The Cauldron

In a world where magic is dispensed to everyone on their eighteenth birthday people look forward to the day they stand beneath the Cauldron that gives out magic. That is everyone but Jaden as he’s not like everyone else. What will happen when he is called?

The Cauldron

The day was too hot for fighting and yet here I was dripping in sweat as I swung my sword. With a resounding clang I met the well-known young man’s blade solidly but leveraged my momentum to push him back against the black basalt stone wall of the castle. With a deft twist of my wrist his blade clattered across the cobblestones; my blade resting a mere hairsbreadth from his throat.

A smile broke out across the man’s face. “Well done, Jaden. While I still can’t beat you I’m getting better.”

Pulling the blade away from his throat I leaned up against the stone wall next to my best friend and inhaled deeply catching scents of fresh spring flowers in the air. “If the enemies of the Yellow Cauldron ever make their way here you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. When will the Cauldron call you, Roland?”

Roland strode over and picked up his sword. “Four weeks. I was born under the spring moon.”

“The spring moon? Is there nothing about you that doesn’t scream prophecy and greatness? Your parents are directly descended from our last king and are both elite class and your dark mop of hair seems always parted perfectly for a crown. Now you tell me you were also born under the spring moon.”

“The Cauldron dispenses magic and rank to every person on their eighteenth birthday. I’m just like everyone else. I could get a drop or if I’m lucky a few more.”

“You’re hardly like everyone else. We haven’t had a king in a hundred years. We’re due. And I, for one, would much rather the Cauldron bless you king than Norman or Bradley.”

“Being born to elites and having my family name tied to the last king doesn’t sway the Cauldron. You know it seeks what’s in the heart and sets about keeping balance between the realms. Norman and Bradley have just as much chance at more than one drop as I do. Even you, Jaden. Maybe you’ll be our next king.”

“I’m the son of a common woman and I have no idea who my father was. I’m happy if the Cauldron passes me by. That way I can stay safely hidden in the shadows.”

“Don’t say that. I know you had your role as my companion thrust upon you from the time we were both suckling infants, but you have more heart and character than anyone I’ve ever met. You’re the best fighter in the city. You help anyone that needs it. No matter what happens, I’ll always call you friend.”

“Are you going to kiss him now, Roland?” Norman and Bradley stood eating a loaf of bread a short distance away; a loaf they probably stole from some market stall.

Roland is a great guy. He is kind and generous and yet never pompous, but Norman and Bradley are terrors. They expect to have people wait on them hand and foot. The good news is that before you’re called into the Cauldron everyone is somewhat on equal footing. I know I wasn’t just because I was considered less than a commoner, being born to a single mother made me all but classless. But the Cauldron ultimately decides status and hierarchy.

“You want me to kick their butts, Roland?”

“Why bother? I heard they’re both called tomorrow to the Cauldron. We’ll be lucky to even land a hit on them after that. So if we give them a good beating like they deserve they’ll only get us back after their infusion of magic by the Cauldron.”

Norman pushed me to the side. “Beat it, Jaden. Are you coming to see the Cauldron dispense its magic on us, Roland? Chances are that one of us will become king.”

Roland looked disinterested. “I think you’ll need at least three drops to beat Jaden or me. I’ll be there if only to see how the Cauldron receives you both.”

“Glad to hear you’ll be there to bow to me when I’m crowned king.”

Bradley jokingly pushed Norman aside. “It’s never going to happen as once the Cauldron sees me it will be all over for the lot of you.”

I’m not a push over even though I’m the same social status as a squirrel. “The Cauldron has been known to physically alter people before. I heard of one man that was turned into a rat. Maybe you’ll be crowned king of the rats, Bradley.”

“Are you still here, Jaden? Everyone knows that’s a myth. The Cauldron doesn’t change people, it only dispenses magic. It’s going to be so fun to wipe that smirk from your face.”

“Isn’t it nice to know you need magical enhancement to do that?”

They both pressed forward but on any normal day I could beat them easily. I kept my sword down. Roland, however, stepped in between us. “Enough!” His eyes drifted upwards and we all knew what he was looking at. “Do you realize that no one has been beyond the fourth level of the castle for thousands of years? What secrets do those levels hide? What enemies remain hidden to us? We need to remember we’re all on the same side. We should honor the skills and abilities of others and recognize the Cauldron doesn’t make mistakes. I, for one, will be the first to bow before the new king.”

Roland was always good at getting people to see the bigger picture. We all continued to stare up at the castle. The enormous castle tower had been built with six levels. Each drop of magic dispensed by the Cauldron on a person granted that person access to a level. Each level held secrets only those with the right amount of magic could enter to witness. History tells us the last time the Cauldron poured out five drops on a new king was nearly five thousand years ago and that was at the start of the biggest war the world had ever known. Only whispers of prophecy hinted when six drops had ever been dispensed. Some suggested the end of the world would come the next time the Cauldron dropped six drops. I felt a shiver run down my spine. The world was on edge. I could feel it in my bones even though peace had prevailed since the great fissure was formed between the realms.

Norman and Bradley slipped quietly away. Their eyes spoke of secret desires, wealth, and fame. “I’ll honor the Cauldron’s choices, but I’ll be hard pressed kneeling to the likes of one of them.”

“Don’t let them get to you, Jaden. How’s your mom doing?”

“Still bed ridden. The winter really hit her hard this year.”

“It’s almost dinner time. You should go home and look after her. Will you be at the ceremony tomorrow?”

“Reluctantly. The Cauldron knows what’s best. See you there.”

Roland’s hand clapped me on my shoulder as I turned to go. Please Cauldron. If anyone should be king it should be Roland.

***

“How was your day, Jaden?”

Mom coughed and sputtered. I always thought of her as an angel and yet now she looked so thin. Her beauty was still there but her gaunt cheeks and bone-thin arms spoke of the ravages of illness. The healers don’t make house calls to commoners and so she suffered. “Norman and Bradley go to the Cauldron tomorrow morning. Can I get you anything?”

“Just some hot tea. You should be called soon. You’re a little younger than Roland by a few days.”

“It’s of no consequence. I’ll be lucky to get a drop.”

Mom sighed and looked wistfully out the filmy window. “It’s time you learn the truth.”

“I know the truth. You were raped and had me. You don’t know who my father was.”

“That’s what you were told for your own good. If the truth got out I’m not sure how either of us would be treated.”

“What truth?”

“When I was your age I lived near the fissure. It was the closest settlement to the Blue Cauldron realm. I was young and impressionable and met a man. He was charming and handsome and over the span of a year I fell in love with him. When we learned I was pregnant he became frightened for both of us. He suggested I should kill you when you were finally born. You see, he wasn’t a commoner at all. He was the king of the Blue Cauldron realm.”

“That’s not possible. He can’t cross the fissure.”

“The fissure was created at the end of the last great war. He had five drops, Jaden. Only the Cauldron knows what kind of power that bestows. Obviously it was enough to allow him to cross the fissure.”

“So I’m worse than a commoner then. I’m a mix of Blue and Yellow blood, evil and good.”

“We believe the people of the Blue realm are evil, but I knew only love. He wasn’t evil or malicious. He was kind and generous. He said he came to see what the people of the Yellow realm were like. He was taken by us and hoped that one day the fissure could be removed.”

“If he wasn’t evil why did he suggest I be killed?”

“Because he didn’t know how the magic would react. The Cauldrons balance the magic in the world. He was afraid you might bring about the destruction of the world.”

“Me? Cause the destruction of the world?”

“It seems laughable now, but this had never happened before. He left that day vowing his undying love for me but also vowing never to return. He feared he caused some rift in the magical balance. Alone and only just pregnant with you I was called by the Yellow Cauldron. I was very afraid as the Cauldron won’t dispense magic upon a pregnant woman and this would expose my shame of becoming pregnant before coming of age. I knew my humiliation would be complete, but when I knelt under the Cauldron it dripped a single drop upon me. Spared the humiliation I waited a week and told everyone a lie I had been raped.”

“What will happen when I go to the Cauldron?”

“I don’t know, Jaden. Your blood is half Yellow Cauldron and half Blue Cauldron. It could reject you altogether but I don’t think so. Why else would the Yellow Cauldron infuse me while I was pregnant with you? There’s much going on in the world that we don’t see. I fear troubling times ahead.”

Mom coughed and I tried to adjust the pillows to bring some comfort to her. She looked so weak. “I’m going to the healers. They need to help you.”

“They won’t. I’m a commoner and a single mother. The nobles are the first status level with healing abilities granted by the Cauldron with two drops, but I need more than what they can offer. I fear only an elite or a king can heal me completely. I can feel the sickness in my bones.”

“Then I’ll go to the elite healers and force them to come to your aid.” I was angry and desperate.

“No, son. If they don’t willingly come then you can’t risk yourself and your future. You could be thrown in prison and never get the chance to be called. You can’t risk your future for me. I’ll last until you’re called. I want to be there to see you become a man.”

Slamming my fist down on a table I yelled out and rushed from the tiny house. I made my way through the cobblestone streets to the neighborhood of the elites. Roland lived here as did Norman and Bradley. A wooden sign outside of a door displayed the symbol for healing. I knocked and waited.

When the door opened I noticed right away the man was wearing commoner clothing. “You’re Jaden, companion to Roland. What are you doing here so late at night?”

“My mother is sick. She needs healing.”

He looked sympathetically at me and stepped outside onto the front porch blocking my way inside. “What can you pay for my master’s services?”

“I have nothing. We barely have enough to eat. I’m asking for him to come and heal my mother. He’s been gifted by the Cauldron with healing skills. He should use it for the benefit of everyone.”

“Look at this place, Jaden. Do you think the elites inherit these homes, their lavish furniture, and the succulent meats on their tables? Magic has become an occupation, a way to pay for their lifestyles. I’ve asked my master hundreds of times for what you ask and every time he rejects service without payment.”

“That’s so wrong!”

“It is what it is. For what it’s worth, I agree with you.”

“What’s the payment? How much?”

“Ten gold.”

“Ten gold! I wouldn’t be able to afford that in my entire lifetime!”

“There may be another option.”

“Tell me.”

“As I did, you could sell yourself into slavery but I’m afraid that probably won’t help you. By finding a noble or an elite that will take you on they might pay the ten gold coins for your life of service, but they won’t do that until after you go to the Cauldron. You’re an outcast, Jaden; fatherless with no heritage. I doubt anyone would take you on.”

“I’m a damn good fighter.”

“You are, but you’re not better, faster, or stronger than many nobles or elites with their enhanced abilities. Perhaps after the Cauldron you might be considered more valuable.”

“So there’s nothing I can do. My mom is going to die because some pompous elite is unwilling to share his gift.”

“It’s the way of the world we now live in.”

“I’m ashamed of the world we now live in. I’m ashamed of the people of this city.”

“You of all people should understand hierarchy and position.”

My fists clenched at my side. “I want to see the healer!”

“Run along, Jaden. The healer has made it perfectly clear he doesn’t offer free service.”

The man backed inside and closed the door just as the rain began to fall. Three other healers told me the same thing that night. Soaked and shaking from more than the cold I paused at Roland’s door and stared at my soaked worn shoes on the puddled marble steps.

“Jaden. What are you doing out here?”

Roland was standing at the door. I hadn’t even noticed he had opened the door. “Mom’s become much worse. She needs healing and the healers are all asking ten gold to see her. I’m here to ask if you would take me on as your slave; my life of service for ten gold so they can go heal my mom.”

Roland looked pained. “I can’t do that.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t need a slave. I need a friend and a slave can’t be both. Besides, I don’t believe in slavery.”

“What about your parents?”

Roland pushed his way outside the door and stood in the rain with me. His hands held my shoulders firmly. “No! Don’t try this. Don’t do this to yourself. You mom would never forgive herself if you sold yourself into slavery. I promise I’ll do everything I can for you. I’ll go to my family’s friends and ask for their help, but I won’t be a party in your slavery.”

“Thank you, Roland. You’re a true friend. But I’m afraid even you can’t find the money these greedy healers want. My mom’s only hope is if I become someone’s slave.”

“You’re not thinking clearly, Jaden. When you go to the Cauldron there’s no doubt you’ll be able to find good paying work. You’re already worth more than any ten nobles in the city. If you became a slave, sure, you might heal your mother, but she will starve. You won’t be able to put food on her table and she can’t afford to feed herself without a husband on commoner wages. I promise to do what I can.”

Looking into his confident and pleading eyes I finally saw the truth. He’s right. Even if I find a way to heal my mom, I will no longer be able to provide for her. “Thank you.”

Turning to go Roland held me fast. “Promise me. Promise me you will not consider slavery anymore.”

“I promise.”

His hands let go of my shoulders and I turned into the rainy night. Aimlessly I walked; hopelessness my only companion. When the rain stopped I found myself back at home. Mom was sleeping but I could tell she was weak. Stripping out of my clothes I stoked the fire to ward off the cool spring night air.

***

Calling days were seldom festive events due to how frequently they occur but today with Bradley and Norman’s calling the city had come out dressed in their finest and in full force. When the sons of elites went to the Cauldron there was an air of expectancy and today was no exception. I squeezed my way through the crowd and found a seat at the back of the Cauldron cavern. Roland was sitting up front; I was too embarrassed to sit with him after last night.

The crowd was buzzing with excitement as the elders of the city called Bradley forward. Bradley was dressed in the traditional white gauzy shift. It was supposed to represent purity but I think it had more to do with the elders not wanting to have to cleanse the waters from dirty clothes.

Even from the back of the cavern I could see Bradley’s mirthless smile as he waded into the crystal clear knee deep water under the large yellow cauldron. I was always amazed how the Cauldron pulled wisps of light into itself as if it was constantly gathering magic from the world. Bradley faced the crowd and knelt under the Cauldron.

“Bradley Handler, before the Cauldron dispenses its life-giving magic upon you, what do you have to say?”

Bradley stared up at the Cauldron above him. “I want it all. Every drop you have. I want to be king.”

There was a hushed silence that ran through the crowd at his selfish words and as the Cauldron began to tip. A drop of liquid yellow light fell from the Cauldron and landed on Bradley’s head. His eyes flashed with the infusion of magic. Everyone received one drop, the status of a commoner. A second drop fell confirming Bradley as a noble. The Cauldron stilled and tipped back even as Bradley screamed. “More! I want more!” The Cauldron was done with him. Bradley was incensed as the elders dragged him from the pool of water.

A noble. He would live a comfortable life and have a good well-paying job. His magic would specialize but even if he never specialized in fighting, his strength and speed would likely be twice that of normal boys before they go to the Cauldron. For every hundred commoners, there might be five nobles. For every twenty nobles there would be an elite.

I kept thinking of mom lying back in her bed as Norman stepped into the pool. On one hand we needed a king, but on the other I feared what Norman would do with all the power.

“Norman Handler, before the Cauldron dispenses its life-giving magic upon you, what do you have to say?”

Norman was by far the better of the two non-identical twins, but he was still a rebellious man that sought only after his own wishes. Being far smarter than Bradley that meant he was also far more manipulative. His words confirmed this as he placated the Cauldron.

“The city needs a king. If I may be so worthy mighty Cauldron.”

His words rang hollowly in my ears. The Cauldron tipped. One drop… Two… Three… As the Cauldron pulled back I could see the anger in Norman’s eyes even with the infusion of magic still smoldering there. An elite. That’s what the Cauldron chose for him to be. While I might be able to hold my own against Bradley, an elite was out of my league altogether. Norman’s eyes caught mine and he smiled evilly.

Luckily the families of those called would hold celebrations and potential employers would take up their time offering them positions. The elders would determine magic specializations and Norman would be led to the third level of the castle. All these events would take up the rest of the day. Bradley would be very angry he wasn’t at least an elite but I suspect gaining access to the luxuries of the second level of the castle would appease him for a while. I’d heard the second floor contained vast libraries, fancy furniture, and it was regularly supplied with wine and meats.

The crowd began to thin and I stayed behind. Roland found me still sitting in the back.

“Were you here for the calling announcements?”

“No.”

“The elders announced mine in four weeks and they announced your calling two days later.”

Looking around the crowd had all left. “I’m afraid, Roland.”

“Of your calling?”

“Yes.”

“Everyone gets something.”

“Not everyone. My humiliation will be complete.” I sat with my hands tightly entwined together.

“What are you talking about?”

“You must swear to never tell a soul.”

“You’re my best friend, Jaden. You can tell me anything.”

“My mom told me who my father was last night. He was from the Blue Cauldron realm.”

“That’s not possible. The fissure…”

“The fissure couldn’t stop a five drop king of the Blue Cauldron realm from crossing.”

“So you’re…”

“I’m only half Yellow Cauldron by blood.”

“You’re mother’s positive?”

Nodding I stared at the Yellow Cauldron as Roland placed a hand on my shoulder. “You would be the first, Jaden. You can’t assume how the Cauldron will react. Don’t worry about it.”

“How can you say don’t worry about it?”

“My father once told me that you shouldn’t worry about things outside of your control. Worry about something when it happens but never before. Jaden, you have the most caring and generous heart I’ve ever seen. There’s an innate sense of justice inside you. You know what’s right and wrong. No matter what happens to me or you, I’ll always be there for you as you have always been there for me.”

“Did you want to practice today?”

“You won’t have time. Give me your hand.”

I held out my hand and felt something cold pressed into it. When I opened it I stared in disbelief at a single gold coin. It was far more money than I’d ever seen before. “What?”

“My grandparents gave this to me to help me start my life when I got older. It’s yours. Go find a noble healer and see if they can help your mom.”

A tear slid down my cheek as I looked upon my only friend in the world. “I can’t take your gold.”

“You can and you will. Listen to me, Jaden. If I become elite I promise I’ll do what I can to heal your mom. In the meantime a noble might be able to help your mom turn the corner and start getting better.”

I held the coin like it was the most precious gift in the world.

***

It had been a week since Bradley and Norman’s callings. “How’s you mom doing?”

“It took me forever to find a noble healer that didn’t think I had stolen the money but ever since he started treating my mom she has stabilized. She’s no longer getting worse, but she’s still bed ridden and not getting better.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I’m afraid I’ve wasted your gold, Roland.”

“Nonsense. She’s not getting worse so that’s at least something.”

“We thought we might find you both here.”

Bradley and Norman had been busy and thus wonderfully absent from pestering us and now here they were. Norman carried himself with an air of authority that emphasized his newly found elite status. Bradley looked like he had a chip on his shoulder. He pushed Norman out of the way and drew his sword.

“Duel me, Jaden.”

“This isn’t necessary, Bradley.” Roland attempted to stop this from getting out of control.

Bradley pointed the tip of his sword towards Roland. “You stay out of this.”

“What do you hope to gain? That if you beat Jaden with your new magic that somehow you’ll be vindicated? What if Jaden beats you?”

I knew we wouldn’t get out of this so I stepped forward. “If we duel, then we use standard rules. Attacks are to non-vitals and first blood wins.” A small crowd began to gather. It was perhaps my only claim to fame. People wanted to see me fight a noble.

For an answer Bradley lunged for my chest. This was definitely against the rules and Roland yelled foul. I barely got my sword up in time to block it. Now the fight was in earnest. Bradley made an early push to finish things quickly and I found myself backing up around the courtyard. I was however holding my own even against his speed and strength enhancements. Slowly I noted that while faster and stronger his lack of accuracy and skill were the same as before. He wasn’t a master swordsman at all and that gave me hope.

Over the next ten minutes we fought back and forth and slowly I began taking a more aggressive position. Bradley was certainly not playing by the rules but all I needed was first blood. He lunged once again for my chest just as I dodged to the side. I caught his blade against mine and allowed his momentum to carry him closer than he intended. With a quick flick of my wrist my blade shot up and drew blood against his shoulder.

The crowd cheered and called out first blood but Bradley was embarrassed and enraged. Even as I dropped my sword and backed away he swung the tip of his sword across my upper thigh. The cut was shallow but it still hurt and began bleeding right away. He lunged again this time for my throat. I had no option but to defend myself. I blocked his sword and slid the edge of my blade across his sword arm. I was careful but the cut would weaken his arm. With a spin and a flourish I smacked the flat of my blade against his wrist and his sword fell from his grasp. Bradley dropped to a knee holding onto his wrist.

“Get him, Norman!”

I barely dodged Norman’s sword but wasn’t nearly fast enough to get away from his fist. He slammed into me like a brick wall and I dropped heavily to the ground.

“Enough!”

Two elders and three elite swordsmen pulled us all apart. I struggled to my feet; dazed by the blow to my cheek.

One of the elders pulled Bradley and Norman aside. “The Cauldron blesses us with gifts to better our community. If the two of you don’t become productive citizens, I’ll personally plead with the Yellow Cauldron to take away your magic.” They blanched. I didn’t know that was possible. “Be gone with you!”

When the elders turned towards me I was sure I was about to be thrown in prison. It was one of the elite swordsmen that patted me on the back. “That was very impressive swordsmanship. When is your calling?”

“Just over three weeks from now.”

“My name’s…”

I smiled. “You’re Jameson, Captain of the elite guards.”

“With your skill, any blessings from the Cauldron will make you a valuable fighter. Look me up. I’ll see about getting you a job.”

The swordsmen and the elders turned and left the square. I stood rubbing my jaw and ripped a strip off my shirt to bind the cut on my leg.

“I’m sorry I didn’t intervene, Jaden. Norman had his sword to my throat to keep me back. You sure taught Bradley a lesson and you caught the eye of the Captain of the guard. Things are looking up for you.”

***

It had taken almost three weeks for my black eye and leg to heal up. Bradley and Norman hadn’t interfered or bothered to come around again. Mom still wasn’t well and she was getting worse again. I had hesitantly left her this morning to go to Roland’s calling. The gold he gave me bought my mom time, but she was looking pale and weak.

Sitting in the front row as Roland requested of me I watched as he waded out into the waters beneath the Yellow Cauldron. Two days from now that will be me. What will happen? I noted that Norman and Bradley were sitting behind me. Their faces betrayed their anxiety and mirth at the same time. As for their calling the crowd was large today and many were forced to stand as there were no seats left. They wanted to see history in the making.

“Roland Vantero, before the Cauldron dispenses its life-giving magic upon you, what do you have to say?”

Roland knelt and looked at me as he spoke. “I offer myself up to the Cauldron and I will be grateful for anything it deems I’m worthy of.”

The Cauldron began tipping and the crowd went silent. One drop… Two… Three… There was hushed silence. Four… Then what was completely astounding a fifth drop fell from the Cauldron before it moved back into position. Five drops!

I fell to my knees and bowed to my new king. I know I was grinning. I was smiling for the first time in ages even though I feared the ramifications of a five-drop king. I glanced back at Bradley and Norman and watched as they slowly fell to their knees. Roland is the one after all!

“Rise, my people.”

Looking up I saw a new confidence and strength in Roland. The elders were fussing over him and he ignored them as they tried to place a robe on him.

“Enough! Jaden, I have a promise to keep. Take me to your mother.”

His white shift clung to him but he didn’t care. He took me by the arm and rushed us out of the cavern towards my house.

“My king…” I mumbled.

“No, Jaden. My friend.”

“You can feel the power?”

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I can see what I need to do. I’m connected to something incredibly vast and deep and powerful. I can heal your mom.”

We burst through the door into my little hovel of a home and Roland went straight to my mom. She looked at Roland in shock and I could see a little blood on her mouth. Thank you, Cauldron. Not a moment to spare.

Roland laid his hands on my mom and her color instantly returned, her breathing eased, and her sickness left her. She fell into a deep sleep.

“She’ll sleep the better part of a day, but she’s healed. I should get back to the elders. I’ll come see you tomorrow.”

I hugged my friend and my new king.

***

The next day came and went and still there was no word from Roland. This worried me some but I should expect it. Roland’s our king now. He’ll be very busy and the citizens need to see him.

“We should get going, Jaden.”

“And you should be resting.”

“I feel better than I have in months. I’ll not miss my son’s calling.”

“I hope no one is there but you.”

“Don’t you worry, Jaden. The Cauldron knows what a good person you are.”

“But I’m a half breed.”

A knock at the door interrupted us. When I opened the door a messenger held out an envelope. “This letter is for Jaden.”

Taking the letter I sat down on the warm sunlit step. It was in Roland’s handwriting. “My dear friend. I’m sorry wasn’t able to visit yesterday but there is good reason for that. I’ve been to the fifth level of the castle and learned things, fragments of things that are to come. At first I fretted and was very concerned, but I believe this is a great thing. We’ll all know soon enough. I’ll be there front and center for your calling. Your friend, Roland.”

Handing it to my mom I stood. “It sounds ominous.”

“Come on, son. Let’s not keep the Cauldron waiting.”

***

I never imagined that the white shift would feel so smooth and silky to the touch. The elder guided me through the underground passageways from the preparation room and into the cavern. There, in the light of the Cauldron, I saw the people that had come to watch my calling. Bradley and Norman were there snickering to themselves. Roland, dressed in the finest splendor I could imagine sat in the front row with my mother next to him. There were a few others that I guessed were there to record the dispensation of the Cauldron. They looked disinterested, but then again why shouldn’t they be? The first five-drop king was an historical event and not to be repeated in a long, long time.

The Captain of the guard stood off to the side. I was surprised to see him there. He gave me a slight nod. The elder directed me into the shockingly cold waters. There I faced the people and knelt. “Jaden Gionova, before the Cauldron dispenses its life-giving magic upon you, what do you have to say?”

I’d thought long and hard about what I would say but my fear overwhelmed me. My mouth remained shut. I shook my head as Bradley and Norman laughed. The elder looked at me and said, “Very well then.”

I felt the raw power of the Yellow Cauldron move over me. I knelt with my head bowed low; my forehead almost touching the water. I didn’t dare look up. Nothing. Nothing is happening. Bradley and Norman bellowed out their laughter. Still I knelt with my head bowed.

When an eternity passed and I knew the Cauldron had passed me by I felt a drip. Another. And yet another. Then there were more and more until the drips became a steady stream. People were yelling and screaming. The stream of raw magic and power flooded me. As it became a torrent I struggled to breathe. The magic was so strong that I felt as if the very cells in my body would separate from each other. Still the flood came. Finally there was nothing except a feeling of tremendous strength, power, and knowledge that I’ve never felt before. It was indescribable.

People were still screaming as I opened my eyes. Something long and copper colored blocked my vision. Putting my hands to my face I pulled the stringy strands aside only to realize they were attached to my head. My fingers were longer and more feminine. As I slowly stood I gazed down upon my refection in the water but what I saw wasn’t me. A beautiful young woman looked back at me. I began to shake with the influx of power and the sudden recognition of my fate; my shift tight around my chest where two heavy breasts pushed the fine fabric away.

I remember falling, fainting; the splashing of water. “I’ve got her. I’m taking her to the fifth level.”

***

I slowly became aware of light falling across my closed eyes and felt the weight and warmth of a heavy blanket covering me. Was everything a dream? I knew the answer but my own mind refused to believe it. Everything is unlocked inside me. I opened my eyes to see Roland staring at me.

“Take your time. You’re still wearing the shift under the blanket. You might want to remain covered. It was true. The prophecy was true.”

Holding the blanket against me I sat up. “What was true?” My voice sounded like liquid honey; sweet and smooth.

“Before we talk about that, how do you feel?”

Pulling back the blanket I stared down at the cleavage that I saw. I brought the blanket back to cover my chest. “Filled beyond capacity. Like magic is infused inside every cell of my being. My voice sounds so strange. I’m… I’m a girl. How can that be?”

“The elders are having a fit. Your mom doesn’t know what to think. Remember you told me about your father?”

“Yes.”

“When I came to the fifth level I found many things, but I was drawn to one object. It was a book of prophecy. It spoke of the history of the world and explained happenings around the time the fissure was made. But the prophecy was what held me fixated. It spoke about a day when the world would need more than kings. Let me read it to you.”

He fumbled for a large leather-bound book. “Here it is. A woman of Yellow will meet a king of Blue. Together they will give birth to a son. On his day of calling the son will be bequeathed all, but in balance to another event.” He put the book down. “I found other references, but in essence, something must have happened at the other Cauldron. A young man must have been poured out upon just as you were. However, to keep balance, you became his opposite. You became female.”

“This body feels so strange. What happened? For the longest time the Cauldron didn’t do anything.”

Roland kept looking at me strangely. “It hesitated, and then slowly it poured out everything it had. It emptied completely before pulling back and slowly drawing magic again to begin refilling itself. I watched as the magic infused you. After the first few drops your skin began to glow. You became so bright that people covered their eyes and started to scream. When I was able to look again I saw you transform. Your hair grew, your body became…”

“You’ll think this strange, but it almost feels like the magic can’t exist outside of this body. The magic is at home in me and I feel somewhat at home in this body. I don’t want to mislead you because this is not something I fully understand and certainly not something I ever wanted.”

“When I received the magic I immediately had an innate sense of how to use it. What do you feel? People are frightened that one person can hold so much magic.”

“I’m frightened of it myself. I feel like I can do anything. Is there a mirror here?”

“I haven’t seen one.”

Ignoring Roland’s focused gaze upon me I pushed the heavy blanket off and stood in the slightly damp and clinging shift. With a wave of my hand a full-length mirror materialized before me. What caught my eye first was my hair. It was copper-colored; almost a red as fell in gentle waves all the way down my back. Moving closer I stared at my face and eyes. My eyes were green like the brightest of emeralds but I could almost see swirling yellow and blue magic behind them. Why would I have blue magic? My skin was light, not the tanned skin I had before. My lips were red, luscious, and full. It’s such a beautiful face.

Stepping back I stared in awe at my young, lithe, lean, but amply curvy body. The shift barely concealing my breasts, trim waist, and long legs. Turning towards Roland his eyes were glued to me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. “I wonder if I can still fight with this body.”

Shaken, Roland took off his cloak and almost gallantly draped it over my shoulders. “I found these clothes here on the fifth level. Maybe you will find clothes for yourself on the sixth.”

Looking around the room it suddenly dawned on me where I was standing. The room was filled with priceless objects, weapons, clothing fit for a king, books, relics, gold, gems, and strange objects. “I can’t believe I’m standing in the fifth level. These objects haven’t been seen for five thousand years.” I let my eyes drift up to the ceiling. “I wonder if I can go to the sixth level.”

“I suspect you can go anywhere you want. I still can’t fathom how you were able to materialize a mirror. I mean I can float off the ground, but I can’t magically make things appear.”

“You can float? That’s why a five-drop king can cross the fissure.”

“Are you still Jaden? Is this a permanent change?” Roland’s questions were hesitant.

“I’m still me if that’s what you’re asking. Although I don’t know any more what I really am. Perhaps I could change myself back, but deep down I feel this is permanent.”

“After healing your mom the elders guided me through a process to verify my magical abilities. They then took me to the door that allowed me access to this floor of the castle. No one without five drops of magic or more can cross the threshold. My magic guided me through the space here, helping me to find that which I would need most and to read first. You should see your mom and the elders, and then head to the sixth floor. I’m positive questions will be answered for you.”

Looking at the door I sort of wistfully hoped I didn’t have to face the world outside. “Was it hard for you? I mean you were still you, but you had all this new power and people look upon you differently.”

“It helped I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. I’d planned that if I had three or more drops I would immediately go see what I could do for your mom. That diversion helped me get over the immediate shock of now being king. You’re worried?”

“Of course I’m worried. I was no one, Roland. Now I’m some super magically enhanced young woman. I don’t know anything about being a woman.” I paused for a second until I realized the magic was actually guiding my transition. “That’s not entirely true. The magic is helping me cope with being a woman. But how will people perceive me? I was always known as Roland’s companion. Jaden. A young man.”

“I hope all that’s happened to you and me doesn’t change our companionship.” He looked me in the eyes but then averted them. “Everyone is waiting outside for you.”

“For us, Roland. You’re their king. I’m not sure what I am but I’m pretty positive nothing trumps a king. I feel I’m more of a tool, a key piece in some larger puzzle. But I’m not the leader of these people. You are.”

“You’re right, Jaden. I sense that too. Something much larger is happening. Let’s get you outside. The sooner you get this over with the sooner we can start finding answers.”

Pulling Roland’s cloak tightly around me the door opened automatically. We both stepped into a hallway with doors at both ends. When the inner door closed behind us the exterior door opened. I could hear the crowd that had gathered below and cautiously the elders and my mother peered inside. I almost turned around but Roland insisted I move forward.

It was mom that moved first as the elders stood dumbfounded. They’ve never even heard about such a thing happening before. “Jaden? Is that really you?”

Nodding I felt her arms wrap around my neck as she hugged me tightly. I could immediately sense the sickness had fully left her. “I love you, mom. I’ll come to you tonight but now I must go find out why the Cauldron chose me for this role.”

Placing my hand on Roland’s arm I watched his eyes stare deep into mine. His penetrating gaze felt natural which in itself was unnerving. “Roland, you might want to take the elders to the Cauldron cavern and explain what you know. I’ll enter the sixth floor and see what additional things I can find out. I’ll meet you all there in a few hours.”

Where my newfound inner strength was coming from was beyond me. I knew what needed to be done. The elders tipped their head in awe as Roland led them away. Only my mom stayed behind.

“Are you all right, Jaden? Was this my doing?”

“I feel fine, mom. The Cauldron knows what it was doing in trying to maintain the magical balance between the realms. The magic is helping me cope. Roland had found a prophecy about me; about a woman from the Yellow realm and a king from the Blue realm having a son. It said all would be given to me but I don’t know why yet. I’m hoping the sixth floor will help us find out.”

“I’ll wait for you at home. I love you, Jaden.”

“I love you too, mom.”

***

The door to access the sixth floor was surprisingly plain but it was made of heavy stone. I reached forth my hand and touched the cool stone. The door groaned and rasped as it struggled to open itself. How long had it been? The air smelled musty as I stepped into the hallway. As below, the inner door waited to open until the outer door closed. What will I see? What mysteries will lie before my eyes?

The room was completely dark as I entered but lights flickered to life with each step. The room was similarly furnished to the one below. There was a bed and couch, some tables and chairs. Why there were more chairs than one I couldn’t fathom let alone that the bed seemed as large as my home. How many six-drop people used to come here?

I expected dust and dirt but it was all pristine with jade floors as shiny as any elite’s home that I had ever seen. Magic obviously kept everything clean. There was clothing; all women’s clothing; dresses and gowns. They looked new and even modern. Suddenly it dawned on me that the room must have adapted to me before I entered; knowing my immediate needs.

Of note, there were no books or strange treasures, just a large yellow gem in the middle of a table. It beckoned me to come and touch it. Moving forward slowly I reached out my hand tentatively. The gem warmed immediately to my touch as information began pouring into my mind.

At first it was all jumbled and disorganized, but then my magic seemed to sift through and rearrange it into order. There was history and prophecy but it was all distorted. Half of everything was missing. I suddenly knew what I needed to do next.

What little I had learned were my inherent abilities. I could do almost anything, which is why, unlike the room on the fifth floor, that there were no weapons and items. The kings couldn’t materialize objects and thus had collected rare works of art and quality weapons that would meld well with their magic. I held out my hand and a sword of the finest design, as if it were custom made just for me, materialized. I could imagine gold and jewels, food and drink. Whatever I needed I could have. Just to test myself I moved across the room in the blink of an eye.

Moving over to the clothing I let my fingers glide over the finest fabrics I’d ever seen or felt. Choosing an outfit I laid Roland’s cloak on the bed and slipped out of my shift. I stood before a mirror and took a sharp inward breath. I had never seen a woman naked before and now here I was in all my glory. My magic guided my knowledge but it was my hands that discovered my new body; touching and sliding over the softest and most sensitive skin I’d ever felt. For the briefest of moments I found myself daydreaming about our handsome king with his piercing blue eyes and shoulder-length curly dark hair. Shaking my head I felt my long waves of hair slide effortlessly across my bare back. I’d always admired Roland, but certainly I never felt anything like the wave of desire that came across me. What a horrible friend I am.

Small parts of my mind rebelled at the idea of being a woman and yet as I held up the gorgeous white dress against my body I strongly wanted to be feminine. I’m a man and yet I know I no longer am. For all the magic and all I can do, I have no ability to change myself. I can materialize a dress on me, yet the simple, mechanical act of slipping into this gloriously created work of art felt much more enticing.

When I was completely dressed I looked once again at the woman I had become. The dress clung to my body and accentuated my curves. I was both alluring and regal. I ran my delicate fingers across Roland’s cloak as gently as I could. I’m going to have to focus on important things. Picking up the cloak I pictured the Cauldron cavern in my mind and the sixth-floor room vanished before me.

***

With a slight flash of light and the layers of my dress billowing slightly the Cauldron cavern appeared. Roland sat at a large table with all the elders of the city. Guards blocked the entrance keeping the anxious public at bay. They want answers and I only have a few to give.

Roland’s eyes went wide when he saw me and the elders all started to bow. “There’s no need to bow to me. I’m not your queen. I’m sure by now Roland has filled you in on some of what he learned before my calling and in our time together on the fifth floor. I’m sure you have many questions.”

I wanted to talk alone with Roland. I handed him his cloak and I swear I felt a shock as our fingers touched briefly. One of the oldest elders spoke first.

“Jaden, my Lady, how do we address you? How did this happen? What does it mean for us?”

“The Yellow Cauldron knows what it was doing. Somewhere in the world another person has been filled with magic such as I have. I’m their opposite even though I’m not yet complete. The knowledge and magic that flow through me have greatly helped me in this transition. I don’t fully understand it and yet I’m somehow at peace with it. The name Jaden doesn’t seem appropriate anymore. I’ve chosen to take the name Arya, named after the last woman to hold this responsibility.”

“You say responsibility. What is that exactly?”

“Make no mistake, Roland is our king, my king. While I’ve been given much, I’m as much a citizen of the Yellow Cauldron realm as any of you. I’m not here to lead you; rather I believe I’m here to protect you.”

“Protect us from what?”

“I don’t know.”

“How is that possible? You have access to the secrets of the sixth level.”

“Half of what I need to know is missing. You sir, when you became an elite at your calling you were granted access to everything you needed to know. Not so in my case. I have a theory and that is all.”

“Tell us, please.”

“The great fissure was created at the end of the last great war. I believe I must go to the Blue Cauldron realm to find my missing knowledge. The two realms should never have been split.”

“There were blue and yellow realms before the fissure.”

“But before that we don’t know for sure. It’s my theory that’s what was unique about me. I was part Blue and part Yellow realm blood. This may make me unique in being able to bring the magic of the two realms together again.”

“For what purpose?”

“Again, I’m missing critical information, but I believe their might be a third realm.”

“That’s ludicrous!”

Roland chimed in. He seems to be defending me. “It’s possible. I saw a map on the fifth floor. There’s a huge uncharted area of the map to the north. The map shows some of the Blue realm and almost the entire Yellow realm. If it’s accurate the fissure isn’t a single line but rather two circles.” He took two bowls and placed them next to each other. The elders were not grasping his example.

With a wave of my hand I floated a spherical object over the table and demonstrated how the fissure could appear to only separate us from one realm, but in reality there might be a third.

“What happens now?”

“I’d like to take our king and my mother to the Blue realm.”

The elders simply shook their heads. “You want to risk our new king and why would you take your mother?”

“My mother is the closest thing to an emissary we have. She fell in love with the Blue realm king almost twenty years ago.”

“She’s of no consequence, but not our king.”

My anger got the best of me as my magic lashed out causing the table to burst into flames. I put it out, but it certainly got their attention. “I’m sorry but I’ve had enough of you people! When will you realize every person in this city, every person in this realm is equally valuable? To sit here in your cushy chairs and fancy clothes and place judgement on someone’s value… When will you understand that magic is a gift to be used and shared and not to be held onto for financial gain?”

“Jaden… Arya. I’m sure they didn’t mean that your mother is of no value. They are worried about the potential loss of their newfound king.” The elders nodded in the affirmative even though I knew they were scared of telling the truth.

Removing the scarred and smoking table with a wave of my hand I replaced it with a new one. “I’m sorry. I just think as a society we’ve focused too much on social status rather than being a community.”

“Arya’s mother was sick and was refused magical healing without exorbitant fees.” That caused the elders to frown and yet I believe they were complicit knowing this was happening.

“Why take Roland?”

“Because I trust him with my life and he has no connection with the Blue realm. We need impartial people to go with me.”

“I want to go. I can be a more effective leader for this realm if I know what we’re up against. I’ve no doubt that Arya can easily protect us all.” When had I started seeing Roland as handsome?

“I’ll go as well then.” Jameson stepped forward.

The elders conferred and spoke their piece. “We agree, however we feel two more people should also go. Norman and Bradley.”

I was still me and I’ve seen these two idiotic brothers cause mayhem wherever they went. I was dumbfounded and even considered burning the table again. Crossing my arms over my chest I suddenly realized once again I was a woman as my arms pressed into my breasts. “Why?”

“After the misuse of their magic they were persuaded to fall in line and support the citizens of the city. Consider this a form of punishment for them.”

“Punishment for them? I would think it’s punishment for us.”

“Believe me, knowing they have to support the two people they fought against all their lives growing up, it will be punishment for them.”

“Fine. If they get out of line I’ll send them back as frogs.”

“You can do that?”

I just smiled. I think I can do that.

Roland stood and circled the table until he stood next to me. The thought came to mind as to how good we look together. I pushed it aside as Roland spoke. “I have the map and Arya’s mother knows the area where the Blue king must have crossed near. From there we should be able to pinpoint a rough direction to their main city. When should we leave?”

“I feel urgency. Something major is happening in the world and the sooner we get the information in the Blue realm the better. I say we leave tomorrow morning.”

One of the elders stood. “These are historical events and times. While we would rather you all stay here I can see this is important. How will you cross the fissure?”

Looking at Roland I smiled once again and extended my magic around him. In the blink of an eye we had crossed the room to stand next to the elder. “Roland can fly already, but I can get everyone there safely.”

Roland looked a little dizzy and he reached out his hand to rest it on my arm. He let it linger as he stared at me. “Meeting is adjourned. We report here in the morning.” Turning to me he led me to a private corner. “I always knew you were destined for greatness.”

“And I never believed you and still don’t. I should get back to my mom. I owe you something.” He raised his eyebrow and I took his hand in mine. Using my magic I created a gold coin and held it there in his hand.

He looked down and opened his hand to see the shining gold coin. “You never have to repay me. I now have more than I’ll ever need.”

“I saw the gold and gems on the fifth floor. I know you don’t need it. It’s a reminder to you that I’ll never forget your kindness towards me and my mom.” I’m getting all sappy. Is the magic making me want Roland?

Roland shifted on his feet. “So we get Bradley and Norman.”

I laughed. “What do you think they’ll do when they see me like this?”

“If they’re smart, and they’ve never been real smart, they’ll humbly bow and tell you how beautiful you look.” As if in shock at what he said Roland stumbled for more words. “I’m sorry, Arya. I didn’t mean to say beautiful. I mean you are, but I don’t think you want to hear that. Or, maybe you do. It could be…”

“Shush… I’ve never been called beautiful before. Dashingly handsome, yes. Courageous, absolutely. An incredible swordsman, always. Never beautiful… See you tomorrow, Roland.” Before he could say another word I smiled and vanished.

***

When I materialized in front of my house there was a lot of commotion. People from the neighborhood had heard that something miraculous had taken place during my calling and had come out in droves to find out. My sudden arrival frightened many but my new looks must have quickly dispelled their fears.

Mom, having heard the crowd, came out onto the front step. She looked me over and smiled cautiously then came over and gave me a hug. “You look stunning, Jaden.” Her saying my name made the crowd gasp.

Turning to the crowd I saw their fear. “It’s true. I am, or rather was Jaden. The Yellow Cauldron obviously did something unique with me.”

One of the older ladies yelled out. “I wish the Cauldron could do that for me.” The laughter that spread throughout the crowd relieved some of the tension.

“I’m assuming the real story hasn’t fully reached our neighborhood yet. The Cauldron chose, for some reason I’m not fully aware yet, to pour its entire contents out upon me. The magical effect transformed me.”

“Are you above the king then?”

“I have access to the sixth floor, but Roland is still our king.”

“Then what are you and why would the Cauldron turn you into a girl?”

“The Cauldrons act to maintain balance in the world. We can only assume that another Cauldron poured out its contents on another person. I act as the balance, or the opposite of that person.”

“Then he’ll be a very ugly man.” That drew a lot of laughter.

“You’ve always been kind to us, Jaden. You’ve stood up for us and our children; you’ve helped us repair our homes. I’m sorry the Cauldron transformed you.”

“I was able to learn some of our history. Well before the great fissure, the Cauldron poured itself out on another. Her name was Arya. I’ve decided to take her name. Our future is unclear, but I suspect we will be threatened soon. Don’t worry for me as the Cauldron’s magic flows freely through me, helping me to adjust. I’m still me inside. I’m still the same person that wants to help you. Bring your sick to me tomorrow morning at first light. I can offer them healing. Now I must spend time with my mother. We have a trip we must take tomorrow and I need to make sure she is prepared.”

“Bless you, Arya!”

Watching the crowd disperse I felt mom’s hand on my shoulder. “Come inside, Arya. It will be hard to remember to use that name. Tell me all about what’s transpired and what kind of trip we must take tomorrow.”

***

I woke early before the sun had risen. I felt well rested even though it had taken me a long time to find sleep. My hair and new body kept shifting strangely and no one had ever told me that breasts were so sensitive.

Mom was still sleeping so I popped back to the sixth floor and found a gold-colored dress I could wear for the next few days. I could have materialized one but without intimate knowledge of what they should look like I found it easier to simply choose something from the clothes that were available. I mused how strange it was that I chose a dress realizing that the Cauldron’s magic was working deep through me, turning me further and further into a young woman.

I returned home just in time for mom waking up. With a little magic I had filled the cupboards with food. I contemplated doing this for every home. Providing food and clothing and money to everyone, but I knew this to be folly. The economy of the city would crash. I did, however, feel some changes to the city would begin repairing the rifts between the classes but that those would have to wait.

“Good morning, mom. I hope you slept well.”

“It was hard to get to sleep thinking about what had happened to you and knowing there is a chance I may see William again. I have no doubt that he has long since married and had children. You’re wearing a different dress today. It’s so hard to believe that’s you in there. The color highlights your hair. You look lovely. I know people have asked you this before, but are you sure you’re all right?”

“Being a woman is new to me, but it doesn’t feel wrong. I believe the magic needs this form and I feel comfortable.” I looked away, fearful of my thoughts. “Can I confide in you?”

“Of course!”

“I’m still me, Jaden, inside, but what made me a man is disappearing. I want to look beautiful. I want to wear pretty clothing… I… I’m finding Roland…”

“Oh… Oh my. That’s a lot to take in.”

“I’m afraid of what Roland would think of me if he knew. What would people say about me? They’ve always known me as Jaden.”

“Everyone was amazed that Roland became the first five-drop king in eons. I can say they don’t know what to think of you. They’re in complete awe and I dare say they’re frightened of you as well. All that power. I doubt anyone would say anything out of fear. And… don’t worry about Roland. He’s a young man, single, and your beauty is too spectacular to avoid.”

I’m sure I blushed bright enough for my face to match my hair. Luckily I was saved by people outside of our place gathering for me. Stepping outside as the early rays of the sun glinted off the dew-covered cobblestones I was taken by the throngs of people. My heart went out to them. They brought their sick and dying. Children that were coughing hugged their parent’s legs. For the briefest moments I was angry at the elites that refused to give of their magic to heal without exorbitant payment.

I could heal them all at once, but I wanted to touch them one by one to remind them that somebody truly cared for them. I started with a baby girl, shocked at my own inner desire to have one of my own. I stroked her thin blonde hair and willed healing into her frail little body.

I was still touching, healing, and hugging people when Roland, Jameson, Norman, and Bradley arrived looking for me. I barely looked up from the young boy whose leg had been badly broken and set wrong. My touch straightened his leg and removed the pain. Standing to face the team I didn’t bother to wipe the tears from my face. They’d been falling all morning. Roland stared at me, his eyes spoke volumes. There were more people waiting for healing.

“We cannot leave before we heal them all. We’ve done these people a great disservice.” Bradley and Norman sneered but Roland jumped right in. Working together we healed the sick and injured.

When the streets were cleared of people I looked over our group. Jameson placed his sword at my feet and knelt.

“Please, Jameson. Don’t kneel to me. Your fealty is to your king.”

“You’re correct, my Lady. However I recognize good character in you and my sword will always be available to protect you.”

Bradley chuckled. “Don’t expect me to ever lay my sword at your feet… my Lady…” He emphasized the my lady part.

Roland pulled his sword. “How dare you speak to Arya like that.”

“It’s all right, Roland. Bradley doesn’t have to protect me and I understand how my transformation might look to him.” Walking up to Bradley I looked at his sword. “I’m unarmed. Do you think you can beat me now?” He looked a little pensive. “Maybe, now that I’m a lady, you wish to give me an advantage?” His sword disappeared and reappeared in my hand. Now he looked like his knees would give out. Handing him back his sword I pressed my point. “Just so we have an understanding, your role here is to protect our king and my mother. I don’t care what you think of me. That goes for you as well, Norman.”

Mom had joined the group just as some of the elders found us. “Are you all set?”

I nodded. “I seem to be able to jump to a place I’ve been before or can see. Since I haven’t been to the fissure we must ride there.”

“I can secure horses for us at the city gate, my Lady.”

“Thank you, Jameson. I can at least get us to the gate. Are we ready?” Not wanting to hear any dissention I simply moved the entire group to the city gate. As before most people were slightly disoriented. I smiled inwardly seeing the elders look like they wanted to vomit.

Jameson found some horses for us and we left the elders behind.

***

The spring day was perfect for a ride through the countryside. It would have been better had I not been so distracted by how the bouncing steps jiggled parts of my body I never had before. What was also distracting was that Roland chose to ride next to me.

“This is so frustrating.”

I looked over at Roland who appeared obviously flustered. “What’s frustrating?”

“I don’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

“I’m still me. I’m still the same.”

“No… You’re not. Well, yes, you’re still somewhat the same person, but…”

“You’re right. I know I’m different. Even inside I’ve changed.”

“I guess we can’t talk about girls anymore. It just wouldn’t appropriate. Unless…”

“Unless you think I still like girls?” Roland slowly nodded and I sighed. “That has changed with my transformation.” I barely whispered.

“You mean you’re…”

“Attracted to men.” It was perhaps the last straw for me; vocalizing it made the magic and my femaleness click into place. Looking away from Roland I hoped the subject would change.

“I’ve not told anyone this yet, but the magic has changed me too.”

“You mean you’re secretly a girl or you like men now?”

Roland laughed. “No. It gave me more confidence in myself and made me less concerned about what people think.”

“You were always confident. How is this a change for you?”

“Maybe one day I’ll be able to better explain it.”

“It won’t hurt my feelings, you know?”

“What?”

“If you want to talk about girls. You’re king now and there will be expectations of you.”

“As they will of you too.”

“Me? The elders don’t know what to do with me. I highly doubt they’ll demand I marry soon. They’ll be looking for a queen though. What about Anna Plutarch? She’s cute and unique. I know you like unique.”

“I do like uniqueness but Anna isn’t the right one for me. I have my eye on another.”

Why does this make me upset? “You’re right. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about girls anymore.” Spurring my horse a little faster I left Roland behind.

***

We had stopped for the evening and Roland used his magic to start a fire. I’d avoided him the rest of the day. Looking over at Norman and Bradley I realized they had good looks, but there was nothing in my heart for them. Every time I looked at Roland my heart skipped a beat. I kept catching myself glancing his way. This damn transformation and magic is embarrassing.

Mom pulled me aside. “It’s obvious.”

“What’s obvious?”

“The way you look at Roland.”

“Oh gods… Does everyone think that…”

“No. I don’t think so. It’s just a mother knows these things. It must be confusing for you.”

“That’s the problem. It’s not confusing at all. I’ve instantly turned completely into a young woman with my first crush.”

“I think you should tell him.”

“What? No! Haven’t I embarrassed myself enough? I’ve become a young woman with breasts and coppery-colored hair and everyone will think that’s the boy Jaden now a girl. Oh, look! We knew he always liked men.”

“Maybe there is more to this magic than you know. I see the way he looks at you.”

“We’ve been friends for eighteen years. He just doesn’t know what to do with me anymore.”

“That’s not it. I’m sure he’s somewhat confused.”

“I can’t believe I’m pining away for Roland. He says he has his eye on someone. I can’t tell you how devastating that was for me to hear. I shouldn’t be feeling this way.”

“Welcome to womanhood.”

I decided it would be best to put my energy elsewhere. I moved around the camp helping set things up. I could have used magic to create an inn but the hands-on work of gathering wood for the fire made me feel useful.

“Hey, wench! Start cooking us dinner.”

My hands formed fists as I stared at Norman and Bradley chuckling to themselves.

“And when you’re done with that, why don’t you warm my bedroll tonight?”

I wanted to smote them, to lash out with my magic, but one look down at my heaving cleavage I was reminded how much my own paradigm had changed. Women aren’t respected like men in this society. I always acted honorably towards women but along with Roland, we were exceptions to the norm. This is my place now. Looking around the campfire all eyes were on me. I did the only thing I could think of. I turned and ran into the woods.

Finding a log I sat down and cried. Why? Why turn me into a girl? Why dump all the magic on me? Why does this bloody magic make me want to be with Roland?

A cloak was gently placed over my shoulders. “May I sit, Arya?”

“Of course, Jameson. I guess I made a fool of myself. I should have lit their clothes on fire or simply curtsied and said, yes sir.”

“You could easily have retaliated but you showed true restraint. That’s the mark of a leader.”

“But running away into the forest is the mark of a coward.”

“I can’t fathom what this must be like for you. On the third floor of the castle there are thousands of books and ancient manuscripts. The elites of the past documented everything. They wanted to preserve history so that if something repeated itself they could be prepared. Many years ago I was reading and I came across a story of a young man being called to the Cauldron. He received three drops but was transformed into a girl. He, like you, had been a great swordsman. Everyone ridiculed him until the day the men of the city all became ill. No one ever found out why, but this boy turned woman was spared the illness and single-handedly protected the city against of mob of commoners from another region. There was evidence of other transformations as well. In every case the person that was transformed saved many lives. The Cauldron knew what it was doing when it transformed you. I believe in you.”

“Maybe it would be easier if everyone heard about those tales. I wouldn’t be such a freak.”

“You’re not a freak. Every transformed person became a highly revered member of society. The histories also stated that the person fully became a woman in both mind and body. They all married and had children and lived happy and productive lives. How much more can you, having been poured out upon by the Cauldron, change the world? I want to be the one that sees and writes down your legacy.”

“It helps knowing I’m not the only one this ever happened to. Thank you, Jameson.”

“Perhaps you would like to rejoin us at the campsite. Norman and Bradley could use a touch of your healing abilities.”

“What happened?”

“Having never been around a king before I was shocked and surprised just how strong and fast they could be.”

“He didn’t…”

“Oh, he did. Norman has a broken nose and I suspect Bradley a broken jaw.”

My heart fluttered. “We can’t let them suffer for a while?” Even as I said it I was standing to my feet.

When we entered the campsite Norman and Bradley were holding their faces in their hands. Roland looked up at me a little sheepishly. Placing my hand on Norman’s head I healed him but left the blood all over his clothes. I silently did the same for Bradley. Jameson cuffed them both on the back of their heads until they muttered an apology and thanked me.

Sitting beside Roland I looked at his hand. His knuckles were bloody. “You know you didn’t have to do that. Why didn’t you heal yourself?”

“When I saw that their words hurt you I just snapped and then I felt too ashamed to heal myself.”

Taking his bruised hand in mine I healed it for him, stood, and touched him lightly on his shoulder. The gentle act certainly didn’t go unnoticed by anyone. Roland kept his head down and stared at his hand. The entire campsite was quiet.

“Who wants food?”

Roland piped up. “It’s not your place to cook for us.”

I just smiled. “Who said anything about cooking?” With a wave of my hand a table loaded with food appeared. “I am not, however, doing the dishes.” That caused a chuckle as everyone began eating.

Later that night as I lie on my bedroll I thought about the past few days. My world has been upended. When, if ever, will I start to feel normal again? Rolling over I felt the weight of my breasts shift and I found myself looking straight into Roland’s face. He’d been staring at me. Startled, he turned away.

***

We travelled several hours the next day until we came to the edge of the great fissure. I’d read about it and heard tales, but no description was adequate. The perfectly smooth walls descended thousands of feet and the gap between the Yellow and Blue realms was enormous.

“I think its best if Roland and I cross first. I’ll then come back for the rest of you and the horses.”

Lifting myself off the ground Roland did likewise. As we floated across the chasm I watched Roland. “You’re a natural at this.”

“All part of the magic.”

“I never thanked you for standing up for me yesterday.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I shouldn’t have hit them as you could have protected yourself. You chose the higher road.”

“No… I chose the easy road. I ran away.”

“After all they’ve done, why heal them?”

“I can’t say I know why I did it. Perhaps it was to show strength and power or maybe just to show compassion.”

“You’ve always shown compassion and always fought honorably.”

“I think that’s why I ran away. How honorable can I be if I rely on my magic to fight someone?”

Our feet touched the ground on the far side.

“Finally a moment of privacy. I know this is wrong, Arya, but I can’t take my eyes off of you.”

My heart leapt. “Why is that wrong?”

“Because we’re friends.”

“We both know this situation is unique. The magic has changed me, Roland. I’m not Jaden any longer. I’m Arya. I would think if anything the magic that is affecting me and fully transforming me is making it easier for me. I can’t imagine seeing my best friend changed and wondering what it must be like for them and how other people will think.”

“I never read the entire prophecy to you. It said the boy that would be bequeathed all would be forever changed and the king of the realm would…”

“Would what?”

“Let’s just say I don’t believe my growing attraction for you is normal.”

“So you’re saying if I was never Jaden before and you met me on the street that without magic you wouldn’t be interested in me?”

“By the gods, Arya. You’re so beautiful, kind, and just. You would have your pick.”

“So you would be fine with me marrying Bradley?”

“Bradley! No!”

I giggled and poofed back to the rest of the team.

“Are you all ready to be the first people from the Yellow realm to step foot in the Blue realm in five thousand years?”

I didn’t wait for a reply but instantly brought everyone to the other side of the fissure. Roland still looked flustered. I leaned over to him and whispered. “So what you were telling me is that you think you like me?” Turning back to the team I smiled at Roland’s internal dilemma. “What direction do we head now?”

Roland snapped out of his daze and pulled a map from his horse’s saddlebag. After carefully checking it over he placed his finger on the map. “We should be right about here. That’s about a day’s ride southwest of the Blue realm’s main city.”

We all mounted and began riding northeast. Mom fell in beside me. “What’s going on between you two?”

“Who?”

“Don’t who me, young lady. Between you and Roland.”

“There’s nothing going on between us.”

“Then why do you smile when you look at him all of a sudden?”

“It’s just a beautiful day, mom. What do you remember about my father?”

“You changed the topic on me.”

“I’m just avoiding a conversation I don’t know how to deal with right now.”

“Your father was tall and handsome. His skin was a little darker than what we normally see. He was very kind and chivalrous.”

“Did I resemble him before I changed?”

“Actually you probably favor him more now than before. His hair was much darker but it had a slightly copper tint to it. His eyes were green like yours.”

We rode deeper into the Blue realm not seeing any signs of habitation or people. When we finally stopped for the night I kept myself busy by getting the campsite ready. I was alone in the forest gathering wood when I heard something behind me. Turning I saw Norman standing there.

“I’ve been watching you. You’re not the same.”

“Obviously.”

“I don’t mean that in regards to you being a woman now. It’s just that the Jaden we used to know, the arrogant, quick-tempered boy is gone. You’re more refined and you act like any other woman I’ve ever met.”

“I’ve become a new person, Norman.” Grabbing a few more sticks I started back to the camp when Norman blocked my path.

“I can see that. I’d like to see more.” He pressed forward as I backed away.

“Norman, I suggest you turn around and go back to camp.”

“I just want a kiss. One kiss and I’ll leave you alone. That’s if you don’t want more.”

“Don’t make me defend myself.”

He continued pressing forward. “I can see it in your eyes. You want to try out that new body of yours.”

Rough hands grabbed me from behind. They groped me. Even though I was shocked by being grabbed from behind I had already been planning a way out of the exchange with Norman. In the blink of an eye I moved about twenty paces away and materialized a flaming sword in my hand. The light from the sword danced eerily across Bradley and Norman’s faces. They turned and ran back towards camp but I was there long before them.

Using my magic I instantly return to camp startling everyone around me. Norman and Bradley staggered into camp shortly after, their heavy breathing a telltale sign of just how quickly they had run. Crossing my arms over my chest I strode forward and stood before them. I slapped them both, turned, and went back to the fire to sit on a log. They deserved much more punishment.

Roland stood quickly. “What was all that about? Did they hurt you?”

“They reminded me exactly what I am. A woman.”

Roland’s face turned red and his eyes eagerly sought Norman and Bradley’s. “What did you do?”

“We were just joking around. It’s no big deal.” I saw Roland’s hand go to his sword but the light from the moon vanished and a roar of some mighty predator shook us and the trees around us.

Looking up I saw something straight out of myth. An enormous dragon with red glowing eyes drifted north. A chill went down my back as I knew I looked upon my doom. Our doom. “I feel it. That’s why I’m here.”

“That was a dragon!”

“No… That was a man with enough magic to become a dragon.”

We all watched the dragon fly northward. Norman had the guts to ask a question. “So if that was your counterpart, your balance of magic, why aren’t you a dragon?”

“I’m missing magic. I’m missing history. Time is running out.”

***

Sleep eluded me that night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw the red dragon. I felt its claws the size of a grown man tearing through my body. My skin crawled under the heat from its breath.

I had been up for an hour before the camp began to stir. The simple task of preparing breakfast without magic kept my mind from focusing on the presence of the great beast. The team was somber and even Norman and Bradley said thanks for their meal. They offered no snide remark.

Roland checked the map again. “We should enter the capital city of the Blue realm today.”

We packed up the camp and mounted, moving quietly but steadily forward. The smell of smoke drifted through the forest and at midday when the forest gave way to farmlands I dismounted in pure disbelief at what I saw. The farms were destroyed, the animals smoking cinders. In the distance large plumes of smoke billowed into the sky. The city was partly consumed by fire.

“We must find their king. I must go to the Blue Cauldron.”

No one questioned me. We all mounted and spurred our horses across the charred landscape. We saw the first people of the Blue realm just outside the city gates. Their soot stained clothing spoke of the horrors they must have gone through.

At the city gate we were finally stopped. The guards looked wary and immediately surrounded us. Long spears forced us into a tight circle.

“You’re not from around here. Dismount. Who are you? Were you the ones that attacked us last night?”

“Please. We must speak with your king. We’re from the Yellow realm. We had nothing to do with this. You must believe us.”

“Sound the alarm! Don’t move or we’ll run you though.”

We waited for a while when a dozen men arrived on horseback from within the city. One man dismounted. I could feel his presence and magic right away. His regal clothes were stained with soot and blood. His eyes shone like emeralds. His hair, though dirty hinted at copper tones. This is my father.

“Elide?” He took several hurried steps forward towards us. “Elide? Is that you?”

I followed his gaze towards my mom. She was nodding. Tears ran freely down her face.

“Guards, lower your weapons.”

“But sire, they are from the Yellow realm. They caused this!”

“No… They’re here to save us.”

This is a man that is never questioned. The guards lowered their spears and stepped to the side. The king of the Blue realm, my father, ran forward and swept my mom into a fierce embrace.

“William.” It was clear there was still powerful love between them but I could tell mom held back. “William…”

He stepped back and put his hand up. His eyes drifted towards me. “Not here. All of you come with me. Call the elders to order. Have them meet us in the throne room.” A man mounted a horse and raced off into the city. “Follow me.”

He turned and I stared at his back, my feet moving of their own accord. I have so many questions. Roland fell into step next to me. “He’s your father?”

“It appears so.”

“The guards think we did this.”

“The last great war was between the Yellow and Blue realms. I suspect they are much like us.”

“How so?”

“They are unaware of the real threat.”

“And that is?”

“I’m not sure yet, but I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with the dragon we saw last night.”

We continued to walk through the streets. The fires had been contained but the losses were great. Even though parts of the city were in ruins it looked similar to home. Thousands of years separated the realms and yet the cities and technology looked quite similar in many ways. Turning the corner the palace came into view. Six stories tall, just like ours.

It wasn’t until we entered the throne room and the doors sealed behind us that the Blue king spoke again. The elders and guards stood safely behind him and looked at us cautiously.

“As you can see we’re dealing with a bit of a situation here. We were attacked last night.”

I needed answers. “The red-eyed dragon?”

“You saw it then?”

“It flew over us last night heading north.”

“Perhaps we should start with introductions. I’m William Kaverrel, king of the Blue realm. I know Elide. Who might you be?”

He was looking at me but Roland stepped forward and shook William’s hand. “Roland Vantero. Recently appointed king of the Yellow realm.”

Jameson, Norman, and Bradley all introduced themselves. William eyed me suspiciously. What do I say?

“I’m Arya Gionova. A few days ago, I was your son, Jaden.”

William looked ashen. He looked from mom to me a dozen times. Startling me he pulled me into a hug, his strong arms holding me fast. Tears fell freely from his eyes. “Forgive me!”

***

It took hours to tell our stories. William had never married, much to the chagrin of the elders. That news instantly rekindled my parent’s romance. It was years after William had returned to the Blue realm that he uncovered parts of prophecy regarding me, but he felt either I had been killed or mom had simply moved on. It wasn’t until the first sightings of the red dragon a few weeks ago did he know something was truly amiss. He had become despondent believing his telling mom to kill me when I was born was the ultimate destruction of the world. Without me, there could never be balance.

“The Yellow Cauldron poured itself out on you, transforming you at the same time and yet your knowledge is not all there?”

“That’s correct. At first I thought someone in the Blue realm must have had the same happen to them.”

“No… We’ve had nothing like that here.”

“When I went to the sixth floor I realized there’s more to this. I believe the Yellow and Blue realms split a thousand years before the great war. We should be one people, one Cauldron.”

“You came to visit the sixth floor here?”

“I suspect I need to go to the Blue Cauldron first. It’s been calling to me.”

The elders were adamant that I not be allowed anywhere near the Blue Cauldron. “Who is to say she isn’t controlling the red dragon? If the Blue Cauldron pours out its magic on her she will be unstoppable.”

“She’s my blood. She’s our blood. I say we go to the Cauldron and if it confirms to us her call then we listen to the Cauldron.”

Reluctantly the elders agreed but they firmly stated I was to stay in the palace under guard while they went. I waited a long time under the careful eyes of the guards. Everyone had left together leaving me in the throne room. When people started banging on the doors and calling for the king I urged the guards to find out what was happening.

Carefully they opened the doors and a flood of people streamed into the throne room. One man, burned but still standing shouted for the king. A building had collapsed and people were trapped. My heart went out to them. These were my people even though they didn’t think I belonged here.

Grabbing the guard’s arm I pulled him aside. “I can help them. Please let me help them.”

The guard, having heard I was their king’s daughter took a bold step. “Guards. Stay here and tell the king where we went. We’re going to offer help.”

We ran through the streets and stood before a scene of utter chaos. Women were screaming and the injured littered the cobblestone streets. “The children are inside! We can’t get to them!”

The building, a two story school, had collapsed. Smoke billowed from the crumbling windows but it was clear there could be a section near the back intact enough to shield the children. The first floor at the front of the building was gone but the second floor was more intact. Spotting a second story window, now angled down towards the street I could see the interior floor there. It was all I needed to instantly get inside the building.

The floor of the building was shaking as I rushed towards the back of the school. A set of stairs led down into the smoky depths. The air was thick as I descended; the heat oppressive. I could feel the ash burn my lungs. Using magic I began clearing the smoke and creating light. Finally when I was about to lose hope I found them. A dozen young children huddled together in the back corner room.

The building shook as I looked them over. A second later we materialized outside of the building on the street just as the building collapsed completely. The women rushed to collect their children even as I sent a wave of healing magic through them and those littered across the street.

The guard pressed through the people towards me. “I’ve never seen anything like that. You can move yourself from place to place by magic?” I nodded.

“I got here as quickly as I could.” The king pushed through the crowds that had gathered around us. The children were safe and the people had been healed. He looked at me and once again pulled me into a hug. “Thank you!”

Roland had been right behind the king. He looked at me with great concern in his eyes. When my father stepped back Roland raised a hand to my face and brushed some stray hairs from my eyes. “You’re all right? You’re not hurt?”

I had an urge to lean my head into his hand but his eyes were so intense I looked down and away instead. My dress was covered in soot as were my hands. I looked a mess. “I’m fine. What of the Cauldron?”

“The elders confirmed the Blue Cauldron is calling you but they insist on following protocol.”

***

I was surprised the protocol was so similar to that of the Yellow Cauldron callings. I had to bathe and then wear a shift similar to what I had worn days before although this shift was much less filmy and a darker color. The elders let me through tunnels and into the cavern of the Blue Cauldron. I was stunned to see the seats packed with people. Roland, my mother, father, and the entire team sat in the front row with all the elders. I was directed into the waters beneath the Cauldron.

“People of the Blue realm, we’ve called you here to witness the first calling of its kind. Arya Gionova, daughter of our king…” The elder waited as a gasp ran through the crowd. “… and a woman of the Yellow realm has been called by the Blue Cauldron.”

William stood and faced the crowd. “It’s true that Arya is my daughter. She has both Yellow and Blue blood flowing through her veins. I believe she has been sent here to save us.”

Someone shouted from the crowd. “She’s already saved our children. Let the Cauldron bless her!”

The elder turned back towards me. “Arya Gionova, do you have anything to say before the Cauldron blesses you?”

What a strange feeling this is. I’m frightened of what the Blue Cauldron might do. Will it transform me again? Will I become Jaden once more? Will I become a dragon? I’m just getting used to being Arya. I looked towards mom and Roland. They both appeared nervous. Norman and Bradley held blank expressions on their faces.

“Whatever happens, I pray I might be worthy; that somehow I can help the people of the Yellow and Blue realms.”

Bowing my head I knelt into the cool waters and felt the magic of the Blue Cauldron move over me. This time there was no hesitation and I felt the liquid magic begin pouring over me. Once again I felt as if my body might burst asunder. The magic infused every cell of me to the point of overfilling.

People were once again screaming but I had somewhat expected that this time. The Blue Cauldron had emptied itself on me; its magic slowly refilling as it moved away. Taking in a shaky breath at the raw power that churned within me I opened my eyes and stared hesitantly at my reflection. I’m still Arya. Thank you Cauldron!

I felt the hands of the elders upon me helping me to stand. Roland, William, and mom came to the waters to check on me. I waved them off. “Time is of the essence. I must go to the sixth floor.”

“We’ll take you there right away.”

I was led to the sixth floor still in a bit of a daze from the influx of power. Thanking the elders I promised I would meet everyone back in the throne room in a few hours. The stone door rasped as it pushed open and once again I was assaulted by the musty odor of the hallway. I had fewer illusions as to what I might see when the inner door opened and wasn’t surprised when the room was virtually identical to the Yellow realm room.

There was a bed and tables and couches and a row of incredible dresses that begged me to try them on. If anything the additional magic infusion had resolved any lingering Jaden male residue within me. First and foremost was the blue gem resting on a table. Without hesitation I reached for it.

The flood of information and knowledge was, as before, overwhelming. All the pieces filled in and this left me with a huge feeling of dread. Sitting down on the bed I materialized a mirror. I gazed upon myself and my eyes were even more vibrant green than before. Other subtle changes had occurred in that I appeared even softer and kinder looking yet my beauty had remained if slightly even more heightened.

I knew what we were up against and inwardly I steeled myself. Reaching for a stunning emerald-colored dress my touch made it appear in place of my damp shift. The green color was much more appropriate than ever before.

An instant later I appeared in the throne room. The elders and everyone had just arrived so they were startled to see me so soon. I didn’t wait for questions.

“The gaps in my knowledge have now filled in. Six thousand years ago there were no Blue and Yellow Cauldrons, there was only a Green Cauldron. At that time a six-drop queen named Halitha struggled to maintain order within the Green realm. Using her powers she split the Green Cauldron into two; a Yellow Cauldron and a Blue Cauldron and separated the two divisive sets of people.”

I continued. “Initially, peace was formed as both people groups worked to build their lives. Under Halitha’s reign she helped build the two main cities but upon her death division once again rose up and the Blue and Yellow realms began fighting one another. Five thousand years ago was the great war between the Yellow and Blue realms. Many people were killed.”

“When all was about to be destroyed the fissure appeared. Until now, no one knew why.” I created a picture of the world in midair. “You see, we thought we were the only realms for many years, but the original Green realm was balanced against the Red realm to the far north. Huge oceans separated the realms and the magic was balanced between them. When Halitha split the Green Cauldron into two she inadvertently created a way for magic to be separated. The Red realm has waited thousands of years for the opportunity to wipe out the Yellow and Blue realms.”

“If this is true then the Yellow and Blue realms combined equal the magic of the Red realm.”

“That’s true. But the Red realm used its magic to create the fissure, effectively stopping the Yellow and Blue realms from working together. They could then, when the circumstances were right, sweep in and destroy an entire realm dissolving the magical balance forever. Alone the Blue or Yellow realm would have half the magic that the Red realm possesses.”

“But you have now been infused with magic from both realms. You’re strong enough to defeat the Red realm.” My father looked at me with eagerness to confirm his thoughts.

“We can’t be sure as we don’t know how the magic was distributed in the Red realm. What if all the Red realm magic is consolidated into one person? There’s another possible problem. The Red realm is the realm of destruction. The Green realm is the realm of life.”

“You’re saying that the magic between realms are opposing?”

“While we have some destructive magic capabilities most of our magic is defensible magic. I’m not sure I can destroy like the red dragon. I think a demonstration might be needed.”

As a group we all walked to the ramparts of the city that looked over the farm lands and the destruction caused by the red dragon. “Stand back.”

The group backed away from me as I felt the magic begin my transformation. A few moments later I looked back at the group, their fear obvious on all their faces. I had become enormous and powerful. The city looked small to me as I stretched forth my membranous wings and launched myself into the air. People screamed and ran for cover.

I circled over the city and blew my breath down upon it. Green flames tore through the homes and walls that had been still ablaze and smoldering only to be rebuilt shiny and new by my magic. Arcing back I swept over the farmlands, my green fire causing regrowth and new life to sprout. By the time I landed back on the city wall all evidence of the red dragon’s attack had been removed. I transformed back into myself and walked towards the group.

There was nothing but awe in their eyes but there was also lingering fear. William and Roland came towards me. William spoke first.

“Our world has changed. What we knew was completely wrong.”

Roland reached out to take my hand in his. “I’m worried for you. What happens now?”

“The red dragon was testing and searching. I believe it was looking for me but also testing the Blue realm.”

“Why look for you?”

“Because if it could find and destroy me, then the red realm could sweep through unhindered.” One of the elders asked if I could remove the fissure. Roland was still holding my hand. “I can, but should I? By removing the fissure, we also remove the fissure between us and the Red realm. Even though there’s an ocean that doesn’t mean they don’t have ships now. I can merge the two Cauldrons again, but I doubt that is our most pressing need.” My father looked at me expectantly. “I feel the red dragon will attack the Yellow realm. We should return just in case.”

Mom moved next to my father. “I’ll stay here with William.”

“That might be safest for you anyways.”

Several of the Blue realm elders and elites offered to go and once we had the team together I said goodbye to my mom and dad and whisked us all away to the Yellow realm.

***

Upon arrival Norman and Bradley quickly disappeared with nary a look back. I’m sure they were glad to be away from all of us. Roland gathered our elders and we introduced them to the Blue realm elders. Once we filled them in on the events we waited. Roland directed Jameson to begin the process of organizing people for an attack and creating some strategy for protecting the citizens. That left Roland and me alone together to walk through the city.

“You’ve been very quiet lately, Roland. Have I upset you?”

“No! I’m just a little overwhelmed by all of this.”

“You’re overwhelmed? I’ve been turned into a girl, flooded with two Cauldron’s worth of magic, and can turn into a dragon to protect the Yellow and Blue realms and you’re overwhelmed?” He looked dismayed. “I’m sorry. This involves all of us. It’s unfair for me to make this all about me.”

“With all that magic you still can’t change yourself back to being Jaden?”

“Is that what you want?”

“I’d be lying if I said yes.”

“No, I can’t change and I would be lying if I said I wanted to go back to being Jaden. It’s not about the magic either. I feel better about myself as Arya. People look at me differently. They treat me differently. I’m not invisible anymore.”

“You were never invisible but people didn’t see what I saw in you. Now they do.”

“I’m afraid, Roland. I’m afraid that I’ll let everyone down. I’m afraid I’m the wrong person for all this magic. I’m afraid I’ll not live to tell you all that’s in my heart.”

Roland reached for me but stopped as a roar shook the foundations of the city. The immense red dragon hovered above. I didn’t think I just transformed and flapped my giant wings. In just a few seconds I was circling the great beast. He was huge. Larger than me by nearly half. With a roar he chased after me as I headed out towards the meadows east of the city. I was faster and more maneuverable but he made up for it with sheer strength.

Turning I dove at him, my claws extended. His mouth opened wide and a wave of fire erupted towards me. Banking away I felt my wing singe from the flames. With a scream I poured out my green fire upon him but his countering flames were too great; too strong.

Remembering my sword fighting skills I kept my distance and watched as he tried one attack after another until he exposed his weakness. With a quick arc and dive I crashed into him, my claws raking into his wing, I move for a second strike but he was already there. His claw dug deep into my body and he washed me with his fire.

Screaming in pain I inhaled his fire burning my throat and lungs. All this magic wasn’t enough. With a quick jerk he threw me off his claw as I plummeted to the ground. There with my energy expended I transformed back into Arya. I had my magic but my pain hindered my use of it. The great red dragon landed nearby, its steps shaking the ground.

I watched helplessly; unable to move I saw him transform and stand over me. His red eyes burned with hatred. His black leather clothing torn across his shoulder. Blood was dripping from him. His heavy boot stepped onto my neck and pressed down hard.

“Look upon your savior!” He bellowed. “She’s useless against me! Come little ones. Bow down to me. Let me feast upon your flesh!”

A sword appeared in his hand. I watched him raise it above his head. With the little energy I had left I imagined a sword in my hand and it was there. With a quick thrust I skewered his calf. With a roar of pain he brought his sword down upon me. I watched my death approach but in the blink of an eye Roland was there. His sword flashed cutting the hand from the man. With a scream the man with the red eyes vanished.

I tried to move but I couldn’t. “Don’t you die on me!” Roland’s magic worked its way into my wounds but it wasn’t enough. He yelled out for help even as darkness surrounded me. For a moment I felt intense pain and I gasped and then mercifully there was nothing.

***

I was floating across a deep blue ocean. The skies looked ominous and there was a distinct chill in the salty smelling air. A distant land rose from the ocean with sheer vertical cliffs a thousand feet straight into the sky. I rose up along the cliffs and watched as twisted creatures lowered boats towards the waters below.

Continuing to float above the land I saw mountains of ice and snow streaked by red flowing lava. As I floated faster and faster towards the distant mountains the ground gave way beneath me to a massive valley. Lava and water flowed in waterfalls down the sides of the steep valley walls forming pools of water and fire.

There amongst the rivers a city emerged. Thousands of people with dark oiled skin stood facing a dais chanting “Malachor, Malachor.” There on a dais a man sat with red glowing eyes. His right arm dripped blood at the point where his hand used to be. With a yell wisps of red light tore away from the people. Their screams of agony echoed through the chamber; their bodies collapsing in twisted heaps but they weren’t dead. They slowly stood and hobbled towards the exits even as their magic infused the man; his hand growing anew.

***

I opened my eyes a little surprised to be alive at all. Roland as well as dozens of elite healers were surrounding me. Even Norman was there with a grave look on his face. I was still in pain and as I reached down I could feel the bloody wound in my side. My pain had greatly subsided with the healing magic surrounding me. Closing my eyes I reached for my magic and healed myself fully.

When I opened my eyes again there was an audible sigh of relief from the room. “What did I miss?”

Norman responded for everyone. “When Roland couldn’t heal you he carried you through the streets of the city calling on every person with healing skills to come to your aid. After witnessing you fighting for all of us we…”

Roland continued. “They ran to your aid. I’ve never seen such a response from the community before but with all our magic we could only keep you from death.”

“Thank you. Thank you all!” I grabbed for Norman’s hand and he smiled weakly.

Norman looked at Roland. “Are you going to kiss her now?”

“Yes, I am.”

Roland leaned over and kissed me tentatively; my lips tingling at his touch. As he pulled back everyone was staring at me but I didn’t care. My arms snaked around Roland’s neck as I kissed him back. It felt right, perfect. Everyone cheered which caused me to blush.

Slowly I sat up and replaced my torn dress by magic. After all it wouldn’t be right to walk around with a huge tear in it. I sat for a moment smiling at the lingering warmth of my lips. “I wasn’t strong enough and I know why. The red dragon, the man with the red eyes, Malachor, he is stealing the magic of his people leaving them wretched creatures. He has more magic than I do.”

“What can we do?”

“What you just did. You came together as a community to heal me. We must, absolutely must come together to defeat him. His people, now creatures are coming. He is coming back. They are coming even now.”

“What about the fissure?”

“It’s gone. I can feel it’s gone.”

“How do you know they’re coming?”

“I saw them in a vision. I saw him. He is gathering his power and sending his creatures. We might have a few days at most to prepare. Most of his creatures are without magic but there are thousands of them.”

Roland took my hand in his as if he needed my strength to bolster his confidence. “Prepare every able-bodied person for war.”

“I must go to the Blue realm and we must pass word to all citizens that we prepare for war not against each other, but against the Red armies from the north. The Blue and Yellow realm people must be one people.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“No, Roland. As much as I want to be with you, you must stay here to organize. I’ll return soon.” Looking around the room I felt an incredible burden on my shoulders. I turned to Roland and held him fast and felt his strong arms around me. If we survive all of this then this is where I belong.

Roland leaned down and cupped my face with his hands and kissed me. I didn’t care if others thought it strange. It was the right thing. “We’ll send word and prepare an army moving north. We’ll head for the northern meadows.”

I wished I had time to ignore the impending doom. “I’ll find you. I must go now.” With another kiss I vanished to the Blue realm throne room.

***

I was grateful that my father and mother were already there and I didn’t have to waste time finding them. They had just convened a meeting with the elders and the town’s elite citizens to provide an update on the situation.

“Arya! I’m glad you’re here. How fares the Yellow realm?” My father rushed to hug me.

“The Red dragon attacked as I suspected.”

“You defeated it?”

“Sadly, no. He’s much stronger than I am and I barely escaped with my life. It took all the healers of the city to stabilize me until I could heal myself. There’s more at stake here. The fissure is gone and the Red realm is advancing to attack.”

“How can we defeat them?”

“Malachor is the name of the man that is consolidating the magic of the Red realm. He is pulling it from the citizens which lead me to believe there must be something wrong with the Red Cauldron.”

“What if we allowed you to take our magic?”

“No! I’ve seen what taking the magic does to people. They turn into warped creatures. I don’t even want to kill the Red realm citizens. They’re just his pawns yet we still need to protect our families and I’m afraid war is inevitable. Roland is preparing the Yellow realm citizens for war and marching to the northern meadows. I suggest you do the same.”

“And what of you?”

“I’ve decided I need to go into the Red realm. I suspect Malachor will be supporting his front line.”

“Why go there? We’ll need you to fight with us.”

“I’ll be back to fight, but something isn’t right in the Red realm. I need to find out why Malachor can take other’s magic from them.”

Giving mom a hug and kiss on her cheek I turned to go.

“Arya?”

Looking back I saw my father coming towards me. “I know I’ve no claim on you as my absence your entire life denies me that right, but I’ve only just become a father and I don’t want to see you go. It is I that should be protecting you, not the other way around.”

“If we survive this battle then you can protect me all you want. Malachor is stronger than me but if we fight together there’s a chance we can beat him.” Turning to go I paused and reached out my hand for his. “I understand why you left and I forgive you. I’m happy to know I have a father that will care for mom and me.”

“You don’t know how much this means to me to hear you say that. Be safe, my daughter.”

I ported to the ramparts of the city and transformed into a dragon once again. I could fly much faster across ground I’d never seen before. Spreading my wings I thrust them downwards lifting myself up into the sky. The city and people fell quickly away as I turned north.

***

It took several hours to fly to the northern meadows. There I landed and transformed back to my normal self. I walked across the meadow of wild spring flowers and pictured the carnage that might soon overtake this beautiful place.

What’s Roland doing right now? I miss him. Fully aware of my need to get going, I sat down amongst the grasses and flowers and realized my life had been too short. I’d not taken the time to truly enjoy living. I’d taken my life for granted.

Looking up towards the north I wondered what the future would hold. I’ve no idea what I’m doing. Standing to my feet I once again transformed into a dragon and rose into the sky. My life is no longer my own but I belong to Roland and the people of the Yellow and Blue realms.

I flew for an entire day and night and as soon as I saw the ocean and the first signs of the Red realm citizens in boats I veered to the northeast hoping to avoid being spotted. I could sense Malachor’s position moving south and I used a subtle magic to hide myself from him. I suspect I had been using it all along as Malachor never found me in the forest. He, on the other hand, didn’t have defensive magic like I did and probably didn’t care if I knew where he was.

Soon I spotted the huge cliffs and I climbed higher and higher to avoid being spotted as I made my way across the land towards the valley of water and fire. The further I went the fewer the creatures I saw on the ground until finally the ground fell away into a vast valley. I descended slowly and circled over the city, landing in an open area in front of a large palace.

Transforming back into myself I looked around me. Lava and water flowed all around me making loud hissing sounds as the two mingled and met. The sky churned with dark clouds and the dark stone pavers under my feet felt both cold and hot. It was a foreboding place.

“Who are you?”

Turning around quickly I faced some fifty people. Their gaunt bodies were covered in dark soot. I was easy to spot wearing an emerald green dress in this dreary place. “I’m Arya of the Green realm.”

“Why have you come here? Are you here to take our remaining magic when Malachor and our armies are away?”

“No, I can’t take your magic.”

“Then you’re here to kill us.”

“I’m not here to kill anyone, with the exception of Malachor.”

“You can’t kill Malachor as his magic has no place to go but back into himself.”

“You have no Cauldron?”

“Malachor destroyed it.”

“Then perhaps I can mend it.”

“Why don’t you kill us?”

“Do you wish me and my people dead?”

“No, but Malachor…”

“If you don’t wish me dead then neither do I wish to kill you. I’ve seen what he has done to the people of the Red realm.”

“If you repair the Cauldron he will know you’re here and will come and destroy you.”

“He can certainly try but I don’t plan on staying long.”

“Go through the palace doors. Beyond the great throne room is a cave that heads into the mountain behind it. The remnants of the Red Cauldron are there but guarded by four strong magical beasts.”

“Why would you help me by telling me this?”

“Because the magic belongs to the people of the Red realm and we suffer under Malachor’s reign.”

With a wave of my hand tables appeared loaded with food enough for a thousand people. “Share this with your people.”

“If you by chance kill Malachor will you return to rule over us?”

“I promise if Malachor is destroyed that I will come and make sure the people of the Red realm have their magic returned to them. I’ve no desire to rule anywhere.”

“Then go with our blessings, Arya of the Green realm.”

Turning back towards the palace I moved at a quick pace arriving at the palace doors in short order. Stepping into the throne room I recalled my vision of Malachor sitting on his throne with throngs of people around him. This was where that took place. It was an earie place. Feeling confident that I wouldn’t be attacked by the citizens I move to the far end of the throne room to find the entryway into the caves beyond.

The black walls dimly reflected the light of torches that guided my way into the mountain. As I walked I sought what knowledge that I had on the Cauldrons. If a six-drop queen could create a new Cauldron and split magic then certainly I could repair one. There was no book of magic I could read to find a spell to create one of these; it had to be inherently done like I made the table of food.

Slowly the passageway became larger and larger until I could see additional light coming from a large room ahead. I could also see the beasts the man had spoken about. Not only were they large, but I sensed the magic within them being far more than any average citizen.

The creatures patrolled the cavern using a slow monotonous gait. Their bodies were heavily armored and each carried a large axe. While not quite people, they looked like a mix of human heads with animal-like bodies. Their large clawed hands wrapped tightly around axe handles as thick as my thigh.

In the center of the room I could see the crumbled remains of the Red Cauldron. Several large pieces rested together while many smaller pieces had been scattered around the floor. The room appeared large enough to contain my size as a dragon, easily allowing me to fly above the creatures. My green fire might be just what was needed to mend the Cauldron.

This better work! Porting to the center of the cavern the beasts immediately turned towards me as I changed into the dragon and flew above them. It was clear they were not armed for an aerial attack as they swung their vicious axes through the air beneath me. Taking a deep breath I concentrated on the Red Cauldron and breathed out my fire upon it.

I watched in amazement as the fire consumed the pieces and bit by bit they formed together until the Red Cauldron once again floated above the ground. The beasts turned away from me and started striking the Cauldron and I suspect with no magic within the Cauldron it might not be able to protect itself. Reaching down with my claws I grabbed a beast and flung it against the wall. Red magic poured out of its broken body and pooled into the Cauldron.

The remaining creatures now turned back towards me. A blast of my fire caused vines to grow from the ground entangling them. I should finish these creatures. One by one I grabbed them with my claws and smashed them against the walls allowing their magic to pool back into the Cauldron.

Landing I transformed once again and walked over to the Cauldron. It didn’t call to me which wasn’t a surprise. I was not of this realm. I didn’t dare touch it.

With a flash, Malachor appeared at the far end of the chamber. “What have you done? I’ll simply smash it again you fool.”

He formed a sword and strode towards me but I created a magical barrier keeping him away from the Cauldron and myself. I was surprised when he couldn’t break through. He had no magic to combat this.

“This is neither the time nor place to end this, Malachor.”

“It is of little consequence. While you are here your people are being slaughtered by my army.”

“An army controlled to do your bidding. I won’t stand by and let this happen.”

“I defeated you once before. It was easy. You are weak.”

“Then let’s finish this as I weary of your talk.” With that I ported to the northern meadows and transformed into the dragon. The pristine and beautiful fields were full of people and hideous creatures doing battle with each other. The armies of the Blue and Yellow realms were outnumbered, but with their magic they were stronger. With my arrival there was a cheer and the Red army looked afraid.

Our armies were struggling with the great magical beasts of the Red army however and I spotted Roland fighting one. His speed was incredible as he moved and sliced but he had less magic than the beast. Swooping down I grabbed the beast in my claws and flew high up into the air casting it down into the Red armies below. Wisps of Red magic raced away from the carcass towards the north.

Roland waved and ran to his next set of attackers; slicing through them like they weren’t even there. I hovered above the clashing armies and thought about the poor citizens of the Red realm. We were slaughtering them. We need to spare their lives. Diving down I sent a wave of green fire between the armies. Trees sprung forth a hundred feet tall and so close together it formed a solid wall. This will delay the Red army.

As I swept back up into the air I heard the mighty roar of Malachor. He breathed his fire burning my wall to ashes and smiting his own fighters in the process. They are tools to him. I watched him bank and dive towards our armies. I saw Bradley standing with his sword in hand as the land before him was laid waste by burning fire.

Transforming and porting at the same time I found myself standing next to Bradley as I cast a shield around us both. Flames fell all around us as red fire danced off the green shield. Bradley fell to his knees and wept.

“Get up, Bradley! I want you to send the word to pull back but to stay close. I’m going to draw Malachor into a fight and I’ll need everyone nearby to use their magic to heal me if I’m injured. Now go!”

Bradley was shaken but quickly moved to spread the word as I transformed and flew after Malachor that was distracted by some of our archers. Using the sun at my back and flying higher than Malachor, I dove down towards his back and hit him hard digging my claws deep into his scaled back. Roaring, Malachor twisted in the air but he couldn’t dislodge me. Grabbing his left wing with my teeth I pulled back and tore through the membranes until he began to fall from the sky.

Releasing him at the last moment I landed nearby and transformed materializing a green flaming sword and changing my dress into something that would offer me more maneuverability for sword fighting. “Let’s finish this, Malachor!”

Slowly the great Red dragon got to its feet and transformed before me. I could see the blood dripping from his back and his left arm was mangled. His red eyes burned with anger. “You cannot defeat me!” His red flaming sword materialized into his hand. “When I leave you dead there will be nothing stopping me from ravaging the land and the women of this realm. I will feast on the meat of the children and turn the men into my slaves.” He started walking towards me. “You can end their suffering now by becoming my wife. Our offspring would rule the world and all the magic it contains. I would spare them all.”

Norman and Bradley were bullies but they were nothing like this lunatic. Porting slightly behind him I swung my blade hoping to catch him off guard but even wounded he was incredibly fast. Our swords clashed together and the force of his blow nearly wrenched my arm from its socket. The fight now was in earnest as he beat upon my sword over and over again pushing me back through the field.

I thought of my fight with Bradley and how he tried so hard to overtake me in the first few minutes. He’s favoring his left side. He needs to finish this quickly. Taking a bold move I exposed my left side but focused my magical shielding there. Unfortunately is was expending magic to maintain the shield around the Red Cauldron. I feigned a block and let his sword past my guard. My shield faltered at the force of the blow and I could feel his blade cut into my side but he had exposed himself badly by doing so. We a painful roll I came up on his left side and swung my blade cleaving his left arm from just above his elbow.

Red magic streamed from his lost limb even as I felt the magic from my people pouring into me to heal my side. Malachor screamed in pain and rage and attacked with a vengeance but he was slower now. He’d lost some of his magic. Still I had to retreat from his assault. He’s so fast and strong. Can I hold up much longer?

I was losing ground when Bradley yelled out to me. “Now’s not the time to fight honorably, Arya!”

Malachor’s sword clipped my shoulder opening up a wound that quickly healed. Bradley’s words and the pain helped me to realize I did have an advantage. I waited until we were close and I blocked his swing when I materialized another sword in my left hand and drove it deep into his side. Red magic flowed out of him along with his blood.

Now fighting with two swords I pushed my advantage. For the first time I saw fear in Malachor’s eyes. He was slowing and growing weaker as bit by bit I opened wounds all over his body. Red magic streamed from him back towards the north as if the Red Cauldron had been starved of its nourishment.

With a flash and a port I materialized behind Malachor and ran both my swords through his back but he turned and smiled as I saw I had materialized around his blade. He’d been waiting for this and prepared. We both staggered and fell away from each other even as my father and Roland rushed forward and together they cleaved Malachor’s head from his body. His sword vanished leaving me collapsed on the ground gasping for breath. Is this it? Am I going to die? As before the pain was so intense I couldn’t use my healing magic on myself.

I feel so alone. I felt Roland’s hands touching me and his magic enveloped me; then I felt father’s hands. In moments I could feel the combined magic of the Yellow and Blue realm coursing through me until I could call upon my own to mix with it.

Taking a deep breath I opened my eyes and stared into Roland’s face. Wrapping my arms around his strong neck I pulled him close and kissed him. “You gave us all a scare, my love.”

“I might have to get injured more often if it allows me to quench myself of your lips.”

“This isn’t finished yet, my daughter.”

Roland hauled me up to my feet. Before me the fighting men and women of the Yellow and Blue realms spread southward. Their hands laid on each other’s backs all the way to Roland and my father. Turning around I saw the Red army. The main fighting had ceased while Malachor and I fought and now they were approaching in force.

Changing my clothes back to my emerald green dress I started walking forward. The Red army paused and a single man stepped forward. His back was hunched and his skin scarred and black. He was so broken and twisted. Behind me the armies of the Yellow and Blue fanned out waiting for any sign of trouble.

“I’m Arya of the Green realm. Your leader, Malachor, is dead. We have no desire to fight the citizens of the Red realm.”

“I am Kenraw, previous king of the Red realm. These people have no magic and we harbor no ill will towards your people. We were forced to obey Malachor. We are at your command.”

“Then take my hand in friendship.”

Cautiously he extended his hand and I took hold of it. I could feel how the removal of his magic had ravaged his body. Even if the magic were to be restored, his body would remain as is without healing. I doubt even a king could heal them.

“Gather your people together, Kenraw. I would like to send you home with a parting gift.” Again he was hesitant. “I believe I can heal your bodies.”

He looked down at his twisted fingers and offered a crooked smile, turned, and called his people together. Transforming into the dragon I flew up into the air and circled until the Red citizens stood together. There were thousands of them staring up at me with fear. My healing green fire exploded from my mouth and bathed them.

By the time I landed and transformed, their twisted bodies had been restored. The men stood tall and handsome; the women beautiful. Kenraw stepped forward once again and laid his sword at my feet. “The Red realm is forever in your debt, Ayra.”

Picking up his sword I handed it back to him. “Then let that debt be lasting friendship between the realms. I’ve restored the Red Cauldron and removed the protective shield I placed around it.”

“It calls to us, Arya.”

“Then return home, be blessed by the Red Cauldron, and work to restore your realm. Let us know if you need help.”

“Your people are welcome in the Red realm.”

“As yours are here.”

We watched them turn back towards the north as I felt a warm hand slip into mine. “I always knew you were destined for greatness.”

“If greatness means getting mortally wounded all the time, then I guess you’re right.”

Everyone had crowded around us. Bradley shoved his way through the crowd. “Arya!” I felt Roland tense at my side and I held his hand tight in mine. “I was wrong about you.” Pulling his sword from his side he knelt down and laid it at my feet.

“I’m honored by your words and actions and all is forgiven.”

“I pledge to be a better person and to protect you always.”

“As long as you remember that your fealty is to your king first and foremost.”

“Only until we have a worthy queen, Arya. Then it will be to both.” He stood and winked at Roland.

***

Six months had passed since the defeat of Malachor. It had been a busy time. The citizens of the Yellow and Blue realms met and decided it was time to merge the realms once again. My father gratefully relinquished his kingship in favor of settling down with fewer responsibilities to be a father and a husband. He would still hold a special place as chief elder among the people.

Merging the Yellow and Blue Cauldrons was easier than I expected. Using my magic I built a grand new city to house the Green Cauldron. New laws were put in place making the sale of magical abilities a crime. People would earn their income based upon their non-magical skills. Of course this had not gone unchallenged, but slowly a sense of real community was being formed and when the Green Cauldron called people everyone looked forward to the magical gifts that were given and to be shared.

My father, Roland, and I travelled frequently to the Red realm. Under Kenraw’s direction, the realm had begun to flourish once again. Far from the desolate wasteland that I had first seen, the Red realm was a place of rare resources, underground farms lit by luminescent creatures, and skilled craftsman. Every person over the age of eighteen that had been stripped of their magic had been called once again. I healed those that were not present on the battlefield and together we forged plans to build a sea port on both sides of the ocean so trade between the realms could occur. Bradley had taken it upon himself to act as emissary to the Red realm and was fast building strong relationships with the people there. Norman had become a wandering healer, freely giving of his magical gifts between the realms.

“You’re quiet, Arya.”

Looking to my left I smiled at Roland astride his black horse. The air was crisp and cool and smelled like fresh cut grasses from the fields. It was a perfect fall day as we rode together towards my parents’ home. Of course I could have ported us there, but sometimes I enjoyed the simplicity and connected feeling I got from doing things the old-fashioned way.

“I was lost in thought about all the changes we’ve gone through.” I’m always thrilled to wake as Arya and hoped that feeling never was something I took for granted. I loved being a woman and didn’t miss my life before at all except for the anonymity.

“You’re not nervous about tomorrow are you?”

“Why would I be nervous? I’m only going to stand up in front of everyone and pronounce my undying love for my king. I’m not nervous at all about becoming queen and the expectations that brings like having children. I’m also not nervous about being taken to bed by a strong handsome man and yielding my body completely to him.”

“You’re being sarcastic.”

Halting my horse I leaned over to Roland and kissed him passionately. “Actually I’m not being sarcastic at all. I can’t wait to be called your wife and for you to make love to me. I desperately want children. The only thing I’m worried about is being queen.”

Roland blushed as I mentioned making love to me. “I agree that tomorrow night will not come soon enough for me. You’re absolutely stunning and I can only imagine what your glorious body will look like without all those layers of silk. I’m also looking forward to being a father. I wouldn’t worry about being queen. The people already see you as something more than that anyways. There’s not a person in the entire world that doesn’t love you.”

“I’m not so sure about that. Anna Plutarch is not thrilled she missed her chance with you.”

“Anna was just not unique enough for me. We should get going if we want to get to your parent’s place by nightfall.”

“Not before I taste of your lips one more time.”

***

The End

***

It takes a lot of time and effort to write a story like this. I write stories to release the pent-up relentless energies that come from strongly desiring that which I can never be. I hope these stories touch your heart, bring hope, and encourage you to live your life.

I’ll admit I can get disappointed when I publish a story and get only a couple of reviews. It makes me wonder if my efforts are in vain. Please take a moment to review the story or simply share your thoughts.

- Casey Brooke



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