Cassandra didn't know what to make of the frog princess, but Owlyn kept looking at her as if waiting for her to do something. After a long awkward silence, she cleared her throat nervously.

"Well, um...nice to meet highness," she said. "But now that Owlyn has found you, I guess there's nothing more I can do here, so I better go back."

Then she turned to leave, but the owl immediately flew over to block her way.

"What? You can't just leave us now!" Owlyn cried. "The whole reason that you're brought here is to break the spell for my lady!"

"But how am I supposed to do that?" Cassandra said. "I don't have any magic skills. Besides, she's a frog!"

"She's not a real frog, silly girl, she was turned into this hideous form by her own father. The evil Czar is a sorcerer. He was frustrated by the fact that his own daughter was wiser than him, so he turned her into a frog for three years and what's even worse, promised her to the evil Koschei the Deathless should she dare disobey and regain her human form before the three years run out."

"Wait a minute," Cassandra said. "She got turned into a frog by her own father?"

"Yes, but before Koschei could come to claim her, she ran away and has been in hiding ever since."

"Don't tell me that this frog is the same frog from the fairy tale of Vasilisa the Wise...oh wait, that's exactly who you told me she is!"

"We're not a fairy tale to you. We do exist," Owlyn said. "Now we need your help, please save our princess."

"But how?"

"You opened the Koschei's chest, didn't you?"

"Yes, but all I found was a piece of poem."

"It has the secret to breaking the spell!" the bird said spiritedly. "Only a seer could read the spell on the first try. You must know what it says."

Cassandra lanced a quick glance at the frog princess. The whole time the frog kept gazing at her. A blush colored her cheeks, and Cassandra tried to avert her eyes. The frog's stare made her feel as if she was the small one.

" says something about a virgin's touch..." Cassandra stuttered.

"Yes!" Owlyn hopped up and down in excitement and cocked her head back to the frog sitting patiently on the floor. "She could read it, my lady, I knew this is the one!" the owl cried then turned to Cassandra again. "Now now...child, you understand what to do."

"No, I don't," Cassandra said. "The poem makes no sense."

A ripple of frustration went through Owlyn's feathers like she was about to explode, but suddenly they heard a loud crashing sound. Then the castle shook and the floor rumbled. Everyone jerked around like puppets on strings.

"What is it? Oh, what is it?" gasped Cassandra in panic.

It was then, of course, that a voice spoke out from down the hall. The voice was slow and cold and thick, like frozen mud. It brought to mind all the long, cruel, inexorable processes of the earth, the erosion of mountains, the continents.

"Who...dares...trespass!?" it said.

The fire inside the hearth suddenly went out. The whole chamber was dark like a cave. Cassandra grabbed for her flashlight, which wavered hysterically around the room. The light caught something moving. There was a thing out there in the darkness, a thing which seemed to be carved of smoldering rock, and which was swimming through the floor as if the hard-packed stones were water.

Cassandra let out a shriek.

"We have to run!" Owlyn cried to her. "Quick, take my lady with you!"

"What the hell is that?" Cassandra asked.

"Groundsler," replied Owlyn. "If it catches us, we won't even have our bones left."

Cassandra did not have time to ask what a Groundsler was and did not want to find out either. She did as she was told. With a strained face, Cassandra bent down and scooped up the princess as gently and quickly as she could. She still felt a bit squeamish touching the frog's skin, but she couldn't afford to lose her life over this. Then she and Owlyn began to run through another door at the back of the hall.

There was a stairway in the cellar. It plunged narrow and straight into the darkness below. Moments after Cassandra stepped on to it, the darkness engulfed her. She had the flashlight in front of her with one hand while the other held the frog. They went down the steep uneven stone steps.

"You're squeezing her," Owlyn's voice spoke from above. "Put her in your pocket, do you have a pocket?"

"Oh yes, sorry," Cassandra breathed and then transferred the frog into her coat's pocket. She put her free hand on the wall to steady herself and quickly snatched it back. The wall was furry —with slime, cobwebs, fungus, who knew what. She didn't turn the flashlight aside to see.

Behind her, Owlyn's wings beating frantically, urging her to move faster. Cassandra wanted to say something, but the darkness and the silence closed her throat. No one had disturbed this place for centuries, and it felt as if no one had spoken in this place for centuries, too.

Cassandra could feel the tiny cold body in the pocket of her coat, occasionally moving.

"This way," the owl said when they reached the ground floor. The bird flew through a corridor to the left and Cassandra followed her. There was a small door which they entered and closed it, latching it with an iron bar they found.

The chamber was empty, deserted as a forgotten tomb. But Cassandra began to feel a little better. Nothing had jumped out at them yet.

"Good, we are now trapped," Owlyn said, "but at least, we are safe...for a tiny little while."

"What is that thing out there?" Cassandra asked. She felt her skin crawl with chills.

"It's one of Koschei's servant in this castle," Owlyn said. "An underground monster of some sort. Just think of it as a giant earthworm with lots of legs and sharp teeth."

Cassandra shivered. Then she felt a movement in her pocket again.

"Oh, the princess!" she gasped and dug her hand inside to retrieve the frog. The frog let out a soft croaky sound as if gasping for air. She felt a slight pang of pity towards the princess. It must be hard tumbling around in someone's pocket.

"Now, we don't have much time," Owlyn spoke again. "The Groundsler would come looking for us here. You have to break the spell."

"I told you I don't know how to..."

"It's the poem," this time it was the frog who spoke. Cassandra tossed the frog from her hands with a yelp of surprise. She still hadn't gotten used to her speaking ability yet, and it freaked her out. In fact, after the fear of death wore off, Cassandra started to view the frog with the same squeamish uneasiness again.

Suddenly they heard a rumbling noise coming down from above.

"Oh, no," Owlyn gasped and flipped her wings anxiously. "Oh hurry, hurry!"

"What are we going to do?" Cassandra cried and backed away from the door. The frog princess leaped forward to face her.

"Read the poem," she said. Cassandra was trembling from head to toes. The sounds were coming like the castle was collapsing, which was probably the case. "Quick!"

Cassandra wanted to live and see another day so she did as the frog said. She fished out Koschei's chest from her backpack then got the yellowish parchment out. Her hands were shaking so badly, she almost dropped everything.

She read the poem aloud, trying to drown out the noises coming closer. By the time she got to the part 'Til the touch of a virgin at dawn.' there was a loud bang behind their door.

"The Groundsler's here!" Owlyn cried.

"Are we going to die?" sobbed Cassandra.

"Get down here!" the frog cried.

Another ear-splitting bang, the hinges rattled and began to come loose. Cassandra lost her voice, but she still heard what was being said to her. The frog princess was asking her to kneel down and kneel she did. Besides she was too scared to stand and was ready to faint anyway. Once Cassandra got down to the floor, Vasilisa the frog, hopped closer towards her.

"Now lower your face and place your lips on mine," said the frog princess.

"What?" Cassandra squeaked.

"The touch of a virgin at dawn, don't you get it?" said the frog. "The sun is coming up now, and a kiss will break the spell that binds me. Trust me, I wish it didn't have to be this way, but I would rather have you than that old rusty Koschei. Now kiss me!"

Cassandra was almost eighteen, and she had never kissed anyone, but never in her life had she ever dreamed of her first kiss with a frog.

"No!" Cassandra said and got on her knees again, "I don't want to kiss you."

"Oh sweet Hecate, just kiss already!" Owlyn was quaking more like a chicken at this point. "Kiss or die!"

Bang! The iron bar on the door bent inwardly and the hinges broke. Fortunately, the monster seemed too big to come through the door, but it was just a matter of time.

"Trespassers! Come and let me devour you, bones and all!"

Cassandra's eyes went wide. The Groundsler kept pushing through the tiny entrance and the stone floor exploded, sending rubble everywhere.

It was then that she knew she had to get it over with. Without further delay, she scooped up the frog princess again. Eyes closed and breath held like she was about to take a dive in the ocean, she planted a kiss on the frog's cold slimy flat lips. She thought it was the most ridiculous thing she had ever done. Also what if it doesn't work? What if the frog doesn't turn into a princess as they expected? The Groundsler would definitely have a feast out of them. What if she herself turned into a frog too? Like one of those Disney movies she and Ruslan watched together that one evening?

But to her surprise, she felt a surge of tingling sensation rushing through her like electric sparks. Then there was bright coruscating light filling every corner of the room. It was prismatic, and scintillated in thousands—millions of little shooting points of every color, that seemed to dart in and out from the frog's body, which began to float from Cassandra's hands as the light still twinkled, leaping and dancing, ever in motion, then forming a glowing shape that illuminated the whole room with celestial radiance. It was so grateful to the eye that Cassandra breathed in awe.

"Oh Freyja's Hair! The spell has been broken! The spell has been broken!" Owlyn squeaked.

They heard the Groundsler squealing with the sound of a dying pig as the piercing light cast all over the room. The creature of dark underground could not stand the harsh brilliancy and began to retreat to where it had come.

Cassandra watched the wonderful sight, and out of the shimmering light appeared a fair young woman about her age.

After the light began to fade, she saw the young princess clearer. The first thing Cassandra noticed was that the woman was completely naked. She had a rather tall, but exquisitely-molded figure, such as a painter would have chosen as a model for a celestial being; and a face that had a kind of witchery charm but also held queenly dignity.

It wasn't only that the young sorceress possessed deep golden eyes and pouting plump lips and dainty little dimples on her chiseled face, but she had the most unusual lustrous hair, it was of pale gold and radiant like it was touched by both moonlight and early dawn. Her hair cascaded down her slender body in thick flowing tresses to her waist.

Cassandra's breath halted when Vasilisa turned to her.

"Now, you must help me find the wand."

Not with you being naked, we won't, Cassandra thought to herself but didn't say it. She knew she wouldn't get that far with this woman.

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