JJ and the Wizard's Quest

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In JJ and the Wizard's Quest, when the injured wizard Devlin tells JJ that only he can stop the evil Annika from sucking all the joy out of the world; JJ must rely on his wits, his courage, and his new friend Bernie to outsmart the wicked Annika!

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Chapter Three

Flat on the ground, his nose pressed into the dirt, JJ waited. The roaring had stopped. That was a good sign.

And really, though he had been knocked hard, the creature on top of him didn't feel too heavy. In fact, JJ cautiously tried to move. It wasn't heavy at all. He was pretty sure, if he moved quickly, he might even throw it off his back.

Summoning all his strength, JJ reared up and pounced to his feet. He heard a yelp of surprise, which was much less threatening than the earlier roar. JJ whirled around and it was his turn to be surprised.

"Bernie!"

The small bear had been thrown backward into the dirt, his cap knocked off his head. He sat brushing off his fur. "I don't think that was called for," he pouted.

"Bernie, what are you doing here?"

"The question is what are you doing here?"

"Finding the amulet and retrieving the wizard's wand. You know that."

"But why you? I don't believe you're really the chosen one."

"Then what am I doing here?"

"I believe you're a pawn of the evil witch. I believe she somehow intercepted the wizard's spell and sent you instead of whoever really ought to be going. "

"And that's you? The one who ought to be going?"

"Yes! How could you be the chosen one, if I could track you down and catch you so easily?"

"You just followed me from Devlin's den." JJ sat down on the dirt next to Bernie. "Look, Bernie, I didn't ask for this assignment. I'd be happy for you to go instead. But Devlin said you couldn't."

"He said I couldn't be the one to complete the quest. But nothing says I can't go for a little stroll, and if I happen to run into a suspicious dog, maybe I keep an eye on him. Nothing says that's not allowed."

JJ had no idea how the rest of his quest was going to unfold, but he did know it would all be considerably harder if Bernie kept jumping out of nowhere and pinning him to the ground, or sending blazing fireballs hurtling toward his head. And the truth was, he wouldn't mind a little company.

"Why don't you come with me?"

Bernie eyed him suspiciously.

"I mean it. Instead of following me, why don't we go on together? You know this land better than I do. We could work together. And you can make sure I'm not up to something terrible."

Bernie tried to look like he was considering it, but JJ could see the bear's attitude change instantly. He was thrilled by the offer.

"But Bernie, one more thing..."

"I knew it," Bernie said. "I knew there'd be a catch."

"No more magic used against me. No more fireballs at my head or magical frogs dropping into my food. I promise we're on the same side."

Bernie nodded. "Yeah, okay. Sorry about the fireball. I didn't mean for it to get so big. I guess I don't know my own strength." He grinned.

"Then I suppose we should keep moving," JJ said. "I was just planning to follow this road until I came to a fork, or something else that seemed important. That probably doesn't sound like the best plan, but ..."

Bernie shrugged. "Devlin didn't give you much to start with. What are we waiting for? Let's go!"

Bernie headed cheerfully down the path, and JJ scrambled to his feet, following the suddenly cheerful bear. He was obviously thrilled to be officially invited on the quest, and JJ was equally thrilled to have him. Whatever might happen further down the road, it would definitely be better with company.

They hadn't gone too much further down the road when JJ heard the sound of running water. As soon as he heard it, he suddenly realized how thirsty he was. He had started off the day with a canteen full of water, but it had run out a while ago. He eagerly rushed toward the water to fill his canteen.

JJ and Bernie stopped and drank their fill at the edge of the river. JJ splashed his face with water and studied the sky. Night would come soon, and he still had no idea where he was going.

"I guess we either have to go this way or that way," he said, pointing up and down the river. "Do you know, Bernie?"

Bernie shook his head. "What's in the pack Devlin gave you this morning?"

JJ grinned. "I knew you were really awake." He pulled out the pack and reached in, pulling out several pieces of paper. One of them was large and folded. JJ unfolded it and spread it on the riverbank in front of him.

It was a map of a vast region. JJ had always loved maps, and was starting to feel like maybe the wizard's spell had chosen the right person for the task after all. "Here's where we started," he said, pointing to a cave on the map. Next to the drawing of the cave curved a downhill path, which led to the river where they sat.

"And look!" Bernie pointed at another spot on the map with a small drawing of a monkey next to a large tree. "That tree looks like the same one at the top of that hill, just across the river!"

JJ peered across the rushing river at a steep hill, leading to an enormous tree with a door in the hollow trunk. "Okay... but what makes you think we need to go there?"

Bernie looked both exasperated and happy to know something JJ didn't. "Didn't you hear Devlin when he said monkeys are usually the bearers of wisdom? That's obviously the location of one of our land's wise monkeys. They're highly revered. Animals travel from all over our world to seek their wisdom. Maybe they'll know what we should do next. I mean, what you should do next."

"We." JJ corrected him. "Thanks, Bernie. I had forgotten that monkeys are the wise ones. Okay. But if that's where we're supposed to go, how on earth are we going to get there?"

"I can swim," Bernie offered hopefully.

"So can I," JJ said. Just then a large log passed in front of them, tossed violently by the river's current. "But I don't think either one of use can swim well enough to cross this river."

"He thought for a moment. It didn't make sense that Devlin would send him out, only to be stopped on a riverbank, with his destination directly in front of him. Didn't Devlin say he possessed everything he needed?

He dumped the contents of the pack out again. The map, three small pieces of colored paper, the canteen for water, and what was left of the bread and cheese. That was all.

"Can I have that?" Bernie asked, spotting the food.

JJ handed it over. He fingered the pieces of colored paper. He had no idea how paper was supposed to help him on a quest to defeat an evil witch. He wished Devlin had been able to tell him more.

Without realizing what he was doing, JJ began absentmindedly folding the green sheet of paper. He had learned origami as a small pup, taking delight in the way something as simple as a piece of paper could transform into something - anything - else, with just a few folds.

It had always relaxed him. As he sat staring out at the river, he let his fingers do the folding. He wasn't even sure what it would turn out to be.

"Neat frog," Bernie said. "How'd you do that?"

JJ looked down and saw that he had transformed the square of paper into a frog. He chuckled. "It could swim across the river, if only it were bigger."

The moment JJ said the word bigger, the origami frog doubled in size.

"Bernie, no magic! Devlin said you weren't ready!"

"I didn't do it. It happened when you said bigger."

The moment Bernie said the word bigger, the frog doubled in size again.

JJ and Bernie looked at each, and then at the frog. "Bigger!" JJ called out.

"Bigger!" Bernie added.

The frog doubled, and doubled again until it was even bigger than JJ and Bernie put together.

"Do you think it can swim?" JJ asked. "I mean it is paper after all. Maybe it'll fall apart."

"But it's magical paper! I bet it can swim. I bet it can even understand!"

JJ looked at the gigantic piece of origami. "Can you swim?"

The frog took an enormous leap into the water, splashing JJ and Bernie on the riverbank.

"Hang on, wait for us!" JJ scrambled to stuff the rest of the things back in his pack. Then he and Bernie both hopped onto the paper frog's back.

JJ held on for dear life as the frog headed across the wild river. Bernie had been right; the paper did not fall apart in the water, and the frog was a strong swimmer. In no time at all, they had crossed the river. JJ and Bernie climbed off on the other side and turned back to the frog.

"Thank you," JJ said, unsure how to interact with magical paper.

The frog simply turned and hopped away. With each hop, it shrunk in half, and then in half again, until it was a tiny frog. When it seemed it couldn't get any tinier, the paper dissolved in a poof of green smoke.

JJ and Bernie were so wrapped up in watching the frog, and relieved to have survived the crossing, that they never even noticed the nearby snake watching them from the tall grass on the riverbank. Silently, the long green snake turned and slithered away.

The snake was fast, and it didn't have to slither far to arrive at the lair of its master, Annika the wicked fox. She was inside her lair casting spells.

"Your Highnessssss," the snake curled up and hissed.

Annika slammed her wand on the table. "This is totally useless."

"You still haven't found the location of the amulet, Your Highnesssssss?"

"If I had, do you think I'd still be sitting here, Simon?" Annika screeched and rose to her full height.

"So sorry, Your Highness. But I must report that Devlin is getting closer to the amulet."

"What? You must be mistaken! I took care of Devlin the last time we met. He's holed up somewhere, nursing his wounds."

Simon flattened himself as low as he could. "Devlin may be holed up somewhere, but he seems to have some assistance."

"Are you talking about the bear who's always hanging around Devlin? He's a joke. I have nothing to worry about with him. Now leave me alone to find the amulet." She fruitlessly cast another spell into the crystal ball, but it remained murky.

"Your Highness, not just the bear. He is accompanied by a dog. A dog I have never seen in these parts of the world. He seems, in fact, like he might be from another dimension."

Annika whirled around sharply, the hair on her spine standing up on end. "Another dimension, you say?"

"Yesssssss."

"How could Devlin have cast such a spell without his wand?" Annika demanded.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Your Highness." The snake wished to the bottom of its slimy soul that it could slither out of sight.

"It's very deep magic that Devlin uses. Magic that can be cast all the way into another world to find the one creature capable of finding the amulet. But I took his wand! It doesn't seem possible. And yet, you say it's so and you've never steered me wrong, my dear Simon. You wouldn't, would you? Because you know I am not very forgiving."

Annika fingered her wand and Simon trembled.

"I tell no lies."

"And where did you see this dog?"

"Just outside the tree of the Wise Monkey of the North. It seemed they were headed inside."

"Of course! Why bother with spells to find the amulet? The wise monkeys must know. Why didn't I think of that?"

"As far as I know, Your Highness, you've never been terribly fond of monkeys."

"Disgusting creatures, monkeys. But Simon, we must get to the amulet before that dog. Everything depends on it. If he is working for Devlin as you say ..."

Annika grabbed her wand and strode from the cave, with Simon right on her heels. It was just like her, Simon thought. Always striding off in a hot rage. She was a gifted witch, but her passion sometimes overtook her.

"Your Highness, are you certain you have everything you need?"

Annika's eyes flashed. How dare a lowly serpent question her, the greatest witch of all time? And yet ... she reached into her robes and felt only her own wand. But what about the wizard's wand?

Simon waited on a warm, black rock as Annika ducked back into her lair and returned a moment later, Devlin's blue wand tightly in her grasp.

"Simon, my dear," she said. "You will be richly rewarded when this is all over. You saw the dog at the northern monkey's tree, yes?"

"Yes, Your Highnessssss."

"And there are three wise monkeys, aren't there? If I remember the magic correctly, one needs to visit all three monkeys before finding the amulet. If the dog's already been to the north, then we'll head east instead. And I think we'll leave a little present for him at his next destination."

Just before heading on her way, Annika turned back, pointed her wand at her own home and whispered a quiet spell. Then she and Simon moved on with great haste.

Meanwhile, JJ and Bernie, unaware of Annika's schemes, had just reached the top of the hill leading to the tree of the Wise Monkey of the North. Huffing and puffing from the strenuous climb, JJ turned to Bernie. "Now these wise monkeys, are they ... special? I mean, like royalty? Should I bow or something?"

Bernie shook his head. "Nah, they're just monkeys who know a lot. Come on!"

They reached the door in the hollow tree and JJ saw that it was carved with all sorts of intricate designs. They were somehow familiar, but he couldn't make out whether they were letters or figures. Then he realized they looked just like the strange characters on the front of the book he'd found in his library just yesterday. He couldn't believe how long ago that seemed.

"Are you ready?" he asked Bernie, taking a deep breath.

"For anything!" Bernie pushed the door open and JJ followed him in.

Inside, the space seemed much bigger than the tree looked from the outside. It was a cavernous space, with the same intricate carvings all over the walls. JJ was so taken in with the carvings that he barely noticed the throne-like seat in the middle of the room. Bernie nudged him and pushed him toward the throne.

The throne was enormous, suitable for a lion or a rhinoceros. Instead, perched on top of the biggest red velvet cushion JJ had ever seen, sat a very old, very small monkey.

"I thought you said they weren't royalty," JJ whispered.

"They're not. They just like to be comfortable."

The monkey didn't seem to notice anyone had entered the tree. It sat cross-legged, with its eyes closed. JJ cleared his throat. The monkey opened one eye.

"Excuse me, Oh Wise Monkey."

The monkey opened the other eye, but said nothing.

"Uh, pardon the interruption, but my name is JJ. I come from ... a land far away. This is Bernie. He's from here."

Bernie waved.

The monkey closed his eyes again.

"Wait! We need your help. That is, we need your wisdom. We are seeking the location of the amulet."

The monkey spoke without opening his eyes. "Many come seeking the location of the amulet. Why should I help you?"

JJ looked at Bernie, who shrugged. "We were sent by Devlin the Wizard," JJ began, but before he could continue both the monkey's eyes were wide open.

"Devlin the Great?"

"I guess?"

"Do not guess. Always be certain. Devlin is a great, great wizard. Best there ever was, I say. Pity what happened to him. If Devlin sent you, I shall not make this too difficult. You answer me one riddle, a simple riddle, and I give you your clue."

"Okay," JJ said, his stomach rumbling a little. The last time he'd answered a riddle, he had fallen through time into a whole other world. For a moment, he wasn't sure if he wanted to get it right.

"You are ready?" the monkey asked, making sure he had their full attention.

JJ and Bernie nodded.

"The more you take, the more you leave behind," the monkey pronounced sagely.

"What's he talking about?" Bernie whispered. "I thought he was going to give us a riddle."

The monkey glared at Bernie and spoke again, with even more feeling. "The more you take, the more you leave behind."

"I think that IS the riddle," JJ said.

"And I think you are the brains of this operation," the Wise Monkey of the North said. Bernie scowled.

"Ignore him," JJ said. "And help me. The more you take ..."

"Cookies?" Bernie suggested.

JJ shook his head. "No, because you don't leave cookies behind when you take them, only crumbs. Plus, you only said that because you're hungry. Let's look at it from the other end. What do you leave behind?"

"Friends? Memories? Fingerprints?"

JJ thought. "Fingerprints ... You don't take fingerprints ... but you take footsteps! The more footsteps you take, the more you leave behind! That's it!"

"Indeed." The Wise Monkey nodded and looked at Bernie approvingly. "Bears are usually beasts of brute force, but fingerprints is actually a rather good guess. You'll forgive my assumptions."

"Bernie is a different kind of bear," JJ said.

"I can see that. And you must be one remarkable dog, for Devlin the Great to have entrusted this mission to you. Are you a powerful wizard in the land you come from?"

"Not exactly." JJ grinned, imagining for a moment casting a spell to instantly rid his yard of gophers.

"Well, the Wise Monkey of North never goes back on a promise. You have answered my riddle, and answered it well. For that, you are entitled to my piece of the puzzle."

"The puzzle?"

"You didn't think it would be that easy, did you? That you'd answer one riddle and I'd hand you the clue to such a powerful amulet? Ah no, my canine friend. First you must also visit the Wise Monkey of the East and the Wise Monkey of the West."

"What about the Wise Monkey of the South?" JJ asked.

"He's retired. But my other monkey brethren will likely give you similar riddles to solve. Once you've got all three of the pieces of our puzzle, you will have the location of the amulet."

With that, the Wise Monkey of the North handed JJ a small, oddly shaped piece of paper that looked like it might be part of a map.

"I wouldn't bother trying to decipher it now," he counseled. "You'll need the other pieces to make any sense of it."

JJ tucked the puzzle piece into his pack. "Thank you very much. It was an honor to meet you."

"You're not going, are you?" the Wise Monkey asked, hopping down from his high velvet perch. "That would be most unwise. And here I thought you were so intelligent."

JJ looked to Bernie, who shrugged again.

The Wise Monkey went on. "No, it's nearly dark outside. The nocturnal animals are almost all on Annika's side. It's up to you, really, but I think you would be much safer to stay here for the night. I will make you very comfortable, I assure you."

JJ considered the Wise Monkey's counsel. He knew Devlin was in a hurry to get his wand back. But if all the riddles were going to be that simple, they would have the location of the amulet in no time. Perhaps it was best to stay on the safe side and avoid traveling through an unfamiliar land in the pitch black of night.

The Wise Monkey of the North was delighted when JJ and Bernie agreed to stay the night. He immediately began bustling about the cavernous hollow tree, putting together a feast to rival anything JJ had ever seen on the grandest holidays in his world.

"Eat, eat!" the Wise Monkey encouraged. "I don't get a lot of company, you see. Few can answer my riddles, and most leave bitter and disappointed. Being a wise monkey is really something of a burden."

JJ nodded, chewing. He could see how it would get lonely to spend your life inside a hollow tree, waiting for those who wanted nothing but answers when they arrived at your door. The monkey was a delightful host, and regaled them with stories until very late in the night.

Finally, JJ had to insist they turn in for the night. They were exhausted from their first day's journey, and who knew what tomorrow would hold? But he was also secretly relieved. Getting the first part of the amulet location had turned out to be rather simple, all things considered. Crossing the river had been the only tricky part, and even that had been pretty fun.

The wise monkey's accommodations were more luxurious than what Devlin had offered. JJ laid down on a voluminous pile of cushions like the one atop the Monkey's regal chair and almost instantly fell asleep. Bernie did the same.

Morning came too soon, and JJ was startled awake by the wise monkey tapping him on the shoulder. "It's morning, my canine friend," he said. "Best be on your way."

JJ sat up and stretched. The previous day's journey had already taken a toll and he was a bit sore from the long walk. But the Wise Monkey was right. They had best be on their way. JJ woke Bernie, and the two headed for the door.

"Before you go," the Wise Monkey said, "you should know I am required to give the same clue I gave you to anyone else who comes asking. If they answer the riddle correctly, of course."

JJ nodded. "Thank you very much. You've been a wonderful host."

But by then, the Wise Monkey of the North had already scrambled up to his perch atop the red cushion and was sitting serenely with his eyes closed.

"Goodbye," JJ whispered, and he and Bernie stepped out into the bright sunlight. JJ spread Devlin's map out on the ground. "So he said we have to visit the Wise Monkeys of the East and West, right?" He examined the eastern side of the map until he found another drawing of a tree with a small monkey alongside it. "I suppose that's our next destination!"

Bernie nodded. He, like JJ, felt the first day of their journey had gone extraordinarily well. But unlike JJ, that did not give him confidence for the rest of the quest. Instead, Bernie felt they were due for some terrible danger at any moment.

Danger did not appear to be waiting for them along the beautiful trails they hiked, heading toward the east. It was a beautiful day and JJ marveled over every little thing he saw. He waved happily to birds and bugs as they flitted by, and he felt more outgoing than ever before. He hummed a little tune. He literally stopped to smell the flowers.

"We must be getting close, aren't we?" JJ asked as the sun rose high in the sky.

"I should think so. According to the map, the next wise monkey's tree should be just over the ridge."

"No surprise rivers?"

Bernie checked the map again. "Nope, no surprises at all."

And Bernie was not entirely wrong. Because surprise was not at all the word to describe what he and JJ actually felt when they reached the summit of the ridge. Down the hill from where they stood, an enormous, fire-breathing dragon lay, blocking the entrance to the next wise monkey's tree.

- End of Chapter Three -