I’m sure you’re all wondering what Kiriyah decides to do with Kelly….
“So if I agree to your demands, you’ll help me find my neighbor and get us back to the blue door safely, right?”
“That is correct.” Kelly nodded in agreement. “Do you consent?”
Kiriyah sighed. “Very well. Let’s go.”
Kelly stood up, shaking the dirt off of her pants. Kiriyah hoisted her pack, staring at the path ahead. “You’re sure this is the way.”
“Absolutely,” Kelly confirmed, starting off on the dirt trail. “The path to the Spirit Palace is an easy yet hidden route. They don’t welcome visitors.”
Kiriyah followed her warily. Despite Kelly’s warnings, she found it difficult to walk unarmed through the dark, twisted blue trees. She also didn’t trust Kelly that very much; bargaining with this girl didn’t seem to be a good choice, but it was all Kiriyah had.
“This is new.”
Kiriyah stopped in her tracks. “Did you get us lost in here?!”
“No, no, of course not,” Kelly denied. “There’s just a fork in the road and I don’t remember which path to take.”
Kiriyah sighed. “Let me see,” she said, pushing past to examine the trails. After a few moments, she turned to the right–through a darker patch of the forest, and away from the lighter part that the other road ran through.
“How do you know?” Kelly asked suspiciously. “It looks more dangerous.”
“Ever heard of the road less traveled?” Kiriyah grabbed a stout stick from the ground and grasped it in her hands. “Also, there are cart-wheel marks in the dirt. No cart would make that mark in solid ground, so it had to be raining, and no cart would travel in the rain except Palace Carts.”
Kelly nodded. “True,” she acknowledged hesitantly. “Why are you carrying a stick?”
“Like you said,” Kiriyah replied, “there are probably a whole lot more dangerous things in there. Better safe than sorry.”
Kelly nodded again. “Good idea,” she said, picking up her own stick. “Let’s go.”
With Kiriyah in the lead this time, they made their way through the forest, fending off six-headed snakes, cannibal monkeys, and other animals that Kiriyah had never heard of. Finally, Kelly noticed that the trees were thinning out.
They had reached the Spirit Palace.
It was sitting in a plain, green-grass field that looked too normal to be true–yet there it was. Made entirely of glass, it gleamed under the blue sun, bursting the light into rainbow colors that dappled everything it could reach in a brilliant light. People, tiny as ants, could be seen scurrying through the corridors of the faraway castle.
Both girls gasped. Neither had seen the Palace before, and although it had been described to Kelly before, nothing had prepared her for the real thing. It was amazing.
Kelly snapped out of the funk quickly. “We have to hurry,” she said. “The night is brighter than the day.”
Kiriyah blinked, shaking off her stupor. “Right. Where are the dungeons?” she said tersely.
Kelly shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ll have to call my sister.” Without warning, she ran straight out into the open. “Jellybean!” she shouted for everyone to hear. “Jellybean! Where are you?”
“Kelly! What are you doing?” Kiriyah whispered angrily from their hiding place. “You’re giving away our position!”
Kelly ignored her and stood there, waiting. Suddenly, a girl, about 16 years old in life, exited the castle. She looked around uneasily, then took off across the plains towards them.
“Jellybean!” Kelly smiled, hugging her sister. “It’s been so long.”
“I know, Kelly, but you have to stay out of sight!” Jellybean gave Kelly a quick hug and ushered her back into the bushes. “What is it? And who is this?” she added, spotting Kiriyah.
“This is Kiriyah,” Kelly introduced. “Kiriyah, this is my sister Jellybean. Her real name is Gelea Fava, which means Jellybean in Catalan.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kiriyah said, and Jellybean smiled.
“Why have you called me here?” Jellybean asked.
“Kiriyah is alive,” Kelly whispered, and Jellybean’s eyes widened. “She came through the blue door, but the Spirit Queen sent key bandits to capture the Keeper she was traveling with. I told her I’d help her get the Keeper out and safely home.”
Jellybean nodded. “We were all shocked when the Palace Guards dragged her in and threw her into a dungeon. I can show you where.”
“Oh, please do,” Kiriyah whispered. “She told me, she can’t defend herself against the Spirit Queen.”
“Neither can we,” Jellybean pointed out. “Which is why we have to keep hidden and silent.” Without another word, she stood up and began to walk across the plains inconspicuously. “Follow me and keep your heads down. I’ll make it look like you’re cleaning girls, but only if you hide your faces.”
They made it to the gate unchallenged. Kiriyah almost froze when she passed by the sinister guards at the gate. Jellybean had spoken to them and persuaded them to let the girls through, but Kiriyah felt as though they could see through the disguise.
“Quick through here.” Jellybean ushered them down a side corridor. As they descended the staircase, the air became more damp and suffocating, yet the light was brighter. Strange noises echoed loudly from the bottom, from loud, raucous screeches to deep, reverberating roars.
“I was wondering when you’d show up.”
“Youre here!” Kiriyah rushed to the old lady’s cell. She looked like she always did, yet she was more somber than before. “Where’s the key? I can get you out.”
“No.” The old lady shook her head. “Kiriyah, listen. You must take the blue door key back and go home alone. You are the only one now who can protect the doors from the Spirit Queen.”
“Keeper.” Kelly spoke for the first time.
“Kelly? Long time no see!” The old lady’s face broke into a smile.
“No time to catch up.” Kelly glanced back at the staircase, then turned to the cell. “Why has the Spirit Queen locked you up?”
The old lady sighed. “I’m afraid she tires of ruling the dead, and wishes to live again. I refused to let her out, as no dead should be released on the world, whether good or bad. She has tried to force the key out of me, but the red key is home, the green key is lost, and the blue key is in your pocket.”
Kiriyah’s hand crept into her pocket. “That’s no reason to leave you here,” she protested.
“I’m sorry, Kiriyah, but if she finds me gone, she’ll use the hounds of death. They’ll pick up your scent–and they can travel between worlds, so they won’t stop until they catch you and bring you back here. You must leave.”
“I’m afraid it’s a tad late for that.”
They whirled around. Before them was the woman who had spoken with that drawling voice. She had a pale face, painted white with powder, but her cheeks had light pink circles on them. Her eyes were as cold and blue as ice, her eyelashes long and black. She was wearing a red-and-purple frilly dress and holding a red-orange fan in her right hand.
They were caught by the Spirit Queen.