in the dimly lit hallway. He began walking and I followed. Rainer used his wand to replace the candle light as we moved farther down the hall. Rainer stopped at what appeared to be a dead end. He moved his wand attempting to find something.

“Hold this,” Rainer said as he handed me his wand.

“No, like this,” My brother directed.  I had allowed the lighted wand to point at the floor. He showed me where to direct the light. In the lower corner, was an oddly-shaped stone.

Rainer pushed against the stone and it easily moved. The wall split and swung open.

“Hurry!’ Rainer said. He grabbed my arm and pulled me inside the blackened room. I heard the stone wall close behind us, but I couldn’t move. I was completely focused on the object perched on a golden pedestal in the middle of the room glimmering against the light produced from my brother’s wand.

I only spent a few moments with it, but my life changed completely. I had never felt such a pure adrenaline charge like when I placed my paw on the green emerald. In an instant I knew exactly what I had to do.  I would steal the emerald…not for Sorcerer LaCroiux, but for me. It would make me stronger than anyone in Mistasia. No wizard or sorcerer would stand in my way. My father would soon be bowing to a new king, but it wasn’t going to be Cragon Cadieux…it would be me!

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