The twinkling swarmed John William’s thin frame as they propelled him through the passageway. He landed and tumbled a few times before hitting a pair of pair of worn, leather boots, hiding under a red cloak.
“Hello….” Stunned, John William gazed up at a vision of wild red hair, angelic skin, and vibrant green eyes. He blinked and smiled foolishly, trying his best not to blush. In their time apart, he’d almost forgotten how beautiful Celeste was.
She stood with her arms crossed and a forced frown as she stared down at her feet. “Do you know how long I have been waiting for you to return? Acting like a goof won’t get you out of trouble.” She scowled, blowing her curls out of her eyes.
John William stumbled to his feet and brushed off the remaining specks. “I’m sorry. I was away too long…. But I’m here now.” He gave her a sweet smile.
Celeste’s freckled face lit up. She wrapped her arms around him, covering his whole body with her red cloak.
“I am so happy to be here.” John William whispered in her ear.
“Are you ready for our quest?” Celeste asked cautiously.
“So, what of this quest you keep speaking about?” Ferdinand narrowed his eyes at the two of them.
“We can’t tell you unless you promise not to tell anyone about it – especially my father,” said Celeste.
“Nonsense; I can make no such promise, young lady. I am a loyal friend to King Paraclete. The ruler of Verhonia wouldn’t want me leaving his daughter unprotected. You have officially obligated me to join you on this quest for your own safety.”
“You’re coming with us? That’s fantastic!” John William cheered. “This will be the best adventure ever!”
“Yah, great…” Celeste smiled politely
“We’d better get to it. Where are we headed?” The old hopper stretched his limbs, preparing for a long stint of walking. Celeste let out a deep sigh and pulled a medallion out of her cloak.
“Copia…,” she muttered.
“Yes, to find my father.” John William gently slid the medallion back into Celeste’s cloak.”
“Where did you find that?” Ferdinand blurted with stunned, bulgy eyes.
“Right here in the forest.” Celeste shrugged her shoulders innocently.
“Young lady, do you know anything about Copia?”
“Yes, it’s in the scrolls I study.” She rubbed her hand along her chin. “Um, it was a sacred city and something destroyed it. I, I know there’s more to it than that; but now is not the time to explain the details.”
“The something that destroyed Copia and its people, is precisely the reason we should not be taking this quest! You are toying with a dark energy none of us fully understand. The consequences could be disastrous!”
“Copia has been in ruin since the time of Azra; I’m sure it is perfectly safe; but John William needs my help. His father is out there somewhere,” Celeste declared.
“Oh? Perfectly safe…? Here we go again. For all of our sakes, you’d better hope we don’t find it or that your meddling father has not stumbled upon it.” The hopper sneered with his long green finger waving at John William. “I have a feeling you two are in for a harsh lesson. I just hope there is no pain involved.”
John William took a deep breath and sifted through his bag as Celeste looked on with raised brows.
“What are you looking for?” She inched closer to him until her curly, red hair brushed against his shoulder.
John William blushed and gently brushed her hair away from her cheek. “Um, my uncle gave me a special stone. It’s supposed to help me find what I’m searching for.” In the deep corner of the satchel, his finger brushed along the folds of the soft leather pouch holding the stone. “Yes − here it is!” Butterflies stirred in his belly as he held the small pouch. “I’m not sure what to do. What if it doesn’t work?”
“Only one way to find out… come on, let’s have a look.” Celeste’s green eyes beamed.
“Here goes nothing….” John William shook the bag until the translucent blue stone wiggled into the palm of his hand.
Ferdinand hopped over, examining the stone with his bulgy eyes. “That’s a locator stone. Huh! It is a guardian’s tool. Don’t you know what that means?” He folded his gangly arms across his chest with a tight lipped, smug expression.
“Yes, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me anyways”. John William rolled his eyes.
“It means the stone will not work for you! Only guardians can harness its power… which brings me back to my previous point – Copia should be left alone. Especially by the likes of two youths with a nasty habit of finding trouble.”
“Well, my uncle told me give it a try; and that is exactly what I’m going to do.” John shifted his hand and watched the stone reflect off the sun’s rays.
“I completely agree, John William. What is the worst that could happen?” Celeste gave John William a nudge with her elbow.
“Don’t ever, ever ask that question young lady… especially not in my presence. I have no interest in experiencing the answer.” Ferdinand narrowed his eyes at John William. “Well, let’s get on with it – might as well put an end to this nonsense once and for all.”
“What am I supposed to do? How does it work?” John William rubbed the stone, hoping for some sort of flicker.
“Your uncle did not tell you?” asked Celeste.
John William nodded with a frown.
“That’s okay; we can figure this out. Maybe there’s a magic word?” She smiled and raised her brow.
John William plopped his backside on the forest floor and let out a defeated sigh. “I suppose I should have asked my uncle how it works. What could I be missing?”
“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, boy. I don’t believe there is anything you can do. I have only seen guardians possess the stone.” Ferdinand slid the strap to John William’s satchel up his shoulder. “We really should be moving along.”
John William gazed at the stone. His chest tightened as he imagined his father wandering alone. He squeezed the stone until his knuckles turned white. His eyes snapped shut and a vision of a jagged stone with detailed carvings rose from the locator stone.
The image was crystal clear, markings of trees in Copious Forest divided by the long, thin line of the river. At the very corner was a flowing waterfall cascading into a pool with the head of a serpent protruding from the top. Dashes of red, blue and lights darted across the map. The lights slowed just enough to reveal their fairy winged silhouettes. A with a red glow surrounding her fluttered toward John William and Celeste. As she held her hands out a ball of fire formed and hovered. It grew larger and larger. John William’s fisted hand trembled as he gripped the stone.
The fairy giggled and hurled the fire ball towards John William. It singed the tip of his nose and vanished into a puff of smoke. “Ouch!” He lunged backwards, vigorously rubbing his nose. The Jagged stone burst into a vivid blue beam of light and shrunk back into the locator stone.
“That, that was fantastic!” Celeste helped John William to his feet. “I know those fairies; They are protecting the map. I’m sure of it!”
“Yes, I’d say you’re right about that… mischievous little creatures.” Ferdinand let out a deep sigh. “Are you sure you want to go through with this, John William. What if…? I mean, your father may not have made it to Copia.”
“I have to find him. I won’t give up – I won’t stop searching until I do.” John William secured the stone in his satchel.
“Alright then, the two of you win, yet again… I suppose we are headed to Windy Ridge.”
“This will be the most amazing quest I’ve ever been on!” Celeste cheered. “Just wait until you see the fairies.”
“We are off to discover!” John William raised his fist in the air. They both snickered excitedly.
“Yes, yes, this is all so exciting. I’m going to get some supplies. There is a vendor not too far from here. I will be back shortly. You two be ready.” Ferdinand grumbled and headed toward the river.
“Can I see it?” John William glanced at the medallion. She placed it in his hand with an excited smile.
“Extraordinary,” he whispered. It began to chime. As the chiming intensified, an eerie breeze blew through his curls. The bushes around them rattled. A low cackle came through the gaps in the trees.
“Did you hear that?” Celeste fanatically glanced around.
John William nodded and reached out to return the medallion. “Maybe we should put it away.” The forest was silent. “Here… take it.” He whispered.
The bushes burst open and leaves flew everywhere. A creature with wicked green eyes and pointy teeth leaped out of the shadows and threw John William to the ground with the medallion still clutched in his hand.