Which is about the place two friends find, and the difficult stranger they encounter

And so the pair were southbound to the secluded kingdom of Odoken, where hooded people speak in low mumbles and dimly lit houses are stacked upon themselves like makeshift towers. Could Rory’s parents have simply flown them in, the way they had when he was a child being sent to school on the other side of the country? Of course they could have; but this was his and Yona’s adventure, and if the mundanities of travel proved too much for them, they might as well have turned tail and forfeited the whole thing while they still could.

Yona and Rory found that they greatly enjoyed their little trek to Majonia’s “neighbor to the south,” finding it a rather welcome excuse to see the sights, as well as catch up with each other over lost time. While Yona had taken to performing magical feats wherever folks gathered to earn money in support of Hearts and Diamonds, Rory was as financially secure as a fellow could ever hope to be, and he detested it. What began in childhood as ambivalence toward his family’s luxurious lifestyle had grown to open resentment, as he found himself denying their relation when questioned in public about “those amazing parents of yours.” This, as Yona had known, was the reason for his rather shabby clothes in their school days, as he’d taken to sewing in defiance of the readymade, identical silken robes his family’s servants had freshly prepared for him every morning. Rory’s rebellious quest for individuality had evolved in present-day to selling his homemade trinkets—a profession Yona found herself ardently supportive of, though he had struggled to receive much interest in the goods.

“Doesn’t matter much to me if they sell, though—it’s not the money I want. I’m trying to prove to my ma an’ pa that I don’t need them doing everything for me. Also, it’s boring when they do everything for me! Imagine if they didn’t have all those servants lined up to give them everything they want every day. No turkey dinners, no wiggly gelatin on silver plates. Then what would they do?”

“You said it!” Yona said, nodding vigorously. She rather enjoyed this dishy insight into the wealthy world. “How’s a guy supposed to do anything for himself if he’s never allowed to try?”

As they were walking, Yona’s foot kicked a stray pebble down a cliff’s edge she was unaware was there, and, pushing past the shrubbery, the two stopped short to take in the sight of Odoken before them, against the bejeweled backdrop of a luminous purple sky. Though no difference would have been made to them, as it was nighttime when they reached the kingdom, Odoken was sometimes referred to as the “place of perpetual twilight,” where even mornings are pink and dusky, and both moons of Eltrya are permanently hanging overhead as if in a diorama. Yona and Rory had seen pictures, but those betrayed the bewitching beauty of the real thing. The persistent chill in the air danced an eerie dance, drawing the pair in deeper.

Rory whistled. “Well, we crossed the border. The place you’re thinking’s not far from here, right?”

Yona, enraptured, nearly forgot to respond. “Right. Glass Grotto…remember, Glick said it was one of his favorite places in the whole world. If it’s anything like the rest of Odoken, I can see why.”

“In all your time doing that layer traveling or zone traveling or whatever it is, you never ended up here, eh?”

“Nope, not once. I would remember a place like this.”

The two eased themselves down the cliffside and into a quaint village area, where the homes were neat and compact and indeed stacked like boxes one over the other, and the people—known as Odols—were as beguilingly shy as the rumors told. They passed each other on the street in relative silence, seeming disinterested or perhaps even disturbed by anything other than the task at hand. Even the children playing outside preferred to do so under a calculated veil of calm and structure. This was another area in which Yona’s upbringing in the orphanage helped, as some of the children there had been Odols; she understood that their quiet mannerisms, reserved conversation, and elusive eye contact were not signs of impertinence, but merely a facet of their species and culture.

She approached one, prepared to do her best. “Ahem. Could you tell me which way to Glass Grotto?” she inquired, perhaps too cautiously—they spoke the same language, after all.

"Um…there,” the Odol responded slowly, pointing a cloaked finger toward a winding pathway out of the village. “Close.”

“Just out of town? Thank you,” Yona said while also avoiding eye contact, and went about her merry way. “C’mon, Rory, I think it’s even closer than we realized.”

“They didn’t seem too confident about directions,” Rory said with a raised eyebrow. “I don’t want to be rude, but there’s something kind of…creepy about these people.”

Rory! Come on…don’t talk about them like they can’t hear you,” Yona said, surprisingly indignant on behalf of someone other than herself. “Don’t you remember how much you hated it when kids in class did that to you?

Rory’s demeanor changed at once, his yellow face stained with shame. “You’re right, that was crummy of me. I guess I’ve just never met one, and they’re so different from Manyas. I don’t remember any attending our school. And you know, for ‘the only and best prankster around’, you’re pretty respectful, you know that?”

Yona’s fur changed to pink and stayed that way for the remainder of the evening.

* * *

Commonly the word grotto would describe a small cave, but Glass Grotto was anything but: as Yona and Rory approached the mouth of the place, looking fittingly eager to devour them both, their shouts were absorbed into the darkness, swallowed up by whatever creatures were surely lurking within. Rory shivered.

Fortunately, Yona had the sense to bring a lantern. Lighting it with her fingertip, the pair discovered that, inaccurate as the Grotto part of the name may have been, the Glass certainly was not: crystalline walls lined their path, distorting and illuminating, warping the black cavern walls into something of a labyrinthine funhouse mirror. They found short-lived amusement in pulling faces at their reflections in the crystals—an amusement which soon fizzled out once they became achingly aware of just how colossal the scope of the cave was. Even sparkling stones lose their luster three hours into such a fruitless excursion.

Yona and Rory had upturned every stone they came upon, clawed at every slab of soft ground they tread on; but no wind-up dolls or clues of any kind were to be found. With a weary sigh, Yona was about to voice her resignation and premature desire to turn back, when abruptly she was knee-deep in a bubbling body of water that chilled her to the bone.

“The heck’s this?” she complained, preparing to climb out but finding herself sinking deeper instead. Panic overtook her. “Rory, help!

Her traveling companion rushed to her side at once and pulled her out by both paws, frazzled by the sudden air of excitement after ponderous hours of silence. “Are you alright? Geez, that was close. What is this—a pool in a cave?”

The pair raised the lantern and adjusted their eyes, casting their gazes at the sight before them, half-expecting to see something dreadful in the water. It gurgled calmly, as small waterfalls draped themselves over the slopes of stones, and not a soul was stirring. The glass crystals hanging overhead cast pearlescent beams of white light on the water’s surface, streaked along it like polish on palace tile. “It’s some kind of reservoir. Huh, who’d have thought a body of water this big was so deep inside the cave? And not just that, but…a ship?”

Indeed—a wooden ship was drifting across the water, imposing and ornate, and Yona immediately became thrilled at the prospect that they may have found not only one of Glick’s hiding places, but also pirates!

She clasped both paws together, and without another thought, hollered: “Yoo-hoo, Mr. Pirates! Over here! We’ve been wandering this place for hours—my feet are killing me! Could you give us a ride?”

Rory had half a mind to slap his paw over her mouth. “Yona, what’re you thinking? We don’t know who’s on that ship! They could want your head on a silver platter for all we know, or cut off my ears and brew them into a yucky elixir, or…”

“Relax, Whiskers. I’ve got my magic in case things go sideways, remember? It couldn’t hurt to hear from someone who actually knows how to navigate this place.”

“First, you don’t know much magic besides card tricks and floating small objects. And second…”

From atop the approaching vessel stood a Manya woman with a lavishly long mane, a feathered beret, and an outfit Yona gleaned must have indicated she was some sort of bounty hunter, or treasure fanatic. She bellowed,

“On briny seas did sail
Fair maiden with grand mane and tail
And starlit eyes that twinkled in
Bedraggled darkness, a land of Sin.
But ‘neath that beauty, that veil of calm,
She sought the Truth—and wandered long
Into that darkness, beyond destitution,
Knowing she’d soon
Reach restitution!”

Both Yona and Rory stood motionless as the flamboyant stranger cast an anchor and, in a colorful display worthy of the most lauded magicians, made a stylish landing beside them—and not a single hair on her silky mane out of place!

“Who goes there?” she boomed, pointing a particularly sharp-clawed finger toward the pair of them.

“Whoa now, easy,” said Yona reflexively. “We don’t want any trouble, ma’am. He’s Rory, I’m Yona. Just a couple of sweet kids looking to find one of Glick’s scattered dolls. You, uh, wouldn’t be here for the same purpose, would you?”

The woman grimaced, but not without a glint of self-assuredness darting across her catlike eyes. Yona trembled the same way the worst of her schoolmasters once made her tremble—but whether this stranger came chasing her with a ruler or a sword, she had a spell Pamela once taught her at the forefront of her memory, ready to say the magic words at the first sign of danger.

“The name is Kalua, and I don’t expect commoners like your kind to commit it to memory any time soon. Now tell me: just who told you Glick’s doll was here?”

Yona spared Rory a quick glance and quickly regretted doing so, as his impish quivering and knotted whiskers made her bite her cheek to prevent a smile from spreading across her face.

“Well? Answer me!

“No one told anyone anything, Miss. It was my own idea to come here. How long have you been a fan of Glick’s, anyway?” she said with unexpected bravado, placing her paws on her hips in a show of imagined confidence.

“What are you doing?” Rory whispered anxiously into her ear.

“Ah, so the little brat challenges me,” Kalua huffed. “Very well then! Which planet was Glick born on?”

“Levia, planet of poverty.”

“What’s his favorite food?”

“He doesn’t like eating—but a rare steak will do.”

“At what age did he develop his magic?”

“In early interviews he claimed it was at two weeks, but in the nineties he changed his tune and said he was four years old.”

“When was his great magic duel with Duskell, intergalactically acclaimed sorceress?”

“November the 15th, 1985. A Friday. It premiered on channel nine at six thirty PM, just in time for most kids getting home from school. Drew in a viewership of roughly three million. Even with what an unforgettable event it was, the show has never been rebroadcast or released on video. The battle ended in a tie and a handshake. And yes, I taped it, and won’t be sharing.”

Kalua then displayed a rather shameful fit of flustered defeat, stomping her high-heeled boots in place and emitting a shrill whine not unlike a tea kettle. “Fine, fine, you’re more than the common admirer I took you for. But it doesn’t change the fact that the doll is mine. I did not sail all the way into this dingy, godless hole only to turn up empty-handed. Lord only knows why this…awful place was one of Wizard Glick’s favorite vacation spots. But I can’t let you take the glory for yourselves; I simply cannot. I alone am Glick’s chosen successor!”

“Lady, will you cut the theatrics? Look, all of us have been stuck inside this cave for way longer than we bargained for. We ran out of snacks hours ago, believe me. At this point, don’t you think it’d be more productive to…I dunno, collaborate? We’ve got way better chances of finding the thing if we do. We could use your ship, and…”

“The answer is absolutely not,” Kalua protested, unmoved. “The Crystella is my precious companion, my only friend in this vile world—I don’t trust you not to burn it to ashes, or loot my treasures, or…”

“How about a deal? No tomfoolery from me or Rory—he doesn’t have magic, anyway. In exchange for letting us use the ship, I’ll use my powers to help navigate, and vanquish any dangerous monsters we come across. You seem a little lacking in the magic department, if I’m sensing right, so it’s a pretty fair trade to offer up my services. Whaddya say, fair maiden?

A betraying blush began to spread across Kalua’s face, discomfortingly unsure whether it was due to the younger Manya’s possible mockery, or the fact that no man had ever possessed the gusto to address her in such a flattering way as she secretly desired, and here it was coming from an impish little girl in jester garb; but No matter, she thought as she shook her head, disarmed by the image of monsters lurking in the murky darkness. “Perhaps I could…give it some thought. What are your credentials?”

“Street magic,” chuckled Yona reluctantly. “I, uh, do a bit of performing, at parties and the like. I’m really good at making stuff float…I’ve even levitated people on my good days.”

“She made a few jelly bars disappear in the first ten seconds we’d been here,” Rory added.

Kalua, in the absence of less clownish alternatives, permitted Yona to steer, and not much besides.

* * *

With Yona at the Crystella’s helm, Kalua as its much-needed co-pilot and Rory attempting to quell his newly-discovered seasickness, the trio—with their generous share of aggressive starts and stops—eventually found themselves gliding through the gloomy cavern, feeling a little dampness on their noses from the waterfall mist as they ventured deeper into Glass Grotto’s gaping depths.

“Whereabout did you sail into this place, anyway?” Yona said, breaking a lull of particularly dense silence. “I didn’t even know about any entrances other than the one we came in through, near that Odol village.”

“A village, you say? Ha! I can see that any sense of direction clearly eludes you. The seas are the best way to travel bar none. The Crystella and I sailed the Novas Ocean until we came upon a current just south of the Rido peninsula that soon lured us in. Even with the rapid waters it’s been smooth sailing. A pity not everyone has a ship as beautiful as mine.”

The urge to fire back with an equivalent boastful remark arose in Yona, then subsided once she realized ignoring her vain companion’s words would be a far more incendiary response. Her theory was correct.

Initial tensions between the two were thankfully managing to subside, until, about two hours into the voyage, steering duties were traded off to Kalua and Yona made the grave mistake of trodding upon her tail, which may as well have been the catalyst for Eltrya’s first civil war with the gravity its offense bore to the seafarer: she rose up like a great ball of fire in her rage at this simple miscalculation, and the younger Manya was her brightly-painted target.

“Who—what—do you think gives you the right—to disgrace me in such a manner, that you would find it perfectly well and good to set your grimy little slipper on my tail, of all tails?” she huffed, like a dragon puffing smoke. “As if this day hasn’t been full of ugliness as is—I give you the honor of not only coming aboard, but steering my ship—my most beloved thing in the whole wretched world—and your way of showing thanks is by sassing me every chance you get and defiling my lovely tail. Well, Yona! Do you think I’ll stand for this?”

“It was a mistake, Lady, and you know it!” Yona barked back. “Look, I’m not exactly on your ship because I like it, okay? We both want the same thing here—Glick’s doll. I would’ve been perfectly content just nabbing the thing with Rory, but since you were after it all by yourself, I offered my help—that way we’d have an equal chance at it. But you’ve been nothing but a pampered little princess this whole time, and I’ve had enough of it.” She dropped her shoulders and lowered her ears, finding that her initial wave of anger had been satiated already. She breathed. “I mean, whoever gets the doll—we’re doing all this for Glick, right? Because he asked us, his fans, to do that for him. So he can have a successor. So his legacy will be passed on…Don’t you want to live up to that?”

Kalua’s eyes uncreased as she looked at Yona in earnest for the first time: a little boyish and unkempt, every bit as willful as herself, and as singleminded about the mission at hand as she always strives to be, she thought. We’d have been great sisters, she mused with a fleeting smirk. Not that her distress over having her luxurious tail, her quality she was most proud of, stepped on so casually by this rude little girl had exactly been quelled. As she opened her mouth to offer some words of atonement, Rory, whom had been trembling behind a crate of oranges during most of the pair’s quarrel, stepped forth to shout, “What is THAT?

Now, Yona had seen a dragon once before—no, I’m not referring to Kalua—long, long ago while lost at sea, coiling overhead on a misty summer’s day before disappearing into the clouds; but sometimes such dusty memories are conflated with imaginings, and vice versa. To the other two onboard, such a creature surely only existed in campfire stories. The beast, ice blue like the crystals that enshrouded it, was sleeping soundly atop a pile of glittering coins. And cuddled warmly to its belly there lie…

“The doll!” Yona cried, before getting hushed by a cautious Rory. She whispered, “The doll…right there in plain sight. It’s here after all! We’re not fools for trudging through this place for hours on end! Guess we’ve got pretty good judgment, huh?”

Kalua nodded. She gazed at the beast in trepidatious admiration. There was something about the sight of a dragon that commanded their awe and distaste in equal measure, as it remained shamelessly nestled upon its worldly riches. Spires of light seemed to drag long fingers over the beast’s scales, which looked as thin as spangles but were in reality hard as marble. A wave of unease came over the group.

“Yona, you said you would slay any monsters—right? But what if the monster is so terribly pretty—and wealthy? Should we really disturb such a thing?”

“Now’s not the time to think about how pretty the dragon is,” Yona said reproachfully. “Um, to be honest I’m not really into killing anything—I haven’t had to do it. Well, besides those invasive gnats that flew to West Majonia last summer. But really, I don’t even know anything about dragons. What if they’re predatory to our species?”

“We never learned about ‘em in school,” Rory said with a shudder. “And you know how much Mr. Kivel rattled on. So if they haven’t been documented…”

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Kalua said, prodding at Yona’s back in an unsubtle gesture. Her cheeky grin said more than words ever would have benefited from, and so Yona summoned all of her pluck and disembarked from the wooden ship to the islet below: the dragon’s domain.

Poor little Daniel in the Lion’s Den was she, wobbling unsteadily on feet that seemed to have had their circulation cut; she searched for a signal coming anywhere from within and received only static. What to do? The creature showed a flash of a smile, and its fangs glowered with an unnatural sheen. She swallowed hard. There was the emergency spell Pamela taught her years before she understood might need to be deployed on her and Rory’s adventure, and now was as good a time as any—but the beast, imposing as it was, was a living creature; a large, proud, irreplaceable thing she couldn’t bear the thought of shrieking in agony should she inflict any harm upon it. It was a disquieting image now that it could be real.

With eyes closed, the dragon let out a puff of hot smoke from its nostrils, keenly aware of Yona’s shrinking presence even in a dreaming state. She recoiled in fear before gathering her wits, and, as gingerly as one might walk past a baby’s crib, pussyfooted around the creature’s barbed tail ever closer to the pile of coins and gemstones, weighing the odds of whether or not she would be able to escape with her treasure undetected. Possibly neither of them would be harmed in the ordeal, and it would a happy ending for all.

However, scaling the hill of riches proved inadvisable, as Yona’s left foot was pricked through its slipper by a wayward quartz, eliciting a catlike yowl of pain that promptly sent Rory ducking behind the crate of oranges to avoid witnessing the gruesome scene that would certainly unfold. The dragon awoke with a screeching siren’s blare, twisting and contorting itself around its hoard like a steel pipe, knocking back Yona as if she were little larger than a fruit fly. Kalua, meanwhile, had unsheathed a bejeweled dagger she had stored away on her ship, purely out of admiration for the beauty of the thing once upon a time, now squeezed tightly in her paw for the purpose of vengeance.

With a running start, she cried, “Foul monster! You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” before—and this very nearly sent her into a rage of a different variety—being greeted by Yona’s arm, extended just in time to halt the impulsive older Manya. With a clumsy tumble she landed hard on the damp soil, tail all askew once more.

“What—is—your—problem!” she fumed in a whisper so as not to alert the dragon again, if one could fume in a whisper. “I was going to do something so very heroic for you, and you reject my services—Well, would you like me to take the Crystella and turn it right around so you can sort this out by yourself? Well—?”

“Shhh. This is a test…I just know it,” Yona said with great focus. “Think about it, Lady. Glick wants a successor, right? I don’t think finding the dolls is just about grabbing them and running. And magic users are supposed to operate by a certain moral code. I doubt you’ve exactly seen a great sorceress like Duskell use her powers for harm without a good reason, right?”

Kalua neither liked being educated on matters nor being ignored, especially after such a cinematic display as her charge into battle mere moments ago, but she listened anyway. “Are we not supposed to slay the dragon?”

“I really don’t think we are. Something just feels fishy about the whole thing. I mean, felling such a big monster even with magic would take a lot outta anyone. Glick’s not so cruel as to put the little guys at a disadvantage. Magic’s less about work and more about play to begin with. But it’s also about…I dunno, courage?”

“How could you be commanding any more courage than you are right now?” Kalua frowned. Unbeknownst to the two, Rory had climbed down from the Crystella, the commotion having died down, and had listened with some thoughts of his own.

“Uh…I don’t know if anyone exac’ly wants my suggestions, but…Did either of you try talking to the dragon?” he said, in that country bumpkin cadence that made him as endearing as it did frustrating in delicate situations. Yona perked up an ear.

“No, I…can’t say we did.”

“I do suppose that would have been the straightforward approach, yes.” Drawing a long breath of the icy air that engulfed them, Yona straightened her posture and, stiff as a board, marched to face the dragon as one faces his superior, and asked of him in the false bravado she had perfected into an art: “Kind beast, is there something that troubles you?”

A yellowy eye of the dragon’s flickered open, causing the group to once more collectively hold their breaths; then the creature’s features sunk into an expression that may not have exactly passed as warm, but at least tepid—tepid the way a drying lake in the summertime might be called tepid—and it was enough of a glimmer of hope that their guards could be lowered. The other eye opened, deep sea blue in color, and he raised his head to say in a voice like needles and frostbite: “Who are you to disturb me in the place I cannot rest?”

“I’m sorry I’ve disturbed you. I’m Yona, and—wait, what do you mean you can’t rest?”

The dragon shifted restlessly atop his nest of riches, coins jingling as they tumbled and fell like stray pebbles on a cliffside. “I have been posted here by the Great Wizard Glick to guard his treasure, you see. The doll—I presumed you might be after it. He spoke as such about your arrival. You might have mistook me for sleeping, but he imbued me the ability to see even with eyes closed should a contestant such as yourself find me. Every waking moment I am cursed with sight. I have not known rest since he sought me and I’m afraid I never will again.”

It seemed a somewhat cruel arrangement to Yona, as an entire week had passed since Glick’s public announcement, and, while ignorant of dragon biology, a week was surely too long for most things to be without sleep. Suddenly the dragon’s snarled teeth and sneering voice were less reminiscent of some monstrous thing lurking in the dark, and more of a delirious Pamela back home during student finals. He had her sympathy.

“Well, I’m here now, so you won’t have to guard anything anymore and he’ll relinquish your duties. Right?” she said.

“That I’m not confident of. He mentioned nothing about removing the curse—or spell, rather. He wanted me to gather the gemstones and coins you see beneath me as well, though for what reason he never did say. It’s at least been something to do besides lying here restless. I don’t suppose they have anything to do with the contest?” he said, lowering his neck to view the group more intimately.

Yona shook her head. “Nothing about it. Did you guys hear anything?” The rest of the group responded with shrugs of their shoulders and shakes of their heads as well. “He didn’t mention it in the broadcast, anyway.”

The dragon puffed more warm smoke. “I see. Well…my predicament remains just the same. I suppose nothing is stopping you from climbing over me for the doll, now. If you’re in need of a hint, I advise that you start by scaling my tail instead of the treasure hoard. My scales are good and sturdy for that kind of thing.”

The encounter had proven so anticlimactic and bewildering, Yona was left with nothing more to say or do than exactly as she was told; she steadied herself at the harpoon-like tip of the dragon’s tail, and, making efficient use of her claws, clambered up the length of it onto the dragon’s plush stomach, where she stole a glance at the forlorn, weary beast whose eyes held the sadness of a sea that must never cease its flow; of a cog that must always be turning, no matter if anyone is there to appreciate it. Glick’s beloved assistant—the doll—lie there looking similarly yearning for something, if it could speak, and Yona felt that she might be doing a service to both of them rather than herself in alleviating the pair of their respective duties. She jumped down.

“Now that you’ve taken it, I suppose you can leave this dreadful place and be on your merry way, Yona, was it?” the dragon spoke, turning to allow the cold spot on his belly to receive some warmth from the treasure pile. “I hope that the Great Wizard Glick will return to remove this wretched spell on me—maybe it will be as you said—“

“Hold on,” Yona said, handing the doll to Rory for safekeeping. “Just wait a minute. I think I have just the thing to help you until he comes back. My moms—er, they’re not my moms really, but the headmasters of the orphanage. They used to do this magic spell to help me sleep at night, when I was younger and more restless. It would take a bit til I actually slept, so I wound up memorizing it after a few nights, even though they never taught me. I think it might be exactly what you need.”

And so she weaved, weaved a spell that sounded like a lullaby; looked like a sparrow returning to her nest on a warm spring day; smelled like peaches and honeycomb; felt like cashmere and raindrops outside a bedroom window. Whatever it was, it was so potent, so instantly soothing that the dragon spoke not another word, as both eyes as well as the third he had been burdened with shut in seconds and his body released the tightly coiled, metallic grip it had held for the entire week. He was resting at last.

“You—you did it!” Rory said, cautiously, after Yona put a clawed finger to her mouth. “That’s the first doll!”

“Yona, that was a true demonstration of bravery and wits if ever there was one,” Kalua admitted, too stunned by what she had just witnessed to find time for petty rivalry. “When I first saw you you didn’t look like much—it didn’t seem like you thought you were much, either. I’ve never seen magic like that. Either you’re very gifted or had gifted teachers, or both. In any case I think you’re far more suited to this whole competition than I am, frankly.”

“Keep praising me!” Yona laughed heartily, arms folded behind her head, now that the gravity of what she’d accomplished had finally set in. “Really, though, we wouldn’t’ve gotten here without your ship, Lady—or that piece of sage advice Rory gave. I’m just glad it’s over with. I never wanna sail again.”

Kalua chuckled in spite of herself. “I’m thinking I might take a break, myself—from this whole contest. I’m not as magically adept as I thought. It all feels so—foolish now. Well, I suppose I could always rejoin the search later on, especially if you need my help again. For now I suppose I’ll lead us out of this place.”

* * *

Being released at last from Glass Grotto was like breathing again. The sun—scant as it was in this country—felt endlessly cleansing and pure. The trio had exited through a thin crevice just large enough to allow the Crystella through, weaving between jagged rocks and finally into a clearing, courtesy of Kalua’s expert steering. Yona and Rory kicked off their shoes to enjoy the feel of the warm pink sea once they returned to shore and began plotting where the next doll might be. Kalua took her leave, as did the Crystella with her—certainly less dramatically than she made her entrance.

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