25. The Shocking Benefits of Glass Slippers

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Ashley's brain could not process this new, crazy information that HER MOTHER WAS A WITCH and simultaneously conceive and execute an action plan to rescue her upside-down friends who at this moment were inching toward bubbling cauldrons.

The High Priestess waved her hands as if trying to get Ashley's attention. "I grow tired of this, Ashley. Zippity zap your friends out of danger, and then we'll celebrate with a nice cup of chamomile tea and a slice of pumpkin-mice pie.

Acid bile rose into Ashley's throat. Chamomile tea tasted like soap.

"Or," Derek squeaked, "you could let us go, and I could give you some free decorating advice. Not to be rude, but this place looks like a troll designed it. Cobwebs? Grime? Dripping stone walls? Really? It's all so 1342."

"Trolls designed it," Marsha piped up.

The High Priestess growled. "We got a good deal on it."

"You get what you pay for," Derek said before his head sank into the bubbling liquid.

"No!" Ashley screamed, heart slamming against her chest. At least Derek hadn't been boiled alive, given the energetic spasming of his legs. She still had time to save him and the others.

"Yes!" the High Priestess countered. "Focus your feelings. Something is growing inside you. A power beyond measure. Let it go."

"The only thing growing inside me is an ulcer," Ashley said. But she did feel something. A gathering of moonlight in her belly. The taste of mulled wine on her tongue. Precisely the same feeling as the day when Charming had gifted her with the unicorns. She assumed Marveloni had cursed her with his magic. Perhaps it had been her magic stirring in the presence of his dark powers.

But why was she ruminating? Thinking wouldn't free her friends. And even though Derek had spent a lot of time as a frog, he probably couldn't hold his breath much longer.

She gritted her teeth.

Focused on the moonlight inside her.

Imagined a blast of power that would unknot the spider strands and fly her friends to safety.

Nothing happened.

Layyin and Sadira's heads submerged.

Derek's legs writhed.

She squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated so hard she got dizzy and lost her balance. As she fell, her shoe became caught between the uneven, troll-installed stones on the floor. The shoe stayed put, while the rest of her toppled. Her ankle exploded in pain. "Ouch!"

"She's hopeless," Marsha said.

"Wait for it," the High Priestess said. "Pain can help focus the powers."

Ashley bit her lip and pulled the glass slipper from the rocks. The heel had shattered. She cut herself on a sharp edge. "Oh, bejabbers!" she cried.

At that point, Princess Ashley, who was kind and sweet and well-mannered, a friend to animals and wenches and children, lost it. She threw the glass slipper at Derek's spidery cable. It hit so perfectly that the jagged edge sliced through the strands. Derek plopped into the cauldron. A split second later, his head popped out. "Great shot, Ashley. Wow! It's great in here. Like a jacuzzi. I mean, except for the smell."

"That's the sulfur in the water. It balances the humors. In humans," Marsha added, shuddering.

Ashley wasn't sure if Marsha's nervous reaction was due to the idea of humans, humors, or the water. But no time for random contemplation. "Well, I find nothing funny about any of this," she said, smashing her remaining shoe on the stones, breaking it in half. She aimed one at Layyin's bindings and the other at Sadira's. A perfect shot each time. Having strength and a good eye resulted from all her years of housework and evading her stepsister's attacks. And there was a certain amount of satisfaction that Ashley had discovered something no other fairy tale princess had ever managed—a practical use for glass footwear.

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