The unicorn was magnificent, sparkling silver and rainbow under the glimmering full moon. The midnight sky was dark indigo, starless and clear of clouds. The unicorn left a trail of glitter in its wake. The moon shone off the rippling water of the lake, reflecting back its light.

The unicorn tossed its head, its violet mane flying in the slight breeze. Its tail, the same shade of purple as its mane, fluttered behind it. Its golden horn glowed softly in the night.

It was warm outside, mid-summer. The unicorn had some place important to be. It had an urgent message to deliver. The unicorn galloped past the lake, through the open expanse of grass, through a field of flowers, and into the forest.

The unicorn came to a stop beneath an ancient oak tree, the oldest tree in the woods. It was also the strongest.

The unicorn touched its horn to the trunk and in a spark of light, the unicorn was no longer in the dark, menacing woods. Nobody moved, nobody woke in their homes. Outside, life went on as if the unicorn had never been there in the first place.

“Ah, Xaveria,” the fairy queen greeted the unicorn. “Welcome back. What news?”

The unicorn spoke. “The child has been born, Your Majesty. It is a girl. She had the brightest blue eyes, like the prophecy says.”

“And the birthmark?”

“On her left wrist, like the gods predicted.”

Moriba, the fairy queen, nodded. Her light blue hair fell in ringlets, cascading over her shoulders. “Good. Right on schedule. Watch over her, Xaveria. Keep her safe for her destiny.”

“Of course, Your Majesty. I’ll protect her.”

 

The morning of my eighteenth birthday, I woke up with a strange feeling. I didn’t feel older or look older, but something inside me felt off, like something had finally woken up after seventeen years of being dormant.

“Honey, you up?”

“Yeah!” I called back to my mom as I grounded and swung my legs out of bed.

After showering and dressing, I went downstairs to pour myself a bowl of Lucky Charms and a glass of chocolate milk.

My mom entered the room, frowning in disapproval at my choice of breakfast.

I spoke before she could lecture me on my unhealthy decision. “Is it okay if I hang out with Xav today?”

“Of course, sweetheart. Be sure to invite her over for supper.”

“Okay.”

Mom kissed the top of my head. “Gotta go or I’ll be late for work. Your dad already left. Don’t forget to feed Bubble. Be sure to do your chores and water all the plants before you go with your friends.”

“Friend,” I corrected out loud as my mom shut the door.

I finished my breakfast and put my dishes in the dishwasher. I made sure to feed our extremely fat and lazy white Persian cat, Bubble before starting on my chores.

I cleaned my room, the bathroom, the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, took out the garbage and recycling, and finished doing my laundry before heading outside to work on the garden.

By now it was about mid-to-late afternoon, bordering on early evening. I sighed. This was not how I’d planned on spending my Saturday, my summer, or my birthday.

I was so deep in thought that I didn’t notice the girl in the blue Porsche pull up in our driveway and get out. She was wearing an entirely black outfit, fishnets and fingerless gloves included.

“Happy birthday!”

I looked up, grinning, to see my best friend approaching me. I sighed, turning off the hose. “Mom wants me to water all the plants— garden and house ones— and then finish my chores before I can do anything.”

“Awful.” Xaveria said, tucking her light purple hair behind an ear and scuffing her combat boots in the dirt. “I’ll help you.”

“Really? You’d do that?”

Xaveria grinned. “What are best friends for?”

I laughed and handed her the hose. “I’ll do the inside plants.”

Once all my chores were done, I grabbed my purse. “Mom! Xav and I are going out!”

“Okay, have fun, sweetie!”

“We will!” Xaveria called as we left.

“So, where to?” I asked.

“Our place.”

“The woods?”

Xaveria nodded. “Always.”

The woods had been our special places since we’d become friends as infants. Xaveria had been an orphan placed in a foster home. We were practically inseparable our entire lives.

We entered the woods and found our special tree, a giant oak in the middle of the forest. There was a tree house high up in the branches that we’d discovered many years ago. We climbed the rope ladder into the leafy bough.

“Hey, let me braid your hair,” I said to Xaveria.

We talked as I braided, twining flowers into Xaveria’s hair.

“How does it feel to be eighteen?” Xaveria asked.

“Not much different,” I admitted.

A weird look flashed across Xaveria’s face before it disappeared.

“What?”

“Nothing.” Xaveria said, keeping her face perfectly composed. “Can I see your birthmark again?”

“Sure.” I held out my arm. Xaveria had always had this strange fascination with my mark. But I thought it was nothing special, just a crescent moon shape surrounded by what Xaveria said looked like ancient symbols though they looked more likes stars or shapeless blemishes to me. I thought it was ugly, she said it was beautiful and interesting.

Xaveria studied it closely, running a finger over it, before letting my arm drop. “How does it feel?”

“The mark?” I glanced down at my wrist. Surprised, I realized my skin was warm there. “It kind of… tingles.”

Xaveria smiled. “It should.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Is your mother making celebratory dinner tonight?”

“Yeah, with cake, too.”

“Yum.”

“You’re welcome to join us.”

“Sorry, I’ve got other obligations.”

“It’s cool.” I continued braiding Xaveria’s hair.

“Elita?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you believe in the supernatural?”

“Supernatural?”

“Yeah. Like… fairies and unicorns and demons.”

“Uh, I guess, yeah. I’ve never really thought about it.”

“I know you believe in ghosts.”

“Of course. And I believe in the possibility of zombies. What does this have to do with anything?”

“Just wondering.”

“What is this about, Xaveria?” I asked, turning her to face me. “This doesn’t sound like just curiosity.”

Xaveria glanced out the tree house window. She bit her lip, debating. Finally, she sighed and said, “This is your eighteenth birthday.”

“Yeah…?”

“Tonight is a full moon.”

“And?”

“And a storm’s coming.”

“A storm. Yes, I know. I checked the weather this morning. Rain, thunder, lightning, the whole enchilada. What’s the big deal about the moon’s phase and a storm?”

Xaveria looked away. Then she turned back to me, put her hands on my shoulders, and stared directly into my eyes. “Tonight is important, Elita.”

“Important? How? Why? Xav, you’re not answering my questions.”

“I don’t know how, except to show you.”

“Show me what?”

“Do you trust me, Elita?”

“Of course.”

“Meet me in your backyard tonight, about a half hour before midnight.”

“Okay…?”

Xaveria nodded. “Your fate is awaiting.”

The more Xaveria said, the more confused I was, so I decided to stop asking questions.

Xaveria pulled out a bottle of fancy wine and two glasses. Uncapping the wine and pouring it, she said, “I managed to steal this from… my foster father’s pantry.”

“Will he notice it’s missing?”

“No.”

“Okay, then.” I said as Xaveria handed me a glass.

“A toast,” Xaveria said. “To birthdays.”

We clinked glasses and drank. The wine was slightly tart, but mostly sweet. It was delicious.

“Wow, your foster parents have impeccable tastes.”

Xaveria grinned. “Indeed, they do.” She poured me another glassful, but took none for herself.

I downed that glass, too. I frowned. Xaveria was looking at me oddly.

“Fairies usually do.” She murmured.

“What?”

“What?”

I shook my head, my mind foggy with the alcohol. “Nothing. I just… I could have sworn you said something about fairies.”

Xaveria laughed. “Of course not, silly. That’s ridiculous. Here— have some more wine.” She filled up my glass again.

“No, no, that’s enough,” I said, my speech slurred. “No more.”

“Drink,” Xaveria urged.

Giving in, I downed that glass of wine, as well. “This is delicious.”

“I’m counting on it.”

“I think I’m… drunken.”

Xaveria was watching me very closely, that weird look still in her vibrant blue eyes. “Let’s get you home now.”

I let Xaveria help me up and get me down the ladder to the forest floor. She carried me home and put me into my bed. By now night had fallen.

“Your parents should call you down for dinner soon. Go. But remember… eleven-thirty tonight.”

I nodded before drifting off.

An hour later, my mom called up the stairs, “Suppertime! Wash your hands!”

Slowly, feeling light and dizzy, I went into the bathroom and wash my hands.

Cleaned, I headed downstairs to enjoy a birthday meal with my parents, then I would pretend to go back to bed, sneak out the upstairs window, and wait for Xaveria and her mysteries.

 

I waited in the wet grass, the dew soaking into my shorts. The stars twinkled, surrounding the full moon Xaveria had predicted. The sky was clear of clouds, but dark. Almost too dark, it seemed. Indigo-black, the color Xaveria had told me she wanted to dye her hair.

“Elita.”

I stood at the sound of Xaveria’s voice. “Xav? Where are you?”

Xaveria materialized out of the shadows. Her lavender hair was still braided, my flowers still in place. Her eyes seemed strangely reflective, glittering in the moonlight. “They’re waiting for us.”

“Who?”

“You’ll see.”

“I’m confused, Xav. You promised to uncover your riddles from earlier.”

“We are… It’s better if you see for yourself.”

“See what?”

“Come.” Xaveria turned and melted back into the shadows. I followed her, a strong feeling of apprehension settling in my gut and tugging at the alarm bells in my brain.

We walked in the darkness, silently. Finally, we stopped in the woods at a place I recognized.

“Xav? Why are we here?”

“This is our tree.”

“I know. You said you wanted to show me something.”

“I do.”

“Well? What is it?”

Xaveria took a deep breath, shutting her eyes.

“Xav? You’re kind of scaring me.”

“Sorry,” Xaveria murmured. “You have to believe, Elita.”

“Believe in what?”

Xaveria opened her eyes. “Do you know what your name means, Elita?”

“No…”

“The Chosen One.”

“Chosen? Okay. For what?”

Xaveria sighed. “For greatness. For an ancient prophecy.”

“What? Xav, what the hell are you talking about?”

“An old prophecy predicted your birth, Elita.”

“A prophecy? Xav—”

“I am not a foster kid, Elita.”

“What?”

“I am not human. I was instructed to watch over you. I am truly much older than this.”

“How old are you?”

“Over five hundred years, Elita.”

What are you?”

“I’m not sure you’re ready for that knowledge yet—”

“I’m ready, Xaveria.”

Xaveria sighed. She closed her eyes again, took a deep breath, and shifted.

I stumbled back, eyes bulging out of my head. Where Xaveria had been a second ago now stood a horned horse. “Oh my god,” I breathed as her violet hair swirled around her sparkling neck. I let my gaze roam down her silver-and-rainbow pelt. Her eyes glowed sapphire, bright with purple and emerald flecks in them. Her horn shone gold as she touched it to the tree trunk.

Her hair isn’t dyed, I thought dimly, in shock.

Light from her horn seemed to seep into the bark, spreading throughout the tree. Finally, the tree seemed to split open like a door on hinges, showing a glimmering portal. There was a sunny meadow on the other side, even though it was night on this side.

Xaveria stepped through and disappeared.

Confused and scared, but wildly intrigued, I followed her. The tree closed, sealing off the portal again.

As soon as I stepped foot in the grassy meadow, a tingle shot through me. I glanced down and realized my skin was emitting a soft yellow glow.

“Come,” Xaveria said.

I obeyed. She led me into what appeared to be a village of extremely short people with wings.

“This is Queen Moriba’s domain.”

Domain?”

Xaveria nodded. “My queen, the ruler of all fairies, reigns here. She is expecting you.”

I noticed all the fairies we passed stopped to gap at me. “Why are they all staring, Xaveria?”

“They’ve been waiting for you for a very, very long time.” Xaveria explained. “Stop gawking,” she ordered the fairies that were watching us with interest.

“I’m dreaming,” I said.

“No, you’re not.” Xaveria told me. “This is really happening. Your are the Prophecy Child.”

“The what?”

“I mentioned the prophecy? You are here to lead our people.”

“What are you talking about?” I glowered at the fairies. “I am no leader.”

“You are here to save us, to free us.”

Save you? Free you from what?”

“King Chernobog.”

“King who?”

“His name literally means ‘the black god.’ He has been attacking us. He’s declared war and he’s determined to defeat us. He won’t stop until he has killed my queen and enslaved her people.”

“And your prophet says I am supposed to bring about victory and freedom?”

Xaveria nodded.

“But I am untrained. How am I supposed to defeat a powerful ‘black god?’”

“He’s not really a god. Just an ancient warlock with a presumptuous name.”

“Aren’t warlocks immortal?”

“Nothing lasts forever, Elita. If it bleeds, it can die. And to the extent of my knowledge, warlocks do bleed.”

“I don’t know how to fight, Xav.”

“You have to believe, El.”

“I’m not going to beat a warlock with the power of belief.”

“Belief can be a powerful thing.”

“So can magic, which this guy is clearly well-versed in.”

We reached a giant, glittering palace. It appeared to be made completely out of mother-of-pearl, crystal, and diamond. Two guards with sparkly wings opened the doors for us.

The hallways were long. The corridor walls were decorated with weapons, stained glass windows, and tapestries. We finally came to a stop outside another set of doors, which a pair of guards opened for us.

We stepped into the biggest room I had ever seen in my life. It was obviously the throne room.

A gorgeous young woman with blood-red hair and porcelain skin sat upon a throne on the dais, looking bored and only vaguely worried. Her expression chanced when we entered. She stood, her blue eyes sharp and calculating. “Elita Lily Carlisle, I take it.”

I nodded. “The queen, I presume.”

Moriba laughed. “You would be correct, Elita Carlisle. So glad you could make it.”

“Well. Xaveria wasn’t making much sense. She was being extremely… cryptic. I simply just had to come see this for myself.”

“She told you about the prophecy, I trust?”

“Yes.”

“And that you are destined to be our savior.”

“Yes.”

“Do you accept? It is a lot of responsibility, Elita Carlisle.”

“If I decline, King Chero-something wins and takes over your kingdom?”

Moriba nodded gravely. “Chernobog. Yes.”

“Then I accept.”

“Are you sure? Once you accept, there is no going back. This is your last chance.”

“I can’t let you be killed and your people either made into slaves or murdered with you. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I could have rescued your kingdom and let you down. If I try and fail, so be it. But I have to try.”

Moriba nodded. “Very noble of you.”

“She is strong-minded and strong-willed, Your Majesty.” Xaveria reported. “She is stubborn. If anybody has a chance against our enemy, I believe it is her.”

“You trust her?”

“Implicitly.”

“You seem to have my first advisor’s faith,” Moriba said to me. “If she believes in you, then I trust you, as well. Good luck, Elita Carlisle.”

“Thank you, Your Royal Fairyness.”

Moriba’s lips twitched upward into a smile. “Xaveria, prepare her. I like her— let’s try not to get her killed.”

Xaveria led me from the large throne room into the armory. “Time to get you some gear. Ciar, get her suited up.”

The man who was polishing a double-headed axe put the weapon down and started taking my measurements.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“You’ll be needing some armor,” Ciar replied gruffly. He finished measuring me in silence. Then he handed me a sword, inspecting how I held it. He handed me different swords, all different weights and sizes. Finally, he found one that said had the perfect heft for me.

Xaveria led me from the armory, leaving Ciar to mold my armor from the measurements he took. “Now,” Xaveria said. “To teach you how to use that sword.” She gestured to the sword Ciar had given me that was hanging from the sheath they’d given me around my waist.

It took lots of practice and me falling on my ass and face a lot, but I finally got the hang of the basics of the sword.

“You look like you got punched by an ogre.” Xaveria said when we were done for the day.

“Wow, thanks,” I said sarcastically. It took a lot to get used to seeing my best friend as a horse.

“Get some rest. You’re pretty banged up and you look exhausted. Next lesson is at dawn.” Xaveria showed me to a guest room in the palace.

I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillows.

 

Dawn practice wasn’t much better. In fact, I was worse.

I was clumsy from sleep and still sore from the falls I’d taken yesterday. It felt like my whole body was black-and-blue.

“You’re getting better,” Xaveria encouraged.

I didn’t want to let down Xaveria, her queen, or the kingdom, so I kept going. I did all the workouts and drills Xaveria assigned, studied the book of magic and spells and potions she’d given me. I memorized all of Chernobog’s weaknesses from what they knew about him. What they knew about Chernobog was very little, but they had written it down. It wasn’t hard to memorize his weaknesses and flaws that could be used against him. It was slightly harder to plan my counter-attacks.

I was exhausted at the end of each day, falling into bed and passing out immediately, only to be woken the next day just before sunrise.

After being in the fairy realm for nearly two weeks, I was making significant progress. Queen Moriba would come to watch my training sometimes and comment on my progress. Her reports were always satisfactory. She told Xaveria she was pleased with my work and determination.

One month passed, then two. Two months turned into three, three into four, and before I knew it, I had been in the fairy realm for half a year. I was too busy training and too tired at the end of the day to worry about my family back home, too busy and tired to wonder if they missed me or if they even noticed I was gone.

I trained harder than I ever had at anything before. I gave my all when practicing, honing my skills. I developed muscles and had to have a heavier sword made.

Finally, Xaveria and Moriba deemed I was ready.

It took another month of working with Moriba’s army until I felt comfortable taking on Chernobog and his army of evil.

 

The eve of the battle, there was fear and anticipation in the air. There would be casualties. Every battle and every war had casualties. Anyone could die tomorrow. The brave knights who would accompany me onto the battlefield said goodbye to their loved ones and ate their last meal, going to bed early to save their strength. I stayed up late into the night, doing drills and trying to calm my nerves.

Xaveria found me in the practice arenas, thrusting my sword around, sticking it into imaginary opponents. “You should get some sleep.”

“I can’t.”

“You need to rest.”

“Some will die tomorrow. I am going off to challenge this powerful warlock and not everyone will make it home, if any of us do.”

“Don’t talk like that, Elita. You will succeed. I believe in you.”

“Belief.” I snorted. “I need skill, not belief. I need the upper hand. I need a fucking miracle tomorrow.”

“Deep breaths, El. I trust you. I have faith in you. You have trained for this. You have an army that is loyal and willing to die for this cause. You have the queen’s entire army at your disposal. They will follow you courageously into battle and you will win. You know why? Because he doesn’t know about our secret weapon— you.”

“The prophecy says we’ll win, but… What if we don’t? Any amount of things could go wrong tomorrow.”

“You are confident,” Xaveria said. She sounded as if she was chanting a mantra. “You are confident, you are brave, you are courageous, you are strong, you are smart, you are Chosen. Let that be your motto tomorrow. You are determined and stubborn and loyal. Let your fury fuel you. You are vengeance and destruction. You will eradicate their army. You will annihilate them. You will demolish their kingdom and obliterate their king. You are a warrior, valiant and passionate.”

That was the best pep talk I had ever heard. I took a deep breath, steely determination glinting in my eyes. “I will erase them off the face of the earth, banish them from this realm and the mortal one.”

“Send them straight to Hell!” Xaveria said. She morphed into a human and grabbed me up into an embrace. “Good luck out there, El. You are like a sister to me. If you die, I will personally bring you back to life to kill you myself.”

I laughed. “I’ll see you once we’re victorious.”

“That’s my girl. Now at least try to get some sleep.”

I returned to my guest room and fell into bed. I drifted off uneasily.

 

Well before dawn, I roused the ranks. Groggy and somber, we ate breakfast and then started suiting up for battle.

Xaveria found me at the stables, petting a moss-green unicorn. She was human-shaped. She hugged me again. “Good luck, Commander Carlisle.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Xav.”

“Commander, your steed is ready.”

I went outside the stables to see the unicorn they’d given me months back. Her name was Vartouhi, which in their language meant ‘as beautiful as a rose.’ Vartouhi was a deep red color, with a slightly lighter red horn. Her eyes were so dark a crimson they were almost black.

Vartouhi was standing next to another unicorn, this one a dove gray. Titanius, he was called, which meant ‘friend of fairies.’ According to a question I’d asked months ago, Xaveria had answered that she was the only unicorn who could shape shift. I had also learned, in my stay in the fairy realm, that her name meant ‘the bright one.’ The fairy language was difficult to pick up and understand, but Xaveria had done her best to teach me some and I’d done my best to learn as much as possible.

I said hello to Titanius, then mounted Vartouhi. Taking their cue from me, the rest of my brave, loyal soldiers mounted their steeds, too. Not all of us were on unicorns. Some rode pegasi, some rode centaurs, some rode monster cats, some rode other beasts, too. One rode a chimera.

Once in formation, we marched for Dorenmoor where King Chernobog was rumored to have overrun and stationed his troops.

Previously to this day, I had studied maps of Dorenmoor and memorized the kingdom’s layout. It wouldn’t be too hard to identify where the most heavily guarded part of the border was and to locate Chernobog once we got past his patrols.

It was a two-days’ ride to Dorenmoor. Vartouhi never complained, though I was sure it must have been uncomfortable for her galloping in this heat with someone on her back, dressed in heavy armor and carrying a sword at her waist, daggers in her boots, and a broadsword strapped to her back.

This is like something out of a medieval action movie, I thought. Oh my god, I’m a character from Lord of the Rings. This is some freaking Game of Thrones shit.

We reached the border, but had to wait until a patrol passed before we could attempt to sneak inside the kingdom.

Getting past the border patrols was easier than I’d expected, considering I had a large army with me.

We ran into slight trouble just inside the border, fought a small skirmish, and won. I felt like a character from World of Warcraft.

My army split up then, following our plan. They fanned out, to come from every side of the castle.

While over half the army was off killing Chernobog’s dark fairies, I slid off Vartouhi and snuck into the palace with a small group of ten light fae knights.

Chernobog was easy to find, but heavily guarded as anticipated. He reclined in his stolen Dorenmoorian throne. He seemed relaxed, as if he was waiting for us. His eyes were black, like jagged obsidian. The black magic must have done that to him.

“So,” he said conversationally, smiling in an almost pleasant manner. “You must be the Prophecy Child.”

So much for secret weapon, I thought. “How did you know?”

Chernobog chuckled. “Oh, you poor, stupid human child. I’m a warlock. I know many things, most of which I probably shouldn’t.”

“What else do you know?”

“Now, what makes you think I would tip my hand like that?” Chernobog tsked at me. He stood and spread his arms wide. “And what makes you think you can beat me? I am immortal. I canot be killed.”

If it bleeds, it can die. Xaveria’s voice ran through my mind. Confidence is key.

My hand rested on the hilt of my sword, ready to draw.

Chernobog raised his eyebrows. “Ah, ah.” He flicked his wrist and my soldiers went flying, hitting the back wall hard. Chains appeared and wrapped themselves around my knights, binding them. “If you try anything, I’ll throw your guards to the dragon in my dungeons.”

“You have a dragon?”

Chernobog laughed. “Of course I do, child. Every great king and warlock should master dragon magic. Dragon binding isn’t a difficult spell, but I consider it an important one.”

“Today is your final—”

Chernobog cut me off by throwing his head back and laughing. “You think you can triumph over me? You’re only a child compared to me. I will crush you.”

I was greatly intimidated by his show of power and the fact that I was now standing alone because my knights had been tied up with iron chains, the one substance that can truly hurt the fae.

I raised my head, relieved my lip didn’t quiver and my knees weren’t trembling. I stood tall and steady. I drew my sword, instinctively falling back into an attack stance.

Chernobog cocked his head, amused. “So. You really want to do this, then?”

“Yes.”

“Fine.” Chernobog agreed. “Let it never be said that I am a coward. I will fight you.”

“No guards,” I said. “Just you an me, one-on-one.”

“One-on-one, eh?” Chernobog sounded interested.

“Yes.”

“If you win?”

“Your guards surrender and I take them back to Queen Moriba and her kingdom of Arendale, in custody.”

“And if I win?”

I ground my teeth. “All of Arendale will be yours.”

“And the queen?”

I clenched my fist on my sword. “She will be your prisoner.”

Having the stakes named out loud made me even more determined to win. I had to win now— needed to.

“Fair enough.” Chernobog said, stepping down off his dais. A guard handed him a sword, but he sheathed it.

So this is how it was going to be. He was going to use magic first, to take me out quickly. Well. Weapons fighting wasn’t the only thing I trained in.

I sheathed my sword, too. It was suicide to bring a sword to a magic fight.

Chernobog started on his first spell. I listened carefully, deciding to wait. I would let him think he was winning. I let that spell hit me. It knocked me to the floor. Chernobog grinned. “Not so brave now, without your knights to hide behind, are you, Prophecy Child?” Chernobog taunted.

We circled. I remained silent as he threw taunts and insults at me. I noticed my silence was making him worried. After deciding I had been knocked around enough, I braced myself and shouted my own spell into the room. My ball of fire hit Chernobog square in the chest, knocking him to the floor and singing him.

I smirked at the surprise on his face. Didn’t expect that, did you, you evil dickbag?

Chernobog cat another spell, but I countered his. Our magic’s clashed between us, blindingly. I focused on the spell, concentrating as hard as I could.

Chernobog’s eyes widened at my strength as I held his attack at bay.

I willed my strength to push my spell farther, to break his. Chernobog and I locked eyes.

I believe in myself, I thought and suddenly I was knocked backwards. It felt like the room exploded. When the dust and debris settled, I saw Chernobog lying on the floor multiple paces away from where he’d been. The spell had been broken. Chernobog wasn’t moving. Chernobog’s guards had all been knocked unconscious, or dead. Mine weren’t in much better condition.

Not daring to hope for the best, I managed to crawl over to Chernobog. I cautiously reached out and felt for a pulse. Joy choked my as I felt nothing beneath my fingers. Chernobog was dead. We had won.

I returned to my guards, relieved to find they were relatively okay. Injured, but alive. All except one.

“I call that a success,” one of the knights said to me as I unbound them.

“Time to return home,” I said.

We started our journey back to Arendale, dragging Chernobog’s dead body and his chained knights back with us. I let my mind wander, blissful with our victory, running my hands through Vartouhi’s scarlet mane.

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