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Pearl dreams of escaping Manzular, a once-peaceful world controlled by an evil witch

Walking through our kingdom at night is usually dangerous, but now it is dangerous times four hundred. It has been a long time since a witch named Madame Lazora took over our peaceful kingdom with an army of fire at her side. Madame Lazora is kind of like a fairytale witch, but way more powerful. I don’t know how she became that powerful, but I have a couple theories.

I probably should introduce myself. My name is Pearl. I’m fifteen, and I don’t want to brag, but I’m probably the world’s biggest brainiac. And I live in a world that is said to have magic, but not the magic that you’re born with and you can do cool spells with when you’re a baby (but that would be great). It’s more like no one has been able to harness the magic and use it as their own—magic’s just always been there. We know it through the ancient texts written by our founders. No one in our history has ever been known to harness the magic. Until Madame Lazora.

*          *          *

It was a beautifully boring day the day that Madame Lazora came to take over the kingdom. I was just coming home from school like normal. My mom was home but about to leave for her next shift at work as normal.

“Hey, Mom,” I said.

“Hello, Pearl. How was school?” “Great! We got our report card!” “Let me guess—you got all A’s?”

“That’s right!” I exclaimed, hoping to get her more into a conversation, but, like normal, it was a disappointment.

“That’s cool! Now I’ve got to go to work. Bye, darling.”

This is how our normal conversations go; there is a hi, then something about my school, and then she says bye and then she’s gone. Poof—just like magic.

So, like normal, I went up to my room (well, the attic—our house is very small) to start on my homework, and that was when the first attack happened. Then it became a whole battle which lasted for three whole years. Then we lost. The king was dead and so was all of the royal family—the queen, the five princes and the three princesses. And that is how our kingdom came under the rule of Madame Lazora. Now her flag waves in the castle and there is only one ruler—her.

I’ve got a feeling that the idea for the “citizens’” new house design came from our house, because soon all the houses magically became very similar to our house, one story with an attic and two rooms. Madame Lazora believes that everyone benefits from being the same. But I really felt bad for the families that had lots of children. After all, the reason that my mom and I have such a small house is that there are only the two of us. No dad, no brothers or sisters. Just me and Mom.

I go to the school that Madame Lazora makes us go to, where we learn her curriculum and what she expects us to learn. She wants us to think that her kingdom is the best and perfect so we never think of leaving, so we believe this is where our life is meant to be. I think I am the first to think of seeing past the kingdom walls. Well, maybe not. A month ago two kids disappeared from school—Mary and Matthew Johnson. Some people say that they escaped. No

one knows if that’s actually true. But it got me wondering if escape was possible. “Storytime’s over,” as my father would have said. “Get your head out of the past, and get control over the present.”

So that’s what I’m doing, silently walking through the kingdom, not thinking about the past, trying to think about my future. The bleak weather doesn’t help my mood. The weather never changes. It is always what Madame Lazora likes: black clouds covering the whole sky so that you can’t tell what time of day it is. The ground is so dry that there is no soil fertile enough to harvest crops. You can see the cracks in the ground. As I walk down the shadowy alleyway, I hear footsteps coming closer that sound like those of the guards Madame Lazora has patrolling the castle. Soon there are so many guards in the alleyway I can’t count them. Then I start to worry.

Do they know about my plan to escape? Normally there would be patrols around the kingdom, but only in groups of two to five. Now there are about fifty, and there are more coming. Then someone walks through and I finally understand why there are so many guards. It isn’t that I have been caught escaping—it is that Madame Lazora is standing right in front of me.

“Good thing I won’t have to give that witch an answer,” I mumble under my breath. “Because I will escape tonight.”

At school we learn that it is an honor to be in the presence of Madame Lazora. I had only seen her once before, from a distance, at school when she came to check to make sure people were following her standards.

“Hello. It’s Pearl, right?” she says with her cold, smooth voice. Now that she is standing right in front of me, I can see what she looks like: she has fire-red eyes with robes made of pure flame that wind up and down her body. She’s looking right at me.

“Hello, Madame Lazora. And you are right. That is my name,” I say, trying to keep my voice from shaking.

“I see you are on a little walk. Rather late, isn’t it? Lucky for me, you are the person that I am looking for,” she says.

“Oh, really? Me?”

“Yes. I believe you are the smartest, most talented, and most connected to magic of any person I’ve seen.”

“Me, Madame?”

“Yes, I’ve watched you through your whole life as my citizen, and I am here to offer you the chance of a lifetime,” she says with a cold smile. “I want to ask you to become my apprentice.”

Silence. I couldn’t speak or even breathe. In school we learn that being asked to be her apprentice is, like she said, the biggest honor of a lifetime. It’s a pretty big honor just to see or speak to her, or that’s what we learned. But this is, like, crazy. Of course, if I said yes, I would get to live in her castle and my mom would never have to work again. On the other hand, if I said yes, I would be devoting myself to the darkest magic. I couldn’t make myself do that. If I said no, though, I would probably get sentenced to death or be shamed all my life. And trust me, it is not a good thing to be shamed.

“I am feeling that you are conflicted,” Madame Lazora says. “I am feeling generous. I will give you three days to decide. Oh, aren’t I so nice? Ta ta!”

She disappears, and the guards with her. “Good thing I won’t have to give that witch an answer,” I mumble under my breath. “Because I will escape tonight.”

I walk silently through the kingdom thinking of how many families I will be leaving behind. Including my own mother. But for my escape to be successful, I have to do it on my own.

As I walk through the alleyway, I pull up a mental map of our kingdom, including places where the guards would be.

SoaringAway
Soaring Away

When we were young, and before Madame Lazora took over our kingdom, we learned that there was another kingdom out there. We were told that the citizens in this land could use magic, that they were born with magic and that it was not evil magic like the kind Madame Lazora possessed. It was natural magic. But this kingdom was lost and no one could find it. Maybe I would be the one to rediscover this land.

I am surprised that there aren’t many guards out tonight. Is she letting me escape? I think, worried. But then I remember that the elite guards are still out searching on the other side of the wall for the missing kids who disappeared a month ago.

My breath catches as I see the grand wall that keeps all citizens inside the kingdom. It’s huge. I scan the area for the landmark I made so I can find the tunnel. When I find it, I hurry over and move aside pieces of debris.

Two months ago, I discovered this tunnel while spying on two random kids (not coincidentally the two kids who disappeared). I watched them sneak around the wall, time guards, and dig the tunnel. I made sure that no one was watching and crawled through their tunnel. The tunnel wasn’t for luxury travel. Dug completely out of dirt, it tore my tunic as I crawled through. Midway through, I heard rustling from above the tunnel and started to panic.

Is it going to collapse on me? I worried, crawling faster. Soon, it became so dark that I could see nothing, so I trusted my instincts and the tunnel to lead me through. Eventually, I saw light ahead from a flickering flame. Crawling to the end of the tunnel, I peeked out to find a magical border of pure flame surrounding the grand wall. Why didn’t I think of this?! I groaned.

I heard voices up ahead. With a quick dash, I jumped behind a log.

“Your majesty, it does not seem like we need this border. No one would ever think of escaping,” said an unfamiliar voice.

“I know that, but I have learned to trust my instincts, after your mistake.” I recognized that voice as Madame Lazora’s.

“Ah, so then you have not found the children who escaped?” “No, but we are on their trail.”

“What’s your plan of action?”

Madame Lazora heaved a sigh. “I suspect that they are taking the valley way.

It’s the only way a couple of kids could make it.”

I was positive they were talking about Mary and Matthew. I could definitely see both of them escaping together. Mary was the younger sister and on the nicer side. She could make anyone’s day but was terrible at keeping secrets, so if they escaped, her brother probably would have revealed his plan to her at the last minute. Matthew was her older brother and was way tougher than his sister, and a very good swordsman. I could imagine them being a great escape team.

“But no one can cross the border now. Only people with magic in their blood will be able to cross. But trust me, no one will even try.”

“Alright then,” said the mysterious voice, with a hint of doubt, “I’ll see you in the morning.”

After that conversation and the sound of Madame Lazora vaporizing, there are no more voices, not a sound. I cautiously move out from my hiding spot and see no one. I walk up to the shield.

“Well, it’s worth a try,” I say, taking a deep breath. I hesitate a second before walking through the magical boundary.

Afterward, I could never explain what happened except that it felt like all my insides turned into wispy air and time sped up. With a flash, I saw a smoky figure with glowing eyes, and other scenes I couldn’t quite identify. I felt something tickle in my hands and strange words started to flood my brain. After what felt like forever, I was on the other side. But the strange feeling and strange words hadn’t left my mind.

For the first time in ten years I had freedom.

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