It started like an average Saturday morning for Becky Walters. She and her older brother Tim were working together to beat the boss of the fifth stage in New Super Mario Brothers. The castle stage was filled with various spike traps and lava pits, but that wasn’t enough to scare these two players. Their characters were able to run under the spikes, jump over the pits, and defeat any enemies that came their way. It wasn’t long before they made their way to the boss, a small green dragon-like creature. It charged the two players and they jumped over the enemy and Becky’s player stomped on the boss’s head when it stopped charging. It repeated the charging attack and Tim’s character stomped on the dragon’s head when it stopped. The dragon turned red and spat fireballs at the two players. They jumped over the fire attack and Becky’s character went toward the beast and jumped on its head when it stopped spitting. The creature fell over and their characters made it to the next level.
“Yes!” Becky cheered as she and Tim stood up.
“Great job Becky!” Tim responded.
Becky raised her arms to her older brother as if she wanted a hug.
“You want the hug?” He asked.
“I sure do,” The eight-year-old replied.
“And I feel like giving you it,” Tim said as he picked her up and hugged her. Becky returned his hug as he spun around and placed her back on the ground.
“Thanks,” She said.
“No problem,” He stated, “well I have basketball practice with the guys, so I guess I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Ok,” Becky replied as she waved goodbye. But she didn’t notice that the green gem on her ring had started to faintly glow.
The young girl turned off the game and made her way upstairs. She found her older sisters Lisa and Jessica were in their room and holding some music sheets.
“Are you guys practicing your instruments?” Becky asked.
“Yes,” Jessica said as she took out her clarinet parts.
“Can I join you?” The eight-year-old continued.
“Sure,” Lisa answered.
“Great,” Becky cheered, “should I get my recorder or my flute?”
“Either one is fine,” Lisa said.
“Ok,” Becky replied, “I’ll be back in a second.”
Becky rushed to her room and found a white recorder on her desk. She quickly returned to her older sisters’ room and saw that Lisa had her timpani drum out and Jessica had finished putting her clarinet together. Jessica handed a music sheet with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” on it.
“You guys ready,” Lisa called out.
“We sure are,” Jessica and Becky replied.
“Then let’s start,” Lisa said.
The three sisters started playing their instruments while making sure to stay in the same tempo. Becky read the sheet very carefully as she moved her fingers onto the correct recorder holes. When the they finished; Becky noticed her younger sister Nina clapping for them.
“Nina,” Becky said, “when did you get here.”
“I saw you in our room getting your recorder,” Nina explained.
“I didn’t notice you,” Becky stated.
“That’s nothing new,” Nina teased.
“I think we did pretty good,” Lisa observed.
“I think so too,” Nina added.
“Do you want to play some more songs?” Lisa asked Becky.
“I think I’ll go outside,” She told her thirteen-year-old sister, “but thanks for letting me play with you guys.”
“It’s no problem,” Lisa said.
Becky skipped away; happier than she was earlier. And her ring’s gem continued to glow a little brighter, but the little girl still didn’t notice.
“Mom,” She called out, “can I play outside and go into the bush?”
“Yes you can,” Her mom answered, “just don’t go too far.”
“I won’t,” Becky said as she started to put her pink shoes on.
Becky dashed outside to her backyard to take a good look at the bright blue sky, glowing sun, and peaceful trees in the bush. She quickly sat down and laid back to look at sky, and to feel the cool grass against her bare arms and legs. The clouds seemed to form various shapes as she continued to watch them float along. As Becky raised her hands to her face to keep the sun out of her eyes; she noticed that her ring’s stone was glowing.
“That’s odd,” The little girl said to herself, “it’s never done that before.”
Becky sat up to get a better look at her ring and noticed that the light was leading to the bush in her backyard. She stood up and followed the light into the bush. Usually she’d go in the bush to enjoy the trees and look at the animals, but Becky couldn’t get her ring out of her mind. The green light led her to a large tree, close to the entrance of the bush.
“So is something supposed to happen,” Becky wondered as she placed her right hand on the tree.
Her ring started glowing again and it caused a cave, slightly taller than her, appear inside of the trunk. The little girl smiled as she walked into the cave, anxious to see where it would lead. Becky soon found herself in a place filled with bright green grass and numerous trees of various kinds. Her blue eyes sparkled at the area in front of her.
“This place is beautiful,” Becky said, only for her smile to drop down, “but I doubt Mom would let me explore this place on my own.”
Becky sadly turned around and noticed that the cave had disappeared and saw that the tree trunk had returned to normal. But what she didn’t see was that her ring wasn’t glowing anymore.
“Oh no,” She thought as she placed her hands on the trunk, “how am I going to get home.
Becky knelt on the ground, still feeling nervous about getting back home. She placed her hands on the tree to find the entrance to the cave. Then she felt something touching her right leg. Becky turned around and noticed a small, white-furred creature with brown spots placing its front paws on her leg. It also had a round head, bright green eyes, and cat ears, and a bushy tail.
“Wow,” Becky said as she patted the creature’s head, “you’re an interesting animal.”
“Thank you,” It replied, “you’re an interesting animal too.”
“You can talk!” Becky surprisingly stated.
“Of coarse I can,” The created said, “I’m one of the few animals that can communicate with other animals. My name is Bendo.”
“My name’s Becky,” She told him.
“So what kind of animal are you Becky?” Bendo asked.
“I’m not exactly an animal,” The eight-year-old explained, “I’m a girl.”
“What’s a girl?” Bendo questioned.
“Well, it’s a type of kid,” Becky said, trying her best to answer the question “a kid is a young version of a human and there are two kinds: girls and boys.”
“I see,” he stated.
“Could you tell me where I am?” Becky asked.
“This is the Secret Grotto,” Bendo told her.
“It sure is beautiful,” She observed, “but do you know how to get home. I came here through a cave in that tree, but it disappeared shorty after I came here.”
“That sounds strange,” Bendo stated, “maybe Gretchen will know what to do. She’s very good at magic.”
“Do you think she can help?” Becky asked.
“I’m sure she will,” Bendo said, “I’ll take you to her.”
Bendo started to make a whistling sound just as Becky stood up. A green goat as big as Becky quickly arrived and Bendo jumped on its back.
“Hop on,” He told her, “Amri’s friendly.”
“Ok,” Becky said.
She wasn’t sure what to think of the goat, as she never seen an animal like that outside of Pokémon. But she trusted her new friend and climbed onto the goat. She placed her hands on Amri the goat’s horns as the animal dashed away. The ride seemed a little bumpy, yet Becky was sort of used to it as she had ridden ponies before.
Becky was also able to get a good look at her surroundings while she was on Amri. There were more trees, many of them reaching to the sky. And numerous types of animals ran through the fields. The only ones Becky could make out were the horses and deer.
“How many animals are there?” She asked Bendo.
“Numerous,” Bendo said, “too many to count. But you should stay away from the dangerous ones.”
“What kind of dangerous animals?” Becky asked, “do you mean like lions and tigers?”
“Oh no; they’re very nice when you get to know them,” Bendo explained, “the ones I’m talking about are the ones the nightmares. They’re dangerous monsters who want to make us slaves of their dark king.”
“Who’s he?” Becky wondered.
“Nobody’s seen him,” Bendo continued, “but he rules the furthest area of the Grotto. The magic of the Guardians is what keeps him and his monsters at bay. But his magic is stronger in his land so any battles between them will end in a standoff. Gretchen is one of the guardians and a close friend of mine.”
“Could you tell me more about the good animals and the guardians?” Becky said.
“I sure can,” Bendo replied.
Becky smiled as she anxiously listened to her new friend’s stories. But as she continued to listen, her ring’s gem was glowing even brighter.
“What’s that?” Bendo asked.
“It’s my ring,” Becky said.
“Does it always do that?” He wondered.
“No,” She told him, “but I think it’s the reason that I got here. Do you think Gretchen will know something about that?”
“I’m sure she will,” Bendo said, “and it looks like we’re here.”
Becky looked forward, but didn’t see anything that looked like a house.
“Where is she?” The little girl asked.
“Her tree is close by,” Bendo explained as he jumped off Amri, “just follow me.”
Becky climbed off Amri and walked behind Bendo. He led them to a large tree and placed a paw on the trunk. This caused a large, cave-like hole to appear on the bark and he walked inside of it. Becky wasn’t sure what to think, but she trusted Bendo enough to follow him. The two walked down a flight of stairs and made their way to a library.
“Wow,” Becky said to herself, “this place looks amazing.”
“Gretchen!” Bendo called, “I have something to show you!”
“Be right down,” A voice replied.
A tall, slender woman wearing a gold dress entered the room. She had greenish-blue skin, long black hair, red eyes, and tiny wings on her back.
“Wow,” Becky thought, “she looks just like a princess.”
“Hi Bendo,” Gretchen said, “who’s your friend?”
“Hi Gretchen,” Bendo replied, “this is Becky the girl.”
“Hello,” Becky said as she grabbed the edges of her yellow skirt and curtsied.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a girl before,” Gretchen started, “but I have heard of girls and other children.”
“What do you mean?” Becky asked.
“I’ll show you,” Gretchen explained.
She took out a small, blue wand and a brown book floated over to her. Gretchen opened it up and showed them a picture of a few kids playing. The picture looked very old, almost like it was taken in the days of Becky’s great-grandparents.
“We used to have many children come to our grotto,” Gretchen said.
“Why did they stop coming,” Becky asked.
“It all started with a group called the nightmares,” Gretchen explained.
“I heard about them and the Dark King,” Becky stated, “Bendo told me a bit about them.”
“I wanted to make sure she avoids them,” Bendo added.
“Thank you for telling her that Bendo,” Gretchen said, “they attacked the children that came there. The ancient guardians had no choice but to seal off the entrance to your world to protect them.”
“I heard a bit about them from Bendo,” Becky mentioned, “so they were the ones who protected the Grotto before you?”
“Yes,” Gretchen answered, “I became a guardian years after the last child stopped coming. I must admit, it is nice to see one. But tell me, how did you get here?”
“It all started when my ring glowed,” Becky explained as she held her hand up, “it led me to a tree that revealed a cave to the place. I tried to go back, but the cave disappeared. Do you know how I can get home?”
“Let me see your ring,” Gretchen said.
She took Becky’s hand and looked at the ring while Bendo continued to stare at the picture.
“Say Becky, are all kids as cute as you are?” Bendo asked.
“Pretty much,” Becky smiled.
As she said that, the ring glowed even brighter.
“Interesting,” Gretchen stated, “I think the ring responds to your emotions. Happiness seems to be the when it’s at its strongest.”
“I do like it when people call me cute, pretty, or beautiful,” Becky told her.
“I think we can unlock its full power,” Gretchen said, “could you tell me about a happy memory?”
“I sure can,” Becky replied, “my eighth birthday was a few days ago, my grandparents and a few of my friends came over to celebrate with my family. There was a big chocolate cake that was delicious. I got a lot of presents: some dolls, a few games. But what I really liked when my grandparents gave me this ring; it was the first piece of jewelry I ever received. And my favourite part was the ponies. As the birthday girl, I got the first ride. I also asked if my little sister Nina could ride with me. My brother Tim lifted me onto the pony and lifted Nina up behind me. Pony riding was very nice and relaxing, but what made it even better was Nina putting her arms around me. It felt like she was hugging me.”
The jewel continued to glow brighter as Becky told her story. When she finished, the ring slid off Becky’s finger and levitated in the air. It gave off a bright green flash before transforming into a jade wand.
“Wow,” Becky said in amazement.
“I believe this belongs to you,” Gretchen said as she took the wand and handed it to Becky. The eight-year-old was still amazed by what she saw.
“I can teach you how to use it,” Gretchen stated.
“I’d like to, but I should probably head home now,” Becky explained, “could you help show me the way.”
“I think I can,” Gretchen answered, “could you show me where you came from?”
“I don’t think I can remember where it was,” Becky nervously said.
“I do,” Bendo stated.
“Great,” Becky cheered.
The three of them went outside where Amri was waiting for them. Becky and Bendo climbed onto his back.
“Should we get a horse for her?” Becky asked Bendo.
“There’s no need,” Gretchen said as she used her wings to hover, “I can move quickly when I’m flying. Lead on, Bendo.”
“Sure thing,” Bendo replied.
The green goat took off with Gretchen right behind him. Becky looked at the area and continued to ask various questions. Gretchen stared at the little girl with something on her mind. But what none of them knew was that a dark, black bird was watching them from the trees.
It wasn’t long before they found the tree that Becky used to travel to the Grotto.
“I think this a good spot for your first magic lesson,” Gretchen said.
“What do you mean?” Becky asked as she climbed off Amri.
“I can teach you how to use your wand to travel between the Grotto and your world,” Gretchen explained.
“Really!” Becky replied as her blue eyes grew brighter as she heard that.
“A person’s wand is connected to them,” Gretchen stated, “just point the wand to the tree and think about a tunnel.”
“Do I need to say any magic spells?” Becky asked.
“No need,” Gretchen said, “but don’t think of something too big. You’re still a beginner and magic takes energy out of you.”
“Ok,” Becky said as she closed her eyes and held the wand to the tree.
Green light flew to the tree and the cave reappeared in the trunk.
“Thanks for your help!” Becky cheered as she hugged Gretchen.
“It’s no problem little one,” Gretchen replied.
“Will you come back?” Bendo said.
“You bet,” Becky said, “this place looks great. But can I do anything with this wand?”
“Only if it’s small,” Gretchen stated, “you haven’t been trained yet.”
The eight-year-old held her wand up and concentrated. The wand levitated and changed back into her ring.
“Everyone will probably get suspicious if my ring is missing,” Becky explained.
Becky waved goodbye as she walked through the cave. Bendo anxiously waited for his new friend to return while Gretchen wondered what Becky’s visit meant. She once read a prophecy talking about human children returning and helping the Grotto; but she wasn’t sure if Becky was ready to hear about it.
Becky found herself in the bush in her backyard. She held up her right arm and pointed her ring at the tree and green light came out of it, causing the cave to vanish.
“So, my magic still works here,” She thought.
Becky danced back to the yard, continuing to think about the grotto. When she was closer to the house; the eight-year-old sat down on the grass and took her shoes and socks off. Becky laid down on the grass and wondered about what else she could see in the Grotto. Her thoughts were soon interrupted when some dandelion fluff flew right into her face.
“Lisa!” Becky shouted.
“I always get you,” Lisa replied.
“And it’s always annoying,” Becky groaned as she brushed the fluff off her face.
“Mom sent me out to get you for dinner,” Lisa said, “Dad’s bringing back McDonalds.”
“That sounds good,” Becky said,
“So, what have you been doing besides staring at the clouds?” Lisa asked.
Becky just smiled as she still wondered if she should tell anyone about the Grotto, or if they would believe her if she did.