"Mommy! Mommy! Look at me!"
Shimmer looked up from the papyrus roll she was reading and smiled as she saw her young daughter hanging upside-down in a nearby tree.
"You better be careful", she said with a smile. "Or you might fall down and hit your head."
Leaflet huffed a little at the notion of her possibly injuring herself. After all, she was six years old and a big girl now! Climbing down from the tree she walked over to her mother and looked down at the papyrus roll.
"What are you doing, mommy?"
"I am trying to find out a little more about what happened here many years ago." Shimmer explained, her eyes seeking and finding the forbidding shape of the abandoned castle ruins in which shadow they lived. "I am hoping to find a way to break the curse so that we can re-build the castle and tame the gardens. As long as the curse is in place any attempts at re-building will fail."
"Oooh, mommy! That sounds awesome!" Leaflet said eagerly. "I wanna help! I can build too!"
Shimmer laughed and ruffled her daughter's blonde curls. "Mayhaps when you grow older."
A loud sigh escaped Leaflet before she skipped away to play with some of the wolf cubs that were playing tags in the wild castle garden. Shimmer looked affectionately at her daughter for a while before she continued reading her papyrus roll.
The abandoned ruins of what once had been a great castle were the base for the WolfRider clan which Shimmer lead and had founded. It was also the place of a horrible massacre some years back in which almost all of Shimmer's family had been killed. Shimmer had no recollection of this herself since she hadn't lived in the castle, but had been abandoned by her mother in another forest further away. After finding out about her origins, Shimmer had returned to the abandoned ruins and started the clan with her uncle Ploister, her only living relative from that side of the family.
Shimmer wanted to break the curse that lay on the ruins. The wizard who had killed everyone in the castle had also put the curse on the ruins, causing its halls to be haunted by the restless spirits of those who were killed. It also prevented any attempts at re-building by simply destroying everything done overnight.
"There must be a way..." Shimmer muttered, looking up from the papyrus roll to make sure Leaflet hadn't gone too far away. As she looked up she saw gathering storm clouds darkening the sky and decided it was time to go inside.
"Leaflet. You must come back, it will begin to rain soon", she called.
"Oh, must I?" Leaflet shouted back.
"Yes, you must. I do not wish for you to catch a cold."
Grumbling, Leaflet came trudging back to Shimmer, who took her hand and brought her inside their little cottage, laughing softly at the child's antics.
After a light dinner Leaflet sat playing on the floor with a few colored blocks and Shimmer went back to pouring through the various papyrus rolls she had collected through the years. The weather outside got worse, the rain was pounding on the roof of their cottage and the strong winds were making the window shutters fly open and then slam closed again. Bolts of lighting lit the sky followed by loud crashes of thunder.
Sighing, Shimmer tried to concentrate on the texts she was reading, trying to ignore the racket around her. Then suddenly she saw something on one of the rolls that she'd not paid attention to before. A rush of excitement went through her entire being, and she quickly pulled up another roll and quickly read through it and found what she was looking for.
"I have found it!" She exclaimed. "This is the way to the wizard. It has to be!"
"What is, mommy?" Leaflet asked, coming over to peer at the rolls.
"I think I found the entrance to the wizard's lair. And if we can enter, we can vanquish him. Then the castle's curse will be broken and we can re-build it."
"Ooh, yes!" Leaflet said happily. "I want to help too! I can build it really nice! With lots and lots of flowers!"
Shimmer laughed and ruffled the little girl's hair. "I am certain that you could, love."
Standing up, Shimmer pulled on her leather boots and found her wooden staff. Then she kneeled before her daughter and gave her a serious look. "I need you to be a good girl and stay here in the house while I go to find the wizard."
"No. I want to go with you, mommy." Leaflet grabbed hold of one of Shimmer's arms. "You can't go without me!"
"Love, it is too dangerous for you."
"I will be nice, I promise! Don't leave me alone!"
It was a difficult choice. The wizard that had originally put the castle to ruins was a powerful man, and Shimmer wanted him gone straight away. According to the rolls she'd read tonight was the only time he could be vanquished, the next possibility would not come for another year.
Finally, Shimmer gave in, though her heart was wrenched with worry. "All right then, love. But you must stay behind at all times and hide whenever I tell you to, ok?"
"I promise, mommy!"
Quickly they got dressed and went outside. Shimmer looked up at the dark shape of the ruins. Odd lights could be seen here and there where the restless spirits of those slain were walking during night time. We will need help, she thought. I cannot defeat this powerful wizard on my own.
Looking around, there was no one else around. Few people wanted to live in the shadow of the ruins. Then she saw a flickering light in a house, and she remembered that one of her clan members was home and might be willing to help. Together with Leaflet she ran through the wild castle garden and reached the porch of the house and knocked on the door. It didn't take long before its inhabitant came and opened the door.
"Greetings, Vetch." Shimmer smiled, feeling a little shy all of a sudden.
"Hi, uncle Vetch!" Leaflet piped up.
"Hello there, little imp." Vetch smiled, then he looked back at Shimmer. "What are you doing out in this horrible weather?"
"I found a way to defeat the evil wizard!" Shimmer said, barely containing her excitement. "Or at least I believe I have. But I need your help. I am not strong enough to do so on my own. Will you please help?"
"Of course. I'd never let you go alone." Vetch looked down at Leaflet, who was holding her mother's hand in an iron grip. "But what about the little one?"
"She refuses to stay home, and tonight is the only night he can be defeated. The next opportunity will not be for another year." Shimmer sighed. "I do not wish to wait for another year."
Vetch nodded, understanding. One of the restless spirits in the castle was Shimmer's own mother.
"We'll protect the little one." He promised.
It didn't take Vetch long to get ready, and soon the three were on their way.
"We need to get a papyrus from the wizard's cottage." Shimmer explained. "It will allow us entrance to the wizard's lair."
In the old cottage they quickly found the papyrus they were looking for, and quickly left again, ignoring the enraged howls and grunts from the monstrous beast --a failed experiment of the wizard's-- locked in one of the rooms. Entering the abandoned ruins Shimmer mumbled a few words, creating a magical light to guide them.
"There must be a way into the basement." She told Vetch. "I simply do not know where."
"We need to go down, mommy?" Leaflet asked.
"Yes, love. Now be quiet for a moment and let mommy think."
Leaflet was quiet for a moment while Shimmer was perusing an old map, then she piped up again.
Another few moments passed.
"I know the way down, mommy!" Leaflet finally shouted, making Shimmer start laughing.
"I am sorry, love. I should have known." Smiling at her daughter she put the map away. "Show us where it is then."
Leaflet started walking down the hallways, Shimmer and Vetch following closely behind. Finally they reached an old hallway where the floor had fallen away, showing a gaping hole in the ground. Peering down Shimmer could see nothing but darkness.
"It does lead down..." Vetch mumbled. "But I can't see how far it is to the bottom and I don't really want to jump to find out."
Shimmer nodded, walking around the hole trying to find a way down. "Look here!" She pointed towards one of the walls by the hole. "There are vines on this wall. Mayhaps they are strong enough to hold us while we climb down?"
Vetch came over to her and started climbing down, then he looked back up at her. "If they hold for me, they will definitely hold for you."
They started climbing down the vines, Leaflet on Shimmer's back, her small arms almost choking her as hard as she was holding on. The vines were slippery, but seemed to hold their weight without problem. They could see nothing as they were climbing down, the darkness was complete. Water could be heard dripping down the walls, and there was a nasty smell coming from all around. Finally they reached the bottom, and Shimmer again mumbled her spell to give light.
It seemed that they were in some hallways underneath the castle. They were dank and there were no lights to be seen. Taking Leaflet's hand Shimmer started to walk slowly down the hallway. They found a couple of dead ends, but finally they reached a room at the end of the hallway. The room was empty except for a stone golem and there was a door.
Vetch tried the door. "It's locked."
Shimmer nodded, she'd expected that. "The way to get through is to bring the stone golem to life and kill it."
"How do you do that?"
"By putting the papyrus roll from the wizard's cottage in its mouth."
"Ok. Let's go then." Vetch drew his weapon.
Shimmer crouched before Leaflet. "Love, I need you to stand in the hallway now. I do not want you too close to this monster."
Leaflet glanced out into the dark hallway. "But mommy, it's dark!"
"You will have to. Wait..." Shimmer looked through her sack and found a small orb. Mumbling a spell she lit it and gave it to Leaflet. "There you go... You may stay close to the entrance to this room, but run if the monster gets too close to you, all right?"
Leaflet nodded and went outside. Shimmer stood up and went over to the stone golem, casting a quick glance at Vetch.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes. Bring it to life."
Shimmer put the papyrus in the stone golem's open jaws and quickly stepped away from it as it began to rumble and shake. Soon the stone golem's limbs were cracking open, allowing the creature inside to break through. With a roar the beast jumped straight at Vetch. However, Vetch was prepared and could easily defend himself. Shimmer stayed a little behind him, since she was much smaller and weaker, but assisted him with spells and healing.
Finally, after a tiring battle, the golem was killed and the door unlocked with a loud click. Leaflet must have been closer than they'd realized, because she came bounding into the room and threw herself around Shimmer's neck.
"Mommy! That was great!"
Shimmer and Vetch were both exhausted from the fight, and so they sat down to rest for a bit and have something to eat. Leaflet was chattering all along, recounting the fight as seen through the eyes of a five year old.
Once they were rested enough they got ready to enter the wizard's lair.
"Leaflet, I need you to stay out of the way." Shimmer said. "Find something, anything, and hide behind it."
Taking a deep breath, Shimmer opened the door to the next room and peered through. She couldn't see anything, so she walked through the door. Vetch and Leaflet following close behind. Before they could see what was happening the door slammed closed behind them and disappeared into thin air, leaving only a stone wall in its place.
"Who are you to invade my private quarters?" A cold voice drifted through the air, extinguishing all of their lights, leaving them in utter darkness. "Such fools you are."
"Mommy?" Leaflet whispered.
"Hide, love." Shimmer whispered back, and she could hear Leaflet moving quietly and slowly away.
"Answer me." The cold voice returned. "Who are you?"
"I am Shimmer Skywise, descendant of the royal family who once lived here." Shimmer said, her voice clear and strong even though she was terrified. "My companion is Vetch, a friend and clan member."
"What brings you to my quarters?"
"We wish to rid the castle of your evil." Shimmer winced the moment she said it. That wasn't very smart, now was it?
A cold laugh carried through the darkness. "Oh you do, do you?"
Suddenly a multitude of torches set on the walls of the chamber started burning with an eerie, green light and they could see a tall man dressed in a black cloak on the other side of the chamber. His eyes were black without any sign of white and his face pale as if he was a creature of the night.
"Then step forward, and we shall battle."
Shimmer and Vetch walked up to the wizard, hesitating a little since he seemed too sure of himself. Vetch had his sword drawn, and Shimmer was ready to cast a spell.
"So young and foolish." The wizard muttered. "You do not stand a chance against my power."
Quickly Shimmer cast a spell which would freeze the wizard, but the wizard somehow managed to deflect the spell.
"That's not a good sign." Vetch mumbled, holding his sword a bit tighter.
"Fools." The wizard hissed and made a sweeping movement with his arm which created a sudden wind that swept them off their feet. Vetch's weapon was pulled from his hands and thrown clear across the room. Next the wizard muttered something, a spell of some kind, and Vetch was thrown across the room himself.
Then the wizard walked up to Shimmer, who was still lying on the ground, clutching a small wound on her rib. He stared down at her in disgust. "So you are the descendant of the royal family. The child I could not find in the forest." The wizard sneered. "You cost me everything."
He held up his hand and started forming a magic fireball. "Your mother hid my treasure with you, and I never managed to find it again. For this you shall die."
"Noooo!!!" It was Leaflet. She was running across the chamber as fast as she could, while working hard to cast one of the few spells she had learned.
"Leaflet! No! Get out of here!" Shimmer shouted.
"Don't you hurt my mommy!" Leaflet screamed, and cast her small, icy spell towards the wizard.
The wizard deflected the spell with a sneer and before Shimmer could react he hurled the magic fireball he'd been conjuring right at Leaflet.
"No!" Shimmer screamed, throwing herself at the wizard who lost his balance. Vetch was right there, having retrieved his weapon and he plunged the sword right into the wizard's heart, killing him in one stroke. Shimmer didn't even stay to see him exhale his last breath, she was crawling over to Leaflet's lifeless body.
Vetch looked down at the wizard's dead form with a grimace of disgust. Pulling his weapon free he quickly cleaned it off and sheathed it. Slowly he walked over to Shimmer. She was sitting on the ground, clutching Leaflet's limp little body to her chest, crying silently with tears running unchecked down her cheeks. Not knowing what to do, Vetch left her there for a moment to get rid of the wizard's corpse, only to find that the body had turned into dust. Left was only a small leather pouch and a key.
After another quick look at Shimmer --still no change-- he picked up the things and went to a small door at the other side of the room. He unlocked it and went inside. On the floor of the small room the transparent form of a young woman was sleeping. She was wearing clothing that had been fashionable many years ago, and even though she was sleeping she looked weary and sad. Vetch quickly realized who he was looking at, it only took a moment to see the likeness. It was the ghost of Shimmer's mother. The wizard must have captured her spirit when he put the castle to ruins. While killing everyone else he must have kept her there since she was the one who brought the magical orb he wanted out of the castle.
Vetch tried to wake the woman up, but she wouldn't budge. Finally he took the small pouch that had been left when the wizard disappeared and looked inside. There was some odd powder inside. Shrugging, deciding it couldn't hurt, Vetch poured the entire contents of the pouch over the sleeping woman. She awoke with a start, coughing and wheezing from the large amount of powder still in the air.
"You have awoken me!" She stood up and looked at Vetch. "Thank you, good sir. You have freed me from my prison." She coughed a little. "Although a tiny sprinkle of magic dust would have been enough."
Vetch smiled sheepishly. "Sorry about that."
"Is the wizard really gone?" The spirit of the woman asked.
"Aye. Very gone. He turned to dust."
"Blessed be." The spirit sighed. "All of the spirits that have haunted the ruins will now be set free. And you have ensured that I finally am as well."
"Your.. eh.. daughter is outside." Vetch said, feeling rather awkward.
"She is?" Tears filled the woman's eyes, and she walked outside of the small chamber, Vetch following her slowly. She stopped when she saw Shimmer, still sitting on the floor with Leaflet's body in her arms. "Oh no... Is she?" She turned to Vetch who nodded sadly.
The spirit walked over to Shimmer and touched her lightly on the shoulder. It took a moment, but finally Shimmer looked up. No words were necessary between the two women, they simply looked at each other for what seemed like an eternity to Vetch, then finally the spirit of Shimmer's mother faded away.
Vetch walked over to Shimmer and picked her up, she was too exhausted to even stand on her own, and he carried her out of the ruins. Her tears had dried up, and she was no longer crying, but she was still holding her daughter's body in her arms. Vetch didn't know what to do, so he simply went to Shimmer's small cottage with his burden. Standing on the porch, Shimmer still in his arms, he looked back at the ruins, and he could feel a peacefulness over the area that had not been there before.
Shimmer bent at the small, flower-covered grave and placed a small silver urn with some wild roses by the base of the gravestone. Wiping away a tear from her cheek with the back of her hand she looked at the small grove where her daughter rested. It had been created during the restoration of the castle ruins, and it was a beautiful and peaceful little grove filled with birch trees and spring flowers.
"The castle is really beautiful now, love." Shimmer said to the grave. "You would have loved it. I am sorry that you were not able to help re-build it yourself." She was quiet for a moment. "Although I suppose in a way you did. If you had not distracted the wizard, as foolish as it was, Vetch would never have been able to kill him."
Tears started running in earnest down Shimmer's cheeks. "You were such a brave little girl. I shall never forgive myself for letting you come along..."
After a short while Shimmer wiped away her tears and left the little grove. As she entered the castle garden the castle rose before her, now restored to its former glory. Yet she couldn't feel any real joy about seeing the castle's splendor. It had come at a much too high price.