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 Five

JJ froze. The dragon took a step closer to JJ and opened his mouth. A deep rumbling sound began in the belly of the beast and JJ could feel the heat of the fire about to emerge from the dragon's mouth. Frantically he calculated how long it would take him to lunge toward the door of the wise monkey's tree, but there was no way he would make it. He would soon be toast, quite literally.

But just before JJ was burned to a crisp, there was an enormous crashing sound in the grove of trees behind the dragon. The beast whipped his head around. Fire exploded out of his mouth and instantly burned the leaves off all the trees it came in contact with. The dragon bounded into the trees, knocking them down right and left, seeking the source of the enormous noise. JJ looked up to where he had last seen Bernie and was relieved to see him waving excitedly from the top of one of the remaining trees.

JJ had no idea how on earth Bernie had managed to distract the dragon, but he couldn't wait to find out. While the beast was still crashing through the forest, JJ ducked inside the hollow tree belonging to the Wise Monkey of the East.

It was extremely hot inside the tree, since the dragon had been outside for some time, breathing hot air menacingly into the cracks. The tree was just as enormous as the Wise Monkey of the North's tree hollow. The walls were also covered in intricate carvings, and a similar throne-like chair was situated in the middle of the cavernous space. But the Wise Monkey of the East looked considerably less peaceful than the Wise Monkey of the North.

The poor monkey had been bound to his throne with crude ropes that chafed his arms and legs. Even worse, a small feather danced in the air in front of him, endlessly tickling him on the nose, his armpits and the bottoms of his feet. Tears streamed down the wise monkey's face as he laughed and cried and raged at the feather.

JJ wasted no time in snatching the feather out of the air. As soon as he touched the feather, it popped and disappeared, like a bubble landing on something sharp. JJ then began loosening the ropes that bound the monkey. When he finally got the ropes loose, he saw deep welts where the ropes had been.

"Oh, thank you," the Wise Monkey of the East moaned, rubbing his arms and legs repeatedly. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I'd never be free. And it was getting hotter every minute."

"There was a dragon out there," JJ explained. "He's gone now."

"Who are you? How on earth did you manage to scare away a dragon? You are, forgive me, a dog, are you not?" When the monkey said dog he very clearly wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Um, yes. I'm a dog. I'm a dog who just saved your life."

"Yes. Yes! Of course you are. I'm so sorry. I forget my manners. Dogs are a rare sight around here. You are indeed a dog who saved my life. Thank you."

"What happened to you?"

"It was that blasted witch Annika. She's been here already, you know, and gotten the clue to the amulet's location. I assume that's what you're after, too?"

"Yes, that's right," JJ said. "Did you give your piece to Annika?"

The Wise Monkey of the East nodded, miserably. "I had to. I have to give it to anyone who answers the riddle correctly."

JJ's heart thumped. So Annika was hot on the trail. How many clues did she have already? What would she do once she had the amulet? He wished, for the umpteenth time, that Devlin had given him a bit more information before sending him out on this quest.

Before JJ could ask any of his questions, the talkative monkey went on. "I didn't want to give it to her. I gave her an especially difficult riddle, and I stalled as long as I could. I'm faithful to Devlin the Great, you know. We're supposed to be impartial, but we're not. Anyone who says they are is a liar. You're either with Devlin or you're with Annika. And you? You are with Devlin aren't you?"

JJ nodded.

"She could tell I despised her," the monkey went on. "That's why she tortured me with that infernal feather." He looked around anxiously. "What happened to it?"

"It disappeared when I touched it."

The Wise Monkey of the East shuddered. "Let's hope it doesn't reappear. Well, let's get down to business. I couldn't help giving her the clue, but we ought to get you back on your way as soon as possible."

JJ gulped. He suddenly felt very nervous about answering the riddle all by himself. He made a mental note to tell Bernie how glad he was to have him along on the journey. That is, if Bernie hadn't been eaten by a dragon in the last few minutes. JJ nodded. "I'm ready."

The Wise Monkey of the East took a deep breath and tried to look thoughtful and important. JJ had just seen him crying and laughing while tortured by an enchanted feather, so it was a little difficult to project the appearance of sage wisdom a wise monkey should always maintain.

Sitting upright, the monkey asked solemnly "What goes up and never comes down?"

JJ blinked. Was it possible? He had actually heard that one before. He just had to think. He was almost sure he had heard it growing up. It was one of those riddles kids told in the schoolyard to try to trip each other up, to show how much smarter they were than the next kid. It was on the tip of his tongue.

What goes up and never comes down? As with most riddles, JJ knew he should break it down into its parts. What goes up? Balloons, bread, temperatures... It couldn't be temperatures, because temperatures come down. But it seemed to JJ that he was on the right track. It was probably something to do with numbers. He was absolutely certain he'd heard this riddle when he was a pup. How old would he have been?

JJ snapped his fingers. That was it. How old had he been? "Ages!" he exclaimed. "Your age goes up and it never comes down!"

"That's right! Excellent work! I knew you'd get it." The Wise Monkey of the East handed JJ another piece of the puzzle.

"Thank you very much." JJ headed for the door, eager to get outside for some fresh air, and to see if Bernie was all right.

"Wait!" The Wise Monkey of the East dashed into a dark corner of the hollow and began rummaging through a pile of odd belongings. "There's something else I want to give you." He kept tossing odd objects over his shoulder until the entire room was cluttered with books and clothes and tools and papers. Finally, he stood up and with great ceremony, held out an old sock.

"Uh, thanks?" JJ took the sock gingerly.

"I'm so grateful to you for getting past that dragon," the wise monkey explained. "And freeing me from that infernal feather. You're sure it disappeared?"

JJ nodded.

"I want to give you something. It seems likely that you're going to encounter Annika sooner or later, if you're both after the amulet. Or, if not Annika herself, then another one of her underlings. So take that, and use it well!"

JJ didn't know what to say. It was just an old sock. But the monkey acted like he was sharing one of his most prized possessions. JJ didn't want to offend him by asking what on earth he was supposed to do with an old sock, but if it could help him, he needed to know how. "Thank you, but the thing is ... I've never used a sock before. For anything besides covering my feet, I mean."

The wise monkey nodded. "You save that until you are in the gravest danger. But remember, you can only use it once. When you are sure you are out of options, you pull that sock out and throw it toward the danger. Don't worry, you will understand when the time comes."

The wise monkey climbed back up on his chair and curled up, exhausted from his hours being tortured by the feather. JJ could see he would get no more information about the sock, but he tucked it away carefully in his pack.

Then he listened carefully at the door to the hollow, before opening it. The last thing he wanted to do was fling the door open and find that the dragon had returned and taken up its post again. But instead of the dragon, he saw only Bernie. The tips of Bernie's ears were charred black, but the little bear was grinning from ear to ear.

"Did you get it?" he asked, jumping up the moment he saw JJ. "Did you get the clue?"

JJ nodded. "What happened to you? Are you okay? Where's the dragon?"

"I'll tell you about it on the way. The third monkey is this way. We should probably keep going!" Bernie charged up the hill. JJ followed after Bernie, pleased to be out in the fresh, cool air.

"So what happened? What was that big crash just before I went inside the tree?"

"Well, when I threw the first acorns, the dragon sat up. You saw that. But it obviously wasn't a big enough noise. And then he heard your footsteps."

"Yeah, I know!"

"Right? So, I decided to take your plan a little further. Don't get me wrong; it was a good plan. But I decided it needed The Bernie Touch."

JJ grinned, pleased to hear Bernie so proud of himself. "What's The Bernie Touch?"

Bernie slyly pulled his wand out his pocket. "I got this back after Devlin took it from me. I mean, I couldn't go on a quest without my wand, could I? So I decided that if acorns were a good idea, then gigantic acorns were a GREAT idea! I threw the whole handful at once, then cast a spell after them, making them absolutely enormous. I have no idea where they landed, but they made a tremendous sound!"

"Yeah, I heard! And how did your ears get burnt? Do they hurt?"

"Oh that? It's nothing. Just a minor injury in the line of duty. They got a little singed when the dragon breathed his fire. But I watched him run way out into the countryside. And I bet you anything he never returns. Annika will make him into a rug if she ever gets her wand on him."

JJ chuckled. "I'm really glad you came with me, Bernie. I couldn't have done this without you."

Bernie was quiet for a moment and JJ noticed the little bear's eyes had filled with tears. "Are you all right?"

Bernie nodded. "Thanks for letting me tag along. I'm really glad I was able to help. I've been learning from Devlin for so long, and I'm honored to even make his tea. But he's been up against so much with Annika, and he's never let me do anything to really help him."

"He probably doesn't want you to get hurt. It seems like he really loves you."

Bernie nodded and quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his paw. "Devlin has been like a father to me, and I know he thinks of me like a son. If he had his way, no one would face Annika but himself. But that's an awful lot for one fox to bear."

"And now he doesn't have a choice."

"Exactly. So it made me feel good to really be able to help with the dragon. Plus, it was awfully exciting!"

Soon JJ and Bernie had come to a fork in the road, and they sat for a moment on a nearby fallen log. JJ handed the canteen to Bernie, who took a long drink while JJ examined the map. "We're headed to the Wise Monkey of the West now, right?"

Bernie nodded, wiping water from his chin.

"I guess we need to take the upper path then. Does that seem best to you?"

Bernie beamed, glad to be asked his opinion. "That's what I'd say," he agreed.

Back on their way, JJ thought for a while how to ask the question that was really on his mind. This brave little bear was obviously very sensitive, regardless of how much bluster he had put up when JJ had first arrived in Devlin's den. JJ didn't want to pry into any unpleasant memories. But he was curious how Bernie and Devlin had managed to form their odd little partnership.

Finally, JJ said, "So Bernie, how did you decide to study magic with Devlin?"

"It just happened," Bernie said, matter-of-factly. "I mean, like Devlin and the first wise monkey told you, bears are usually soldiers or guards or other creatures of great might. I was born smaller than the other bears. And even if I'd been bigger, I was always just a little different. More interested in finding a clever way out of a situation than using my muscles."

JJ eyed Bernie's diminutive muscles skeptically and Bernie laughed. "I know, I know. So magic interested me, but I had no way to learn it, amongst the bears. Then one dark day, tragedy visited our village. Everything was destroyed. I wouldn't have escaped alive, except for Devlin. He saved my life, he brought me back to his den, he treated me like a son."

JJ had a million questions, but he could see Bernie wasn't up to answering any of them. "Wow," he said softly.

"Yeah, so I've always wanted to repay him. Do something to truly help him, or someone else who needed my help. I never imagined I'd really have the chance, though. And here we are now, trying to save the whole world."

JJ nodded. "It's really something, isn't it?"

JJ was enjoying the walk, the beautiful day, and the success they'd had so far. He was taken incredibly by surprise when Bernie suddenly yanked him by the arm and pulled him down on the ground. Lying next to Bernie in the tall weeds, he was about to ask what was going on when Bernie put a finger to his lips, signaling silence. Then, with the same finger, he pointed to a spot not twenty yards away.

JJ followed Bernie's finger and almost gasped when he saw a third enormous tree with an intricately carved door. But Bernie wouldn't have yanked him down to the ground just because they'd arrived at the third monkey's tree. There had to be something else. Then JJ saw it. The door to the tree was open, and filled by a shrewd looking fox of Devlin's size.

But this fox was clearly nothing like Devlin. Simply the look in her eyes was enough to strike fear in JJ's heart, and he hadn't even heard her speak yet.

This must be the fearsome Annika. JJ looked to Bernie with wide eyes. He expected the little bear to be trembling in terror. Instead, Bernie looked like he might jump out and confront the sinister fox at any moment. JJ reached out and put a calming paw on Bernie's arm, ready to stop him if he bolted.

"Come, Simon," Annika said softly. Though her voice was quiet, it was cruel. Chills went up and down JJ's spine.

From their spot on the ground, neither JJ nor Bernie could see who Simon was. It must be a very small animal. They waited where they were for a long time. When they were finally sure Annika and Simon were out of sight, JJ jumped up.

"We have to hurry! She already has at least two of the pieces of the puzzle. Maybe she has all three! Come on!"

"She didn't leave another dragon guarding this tree, did she?" Bernie asked, his wand already drawn.

"I don't see anything. Good thought, though. Let's go!"

JJ and Bernie ran for the door and, in their haste, burst it open with a loud bang. The Wise Monkey of the West, who hadn't even begun to recover from his encounter with the awful Annika, nearly jumped out of his skin.

"What do you want? I already gave you the clue," he whimpered, cowering in the corner. He didn't even look up to see who was at his door. "Please, leave me alone!"

"Excuse me," JJ said softly. "I'm sorry to bother you. I'm not her. I'm not Annika."

The Wise Monkey of the West looked up from his undignified position in the corner. "Ah. No. I can see that." And yet he didn't move, or say anything more. He looked frozen with terror.

"Please, Sir, Wise Monkey," JJ tried again. "We've come to answer your riddle. We already have the other two. If Annika's got all three, it will be very bad for everyone. So could you just give us the riddle? We'd like to try to answer it."

The Wise Monkey of the West still didn't move. Bernie walked cautiously over to the corner and sat down next to him. He put a gentle paw on the monkey's arm. "She's awfully frightening, isn't she? We want to try to protect the land from her evil ways. I know you're scared, but she's already gone. If you help us, maybe we can defeat her."

The Wise Monkey of the West nodded dubiously, as though he didn't really believe anyone could defeat Annika.

With as much dignity as he could muster while still trembling like a leaf, he stood and walked himself over to the center of the tree hollow. With Bernie's assistance, he climbed to the top of his throne. "The riddle," he said in a barely audible voice. He cleared his throat and began again. "The riddle is this: What has to be broken before it can be used?"

"Okay," JJ said, and began to pace from one end of the hollow tree to the other. "We can do this. We can do it quickly. We have to. What has to be broken before it can be used?"

"Silence!" Bernie suggested.

"Yeah, you break silence," JJ agreed. "But you don't use silence. What other things break?"

"A balloon. But you can't use a balloon after it breaks."

"Maybe a food? Like ..."

"An orange! You break the peel to get into it."

"You don't exactly break the peel. But we're on the right track. What about an egg?"

JJ and Bernie both turned and looked expectantly at the Wise Monkey of the West. "Is that it? An egg?"

"Oh, yes. Yes." The monkey hopped down from his throne and handed them the third piece of the map, rushing them to the door as he did. He clearly wanted to get rid of them as soon as possible. "I'm getting out of this wise monkey business," he muttered.

"Thank you," JJ said, before the door slammed on him. "We'll do our best to defeat Annika!"

Outside the tree hollow, JJ and Bernie spread the new clue on a flat rock. Bernie studied it while JJ pulled the other two pieces from his pack. He smoothed them out and examined them. It looked like a simple enough map, except for the fact that the legend was written in odd characters like the ones JJ had seen on the book in the library.

Without understanding the characters, it was impossible to know up from down. What was more, it was impossible to know which symbol indicated the location of the amulet.

"Can you read this language, Bernie?"

Bernie shook his head. "Nope. But there's got to be a way."

JJ agreed, but he didn't know what it could possibly be. "Well, let's start with putting them together, I guess." He set his pieces down on the rock next to Bernie's piece.

As soon as all three pieces were set next to each other, they fused together into one single piece of paper. JJ was still marveling over that piece of magic when Bernie exclaimed, "Look!"

JJ looked at the map and saw that the odd characters had suddenly morphed into the familiar letters he'd known since he was small. And very clearly, in the center of the map, was a cave marked with the tiny word: AMULET.

- End of Chapter Five -