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Levi fought back tears as he ran. The fight was over. All of his allies were gone. Many of the servants from the castle were dead or wounded. Many of his loyal knights had been taken captive and were under the sorceress’s control. His noble steed had been caught in one of her traps as well. He was the only hope that remained for Princess Rosemary and the kingdom.
He stopped for a moment to catch his breath. The forest was starting to grow thicker and more dangerous. He could see trees with enormous thorns in the distance. Before long, he would be in the sorceress’s domain. He was to fight her alone over the freedom of the princess.
He was weaponless. He had no bow or arrow, no spear, no sword, not even a dagger. He was going up against a sorceress and several armies without any weapons. He only had one weapon on his side: magic. He would feel a lot better if he knew how to use it.
Sure, he’d conjured up a few things before, but he was still new to magic and he’d never used it in a fight. He was up against a sorceress who had mastered her powers long ago. Part of him wished that he could switch places with the princess. He hadn’t seen her use magic too much, but word was that she had extraordinary power that could only be blocked if she was trapped.
Levi reached the thorny trees. A thick hedge lay not far beyond. As he approached it, he heard a faint whispering. Was that the hedge? He shivered at the unnatural noises. Part of him wanted to flee, to let someone else save the world. He was no great hero. He was just a kid from Idaho who had unfortunately ended up in a world where magic ruled.
But he couldn’t flee. There was no one else. He may not be a renowned fighter, but he was no coward. Let it be known that Levi Reese had at least put up a fight, even if he lost.
He straightened and stared up at the thorny wall. It had to be magic. “I wish to speak to the sorceress,” he said loudly.
The whispering abruptly stopped and he felt like the hedge was focusing on him. After a long, silent moment, there was a groaning sound and the bush parted to provide a small doorway. He ducked through, shivering a little as the warm summer air gave way to a cool mist.
He heard voices up ahead and saw a flicker of light. Since he had no idea where to go, Levi followed the sounds and the light. The voices were low, as if whoever was speaking didn’t want to be overheard.
“I’m telling you, it’s not natural. I’ve been in these woods thousands of times and never once have I seen trees like this until the sorceress took over,” said one low voice.
“Yes,” agreed another voice. “She’s altered the weather too. It had never been so stormy and violent.”
“Yet here we stand, guarding her domain, even though we dislike the changes she’s made,” said the first voice. “Have you ever considered…running?”
“No,” the second hissed. “It’s too dangerous. She’s got a thick, thorny hedge surrounding her lair. We’d never get out without her approval.”
“But if there was some way…” the first said.
“There isn’t,” the second said. “I may not particularly enjoy what she’s doing, but I am loyal to the true queen…”
“She’s no queen,” the first snarled. “Don’t you remember the true royalty?”
The second snorted. “Right. The princess is locked up, unable to perform a spark of magic, and the prince is probably hiding somewhere, unable to figure out how to even use the power he possesses. Being the coward he is, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned tail and fled. There’s no hope left for them anyway.”
Levi felt his face flush in anger as he stepped out of the trees. Both guards jumped and stared at him. “I assume I wasn’t supposed to hear that,” Levi snarled.
Both guards drew their swords. “State your name an’ business or we’ll kill you,” the second one said.
Levi raised his hands. “I have no weapon,” he said.
“Name and business,” the second guard repeated.
“I’m the prince you spoke of before,” Levi said. “And I am here to defeat the sorceress and save the princess as well as the kingdom as it once was.”
The first guard lowered her sword. “Is there some way you can prove it?” he asked with a hint of eagerness in his voice. “The prince is rumored to possess enormous power.”
“No,” the second guard howled. “He means to kill the sorceress. We must kill him.”
Levi spread out his arms and a breeze rose up, tousling his hair and throwing his cloak up. The fire flickered, casting strange shadows across the rock behind Levi. He knew without looking back that his own shadow had expanded to mirror a dragon.
He closed his eyes and imagined himself turning into a dragon. He could envision the transformation: see his clothes and skin turn into hard scales, and his crown turn into horns. He could imagine his flapping cloak turning into leathery wings and his empty scabbard turning into a barbed tail.
He opened his eyes and looked down at the knights. He really had turned into a dragon. This was the most powerful magic he had ever done. He was enormous. Look at the size of his claws! This was exciting
Levi looked back down. The second guard was trembling and as soon as Levi set eyes on him, he collapsed. The first guard was staring up at him in awe. Levi bent over so that his head was next to the guards. “Well?” he said. “How’s this for proof?”
The first guard fell. At first, Levi thought he had fainted like the other one, but he had drawn his sword, placed it tip-first into the ground, and knelt. “Forgive me, your highness,” he said. “I should never have doubted.”
Levi closed his eyes and willed himself to shrink down to his former size. When he opened them, he was himself. “Rise,” he commanded.
The guard stood up, but he kept his head bowed as he held out his sword. “Your majesty,” he said. “I promise myself and my sword to your service.”
“What is your name?” Levi asked.
The guard looked up. “I was once Sir Triston the Brave, but I am no longer worthy of the title.”
“I’ve heard of you,” Levi said. “You were the first to be taken by the sorceress. Weren’t you the princess’s lifeguard?”
He nodded. “I once was. I came to free her, but the sorceress caught me and trapped me.” He removed his helmet and touched a thick silver chain around this neck. “With this, she forced me to bow to her service. Many other knights have been forced to do the same.” He bowed his head again. “Sir, this chain can only be broken by powerful magic. If the sorceress knew that I told you about it, she could use it to choke me.”
“You promise to serve me?” Levi said. “That means you are not allowed to flee or switch sides.”
The knight nodded. “I promise.
Levi grabbed the chain and willed it to fall apart. Nothing happened. He closed his eyes and imagined it as hard as he could. The chain fell free and he tossed it to the side. While his eyes were still shut, he imagined his body turning into a horse. It was a little easier than the dragon transformation and once he opened his eyes, he was an enormous white horse.
He turned to Sir Triston. “Put your helmet on and get on my back,” Levi said. “Now is your chance to earn your honor. If anything goes wrong, I will seek out the princess while you distract the sorceress.”
“I will do as you say,” the knight promised.
Levi tossed his head and started to run. He’d never turned into a horse, but the feeling of galloping was exhilarating. He could never go this fast as a boy. It was strange, getting used to using four limbs rather than two to run, but it seemed ridiculously easy in his horse form.
Before long, he could smell something. He slowed down to a trot and tried to avoid making noise, though it was difficult when he couldn’t tiptoe.
“Is something wrong?” Sir Triston whispered.
“I smell something familiar,” Levi hissed. “And something foul with it.”
“Have you met the princess before?” the knight asked.
“Yes,” Levi replied.
“That might be the familiar scent. Or it could be one of the knights. Or your real horse.”
“Yes, but what about the foul—”
“I knew you’d come.”
Both knight and horse froze at the cold voice and turned to look at a woman standing not far from them. She was tall and beautiful, more captivating than Levi had imagined her. She wore long silken robes of black and purple and carried a staff. He knew immediately that it was the sorceress he’d been dreading to meet.
“You must have stolen one of my knight’s armor,” she said, chuckling. “I must say, I’m impressed. You undoubtedly severed my connection to his chain before you killed him. You surprised me, Levi Reese. I expected you to flee to your mortal world when you still had the chance.” She switched the staff to her left hand and reached out with her right toward Levi. “Unfortunately, you may never return,” she said.
Levi was suddenly filled with terror like he’d never known before. He reared up, spilling Sir Triston onto the ground before he fled. The unnatural fear ebbed away once he left the clearing and he knew that any regular horse would have continued to fuel the gallop with their own natural fear. Levi stopped and looked back to see the sorceress closing in on Sir Triston, supposing him to be the true prince.
He turned back and galloped toward the familiar smell. Before long, he came into another clearing, smaller than the one he left. He could see an earthen cage made up of vines woven together. There was a person inside it, huddled against the far wall.
Levi came to a stop and stared into the cage. The princess looked up and he could see that her eyes were filled with tears. She looked bruised up, but other than that he couldn’t see any wounds.
Rosemary stood up, looking suspicious. “If you are the sorceress in disguise, get on with it,” she said.
Levi didn’t move. He puzzled over her words. What did she mean? She knew who he was. Maybe the sorceress had used images of him to torture her.
Rosemary sighed. “Nothing but a stupid horse.” Her voice turned kinder. “What are you doing so deep in a forest like this? You must be terribly lost.”
Levi realized he wasn’t his normal form. He closed his eyes and transformed back into himself. When he opened his eyes, Rosemary gasped and stumbled back to the opposite side of the cage. “You are the sorceress,” she said. “Leave me be. Haven’t you tormented me enough?”
Levi came to the cage and gripped two of the bars. “No, it’s me,” he said. “Don’t you remember me?”
“Get lost, hag,” Rosemary cried.
“I’m not kidding,” Levi said. “I really am Levi. Ask me a question that only I would know.”
Though she looked suspicious, her eyes betrayed her with a flicker of hope. “What was the food at school you hated until fourth grade?”
“The salad,” Levi said. “I stopped hating it because my mom told me I could be taller than you if I ate my vegetables.”
Rosemary giggled. “Seriously? That’s why you finally started eating salad?”
Levi shrugged. “It’s the truth.”
“One more question,” Rosemary said. “What was our secret password when we pretended to be spies?”
“We didn’t have a password,” Levi said. “We thought about bizarre numbers and words for a while, but we couldn’t agree on it, so we stopped doing it.”
Rosemary’s tired face broke into a grin. “It is you. You’re finally taller than me.”
“Vegetables will do that,” Levi said with a smile. “How do I get you out of here?”
“Uproot the trees,” Rosemary said. “You might want to turn into another animal.”
Levi stepped back and morphed into a dragon. He didn’t close his eyes this time and saw Rosemary’s eyes widen in shock. “You have a lot to explain,” she said.
Levi put his head down next to the cage. “Stay away from the bars,” he said.
Rosemary curled up on the dirt floor of the cage. Levi hooked one claw around several of the bars and yanked it out, tossing it over his shoulder as it flew out of the ground. He turned back into a boy and was immediately pulled into a tight embrace by Rosemary.
“Thank you for saving me,” Rosemary whispered. “I’ve missed you.”
“No problem,” Levi said in a strangled voice. “Could you let me go? I need to fight the sorceress.”
Rosemary didn’t let him go. He felt something wrap around his leg. He craned his neck to look down at his leg and yelped in shock as he saw a vine crawling up it. It tightened as another one crawled up his other leg, anchoring him to the ground.
Rosemary finally let him go and stepped back, uttering a high laugh when she saw him struggling against the vines. More sprung up, weaving a cage over his head. He grabbed the bars and pulled on them, but they were immovable.
Levi tried to turn into a dragon, but found that he couldn’t. No matter how hard he imagined himself as a dragon, nothing happened. “Rosemary,” he cried. “Help!”
Rosemary laughed. Her form morphed so that it became taller. A staff appeared in her hand and her dress turned into flowing purple and black robes. Her dark hair grew longer and her face matured. In a matter of seconds, she was the sorceress.
“I must admit, you had me worried there for a moment, Prince Levi,” the sorceress said. “That was clever, leaving your knight to pose as yourself. Your real princess is currently in disguise, fighting your knight because she thinks he’s me.” She laughed. “By the time she figures out the trick, your knight will be dead, you will be trapped, and she will be worn down, easy to defeat. I will fight her and when I win, you will be the first victim.”
She chuckled as she stepped back. “The tables have turned. The common fairytale used to be about the knight rescuing the princess from the dragon.” She chuckled. “Now the princess must fight the true queen or her precious dragon will die.”