Looming over them, a creature with the head of a wildcat, the torso of a deer, the claws of an eagle, and a tail like a lion snarled with its horns gleaming and ready to strike! For a moment, the three of them felt startled, but before the monster could do anything, Aidan pulled out his sword and, in one swift movement, chopped off its head! They looked around and when they didn’t see any other beasts around, they breathed a sigh of relief. They did notice that they had blood spatter on them though! Yasmina and Aidan seemed grossed out, but Ardeshir instinctively began grooming himself. Yasmina lamented, “I wish I could take a bath at a moment’s notice like that!”
Ardeshir momentarily stopped to correct her, “It’s more like scrubbing. I haven’t taken a bath since I was human!”
Aidan joked, “Too bad it stopped raining!”
“We don’t really have time to wash anything,” Yasmina noted, “so we should probably just move on…unless there are creatures attracted to blood…”
“Unfortunately, there is!” Aidan sighed. “Wait! Maybe you can use your magic to get it off!”
Yasmina hesitated. “I don’t know…If something goes wrong, I could never forgive myself!”
“Nothing is going to go wrong!” Aidan said firmly. “If you can send a Comeheistear into a warlock’s throat, then you can cast blood off of our clothes!”
“Yes, but…” Yasmina became very nervous at the thought of possibly hurting either of them and ruining this whole quest in an attempt to do a simple spell.
“No!” Aidan coached her, “If you want to defeat Daeva, you can’t keep focusing on what could go wrong because then it will! You have to tell yourself that you can do it!”
“Okay, okay! I’ll try!”
“No! Say I got this!”
“Say it like you mean it!”
“I got this!” Yasmina shouted as the message finally sunk in. Aidan stood ready to receive her spell-work, and she got rid of any doubt about her abilities, concentrating hard on the blood coming off of his clothing. She felt the magic leave her fingertips and pointed her wand at him. To her delight, she saw the blood fall off of his clothing! Smiling broadly, she scoured his clothes off and then her own. When she finished, she felt proud, and yet she had just as much doubt as her mind wanted to deny what just happened. “Wow!”
“You’re more powerful than you realize!” Aidan grinned. Yasmina knew he was right, and it felt like a strange truth to accept. After feeling so limited in her little cottage all these years, she had no idea what her being a witch made her capable of!
At the castle Rogamaith, a servant burst into the king’s quarters. He saw that Dorian had finished closing a curtain on the wall, and he bellowed, “I told you to never enter this room!”
“I’m so sorry, Sire!” the servant apologized. “I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t an emergency. It’s just that, well, I saw a witch flying by the castle!”
“And?” Dorian responded coldly.
“What do you mean, ‘and?’ Witches killed the royal family!” The servant stared at him incredulously.
Dorian reasoned, “Witches exist in this kingdom. They fly on brooms sometimes. I can’t stop them from living their lives!”
The servant clarified, “Yes, I realize that, but they were banned from the grounds after the massacre. This witch could be connected with the murders! Shouldn’t we summon her for questioning?” Before Dorian could answer, the servant found a piece of bristle from a broomstick on the floor. “She was here? Sir, why would she come…?” The truth dawned on him, and he went pale. “You…you were part of…what? Why?”
“Oh, I wish you hadn’t seen that! Good servants are so hard to find!” Dorian picked up a dagger from his bureau drawer and flashed it menacingly!
As Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir walked along the Shadow Path, Yasmina noted, “It’s kind of strange that we just watched a creature die and are unfazed by it! This is a weird place, so odd occurrences have become normal! Have we gone crazy like everyone said we would for setting foot on this land?”
“Maybe, but does that change anything for you?” Aidan half joked.
Yasmina chuckled, “I guess not!”
Ardeshir put in, “And I’d like point out that I believe I was crazy before I turned into a cat and came to live here!” They all laughed.
“We’re almost to Bothar Ri!” Aidan rejoiced. “It will be nice to bask in the ambiance of Rogamaith! A villainous king may reside there now, but its history and all it stands for is far more powerful than anything Dorian brings there! Sorry for babbling! It’s just that it’s my home, you know what I mean?”
“No,” Yasmina and Ardeshir said in unison.
Ardeshir expanded on that, “I’ve lived in these woods for a century, but this place has never been my home, just where I lived.”
“I felt the same way about Neodrach,” Yasmina concurred. “I never felt like I belonged there.”
Aidan suggested, “When we get to Bothar Ri, see if it feels like home. If so, I can make it happen!”
“You want us to live with you?” Yasmina inquired.
“Of course!” Aidan replied. “After all we’ve been through, do you really think I’d let you live somewhere where you feel miserable? You’ll feel like you belong at Rogamaith, you’ll see when we get to Bothar Ri!”
Ardeshir kidded, “What if we feel like we belong because of the aura from Duanolc? They’re about the same distance away!”
As Aidan went on about how that would never happen, Yasmina froze from a numbing dread. When Aidan and Ardeshir realized she had fallen out of their footsteps, they circled back to get her. Aidan asked, “What’s wrong?”
Her mouth didn’t want to move, so she had to force herself to answer him, “We’re going to be at Duanolc tomorrow!”
Aidan hadn’t thought of it like that, but he realized the magnitude of the moment as he nodded. “Yeah!”
“I’m not ready!” Yasmina spit out unexpectedly. “It’s too soon! I need more time! I can’t…!”
“Hey, hey, hey!” Aidan put his hands on her shoulders to gain her focus. “I know it’s scary! I’m nervous too! It’s a huge thing we’re about to go through, and a lot of responsibility lays on our shoulders. But we’ve come too far to quit now! Think about what will happen if we don’t take a stand! When it comes to the really important things in life, are we ever really ready? The time has come, we’re called to action now, and all we can do is try our best and deal with whatever consequences resulting from our efforts! What do I keep telling you?”
“You have to believe you can do this to get through it,” Yasmina recited.
“Exactly!” Aidan exclaimed. “I believe you can do this! But if you’re still too scared to move, just remember you can rely on me for support!” He held out his arm in a way that invited her to link with him, which she did, and he escorted her down the path.
A little while later, the dirt on the road changed into a softer mud. Ardeshir queried, “You feel this loose dirt?” Yasmina and Aidan indicated that they did. “You know what that means right?” They didn’t seem sure, so Aidan told them, “It’s been traveled on a lot!”
“If a lot of people have traveled here, that must mean we’re close to…” Aidan didn’t finish his sentence as his face lit up. He began to run, and since her arm was still linked with Yasmina, she ran alongside him. All Yasmina could see was trees and a pathway that got wider and wider, but Aidan’s excitement had an infectious quality to it that made her smile. Soon, the crossroads came into view, and they practically skipped there at this point. At first, the fork at the road only revealed a dark wood just ahead, but when she looked to a path on the right, she saw a light-stoned tower in the distance and understood why Aidan had gotten so impassioned to come to this point! Aidan fell to his knees and shed a tear as he stared at its majesty. “I’m home!”
Yasmina and Ardeshir smirked at each other in a way that conveyed how happy they were for Aidan. They were also both very aware of Aidan’s invitation to them after this quest had finished. Yasmina liked the idea of living in the royal castle instead of her small, isolated cottage, but she felt a little sad to get put on the same level as a cat. She knew Ardeshir was more of a friend than anything, but she realized that a part of her still hoped that Aidan thought of her as more than just a friend. At this point, she knew that she could never totally get rid of her romantic feelings towards him. She reminded herself that someday Aidan would get married and it would probably really hurt her, but until that happened, she feared this would continue to pop up. She valued his friendship, and so she shook this notion and made a point to herself to focus on the mission they were on. After they had given him a moment, she addressed him, “Are you ready to go?”
“Yeah.” Aidan stood up and added, “We’ll be back soon!” Borrowing his optimism, they willfully headed towards the dark woods. Without warning, everything suddenly went black!