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The Adventures of Reagan Laidir This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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I never expected to find myself in this situation. As I duck for protection behind an ancient oak tree, the peril of my position sets in. I am standing approximately one hundred feet from the cottage of an old witch, more importantly, a witch renowned for her temper and wicked spells. And if her home bears any resemblance to the rumors of her character, I am in colossal danger.

Small in size, the cottage's brick foundation is slowly crumbling in on itself. Its roof, a mixture of straw and sticks, comes to a curved point. Black bars cover the windows, and a short, razor-sharp fence surrounds the immediate space around it. I always have considered myself a smart girl, but by coming so close to a witch's house I am practically jumping into her cauldron.

I internally scoff. Deus, I am such a cliché! Unassuming village girl facing danger for the sake of a great adventure. My sensible side has finally made an appearance as countless doubts weigh heavy on my mind. There is no way that I would still be standing here if it wasn't for the shameful thought of going back to Gretalia empty-handed. She had been hesitant to send me for the vitam she needed for her potion, but I had convinced her after much begging and arguing. Better boiled than prove Gretalia right.

Promising to steal from a witch's garden was a mistake, but I always feel the need to prove myself to Gretalia. I met her when I was just four years old, and she has been a mother figure of sorts to me for twelve years now. Gretalia found me not far from her cottage, in the thickest part of the woods. I was wandering lost and alone after my parents abandoned me in a village far from our home. She took me in and taught me all the necessities of living independently: where to find edible plants, how to hunt, and the art of potion-making. So how could I not jump at this opportunity to help her with such a simple task as swiping a flower from the garden of a senile old woman?

Except things are never that simple, at least, not when it comes to me, Reagan Laidir, the red-headed orphan child with an anger-management problem. So far on this quest alone I have had to outsmart a pair of cannibalistic ogres, ransack an abandoned elven camp (turns out it wasn't abandoned), and knock out a bull-headed prince who wouldn't take no for an answer. This should be the easy part, yet telling myself that does little to calm my nerves.

My stomach flutters as if hundreds of fairies are desperately seeking an escape through my esophagus. Well, here goes nothing. Quickly I deposit my cloak on a nearby branch and dive into an adjacent pugna bush. As if to punish me for my negligence, the bush attacks me with surprising vigor for an inanimate object; branches jab harshly at my flushed face and tangle their bright leaves into my hair. Rolling onto my stomach, I escape the aggressive bush's grasp, dirtying my white bodice and crimson skirt, before army-crawling in the direction of my goal, the vitam.

All this trouble for a dumb flower? In truth, I don't understand what is so significant about the vitam, except the fact that it is necessary to complete Gretalia's potion. Regardless, the importance of the flower is only proof that Gretalia trusts me and has begun to acknowledge the fact that I have matured and am worthy of her faith.

When the vitam enters my view, I pause to study the apparently critical flower. The plant is isolated in a patch of dug ground. Light purple and similar to a calla lily in shape and size, there is nothing visually striking about it. Nothing that screams “I am worthy of a three-day journey through the Magusal Forest” anyway.

Not very well guarded either. My hands inch tentatively out of the bush, as my eyes dart toward the cottage door. For something so important you'd think that the old hag would guard it better.

The flower is almost in reach. A spell? She is ­supposedly a witch, right? Or at least a fence! Don't animals live around here?

And then I have it! Grasping the vitam triumphantly, I carefully pull the plant out by its roots before depositing it in the makeshift bag I created from an elf's red cap and a clump of dirt. With a quick twist the hat is securely shut, and I make my hasty retreat out of the bush, the cap tucked securely inside my bodice. Crawling backwards on my hands and knees, my head is still in the bush when my back foot meets the base of a tree.

“Cyclop's eye!” I hiss, and unskillfully roll out of my cover. I scramble to my feet in a cloud of dust and once again back toward the safety of the forest, arm outstretched in search of an oak tree refuge while keeping my eyes on the cottage, half expecting the witch to appear in the doorway. Fortunately, the door remains shut, and my hand makes solid contact. Unfortunately, the solid that my hand grasps is not a tree but a very distinct male frame. My head, a mess of leaves and curls, whips around, the rest of my body following.

The first thing my eyes come in contact with is a naked male torso with crazy muscular, tree-trunk arms that appear as if they could snap me in half, and a chest rapidly heaving up and down. My heart rate picks up as my eyes travel upward. Around a beefy neck is a tooth, looking disturbingly like a human molar, strung on a piece of yarn. My eyes continue their journey up to meet his. Metallic silver and catlike in shape, they have to be the most intimidating eyes I've come across in my sixteen years. His face is wrinkle-free and youthful – possibly middle-aged? Then I notice his lips, or more ­specifically his smirk. And that's when I realize that instead of running top speed in the opposite direction, I have been foolishly gawking at this frightening body.

“What do you think you're doing, little girl?” His voice comes out in a boom that has me in a near quivering puddle on the grass.

“Err … just passing through.” I attempt to sidestep him. “But I really must be moving on. You see that cottage over there?” I point, not pausing for an answer. “An evil witch is told to live there. Rumored to have turned a man into a flea for looking at her funny.” Creepy's smile only seems to grow as I ramble. “Real hideous too. You're gonna wanna get out of here.” By now I have managed to put a good five feet between us, and the distance is growing.

“You don't say?” His tone strikes me as mocking, but I fail to understand his amusement.

“Yes! Look, I'm getting out of here. If you want to wait for the old hag, be my guest!” With a quick glance to affirm that he hasn't moved, I sprint, grabbing my cloak on the way.

Refusing to turn around, I focus on the terrain in front of me. I dodge roots and duck under branches for a good mile before stopping at a small lake to rest. Bent over my knees, my breath is coming in short gasps, lungs desperately craving oxygen. There's no way he could have followed me.

The thought has barely left my head when a terrifyingly familiar voice says, “You didn't think you'd get away that easily, did you?”

I didn't even have to turn around this time. This guy has officially crossed the realm of scary to downright irritating.

“What do you want from me?” My exasperation seeps through. “Do you have any idea what I've had to go through to get here? For the past three nights I've slept in the dirt! The dirt!”

His only response is an arrogant chuckle. And now he's officially done it. The monster has been unleashed. “To make my journey even better I've run into every infuriating male in this whole forest! The ogres, elves, and prince ‘I-am-the-best-thing-since-fairy-dust'! What are you looking so smug about? You're worse than the ogres, you ugly creeper! The only other thing that could have gone wrong is if I ran into the witch!”

I only now notice his expression shift from arrogant to angry. Too bad that, in this mental state, I can't find it in myself to care. Creepy takes a threatening step in my direction.

“Now I am only going to ask you once. I have been a very patient man. Give me the vitam.” Too bad for him I don't respond well to demands.

“No, I stole it from the old lady fair and square. You can go steal your own.”

“You misunderstand me.” The menace in his voice is actually quite blatant.

“Give me back my vitam flower, and I might not turn you into a flea.” Something pointy prods me squarely in the chest, causing me to look down. A wavy stick is digging into my skin. It takes me a couple of seconds, but his words eventually register, and I figure out what he meant by “my vitam flower” and what the stick is.

“Bu-but …” I sputter. “You're a guy!”

Brilliant, Reagan. Good one. Why don't you just spit in his eye while you're at it? “I mean wizard! You handsome, charming wizard, you! You are ten times better than that ogre!” As I go off on another ramble, I watch his face transform from anger to confusion to blank. “Really cool eyes too, by the way! Of course you can have the vitam back!” I may not always be the smartest, but I'm no dummy. If the scary wizard wants the flower, I'll give him the flower. “Just don't do anything rash while I get it, okay?”

“Halt!”

My hand has barely brushed the collar of my bodice when I am stopped by a different masculine voice.

Like every clichéd story, my hero has come to save me. Sitting valiantly on his white steed, who has come to my rescue but Prince Fairy Dust, wildly brandishing his sword in Creepy's direction.

“Step away from the maiden and I will let you go free!” he cries. My snort is hidden by a well-timed cough.

“Oh no! She's ours!” This time the statement is voiced by a collection of small men. The elves have gathered in a tight circle on top of a nearby heath.

“What? No ogres?” I question the sky, glaring in hatred.

“Back off, pip squeaks. That our dinner!”

Nevermind.

Everything is happening so rapidly I'm finding it difficult to follow. Thankfully I will always have my smart mouth to fall back on. “Sorry, Uglies! Creepy is taking me back to his cottage. I guess you'll have to eat someone else.”

My statement has the desired effect. Both ogres let out a mighty roar and charge. Even better, a chain reaction seems to have taken hold of the various creatures as their male pride drives them to defend what they considered rightfully theirs. In my defense, the prince reacts immediately, attacking the ogres. Not to be left out, the horde of elves prepare to fight, pulling daggers from inside boots and drawing their bows.

Predicting the impending chaos, I manage to swing my body onto a nearby branch, narrowly missing getting pulverized by a fist flying in my direction. My terror is masked by a greater feeling of amusement at how easily manipulated everyone was. The scene unfolds before me perfectly. Creepy disappears in a puff of smoke. After being thrown from his horse, my hero prince runs away screaming. And the ogres roll away, elves firmly attached by their teeth to their meaty thighs.

With a short jump off the tree limb, the dangerous part of my journey is over. All I have to do now is not anger any more creatures on the way back and I'll be fine. A quick flip of the hood later and this “little girl” is on her way home – vitam, humanity, and limbs still attached.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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