Friday, October 23, 2020

The Quest for the Jewel


The Quest for the Jewel

Written by Maya Wald

Winner of the 2020 Under the Hooded Monster Contest


Mrs. Charlotte had been a librarian for years. Her wispy gray hair poofed out, which complemented her narrow face. She looked up from the book she was reading when she heard the door to the school library open. It was a boy who seemed very out of place being in a room full of books. The expression of being overwhelmed sparked the old lady’s sixth sense of finding the right book for each person she laid eyes on. Mrs. Charlotte pushed her wide cat-eye glasses up past the ridge of her nose and walked up to the boy.

“Is there anything you are looking for in particular?” she asked.

“Yeah, for class I have to do a book report about a book in a genre I haven’t read.”

“Hmm interesting,” the librarian tapped her right pointer finger to her chin as she looked into the boy’s bored eyes. The boy seemed to be lacking in excitement, which prompted Mrs. Charlotte to ask, “How about a fantasy adventure?”

“Does it have something to do with sports or competition?”

“It can.”

“Okay…” the boy, Joey, was not impressed with the uncertainty. He just wanted to leave and get the book report out of the way. 

“Follow me - the librarian knows the way,” Mrs. Charlotte said with a jump in her step. In the fantasy aisle she skimmed the shelves to find the perfect book for this boy. Her sixth sense sharpened as her hand reached for a green hardcover book. Its title, The Quest for the Jewel, written in bronze print made the boy look at it quizzically. “This is a novel about heroes across time attempting to find a magical jewel that would bring upon world peace and happiness. A classic telling of adventures.” She handed it to him after giving the summary.

“Okay, I’ll give it a try,” Joey responded dryly. 

They went to the checkout desk, and then the boy went off home to start reading “The Quest for the Jewel” by Herald.

Joey quickly realized that each chapter was like a story of its own. Yet, in the end all of the heroes failed to get the jewel. The demise of each hero was rather vague, allowing for a reader to have their own interpretation of the end. This really annoyed Joey, because he got invested in the characters, and then they just got replaced with a new character with no description as to why.

Another thing that bothered him was that the book was incomplete - some chapters ending mid-sentence. Joey kept thinking that maybe one of the heroes would finally get ahold of the jewel, but no one ever did. Something always happened when the jewel was in sight, as if a supernatural force was saying that the jewel could never be attained. Joey sighed.

When he reached the last page of the book, he stared at the sentence in the middle of the page: Can you find the Jewel of the Forest?

What a cheesy way to end the book, Joey thought. Yet the idea made him linger as he looked at the page. Who wouldn’t want to jump into a magical world and complete an impossible quest? Joey smiled to himself. “Yeah,” he whispered.

He shut the book.

One moment, Joey had been in his bedroom. The next, he was surrounded by prairie grass. A huge boulder stood before him with a strange glow. 

“What… What just happened?” Joey whispered to himself and looked around at his surroundings. Did he fall asleep reading the book or something? 

“You must be Joseph.”

Joey jumped. Where had that voice come from? He looked all around, but no one was there. He did a double take at the top of the giant boulder. A moment ago, he’d been alone, but suddenly someone was sitting up there. Joey was certain that he saw a malicious smile.

The figure hopped down to face the now quite rigid Joey. Before him was a girl with caramel hair in a tight braid, wearing a scout’s outfit. Any other time, she might have looked odd, but the only thing Joey could focus on was her eyes. They sent a chill down his spine. Stark white eyeballs and ink black eyes. There was no emotion radiating from her at all. The voids in her eyes stared right into Joey’s own brown eyes, forcing him to avert his gaze.

“Where am I?” Joey asked after swallowing an uneasy lump in his throat.

“At the gateway entrance to the forest in which your quest is set forth,” the girl said dryly. “Many have come to seek the Jewel of the Forest. None have succeeded. Upon your acceptance of the quest you have been summoned here.”

Joey took a step back out of astonishment. “Uh, this isn’t real, right? I’m dreaming that I got taken into the book or something.”

The girl’s eyes narrowed, “Joseph, you must not take this opportunity lightly. This is no dream. And suggesting that the book is fictitious is disrespectful to the preceding heroes. Being summoned here is not being inside the book. That would be rather cliche.” 

He let out an awkward laugh, not totally convinced his overactive imagination wasn’t running wild. Still, he didn’t really see any reason not to just go with it. “Right… I’m sorry. So, um… who are you?”

She went back to being expressionless. “I am Herald.”

“You don’t look like a Harold to me,” Joey snorted.

Her left eye twitched. “Herald, not Harold. E and A, not A and O.”

It took a few seconds until Joey’s light bulb turned on. Then his gaze quickly dropped to the book that he was holding. He pointed at it and then at her. “You’re the author?!” he stammered. 

Herald’s response was very mechanical. “More of a recorder than an author.”

“Wait, so you know what happened to the characters - er - people?”

“Perhaps.” Her response was short and clipped.

Joey decided that Herald was an awkward monotone robot. “Uh, so now I have to find the jewel since the herald told me so?”

“Your sense of humor is not of my taste,” Herald said with a cold sharpness and pivoted towards the boulder. Joey didn’t think he was saying a joke; he was just asking for clarification. Herald placed her palms on the glowing boulder. As she did, the boulder disappeared. Where it had been a moment ago was now a portal, leading to what looked like a full forest. 

Joey’s jaw dropped. While he had certainly had stranger dreams, he’d never had one that felt quite so vivid. It was almost like everything around him was real.

He swallowed hard and decided to put it to the test. He pinched himself. And, to his horror, it hurt. This was really happening. “No way!” he breathed.

Herald took a step through the gateway and looked at him. Joey shook off the awe and followed. Instantly, the prairie disappeared, now they were completely surrounded by trees. The shock that had been suppressed for a few seconds returned in full force. 

Herald cleared her throat, snapping Joey out of the awestruck trance. “Joseph, in order to reach the Jewel of the Forest, there are trials that you must overcome - as you may remember from reading the records earlier.”

Joey realized that the book was no longer in his grasp. Rather, Herald was holding the book up as if she were reading instructions. He remembered that the trials were a combination of physical and mental exercises. None of the trials in one chapter came back in any of the other chapters. Every person had an individualized experience. Each completed trial would bring the hero one step closer to finding the jewel.

“Each task you must complete alone. I am only here to record, so you may not rely on any help.”

This felt extremely strange to Joey. The detachment that Herald was expressing sounded as if this were an experiment, and Joey was her guinea pig. “What if I don’t want to do this anymore?” he asked, already fearing the answer.

The tiniest flicker of a smile flashed across Herald’s face. It was so fast, Joey wondered if he had imagined it. “It is too late to back out now. The only way back home is to retrieve the jewel.”

“Oh.” Joey mumbled, realizing he didn’t have many options to choose from.

“Your quest begins now.” With that, Herald disappeared as if she was never there. 

Joey took a deep breath. “You got this, man,” he whispered to himself. As much as he wanted to believe it, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of dread creeping up on him. As vague as the previous heroes’ ends had been, he could tell they didn’t end well. Steeling himself, he forced himself to calm down. There was one way home, and it was by moving forward.

The trees were densely packed around him in a circle - except for one little space that Joey spotted. For reasons he couldn’t explain, he knew that was where he needed to go. The path was narrow, like those mini alleyways that cats like to hide in. A little way in, Joey had to start walking heel to toe. The path was growing even narrower, with thick foliage pressing in on either side of him.

As he continued treading on, there was a sudden sensation of something slimy on his feet. He looked down to see what it was. The dirt path was becoming soft and climbing up his leg, the mud licking his ankles. Frantically, Joey tried to kick it off. In response the mud only climbed higher. It was warm and cold at the same time, making him feel queasy.

At first, Joey thought he was sinking. As the mud continued up his legs, he realized that wasn’t what was happening. The path was rising and spreading out. Joey tried to reach for a solid branch, but every one he grabbed kept snapping. A bead of sweat dripped down the boy’s forehead as he stretched his arms to a large branch above his head. Joey was able to wrap his fingers around it, and, ever so slowly, Joey was able to pull himself up

His arms burned with pain, but he managed to swingone of his legs over the branch and sat to catch a break. The mud below him swirled around in giant waves slapping the tree that he was sitting on.

Joey’s break was short lived. He carefully stood up and looked around to see if there was any way to get to the green patch he could still see in the distance. Joey began climbing up the tree in order to reach a branch of another tree. As Joey jumped from branch to branch, they became sturdier. The mud was still climbing up in pursuit of the boy, hopping between trees. 

A roar came from below. Joey made the mistake of looking down. His knees buckled. The mud rose up high enough to look like a hill with three large pits: two misshapen eyes and a constantly swishing mouth. All mud. And it was coming closer by the second. Joey blinked a few times and jumped to the next tree. A few jumps later, another roar came from the creature. The sound made him lose his balance. 

Joey fell.

With a jerk of his arm he was able to catch the branch. He was certain that he heard a laugh, but not from the mud. Somewhere else. With no time to lose, Joey swung himself back and forth to build momentum. His fingers slipped. Thankfully he landed at the base of the last tree. Quickly, Joey scrambled up and dashed towards the patch of green grass before the dirt turned into slush.

For a moment, Joey was ready to keep running, but as the mud pressed up against the grass, it stopped, as if it couldn’t press on. Relief washed over him and he laid on the grass, heaving from exhaustion. 

He just passed the first trial.

After catching his breath, he sat up and saw that the mud was subsiding. There was now a wide clear dirt path between the dense trees that lead to the window showing the prairie. 

“I would go back if I were you.”

Joey spun around. His eyes bulged. A table had appeared. Standing beside it was a bipedal red fox in a frilly sky-blue tuxedo, wearing a sly smirk on his face. Joey gulped at the flash of white teeth. And Joey was on edge from seeing a fox so close alone, but he was even more creeped out by this overly well-dressed, talking fox. The sheer number of things he had to process meant it took him a while to even realize what the fox said.

Go back? he wondered. Even if I do go back to the prairie, there was no way to get back home from there. Either stay stuck in the safe prairie forever, or complete the quest. The answer was simple. “I have to continue onwards.”

The fox sighed and shook his head in disappointment. “I had a feeling you would say that.” The fox sat down on a chair that had sprouted from the ground and motioned with a paw for Joey to sit across from him on another sprouted chair. The wooden table was polished to perfection. Along the table there were three goblets: glass, silver, and gold. “Let me ask you a question, young man. Which goblet do you prefer?”

This struck Joey as odd. He had expected that the question would be “Which one of the cups is poisoned?” or something like that - like in the movies. He had to remind himself that he was sitting with a very stylish fox, so, maybe movies hadn’t prepared him for this. Joey looked at the three cups.

“The glass,” he decided immediately.

The fox smirked. “Hmm interesting.” The other two goblets melted into the table. Joey’s eyebrows shot up, and his jaw dropped. He wondered if he would ever get used to things like that happening. “You chose a path in which everything is clearly represented, even though it may be harsh. It means that you’d rather face it head on. Quite brave.”

Joey shut his mouth before he could say the real reason he’d chosen the glass. It was the only one that a person could see what drink was inside and didn’t change the taste. What the fox said was deep. Joey wanted to have that air about himself as well. Being that cool deep guy - the true goal of teenage years.

The fox’s demeanor slightly changed, “But the glass can be even more dangerous.”

“How come?” Joey’s hands tightened on his lap.

The fox propped up his elbows onto the table and rested his head on his paws. The glint of his sharp teeth made Joey freeze. “Glass is a mirror, in which you can see your hidden self. The selfish, greedy, and wicked self. Now,” the fox leaned back lifting the glass goblet to his eye level and looked at Joey through the glass, “let’s begin,” he finished with a mischievous smirk.   

Something shifted in the air. The sun went behind the clouds. The air left a stale taste in Joey’s mouth. The fox kicked his fancy dress shoes off and lounged with his feet up on the table while drinking out of the goblet. Between sips, the fox grinned, “Why are you looking at me when we have a guest?”

Instinctively, Joey knew that he should not turn around, but this was part of the test. So, he should, right? He stood up and turned around. The path to the prairie had disappeared. Nothing was there, just dense trees. Somehow this relieved him. At least he wouldn’t be tempted to turn back now. His shoulders slackened, and he turned back around to the fox.

The fox wasn’t sitting beside the table anymore. In fact, the fox was nowhere to be seen. Instead, lounging on the chair, with a wicked expression, was Joey’s copy. His mirror image. The darkest self that Joey hadn’t known even existed. The mirror image stood up and walked up to the real Joey with a sneer. “Pathetic.”

Joey clenched his jaw.

“Do you really think that you can be some hero? A below average guy, who has no cares in the world? The only reason you picked up the book was because one more failing grade would get you kicked out of the house.”

“Shut up. That’s not true—”

“Don’t kid yourself. We both know that you are nothing. A burden. A nuisance. You thought that maybe if you could complete this quest, that it would erase your faults?”

“Oh, and you’re so perfect?” Joey mocked his mirror self. It took self-control not to land a blow across the mirror image’s cocky expression.

“I am closer to being the embodiment of perfection compared to a self-absorbed, selfish idiot who thinks that he deserves everything just because he wants it. You just float around. A loafer.”

“I don’t take things for granted,” Joey retorted quickly. He clenched his fists, digging his nails into the palms of his hands.

            His mirror image grinned. Smug satisfaction was painted on his face as he pushed all the right buttons. “Oh, really? Is that so? Tell me one thing you’ve done all on your own merit.”

            Joey’s mind went blank. That couldn’t be the case. Was he really that spoiled?

            “The lack of ambition is your own downfall. You won’t survive this world as you are. Let me take control. It’s better for us. We are one and the same.”

            Joey almost believed that. Almost. He had already made the decision to try harder. It was why he put more effort into that book report than any other assignment. He could tell that this was a test to see if he was true to his word. Letting the mirror image win would be saying that he didn’t care about anything. Giving in would be the selfish thing to do. There was no way that Joey would fall for this trick. He took a deep breath and replied, “Okay, yeah this quest is my way of proving myself. But I didn’t really choose to come here. Even so, I will take this opportunity to challenge myself.”

            “Do you think you can retrieve the jewel as you are?”

            “Maybe. It’s worth a shot.” He paused, looking at himself in the eyes. “I’d rather do my best and fail than not try at all.  I am a work in progress.”

            The mirror image of Joey melted away into the fox with the fancy tuxedo. With a wide smile the fox said, “Well done.”

            “Wait a second… that was you all along?”

            “In a way, yes. However, it was the embodiment of yourself. It was a test of how strong your determination is. And you passed.” A stairwell emerged from where the table was. Joey glanced at the wooden spiraling steps. “I do hope that you succeed,” the fox said.

            “Uh, thanks,” Joey mumbled and headed towards the stairs.

            “Do be wary of the jewel keeper,” the fox warned.

            “Huh?” Joey spun around, but the fox was already gone. There’s a jewel keeper? The book never mentioned one. What does that even mean? 

Realizing he wouldn’t find any answers there, Joey began to descend underground. The only light that was visible to Joey was from above, and it was quickly fading. It had been hours since he had first appeared in this strange world. The sun must be setting at this point. Suddenly, there was a faint haze of light at the bottom of the wooden staircase.

He reached for the lantern. The candle went out the moment Joey held it. The light reappeared ahead. He followed it, but as soon as he reached it, the light started running ahead. “Seriously!” Joey grunted before chasing after the glowing orb. 

The tunnel opened up to a cavern. The orb of light zoomed back into the lantern. Joey held it up in order to look at the cave walls. The illuminated rock glistened, as the clear etching of a dragon spouting blazes of fire came into view. As Joey looked at the details up close, he touched the carved rock. 

            “ACK!” Joey whipped his hand back. The rock was scorching hot. Joey bit his lip when he saw the burned red welt of skin. He walked along the wall looking for a way to go, other than where he had come from. There wasn’t one. Only a giant etching of a dragon. The heat was sizzling off the rock. The cavern was growing exponentially warmer.

Just as he was about to turn back, the cavern shook. The rocks holding up the entrance collapsed, trapping Joey in the tiny room that felt like an oven. With no way out, Joey began to panic. It was hot. Too hot. The air burned. The black rocks were becoming a glowing scarlet. The etching of the dragon remained as a thin black tracing across the red rock. The etching seemed to pulsate in and out of the rock, like breathing. One of its eyes moved.

Joey thought that he must be imagining things. It had to be from the heat. But then, the drawing began to make laps around the cavern walls. Joey dropped to his knees. The air, thick with sulfur, made him dizzy. He was also pretty sure the lack of air was making him hallucinate a drawing of a dragon coming to life and running around in circles. Don’t pass out now! he commanded himself. Think, man… Think! His thoughts were racing just as fast as the running dragon in the rocks.

Then, the tip of its tail flicked out from within the rock. A tiny crack could be seen from where the tip had been a moment ago. It wasn’t close to big enough for Joey to pass through. Still, it made his delirious mind wonder if the rest of the dragon detached itself from the rock, then maybe he could escape? It was a stretch, but it was the only idea he had.

“Hey!” Joey croaked. His throat was scratchy and parched.

The dragon stopped running and looked at him. The two-dimensional body with the flicking three-dimensional tail was strange to look at. He got its attention. Good. Now he had to get it entirely out of the rock, haul himself out, and survive. Simple enough… right? 

“Is this all you’ve got? You just want to run around in circles?” It sounded cleverer to Joey’s overheated brain than it probably did out loud. His vision was beginning to get spotty. Still, it got the dragon’s attention.

The scarlet rock shook with fury, which bumped the temperature even higher. Joey was sweating buckets, but his ploy was working. In its anger, the dragon hadn’t noticed him crawling close to the tail. He jumped on it and tugged. Suddenly, a loud creak shook the rock.

The dragon’s head popped out of the rock and snarled at Joey. Only the mid-section was still inside. As the dragon’s neck slowly climbed out of the red stone, bigger cracks appeared, and slivers of cool air trickled in. The dragon’s front haunches pivoted towards Joey. The continuous flow of cool air gave Joey the energy he needed when the dragon’s head came close to his face. Joey lunged out of the way. When he turned around, the dragon was completely dislodged from the wall. It was as black as coal. Steam was bristling from its snout. The air flow cooled him down, but it was still very hot, and the dragon was standing guard in front of the only opening. Joey looked around. Was there any way around the beast?

His plan quickly became ducking and rolling away from a blaze of fire aimed at his head. The searing blaze terrified Joey. Then he saw it. A space to run through. The dragon hadn’t noticed that it had not barbequed its dinner. Joey sprinted like his life depended on it. 

Joey could see a mist. 


Right as Joey leaped out of the cavern, the thick black tail obstructed his path. The coal scales cut across his forehead. Joey spotted the tip of the tail and stomped down on it as hard as he could. A horrible scream came from behind, and the tail flew upwards. Joey took this opportunity and dashed out. The edge curled under him. It was a cliff. Ahead he saw a massive, blue, bioluminescent waterfall. 

Joey felt a rush of heat traveling behind him. Terrified of the blast of fire spit, Joey stepped off the cliff. 

He looked at the orange flames above him, then down at the glowing blue water beneath him.

Please have no sea monsters. Please!

The water engulfed Joey. The coolness of it was exactly what he needed. He free styled to the nearby rocks and pushed himself onto the rocks. Joey looked ahead. The underground lake didn’t reach out too far. A dead end. He looked into the water and could see the white sandy bottom. Another dead end. The only two ways left were the cliff with the dragon behind him and the waterfall ahead of him.

The pounding water falling from a precipice made Joey gulp.  He wasn’t eager to try to get past the dragon again, so he started climbing up the rocks behind the pounding water. . Through the tiniest gap there was a distant source of light. Joey let out an exhausted sigh and then a deep breath, struggling to pull himself up the waterfall. 

You survived a dragon, Joey, you can pass through this. This is the only non-supernatural obstacle. You got this. You can do this. 

Pressing himself to the slippery stone and taking the smallest steps, Joey started going through the barely existent space between the rock wall and the waterfall. Every so slowly, he passed though, some of the pounding water slashed down his back. He bit his lip, trying to ignore the pain searing. He jumped forward at the last bit. Joey bended forward and gripped his knees. Easy peasy…  

Joey staggered down the tunnel towards the light. How was it so bright? Had night already passed? Must be because it was a magical world. It was sad that that was the most reasonable conclusion.

The sun was beating down hard. A distance away he spotted a single tree. And it was huge. Walking against the burning sun drained him so completely that when he reached the shade he crawled to the base of the tree. Joey leaned against the trunk and closed his eyes. Exhaustion ebbing away his consciousness, sending him into sleep. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the breezy shade of the tree.

“Joseph, wake up!” a girl’s voice snapped him out of the long-deserved nap. 

Joey opened his eyes. “Ack.” The sun was too bright, so he covered his eyes. It took a minute for his vision to adjust. He looked at the girl in the scout’s outfit. Those black eyes. “Oh, it’s just you, Herald.”

“What do you think you are doing?” she demanded. Her eyebrows furrowed.

“Taking a nap. What else?” he replied groggily.

“You’ve rested for hours. Get back to questing.”

Joey gave her a flat smile. Of course she was bored. The author wanted the character to continue. Action. Action. Action. Just like how he enjoyed it when he was reading the book, at least until it became vague towards the end. “Yeah, yeah,” he mumbled as he stood up.

“Don’t yeah, yeah me.” Her voice was cold. “Especially when you are so close to the jewel.”

Joey’s eyebrows shot up. That definitely woke him up. He was close? Where could it be?

He remembered that he was under a huge tree in the midst of a dry dead grassy valley. In the distance he saw the prairie, then next to it was a forest, then an open green grassy patch with a staircase. Next a red rock with a black dragon pacing back and forth, beside it a lake, and lastly the tunnel that he had come out of. It was a circle. A circle around a huge tree.

Joey pivoted with awe at the tree. The leaves were glittery green. He went up to the trunk and looked up. At the very top a purple diamond was hidden amongst the green. With a joyful grin, Joey began climbing up the enormous tree. The denser branches gave way to more spread out branches. With his legs wrapped around a branch, Joey reached out for the purple jewel with extended arms. Just like picking an apple. 

Joey examined the purple jewel. It was beautiful.

“Ha, that could have been worse. There’s not even a keeper of the jewel here. Now, how do I show that I’ve completed the quest and go home?” As happy as he was, it felt like this part was too easy. “Eh, whatever,” he said aloud to himself and placed the jewel in his pocket, before descending down the tree.

Herald stood there with a bright, happy smile.

“I got it.” He showed her the purple jewel. 

“Yes. Yes, you did.” Her smile turned sinister. Her skin paled to stark white. Her mouth became too wide for it to be natural, and her brown hair blew out from its braid, turning ink black. The final feature made Joey go pale: the whites of her eyes became ink black, matching what her iris looked like. Two shiny black pits for eyes. “Congratulations, Joseph, you have completed the quest.” The wideness of her malicious smile made Joey freeze. “Now I shall be bestowed the boon.”

“B-but I already found the Jewel of the Forest.”

“Oh, was I not being clear?” She took a step towards Joey. He stumbled backwards. “You have to survive to win. And I always win.” Herald licked her black lips. Her cracked fingernails were sharp. No. Those weren’t fingers at all. Those were quills. “I’m running quite low on ink for my stories. You shall be excellent writing material, since you have survived this long.”

The fox had been right! Why hadn’t he believed him? This had all been an elaborate trap set up by Herald. Like playing with food before eating it. The book. The book had never mentioned her for a simple reason: she wanted the element of surprise. 

I have to get out of here.

The jewel was just a fool's errand. Something to make her victims feel like they were awesome adventurers capable of anything. 

Joey took off in a sprint towards the prairie. Maybe there would be a way back? Joey was depending on it.

“Oh, a game of cat and mouse? How fun for me!” Herald’s giggles sounded like nails across a chalkboard.

Joey ran as fast as he could. Thank goodness he was able to have that nap earlier. The prairie grass had grown since he was there last. It was now the same height as him, so it was a slight cover. 

The constant laughter of Herald fueled his energy to run as far away as he could. Up ahead he saw the enormous boulder from before. Not knowing where else to go, Joey went for it. He leaned against it to catch his breath. The coolness of the rock was a relief from the harsh beating sun. The jewel started shuffling in his pocket. Joey dug it out and saw that it was glowing. Then the boulder began to glow brighter, a rich purple. Joey brushed his fingers across the shining symbols. Then he saw the small open space in the stone. A perfect fit for the purple jewel. His hand hovered as he thought of placing the jewel inside. 

It was eerily quiet. 

Herald’s laughter was nowhere to be heard. A part of him was saying to put the jewel in the stone, while also screaming red flag signals not to. Joey looked around. Was it safe? Would it bring him back home? Again, Joey had this uneasy feeling that this was too easy.

“You are a skeptical one, aren’t you?”

Joey spun back around. The black pit eyes made him shudder all over again. There was no emotion in those eyes, just a sea of black darkness. 

“Please let me go home,” he whimpered. 

A twitch of a smile quirked on her wide mouth, revealing razor sharp black teeth. “That would be no fun. Besides, this is my game. You are but a pawn in it.”

The click of her quill fingers made the burning sun feel even hotter. Joey’s mind was racing frantically. What was her weak spot? Everyone had one, so she must too. He slowly put the jewel back into his pocket. That evil grin of Herald’s sprung up again. He noticed how her fingers were moving in swirls, as if she were writing. Tiny swirls of black ink. 

Joey suddenly realized that Herald was writing his story, but in her favor as she probably did for every chapter in the book. Then it hit him. 

The writing won’t last if it gets wet!

That’s why it’s so hot.

He needed to get to the underground lake again. Then her ink wouldn’t work. And that’s why there was no test in the water. Her powers couldn’t reach it. Joey remembered that when Herald touched the boulder earlier it had opened a passage to the forest. Maybe if he pressed his hands to the boulder and thought of the underwater lake it would work. Actually, it was his only option. His only hope. There was no way he could outrun her all the way there.

Before Joey could think of a plan of how to trick Herald into following him, the sharp quills on Herald’s hands shot out at him. He ducked, one of the deadly points whizzing above his head. Joey rolled to the side, jumped up, and ran.

“Round two? Fine by me,” Herald cackled.

She came charging after Joey, quills and all. Joey tripped over his feet but caught himself before falling again and sprinted back towards the boulder. He extended his arms and slammed his hands onto the light coming off of it, as he envisioned the glowing blue lake beneath the dragon's den. It appeared, and he fell into the water. 

A terrible scream came from behind him. Joey pumped his legs to turn around. As he treaded water, he saw Herald struggling to stay above the surface. Below her, there was a monstrous amount of black ink. It was being drained from her. Herald was being wiped away into the water, like when a cup of water spills over a page of written homework: erased. Her quills wrapped around Joey’s arm. “Help me,” she blubbered, her face ebbing away. Joey tried to get away from her grasp, which only tightened, digging into his arm. She was going to take him down with her if he didn’t get away from her soon.

Joey splashed water at Herald’s face. 

Herald screamed in agony.

Joey kept on splashing water at her. The quills grip loosened and drooped.

All that was left was a cloud of black ink floating down to the depths of the lake. Once it landed on the pristine, white sand, it spread out, thinned, and vanished. The quills floated by Joey. While continuously treading water with his legs, he snapped each of the ten quills in half. Once they reached the white sand, they all vanished. 

Joey let out a sigh of relief. He swam over to the rocks by the waterfall. He had done it.

I beat her… I actually won!

As he sat on the rocks, the purple jewel glowed in his pocket. Joey took it out and rubbed it as he thought of the giant boulder in the valley. Just like he figured. The jewel transported him there.

Beside the boulder stood the fox in the frilly sky-blue tuxedo. The fox grinned at Joey, “I had a feeling you’d survive.”

“Yeah?” Joey asked as he went up to him.

“The way you passed my test gave me a hunch. Good thing that I warned you. A heads up is always nice.”

“Yeah, thanks for that.” Joey paused, and then realization dawned across his features, “How did you know?”

The fox gave him a sly smirk, “Well, that’s another story entirely.”  

Joey laughed along with a chuckling fox.

“I think that it’s about time you went back home, Joseph.”

“It’s Joey.”

“Alright, Joey, time to go back. Don’t you have a book report to write?”

Joey’s jaw dropped. He had completely forgotten about it. The fox reached behind himself, and the book sprang out of the prairie grass.

“You might need this as a reference,” the fox said mischievously, as he handed Joey the green book with bronze lettering.

“Is she gone for good?” Joey asked as he looked at the book.

“Yes. Herald will never bother anyone ever again. That is all thanks to you, Joey.”

He nodded in return, “Thanks for everything.” The fox nodded back in acknowledgement.

Joey walked back to the boulder. He placed the purple diamond jewel in the space in the boulder and closed his eyes. 

Joey had brought peace to this world. And most importantly, happiness to himself.

When Joey opened his eyes, he was back in his room. The green book was on his lap. He picked it up and headed to his laptop. He typed in the title to his book report with a mischievous smirk on his face: The Quest for the Jewel.

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