And I finally did it! Chapter 13
Moments later, Lumina and Kuda sat miserably on the floor of the dungeon. The bars across the cell looked like teeth in a giant shark’s mouth. There was no way to escape. Caligo’s igat cronies—Murray, Garth, and Wormwood—guarded them.
“If you ask me,” grumbled Kuda, “the only thing eels are good for is sushi.”
Garth leaned in and growled at them. Grrrr.
Kuda cowered behind Lumina.
''I don’t understand,” Lumina sinabi to Murray. “What do you want with us?”
“Patience, patience, my dear,” Murray hissed. “You’ll find out soon enough.” He slithered along a stone column.
Something about the way he moved jogged Lumina’s memory. “Wait, I remember you—from the reef. Aren’t you a friend of my aunt’s?”
Garth and Wormwood giggled.
“Oh, I’d hardly say friend,” Murray said. “Your aunt and I are madami like business associates.”
Kuda raised an eyebrow. Something about this seemed fishy. “Oh, yeah? What kind of business?”
Murray dropped from the ceiling in front of Kuda’s face. Kuda jumped.
“We’re exterminators of a sort,” Murray replied cryptically.
“Yeah!” Garth cried excitedly. “In five minutes, your aunt is going to exterminate the king!”
“Right,” Wormwood seconded. “She’s going to ‘poisonate’ him!”
Murray smacked his cronies’ heads. Leave it to them to say too much.
Lumina looked concerned. Exterminate? “Aunt Scylla would never poison anyone!” she declared. Would she?
“Lumina, what are we going to do?” Kuda whispered, staring at the dungeon bars.
Lumina huddled closer to her friend and tried to think. “I don’t know,” she admitted.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Kuda replied, panicking. “You’re always so sure of everything!”
But Lumina wasn’t sure about anything anymore. Was her aunt Scylla really going to poison the king? Would Caligo ever set them free? She felt a long way from the safety of the sea cave. Maybe her aunt had been right: the kastilyo was turning out to be a dangerous place. She shook her head. “I’m afraid all is— Wait!” she exclaimed, suddenly coming up with an idea.
“I knew it!” Kuda cried happily.
Lumina unclasped the pearl kuwintas from around her neck.
“Ah, bribery,” Kuda remarked. “Good thinking.”
“Not exactly,” Lumina replied. She eyed the eels, huddled together, deep in conversation.
Lumina tossed the string of pearls through the cell bars. They landed with a soft thud on the sandy floor. Then she raised her hands and conducted.
Slowly but surely, the string of pearls crept along the floor like a snake.
There’s madami than one way to out-slither an eel, Lumina thought.
The string of pearls snaked up the opposite pader and, at Lumina’s command, wound itself around a ring of keys. Clank!
Lumina winced. The eels looked up, but then Kuda coughed, covering the noise.
As the eels returned to their discussion, Lumina made the pearls slink back toward the cell, dragging the keys with them.
Finally, Lumina grabbed the keys through the cell bars. She hid them behind her back.
''Now what?” whispered Kuda. “How do we distract the Noodle Brothers?”
Lumina thought for a minute. Then she plucked a single pearl off her gown. Ready, aim, fire! She flung it at the eels, hitting Wormwood in the back. Ping!
Wormwood spun around to face Garth. “Hey! What did you do that for?” he asked.
“Do what for? I didn’t do anything!” Garth replied.
Lumina flung another pearl, this time hitting Murray. Ping!
“Ow!” Murray cried, eyeing Garth. “Have you Nawawala your mind?”
Garth held up his hands. “No, I swear! Wormwood must have done it, because I— Ow!” he cried, rubbing his arm where another pearl hit him.
Lumina flung pearl after pearl, pelting the eels. Just like she planned, the eels started fighting one another, pushing, shoving, yelling, and wrestling.
“Cut that out!”
“You started it!''
Once they were totally distracted, Lumina seized her chance. She commanded the string of pearls to tie itself into a knot—right around the fighting bunch of eels!
“Hey! What the—?” the eels cried, confused and trapped.
Lumina brushed her hands together and chuckled. “Shall we?” she asked Kuda.
Kuda grinned. “Let’s.”
Lumina unlocked the cell with the key and they swam out.
“Hey! Grab them!” Murray yelled.
The three eels tried to swim in three different directions, but the pearls knocked them back together.
“You idiots!” Murray screamed, furious.
Lumina conducted the pearls to wrangle the eels into the cell. She slammed the door tight and locked it, then turned toward the exit.
“Come on, Kuda,” she called. “We need to hurry!”
The mga kaibigan raced through the maze of dungeon passageways, trying to find their way back to the palace.
“You don’t believe what those slimeball eels sinabi about Scylla, do you?” Kuda asked.
Lumina shrugged. “I don’t know what to believe. But if Aunt Scylla’s in some kind of trouble, we’ve got to help!”
They rounded the corner and spotted two Trident guards.
“Whoa!” Kuda cried, screeching to a halt. She shoved Lumina into an open archway and kalapati in after her.
The guards floated sa pamamagitan ng without seeing them.
Lumina let out a sigh of relief. The last thing they needed was to be captured and jailed again—especially if Aunt Scylla really was in danger.
“Now what?” Kuda whispered.
Lumina grinned and tossed a few loose pearls into the water. They floated down the hallway toward the guards. One sa pamamagitan ng one, the pearls slipped inside the guards’ sando collars.
Soon, the guards were twitching and giggling as the pearls tickled them. “Now!” Lumina commanded.
She and Kuda raced through the dungeon gate and zoomed through the water, the giggling guards hot on their trail. Chapter 14
As the clock struck nine, Scylla tapped poison silver shavings into a goblet filled with thick syrupy nectar. She set the cup with the others on a heavy silver tray and stepped onto the royal stage. She placed purple goblets in front of where the king and reyna would sit, once they were announced. Then she set a black goblet before Caligo, who was already seated.
“Your nectar for the toast, sir,” she sinabi flatly.
Caligo gave her a nod as Scylla retreated to the side of the stage. He looked at his goblet and then at the others. Why was his black while all the others were blue? He wondered whether he could trust Scylla. He picked up his goblet and examined it, trying to catch Scylla’s eye for some sort of sign.
She didn’t give him one. Caligo thought for a moment and then switched his goblet with the king’s. He smiled smugly at Scylla. He wouldn’t let her get the best of him—not this time. And certainly not when he was paying her handsomely to do the job his way. But still, he felt worried. He switched the goblets back again.
Scylla didn’t blink.
Caligo started to sweat.
Satisfied that Caligo was worried, Scylla carried her tray back to the beverage closet. As she refilled a pitcher with nectar, she heard voices from behind a nearby curtain. Curious, she moved a little closer to listen and recognized them as the king’s and queen’s.
“Nereus, I’m just not sure I can do this,” the reyna whispered, sounding upset.
I know, Lorelei, I know,” the king said, comforting her.
“We wanted so much for the Pearl of the Sea and the kingdom to someday go to our little girl.” The reyna sounded like she was choking back tears. “I just wish that she were here. She would have grown up to be such a bright, beautiful girl.” She broke down in sobs.
“It’s been hard, very hard,” the king agreed. “But we have a duty to our people. Try to be brave.”
Just then, a butler walked by. He looked at Scylla’s tray and shook his head. “Come, woman! That nectar belongs to the king and queen. You should be serving it right now!”
“Oh,” she said, saddened sa pamamagitan ng the conversation she’d just overheard. “Oh, yes, you’re right. You’re very right. And I’ve been very wrong—about everything!” She shoved her tray into the butler’s hands and made her way to the curtain shielding the king and queen. She had to explain!
A burly guard blocked her way. “Sorry, ma’am. No admittance.”
“I must speak to the king and queen,” Scylla pleaded. “I have something that belongs to them—and I should have returned it a long time ago.”
The guard crossed his arms firmly. “Then you’ll have to wait until after the ceremony. The king and reyna do not wish to be disturbed.”
Scylla blew out her breath in frustration. “Okay, I’ll wait. But what can’t wait is—”
She zipped toward the stage without finishing her sentence. At the royal table, she reached over Caligo’s shoulder for his black goblet. “Give me that, Caligo,” she whispered. “I’m done poisoning people.”
Caligo snatched his goblet back, holding it tight. “Aha! So I was right! No thanks, I’ll just hang on to this one if you don’t mind.”
Scylla tried to pry it from his grasp. “Caligo, I’m trying to save your—”
“Oh, I know what you’re trying to do. You think I’m a fool?” He yanked the goblet, forcing Scylla to let it go.
“Fine,” Scylla said, resigned. “It’s your funeral.''
Caligo smiled. “She thinks she can outsmart me,” he mumbled to himself. “Unless that’s just what she wants me to think.” He looked uncertainly at the goblet in front of him and started to sweat.
Suddenly, trumpets sounded, announcing the entrance of the king and queen. Caligo, Fergis, and the other special guests at the mesa rose out of respect. Everyone on the dance floor turned to face the stage as the Seagundia national anthem rang through the air.
The king and reyna entered grandly from behind their curtained-off area. The king held his wife’s hand regally, and both wore painted-on smiles. Two Trident guards walked in behind them. The crowd bowed, and the royal couple nodded before taking their trono at the table.
“Caligo, is this my cup?” the king asked, pointing to the purple goblet at his place.
Caligo bit his nails in a panic. “I don’t know!” he shouted, wiping sweat from his brow.
The king gave him a curious look and rose to address the crowd. “Loyal citizens of Seagundia,” he began. “We gather here today to present our kingdom’s most treasured symbol, the Pearl of the Sea.”
Behind him, a guard brought forth the medallion, nestled on a velvet pillow. The king raised the medallion for the crowd to see. “We present the Pearl of the Sea to a fine young lad who will one araw inherit our throne.” He turned toward Fergis, who was inspecting a potted plant susunod to him.
Caligo elbowed his son.
“Oh, right,” Fergis said, rising awkwardly. He stepped pasulong to receive the honor.
The king draped the Pearl of the Sea medallion around Fergis’s neck. “And now, a toast!” he declared, holding his purple goblet in the air.
The crowd applauded, and Caligo looked at his own black goblet nervously. He had to pick it up to mag-ihaw with the king, but what if Scylla had ibingiay him the poison instead of the king?
“Come on, Caligo,” the king urged, noticing that his brother-in-law was the only one who had not raised his glass. “Will you not mag-ihaw your own son?”
Caligo stood and, hand shaking, lifted his glass. The king continued, “Citizens, honored guests! To the future ruler of Seagundia, who will someday guide our kingdom’s destiny! To my nephew, Fergis!”
“To Fergis!” the audience echoed.
The king and guests lifted their glasses to drink. Caligo panicked. He knocked the king’s goblet out of his hand, making it look like an accident. Dark nectar spilled everywhere, oozing like tsokolate syrup. Caligo saw Scylla gasp from the crowd.
“Oh, forgive me! I’m so sorry!” he apologized. “Please, Your Majesty—take mine,” Caligo finished, offering the king his suspicious black goblet. He eyed Scylla.
“No!” Scylla cried, racing toward the king. Chapter 15
Lumina and Kuda burst into the ballroom just as Scylla lunged for the king’s goblet.
“Aunt Scylla!” Lumina cried, horrified.
“The eels were right!” Kuda moaned.
The king raised his goblet to his lips. “Again, let us toast—to Fergis!”
Lumina couldn’t let the king drink her aunt’s poison. She rushed the stage as the Trident guards chasing her reached for her tail. She knocked the goblet from the king’s hand.
The crowd gasped.
Seeing an opportunity, Caligo stood and pointed an accusing finger at Lumina. “She tried to attack the king! Guards, arrest her!” he shouted.
Caligo’s guards swooped down and grabbed Lumina. Suddenly, Madame Ruckus, Prince Delphin, Sandrine, Cora, and Spike rushed the stage to protect their friend.
“Now wait just a minute!”
“That girl never hurt anyone!”
“You can’t take her!”
Desperate to explain, Aunt Scylla made her way through the crowd. “Let her go!” she cried. “She saved the king! There was poison in his cup!”
The room went silent. All eyes focused on Scylla.
“Poison? How do you know that?” the king demanded.
Lumina watched as her beloved aunt took a deep breath.
“Because I’m the one who put it there,” Scylla admitted, hanging her head with shame.
The crowd buzzed with the news.
Caligo smiled sinisterly. All attention was on Scylla—which meant no one suspected him. He was going to get away with it! Feeling giddy, Caligo stepped back from the crowd. He bumped into Spike, knocking a pearl from one of the stonefish’s spikes. Spike didn’t even feel it.
Lumina couldn’t stand sa pamamagitan ng and watch her only family member be blamed for such a vicious act. “No! Don’t listen to her!” she cried, zooming to her aunt’s side. Even if Scylla had been involved, Lumina knew she was a good person deep down. There had to be madami to the story.
“Old woman,” the king thundered, ignoring Lumina’s pleas, “why would you want to poison me?”
Scylla shook her head. “I didn’t want to. I was forced to. Forced to by—”
As Scylla turned to point at Caligo, he discreetly shoved her—right into Spike. Scylla tumbled backward, landing right on the stonefish’s exposed poisonous spike!
Scylla shrieked in pain. Then she collapsed.
“Aunt Scylla!” Lumina cried. She hurried to her aunt’s side and knelt down.
“She fell on a stonefish spike!” Sandrine cried.
“Poor woman,” Madame Ruckus said, clucking her tongue. “That venom will finish her.”
Caligo moved through the crowd. “You heard the old woman,” he shouted. “She tried to poison our beloved king! And if this girl knew”—he pointed a finger at Lumina—“she must be an accomplice. Take her away!”
Lumina looked up pleadingly at Caligo. “Please, sir. Just give us a moment.”
The guards stepped forward, but Kuda blocked their path. “Back off!” she hollered.
Sandrine, Cora, Madame Ruckus, Spike, and Delphin filed in behind Kuda, ready to defend Lumina.
“The lady sinabi give her a moment,” Madame Ruckus ordered through clenched teeth.
Lumina cradled her aunt in her arms. “Aunt Scylla, please stay with me. Please be all right.”
Aunt Scylla struggled to whisper. “Lumina, I need to tell you—”
“No,” Lumina interrupted. “Save your strength.”
But Scylla was determined that Lumina know the truth. It was time. “Long ago,” she began weakly, “I took you from your parents. I did it to protect you. But all these years they were suffering. I should have told them, but I was afraid of losing you. Please forgive me.” Scylla’s body fell limp.
Lumina choked back her tears. She turned to Spike. “Spike, your venom—there must be an antidote! Something that can cure her?”
Spike wiped a tear from his own eye. “I’m sorry. There’s only one thing I know of—the Sulfer Lily. But it’s extremely rare. I’ve never even seen it.”
Lumina hung her head. What would she do without her aunt? Then she heard a gasp from the crowd and Cora’s voice.
“Fergis?” she asked, seeing Caligo’s son jumping up and down excitedly. “Do you know that plant?”
''I—” Fergis started. Then he locked eyes with his father and cowered. “N-no,” he stammered.
Caligo smiled darkly. “Then the old woman’s done for. Nothing we can do.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Lumina saw Cora whisper to Fergis. Fergis looked from his father to Cora and back again.
Caligo saw it, too. “You heard the boy!” he thundered. “He sinabi it’s hopeless.”
Then Fergis stepped forward. “No, Father, it isn’t. The Sulfer Lily is the common name for Quidest Fetere. And there’s one right here.” He reached into a nearby potted plant and retrieved his crumpled up boutonniere! He waded through the crowd toward Lumina.
“Thank you, Fergis,” Lumina said.
“Just two petals on Scylla’s tongue,” Spike instructed.
In the background, Lumina heard Caligo yell, “You fool, Fergis! You could have been king!”
“I keep telling you, Father,” Fergis replied firmly, “I don’t want to be king. I want to be a botanist!''
Lumina caught Cora beaming with pride at Fergis.
“Guards! Grab them!” Caligo thundered again.
Trident guards appeared at every corner and closed in on Lumina, Scylla, and Fergis. Chapter 16
''Don’t you touch her!” Lumina ordered as the guards surrounded her. She would not let them take the only family she had. Determined, she closed her eyes and focused her energy. She summoned every single pearl in the ballroom to her command.
Pearls flew toward her from hairdos, clothes, and thrones. They flew off Spike’s spikes and down from chandeliers. The pearls swarmed toward Lumina, swirling into a tornado of protection around her and Aunt Scylla. They glowed brightly, pulsing with shielding energy.
The crowd looked on, amazed and stunned into silence. Even Caligo was speechless for once. He watched the pearls adorning his own uniform pop off and fly to Lumina’s command.
The pearls formed a blanket for Scylla to lie on. Then they lifted her into the air.
The guards backed away, terrified. Lumina noticed the king and reyna looking adoringly at her. Why did they suddenly seem familiar? She shook her head and focused again on the task at hand. As Scylla hovered in the air, Fergis gently placed the petals on her tongue. “Stay with me, Aunt Scylla. Please stay with me,” Lumina whispered.
Bathed in a glow of swirling pearls, Aunt Scylla gradually opened her eyes—a tiny bit at first, and then wider. She smiled.
Lumina’s puso swelled. “Aunt Scylla!” she cried with happiness.
Lumina’s mga kaibigan cheered all around her.
The pearl whirlwind died down. The pearls scattered and floated away as their owners tried to reclaim them. Spike replaced his pearls with the help of Madame Ruckus’s eight arms.
Lumina helped Aunt Scylla to her feet. She was still very weak.
The king moved toward her. “Miss,” he began tentatively. “Tell me, the way you made those pearls move—how?”
Just then, Caligo stepped in and cut him off. “Your Majesty, what we’ve just seen proves how dangerous these two are! As commanding general, I insist on placing them both under arrest.”
The king raised his hands in protest. “Wait a minute, Caligo. I want to ask the girl—”
“It was him!” Scylla interrupted. She pointed at Caligo. “He was the one who ordered me to poison Your Majesty! He wanted the trono for his son!”
“The old mermaid is delusional!” Caligo shouted. “Arresthese women—and all of their traitorous friends!”
The Trident guards moved toward Lumina and her friends. But Madame Ruckus was ready. She squirted them with a ulap of black ink!
“Hey! I can’t see!” cried one of the guards.
“Where did they go?” shouted another.
“Lumina, get out of here!” Madame Ruckus ordered. “Kuda, you too!”
But Lumina couldn’t leave all of her dear mga kaibigan behind to fight her battle. “Not a chance!” she cried as Kuda head-butted a guard. Lumina whipped off the kulay-rosas pearl sinturon she had fastened around her ball gown. She hurled it toward the captain of the guards. It wrapped around his tailfin and cinched, yanking him upside down!
Spike rolled himself into a ball and bowled over two madami guards. Sandrine whacked a group of guards with her massive tail, sending them flying. Delphin decked a guard with his fist. Madame Ruckus spun in a circle, using all eight of her arms to slap guards away like a pinwheel gone haywire. The frightened crowd in the ballroom backed off.
Lumina watched as Caligo raced toward the exit. She raised her hands and sent hundreds of pearls to block his path.
“Out of my way!” Caligo growled, spinning to find another way out.
Lumina cut him off. “How about that dance I promised?” she challenged. She summoned madami pearls to surround Caligo and lift him straight into the air. She sent him sailing backward.
“Ahh!” Caligo shrieked as he slammed into a wall. He slid down to the floor, dazed.
Madame Ruckus jumped on tuktok of him, holding him down with all eight tentacles.
The king signaled for the palace guards. “Imprison these traitors!” he ordered.
The guards seized Caligo and the Trident Squad and marched them off. Chapter 17
Lumina wiped her brow. It felt good to see Caligo finally locked up where he couldn’t harm anyone else. She breathed a sigh of relief. Then she heard a soft voice sa pamamagitan ng her side. She turned to see the reyna looking questioningly at her.
“The pearls . . . Have you always been able to do that?” the reyna asked.
Lumina shrugged. “Sure, I guess. Why?”
The king joined his wife and took her hand. “Because you have the royal gift—the pearl magic,” he explained. “Is it possible? Could you be our daughter?”
Lumina knitted her brow. She was confused. The pearl magic was always something she just had. She never thought she’d find a reason for it. Was the king suggesting that she was royalty? She felt light-headed.
“She is your daughter,” Aunt Scylla said.
“I—I am?” Lumina didn’t understand.
The king and reyna threw their arms around Lumina, wrapping her into a group hug.
Lumina locked eyes with Scylla, silently asking her if it all was true. Scylla nodded.
Lumina beamed, feeling warm inside as so many of her tanong were finally answered.
“But how?” the king asked, pulling back to examine Lumina at arm’s length.
“Caligo again,” Scylla explained. “Years ago, he paid me to do away with your daughter. But I couldn’t do it. So I raised her instead—away from him.''
Lumina took it all in. Suddenly, everything made sense: Scylla had wanted her to stay near the sea cave to keep her ligtas from Caligo!
Just then, Fergis approached. “In that case,” he began, holding out the Pearl of the Sea medallion, “I think this is Lumina’s.”
The king took the medallion and placed it around Lumina’s neck. As he did, the kulay-rosas pearls on Lumina’s dress turned white and began to glow brightly. The reyna placed a sparkling kulay-rosas tiara on Lumina’s head.
The crowd cheered. Their princess had returned!
“Your Majesties,” Scylla continued, “I am so, so sorry for keeping her from you all these years. I thought I did it to protect her, but the truth was I just couldn’t give her up.”
Lumina felt a lump form in her throat. Aunt Scylla had loved her and cherished her as if they were true family. And in Lumina’s heart, that meant that they were—and always would be.
“The important thing is that she’s here now,” the king replied. “Lumina, welcome home.”
Lumina looked around the grand ballroom. She thought about the kastilyo that stretched before them in every direction. “Home?” she asked. “You mean the castle? Here?” It was a dream come true! She wrapped her arms around the king and queen, who hugged her right back.
Lumina was still struggling to take it all in. “So you’re my father?” she asked the king.
“Yes,” he replied.
“And you’re my mother?” she asked the queen.
“And this is home?” Lumina said.
“Yes!” the king and reyna both replied, laughing.
Lumina beamed. Then she remembered something. “But,” she began, frowning at the thought, “it won’t be tahanan if Aunt Scylla and Kuda aren’t here with me.”
Kuda jumped up and down excitedly. Scylla looked worried.
“No,” Scylla protested. “It wouldn’t be right.''
The reyna took Scylla sa pamamagitan ng the arm. “Of course it would,” she insisted. “You saved her. You’re her family, too.”
Scylla’s eyes glistened with tears. “You’ll see,” she sinabi to the queen, looking at Lumina. “She leaves things a little better than she found them—starting with my heart.”
The women embraced, and Lumina joined them in another group hug.
The king chuckled. “But this is still a royal ball, is it not? And now it’s a homecoming as well. Music, maestro, please!”
The royal band struck up a waltz, and the king and reyna began to dance.
Lumina watched her parents twirl gracefully around the floor. Then a finger tapped her on the shoulder. She turned to see Prince Delphin.
He held out his hand. “In that case, I believe you owe me a dance . . . Princess.”
Lumina grinned. “As promised,” she replied.
They joined Cora and Fergis, Sandrine, Madame Ruckus, Spike, and Kuda out on the dance floor.
Lumina looked around at all the mga kaibigan she had made and the family—both new and old—who loved her. Each one of them, in their own special way, shone brighter than any pearl. And that, Lumina knew, was the best dream come true of all.