Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 4

Stacy knew that she didn’t have to dress up just to drop off resumes, but she did so anyways in case she got an on-the-spot interview. Both of her parents were at work, but they left her some change so she could take the bus. She walked to the bus stop sort of excited and a little nervous about her potential job prospects. When she came to the bus stop, she noticed that it didn’t have a bench, but she didn’t mind standing while she waited for a while. After waiting for about twenty minutes, she started to get hot and her feet were getting a little sore already. She peered at the schedule and saw that the bus was late. She had no idea how long it would take to finally arrive, which frustrated her, but her mood lifted when she finally saw the bus arrive.

She didn’t have much room on her seat, and she almost fell into the aisle when the bus made a turn. No one else seemed to move as much as she did, which embarrassed her a little. With an expensive divorce that she had to pay for coming up, she knew she wouldn’t be able to get a car for a while, so she figured that she would have to get used to it just as the others had. She didn’t think she could get used to the odor though, a mix of sweat and fuel that she sincerely hoped didn’t rub off on her. She used to take the bus downtown all the time as a kid, but she didn’t have any memory of the nuisances she endured that day! She tried not to focus on the negative aspects of it so she could keep up a pleasant demeanor as she applied for work.

Stacy felt grateful when they finally arrived at her stop, but as soon as she stepped out, she got met by the sweeping humidity that plagued her earlier. As she walked, she really regretted her choice in shoes. It took extra effort to harness her attention to the scene in front of her, but she felt determined to make a good impression that day!

She had always loved the original architecture that the nineteenth century buildings had, and the streets were always teeming with people exploring mom-and-pop shops and unique restaurants. She didn’t know where in this town the prestigious office buildings of Makawee were located, but if she wanted to find a well paying job in the field she had the most experience in, the odds were in her favor of finding it here. She took a deep breath and hoped for the best as she began her search.

After walking for a while, she finally came across a law office. Feeling optimistic, she steeled herself before she entered. The secretary, who had previously been filing her nails, looked startled when Stacy entered. She greeted her, “Can I help you?”

“I just wanted to drop off my resume!” When she handed it to her, she made a point to smile big.

“Oh. We’re not hiring right now.” The secretary went back to filing her nails.

“Oh. Okay.” Trying not to look disappointed, Stacy walked out.

Later, she found an insurance agency, and a man in a suit told her, “Alright, we’ll keep your resume on file and contact you if anything opens up.”

Quite a bit later, she finally found a small accounting agency, but as the secretary took her resume, she saw the secretary look at her disdainfully. When Stacy glanced down at herself, she realized how sweaty she had gotten and tried not to cringe. The secretary told her, “We’ll call you,” but Stacy didn’t feel confident that she had meant that.

After she had combed pretty much all of downtwon Makawee, her feet were killing her. She stopped to rest at a park bench, and while her body felt relieved, her mind certainly was not. She gazed at the pile of resumes she still had with a surge of disappointment. There weren’t a lot of offices out here, and that’s where she had the most experience. She didn’t want to accept that she would have to find work at the bottom in another industry. Entry level jobs didn’t bother her, but she hoped for something that paid higher so she could break free from Hadeon. She sighed sadly.

At that moment, from a small stage on the other side of the park, a jazzy band began to play a song. Stacy turned to see a small crowd had come to enjoy the music. They were gathered there prior to their performance, so she reasoned that the park must have amateur musicians play there pretty regularly. She found herself swaying her body a bit and tapping her foot, and she surprised herself when she discovered that she was actually enjoying herself! The more she thought about it though, the less shocking it became because music had always had a strong hold over her. It was a nice way to end a hard day, and Stacy supposed that if her next downtown job hunt gave her the same sort of results, she would at least have something to look forward to.

That night, Stacy read through the classifieds, and she saw a posting that interested her, but when she checked the bus route map, she saw that, unfortunately, she didn’t have a way to get there. She saw that a bank was accepting resumes and decided she may as well apply there. The next day, it took her about an hour and a half to get there, but she had hoped to get interviewed right away. Instead, they simply took her application and told her they would call her to schedule an interview. Stacy couldn’t believe she had put in so much work for such a short transaction! She wished that this bank had accepted mailed in resumes, which seemed practical for both the bank and the applicants in her mind. Still, since there was nothing she could do about their hiring process, she turned around and headed home.

On Wednesday, she took the bus downtown again, but she felt more confident this time since she wore much more sensible shoes and clothes. She went through the shops and offered to drop off her resume, but the ones who were hiring didn’t want a resume, just an application form. She found it strange but still willingly filled them out. After filling out enough applications, her hand started to cramp from writing so much. Despite her discomfort, she still felt fairly accomplished after applying to almost half of the places that existed downtown! The other half were at the mall, and that was another day’s work in itself. She had some time before her bus was set to arrive, so she finished the day by sitting at that park bench to listen to the live music playing. They played some country songs, a staple of Nashville and its surrounding areas that gave the locals a feeling of home. She took a moment to savor it before she headed to her actual home.

On Thursday, she took the bus to a popular strip mall on the other side of town. When she cut out the restaurants that were there, she only had a few stores to apply to. The manager of a drug store came out to meet her, but his introduction was very brief and returned to his office pretty quickly. As she left and started to head home, it started pouring down rain, so she ran for the cover of the bus stop awning. She felt relieved until a car zoomed by and splashed her! The rain stopped as soon as the bus came, and she became very annoyed with the timing of it all!

On Friday, she entered the mall along with a bustling crowd of shoppers. She had purposely avoided this place because she worked at this mall before in a department store called Emporia during high school and had a horrendous experience. She visited every store but that one and applied to each store that accepted applications. None of the managers met with her, and she filled out so many applications that she pretty much memorized all of the information from her resume, which made her fill out these forms very quickly. Before she knew it, she had come full circle, and the only store left was Emporia. She still had plenty of time before her bus would leave, so with no excuses left, she felt she had no choice but to apply there again.

She filled out an application at the women’s clothing counter, and when she handed her clipboard to the cashier, she instructed, “Wait right here.” Stacy had been through this so many times that she had no expectations that anything of significance would occur when the cashier returned, but to her surprise, the girl invited her, “Come on back!”

Stacy could hardly believe that she had actually landed an interview! She straightened out her outfit and did her best to concentrate on her relevant skills for this job. She had forgotten how small the manager’s office was, and for a moment, she thought the cashier had walked her to a closet. The manager’s desk took up most of the space, and the desk itself had piles of unfiled papers on it. She didn’t recognize the person who sat there, so she assumed the sweet, bubbly woman that made it tolerable to work there before got promoted out. This skinny, weedy man seemed like he didn’t see sunshine much, and his big, thick glasses concentrated hard on the computer screen in front of him. He had a bald spot, but he didn’t seem very old. He finally looked away from the screen and gave her a smile stiff enough to suggest that he didn’t do it regularly. “Miss All-ee-sown?”

“It’s Alyson,” she corrected him. He looked a little affronted, and she inwardly winced. Less than thirty seconds in and she had already screwed up! She didn’t have a good feeling about the rest of the interview!

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Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 3

Stacy woke up in a haze, and for a moment, she forgot where she had left Nashville. It all came back to her like a tidal wave of dread, and she felt surprised she had fallen asleep at all! For a moment, she sat on the couch and stared blankly ahead. Normally, she had an agenda set for each day, but everything she had planned vanished when she did. Actually, her entire life had become a blank slate! She had no idea what to do with herself, so she turned on the television. The cartoon that came on didn’t interest her, so she began flipping through the rest of the channels. When she cycled back to the cartoon, she turned off the television and sighed. After a moment, she realized she was still wearing the cocktail dress from last night, and since that disgusted her with the fresh memories it brought, she got up to get dressed.

When she wandered into the kitchen, she saw that her mother had left her a plate of cinnamon rolls for her on the table. It felt awkward to eat alone in silence, so she turned on the radio. She half expected to hear a melancholy tune to match her mood, but instead, she heard a song with a catchy beat. That almost made her more depressed since the story line of the song conveyed a happy tone, which felt hard to relate to at the moment. As she ate, the music did manage to seep through her guard and elevated her attitude a bit.

After she finished breakfast, she became aware of the fact that, once again, she ran out of tasks to fill her time. She saw the Sunday paper by her father’s seat and decided to read it. For a minute, it somewhat interested her, but after a while, she realized she could care less about the going-ons of the people making headlines that day. She flipped through each section until she came across the classifieds. She knew eventually she would need to find work again, so she figured she may as well start searching now.

Frank and Barbara entered the house, and they saw Stacy sitting at the kitchen table. Barbara greeted her, “Oh, hello Stacy! I hope you didn’t mind that we went to church without you. We just thought you’d rather sleep in…”

“It’s okay,” Stacy assured her. “I wouldn’t wanna face the congregation praying for me, I don’t need the attention right now.”

“Oh, today would have been perfect for you to go then!” Frank half joked. “Today is Easter, so their attention laid elsewhere.” He sat down at the table with her while Barbara made coffee. He noticed what she had in front of her, and remarked, “Don’t tell me you’re looking for a job already!”

“What else am I supposed to do every day?” Stacy responded.

Barbara put a cup of coffee in front of Stacy and Frank before sitting down with a cup of her own. She asked Stacy, “Well, what did you do with your free time before?”

Stacy hollowly laughed, “Free time? We didn’t have free time! Our whole life was devoted to growing the business! We developed our team, acquired new clients, trained new people…coordinating it all took up my time! Our only fun was the mandatory happy hours we went to twice a week.” Frank and Barbara didn’t know what to say after that, so they drank their coffee while Stacy searched through the postings. When she came to the end of the job section, she frowned. “That’s it?”

“Makawee is a lot smaller than Nashville,” Barbara pointed out. “But it’s supposed to be growing!”

Stacy groaned, and Frank told her, “You’ll find something you like, I’m sure!”

“Yeah, right…” Stacy tried to hide her disappointment, but she knew that her parents could probably see right through her. She tried to think of a different subject but couldn’t. Luckily for her, the phone rang, so she volunteered, “I’ll get it!” She ran to the living room and picked up the receiver. “Hello, Alyson residence!”

“Stacy! We missed you at the picnic!” To her horror, the person on the other side was Hadeon! She immediately hung up and went back to the kitchen. The phone rang again, but this time, Stacy let it go to the answering machine. Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy, you made your point, now it’s time to come home…Stacy, you can’t avoid me forever! We’re still married, you know!” Stacy inwardly acknowledged that he had a point about one thing, went back to the phone, and picked up the receiver. “There you are! Now, we’re way behind on planning for the week and-.”

“I want a divorce,” she stated firmly.

Hadeon paused for a moment before he responded, “Okay, you’re still mad. I’ll give you a few more days to cool down, but I expect you home by Wednesday!”

“I’m not going back!” Stacy said to him emphatically. “You don’t get it! I’ve been unhappy for a while now, but I put up with it to make you happy. Last night, you did something that I won’t put up with! You crossed the line, and now there’s no going back! I want a divorce!”

“Really?” Hadeon scoffed. “You’re going to give up everything to be all alone?”

“I’d rather be alone than miserable!” Stacy argued. “First thing tomorrow, I’m going to the courthouse and filing for the divorce myself!”

Hadeon laughed sardonically. “No, you’re not.”

“To hell I’m not!” Stacy fumed. “You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore! If I wanna do it, I’ll-!”

Hadeon smugly informed her, “You’ll march down to the courthouse and come home empty handed ’cause divorces aren’t free! Even self filing costs money! Your parents would probably loan you the money for that, except you can’t self file ’cause I’ll fight it in court. That’d cost you at least two grand! That’s minimum. How are you gonna pay for that when you’re broke?”

Stacy’s heart dropped at this revelation. She really thought that she could wipe her hands and be done with him, and now it seemed really impossible! She had no idea that what she wanted would end up costing so much money! She felt a huge weight on her shoulder, and it started to overwhelm her. However, when she noted how arrogant his voice sounded, she grew nettled. He was still trying to control her, and this was his attempt at getting his way and having her still married to him! She refused to buckle, and she expressed this to him, “I’m going to get a job and pay for it myself!”

“Oh really?” He clearly sounded like he didn’t believe her. “You think you can afford to save up while you pay for rent and bills?”

“My parents won’t charge me rent!” she spat.

Hadeon snickered, “You’re thirty two years old and you’re going to live with your parents? Yeah, that’ll show me!”

Stacy reminded him, “Yes, it’ll show you that I’m serious about getting those divorce papers signed!”

“Alright, you go ahead and try that! You’ll see how tedious and low paying jobs outside of BMC are and you’ll come running back to me! Take as long as you want, and when you’re ready to give up, come find me. I’ll be waiting!” He cackled, and Stacy hung up.

Frank and Barbara had expected her to come back to the kitchen and emote, but instead, she circled around as if she were on a hunt. “Where’s your computer?”

“We moved it to the gym, I mean, your old room,” Barbara let her know. When she she marched towards the computer, Barbara and Frank followed her. Barbara asked her, “What are you doing?”

“I’m typing up my resume,” Stacy answered while she got the computer started. “I highly doubt Hadeon would send me my resume even if I wanted to ask that slime ball for a favor! And I wouldn’t wanna wait for it to come in the mail anyways. This way, I can start job hunting right away. It shouldn’t take me long to find something, and then Hadeon will be out of my life forever!”

“You don’t have to do this, Stacy,” Frank remarked. “Your mother and I can take out a second mortgage if we need to.”

“No!” Stacy became aware of how harsh her tone had been, and she felt guilty. “I’m sorry. If I don’t find a job in like a month, then maybe we can look into it. I really wanna do this on my own though. If I have someone else taking care of me, he could use that against me. I just wanna prove that I can make it on my own!”

“Alright, sweetie!” Frank pat her shoulders reassuringly, and her parents left the room to let her work. As Stacy typed out her information, she realized that she had typed out “Stacy Bancroft.” She went back and changed it to “Stacy Alyson.”

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 2

Stacy stormed into their luxury apartment and made a beeline for their bedroom. She grabbed two suitcases and threw them on their queen sized bed. She knew that he would stay at that party for another hour or two, he had always made sure he left last, but she still felt pressured to hurry. If he happened to come home while she was doing it, he would try to talk her out of it. She had already made up her mind, so he would not have been able to sway her, but she didn’t want the delay. Plus, she wouldn’t put it past him to get violent again. It all felt so crazy, she never thought he had been capable of that! She hadn’t been happy for a while, but she had always thought that eventually they would work past their issues. Everything was different now! She needed to escape right away!

As she stuffed her suitcase, she remembered his claim that everything in their home belonged to him, but she didn’t care, she needed clothes! Besides, she thought, what would he do with them? She felt no attachment to anything else in their house. All of it was beautiful, but it had all been picked to convey that image he so desperately clung to, which suddenly seemed so unimportant to her. She took a hair dryer and a couple of things from the bathroom and stuffed them into her already full luggage. She closed it up and marveled at just how much she didn’t need!

Stacy put on a jacket and was about to call a cab when she passed by the master bathroom and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She expected to see blotches from crying, but she didn’t think that she would find a red mark where he slapped her. This sickened her to think she would get this reminder each time she saw her reflection, but she didn’t have time to mull it over much. She didn’t have time to cover it with make up either. She grabbed a silk scarf so she could rush out the door.

She arrived at the bus stop with the scarf wrapped around her head and tied under her chin. She also wore sunglasses even though the sun had already set. She realized how peculiar she looked, but she didn’t want to be recognized by anyone who might know Hadeon. It sounded very paranoid, but Stacy didn’t want anyone to stop her. As she payed the taxi driver, she discovered that she didn’t have much money left. The cab sped away, and as she studied the bus schedule, it dawned on her that in her haste to get away, she hadn’t actually made a plan on where to go! She didn’t have a lot of resources to work with, so for a moment, she wasn’t sure where to go. Suddenly, she saw a time table for Makawee, Tennessee, and it became so obvious on what she needed to do. She told the ticket agent, “One way to Makawee!” It took the rest of her money, even her change, but she didn’t care. She felt more confident now that she had some direction!

She felt grateful that she didn’t have a long wait, but it didn’t feel so short at that moment. Every sign of movement and every slight noise made her sure that he had found her. As she waited by the lane where the bus would pull in, she avidly watched for him, ready to run inside if he pulled up. There weren’t many people taking a charter bus on a Saturday night, but she could only imagine the embarrassment of the scene he would cause if he found her there. The bus pulled in, but she still looked behind her in case he tried to stop her at the last moment. To her immense relief, she was able to board the bus without a fuss! As everyone else got on, she still watched for him, and she felt grateful that her worries did not manifest themselves. It didn’t feel real to her until the bus driver turned his engine on and they started to pull out of the driveway. She continued to look out of the window, half expecting to see him tailing her, but once they got far enough, she didn’t think it was too likely anymore, and a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. She was finally free!

Later on in the evening, a handsome couple in their early sixties cuddled together on a comfortable couch while wrapped in a crocheted blanket as they watched a comedic show. All of a sudden, their phone rang, which roused both of their curiosity. The lady turned on a lamp next to her and requested, “Frank, can you mute the tv?” Frank did so as she walked to the other side of the room where the table with the phone on it stood. She picked up the receiver and hesitantly said, “Hello?”

An automated voice answered her, “Hello! You’ve received a Collect Call from…”

Stacy’s voice filled in, “Can you pick me up from the bus station?”

The automated voice finished with, “Do you accept the charges?” Frank and his wife turned to each other with very grave expressions.

Frank spotted Stacy with two suitcases standing alone under a lamppost while it rained on her. He and his wife ran out to her, and his wife exclaimed, “Stacy! Oh my god, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom,” Stacy tried to convey bravery since she knew they were probably already worried sick.

“Let’s get you out of the rain!” Her mother put her her arm around her shoulder and tried to lead her to the car.

“Wait a minute, Barbara!” Frank put an arm out to stop her. He studied Stacy’s scarf closely, and she cringed as he gingerly took it off. When her parents saw the red mark on her face, Barbara gasped and Frank growled, “That son of a bitch! I’ll kill him!”

Frank marched towards the driver’s side of the car, but Barbara grabbed both of his arms to stop him. “Frank! Don’t! Frank, you are a police officer!” Frank relented and braced himself against the car. Barbara pat his back gently and suggested, “Let’s take Stacy home!” Frank nodded and got into the car in a huff. He opened the trunk for Stacy, who quickly tossed her luggage in and got inside the vehicle.

For a while, they drove in silence. Stacy felt more awkward than she ever had in her life. Frank still seemed irate about the fact that Hadeon had hurt her, and Barbara looked as though she had billions of questions that she was repressing until Stacy gave her permission to release them. Barbara couldn’t hold back anymore, and she broke the tension by inquiring, “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Stacy replied truthfully. With everything that had happened that night, she couldn’t fathom desiring food.

Frank then probed, “Did you press charges?”

“No.” Stacy knew eventually she would have to explain herself, but she had trouble digesting it herself, so she felt that divulging a little at a time would make it easier for everyone. “I was too busy trying to get away to even think about calling the police.”

She expected him to get angry that she hadn’t reported Hadeon, but instead, he surmised, “Eh, that son of a bitch probably would’ve bailed himself out and wouldn’t have learned a damn thing anyways!” He paused a moment and added, “Has he done this before?”

“No, he’s never done this before!” Memories flooded through Stacy’s memories. She almost explained how wonderful he was in the beginning of their relationship, but that thought made her heart ache and she started crying. Barbara and Frank took that as a cue to end the questions, and they seemed close to crying themselves as they drove in silence again.

When they got into the living room, Frank set her bags down and Barbara informed her, “We turned your old room into a gym, so you’ll have to sleep on the couch tonight.”

“Okay.” Stacy shrugged. “I probably won’t be able be able to sleep much tonight anyways.”

“Oh, my poor baby!” Barbara tightly squeezed Stacy, and while Stacy appreciated her sentiment, she also felt a little foolish for garnering so much pity, so she stood limply as her mother hugged her. “Welcome home!”

Her mother let go, and Stacy stared at the living room incredulously. She had grown up here, so everything was very familiar, but she had been away long enough that it put her in an almost dream like trance to stand there at that moment. Her mother called it home, which twisted her stomach a bit. Just a few hours ago, home had meant their apartment in Nashville, and while she had no desire to return there, everything still felt too fresh for her to call this place home again. She had put all of her focus into escaping, and now that she got somewhere safe, butterflies ravaged her stomach as she started to think about where the next step would take her.

Almost as though he had read her thoughts, Frank reassured her, “You did the right thing, Kiddo! Just take it one day at a time!”
“You’re right,” Stacy agreed. She didn’t feel too confident yet, but focusing on getting through the night seemed more doable than trying to think of a new path for her whole life!

As Stacy turned to retire to the couch, Barbara asked her, “Did you try calling us again?”

“No.” Stacy turned back around and saw that the answering machine was blinking. Her nerves were rattled at this sight. No one called her parents in the middle of the night, so only one person would call at this time…

Barbara hesitantly pushed play, and Stacy’s fears were confirmed! Hadeon’s voice rang out, “Stacy? Are you there? Staaaaacy! Come on, answer the phone! Don’t be childish, we need to talk like grown ups…” As Hadeon went on, Stacy hypnotically walked over to the answering machine, and for a moment, she considered his claim. However, she soon grew incensed at his nerve. He wasn’t trying to win her back, he insulted her and demanded that return! After all he put her through, he expected her to crawl back to him and apologize to him!

She picked up the answering machine and smacked it against the table several times as if it had betrayed her by playing his evil voice. “Hey, hey, hey!” Barbara put her hands on her to get her to calm down.

Stacy realized how irrational she had been and stopped, but her emotions were still overwhelming her, so she began sobbing again. Frank comforted her, “It’s okay!” He and Barbara each embraced her.

After a while, Barbara asked her, “Are you going to be okay sleeping by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine,” Stacy replied somewhat hollowly. Frank and Barbara each said goodnight to her, and she was vaguely aware of saying goodnight back. She turned off the light, wrapped herself in the quilt, and laid down on the couch with her eyes wide open. The only light in the room came from the faint glow of the moon against the trees outside, which cast shadows throughout the space. Everything felt so strange, and she knew as hard as this day had been, this was only the beginning!

Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 1

A toast! As of today, April twenty-first, nineteen eighty four, Bancroft Marketing Consultants is officially ten years old!” Hadeon raised his martini glass above his head as he spoke to an exceptionally upscale office full of people in fine suits and gorgeous cocktail dresses. Hadeon certainly seemed to relish the looks of admiration as they watched him on stage, and he flashed them all a wry smile that lit up his already striking features. He feigned a sense of humility by running his smooth, creamy fingers through his slicked back, jet black hair as he told the crowd, “It seems like just yesterday we were just a small business cramped inside of my uncle’s garage…” He paused and saw that the projector screen behind him remained empty. “Sorry folks, there was supposed to be slides to go along with this speech…Stacy!”

Stacy snapped to attention from the back of the room, and she felt her pale cheeks flush. She readjusted the black bow in her dirty blonde, feathered hair as a she rushed towards the front of the stage where Hadeon stood. He stayed smiling, but she could tell by the look in his cold, brown eyes that her blunder angered him. “Sorry!” she apologized as she rushed to get the slides up and running.

Hadeon didn’t address her but instead talked to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, you all recognize my wife and your secretary? Probably not since she doesn’t have food in her hand!” Everyone but Stacy chuckled. She pretended to smile it off, but inwardly, she cringed. She was by no means thin, but she hadn’t considered herself overweight either. This didn’t stop the jokes though, a recurring issue that she ignored at the moment as she attempted to get his slides going. Hadeon asked her, “Why aren’t you wearing lipstick?”

She awkwardly answered, “I did. It must have come off on my drink.”

Stacy saw a flash of anger flicker on his face, but his consciousness of his audience caused him to grin and joke, “Save some for the rest of us, Honey!” He got more laughs, but Stacy didn’t respond. Luckily for her, he didn’t expect one since she got the slides going. A picture of Hadeon and a couple of other guys in office casual wear working at a small desk in a crowded garage displayed, which delighted Hadeon. “Ah, there we are! My company started as a simple door-to-door operation, but even back then I knew one day it would grow into Nashville’s number one marketing firm!” Stacy tried hard to convey interest as he continued his speech, but she mostly listened hard for her next cue for the projector.

Later, with newly applied lipstick, Stacy sipped a drink with a straw as she weaved her way through the room. Unexpectedly, a woman from a very posh circle stopped her, “Oh, hello Missus Bancroft!”

“Oh, hello!” she responded politely.

A man from the group remarked, “Congratulations on your company’s anniversary!”

She replied, “Oh, it’s my husband’s company. I just tag along for the ride!”

“Sounds fabulous!” another woman commented. “You are so lucky! I can only imagine the opulent lifestyle you must lead!”

“No need to imagine! We spend so much time here, you can pretty much see our whole life’s story at the office!” Stacy spoke truthfully, but they laughed as if she had said it in jest.

Hadeon strolled up to them, and the first woman complimented, “Oh, hello Mister Bancroft! Lovely speech you gave!”

“Thank you!” Hadeon flashed her a smile before he very measuredly requested, “Will you all excuse me? I would like to have a word with my wife.”

Stacy tried to act casually, but she knew he wanted to lecture her, so she begrudgingly followed him. He led her to an empty office, and she hung her head as he softly shut the door. He turned around and gave her a look of utter malice, and then he very coldly asked her, “What was that?”

“I’m sorry!” she shamefully apologized.

“We planned this!” Hadeon scolded. “You know what you were supposed to do and when, and yet you left me on that stage all alone! How do you think that made me look?”

“I think it turned out fine,” Stacy expressed with the hopes he would realize she had a point and they would skip the argument.

Hadeon’s mood only darkened. “Image is everything! One of the number principles of my business is always be prepared! I teach it to everyone who works for me, and yet my wife slash secretary didn’t prepare for one of the most important events of the year! This could have costed me a client!”

“I already said I was sorry! What else do you want me to say?” Stacy knew she shouldn’t have snapped like that, but she couldn’t help herself.

“You could act more sorry!” Hadeon growled. “You don’t seem to even care about what you did! No explanations either!”

“I don’t have an explanation!” Stacy scoffed. “I got distracted by a good conversation. I should have paid more attention, but it was nice to have a little bit of fun for once!”

“For once?” Hadeon seethed. “You don’t have fun?I give you everything! A job, a nice house, designer clothes… How could you be so ungrateful?”

“I am grateful!” Stacy shouted vehemently. “You take good care of me, but sometimes I wanna take care of myself! I’ve spent the last five years devoting my whole life to helping you and your business, and sometimes I just need a little break to focus on me! It was just nice to have people care about my opinion! I felt like I could be myself for a little while! Look, I really am sorry that I was late for something important to you, but it would be nice if you recognized what’s important to me sometimes!”

Hadeon roared, “Fine, but now isn’t the time!”

“When is the time?” Stacy retorted. “Tonight is about you, and tomorrow is the Easter picnic, and then we’re back to the office for the next six days! I’m not asking for constant attention, but it would be nice to feel important sometimes! At the very least, if I make a mistake, I don’t wanna get punished like I’m a little kid!”

“I treat you like a little kid ’cause you act like a selfish brat!” Hadeon yelled. “Ugh! Look, I don’t have time for this! We’re going to go back out there and I want you to tell everyone how happy you are with this company to make up for what you did earlier! Got it?” Stacy wiped away a tear of frustration, which just seemed to incense him. “You’re going to cry? Great, you’re gonna smear your mascara! Just tell people you have allergies, which make your eyes-!”

“I’m crying, and all you care about is how it makes you look?” Stacy cried out.

“Don’t interrupt me!” Hadeon’s temper boiled over, causing him to slap her across the face! Stacy stared at him in shock, and even Hadeon appeared surprised by his own action. “I’m so sorry!”

“You hit me!” Stacy rubbed her cheek, which felt sore. Her hands started shaking from the sheer adrenaline of the moment. For a moment, she didn’t know what to do. He tried to caress her face, but she dodged his touch. Suddenly, the truth dawned on her, and she knew exactly what to do. “No! I’m done! I’m leaving!”

“Okay,” Hadeon relented. “I’ll tell everyone you went home sick and-.”

“No,” Stacy corrected him, “I’m done with you! This marriage is over!”

Hadeon laughed derisively at her. “You’re too emotional right now. We’ll talk this over after the party.”

“I’m done talking!” Stacy stated firmly. “I’m not staying in an abusive relationship!”

“It was an accident!” Hadeon rolled his eyes. “Quit being so dramatic! It won’t happen again!”

“My father is a police officer!” Stacy reminded him. “I’ve seen what happens when women stay in abusive relationships. I knew you had become neglectful, but I didn’t know things were this bad! I don’t deserve this! I’m packing my things and leaving!”

Hadeon sneered, “Everything in this house was paid for by me! You’ll leave with nothing!”

“Just my dignity!” Stacy countered him. “That’s all I need! I don’t want anything that reminds me of you anyway! I’ll start over with my own stuff and get a fresh start! Good bye, Hadeon!”

As she started to walk out, Hadeon stopped her by saying, “If you walk out that door, you’re fired! You won’t be able to afford anything on your own! You’ll have no choice but to crawl back to me!”

“I’ll make it on my own!I’m never coming back! Never!” She stormed out, and as she marched towards the exit, she passed by the group she had talked to earlier. One of the women asked, “Are you okay, Missus Bancroft?”

“My name is Stacy!” she exclaimed, and then she walked straight out of there without looking back!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 18

Aidan fell limp, and suddenly everything became like a slow moving dream for her. She rolled over to free herself, and upon doing so, she immediately checked on him. He was still breathing, but it was very labored. “No!” Yasmina wailed desperately.

She heard Daeva cackling behind her, and the idea that she relished not only Aidan’s suffering but the torment it caused her incensed Yasmina. Her soul lit up with an ire that she had never felt before, and she let it be known with a furious howl! As she got up, she saw Daeva back up, and Yasmina refused to accept any attempts of escape. As she stepped towards her, she whipped her wand in a circle, creating a high ring of fire! Daeva leered, “You fool! Now no one can help you!”

Yasmina could care less about this fact. “You’re not going anywhere! This ends now!”

Daeva laughed derisively at her. “Oh, did you love him?”

“I still do! He’s not dead yet!” Yasmina ignored her mocking laughter as she growled, “But I also love this country! I’m not going to let you break me and do this all over again to other people! No more tricks! No one to hide behind! Let’s finish this!”

“So be it!” Daeva raised her wand and aimed for Yasmina, who easily dodged it as she fired one back. Daeva used her wand to produce a spell to shield herself. In Yasmina’s rancor, she fiercely tried to curse Daeva from all different angles, but Daeva swat them away as easily as she would swat away a cumbersome insect. Yasmina paused for a moment to wait for Daeva to let her guard down, and Daeva used this moment to shoot more spells at her. Yasmina didn’t know how to do a shield, so she evaded by moving around as fast as she could. They became more and more difficult to dodge, and between this and the energy it took to produce spells, Yasmina began to grow tired, something Daeva was quick to notice. “What’s the matter? You getting tired? Let me finish you so you can join Aidan in the afterlife!”

Yasmina’s rage got renewed by that insult, and she shot a spell that Daeva narrowly avoided. They continued firing back and forth at each other, but as Yasmina continued to survive, Daeva’s spellwork became more and more complicated. One curse came at her from two different directions, which caught her off guard, making her lose her footing. She fell forward, causing her wand to fall from her hand! She tried to grasp it, but Daeva shot another spell at her, so she had to roll out of the way. The spell hit her leg, sending pain throughout her body and making her cry out in anguish. Daeva cackled, “So much for love! You lost your soulmate and your country when you lost your wand! You actually thought you could beat me? You, with such a pure heart, aren’t capable of the spell-work that I am! As angry as you are with me, in your heart, you could never use your magic for malice, can you?”

Yasmina wanted to deny her claim, but inwardly, she reluctantly realized that Daeva had a point. “I don’t enjoy having to kill you, but I-!”

“That’s where we’re different!” Daeva exclaimed. “You care more about other people than yourself! That’s your weakness! I knew eventually if one of your comrades fell that eventually you’d corner me. But unlike you, I put myself first! I will turn Caragsona into a paradise for my kind to live in, and you’re standing in the way of progress. It’s very selfish of you to do this to your own people! Even if you don’t value your own pathetic life, you should think about the lives of your fellow magi!”

“We can all live in harmony!” Yasmina weakly shouted. “It doesn’t have to be us versus them! Nice try, but I’m not going to surrender to you! Never!”

Daeva scoffed, “You don’t have a wand! You’re finished!” She raised her wand, and Yasmina couldn’t think of magic dark enough to kill her on the spot. Daeva arrogantly sked her, “Any last words?”

The fire grew higher behind Daeva as she spoke, and it suddenly clicked for Yasmina. Through her blinding pain, she stood up to face her, who seemed amused by this display. She steeled herself before she boldly told her, “I don’t need a wand to do magic, and I don’t need dark intentions to get rid of you!” Daeva looked confused as Yasmina summoned magic to her fingertips. Yasmina could see panic hit Daeva’s eyes as she realized it was too late. Yasmina sent all of her energy out and pushed Daeva hard, sending her flying into the fire! She watched just to make sure that Daeva didn’t escape. Daeva’s shadow writhed, and she let out a blood-curling scream. Soon, the shadow disappeared, and the room got quiet. She was gone!

Yasmina put out the fire as soon as she was sure the whole ordeal was over, but she did not celebrate yet. She could hardly move her leg, but she hobbled over to Aidan as fast as she could. Everyone watched as she fell next to him, all of them with grim looks on their faces. He did not move a muscle, so she put an ear to his chest to see if she could hear him breathe. Ardeshir noted, “Yasmina, you’re hurt!”

Yasmina didn’t want to deal with her injury at such a crucial moment. “It’s nothing! A healing potion will fix this right away!” That statement gave her an idea. “Wait, the healing potion!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a vial of potion, and then she opened Aidan’s mouth and started pouring it in. “This will fix him up, and he’ll be okay!” She said it out loud, but she really had to convince herself of this. She poured all of it in just to make sure, and she waited. No one else seemed very optimistic, but she ignored them and encouraged him, “Come on, Aidan! You got to wake up and take the throne, just like we talked about!” Nothing happened, and a lump rose up in her throat. “Please! Aidan!” When he still did nothing, she felt her soul rip into pieces! She couldn’t accept he was gone, but her logic gave her no other choice. She collapsed onto his chest and burst into tears.

No one else moved except to wipe away tears off of their cheeks. Yasmina hardly noticed them though, nothing else mattered then! She had survived the battle, but she felt as though a huge part of her died right then. She felt as though she were falling down a dark spiral, the pain drowned her. Just when she thought she couldn’t go on, her heart nearly jumped out of her chest when she heard a very raspy voice rale, “Did you mean it?”

Everyone’s attention got transfixed by this, no one dared to believe it. Yasmina peered at Aidan, and even though he hadn’t moved, she spoke to him, “Did I mean what?”

To everyone’s astonishment, they saw Aidan’s lips move! “In the fire, you told Daeva that you loved me. Did you mean it?”

Yasmina’s whole body trembled, but she somehow she felt too shocked to move. She compelled herself to answer, “Of course I did!” She then stuttered, “Did you…do you…also…?”

Aidan opened his eyes and affirmed, “I’d die for you!”

Through tears of utter relief and joy, Yasmina cried, “Please don’t!” She wrapped her arms around him, and they kissed passionately! Yasmina’s body felt as though she was filled with a warm light, and she never wanted this bliss to end! Eventually, they took a breath, and Yasmina could see in his eyes that he felt exactly as she did. She smiled wider than she had ever had in her life, and he used his thumbs to wipe the happy tears off of her face. Yasmina joked, “Kadera left this out of her prediction!”

Aidan laughed, and Jakan and Ardeshir helped them both up. Yasmina forgot about her leg and almost fell, but Aidan caught her. Ardeshir interjected, “I don’t mean to spoil the moment, but can we get out of this ghoulish castle?”

Yasmina and Aidan’s attention swayed back to the room they were in, and they saw that not only were Ardeshir, Jakan, and the thieves watching, but a few of the hooded figures had survived. Jakan inquired, “What should we do with them, your majesty?”

Aidan suggested, “Why don’t you ask your future queen?”

Yasmina’s heart could still hardly believe she was fortunate enough to have her love reciprocated, but it never occurred to her that this lonely, peasant witch could ever become anything more than that, so the title of queen was hard to fathom! It overwhelmed her, but when she saw that everyone had turned to her for answers, she couldn’t ignore that. They had accepted this notion, so she felt it her duty to make a decision. “Well, you’ll all get knighted soon, so take them to the dungeons of Rogamaith! Let’s all go home!” Everyone cheered as they mounted their brooms. Yasmina and Aidan kissed again before doing the same.

King Kahlil called for the kingdom to gather, and he broke the news that Prince Aidan had not perished as once thought, a fact for which the whole kingdom rejoiced. Jakan and his former thieves all watched the process in knights’ armor. Ardeshir had gotten dubbed a royal advisor, and he introduced Yasmina to everyone, explaining how she was a hero to the kingdom and that she and Aidan had fallen in love. He performed a wedding ceremony, and then King Kahlil recognized them formally as Prince Aidan and Princess Yasmina. A couple of days later, in a solemn ritual in the throne room, they were coronated as king and queen! They took over Caragsona before too much damage got done, and though a lot of work needed to be done, their message of unification spread to magi and mortals alike, which began a new era of peaceful rebuilding. The first project- revamipng the Shadow Path tino the Alliance Access!

The End

The Shadow Path, Chapter 17

Yasmina’s heart pounded from the exhilaration of soaring above the kingdom! She admonished herself for not embracing her magi nature sooner because this experience gave her an amazing sense of freedom. The moment only got heightened by the fact that Aidan had his arms around her waist! For a while, she savored the bliss of it all, but as a dark castle came into view, the reality of the situation began to loom in- they were about to face a powerful evil!

The closer they got to Duanolc, the more her nerves twisted inside of her. It almost seemed insane that they were going to fight Daeva after seeing how Kadera could take on seven people at once! Yasmina could see why Jakan had objected to idea originally! And yet, he willingly chose to accompany them as they began the battle. She felt more emboldened by this fact as well as the difficult magic she performed that day, but with all that could go wrong with this feat, she couldn’t help but feel a vast amount of dread from what they were about to do!

As they got closer to the castle, they moved to the cover of the trees on the Shadow Path to avoid detection. They moved slowly and paid close attention to their surroundings, fully expecting to awaken a booby-trap. Yasmina began to ignore her nerves in order to concentrate on what they needed to do. She knew that they could hardly walk into the front door! Even if they got through the locks, she felt certain Daeva would have an ambush waiting for them if they tried such an obvious method to get into Duanolc. Aidan had explained why Rogamaith had many different entrances, so she figured Daeva’s castle would have a similar set up. They would have to find a back entrance to get inside.

They heard a noise ahead of them, so they quickly brandished their wands, anticipating a fight. To their relief, they found that the culprit was a bird landing on a branch! Yasmina laughed from both relief and from noting that a bird had scared them for a second time. Ardeshir stared at it with great interest, os Aidan reminded him, “You’re not a cat anymore.”

“Right!” Ardeshir remembered, which made them all chuckle.

Suddenly, they heard distant chatter in the distance, so they landed their brooms and hid behind some trees. They saw a line of people wearing black cloaks with hoods over their heads marching towards Duanolc. Jakan whispered, “Daeva is building an army!” Normally, Yasmina would have felt that getting outnumbered would greatly diminish their chance at victory, but instead, it gave her an idea.

They crept closer and noticed a few people lagging at the end, and Yasmina felt grateful for this stroke of luck. Silently, Yasmina, Jakan, and even Ardeshir used their magic to knock out four cloaked people. Yasmina felt proud of Ardeshir for performing his first spell in a hundred years, but they couldn’t risk the noise that their voices would create, so she stayed quiet. They quickly dragged the stunned bodies into the bushes and joined the group as fast as they could.

As soon as the cloaked people entered Duanolc, Daeva made them all line up before her. Daeva coldly addressed them, “Four of you are traitors!” A few of the hooded figures whispered from a mix of surprise and curiosity. Daeva went on, “I called upon my loyal magi to assist me in battle, and yet you were so careless that you failed to notice a few of your own that got left behind!” The hooded figures shifted guiltily as she loudly berated them all, “Didn’t I emphasize that the fate of our land was at stake? Do you think I would call you here if it wasn’t of the utmost imporance? Why then wouldn’t you take every precaution to ensure our victory? Do you realize what you’ve done? I hired you to guard every entrance so that no one could enter, but I had to scrap that plan because I can’t trust any of you! The enemy is here!” No one’s face could be seen, but the fear of the hooded figures was palpable. Daeva concluded, “Your presence is not a total waste of time though or else I would kill you all right now! Our enemies are fools who are heavily outnumbered! I urge these moles to show themselves immediately!” No one moved. “You can’t hide forever! You came to face me, so show your faces! Do you want to do this the hard way? Cowards!”

“We’re not the cowards!” Yasmina vehemently shouted. The other hooded figures gasped as Yasmina, Aidan, Ardeshir, and Jakan took off their hoods. Yasmina stepped towards Daeva and enspeeched, “You hired a small army to take on a few people! You’re scared! The idea of magi rising against you is scary enough, but what you truly fear is dealing with an adversary on your own! You’re hoping that these guys kill us before you have to lay a finger on your wand! And do you know why? You have an addiction to control! You like to take the reins only when you know what to expect, and you have no idea what I’m capable of! I don’t know what I’m capable of either, but the difference is that I embrace this fact! I don’t know everything that will happen today, but I can tell you one thing that will definitely occur- you’ll get more scared and whether or not I survive, your regime won’t!”

“Enough!” Daeva screamed almost hysterically. She regained her exposure and responded, “I’m glad you admit that you know you could die tonight because your story will end when your life does!” She turned to the hooded figures and commanded, “Kill them!”

The hooded figures scattered across the room and began firing spells at them from all different directions. Yasmina stood where she was while Aidan, Ardeshir, and Jakan rolled in three different directions. Ardeshir went to the left, Jakan went to the right, and Aidan went behind the battle lines, shuffling to each side giving the three magi a heads up when they were getting blindsided by unexpected attacks. Yasmina found this extremely helpful because dodging multiple hexes was already difficult enough! After a while, she realized that simply avoiding the curses wouldn’t be enough. From the corner of her eye, she saw Ardeshir develop a rhythm of sidestepping a spell and then firing one of his own, so she adopted that tactic as well. She found it effective! She confidently battled on.

When only a few hooded figures were left, Daeva’s two witch assistants flew into the room on broomsticks and not only were they singing their spells loud enough to echo throughout the space, but their colorful magic clouded much of their vision! The three magi found a new rhythm to fight, but it just got harder! Plus, they couldn’t hear Aidan’s warnings unless he was almost next to them. Yasmina could only trust that the others’ survival instincts would keep them alive as they battled on.

Yasmina lost track of time, however, after a while, with the few hooded figures that had survived, she thought by now they should have been defeated, but she kept seeing pop up. She couldn’t understand why at first, and eventually it dawned on her that a second wave of them had arrived! She tried not to let it affect her, but she wondered just how many of them were set to arrive. Her adrenaline sustained her, but she could feel her body get drained of energy, and if she felt that way, the others must feel it too. It felt endless, but she kept reminding herself that her fears were lying to her and she must press on!

Suddenly, the windows burst open with glass flying like raindrops, and half a dozen broomsticks zoomed in! To Yasmina’s relief, it was the rest of Jakan’s thieves! They swarmed in with the same battle cry Jakan made when he confronted Kadera and immediately saw what they needed to do. A couple of them fought Daeva’s aides in the air while the rest of them joined the three magi on the ground. Yasmina’s heart fluttered, and even though she couldn’t see most of them, she had a feeling this would do the trick!

The room slowly began to empty, and Yasmina realized that most of the hooded figures were gone! Daeva’s assistants were still singing their spells and erupting the room in smokey chaos. Yasmina turned her attention to them and tried to find them in the haze. When she did see one or both go by, she shot a spell out at them. Either she kept missing her targets or they had some kind of spell to shield themselves against attacks. She refused to give up though! Once these two were gone, there would be no one left but Daeva. She knew Daeva could probably fight her entire team at once, but with the intense skills they displayed in this foray, she felt more confident than ever that they would achieve victory!

Suddenly, Yasmina thought she heard Aidan calling her name, but with all of the noise happening, she didn’t know for sure. The aides flew by shooting spells at her, and she managed to dodge them and fire back. Aidan’s voice got closer, and this time she clearly heard him shout, “Daeva! She’s right here!” Yasmina’s blood went cold, but she could not look for her because the assistants were now targeting her specifically. She kept fighting them but kept an eye out for any attacks by Daeva. Just as the others came to help her and she was ready to seek out Daeva, all of a sudden, Aidan pounced on her! As she got knocked to the ground, she saw Aidan absorbed a spell!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 16

Dorian looked just as surprised to see the three of them as they were upon his entrance. For a moment, they all seemed to have gotten on the same level, but after that spell, Dorian shook off the sentiments and returned to his usual swagger. “Are you here to kill me?”

“You seem awfully smug for someone who’s outnumbered!” Aidan shrewdly observed.

“You can’t kill me!” Dorian said factually. “What a pity! You came all this way for nothing!”

“We didn’t choose to come here,” Yasmina corrected him, “You brought us here! We weren’t going to waste our time with a puppet- we’re after the puppet-master!”

Dorian seethed, “How dare you! As king, it’s my duty to form partnerships that provide me with the necessary means to secure my power! Only a fool would turn down such an alliance!”

Aidan vehementally differed, “Only a fool would sell his soul to serve his own selfish needs! Uprooting century long alliances and sending your country to the brinks of war, and for what? You won’t have power if there’s no one left in the kingdom! After combat, you won’t have much of a country left to rule!”

“Mortals will die, that’s what they do!” Dorian replied dismissively. “The strong will survive, that’s nature!”

Yasmina pointed out, “You’re mortal! If Daeva is successful and does eradicate the mortals, what use will she have you?”

Dorian didn’t seem worried about this possibility. “We have a deal.”

Ardeshir interjected, “She took your essence, didn’t she?” Yasmina couldn’t tell if the stunned look on Dorian’s face stemmed from the fact a cat had spoken to him or by the substance of what he just brought up. In any case, Dorian didn’t answer, so Ardeshir pressed further, “She put it in an obscure object, didn’t she?”

Dorian truly appeared scared at this point, but before he could recover from this blow, Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir suddenly got enveloped by rope! From inside the bureau, Kadera emerged! “Oh! It is you!” Kadera leered delightfully. “Well, we’ll make this quick then!”

As she raised her wand, Yasmina knew she couldn’t fight back, so her instincts prompted her to keep Kadera talking. “You were wrong about me!”

Those words clearly stung Kadera. She lowered her wand and argued, “My predictions are never wrong! You are a witch and you lived a life of loneliness. I knew you would reject the archetype, so you wouldn’t fit in with mortals or magi. I was right!”

Yasmina shot back, “I rejected the narrative that all witches are evil beings bent on destruction, something you probably created to suppress the the good magi out there who have the potential to challenge you! The truth caught up though, it always does! You think I’m the only one who would rise up against your regime? You may kill me, but there will be others!”

“You are no soothsayer!” Kadera spat.

“No, I’m not,” Yasmina acknowledged. “But a person doesn’t need fortune telling abilities to figure that out! Besides, you’re forgetting something. You made two predictions that turned out to bear some degree of truth, but that day in Neodrach, you made three predictions. The third was that I would try to kill the king. You were wrong about that!”

“You were trying to kill Master Daeva, which is essentially the same thing!” Kadera reasoned.

“But it’s not!” Yasmina emphasized this bottom line. “I had the intention but I never had the chance. You were wrong!”

“Enough!” Kadera snapped. “Nice try, but I’m not going to let you go just to make a prediction right! I should’ve killed you a long time ago! You can die knowing your purpose in life was truly pointless! You lose! Goodbye!”

She raised her wand again, but before she could strike, it suddenly got shot out of her hand! An almost joyful battle cry came from the door, and Jakan burst in! His fellow thieves came from all different directions. Kadera summoned her powers through her fingers and took aim at Jakan, but the thieves shot back at her before she could. Although Kadera was outnumbered seven to one, she could still take them all once. A few got knicks, but none of the thieves were seriously hurt. They did start to grow frustrated at their attempts to harm her getting repeatedly thwarted!

During the foray, one of the thieves untied Aidan, Ardeshir, and Yasmina. Aidan immediately drew his sword and fought off Dorian. Yasmina ran towards Kadera, but she couldnt’ take her eyes off of Aidan and Dorian. She detected something off about Dorian’s fighting skills, but she couldn’t figure out why her instincts had prompted her to think that. He seemed to have a formidable aptitude to do battle, but he didn’t move much. He acted as though he was cornered even though he had plenty of opportunity to move from that spot. His stance suggested he was guarding something, but the only thing that stood behind him was the painting…

Suddenly, it clicked for her, and she knew what she had to do! She had never done magic this advance, but every fiber of her being told her that she could do it. She concentrated each cell of her body on exactly what she wanted to happen, and she felt her magic build more and more. When she felt it mount to a peak, she knew it reached the time to release. Without thinking about it, she shouted, “Switch!”

The whole room stopped as everyone watched her powerful spell shoot out in three different directions. First, it went to the painting, next to Ardeshir, and finally to Dorian. With a final blast of light, the hex had finished by blasting a hole in Dorian’s painting! They heard Dorian’s voice cry out, “No!” It didn’t come from Dorian’s body, it came from the cat!

Dorian’s body voiced Ardeshir’s words, “No way!”

With Kadera fully distracted, Jakan aimed his wand and quickly shot a spell her way! She fell to the floor, barely able to move or breathe! Yasmina strutted over to her and gloated, “Dorian’s essence lived in the painting. That’s how Daeva controlled him! She won’t be able to do that anymore! And I highly doubt that Caragsona will willingly let themselves get ruled by a cat! Dorian will have to find a new puppet! And by the way, I still haven’t tried to kill the king! You lose! Goodbye!”

“You bested me, but you’ll never win against Daeva!” With that last thought, Kadera took one last breath and moved no more!

Yasmina and the others celebrated, but Dorian interrupted them, “You fools! I’m still king! This is still my kingdom and you’re all still criminals!”

“That’s exactly why we came!” Jakan told him. “You sentenced us to death, so we figured if we’re doomed anyways, we might as well go out with a bang! That way we’d at least die as heroes! Turns out we don’t have to! Good luck trying to rule the kingdom as a cat!”

Dorian growled, “Cat or not, I am king!” He went into the hall and found some nearby chamber maids. “I hereby order you to-!” The chamber maids screamed, grabbed broom from their carts, and chased after him.

Everyone in Dorian’s chamber had a hearty laugh at this, but that instance gave them an idea. They saw two broomsticks left, and Jakan remarked, “That’s okay. We can pair up, and the rest of you can find more and join us.”

“Who am I riding with?” Yasmina inquired.

Jakan replied, “You and I will have to be the head riders.” Yasmina began to object, but Jakan over-ruled her, “Aidan needs to come, and your friend here…”

“This is amazing!” Ardeshir raved as he examined his hand clutching a broomstick. “I haven’t been able to hold anything in a hundred years! Remarkable!”

“…he probably shouldn’t be left alone,” Jakan finished. “Plus, people may assume he’s the improper king and…well, he’s safer leaving the castle immediately!” Yasmina still seemed worried, so Jakan went on, “If we go by foot, we won’t get there for a couple of days. Do you want my crew to get to the battle before you?” Yasmina hadn’t thought of that, and this notion was totally unacceptable to her! Jakan continued, “That’s what I thought! Look, if you can do an essence-switching spell, you definitely have the power to fly a broomstick!”

Yasmina knew he was completely right, and she felt heartened by his encouragement. “Okay, I’m ready!”

“I’m not!” Ardeshir ran over to Kadera and stole her wand. “Okay, let’s go!”

“We can take off from the balcony,” Aidan suggested.

Jakan agreed, “Let’s go!”

They ran towards the front of the castle, but before they could get to the balcony, they were greeted by some knights. “Sire, what are you doing?”

In his most regal voice possible, Ardeshir commanded, “Stand aside!”

The knights were clearly puzzled by his voice, but they did as they were told. Ardeshir, Jakan, Aidan, and Yasmina ran to a large, stone balcony that overlooked the entire kingdom. The view was breathtaking, and for a moment, Yasmina forgot about where she was and why. “Wow!”

“This is where my parents addressed the kingdom,” Aidan said wistfully. “Although, as a kid, I had more fun watching the townspeople enter over the drawbridge!”

Yasmina peeked over the edge to see the drawbridge and nearly had a heart attack! She saw King Kahlil standing before the castle with an army of his knights behind him! Ardeshir also peeked over, and Kahlil addressed him, “King Dorian, for the horrendous crimes you’ve committed against your own-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” Ardeshir responded. “I’m not Dorian!”

Aidan ran to the edge and desperately shouted, “Please don’t wage war on my kingdom!”

Kahlil’ jaw dropped. “Prince Aidan? I thought you were dead!”

“I’ve been alive this whole time!” Aidan informed him. “But I don’t have time to explain. I have to go to battle to save the soul of my kingdom, but if I don’t come back, watch over Caragsona for me, okay?”

Kahlil looked utterly confused, but he agreed, “Upon my honor!”

Jakan had already mounted his broomstick, and Ardeshir fell in place behind him. Aidan got onto the back of her broom and encouraged her, “You can do this!”

Yasmina mounted the broom and reminded herself, “You have to believe you can do this!” She concentrated hard just as she did with the essence-switching spell, and soon she felt the magic leave her fingertips and enter the broom. Before she knew it, they were up in the air and zooming towards Duanolc!