“Navia Rio… help… Navia Rio PLEASE HELP US” The screams echo but I can’t find their source. I’m running, but I’m so out of breath, and this forest seems endless. “I’m here!” I scream into the nothing. “Where are you?” What are you? I think. It doesn’t matter. I’m close… I clutch the opal around my neck. It’s glowing so brightly it’s illuminating my path. “Sálvanos a todos!” The voices call back in a desperately plea. I’m frantically scraping through the brush, trying to do just that, save them all, when I am hit over the head. A man with a face like a tree smiles down at me as I lose consciousness. “Agarra la piedra.” I hear him say. Grab the stone? “No…NO!” I cry out.
“Navi… wake up! Navi can you hear me? Baby please…I’m here. It’s just a dream, come back to me now.” It’s my mother, holding me. I wake startled and panicked. “You were screaming in your sleep again Navi. I know you don’t think it’ll help, but I wish you would talk to someone about these nightmares.”
I reach for my opal necklace. It is not around my neck. I leap up, frantically throwing my pillows off my bed.
“My necklace! WHERE is my necklace?”
“Calm down. I set it on your dresser when I came in to check on you last night. Honestly Navi, you’re going to be 15 next week. You need to be more responsible. You cannot wear jewelry like that to sleep. If it got lost, it would hurt your abuela very badly. Now please, get ready for school.”
She leaves my room, shutting the door behind her so I can change. But all I can do is sit on my bed, clutching my necklace. “Agarra la piedra!” I hear again in my head. I shudder at the thought. My Abuela, my grandmother, gave me this necklace when I was born, and I’ve kept it close to my heart ever since. I examine the glistening blue iridescence. It’s the same blue in my, and abuela’s eyes. Strange, to be Hispanic with blue eyes. Mama and papi have the usual brown, but not us. “Special skips a generation sometimes” she’ll say. Usually to the tune of mama rolling her eyes. Yikes! The clock reads 7:20. I pull on my clothes, shove the opal in my pocket, and head out the door to meet my best friend, Ethan, for our walk to school.
“Sup chicky? No offence, but you don’t look so hot.” He greets
I scoff, but I know my sweat covered hair and blotchy skin must have ME looking like a nightmare. “Yeah, bad dream. No worries” I reply
“Again? You know, you really should….”
“Talk to someone! I know, I know. Geez are you in cahoots with my mom?”
“Just concerned….” He eyes the ground.
“Hey…” I flip around, walking backwards.
“How about we ditch today? I’m so beyond stressed with family crap and my quinceanera, I could use a chill day.”
He shrugs. “Works for me. The Daniel’s household isn’t exactly a cakewalk right now.
I wince, realizing how insensitive I’m being, and wrap an arm around Ethan’s shoulder.
Ethan and his dad have been struggling since his mom walked out on them a few months ago. No note, no explanation, she was just gone. Personally, she always gave me these “evil queen” kind of vibes, like out of a kid’s book or something, but now was totally NOT the time to mention that…
“Sorry bud. I didn’t mean to dump on you. “
“It’s cool. Wanna go to the park?”
I nod, and give him the thumbs up, and he veers left, heading down the walking trail.
There is an unbearable silence between us. I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth again…then I remember.
“Dude I had the funkiest dream this morning. I was running through the woods, and these people were screaming for me to help them, but I couldn’t find them, then I got ambushed by this weird, ugly tree perso….OOF!” I fall suddenly, on my face, in the dirt.
“Have a nice trip Nav?” Ethan giggled and extending his hand to me
“Not funny!” I say, brushing off. “There must have been a branch, or….” I pause. The path is covered with leaves, but is otherwise flat. What did I trip on? My thoughts are interrupted by the buzzing in my pocket. I take my cell out. “Mom Calling…”
“SHIT. I TOTALLY forgot she was off today! I have to get home!” I race up the trail “Call you later!” I yell.
“See ya, dead meat!!” He calls back.
Check the voicemail on my way “You have TWO MINUTES to be in this house EXPLAINING YOURSELF before I call the police!”
Crap…she’s pissed. I tiptoe through the door when suddenly there’s a yank on my collar.
“Where the HELL were you? WHY aren’t you in school!“ Mom barks
“Mom, I can explain…Ethan. Ethan got in a fight with his dad, you know how much stress they’ve had since his mom left and… I really wanted to cheer him up, and he knows I’ve been stressed with planning and Abuela being sick so we were gonna have a chill day. I’m sorry mom.” Did I really just use my best friend’s hardship and my sick grandma as an excuse? Yikes.
She lets out a deep sigh. Ay…mi amor, I know your heart is in the right place but you absolutely can NOT go skipping school. I know you’ve got a lot on your mind.” She lets out another sigh, like gears are turning in her head. “Well you’re already home. We can go get your pictures taken in your dress today and surprise Abuela with them. That’ll really brighten her day. Text Ethan, he can come too. We’ll have a ‘chill day’.” She smiles at me
I hug her tightly, surprised by the lack of war I was expecting. “Sounds great mom. I’ll go change”
I pull out my cell, and type out “Meet me at my place in 5. Change in plans”. Send. I run upstairs, and pull my dress from the closet, then shut the door. It’s blue, and sparkling, with big ruffles. A little over the top if you ask me. But mama said it matched my eyes, and my necklace, perfectly. Oh, my necklace! I reach into my pocket. It’s empty. No. NO! Ay Dios Mío WHERE IS MY NECKLACE? It was just here! The trail…it must have come out when I tripped over…whatever that was. This can NOT be happening. I can’t tell mom after she JUST scolded me for being careless with it, what do I do??
My frantic thoughts are interrupted by a crash from the closet. I jump, totally caught off guard. I must have knocked something when I pulled the dress out. Then, came the grumbling. My heart started to pound as I reach for the knob again. I pull the door open, and in the dress’s place, stood a bulky creature, roughly 3 feet tall, with dirty, gray blue skin, big bulging eyes, and what looked like fins that went from its ears to the tips of its little horns. It’d be kind of cute, if it weren’t real and standing in my closet. I let out a yelp, and it spoke.
“Begging your pardon, Miss. Didn’t mean to startle you!” He extended his chubby, webbed hand in my direction. Names Elbbep. You can call me Ebby though, if it pleases your majesty.”
I stand there in disbelief, with my jaw open. I couldn’t move, or stop staring.
“Oh! I’m sorry mum, I’ve made a fool of myself haven’t I.” He bowed, and his large, bulbous nose touched the floor. He glanced up slightly and cleared his throat at seeing me, still frozen in place. “Begging your pardon again mum, I really need to get on with my business here.” He stood up. “Your majesty, the kingdom is in trouble. The river, it just dried up this morning! I was sent right away, but I had some trouble getting here, so, sorry about that, but we have to go…”
Suddenly I broke my trance “Wait. WAIT. Slow down. First of all, WHO are you? No, first of all, WHAT are you? Third, kingdom? FOURTH, SOOO not a royal buddy.” I sit back on my bed with my hands in my hair.
He gives a somewhat panicked sigh, and rolls his eyes, then steps forward to meet my face. “As I said mum, I’m Ebby. From the Kingdom Galaciant, the River Kingdom, where you and your ancestors have watched over us and our water ways for centuries. You ARE princess Navia Oir’Revir , are you not? Granddaughter of the lovely Cascadia Oir’Revir? Heir to the Stone of the River Spirit?” He gasps “Do I have the wrong closet?”
“No…”I start, getting up. “That’s my name, and my grandmother’s, but we aren’t royalty…and if you mean my opal, then yes, abuela gave that to me but…” I sigh. “I lost it this morning. I tripped and it must’ve fallen….”
Ebby cuts in. “Oh dear. Oh no. So they haven’t told you yet. You were supposed to be told following your 15th birthday but I’m afraid this can’t wait. And that stone…I suspect perhaps was NOT lost, but stolen! Evil forces have been after that since before your grandfather died. How exactly did you lose it?”
“I…well I tripped on a trail I was walking…except, the trail was smooth, no rocks or anything…” I stammer back.
“Hm. Almost like a tree that can retract its roots? It was probably all planned. But this means…this means the stone is likely on its way to Maldrea by now. She’ll be looking for you. Princess, I’m sorry, but we’ve got to go. I need to take you to our world. You’re in danger here.” He eyes my hand to grab it.
“NO! I shout. This is totally NUTS! I just want my necklace back. I am no princess and I am not going anywhere without Ethan.”
A knock on my door distracts him enough that I break free of his grip.
Finally. Ethan. “Uhm. Nav? Do you also see the fat scaly smurf or did I get some bad dope at the park?” Buzzed, but Ethan. Which explains the “cool as a cucumber” attitude.
“FINE” shouted Ebby, grabbing both our hands. “He can come too! But we have to GO!”
Before we could protest, the creature exerted a crazy, unexpected amount of force from his plump little body, and yanked us into the closet. Except, this was no longer my closet. This was black, and the air felt warm and wet, and smelled like fresh rain and earth. He opened the door, and we were no longer in my bedroom, but a tropical tundra, like a rainforest but with open land.
“This way” Ebby turned us around, and we were facing a large, clay colored castle, with the entrance to a winding staircase to greet us. Ebby pulled us up the stairs, through the stone corridor. We passed murals and portraits, until I stopped in front of one suddenly. Abuela, in her 50’s, and mama. She was around 25 in this picture, and holding a small, bundled up baby. The opal was hanging loosely around the baby’s neck. “Me…”I mumble. “So it’s true. It’s all true…”
“Wow N!” Said Ethan. I jumped, I nearly forgot he was with us. “That’s willldddd!”
Ebby lets out a concerned grunt, and I continue with him. I know now that whatever is going on, it’s so much deeper than I know. And I have to help. We followed Ebby to a large, open courtyard. Several stories up, there was a gorgeous, blue, stone dragon, sitting on top of a structure. It looked as if there should be water flowing into the large divotted trail in center on the floor, into the town, but it was dry.
“As I said mum…the river’s dried up without that gem and your power.” Ebby says, with a sad look.
He leads us to a large throne room, lined with doors. I examine them closely. There’s a stone fireplace, with a single lockbox on its edge. Ebby catches my curious eyes. “For the precious spirit stone. In case the Queen is attacked. It will only open for royal blood.” He answers my unasked questions.
“You should be safe here. This is the throne room. It’s also where the portals to the other kingdoms are. We are working to seal the door to Maldrea’s Kingdom, Nahtean.”
“Wait, if she’s the enemy, WHY did we ever have a portal between us?” I scoff
“Because…” Ebby sighs, flustered “There was a time Maldrea’s kingdom and ours were at peace. She signed a peace treaty, and went to your world to get aid for her adviser who was wounded in battle. But once her adviser was well, she announced she had fallen in love with a man from your world, and had a child. She wanted to stay there, to be with him, and left Nahtean to her adviser, Liviat. But he is a cruel man, he believed it was neglect of her kingdom to leave her rightful place as ruler, that she should rule ALL the kingdoms, possess all their power, and he swore he would get her back. And so he did…but she is not the same ruler. She has a breath of evil in her which I can not explain. That’s why I’ve brought you here. To keep you safe from her. If she has the necklace…there’s no telling what…”
“Wait.” I interrupt him. “She has my abuela’s necklace?”
“Most likely mum”
“And, what door was her’s again?” I ask, taking Ethan’s hand
“Well mum, it’s be the one with the land crest and emeralds, why do you…”
“Because I am getting my damn necklace back, one way or another. Let’s go Ethan.”
“Huh?” He grunts, but we’re already racing for the door. Ebby tries to catch up but his little stubby legs just can’t catch us. We’re through the door. Just as the portal in the closet took us to my (ha!) castle, this one leads to a similar, green toned castle, with a matching staircase. Perfect. This means the rooms will be mimicked as well. I think to myself, running. I burst through the door to what should be the throne room, and in the distance see what I thought was a very skinny, dark skinned man. But as we get closer I realize it isn’t skin at all, but bark. He looks almost as if he were a wood carving, but he moves and blinks like a man. He’s standing in the way of a woman in a large, green dress, fussing over her crown. It was cased in woven branches that wrapped down her neck, holding them in place, and encrypted with strange, glowing symbols
“Yes madam. There you go now.” He coos, adjusting it. A green opal glowed through the cracks.
“Maldrea!” I scream. Uh-Oh. I didn’t think this through…I have no clue what I’m doing…
Liviat shifts out of the way in surprise.
“MOM???” Ethan pushes past me and up to the woman, throwing his arms around her. But she doesn’t respond. She stands there, stone faced and cold.
Liviat smiles “Good girl” he coos at her again. “Mommy isn’t here right now kiddo, run along now.”
“No!” Ethan cries. “What have you done to her. Mom! MOM!”
Maldrea turns her head, and familiarity gleams in her eyes. But Liviat waves his hand, and she stands at attention to him again. The symbols on her crown light up, in green this time, as Maldrea draws a dagger from her boot, and stands in a fighting position.
“Well now. This won’t end pretty. Think I’ll be going.” “Leviat waves again, and the symbols glow brighter still. “End them” He commands Maldrea, before running through one of the portal doors, leaving her to fight us. Both of us stood there, frozen, she took a flying leap at Ethan.
I jump in front of him and throw my hands out defenselessly to protect him, and like a great gust of invisible wind, she is thrown back into a pillar. The branches thorned into her neck crumble slightly, and she lets out a shriek. The glowing symbols flicker as she cries out “Your necklace! The mantle box! Use your power! Please hurry Navia!”
The light returns to the symbols, and she heads off Ethan again. “Navi you get that box. I can handle this. Mom please.” Ethan cries, “It’s Ethan!” Please fight this! For me! Mom, please!” I dart for the box, but there’s no key, no opening…just a tiny hole and a sharp edge. “Royal Blood” I think, and cut my finger on the edge. The box pops open, and my opal is gleaming inside. “Use my power” I think. I don’t have any power! But I have to try. I face her and scream her name again. “Maldrea! I break your curse!” I cry. Water flows from my hands and encases her, paralyzing her. The crown shakes violently until its bindings collapse, and the water washes away.
She falls, gasping for air, and Ethan and I run over to her. “Son I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I never wanted to leave. I never wanted you to see this world. The power of the opals is unmatched. He controlled my mind. He controlled everything! I wanted to come back but I couldn’t and i…”
“Mom. It’s okay. I’m just happy to have you back.” He turns to me “Nav. Thank you for everything…I need to stay here for a while.”
“No.” She says meekly. It’s over. It’s finally over. We are going home son.”
She points to the center portal door, encrusted in sapphires and aquamarines.
Ethan smiles at me. “Lead the way, Princess.”