“Uncle Remus! Aunt Nancy! I’m home!” called out Henry right before slamming the door behind him.
A dark skinned woman in her forties appeared around the corner, “Henry Charles Anderson! How many times have I told you to close the door gently?”
Henry winced, “Sorry, Aunt Nancy, sometimes the door . . .”
Nancy shook her head, “None of that, young man, close the door completely instead of letting it go.”
“Thank you, now, hurry it op to your room, you’ve gotten a letter.”
Henry’s eyes snapped up to his aunt, “A letter? From whom?”
Nancy shrugged, “It didn’t say, but, I think it’s important.”
“It probably is,” muttered Henry as he rushed past his aunt and raced up to his room. He gently closed the door behind him before dropping his backpack and jacket by the closet and nearly lunging at the desk. There was the letter, looking so crisp and clean, Henry almost hated to rip it open. But one look at it and he had the same hunch as his aunt, it looked important. Henry quickly pulled out his letter opener and ripped it open. He took out the letter, and his mouth dropped as he read its contents.
My dear Ananse,
I am writing you with a request. I am in need of someone trustworthy for a very special mission, and Matthew Bleu informed me that you were indeed such a person. Will you meet me tonight at midnight on the outskirts of Bifrost, Yggdrasil? This mission will only require a couple of hours of your time, most likely less, if you are as good as Matthew claims you to be. If you accept, I will see you Friday night, but if not, I thank you for your services rendered to all of Alixandria, and the best of luck to you.
Henry sat down in his chair, still in shock. Scheherazade, the Scheherazade, the queen of the fofi, had contacted him? Matthew no doubt was the one who delivered the letter, but why him? Why not a genie, or an older fofi? What mission did Scheherazade need Henry to do that no other fofi or genie could do, when Henry was only an adolescent in fofi years? Or was it just Matthew’s way of getting Henry to fine tune his skills? Henry glanced around his room, and his eyes fell on a small cross-stitch pattern. He took out the craft, threaded the needle, and let the rhythmic pattern of his stitching calm his nerves and help him think. Should he accept Scheherazade’s mission? He had wanted to meet her finally, and she no doubt wanted to meet him, seeing as how he was one of her subjects, though only half fofi. His fingers flew over the craft, despite having to pause for new thread. But by the time he had finished the pattern, he had made up his mind, he would go. His curiosity, coupled with the desire to meet the great queen, had won the day. All he had to worry about now was getting out of the house without letting his aunt and uncle know. He hated having to keep his superhero status a secret from his family, but Matthew had insisted on it to keep them safe, and Henry understood, and agreed. He had already lost both of his parents; he didn’t want to lose the only family he had. Henry moved on to another cross-stitch pattern until he could figure out how to get out without them knowing and get to the Poe mansion in time. But an answer practically presented itself at dinner.
Remus sat back in his chair with a sigh, “That was good, Nancy, as always. How do you do that?”
“Know how to cook so well? Years of experience, darling,” Nancy quipped before kissing her husband on the forehead.
“Well, now I’m so full, I feel like going straight to bed!”
Henry chuckled, “Same here.”
“Well, don’t go to bed just yet, there are still a few things left to be done around the house, and I would appreciate it if you could get those done before going straight to bed.”
“Of course, dear, come on, Henry, let’s get as much done before nine, I really do want to go to bed early tonight. I might sleep all day if I could!”
Nancy scoffed, “Well, you can’t, the bookstore won’t run itself.”
“All the more reason to go to bed early tonight,” mumbled Remus as he rose from the table. Henry too rose, and helped clear the table before going to help his uncle take care of a few chores around the house. By nine, lights were being turned off, and Henry was getting ready for his nighttime excursion. He waited half an hour just to be on the safe side before silently slipping out his window. He swung quickly towards the Poe mansion, got in through an upper window, and raced down the stairs to the basement. In the basement, a soft glow emitted from an area in the floor. Henry went to it and pried open a trapdoor, the glow stronger with the door open. He eased himself down into the hole, and began climbing down the large, almost wooden vine. After climbing down for a few feet, he took to swinging on his webs, knowing it would be much faster. He swung from vine to vine; trying to visualize the map of Yggdrasil Matthew had shown only a few days ago. Henry could see the giant tree, though the trunk was still a ways away. It looked like a mix of sequoia and acacia, with several smaller, though still quite large, trees jutting out from its sides. Henry recalled that there were nine different trees, each of which housed a city of fofi. But the one he needed to get to, Bifrost, was a bit north of his location, that is, if he recalled that information correctly. He changed direction, aiming for the northern side of the trunk, passing up another tree-city. He glanced at the large willow as he swung past, that had to be Myrkvidr, and it certainly looked somewhat dark and mysterious. He kept swinging until he saw the giant rainbow eucalyptus, knowing now why it was called Bifrost. The trunk of the rainbow eucalyptus certainly looked like it was a rainbow bridge, and it provided a good backdrop for a platinum web with the word ‘Ananse’ on it. Henry aimed straight for the spot where the web hung from, and was met with three giant St. Andrew’s cross spiders.
“You made it,” stated a female voice. The three spiders moved aside, letting a tall, graceful woman glide in. Henry’s breath was taken away; she was beautiful and majestic with her jet black hair, bronze skin, and silvery grey eyes that were accented quite nicely by a veil made of silver webbing. She was dressed in a pure white, Arabian style dress with soft golden vine accents and silvery webbing, making it look like it had been cut from marble.
Henry immediately knelt, “Yes, I’m here, your majesty. It’s an honor to finally meet you in person.”
“And to meet you as well, my little hero, thank you for agreeing to take my mission.”
“Um, may I ask a question?”
“Well, how else would I have had a chance to meet you?”
“Oh, um, was that the only reason?”
Scheherazade smiled, “No, it is not, I also wanted to test you, to see how well you would do. See, if you were living in Yggdrasil, you would have undergone this trial a week after your sixteenth birthday, but since you were not and I had no knowledge of you until now, well, now it is taking place. It is still up to you if you wish to continue.”
“I would be honored to go through with this tradition, your majesty.”
Scheherazade nodded, “Wonderful, I will show you where you must go. This is a very important mission, actually, but if you sense any imminent danger to yourself, you are to return immediately. Do you understand?”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“Good, walk with me, I’ll explain the particulars along the way.”
“Very well, your majesty,” Henry stated as he rose and followed her down the trunk of the rainbow eucalyptus.
“I am sending you to find a magical rose. There is a garden full of them on another planet, but, it is protected by a ferocious beast, most likely a dragon of some kind.”
“A dragon of some kind?”
Scheherazade smiled, “There’s more than one kind of dragon, Ananse, each as unique as a completely different species. Some don’t even look remotely like dragons, but they most certainly are. You will have to use both your brain and your brawn if you want any chances of success, and again, if the threat is too dire for you, leave immediately, I will ask a genie to go instead.”
“Wow, um, these magic roses sound pretty important.”
“They are, but I only require one right now, and it doesn’t matter what color you get.”
“Alright, I’ll do my best.”
“That’s all I’m asking of you.” Scheherazade paused, they had come to the roots of the rainbow eucalyptus, between two of which was situated a small lake.
Henry gasped when he noticed the thin film that seemed to coat it, “Ether.”
Scheherazade nodded, “There’s an etheral between the roots of each tree in Yggdrasil.” She pulled out a book from her dress, “Has Matthew explained how we use books to travel through the etherals?”
“Um, sort of . . .”
“Stand in the middle of the etheral, please.”
“Uh, yes ma’am.” Henry waded to the middle of the lake, only a couple of feet, well within an arm’s reach of Scheherazade. She opened the book to a page and placed a rectangular bookmark between the pages before closing the book and holding it out to Henry. “So, um, to be absolutely sure, you just need one rose, any color?”
Scheherazade nodded, “That’s right. And it’s alright if you manage to grab more than one, if I need them later, I’ll use them, but you should focus on getting one.”
Henry let out a huff, “Alright, um, is there anything else I should know before I leave?”
“Not everything is as it seems. Good luck, Ananse, and be careful.”
Henry nodded, “I will.” He let out a soft huff as he took the book from her and pulled up the bookmark until he saw the grey dots separating the black half from the white. Everything around him began to blur as he seemed to fall through the lake. The image of Scheherazade standing by the roots of the eucalyptus seemed to melt away into the image of a luxurious garden. Henry blinked as the garden came into better focus, the colors were vastly different from those back home, the grass was more of a pale turquoise, almost mint, as well as many of the leaves, while the mountains in the background had a bluish hue to their grey and flowers of every size, shape, and color dotted the scene.
Henry let out a breath, “Whoa, this is . . . this is beautiful . . . and so peaceful.” He glanced down, he was still holding on to the book. He tucked the little paperback into a pocket on his utility belt before setting out to explore, and to find the magical rose. He did notice that most of the trees had a grayish tint to them, and he could only tell that because of the wisteria tree. Out of all the plants, it was the most recognizable to Henry, the same brown bark as back home, with the same shade of green leaves and purple flowers. It seemed odd against the backdrop and the colors of the other plants, but Henry didn’t think more about it as he glanced down and saw it. Just beneath the wisteria tree stood a rose bush with roses of every color imaginable growing amid regular green leaves. He began to approach the bush cautiously, thinking that regular green leaves meant magical on this world, and the wisteria tree must be for the rose bush’s protection. Henry’s senses heightened as he took to crawling towards the rose bush, ready to alert him at the slightest movement. He glanced between the wisteria and the roses as he got closer, his heart pounding in his chest and sweat beads dampening his mask. He was nearly on top of the bush when the wind rustled the wisteria and made him pause. He waited a few seconds before continuing towards the roses, glancing at all the different colors. Sure, Scheherazade said to get only one, but which one? A typical color like red or pink might be best, but then again, since these were magical roses, perhaps a blue or green might work better. He glanced between the roses, Scheherazade also said that she only needed one, but if he managed to grab more, that would be fine. Maybe that would be the best decision, take, say, a pink rose and a blue one, and let Scheherazade decide. Henry put out his hand to grab two roses when he paused; something was wrong, very wrong. He quickly glanced up, the wisteria was moving, no, in fact, the whole tree was moving! Henry jumped and rolled to the side as his senses told him to move away from the bush immediately, just as a large, draconian paw slammed down on the spot where he had been crouching.
Henry let out a yelp as he jumped back, that had been close, too close! But his mouth dropped as his eyes traveled from the paw to the body which it belonged. Before him, and, well, above him too, stood quite possibly the strangest creature he had ever seen. Sure, he could call it a dragon, but though it had the front paws, body, wings, and snout of a dragon, it also had the head and back paws of a bear, along with the mane and tail of a lion. But even more strange, was that the horns typical to dragons were actually the wisteria tree with a clump of wisteria at the end of its tail instead of a tuft of fur. Both the horn branches and the tail were brown, while the rest of its body was a grayish purple color and its wings were as green as the leaves of the tree on its head. It was mostly covered in fur, with its underbelly looking like that of a dragon, or a crocodile’s. Point was, it was certainly a strange sight, but once Henry took it all in and got over his shock, his first thought was that he hoped it didn’t breathe fire. As if in answer to his unspoken question, the creature opened its mouth, and blew. Nothing but wind came out, but it was quickly reaching the wind speeds of a small tornado, and Henry was finding it difficult to stand. He shot a strand of web at the nearest tree, and swung out of the way of the creature’s mouth. The creature closed its mouth and eyed him.
“I . . . I just need one, please!” The creature tilted its head, as if deciding whether or not to trust Henry, before lunging at him. Henry jumped to the side and raced towards another tree, the creature turning to chase after him. He quickly scaled the tree and swung to another before the creature could snap its jaws around him. Henry let out a grunt as he swung to yet another tree, he had to think of something else, and fast. Playing cat and mouse would only work for so long as the creature was so much bigger than Henry, and would eventually catch him. Henry took a quick glance at the branch-like horns on the creature’s head, if he could get up there, the creature would be less likely to get at him, and it could quite possibly give him some time to think of a plan. Henry waited until the creature got close enough, then swung up to the wisteria branches. Somehow, as he got closer, the branches seemed to move and he ended up on the creature’s back instead. He let out a yelp and held on tight as the creature took off for the skies. It twisted and turned, apparently trying to throw Henry off, but his spider abilities held firm.
“I’m part spider-shifter, you can’t get me off that easily!” The creature let out a roar and landed. Henry panted, but he didn’t get much of a chance to get his breath back as the creature started rolling over. Henry quickly swung off and made a mad dash towards the rose bush. He reached the bush as the creature let out another roar in the realization that its quarry was close to obtaining his objective. Henry grasped two roses, a red and a blue, and pulled, but the roses didn’t budge.
“What? Come on! I need you for Scheherazade . . . oomph!” Henry fell backwards as the roses finally popped off the bush, but quickly jumped back to his feet and swung towards the nearest tree. He just needed enough time to turn the bookmark around. His senses began screaming at him. Henry turned, just in time to see the creature’s tail come crashing into him, sending him sprawling across the grass. But he was back on his feet quickly; the impact had caused him to lose hold of the roses. They were pretty close, but Henry could tell the creature would reach him before he reached the roses. He thought quickly, and pulled out the book. He turned the bookmark, but before he snapped the book shut, he shot a strand of web at the roses and pulled. The creature’s tail wrapped around his legs, and Henry snapped the book shut, holding it tightly. The scene began to melt away, but the roses were still in that world, and the creature blew at them.
“No!” Henry pulled harder on his web, reeling in the roses as fast as he could. However, the blue rose fell off his web, and the red reached his outstretched hand before the scene completely faded. Henry let out an exhale of relief when Scheherazade was standing before him again and the red rose was clutched to his chest.
Scheherazade smiled, “You did it!”
Henry nodded as he approached her, “Just barely, that creature was a hard customer. What was that thing, anyway? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Scheherazade smiled as she took the book and the rose from Henry, “Did Matthew never tell you to read the book you are given? The answers are usually in there.” She opened the book to the page that had been bookmarked, there was the creature, looking almost majestic when it wasn’t trying to eat Henry.
“A tara . . .”
“A tarasqu,” Scheherazade pronounced slowly.
“A taras . . . kwu?” She nodded. “Oh, well, um, he might have, but I forgot all about it. That is, if he did in fact cover that, I don’t recall.”
“He should have, if he didn’t, I shall speak to him about it.”
“Right, well, I don’t quite remember, your majesty, I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright, I still need to speak to him, so I shall mention that as well and see what he says about it. But, you have done well, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Um, if you don’t mind my asking, why did you need the rose?”
Scheherazade merely smiled, “That is for me to know, young hero. For now, know that you have passed your test and are officially an adolescent. And now I believe it is time that you should return, and I look forward to working more with you.”
“And with you as well, your majesty, good bye.” Henry gave the queen a bow.
“Good bye, Ananse, and good luck.” Henry swung away back to home, while Scheherazade walked towards the glittering lights in the branches of the rainbow eucalyptus. She glanced down at the rose and smiled, this was perfect.