Twenty Two
Persistence, Plans, and Potions

She woke up, confused as she found herself in her own room. She was almost able to put off all the events as a dream, but the pain in both her stomach and shoulder told her otherwise. She tried to sit up, but it hurt too much and she decided to wait a bit before she attempted again.

"What were you thinking when you just up and left like that? It's dangerous here, especially for a human. You know that," Jackson's voice lectured from the door. She sighed.

"Yeah, well I figured Cayden would be helpful. He was, too. Just not enough. Not his fault though. He did a really good job. We were so far. Why did he come back?"

"You would be dead if he hadn't. He didn't have a choice."

"He should have kept going without me. We're losing time."

Jackson moved away from the door and sat down on the foot of her bed. She sat up, pretending that it didn't hurt half as much as it did.

"Don't ever play poker," he advised.

She raised an eyebrow at him.

"You're not good at hiding your emotions," he clarified. "So what were you thinking?"

"We have to find her before something happens," she stressed the point, not sure why she needed to do this, but knowing it was right.

He gave her a questioning look. "How did you plan to do that?"

"You know, Cayden asked the same question. You both live with a witch. I'm her apprentice. How did you think I planned to do it? Magic." It still seemed like a ridiculous inquiry, especially coming from any of this household.

"Alright. That's how you planned to find her. Now what to you plan to do once you knew where she was?"

"Get her back." It was simple answer, really.


"However I could."

"You didn't plan that far ahead, did you? You don't know what you were going up against. God, why did you try that?"

"What else was I supposed to do? Sit here and wait for something to happen?" She didn't argue the 'not planning that far' bit. It was true. She hadn't known what she was facing so she couldn't plan that far ahead, even if she had wanted to. She hadn't, though. It hadn't even occurred to her to think that far. She had just been focusing on the 'find Melinda' part of the operation.

He sighed. "I don't know what to do, but I know better than to rush into things. If we got killed trying to save her, Melinda would resurrect us all so that she could kill us herself. But you're right. We're losing time."

"Then let's go." She stood out of bed, which hurt a lot less than sitting up had. She wasn't dizzy, either, which was probably a good thing.

"Go where, Amber? We don't have a clue where to find her."

She grinned at him, feeling accomplished. "You don't, but I do. What did Cayden do with the backpacks?"

"Yours is in your closet. His is in his."

It was sitting near the door on the inside. While she was in there, she decided to change. Hunting up a new pair of jeans, t-shirt, and jacket, she put all those on. She slipped into the hiking boots and pulled her hair back. All of it hurt, especially moving her arms enough to put on the tops and to do her hair. That would heal though. She thought of her cousin, of the last words she would ever hear Delilah say. Now that, she wasn't so certain would heal.

She wiped away the tears she hadn't felt come and tried to put on a brave face. Jackson was right. She really shouldn't play poker. She took a few deep breaths and she looked better. The red hadn't left her eyes, but it would. It was just going to take some time. Time she didn't have, so she stepped out, backpack over her shoulder, book in her hands. She opened it and found herself back at step one. 'Leave the manor.' Damn it.

"You're going to kill yourself at this rate. You aren't ready to travel. Not with those wounds."

"I'm going," she replied, firmly. If he really wanted to, he would stop her, she knew that. There was nothing she could do about it.

"Not like this."

She pursed her lips, dropped the backpack, and headed over to the coffee table. Melinda's spell book was still sitting there, she picked it up and flipped through until she came across the page she was looking for. She held it up, showing Jackson. A healing potion.

He frowned. "Will it work?"

"If I do it right."

"And if you do it wrong?" he questioned, obviously believing that she would.

"It'll probably blow up in my face," she answered. "But it's worth a shot."

She took the book and went to the first floor potions lab. It was a level three potion, which meant it was even harder than she was used to, but she was almost certain she could pull it off. Potions were a lot like baking. Precision was important in both of them. So was timing. If she could bake a soufflè, she could create a level three potion.

It took her four hours, which was a lot longer than she would have liked. It was burning precious daylight. Still, it was worth it. At least, it would be if it worked. It hadn't blown up, so that was promising. She read through the directions one last time before she drank the potion. It tasted awful. The consistency was that of oatmeal. It was the color of pea soup, which for whatever reason she associated with baby vomit. It smelled like manure. It tasted like spoiled milk. She wanted to vomit. Her gag reflex wasn't making it easy to drink, either.

The magic was nearly instantaneous. Her wounds healed moments after she had swallowed the last of the concoction. She could feel the physical pain disappear. Good. It had been worth the nasty solution. She went back upstairs, but Jackson had left her room. She grabbed the backpack and the charmed book and headed to the art room. As per usual, Cayden arrived two minutes after her. He must have expected her, because he was dressed and ready to go.

"Jackson's in the living room," he informed her. She nodded and they headed down. Jackson was dressed to go as well.

"I didn't hear any explosions so I figured you had pulled it off. Let's go." Cayden handed Jackson his backpack and took off his boots, placing them inside it. Jackson opened the front door and Cayden took a running leap outside, straight into the air. Amber watched with confusion and curiosity. Those became fascination as she watched her friend go from the normal human she usually saw, to the impressive dragon she had ridden on the back of one day. The transformation was brief, but it wasn't like that of a shape shifter. He didn't slowly transform into his other form. It was actually really quick. A swirl of glowing silver wrapped around him and he was changed. She supposed that was convenient during battles. Or it would be if he fought them.

"Cayden's flying. We're taking the unicorns. I hear you've befriended Jill. You know, not even Melinda rides her," he informed as they walked to where the unicorns where harnessed. He undid the knots.

"She's cranky, but she's nice. Deep down. Very deep down." She leapt up and they started out their journey. Jackson allowed her to lead the way, since she had the book. He was putting some faith in her and she didn't want to let him down. It wasn't a whole lot of trust, but it had been hard to earn and she wasn't planning on losing it. They made it a little further than she and Cayden had on their own when she began to slow down. Jackson looked at her and shook his head.

"Cayden has dragon's sight, better than an eagle's in the day or an owl's at night. The unicorns have night vision. We're not stopping for anything. If we're going to go, we're doing it all the way."

She nodded a picked up the pace. The unicorns were strong animals. They could make the whole trip; she had stopped the previous night to be kind. She had also figured that she and Cayden would need the sleep. Maybe it was an effect of the potion, but she felt fine now. No exhaustion, nothing. If Jackson wanted to work through the night, she could do that.

Whoever had taken Melinda, had taken her far. They really hadn't wanted her to stand much of a chance at getting back. Then again, Amber supposed if she were going to kidnap a powerful witch, she would be really cautious too. Maybe go to an island. One where magic didn't work. That actually brought up the question of how they were managing to hold the witch. Couldn't she just cast a spell or create a portal and get away? Why hadn't she done that? The questions bothered Amber. If Melinda's magic wouldn't work, then neither would hers. Would Cayden and Jackson be able to shift then? Their odds were better if the answer was yes.

"The wolves are following us," Jackson informed her, as they reached step eighteen. 'Cross the bridge.' The directions were all simple like that. In the last couple, there had also been the phrase, 'This many (the number being there) steps left.' It had started at ten and they were down to four. They were getting close. Unless, of course, the last step ended up being something like, 'Go four hundred and twenty seven miles northeast.' Otherwise, it wouldn't be long before they reached the witch.

Then next three steps consisted of, 'Go east five miles,' 'Take the left fork in the path,' and 'Climb the slope.' When she opened the book for the last time, it simply said, 'Look over the ridge.' They waited for Cayden to close the two hundred feet gap between them before following that last direction. Personally, Amber rather wished she had never looked.

There was a valley below them. It contained a large lake. In the center of that lake was what might have maybe been a house but looked a lot more like a maximum security prison. It was surrounded by a brick fence, topped with barbed wire. The fence also glowed an unusual purple color. Cayden said it was a magic-blocking spell, which answered her earlier questions. Cayden said getting in wouldn't be the problem. He could fly them over the wall and onto the roof of the house. It was getting out that would be the problem, because once he was close enough, all their magic would be gone. He would go back to human form in about two minutes, give or take fifteen (very significant and maybe even life saving) seconds.

Even from their distance, Amber heard dogs barking in the yard. Her companions heard them, too, and it was making her equestrian company rather uneasy. The windows on the house were barred and she didn't see any roof access. She looked at Jackson.

"What's the plan?"

He gave her a dirty look, but there was no way it could come close to Delilah's. Thinking of that broke her heart a little bit.

"You two sleep, take care of Stanley and Jill while I come up with the least suicidal option that I can."

"Sounds like a good plan for now."

Amber got the brushes out and started grooming them. Cayden took out two sleeping bags and crashed in one, still in his dragon form. Once their transportation was all taken care of, cleaned, fed, and watered, she crashed on the other sleeping bag. She wasn't tired, but she knew she would need the sleep for whatever was coming next.

A/N: And we're running out of pre-written chapters, so my updates might slow down. I sure hope not, but we'll see. Hope you enjoyed! (Look at all the plot in here! I'm so proud!) :D