JJ and the Wizard's Quest

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In JJ and the Wizard's Quest, when the injured wizard Devlin tells JJ that only he can stop the evil Annika from sucking all the joy out of the world; JJ must rely on his wits, his courage, and his new friend Bernie to outsmart the wicked Annika!

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Chapter Two

The blazing fireball passed inches in front of JJ's nose, hit the back wall of the cave and fizzled into ashes on the ground.

Devlin leapt to his feet, the best he could with his injured leg and bellowed, "Bernard! Show yourself!"

Still shaking from his near collision with the fireball, JJ screwed his eyes shut again. "The letter M, the letter M, the letter M," he repeated over and over. He kept thinking that maybe, if he just kept answering the riddle correctly, maybe he would open his eyes to find himself sitting back in the cool, still library.

Instead, upon opening his eyes, JJ found himself looking into the surprisingly innocent face of a rather sheepish little bear. He wasn't a large, frightening bear, but rather a small, unassuming bear with a friendly blue cap atop his head. He might have appeared downright jovial if it weren't for the scowl on his face.

"Give me that, Bernie," Devlin demanded in the tone of a disappointed father. The wizard held out his hand toward the bear.

Bernie handed over a small wand, which the wizard immediately confiscated within the folds of his robes. "For heavens sake, Bernie. We've been over this again and again. You're not allowed the use of a wand yet!"

JJ glanced from the guilty looking bear to the disappointed wizard. Then, all of a sudden something exciting occurred to him. "But the wand!" JJ exclaimed, almost grateful for the appearance of the bear who had nearly singed the hair off his face. "Now you have a wand! Couldn't you, I mean, would you please, I mean don't you think..."

"He can't even speak!" Bernie sputtered. "You think this is the chosen one and he can't even get a sentence out!" Bernie sat down in the corner in a great huff.

Devlin brought the wand out from the folds of his robe and held it up to JJ. "This is not nearly powerful enough to send you back to your world. It's barely powerful enough to be called a wand. It's the plaything of a student who should not have been using it in the first place." The last part was directed toward Bernie in the corner.

"How am I supposed to learn if you won't let me practice? A bird can't learn to fly without using its wings."

"A bird will not kill someone else if he spreads his wings too soon," Devlin chided.

"I didn't mean to kill him. Just scare him. That last one was only meant to be a flash of light. Not a fireball."

"That's exactly my point, Bernie dear. You have tremendous potential, as I keep telling you. But it won't do to unleash your potential until it has become a finely tuned instrument. Or wings that are ready to take flight, if you will."

JJ began to feel a little warm. This was all so much more than he had planned for today. He took a sip from his tea, hoping it would refresh him. Instead, in his overcome condition, he ended up spilling it all down his front.

Bernie snorted. "And this is your finely tuned instrument?"

"I didn't choose him," Devlin said, and JJ was surprised to find he felt a little insulted by the wizard's tone. "The spell found him. And since the spell found him, it means he is the chosen one whether you like it or not."

"I don't like it! I don't like it at all!"

JJ couldn't be sure in the darkness of the den, but he thought the small bear's eyes might be filling with tears.

"I could go!" Bernie insisted. "I could go on the quest! I want to. I'm ready. I'm brave enough to face anything she might have in store for me."

Devlin approached Bernie and put his arms tenderly around the small bear. "Of course you're brave enough. Why if it only came down to courage, I would put the fate of the universe in your capable paws any day of the week."

Bernie still looked skeptical.

"This is simply the way it is, Bernard. It's not for me to understand, and it's not for you to question." The wizard glanced over at JJ, making sure JJ understood it was also not for him to question. "My spell was meant to locate the one unique individual who already possesses everything he needs to make this quest for me. Someone with courage, yes, but also intelligence, patience, curiosity, and even more things we don't know yet but will surely be necessary. And that spell found this dog. So if you are my loyal friend, Bernie, and I know that you are, I need you to understand. I need you to help me prepare this dog for his quest."

"But what is the quest?" JJ muttered. All this talk and he still didn't know why he was there. But the wizard and the bear were still having their quiet moment in the corner.

JJ stood up. "Did you hear me? WHAT IS THE QUEST?"

Devlin and Bernie looked up in surprise. JJ had asserted himself with more volume than anyone expected from this mild-mannered dog. Devlin gave Bernie one more affectionate squeeze and returned to his cup of tea across from JJ.

"I'm so sorry, my dear canine friend. There is so much that has been left out. Including your name. Which is?"

JJ sat back down. "JJ." He felt a little foolish about his outburst, though he was still eager to understand more about why he had been pulled so suddenly from his ordinary day into this obviously extraordinary one.

"JJ. Wonderful. You already know me as the wizard Devlin, and our maker of mischief over there is Bernard, though his friends call him Bernie."

"You can call me Bernard." Bernie may have forgiven the wizard but he had not yet accepted JJ. That would take more than a few encouraging words from Devlin.

"Bernie is my apprentice. A wizard in training, you might say. He will be, perhaps, the greatest bear wizard our world has ever seen. In time. But for now, he learns, and he helps an old, hobbled fox." Devlin rubbed his injured leg again.

"What happened to you?"

"What happened to me has everything to do with what's about to happen to you. You'll need to set out at first light, so I suppose I should begin our tale."

Bernie edged a little closer to Devlin and JJ as the wizard sat thoughtfully for a moment, gathering his thoughts.

"As I told you before, I am a wizard without a wand. Or without a wand of any worth." He tossed aside the small wand he had confiscated from Bernie earlier. "A wizard does not come to lose his wand unless it is at the hands of a great adversary. I do not mean great as in good, but great as in powerful. Only a very powerful adversary would have had the skill or cunning to relieve me of my wand."

"You give her too much credit," Bernie protested.

Devlin shook his head. "Because she is malicious does not mean she is without skill. We use our magic toward different ends, Annika and I. But we practice the same art.

"You find yourself in a very different world than the one you knew, JJ. I'm sure that will soon be obvious, if it's not already. In this world, we animals have developed very clear roles, skills, ways to fit into our society. For example, monkeys are nearly always the bearers of wisdom. Cats bring great comfort to the injured. And foxes are almost always the creatures with magical skill."

"Not always."

"I said almost, Bernie. I said almost. These rules are not hard and fast. Bears are usually the guardians, the warriors, the protectors of our land. Bernie is an exception to the rule, of course, choosing a magical life among the foxes.

"But as I said, we foxes make up most of the magical class. And among the foxes, there have been two principal families over time who have battled over the use of this magic. My family, for many generations, has fought to use magic for good: that animals would be healed, would not go hungry, would not face threats from other worlds.

"There is, however, another family of foxes that does not have such charitable ambitions for the use of their magic. This family, currently presided over by the wicked and ruthless Annika, would use their considerable magical skills to further only their own desires. Not only that, they would use the magic to suck the joy out of our world.

"Wicked creatures that they are, they cannot abide laughter or happiness in any creature at any time. Annika and I have been engaged in a struggle for some time, over this very issue.

"Annika has a plan, a terrible plan. If she achieves this plan, she will make it impossible to laugh."

Devlin paused to let this sink in.

"Impossible to laugh? I don't understand."

"Annika wants to enchant our land so that no one can ever laugh again. She wouldn't stop at doing away with laughter, either. She would make it impossible to ever feel joy of any kind.

"Imagine a world without the simplest of smiles. Without small acts of kindness, without happiness, without hope. Why, there would be no reason to even get up in the morning. She's very close. It is deep, dark magic, which required the use of my wand."

"Doesn't she have her own wand?"

"Yes, but she needed the wand of the most powerful wizard in all the world to accomplish what she seeks to accomplish."

"That's you? The most powerful wizard in all the world?"

"Indeed. Annika hates that I have surpassed her in magical skill, and when it came to a duel for the wand, she was unnecessarily violent. I was not willing to harm her, but she ended up wounding me badly and got away with my wand."

"So does she have what she needs to do what you said? With the laughter?"

"Not yet. But soon. She needs one more thing, a very powerful amulet which will give her the power she needs to cast that horrific spell."

"And where is this amulet?"

"Well, that's precisely why you're here, JJ."

JJ, who had been listening to the wizard with intense interest, was suddenly jerked back to reality. This wasn't just a bedtime story. It was really happening.

"What do I have to do with your amulet, and this wicked Annika?"

"Nothing," Bernie muttered, but the wizard hushed him.

"Everything. My spell was cast to find the one who could retrieve the wand and locate the amulet. I would go myself, of course, but my duel with Annika left me barely able to get about my lair, as you have seen. If we are to stop her terrible plans, someone must go. That someone has to be you, JJ."

JJ shifted uncomfortably. This was an important job. Not just an important job, a truly immense, almost impossible request to battle a powerful witch for control of the universe. JJ had only intended to do battle with the gophers today.

"Look, I really appreciate your belief in me," he began, willing himself not to glance at Bernie. Bernie most definitely did not believe in him. "But you've got the wrong person. Really. I mean, I read an adventure book here and there, but that's about it. I'm no daredevil. I have absolutely no experience with duels. Or witches."

"See?" Bernie said, eager to agree with JJ this time.

"Yeah, I'm sure Bernie would be great. He wants to go. I could wait here with you, Mr. Devlin, until Bernie brings back your wand and then you could send me home. I'll take care of you. I'm great at making tea."

Devlin smiled. "I'm sorry, JJ, but when you opened that book in the library, you started in motion a chain of events that are now impossible to stop. When you answered the riddle correctly, you were cemented as the only one in the whole universe fit for this task."

Bernie snorted.

"I can't send you home until I have my wand. I can't go after it myself, because I'm injured. If Bernie could go, my spell would have chosen him. So the way I see it, there are only two options."

JJ brightened. "Oh, good! I thought the only option was me going on this quest of yours. What's the other option?"

Devlin looked grim. "The other option, my boy, is for the three of us to hole up in this dark, cold lair and wait for all the joy to be sucked out of this universe for the rest of time."

JJ felt for a moment like something had been sucked out of him. He almost couldn't breathe. But little by little he began to breathe again. His heart pounding, he gathered the deepest breath he could.

"All right," he said quietly. If there was no other way, there was no other way. He was a practical dog.

Bernie glowered at him. Devlin beamed. "What was that?"

"I said all right. I mean, if it's the only way ... I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"

"You do not!" The wizard almost seemed delighted to declare JJ's lack of options.

"Then I guess I'm in for quite an adventure."

"That's the spirit!" Devlin almost jumped from his chair, but immediately sank back down again, rubbing his leg. "Sometimes I forget how bad it is," he said. "Bernie, my boy, would you help me make up a bed for JJ, over there by yours?"

JJ felt terrible for Bernie, who looked as though a knife had been stabbed through his heart. He obviously wanted so badly to go on the quest and help the wizard. And here Devlin was, asking Bernie to serve JJ.

JJ stood up. "I can do it. I don't need much. A blanket would be nice. It's pretty chilly in here."

Devlin nodded and pointed JJ to a pile of rumpled blankets in one corner of the lair. "Yes, Annika's power is growing, with my wand in her possession. She's already been able to take the warmth from the sun. It shines, but the rays give no heat. It's the eeriest thing."

JJ shook out the blankets and arranged them on the floor as far away from Bernie's bed as he could. "When will I start?"

"At first light," the wizard said. "We've no time to lose. But first, we need to get a good meal into you and get you to bed. You'll need the best night of sleep you can get."

JJ looked dubiously at the rumpled blankets on the hard packed dirt. Even with the most luxurious feather bed there was, he doubted he'd ever be able to sleep. No, JJ was quite certain he would lie awake all night long, considering the task ahead.

JJ did lie awake long after Bernie and Devlin had fallen asleep. He could hear their breathing, and though he barely knew them, it was comforting to have someone else close by. Soon he would be out on his own, in a world he knew nothing about.

JJ eventually drifted off, exhausted by the events of the day. Before he knew it, he awoke to find Devlin gently shaking him.

"Up and at 'em, JJ my boy!"

Devlin had already prepared some tea and breakfast, without Bernie's help. Bernie was still snoozing in the corner, although JJ suspected the bear wasn't actually sleeping. That was fine with JJ. He didn't want to make Bernie feel badly, and it seemed like the best way to do that was to avoid him.

JJ sat with Devlin and tried to eat, but his stomach rumbled with nerves, not hunger. He sipped his tea and tried not to look too terrified.

Devlin placed a bundle on the table between them. "I packed you some provisions. This journey will likely take some time, and you'll get hungry. I expect you'll find some help along the way; I have many friends in these woods. But there's some food here, and the water from the stream will quench your thirst at anytime."

JJ nodded. How would he know who the wizard's friends were? Supposing they were truly the evil Annika's friends, trying to trick him?

"There's not only food in the pack, though," Devlin said. "There are a few other things to help you along the way. I can't say exactly how they're to be used. But the spell chose you because you are the one for the task. You will know how to use each thing, in its time."

JJ barely heard Devlin's words. If this truly was a long, strange dream, now would be the perfect time to wake up. He wouldn't even mind waking up to find his whole lawn dug up by the gophers. He would just be happy to find himself safe in his own bed.

"Are you ready?"

JJ blinked. The wizard was standing, holding out the pack of provisions. JJ cleared his head and took the pack, stuffing the things into his own backpack.

"Where am I even going?"

"I can't say for sure," Devlin said. "Maybe you should follow the path just outside the lair. But really, it's up to you."

JJ nodded and headed toward the entrance of the lair. Just before he stepped out into the cool morning sunlight, he turned back. "What if ... what if I don't succeed?"

Devlin's eyes looked troubled for a moment. Then he gave an unconvincing smile. "Let's not think about things beyond our control, all right? Now, off with you. And JJ? Thank you."

JJ walked along the path the wizard had suggested. He could hardly believe that just the day before he'd been walking toward the library, in a world completely different from this one. Just the day before, his biggest concern had been holes on his precious lawn. Now, here he was, tasked with saving the world.

It was almost ridiculous, if JJ thought about it too much. He was frightened, of course. But walking along in the lovely woods with birds chirping merrily about him, he started to feel the spirit of the adventure. It might actually be fun. And if he succeeded, if he actually managed to save the whole world? Why, that was more than he could even imagine.

JJ had been walking for some time when the downhill path began to flatten out. He was beginning to get hungry and had no idea how much longer he would be walking. He sat down on a nearby tree stump and looked into the pack Devlin had prepared.

To JJ's delight, right on top there was a thick hunk of bread with cheese. He had just bitten off a very large bite when he heard a rustling in the trees behind him. He froze, his mouth full of food. It could be anything, from a harmless forest animal to an evil witch. He had no way of knowing.

Whatever it was, he was sitting in plain sight. Hiding would be pointless. JJ slid his pack back on his back and stood up. If it was the evil witch, or someone working for her, he supposed he'd find out soon enough. He started walking nonchalantly. He was about to try whistling, which seemed a good way to show he had not a care in the world, but his mouth was still full of bread and cheese. He chewed and swallowed, and then broke into a run.

JJ ran until he could run no longer. His heart was pounding, and he was gasping for air. If the rustling he'd heard had been coming from anything malicious, he would know by now. Just then, his thoughts were again interrupted by a rustling sound.

"Who's there?" he called. He might as well face whatever it was. But nothing answered.

Suddenly, JJ heard a terrifying roar. It sounded very close, like it was breathing down his neck. Judging from the sound of footsteps pounding and the enormous roar, the creature must be huge.

JJ ran. He ran fast. He ran hard. He ran as fast as he could until suddenly he felt a hard thud and the wind was knocked out of him.

JJ was pinned FLAT on the ground!

- End of Chapter Two -