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 Seven

JJ and Bernie began walking slowly backward, their eyes never leaving the giant scorpion. The enormous insect watched them steadily, its pinchers opening and closing while its tail quivered in the air only a few feet from their faces.

"Do scorpions react to sudden movement?" Bernie whispered, fighting off the strong desire to run for his life.

"I have no idea. I don't think we should risk it. Besides, the amulet's got to be behind him."

"How do you know?"

"Because why else is he there, if not to guard something extremely valuable?"

"But we're no match for a giant scorpion," Bernie protested. "We've used up all your papers, so there's no way to send a message to Devlin."

"Bernie, Annika is still out there! She might have even gotten out of the quicksand by now! We have to find a way." JJ could see that Bernie was scared out of his wits. "All right, look, you stay here, and I'll get the amulet. You can ... distract Annika if she comes along."

"You don't think she'll be distracted by the enormous scorpion?"

"Very funny. If anything happens, let Devlin know I tried my best."

"What am I supposed to do if Annika comes?" Bernie asked.

"I have no idea! You'll think of something."

JJ also had no idea how he was going to get past a giant scorpion, but he hoped something would come to him, and soon. He watched Bernie amble down the passageway toward the entrance, and then JJ turned to face the scorpion. Within a minute, he was back within the scorpion's reach.

"I come in peace," JJ whispered, not wanting to alarm it. The scorpion regarded him steadily. "I can answer riddles, if you have one."

The scorpion's tale quivered more vigorously, as though it was getting ready to strike.

"Wait, please. I've come for the amulet. I work for Devlin the Great."

At the mention of Devlin's name, the scorpion's eyes flashed and its tail shot forward, heading toward JJ. JJ barely dodged the scorpion's tail, flattening himself against the wall of the passageway.

The scorpion, infuriated at having missed his target, lashed out again, missing JJ in his rash anger. Instead, the scorpion struck the wall of the passageway. The wall of the passageway crumbled from the force of the tail's strike, and rocks and debris fell down all around JJ.

Bernie, hearing the commotion, rushed back toward JJ and the scorpion. Bernie had his wand drawn and was casting spells with all his might. But the scorpion seemed invincible to whatever Bernie tried.

The great insect did, however, soon realize Bernie was the bigger threat, and turned his fury on the bear. Two enormous pinchers crashed open and closed, getting closer to Bernie every second.

JJ fumbled in his pockets and pulled out a handful of acorns, throwing them at the scorpion. "Bernie!" he screamed. "Make them bigger! Like the dragon!"

Bernie understood. With the next handful, Bernie cast a spell at the acorns. Right before JJ's eyes, the acorns became enormous boulders that conked the scorpion on the side of the head. The enormous tail slumped and the entire creature collapsed to the ground.

JJ turned to see Bernie standing, wand outstretched, with an enormous grin plastered across his face.

"Nice job," JJ said.

"Nice job, yourself. Good thinking with the acorns."

"Yeah, I grabbed those a while ago. After you used them on the dragon, I thought they might come in handy down the road. Do you think it's dead?"

"Nope, looks like he's still breathing. I think we just knocked it out. We ought to have plenty of time to grab the amulet and get out of here."

And run into Annika, JJ thought. But he needed to focus on one thing at a time.

"Okay, why don't you stay here and keep your wand ready, just in case." JJ pulled a few more acorns from his pockets and handed them to Bernie. "These might come in handy, too. I'll be as quick as I can."

JJ climbed gingerly over the scorpion's body, very carefully avoiding the tail. On the other side of the scorpion, an amulet was hanging, plain as day, on a piece of rock jutting out of the wall. "I hope you're worth all this," JJ muttered as he grabbed the amulet and stuffed it into his pocket.

Once he found Bernie, the two ran back the way they had come. JJ kept his hand in his pocket, making sure not to lose the amulet at any step. They quickly reached the spot below the cave where they had fallen in.

"What now?" JJ asked. There had been so much going on that he hadn't considered how on earth they would get back up the long chute to the cave. Getting down had been so easy, if a little painful.

Bernie didn't know any flying charms. "Too bad trap doors don't work in reverse," he said, poking around the walls in jest.

But Bernie's jest was just the thing they needed. With a sudden swoosh, Bernie and JJ were sucked upwards. They shot all the way up the shoot, propelled by whatever magic had sent them down in the first place.

Their landing at the top was not nearly as painful as their landing on the bottom. It had been a marvelous ride, really. JJ thought he might like to do it again, if there weren't giant scorpions and evil witches to consider.

The witch! Where was she now?

JJ didn't have to wonder about Annika's whereabouts for long, because the next moment he heard her awful voice as clearly as if she was standing right outside the cave. Which, as it turned out, she was.

"Finally, Simon! Why on earth did it take you so long to free me from that horrid muck? Ugh! Clean off my wand and we're going in. If that horrible little dog beat us here, I'm holding you responsible."

Annika was freed from the quicksand and would soon be inside the cave, with her wand in hand. JJ's mind raced. He was out of options. He was out of options! That was what the wise monkey had said when he'd given him that old sock.

JJ scrambled through his pack, searching for the sock. Bernie looked frozen with fear. "Come on," JJ said, taking Bernie's arm. Let's go."

Peering around the doorway of the cave, JJ could see Annika, but she had not yet seen him. Her wand was lifted, casting the spell that made a bridge for her own safe passage across the quicksand. JJ took a deep breath and threw the sock out into the clearing, praying that it landed on the other side of the quicksand.

What he saw next was the most shocking thing that had happened so far. Where the sock landed, JJ appeared, in full view of Annika. Except it wasn't JJ, exactly. The real JJ was still standing in the cave's entrance, gripping Bernie's arm, watching the whole spectacle with wide eyes.

"Your highnesssss," Simon hissed. "That's the dog!"

"You filthy creature!" Annika screeched, seeing the image of JJ before her.

The image of JJ reached into its pocket and pulled out the amulet, dangling it in front of Annika. Annika howled.

The real JJ reached into his pocket, making sure the amulet was still there. It was.

"Come on," JJ said, pulling Bernie with him out onto Annika's bridge. Annika's back was to them, howling at the image of JJ. Now was their chance to dash around the cave and out of sight.

The image of JJ turned and ran the opposite direction and Annika set out after it, wand raised. Simon followed his mistress at top speed through the grass. Just before they'd rounded the cave, JJ looked back one more time. Annika sent a spell at the image of JJ, but when the spell hit the dog-like image, the dog turned instantly back into a sock, looking quite a bit worse for wear.

Annika's rage filled the entire forest as JJ and Bernie ducked into the safety of the trees. "Where did you get that thing?" Bernie asked, panting, as soon as they were sure they were out of Annika's range.

"The sock? From one of the wise monkeys. He said to use it when we were out of options. I had no idea what it would do, though. Pretty neat."

JJ and Bernie caught their breath. "So what now?" JJ asked. "We have the amulet. But we still need Devlin's wand. Do you think she has it with her?"

"It wasn't the one she was using, because that was red. Devlin's is blue. Anyway, we can't exactly walk up and ask her. I say we take the opportunity to head to her lair and search. Maybe she left it there for safekeeping."

JJ nodded and spread out the large map of the entire area. He easily found the three trees of the wise monkeys, as well as the cave they had just come out of. "Do you know where her lair is?" he asked Bernie.

Bernie nodded. "It's not actually too far from Devlin's. The foxes have always lived in close proximity, no matter how much they fought. When he got injured, I tried to encourage Devlin to hide further away, but he wouldn't." Bernie pointed to a spot on the map. "There."

Mercifully, it wasn't too far away. "Let's get going," JJ said, and the two set off in the direction of Annika's lair. They hoped it would take Annika some time to find her way down the chute inside the cave, and even more time to realize the amulet was already gone. If they were really lucky, the scorpion would have gotten its bearings and given Annika a struggle, too.

JJ was hungry, thirsty, and sore in every muscle of his body. He felt like if he stopped for a minute he might sleep for a week. But there was no stopping. The thought of Annika hot on their trail kept both JJ and Bernie pushing through the exhaustion.

"Not much farther now," Bernie puffed. "It should be just around this corner."

JJ's relief was short-lived. When they came around the corner, they saw nothing that resembled a fox's lair. "Guess not," JJ said, and kept walking.

"No, wait." Bernie consulted this map. "This is it!"

"What do you mean this is it? This is just a field surrounded by trees."

"Look at the map. There ought to be a cave right here."

"But there's not. Maybe she moved?"

"And moved the entire cave with her? Besides, her family has occupied this lair for centuries. If she had moved, the whole forest would be talking about it."

"Well, what do you suggest? We can't just stand here in the middle of a field."

Bernie threw his paws up in the air. "I don't know! But I know this spot, right here, is exactly where Annika lives." Bernie suddenly brightened. "Maybe it's hidden!"

Bernie started poking the ground all over with his wand.

"We better not fall down another chute," JJ muttered, as he followed Bernie's lead and started poking the ground.

"Nah, Annika wouldn't do something as obvious as a trapdoor. That's not even magic; it's just mechanics. She'd use much more interesting magic. She'd try something really outlandish. Do you know what? She might even be crazy enough to try something like an obstruction charm on her own family home."

"What's an obstruction charm?"

"Oh, it's very dangerous. It makes things disappear."

"So they're invisible?" JJ didn't see how that would be too dangerous.

"No, if something's invisible you can't see it, but it's still there. With an obstruction charm, the thing goes away entirely. It stops ... existing. Devlin would never do one. He says we can't mess with the laws of the universe like that."

"Is there any way to undo an obstruction charm?"

Bernie's eyes widened. "Are you serious? I mean, Devlin maybe could, but I'm just an apprentice."

"Bernie, enough of this! You already defeated a dragon and a giant scorpion today. You're obviously quite a good magician, or sorcerer, or whatever it is you call yourself. If you have any ideas, let's try them before Annika comes around that corner!"

Bernie gulped. "All right, but only if you tell Devlin we had no other choices."

JJ smiled to think that Bernie still worried so much about what Devlin thought, after all the magic he had already pulled off so far. "Agreed."

"And one more thing. You go stand way over there, in the shelter of those trees. If this backfires, I don't want anything happening to you."

"What could go wrong? Either it works or it doesn't, right?"

"JJ, remember that fireball that nearly hit you in the face?"

Without another word, JJ turned and headed for the trees. He found a spot well into the woods where he could still see Bernie standing in the open field. He watched as Bernie muttered something under his breath, then held up his wand and slashed it through the air.

Nothing happened.

Bernie muttered something else, held his wand up and slashed it through the air again.

Still, nothing happened.

Bernie looked disgusted with himself, or his wand, or both. He turned toward JJ and gave a half-hearted shrug.

"One more time!" JJ called from the trees. "Just try one more time. Please?"

Encouraged by JJ, Bernie muttered something else, slashed his wand through the air, and waited. When nothing happened, Bernie sank to his knees, about to burst into tears.

But what looked like nothing happening to Bernie looked very different to JJ, standing a good distance away. JJ blinked his eyes and looked again. There seemed to be some sort of haze surrounding Bernie.

"Bernie!" JJ called out, but Bernie wasn't looking up and didn't hear JJ calling. JJ could still see Bernie, but the haziness was getting thicker, making it harder and harder to see him.

Then, no matter how hard JJ looked, he couldn't find Bernie at all. The haze was like a solid wall of stone. The haze WAS a solid wall of stone!

"Bernie!" JJ yelled and ran forward. Bernie had clearly brought the cave back, but in doing so, had he been crushed completely? "Bernie!"

JJ dashed into the cave without considering the possible dangers inside, and was relieved to find Bernie sitting on the floor.

Bernie still had his head down, disappointed by his inability to reverse the obstruction charm. He'd known before he started what a difficult spell it was, but his magic had been so successful thus far. He had started to feel like he could pull off just about anything.

"Bernie, you did it! Look around!"

Bernie sniffled and looked up. It took him a minute to realize he was now sitting inside a cave, instead of an open field.

"I did it?"

"You did it!" JJ looked around.

There was no question this was Annika's lair. The walls were covered with the same odd marks that covered the walls of the wise monkey's trees. But these marks seemed much more sinister.

In one corner stood a small table covered with a heavy velvet cloth. Arranged on top were crystals of different shapes and sizes. One of them looked like it had been smashed to pieces in a fit of rage.

The opposite corner of the room was filled with tall stacks of books, covered in dust and cobwebs. JJ picked one of them up and leafed through. He could not understand the words, but the moment he picked the book up, he began to feel a chill that started in the very center of his heart. He put it down abruptly.

"Where do you think it is?" JJ asked.

Bernie jumped. "What?" The thrill of reversing the obstruction charm hadn't lasted long.

"The wand. Devlin's wand. Where do you think she might hide it?"

"I don't know. Why don't you keep looking around in here? I'll go look outside. If Annika used an obstruction charm, she was obviously worried about someone poking around. She might have hidden it in the forest somewhere, or buried it underneath a rock or something."

"With all the magic she knows, do you really think she would have buried it under a rock?"

Bernie shrugged. "You never can tell. Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one."

"Okay, but maybe I should go with you," JJ said. "I mean, maybe we should stick together. Two brains are always better than one."

A couple days ago, Bernie would have thought JJ wanted to keep an eye on him and make sure he didn't do something foolish. But by now he understood that JJ truly meant what he said. He wanted to stick together since they were true partners in this journey. Still, Bernie knew it wasn't the wisest choice.

"I think, actually, it might be better to split up at this point. We're really short on time and in awfully dangerous territory. If something should happen to one of us, the other would still be able to carry on."

JJ nodded. Bernie was right. Still, JJ wished he knew how to use a magic wand, too. "Okay, I guess. I'll keep looking here."

Bernie headed out and JJ looked around the depressing lair. Of course Annika wouldn't have left the wand in plain sight, but they had done so well up to this point. JJ had hoped they could find the wand without encountering Annika herself.

That was not to be. The knot in JJ's stomach returned as he soon heard a familiar screech outside. "My lair is back! What happened to the obstruction charm?"

Wildly, JJ looked around. Between the back wall of the lair and the tall stacks of books, there was a gap with just enough space to hide. JJ squeezed himself in between the books and the wall and cowered, hoping his heart wasn't pounding so loud it would give him away.

Annika burst into the lair in a white-hot rage, Simon slithering behind her...

"Incredible! Unbelievable! Outrageous!" JJ winced as something smashed against the wall close to the stacks of books. Annika continued her tirade. "It isn't enough that that dog reached the amulet first, and then left me to deal with a vicious scorpion, but now I have to come here and find my obstruction charm has been undone as well?!"

The amulet. JJ reached into his pocket to make sure it was still safe. The metal felt cool against his hot paw. The amulet was there, but JJ was concerned it might slip out of his pocket at any moment. He had lost his lunch money from that very pocket just the week before.

Moving slowly and carefully, so as not to make a sound, JJ pulled the amulet out of his pocket and carefully slipped the chain around his neck. It would be safer there.

"Who could undo an obstruction charm?" Annika went on. Simon remained silent, knowing Annika was not really asking for his perspective on these matters. "Only Devlin! Devlin is the only sorcerer with the skills for that kind of magic! But I took care of Devlin. I know I did. When I find out who did it..."

JJ didn't want to find out the rest of that sentence. He hoped Bernie was safe outside. He wished again that he had a wand of his own and knew how to use it. Fingering the amulet, he tried to keep his heart from pounding out of his chest.

"I have to find them!" Annika screeched. She hurried to her crystals and cast several spells into them, but they gave Annika no answers. "This makes no sense!"

Simon slithered over to the crystals. "What is it, Your Highnesssss?"

"I ought to be able to see the dog's location, and all I see is a reflection of this room! I will not be outwitted by a dog!"

Finally, Simon spoke. "He was accompanied by a bear."

Annika let out an outraged scream. "I will not be outwitted by a bear, either! They've got the amulet and they're on their way back to Devlin now, if I'm not mistaken."

"But Devlin does not have his wand," Simon pointed out. "And without his wand, the amulet will be uselessssssss."

For the first time, Annika calmed. "That is correct. Devlin does not have his wand." She reached deep into her robes and pulled out a cool, blue wand, which contrasted sharply with her fiery red one. "Devlin's wand. How I'd love to smash it to bits. But there will be time for that later."

Annika slipped Devlin's wand back inside her robes. JJ was at once relieved to know where the wand was, and dismayed to know it was out of reach. How would he ever get it from Annika's pocket?

"I know! I must have remembered the spell wrong. Simon, where is my spell book?"

Simon headed toward the stacks of books, but Annika brushed past him.

"I'll do that."

JJ trembled violently as Annika waved her wand in front of the stacks of books. The worst was happening. Before his eyes, the stack that was hiding him from view was moved to one side and Annika stood staring directly at him.

What happened next was beyond JJ's comprehension.

"I will find that dog," Annika muttered, and started flipping through a book while standing immediately in front of JJ.

For whatever reason, she hadn't noticed him. At all!

JJ was baffled, but decided to inch carefully along the wall of the lair until he was out of her grasp. He watched Simon, and the serpent didn't seem to notice him either. JJ kept his hand on the amulet and kept inching. He passed a smudged mirror on the wall and almost couldn't look at his own terrified face. When he did look, he saw nothing.

There was no reflection of JJ in the mirror. It was as if he wasn't standing right there in the middle of an evil witch's lair. JJ fingered the amulet again and realized: the amulet. It must have made him invisible!

JJ was considering how to use his newly discovered invisibility to his advantage when he saw a clearly visible Bernie peek around the doorway of the cave. JJ motioned wildly, trying to keep Bernie out of the lair. Whatever was going to happen, JJ would handle it himself. Devlin had picked him, and he didn't want anything happening to Bernie.

But of course Bernie couldn't see JJ, either.

Annika had her back to Bernie as she flipped through the spell book. Nearby, Simon was hovering near Annika, waiting to do her bidding. He did not see Bernie either.

JJ wished with all his might that Bernie would stay outside the lair. But wishing was not enough, for JJ watched in dismay as Bernie stepped into the cave with his wand drawn and ducked behind a table. For all the courage and skill Bernie had shown so far, JJ had no idea how well he would fare when matched against a witch of Annika's skill.

- End of Chapter Seven -