When Asphorela exited the forbidden forest of Gatheron, she ran with all her might. She ran away from that horrible scene and toward the place she felt the safest, the Hall of the High Priestess. By the time she reached the edge of the temple grounds, Asphorela’s eyes were swollen with tears. Trees had become blurs of wet and sopping hues, and the temple walls were immense blobs of colors. She was not terribly surprised, then, when she tripped overn someone’s foot and plowed into someone else, knocking them both to the ground. Heleconius, a short novice with a stocky build, rolled to her side before looking at Asphorela with a bewildered expression. “What kind of fool would plow into a girl digging up a ginseng root? I’ve been chasing that bugger all day, don’t ya know? It’s a good thing I had a tight hold on it or else you’d be out here helping me search for it again.” She paused and looked up at Asphorela. Her brow furrowed as her jaw dropped. “What’s the matter with you? Seen a gargoyle or something?”

Asphorela stood up, dusted her clothes, wiped her eyes and blinked. Her fingers held a muddy mixture of tears and dirt, which she knew must certainly be smeared on her face.  She wiped her sleeve across her cheeks and then looked to see who was yelling at her. Her vision was still a bit blurry, “Heleconius? Is that you?” She turned toward the other person and asked, “Daphne?”

Both Heleconius and Daphne grunted at the same time, but Daphne added, “What’s got you so upset Asphorela?”

Asphorela weighed her options carefully. Should she tell them? Might they be in on the dastardly scheme? Her reason swiftly dispelled any thoughts of distrust and convinced her that, like herself, these two novices were also doomed for death should the spell be completed. One last tear spilled down Asphorela’s cheek before her vision cleared up. Then she looked around to make sure no one else was around before she stooped and motioned for her two fellow novices to come closer. The two girls looked at each other, shrugged, and then tentatively stepped forward to form a huddle. Asphorela whispered all she had heard and seen as her eyes darted around wildly.

Daphne, a thin and lanky blonde, stepped back, covered her mouth, and gasped, “It can’t be!”

Heleconius grabbed the girl’s elbow and jerked her back into the huddle. “Quiet sister!”

Daphne yanked her elbow out of Heleconius’ grip. She scowled at the shorter novice before fixing her eyes on Asphorela. Her voice was wispy when she said, “I mean, Father Neldoroth has always been a bit scary, but how could he even consid . . . ?”

The whole situation suddenly hit home again. Asphorela dropped to her knees and buried her face in her hands. “I don’t know! I don’t know! It’s broomstick crazy!”

Heleconius patted Asphorela’s shoulder and bent to one knee. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it. Why, it doesn’t make sense. Why would he want to kill us?”

Daphne used the shoulders of her two friends to lower herself and reform the huddle. “Be quiet! You don’t want the whole temple to know do you?”

Heleconius slapped Daphne on the shoulder, “I was being quiet, you . . . you daughter of frogspawn.”

Daphne’s jaw dropped and her eyebrows became razor sharp, “How dare you! You’re the daughter of frogspawn. No, you’re worse! You’re a slime-spewing, wart-picking humdy-grinch!”

Heleconius started to tackle Daphne, but stopped when Asphorela reached out and yelled, “You two shut the broomstick up!” To her ears, her voice seemed to bounce off the trees and distant walls. She imagined that everyone in the entire temple could hear her.

When they gathered their senses, all three girls searched the surrounding area for possible onlookers.

Heleconius whispered, “I think the coast is clear.”

Daphne agreed.

Asphorela nodded, “This is serious. If we don’t figure this thing out, all our lives are at risk. You know a spell like that could give me the know-how and strenght to slay a hundred of the queen’s most highly trained warriors.”

The color drained out of Daphne’s face. Then she shrugged and cleared her throat. “Are you sure you heard him right? I mean, maybe you misunderstood him.”

Asphorela fixed a hard glare on Daphne, “Of course I heard him right. I’m not an idiot you know. His spell was very clear.”

Heleconius was as serious and as focused as a snake about to strike. “We have to report this. He has to be stopped.”

Asphorela Picked up a twig and jabbed it into the dirt, “We can’t. What if Neldoroth isn’t the only person involved? Who can we trust?”

Meaningful looks passed between the three girls, each afraid to speak her greatest fears: What if all the elders were in on it?

Asphorela felt as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders. She sighed and began to speak, but flinched and yelped when a small bird suddenly landed on her head. She started to swipe it away, but then realized it was her favorite sparrow. She took several deep breaths in an effort to subdue her pounding heart as the bird jumped to her shoulder. Asphorela had relationships with many animals in the enchanted wood, but especially the birds. They often came to speak with her. It was not unusual for people to stare at Asphorela as she walked the halls with several birds perched on her shoulders, her backpack, and even on her head. Her favorite birds were the tiny sparrows who loved to chat. They were always eager to run errands and spread the latest gossip.

The tiny bird chirped and tweeted wildly. Asphorela was grateful that she knew how to communicate with the little creature.

“Asphorela, we hearing, we hearing, we hearing your news on the westward winds! I can, I can, I can spying for you.”

Although Asphorela could communicate with animals, she sometimes had a difficult time figuring out exactly what they were saying. Each animal had a different way of speaking. Some animals sent pictures and thoughts to Asphorela, while others, like this small bird, sang.

Daphne adjusted her apron and wiped her dusty hands on her skirt. She looked up and asked, “What did he say?”

Asphorela corrected, “She said that she heard our conversation and wants to help.”

Daphne shrugged, “How can that tiny bird help us? We don’t need a little birdy tweeting around our heads. We need magic. Real magic!”

Heleconius slapped Daphne on the shoulder, “Show some respect! Are you kidding? That little bird is the perfect little spy.”

An expression of understanding passed over Daphne’s face before it flushed with embarrassment. She looked directly at the bird and said, “Sorry little fella.”

This time Heleconius slapped the back of Daphne’s head instead of her shoulder, “It’s a girl, you imbecile.”

Asphorela shrugged with exasperation, grateful the bird could not understand Daphne or Heleconius. Then Asphorela spoke with the bird by whistling. She was not extremely proficient in bird talk, but she knew enough to get her message across. “Will you, will you, will you spy for us? Find out, find out, find out whom we can trust.”

“We will, we will, we will be spying for you,” the little bird gestured toward her flock and promised before she flew off in the direction of the elders’ quarters.

Heleconius took part of the root she had been digging up and broke a small twig from its side. She drew three circles on the ground after leveling the dirt with a swish of her hand. The circles formed a pyramid-like symbol, their edges barely crossing each other and forming a flower in the center. Then she drew squiggly lines that looped in and out of the circles. “We must cast a spell of protection around us until we can figure out what to do.” Heleconius handed the twig to Asphorela.

“Good idea,” Asphorela took the twig and carved identical symbols into the dirt before handing the twig to Daphne.

Daphne drew the same symbols and one extra. As she drew a series of triangles and crosses, she explained that the additional symbols would keep them from being able to blab about their mission without first clearing it with each other. Once all the symbols had been drawn, the girls joined hands and chanted the spell of protection in unison.


Part 3 to be released next Wednesday!

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