The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 17

Cally had no concept of how long they walked through the trees, and she didn’t have a clue where in the forest they were traveling. The woods within the limits of her binding spell didn’t contain much more than just plants, which made her wonder where Galena thought they would end up. She thought perhaps she intended to get as far into the thick as they could and let the snowy weather and shadows of the environment conceal them. They put all of their concentration in navigating through the roots and brush, so no one spoke. The only sound she heard came from their feet. Cally felt relieved that their ploy kept Reisseck busy for a while, but she wondered how long it would last.

They couldn’t see too far ahead, but they were able to discern what laid in their path in the near distance. They got to a point where the space looked empty, and Cally felt like they would end up stopping in this clearing. To her surprise, they hadn’t come to an actual clearing but the lake she often visited! It looked different to her as she she watched the sun set on the icy banks, and it just didn’t give her the same comfort it had before. It used to be a refuge for her to go where she could be herself fully without judgment, and now Reisseck had violated the safety it once provided. She couldn’t enjoy it knowing at any moment he could ambush them! After a long period of making little to no noise, Derrick finally broke the quiet by noting, “We didn’t get any rope.”

“I can produce a spell to bind him,” Galena informed them. “However, I don’t know how long it will hold, and Reisseck could feign its hold to attack us at an opportunity he finds us off guard.”

Cally suggested, “We could take his wand away, but if the spell lifts, he would still pose a threat from his massive physicality.”

Derrick responded, “I don’t think we have much of a choice. We’ll have to take the chance unless we can come up with a new idea before he catches up to us.”

“We’ll have to remain as silent as possible so we can hear him coming,” Galena instructed. “After I do my magic, start reading and keep going until we see the slightest movement coming from him.”

Cally commented, “We need a way to defend ourselves in case he escapes from the effects of the hex. It’s not as though I couldn’t punch and kick if I needed to, but he’s an enormous brute, so I think we would need more than that to fend him off.”

Galena relented, “I’m willing to give up my powers to take him down if it comes down to it.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Derrick pulled out his dagger. “I can do the deed if I have to. I don’t like the idea, but I will do what I have to in order to protect you two.”

Cally proposed, “Okay, after you…” she indicated to Galena, “magically bind him, I’ll read off the list of names while you…” she indicated to Derrick, “stand behind him with your dagger ready in case we don’t guess his name by the time the spell lifts.” She paused and then remarked, “It all sounds so simple!”

Derrick glanced at the sunset and inquired, “Do you think he’ll keep hunting us down after dark?”

Cally shook her head and shrugged. “Everything I thought I knew about him has gone out the window. I’d like to think he would grow weary pretty quickly and break until morning, but I just don’t know anymore.”

Derrck folded his arms and hunched over a bit in reaction to the cold wind taking over the area, so Galena offered, “I can create a small fire to keep us warm while we wait. If we huddle together, we can shield it from view on the path.” Derrick and Cally agreed to it and sat down on the frosted grass. Cally and Derrick gathered a bit of twigs that were nearby, and Galena pointed her tail at the kindling. The fire she created wasn’t very large, but the small flame did keep them toasty enough to camp out there comfortably. They didn’t speak much after that as they listened for Reisseck in the distance. Though no one said it out loud, they all wondered just how much time they had.

Nobody slept that night, but none of them even felt tempted to do so. Cally thought that under normal circumstances, she would have enjoyed laying in Derrick’s arms all night. While she found his presence comforting, she couldn’t relax. She didn’t want to let her guard down for a second! She wanted to be fully ready for when Reisseck showed up because if any of them slipped in their duties for this plan, then Reisseck’s victory would be guaranteed. The snow had stopped falling, and the Oreads forest had stood eerily still. Time seemed to pass so slowly, and yet as she saw the first light of dawn on the horizon, she felt as though time had passed insanely fast. After hours of silence, Galena whispered, “Does anyone want breakfast?”

“Breakfast?” Cally softly replied. “I can’t remember the last time I wanted food! I wonder if I ever will!”

“We can’t eat until we can leave this spot,” Derrick quietly remarked. “We can’t keep running from him. There’s only so far we can go, so eventually he’ll find us here, it’s only a matter of time. I didn’t think it would take this long, but we can’t let ourselves get distracted. Let’s stay here and finish this!”

Galena, in a hushed tone, informed them, “There’s some berries near us if you want some food.”

Cally, who grew tired of thumbing through the history book, decided to try one. She dusted off some snowflakes, and after she popped it into her mouth, Derrick whispered, “How is it?”

“It’s fine, not as good as a warm meal.” Cally sighed, “I wish we could visit Elif’s bakery one more time! I’m not suggesting we do that though. You’re right, we need to finish this! We have to stay here because there really isn’t any other way out of this situation.”

Derrick mulled it over for a moment and suddenly got struck with an idea, “What if I married you?”

“What?” Cally heard him, but it just didn’t seem real that a man she greatly admired would actually ask her that.

“Think about it,” Derrick quietly explained, “if I marry you, then you won’t be available to marry Duke Ferrin.”

Cally got a little disappointed to hear he wanted marry her just for the purpose of saving the kingdom from Reisseck’s interference. She considered the notion nonetheless, really pondering what Reisseck would do if he found out she got married, and she concluded, “If I defied him, he purposefully wouldn’t tell us his name as punishment. We would have to spend the rest of our lives staying within the boundaries of the binding spell.”

“I can handle that,” Derrick avowed.

Before Cally could give the idea further thought, Galena pointed out, “You’re assuming he would let you live. His magic would weaken, but he could still kill you in order to maintain power. If Cally became a widow, she would be free to marry Duke Ferrin.”

“She’s right,” Cally concurred. “We can’t spend the rest of our lives avoiding Reisseck in the far corner of Lacoria. You’re not close enough to Andor to rule that land from here, and they’re going to need their future king! Besides, I wouldn’t forgive myself if you got killed just because of me!”

Derrick quietly but passionately exclaimed, “So what? Cally, I’ll die for you!”

His proclamation absolutely stunned her. No one had ever cared about her enough to put their life one the on the line like that! She had always felt so insignificant to the world, and now she a prince who was willing to put her needs before his own! It never occurred to her that a man, especially one as smart, kind, and handsome as him would actually feel anything deeper than friendship, and it surprised her to think that he may have developed romantic feelings for her! The intense look in his eyes told her that he was serious, and when she thought about the possibility of Reisseck murdering him, her heart ached, and she realized that she had fallen for him too! She had only read about love, so she didn’t know what these feelings were until now. She couldn’t bear to have him suffer, so, in a hushed tone, she responded, “Please don’t!”

They were both near tears, but before anyone could say anything else, they felt Galena’s body stiffen. With a very alert look on her face, she whispered, “He’s here!”

She got off their laps, and they stood at the ready. Derrick asked, “What direction is he coming from?”

“The path,” Galena answered. They stood behind a nearby bush and watched for him to emerge from that area. Galena had her wand pointed and ready to go, and Cally wished she didn’t feel so uneasy about this process. Logically, she didn’t think that Reisseck could see them, and Galena could hex him before he even tried to attack, but she still had an inkling that something was off. She attributed this to her nerves, which were on fire at the moment. They had plenty of time to mentally prepare themselves for this happening, but she could feel the tension blaring off of all of their bodies. Her heart pounded wildly, and she had to keep her finger open to the first page of the book to remember that she was supposed to immediately begin as soon as he got subdued. They could hear the crunch of his footsteps approaching, and Cally had to focus all of her energy on what she had to do. She couldn’t let herself fail, not when it was this important! Her life, Derrick’s life, and even the future of her country were all at stake, and that thought pumped up her determination enough to give her the stamina to do this. She let her revulsion of all of the wicked deeds he did and all he intended to do in the future to fuel her adrenaline. She didn’t know if she truly felt ready, but she felt as prepared as she possibly could at that moment.

Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. Cally’s instincts didn’t fool her into thinking he gave up and left. Something was wrong! Before she could take a wild guess as to what the issue could possibly be, her body went numb! Her muscles stiffened up so much that she fell to the ground. Galena and Derrick followed suit. They couldn’t move their lips to communicate to the others, they couldn’t even move their eyes to check on one another. Cally’s heart shattered, and she inwardly panicked. She was helpless to do anything, none of them could stop him! Reisseck strolled over to them with an extremely smug grin on his face, and without saying a word to any of them, he grabbed Cally by the ankles and dragged her out of the woods!

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 16

They ran out of the main entrance as a crowd of people began to flock inside to watch the blazing inferno light up the sky. Galena’s feline body had a much easier time weaving her way through the mass of onlookers, but Cally and Derrick had more trouble fighting the tide. They were mostly sure that Reisseck would get distracted enough trying to figure out if Cally had perished in the fire or not, but they felt intense pressure to move quickly. They didn’t dare to look behind them because they needed to get away from this place as fast as possible, but they both shared the same paranoia that he was not far behind them. When they got to Derrick’s horse, they had a chance to turn around scope out the scene for a moment. To their relief, Reisseck didn’t seem to be close by, but they had no idea how long that would last. The hitching post didn’t have a lot of traffic because people seemed to have abandoned their rides sporadically throughout the area as the emergency of the moment drew them inside rapidly. Derrick’s hands trembled as he tried to undo the knots of the steed’s reins, and he grew flustered at his nerves giving in to the pressure that didn’t allow him to do this simple task. Galena used her wand to do the trick, and he breathed a sigh of relief before he opened the saddlebag for Galena. After she jumped in, Derrick mounted the horse and helped Cally get up. They galloped away just as they heard firefighters arrive at the scene.

Once they got to the fork in the road that had the paths which led to Bohemma and Galena’s cottage, Derrick stopped the horse and asked, “Where do we go?”

“We can’t go far,” Cally answered regretfully. “I still have the binding curse on me.”

“We should go to Bohemma and gather what resources we can while we still can,” Galena suggested. Cally and Derrick nodded in agreement, and they took off towards the village.

When they got to Bohemma, Derrick slowed the horse to a trot and inquired, “Where in Bohemma are we going?”
“We’re going wherever we can supplies.” Cally mulled that over for a second and wondered, “Wait, supplies for what? What’s happening?” On some level, she thought she knew the answer, but everything happened so fast that she hadn’t quite processed it yet.

“We need to break that spell,” Galena stated. “We should go to the library and find his name.” Derrick and Cally agreed, and they headed in that direction.

When they entered into the building, they were thrown off by the quiet atmosphere it presented. After all of the chaos they just left, seeing such an organized and methodical environment felt almost unimaginable to them! They walked over to the counter and found the same clerk that had helped Cally and Derrick previously, who greeted them in a somewhat stiffly courteous manner, “How can I help you?”

Cally and Derrick noticed that she briefly glanced to a mirror standing on the counter pointing directly at her, and they found it odd enough that they figured Reisseck must have planted it there. Derrick thought about how to shrewdly make their request and very carefully told her, “We need your help to find the right book for our research.”

“What are you researching?” She did her best to paint a smile on her face, but she clearly conveyed to them that she hoped that they wouldn’t say anything that could get her into trouble.

Cally felt a dash of inspiration and fibbed, “My husband and I are expecting a child and want to name our future son something unique. Do you have anything to help us research this?”

“Right this way!” the library clerk obliged.

She led them to a large tome, and as she handed it to them, she whispered, “There’s a study room behind you if you want some privacy.” Galena winked at her, and she winked back before she left.

They went into the study room, and after Derrick shut the door behind them, they sat at the table to convince any onlookers that they were conducting a serious meeting. Cally saw that the title of the book she handed them read: “Notable Figures in Lacorian History,” and she felt that this could be a great resource for them. She had gotten so used to looking up names to use on Reisseck later that this process had basically become a habit, but she suddenly realized the last step of the process couldn’t get carried out anymore. “I can’t make up a story about what happened at work since he was there today, so what excuse am I going to give him now to list a bunch of names when I see him… Wait, I can’t go home! I can’t go home!” For the first time, reality had set in for her, and the weight of it overwhelmed her. She always fantasized about escaping Dregs Hollow, but she thought that when she got the chance to do so that she would have gotten rid of the binding spell and could go far away from there. Now, she had to fight just to survive! She didn’t know how they could possibly guess Reisseck’s name while trying to avoid capture! Or worse!

Derrick gently pat her hand. “Don’t worry, we’re going to find a way out of this!”

“Yes, but it just got a lot harder to do that!” Cally found Derrick quite comforting, but her mind wasn’t at ease yet. “So, what do we do now? Memorize that book and spout names at him while we run away?”
“We’re taking that book with us,” Galena put in. “We can’t stay here, he’ll look for you in Bohemma. Our only option really is to hide in the Oreads Forest, but we can’t run away forever! We’ll need to subdue him in such a way that he can’t access his wand but he can still speak to us. We can read off names until we guess the right one.”

Derrick noted, “So, we’ll need to get some rope then.”

Cally probed, “How long do you think we can hold him? If his name isn’t in the book, I don’t think we can keep him in the woods while we go get another one.”

Galena proposed, “We can bring him to Barlock. If we don’t guess his name by the time we get there, then we can use the castle resources to figure it out.”

“We certainly could.” Derrick considered this notion but came up doubtful. “I don’t know.. If he escapes his restraints, he could put all of Barlock in peril, including the king and queen. However, if we keep him bound in the woods, we could be risking our own lives. We need to figure what to do if he…” He noticed people suddenly ducking and hiding out of fear. “No!”

“We’re trapped in here!” Galena exclaimed. “Do you think the librarian set us up?”

Cally’s gut led her to believe that they could trust the library clerk, so she reasoned that she must have known that this eventuality could come to pass. “She put us in here for a reason…” Cally thought out loud. She scanned the room and spotted a piece of metal on the floor. Curious, she went over to examine it and made a discovery. “It’s a trap door!” She opened it, and after Derrick grabbed the book, they all descended down the ladder under the trap door.

They found themselves in a dark basement, and when Galena used her magic to light a torch on the wall, they saw a bunch of dusty, old boxes that filled up most of the space. They followed the only aisle way in the place, and when they got to the other side of the room, they saw an old, wooden staircase. They climbed up it and opened the old door at the top. To their relief, they didn’t come across anything ominous, just another staircase that led back to the streets of Bohemma. They ran to the front, and Galena used her magic to unhitch the horse. They quickly mounted it and galloped away.

Shortly after they took off, they heard the accelerated clip-clops of a horse behind them. “Reisseck has a horse?” Derrick queried.

“He probably stole it!” Cally surmised. She could see a faint figure in the snowy air, and although it was too far away to distinguish any features, she didn’t think anyone else would pursue them like that! “Turn here!” She pointed to a street ahead, and when Derrick turned left, she dearly hoped that they had lost him…

Derrick zigzagged down a few roads and then stopped the horse to see if they could still hear the other steed. To their dismay, they still could. Derrick declared, “I have an idea!” He dismounted the horse and indicated that Cally should do the same. He took the saddlebag off and pat the horse in a way that made it take off towards the south. He led them to a nearby trash bin, and they all hid behind it. They watched as Reisseck zoomed past them heading south because he could hear their horse going that way. When he got far enough away from them, they emerged from their hiding spot and ran north.

The snow came down in flurries, and while it didn’t stick to the ground, it made the air foggy. Cally didn’t know if it was the cold weather or her shaken nerves, but she began to shiver. Derrick stopped and pulled out her brown cloak from the saddlebag. “Thank you!” After she put it on and felt a little warmer, she looked around only saw white. “Where are we?”

“We headed north, so the Oreads Forest must be close,” Derrick replied.

Galena vociferated, “There’s some trees! We made it! Keep going until we find somewhere to stop.”

As they weaved their way through the trees, Cally questioned, “And then what?” No one had an answer to that.

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 15

Cally trudged off towards Camellia’s Circus with an overwhelmingly glum demeanor. The last couple of days had been dangerous and stressful, but it had a lot more meaning than her normal routine! She enjoyed her new friendship with Galena, and she felt a deep connection brewing between her and Derrick. More importantly, she had more of a purpose. It was exciting to learn where she truly came from, and they still had so much left to discover! Besides what the knowledge meant to her personally, she also got a sense of satisfaction knowing that their mission would save the entire kingdom! If they could just solve their mystery before Duke Ferrin could take power, then they could save Lacoria from having a dark sorcerer secretly running their land. Helping the country seemed so much more important than helping customers get onto amusement rides! She had this feeling inside of her that they were running out of time, so she would have much rather have devoted the hours she would spend at work towards breaking the binding spell before they had to resort to more drastic measures. Going to work felt like a hindrance more than anything useful, and a part of her wanted to skip and sneak off to Bohemma to do more research, but she had to maintain her cover, so she knew she had no choice but to endure it a little longer.

When she got to the task list, Claude asked her, “Are you feeling better today?”

“Sure,” she answered hollowly.

“Great!” Claude responded. “I really need you to work Flying Horses today.”

Cally listlessly told him, “No problem.” As she headed to the ride, she cringed. She had already dreaded this day enough, and now she had to work on her least favorite ride. She sighed as she headed towards her assignment.

It had been long enough since she had worked at the Flying Horses that she struggled to push the column. One little boy complained, “Go faster!”

“I’m trying!” Cally said gruffly as she mustered all of her strength to work the ride as normal.

The mother of the child snapped, “Listen, you freak, if you yell at my son again, I’ll have you fired!”

Cally had forgotten the effects of the transfiguring potion were still in still in tact, and she notated another reason why she liked working on their plan to take down Reisseck so much more than doing this. Not only could she be herself for the first time, but she received so much more respect than she did here! She shrugged off the lady’s comments. “Oh, please do! You’d be doing me such a big favor!” Cally stopped the ride and opened up the exit. The mother stared at her peculiarly, which gave Cally a bit of lightheartedness. Not enough to make her want to stay here, but she needed to find positivity wherever she she could on a day like this.

Derrick tied his horse to the hitching post as quickly as he could. He had apprehension growing further and further since he learned the difficult news from Henrick last night, and he couldn’t wait to tell Cally. He didn’t know how fast the public would find out, but Cally needed to know this immediately. Galena jumped out of his saddlebag, and as she gazed at the amusement park, she noted, “This place is larger than I anticipated!”

“Should we split up to find her then?” Derrick queried.

“We should stick together,” Galena replied. “If something went wrong with one of us, how would we…” She stopped talking as people walked by her. Derrick nodded to convey that he understood her point, and they entered the visitors entrance of Camellia’s Circus.

A customer bellowed, “Why hasn’t this ride gotten a steam engine like the others?”

“That’s an excellent question!” Cally reacted coolly. “Ringmaster Claude keeps saying he’s going to get one for this ride and the roller coaster, but I don’t know an exact date yet.” The man rolled his eyes and shook his head as he got off the ride. He hadn’t been as rude as some of the other customers were earlier, so she reasoned that the transfiguring potion must have worn off. She got a little solace from showing her true form, but it wasn’t enough to raise her spirits as she got back to work.

Derrick and Galena were walking by the food tent area, and Derrick quietly commented to Galena, “She would be here. She told me that she never gets assigned to the easier tasks. Handing out already cooked food doesn’t seem so…” Galena suddenly stopped. “What? What is it?”

Derrick leaned in, and Galena whispered, “He’s here!”

“Who?” Derrick inquired. “Reisseck?” Galena nodded, and Derrick looked troubled as they quickened their gait.

As Cally helped customers off of the ride, she saw something out of the corner of her eye that almost didn’t register as unusual at first because she was so used to seeing this sight at home. After a moment, it really sunk in and she took a second look to confirm this. She indeed saw Reisseck with a determined look on his face, and her body went numb. Reisseck never visited her at work! At first, she thought that perhaps he came to check on her because of Cloris’s report, but something about the expression on his face told her his presence had a much more sinister purpose. Everything in her instincts told her to run, so she shed her easily recognizable red cloak and darted out of the ride. While he peered into a nearby game, Cally ran in a different direction.

She found herself in the food tent area, and she fretted about not having a clear path to the exit. She ran down the aisle with her head craned back to see behind, helping not to see Reisseck round the corner. Towards the halfway point, she saw him not only round the corner but carrying her red cloak! She knew he must have been highly suspicious now because she always wore her cloak in public to hide her disfigurements and to obey his direct order, and she shuddered to think how he would react to her defiance. She wouldn’t make it to the exit or even another aisle without him spotting her, so she had no choice but to hide. She hurried to the back of one of the food tents and hid among the boxes, praying that no one saw her go in there and that Reisseck wouldn’t think to search there.

Derrick and Galena saw Cally run and hide just in time to miss Reisseck, who asked one of her coworkers, “Where’s Cally?”

The Camellia’s Circus worker answered with trepidation in his voice, “Uh, she’s at the Flying Horses, I think!”

“She isn’t there!” Reisseck growled. “Where else would she be?”

“I, uh, I have no idea!” the worker sputtered. “Maybe she went on break.”

Reisseck got uncomfortably close to him and threatened, “If you see her, you better hand her over to me right away! We have a wedding to go to!” The worker looked confused by that last part, but he was intimidated enough to comply.

As Reisseck came closer to where Cally was hiding, Derrick’s eyes darted all over the place to find something to distract him. He spotted the Ferris wheel nearby, and he quietly questioned, “Is that made of wood?”

“I know where you’re going with this!” Galena winked. Derrick drew her wand out of his pocket, and she curled her tail around it and ran off.

Cally could sense him getting closer, and her body flooded with fear. As muc has she hated working at Camellia’s Circus, she would never be desperate enough to willingly marry Duke Ferrin! She heard Reisseck talk about going to a wedding, and it felt like a death sentence to her. She couldn’t stand idly by as Duke Ferrin’s reckless policies destroyed the kingdom! She could tell he was looming in, and she decided she had no choice but to fight back. She didn’t think she stood a chance of winning, but she had to at least try! She didn’t want to get carried away cowering in fear, she was going to go out kicking and screaming! Before Reisseck could approach her, she heard Derrick’s voice say, “Did I hear you say you’re looking for Cally?”

“Do you know her?” Reisseck gazed at his fine clothing and eyed him suspiciously.

To Cally’s relief, Derrick cleverly came up with, “Yeah, I came from the Ferris wheel and it just broke! The worker said some woman named Cally needed to fix it.”

“Oh, I suppose that’s why she left that other ride.” Reisseck considered this. “I wonder why she took her cloak off.”

“Perhaps the steam engines make it too hot to work with it on,” Derrick suggested.

Reisseck seemed mollified by this explanation. “Thank you! What’s your name?”

Derrick lied, “Gallahad.”

Cally knew that he threw that name out there in an attempt to guess Reisseck’s real name, and she would have been overjoyed if he had been successful, but unfortunately, Reisseck didn’t seem very deterred. “Thank you, Gallahad! I shall remember your kindness in the near future.”

After a moment of silence, Cally dared to peek to see if the coast was clear. Derrick watched Reisseck going toward the Ferris wheel, but he caught a glimpse of Cally from the corner of his eye. He subtly signaled for her to wait, and although she had no idea what he had planned, she trusted him and waited. For a minute, nothing seemed to be happening, and Cally grew curious about what he was up to. If his idea didn’t work, then she didn’t know what she would do. All of a sudden, she heard an explosion! She ran into the aisle and got a jolt of shock to see the Ferris wheel engulfed in flames! Derrick dashed by her, grabbed her hand, and urgently stated, “Time to go!” She ran alongside him, and shortly after, Galena led the way to the exit!

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 14

Cally sighed, “I guess on some level I always knew he did it. I shouldn’t be so surprised. I never thought he was a good person, but until today, I never thought he was a criminal!”

Derrick shook his head sadly. “I would have him arrested and tried for murder, but I wouldn’t want to risk any constables lives. Even if we sent the knights, his curses could probably penetrate their armor.”

“He would lessen his powers greatly,” Galena informed them, “but he could wipe them out in a single blow!”

“Dregs Hollow is technically part of Lacoria, but it’s a self governing territory,” Cally educated them. “If anyone in Dregs Hollow is suspected of a wrongdoing in any other part of the land, they have to send the royal guard and document it as a national crime. Usually, the inhabitants of Dregs Hollow don’t leave the city let alone break any laws elsewhere, the outsider presence alone is enough to deter them. Reisseck’s behavior is pretty rare. I’m not sure if there’s any procedures for knights to face sorcerers, and I really can’t imagine any person who would be brave enough to even try!”

“I can’t accept that!” Derrick exclaimed. “No one should be above the law! We need to change this policy so that his victims see justice!”

Galena put in, “Yes, the laws do need to change. Typically, no one uses his or her magic like this because of most of our desire to fit in with society. If citizens of the country thought their leader had used their powers in a dark way like that, they may obey out of fear, but they’ll never have the full support of the people. This must be why Reisseck is going through so much trouble to get access to the castle! He doesn’t have a problem ruling over Bohemma in this way, but if he didn’t use an indirect approach to rule over the entire kingdom, a mutiny would arise! If the laws don’t change, he could set a dangerous precedent for our kind! But changing the rules takes time, we need to address the issue of Reisseck’s conduct immediately! The only choices we have to take him down is to break the binding spell or a more lethal alternative.”

Cally inquired, “Since you can still use your wand, do you feel you can match him in a magical combat?”

Galena sadly replied, “Unfortunately, my powers are very limited while I’m in this form. If I were to use them to harm him, they would get diminished even further.”

“So, that spell you cast at Homer’s house wouldn’t have hurt him?” Derrick asked.

“Oh no, that spell was only meant as a distraction,” Galena answered.

Cally suggested, “We could make some sort of potion to take him down.” After she said it, her insides churned in guilt. “Oh, but I don’t want to kill anyone! Even if he does deserve it!”

“Let’s keep trying to find his name,” Derrick directed. “It may come to a point where we’ll have no choice but to fight him, but we shouldn’t resort to violence unless absolutely necessary. In the meantime, we’ll keep trying to find out Reisseck’s real name to break the binding spell. Say, how do we we reverse your spell?” He indicated that last question to Galena.

Galena told him, “There is a counter spell, but only a powerful sorcerer or sorceress could do it.”

“It’s a pretty rare gift,” Cally noted. “A few people in Dregs Hollow can do magic, but they’re not very good at it. I see them try sometimes, and usually they go to Reisseck for help. There’s got to be another sorcerer or sorceress out there who can help us!”

Derrick offered, “I can take a look in Barlock’s records. I’ve been so focused on trying to find any mention of Reisseck that I didn’t think to look.”

“You should look for Cally’s name mentioned somewhere too,” Galena advised. “They may not have known Reisseck’s identity, but someone out there is missing a child!”

“If that is her real name,” Derrick pointed out. “I assumed that Reisseck would change it so no one would associate him with the crime.”

“Actually, he said my name is Caliana,” Cally revealed. “I always went by Cally though. It rolls off the tongue easier I guess.”

“Caliana huh?” Derrick contemplated this for a moment. “It’s worth a shot to look. I’ll let you know what I find after you get off work tomorrow.”

Cally cringed at the idea o going back to her mundane tasks at Camellia’s Circus after working on something so much more important. “I’ll keep trying to guess his name too.”

Galena added, “I’ll meet you there too. I still plan on doing my own research. We can evaluate our plan daily, and if we need to amend them, we can figure out ways to do that when the time comes.” They all agreed before they headed out.

As Cally walked down the streets of Dregs Hollow, she began to mull over their course of action. With the millions of names out there in the world, it could take forever for them to guess Reisseck’s true identity, but the alternative was too ghastly for her to wrap her head around. It just didn’t seem right to take a life, even a rotten one! Plus, they would become criminals themselves in the process. Then again, Reisseck already was a criminal, and keeping him alive may cost other innocent lives in the process. The legal system could take too long to figure out how to handle this case, and history may criticize them for not acting sooner. It almost did seem as though taking care of Reisseck themselves would prove to be the better option, but she dearly wished for a peaceful victory! As much as she loathed Reisseck for all that he did, she would have much rather seen him in prison than a casket. She had no idea how that could possibly happen, but she decided not to give up on her faith that they could find a better solution.

Suddenly, she found herself face to face with Cloris! Cloris confronted her, “You’re up to something, I know it! I went to Camellia’s Circus today and I didn’t see you anywhere!”

“Oh please!” Cally showed Cloris her palm with the star on it. “How far do you think I can go?”

“Then why didn’t I see you?” Cloris challenged.

“Did you see a broken ride?” Cally probed. Cloris nodded. “I was fixing it and had to keep my ride closed. The public can’t always see me when I do that.” Cloris didn’t seem sold, so Cally drew a coin out of her pocket. “If I didn’t go to work today, how did I earn this?” Cloris looked as though her gut knew she was right about Cally, but with the evidence in front of her, she couldn’t think of another argument. Cally shook her head and went about her way.

When Cally got home, she immediately got struck by an enormous amount of new items in their house. She saw lots of old trinkets that she could have sworn she had seen in Homer’s place, and when she saw several books and papers stacked in there as well, her stomach twisted in a knot! She didn’t need confirmation that Reisseck had murdered someone, and she definitely resented the constant reminders of such a horrific event, not to mention the nightmarish activity that may come to pass if they couldn’t break the binding spell! Reisseck hobbled out of his chambers and commented, “I got a great deal on a bunch of historical objects!” Cally made a revolted face, so Reisseck questioned, “What? I thought you’d be excited, especially with the new books.”

Cally hadn’t meant to convey such an honest face, so she had to hastily cover it with a fib, “I just had an awful day at work! First, Gideon didn’t show up, so Marcus and I had to clean the mess that Eagan did in the restrooms ourselves!” Cally tried to make her story to include as many male names as possible, but as she saw Reisseck’s attention ebbing, she felt as though her efforts were pointless. She realized that Reisseck must have a pretty rare name, rare enough that he didn’t worry about her saying it on accident. She made a mental note that when she saw Galena and Derrick the next day, she would suggest researching unusual names.

Derrick roamed the hallways of Barlock searching for Henrick. He finally found him in the nursery staring out of the window into the sky. Henrick didn’t acknowledge that Derrick had entered the room, but Derrick spoke anyways, “Sir, I wanted to talk to you about something. I told you yesterday about the evil sorcerer who held Cally captive. Well, we found evidence that he actually kidnapped her shortly after her birth. What’s worse, he bears the culpability for the missing apothecary from Bohemma as well as the murder of an innocent civilian! I know your knights have no procedure in dealing with an enemy who could utilize magic as a weapon, but I’d like to make that we need to establish a method on dealing with this so that his victims see justice. I propose we-.”

“Not now!” Henrick said with utter sadness in his voice.

“Sir, this is important!” Derrick insisted. “The safety of your kingdom…” At the mention of that last word, Henrick’s body slumped and he began to tear up. Derrick hadn’t noticed until then that Henrick had been holding a piece of parchment and an envelope. “Sir?”

“It’s Avalyn,” Henrick wept. “She saw a doctor while she was overseas, and she confirmed that Avalyn is no longer able to bear children! Our reign over Lacoria is coming to an end! Once this information goes public and Duke Ferrin learns we cannot produce an heir, he will challenge us for the throne!”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 13

He’s still here!” Cally declared.

“How do you know?” Derrick looked down to where she was staring and saw a river of blood!
Joanne and Sasha saw it too and shrieked. Derrick pulled back the curtains, and Cally, who was closest to the entry way, burst into the room first. She followed the trail of blood to find Homer on the ground with a sword sticking out of his chest! The four of them cautiously approached the body only to find he was still gasping for air! Sasha cried out, “I’m going to go get help!” She dashed out of the room and was quickly followed by Joanne.

Homer’s breath appeared very labored, and they could tell he didn’t have long. He reached a clenched hand towards Cally, and she assumed he wanted comfort in his final moments, but when his palm met hers, he slipped a crumpled piece of paper to her. As soon as she took it, his body went limp and he stopped breathing.

Before she could open the paper to see its contents, Joanne and Sasha returned with a constable. Joanne gasped, “Oh no! We’re too late!”

The constable checked the pulse in his neck to verify this. “He’s gone!” Joanne and Sasha held each other as they began to weep, and Cally became upset as well after watching him die. Derrick offered his arms, and she fell into them gratefully. She didn’t know Homer well, but it traumatized her to think he had suffered so greatly just for helping them! The constable questioned them all, “Did any of you see anything?”

Derrick replied, “No. We just came to visit and found him like that.”

“How do you know the victim?” The constable had asked them very routinely, but Cally and Derrick weren’t sure how to answer that. Before they could even try, another constable barged in. “Ah, Porter, we have a-.”

“Shh!” he hissed as he locked the door behind him. “Get down!” He shut the curtains as the other constable ushered them against the wall in order to stay out of sight. He then pulled the curtain in front of Homer’s chambers and joined them in cowering along the wall.

They heard the door open and heavy boots stomp in. The perpetrator shut the door behind them, and for a moment, they all hoped that whoever it was had left. A moment later, they heard Reisseck say, “Give it up, old man!” As he approached Homer’s chambers, everyone’s hearts beat rapidly, but none as hard as Cally’s did! She froze solid because she was now cornered, and although Galena had assurred them that his powers would get weakened if he killed someone, they were standing next to proof that this consequence didn’t deter him! They had no way out, so she put her hood over her face and prayed he would spare them. The constables drew their weapons as Reisseck pulled the curtain back…

Before he could see into the room, they saw a beam of light that narrowly missed him! Reisseck turned around, and when he saw who did it, he seethed, “You!” He drew out his wand and chased after whoever did it.

For a while, no one moved. The house sounded empty, but they used the utmost caution with this matter. The constables were the first to approach the entry way, and after they searched the area, Porter stated, “It’s clear in here. Prewitt, can you secure the streets?”

Prewitt kept his weapon out as he very alertly made his way out of the house, and when he got onto the street, he pointed his weapon as he surveyed it all. After a very thorough search, he called out to them, “Clear!”

Porter relaxed a little and put his weapon away. He addressed the other four, “You should get out of here in case he comes back. Contact us if you can think of anything relevant to the investigation.” They all agreed and hurried out of there.

Joanne and Sasha turned left towards their house, and Cally and Derrick turned right where they could see their horse tied to a hitching post in front of a nearby tavern. After they got to their ride, Derrick wondered, “Which way did they go? Which way do we go?”

Cally scanned the ground for footprints and found paw prints going towards the northern end of town. “Oh no! Galena!”

“She’ll be okay!” Derrick assurred her. “Cats are quick and nimble, and I don’t think Reisseck quite measures up!” Cally chuckled slightly as they took off towards the southern exit.

They rode out into a field which had lush, green grass, billowy shade trees, and wildflowers sprinkled all over. It seemed like it would provide an enjoyable ride for them, but as they began to get some distance from Bohemma, Cally felt a strong pull. “Stop!” she directed Derrick.

“What’s wrong?” Derrick responded swiftly.

“The binding spell.” She felt disappointed at this setback. Instead of a nice country ride, they would have to go back to the chaos that they just escaped from. She also worried about possibly facing Reisseck again, and that prompted her to come up with a realization. “Reisseck obviously isn’t in Bohemma anymore! He must be heading back to Dregs Hollow.”

“Then let’s go find Galena,” Derrick suggested. Cally nodded in agreement, and they headed back into the village.

As they trotted through Bohemma, they saw that people had resumed their normal activities, which Cally found kind of bizarre. She couldn’t believe that a menacing sorcerer could terrorize their town one minute and as soon as he left, they went about their day as if nothing happened. She supposed that they didn’t have a choice, but she didn’t think she could get over it so easily. She knew that none of them were worried about Galena like she was, and she figured that this fact may have spawned her critical thoughts. She couldn’t help it though, after all, she gave them so much help! Plus, she just saved six people’s lives, so she certainly didn’t want her to get killed over it! She really hoped to see a sign of her soon!

They passed by the street where Homer had lived, and they saw several constables investigating his murder now. “Why do they bother? It’s not like they’re even going to try to arrest him!” Cally muttered somewhat bitterly.

“It’s good they’re documenting it,” Derrick opinionated. “We can show this to Duke Ferrin if he becomes king and tries to enact laws too favorable to criminals like him.”

As they took off from that area, Cally remarked, “They should appoint a sorcerer or sorceress to head a law enforcement division devoted to these kinds of crimes!”

“That’s a good idea!” Derrick complimented. “You know, I think you’d make a good queen!”

Cally found herself blushing furiously, but before either of them could say more on the subject, they spotted paw prints heading out of the north end of town. They followed them as they created a trail leading up to the Oreads Forest path and into some brush by the lake that Cally had frequented. At first, the lake seemed empty, but once Galena realized that they were there, she hopped out from inside a bush with her tail wrapped around a wooden wand! “You’re okay!” Cally gushed.

Galena responded quite unabashedly, “He bested me once, you think I’m going to let him do it again? You should have seen the look on people’s faces when the big, scary sorcerer was chasing after a little kitty cat!” She laughed, and Derrick and Cally smiled. “Besides, his powers are a little weaker now since he killed someone.”

“He must have had some pretty important information against Reisseck for him to kill Homer,” Derrick observed.

“The piece of paper!” Cally recalled. She pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket. “Homer had this in his hand as he was lying on the floor. He must have died trying to protect it from Reisseck!”

“Either that or he found it as he was lying on the floor,” Galena theorized. “He definitely wanted to tell you something!”

Derrick put in, “Let’s hope he found Reisseck’s real name! Open it!”

Cally spotted drops of blood stained on it, but she tried not to think about it as she unraveled the small ball it had gotten squeezed into. As she unfolded it, she could tell that it came from a newspaper. Everyone’s nerves were high in anticipation as she revealed the article. It had a picture of Queen Avalyn and King Henrick with utterly distraught looks on their faces as they addressed a large crowd in front of Barlock, and the headline read: “Newly Born Princess Murdered Inside of Her Nursery.” Cally, Derrick, and Galena looked puzzled, and Cally said thoughtfully, “Well, we did ask about disappearances from thirty three years ago. We didn’t give him a lot of details about what we were looking for.”

Galena pointed out, “But when Reisseck entered into Homer’s house, he specifically told him to give something up. This story must be significant to Reisseck! I wonder why!”

Derrick scanned through the columns of the story. “Hmm, I don’t see any mention of Reisseck or even an evil sorcerer. We’re definitely missing something! What is it about this piece that would make Reisseck return to the crime scene to retrieve it?”

Cally studied the picture for a moment, and eventually she spotted something in the corner that looked familiar. Suddenly, it clicked for her! “He was there that day! Now it makes sense why he didn’t kill you, Galena. He had already planned to weaken his powers on someone else! He killed the princess!”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 12

When Cally got to their usual meeting point along the Oreads Forest path, she saw that Derrick had not only arrived there before her but had brought a tall, slender, brown hourse. He quickly explained, “I figured we may have to dash out of Bohemma quickly if Reisseck shows up again, so I didn’t think we should walk. But I couldn’t risk bringing Oriance since she’s so recognizable. Poor thing, she was so confused when I didn’t pick her! Oh, and I thought your cloak would be too recognizable as well, so I bought you this.” He reached into a saddlebag and brought out a brown, hooded cloak. “It blends in with the color of most of the buildings there. What do you think?”

Cally didn’t know what to say. She took it into her hands and caressed it, feeling the smooth texture of the fabric. “Wow, I can’t remember the last time I got new clothes! Or a gift! This is so…!” She couldn’t decide on a word that accurately summarized how this kind gesture made her feel, so instead, she gave him a hug. He embraced her back, and for a moment, they both lingered. Cally so rarely received any kind affection that she had almost forgotten what it felt like! Occasionally, a customer would give her a squeeze from excitement of winning a prize, but this felt different. Something about getting wrapped up in his arms made her feel safe, and being this close to him made her feel closer to him in a metaphysical way too. She didn’t want to let go, but when she heard the horse whinny, she remembered the task ahead of them. “We don’t have much time!”

“Right!” Derrick instantly let go, and Cally swiftly unbuttoned her cloak to switch her red one for the brown one that she just got. When she took her old cloak off, Derrick’s eyes went wide. “Woah!”

“What?” For a moment, Cally feared he spotted something dangerous near them and looked around to see what he saw.

“Oh, I’m sorry! It’s just… I’ve never seen you without your cloak on!” Derrick shifted his eyes to the ground bashfully.

Cally usually only took her cloak off at the house, so she didn’t think much of her white blouse, light brown corset, and long, dark brown skirt, but she could understand why he would got surprised by their reveal. “I know, it’s all patchy and old. It doesn’t look that great, but-.”

“No, it’s very flattering on you!” Derrick’s face showed genuine interest at the way she wore her clothes.

Cally blushed profusely. “Oh, thank you!” She incidentally broke eye contact with him, and when she noticed the horse, she again reminded herself of their need to hurry. She quickly put her new cloak on and commented, “I can’t let Reisseck find me here!”

“Right!” Derrick’s attention snapped back into place and he hopped onto the brown horse. Cally put her red cloak in the saddlebag, and then Derrick had the horse lower itself so she could get on easier. After she hopped on, he informed her, “Henrick gave me a royal decree to let us search the hall of records, so I thought we’d start there.”

“Sounds good to me,” Cally responded. Derrick signaled the horse to gallop, and off they went.

When they got to the government building where the hall of records were located, the clerk spotted them from across the room and was about to shut them out again when Derrick waved a roll of parchment wit ha royal seal on it so could clearly see it. Her face fell, and she got off of her stool to open the door on the side. Cally and Derrick saw a cramped room full of filing cabinets crammed to the max, but before they could wonder where they would begin, the clerk bitterly notified them, “The missing persons files from that year were burnt down.”

Derrick and Cally groaned, and then Cally probed, “When did this happen?”

“That same year,” she replied listlessly.

Derrick puzzled, “Why couldn’t you tell us this before?”

“I swore I wouldn’t tell,” she disclosed. “Bad things happen to people who go against him.”

“The sorcerer?” Cally inferred.

“Shh!” The clerk rapidly shut the metal gate over the window. “Don’t let anyone hear you talk about him! People will gladly turn you over to him to save their own hides!”

Derrick remarked, “The newspapers from that manufacturer got burnt, the library’s copies went missing, and now this! He’s really covering his tracks!”

“Do you know what information he’s trying to conceal?” Cally inquired.

The clerk folded her arms defiantely. “I’m not saying a word! Now, will you two please do your research and get out of here? I’m not willing to risk him catching me talking to you if he goes on another patrol today!”

“The librarian told us you all were willing to do whatever it takes to help take him down,” Derrick pointed out.

“Did she now?” The clerk raised an eyebrow. “She’ll be next!”

“Next for what?” Cally prodded.

The clerk snapped, “If she’s willing to risk her life, that’s her business! I don’t like his presence in our village either, but I’ll do what I can to stay alive! Look around if you insist, but you won’t find help here.” Cally and Derrick glanced at each other and non-verbally decided that there was no point in riffling through these files for something that probably didn’t exist anymore, so they decided to just leave.

When Cally and Derrick left the building, Cally posed to Derrick, “Should we check on the librarian first or go see if the historian found anything?”

Derrick thought about it for a moment. “Hmm.. If the historian found something relevant, we may not need to any of our own research. If he doesn’t, then we can go to the library for a while.”

“That’s a good idea,” Cally agreed. “Plus, Reisseck may come by the time we get to the library, but it’s close to the southern exit, so it would be easier to escape from him there. The historian lives right in the center of town, so it would be harder to get away from him there. We should get to the historian quickly before he gets here!” Derrick nodded in agreement, and they hopped on the horse to do just that.

When they strolled up to the historian’s place, immediately, they could tell something was wrong. From the window, they could see papers strewed across the floor, which greatly differed from the neat and tidy office that they had seen last time. Derrick pulled out a small dagger out of his pocket and held it to his side in a ready position. He knocked on the door, and the sound echoed as if the house was almost empty. Derrick called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Cally turned the other way to scan the streets and make sure they didn’t have the wrong set of eyes on them. When no one answered, they decided to go inside.

The door was locked. Cally affirmed, “There must be another way inside!” They looked around the front to see if they could find a spare key, but they found none. While they were scouring the area, a familiar female’s voice asked them, “What are you looking for?”

They looked to the cottage on their right, and they spotted Joanne with her head peeking out of the window! Derrick answered, “We’re trying to find a way to get in. We think something may be wrong.”

“Oh no!” Joanne ducked back inside her house and paged, “Sasha! Bring out Homer’s key!”

Sasha and Joanne came over to them, and when they glanced inside the window, they both gasped. Sasha exclaimed, “Oh no! When did this happen?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that!” Cally had hoped that his neighbors might have offerred insight into what may have occurred here, but they seemed just as surprised as they were.

Sasha expounded, “We just got back not too long ago. Our job takes us away for days at a time.”

Joanne added, “We’re scullery maids on a trade ship, and we just got back from our last voyage and were about to take a nap when we heard you knocking next door. It had me worried because normally we have Homer watch our house while we’re gone…”

“We’re going to have to check on our house when we’re finished here,” Sasha noted. She shook her head and handed them a key. “Sorry! Here!” Derrick, who had been closest to the door, took the key and gingerly put it in the lock. He slowly opened the door, and they all peered inside.

File cabinets had gotten tipped over, but they were clearly empty. The books that had once surrounded the place were no longer there, and all that seemed to remain was a stray piece of paper here and there. “He took all of it?” Cally reacted in shock. “Why?”

Joanne put in, “How could someone have taken all all of these books and papers out of this house with no one seeing it happen? It’s not like they could just vanish into thin air!”

Derrick and Cally gave each other knowing looks but didn’t say anything, and then Derrick directed, “Let’s see if here’s in here somewhere.” Between the mess and Homer’s already stuffed conditions, moving around the house was like going through a maze. They didn’t see anything suspicious in the dining area, so they made their way to his chambers, which had been sectioned off by a curtain. Before they could pull back the curtain though, Cally stepped on something that filled her with dread. She looked down only to see her worst fear had been confirmed…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 11

What could be so important that Reisseck would give up a piece of his soul?” Cally wondered.

“He wants Duke Ferrin to take over the kingdom,” Derrick brought up. “Maybe you have ties to that.”

Cally mused, “Maybe my parents had something to do with him not taking the throne, like maybe they were helping the king and queen look for ways to conceive a child or maybe they were part of a rebellion to take Duke Ferrin down! But then why keep me around? He would have been better off killing me too.”

“I don’t think he killed them,” Galena put in. “Taking away someone’s freedom weakens one’s powers, but taking a life takes away so much more. If he was willing to do that, I don’t think he would have permanently disfigured me.”

“Why didn’t he permanently transfigure you?” Derrick asked Cally. “If he could permanently transform someone, why do you have to take a potion every day?”

“That does seem strange,” Cally answered. “He didn’t want anyone to recognize me, but he obviously didn’t want anyone to recognize you, Galena, either. Yet he made your disguise permanent. Maybe he wants my identity to get revealed someday! But what would he be waiting for?”

Galena theorized, “He wants Duke Ferrin to take over Lacoria, and he’s bound himself to you. You are a woman, maybe he wants you to marry Duke Ferrin, and since he’s bound to you, he’ll get to enjoy a palace life without having to do any of the work required to run a country.”

“He does like power with minimal work!” Cally felt revolted at the thought of marrying Duke Ferrin. “But how does he know Duke Ferrin would even want to marry me?”

“Any man would gladly marry you, given the chance!” Derrick remarked, making Cally blush.

“Maybe that’s why he disguised you temporarily,” Galena inputted. “He doesn’t want another man to marry you and destroy his plans. However, he does want you to maintain your looks so Duke Ferrin will marry you when the time comes.”

“That’s possible,” Cally considered. “But he’s had me since I was a baby. He couldn’t have known how my looks would turn out back then.”

“Your parents could have arranged for you two to marry,” Derrick supposed.

Galena commented, “If that was the case, then he would have kept her parents around. Perhaps he forged some documents to make it seem as though your parents did make that arrangement and he’s waiting until Duke Ferrin moves into the castle to present them to him.”

“That sounds like him!” Cally slumped down, feeling quite dejected at learning this. “Ugh, I don’t want to marry Duke Ferrin! And Queen Avalyn is getting close to the age where she can’t have kids anymore, so if that happens, King Henrick and Queen Avalyn could get challenged for the throne! Oh, we don’t have much time!”

Derrick put an arm around her reassuringly. “You won’t have to marry Duke Ferrin! We’ll find a way to make sure that doesn’t happen!” He turned to Galena. “How do you break a binding spell?”

Galena explained, “As complicated as it is to create this hex, it’s actually pretty simple to break. The captive one simply needs to say the castor’s name three times to release themselves.”

“That’s it? That’s too easy! I can…” Her face grew crestfallen at a sudden realization. “I’ve said his name more than three times in my life. Reisseck isn’t his real name.”

Galena suggested, “You can try telling stories about random people and say a different name each time. You might guess it by accident.”

“I could try,” Cally agreed to it. “With so many names out there though, it may take a while.”

“The woman at the library told us she’d help us in taking him down. She can point us to books of names! And I can check the castle records to see if they have any files on national crimes involving a sorcerer or plots against Duke Ferrin,” Derrick offered.

“That sounds…” Cally felt something pull at her, and she moaned, “Oh no! He’s heading back to Dregs Hollow! We got to go!”

“We’ll be back,” Derrick informed Galena. “We were planning to go to Bohemma tomorrow to talk to a historian, so we’ll be in the area!”

“Oh, the historian may have some ancient names that might help too,” Galena responded. “Feel free to stop by tomorrow! I’ll do my own research too and let you know what I find.”

“Deal! See you tomorrow!” Cally waved goodbye and dashed out the door before the binding spell made her freeze. Derrick quickly said goodbye as well before he followed after Cally.

Back in Dregs Hollow, Cally walked into the house as if she had a particularly long day at work, and as she took her cloak off, Reisseck emerged from his bedroom and inquired, “How was your day?”

Normally, Cally didn’t vent too much about her day since Reisseck didn’t really care about the mundane details about her work, but she had a mission to complete this day. She tried to think of the list of names that she and Derrick compiled while they waited for the time she would normally come home and ranted, “It was awful! First, Tristan threw up all over Albert, and Bertrand and Marshall fought over…” She watched Reisseck’s face as she rattled off different names, and he didn’t flinch at all. She thought it was kind of a long shot that she would nail it on the first day, but a small part of her hoped that this nightmare would finish that night, which resulted in her no longer needing to feign a depressed mood!

In a large library with gray, stone walls, Derrick feverishly searched through record books while the candle he used to light the room had almost melted into nothing. Henrick came in with a fresh candle and placed it in front of him. “Here, this will help you see the pages better.”

“Huh?” It took a moment for Derrick to come out of his stupor and tune in to what was happening at the present moment. “Oh, thank you, Henrick!”

“Is everything okay with you?” Henrick queried.

Derrick replied to his question with another question, “Why do you ask?”

“You’re acting strangely.” Henrick pulled up a chair and sat next to him. “And I think I am the authority on royalty acting strangely!”

Derrick chuckled slightly, and then he reported, “There’s a sorcerer terrorizing Bohemma, and I’m trying to find more information about his identity.”

“Uh huh.” Henrick didn’t look totally convinced. “What’s her name?”

“Uh, I said sorcerer not sorceress,” Derrick corrected him as nicely as possible.

“No, no, no! I’m not that out of it. Tell me there’s not a girl involved.” Henrick watched him expectantly.

Derrick bashfully admitted, “Her name is Cally.” Henrick smiled with the satisfaction of knowing he had been correct. Derrick elaborated, “The sorcerer is holding her captive in Dregs Hollow, and the only way we can break the spell that’s binding her to him is to find out his true name.”

“Wow, that’s quite a predicament!” Henrick reacted. “She must be something for you to risk the wrath of an evil sorcerer!”

“I’ve never met anyone like her!” Derrick sighed happily. “She loves books as much as I do! She’s so smart! And kind! And just… she has this thirst for adventure, and all I want to do is take her to explore the world!”

“I bet that’s not all you want to do with her!” Henrick said with a wink.

Derrick grinned wryly. “Well, she is beautiful… But I’m not doing this just to talk her into bed! She’s an amazing person who doesn’t deserve to live such a wretched life! I can’t go back to Andor without her!”

“I understand,” Henrick related. “I would have done the same if Avalyn had been in peril. I keep worrying about her when she goes on these long trips, like I keep feeling like one day I’ll hear that she’s in danger and I’ll have to go rescue her.”

“Why don’t you go with her on these trips?” Derrick pondered.

Henrick sadly shook his head. “After she’s finished with official business overseas, she goes on long searches for our daughter. She thinks because we didn’t find her body that she’s still alive, but there was blood by the window in the nursery, there’s no way she could be…” He couldn’t finish that sentence, even the very thought of it seemed to give him pain. He cleared his throat and changed the subject, “Boy, I could use a drink right now! Care to join me?”

“I can’t!” Derrick groaned. “I won’t be able to get any rest until I get some answers!”

“You won’t get any answers if you work yourself to death,” Henrick reasoned. “Besides, wouldn’t you have better luck searching in the Bohemman records?”

“I tried that,” he told Henrick. “They wouldn’t give me access to them. I meant to ask you…”

“I’ll provide you with a royal edict in the morning,” Henrick assured him.

“Great! Thank you!” Derrick responded graciously. “I think I will join you for that drink after all!” Henrick warmly smiled and gently pat Derrick on the back as they left the room.

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 10

As everyone who worked at Camellia’s Circus stood in line for their daily tasks, Cally made sure that Claude could see her face. Besides the fact that her transfiguring potion still took effect, she had chipmunk cheeks from a full mouth. When she got close to the front, Claude asked, “Cally, are you okay?”

Cally released the pressure she put on her mouth to keep the contents inside, which spewed a chunky brown liquid across the ground! The few people who were still there shrieked as they bolted out of the way. Cally weakly told Claude, “This has been going on all morning.”

“Why don’t you take the day off?” Claude suggested.

“I think I’m feeling better…” Cally clutched her stomach as if it were lurching.

Claude gently directed her, “Go home and rest. Why don’t you take tomorrow off too? Just in case.”

“If you insist…” Cally suddenly put her hands over her mouth and ran off.

Cally found Derrick on the dirt path that ran alongside the Oreads Forest. “Man, that concoction you made tasted disgusting!”

“If it tasted good, you would have enjoyed it too much and it would have been less effective!” Derrick kidded. “Do you want to know what was in it?”

“No!” Cally immediately responded, which made Derrick grin somewhat mischievously before they headed out of the area.

Derrick and Cally sat at the furthest point that Cally could go. Cally, whose face was now clear, read the book that Derrick had lent her while he looked over her shoulder. Cally read a particularly exciting part and exclaimed, “Wow!”

“I know!” Derrick agreed. “Just wait ’til you get to the next part where he-!”

“Hey!” Cally interrupted.

Derrick defended himself, “I wasn’t going to reveal anything too salacious!”

“No, look!” She folded the corner of the page she left out on, stood up, and took a step forward. “The pull is lessening! He’s on the move!”

“Let’s hope he takes his time in Bohemma!” Derrick remarked as he got up and fell into her footstep.

At first, they just inched along, but after a while, they were able to reach a comfortable gait. Not too much later, they saw a huge cottage with rounded walls and a somewhat domed roof. The peeling red paint and disheveled rooftop gave the place an abandoned feel to it. When they got closer, they saw wooden steps leading up to a purple door. They gingerly stepped onto the small stairs and were relieved to find that the structure didn’t buck under their weight. Cally knocked on the door and waited for a response. When they got none, Derrick called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Cally, who was closest to the doorknob, slowly opened the door, and they both peeked inside.

To their astonishment, the place was in total disarray! Furniture had gotten torn and thrown everywhere, and personal belongings spilled out all over the place. Cally concluded, “She got attacked here!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt that,” Derrick concurred. “There isn’t a thick layer of dust though, so I imagine the royal guards have been here to investigate her disappearance. At least it still looks like the original crime scene is in tact. Hopefully, they left behind some clues to what happened here! Let’s look around.”

As Derrick checked out the other side of the cottage, Cally searched through the stuff in the front. This appeared to be where the sorceress ran her apothecary business. She saw several empty bottles and a cash till on the floor, but her curiosity got roused when she saw several books in the corner. She had always been drawn to books, so she thought that maybe there was a connection to her parents there. A part of her was dying to read magical lore, but she tried to focus on the task at hand. She spotted an open book on the floor and thought she may as well start there. As she reached for it, something darted out from under some blankets, which startled her enough to make her yelp! Derrick came out to assist her, and they both saw that the perpetrator had been a gray cat with a patch of white on its chest. Cally said breathily, “Oh, it’s just a cat!”

Derrick joked, “At least we won’t run into any rats in here!”

Cally laughed as she sifted through other books. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that the cat stared hard at her as if it were trying to get her attention. It tapped its paw twice on a page of the book it sat on, something Cally found a little odd. She shook it off and tried to stay focused, but the cat kept trying to get her attention. Finding herself too distracted, she stopped what she was doing and wearily expressed to the cat, “Kitty, I know you’ve been lonely for quite a while, but we don’t have a lot of time, so…”

She finally noticed the words that the cat’s paw kept pointing to, “Talking Potion.” Intrigued, she decided to check it out. The kitty hopped off the book as she picked it up, and Cally thought it seemed like an easy elixir to make. Derrick could sense that her attention had shifted and looked over to see her enthralled by a book. He inquired, “Did you find something?”

“Maybe a witness.” Cally showed him the page she had been reading.

Derrick peeked over her shoulder, and his face contorted to display a lot of skepticism. “A potion to make animals talk?”

“The cat pointed it out to me,” Cally justified herself.

“It was probably a coincidence,” Derrick opinionated.

Cally disagreed, “The book was open to this page, and the cat put its paw on the title repeatedly. I think it wants us to make it because it wants to tell us something.”

Derrick wanted to be supportive, but he still appeared fairly doubtful. “I’ve never even heard of some of these ingredients! We can’t spend our time searching everywhere for this stuff when we need to…” He spotted the cat pacing in front of a jar, and he noted that this element was listed in the directions. “That’s not normal cat behavior!”

Cally put a cauldron she found on the ground. “Worth a shot!”

Each of them searched about the cabin for the ingredients, and if they couldn’t find one, the cat would park itself in front of it. When they found all of them, the cat pushed a wooden spoon towards them, and Cally picked it up and stirred all of it together. The liquid inside turned into an almost translucent color and bubbled slightly. When it was finished, Derrick and Cally watched with rapt attention as the cat stood on its hind legs and lapped up some of the elixir.

After the cat finished, it sat down on the floor next to the cauldron, and for a moment, it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen. When the cat began to move its lips, the two of them almost fainted! The kind voice of an elderly female addressed them, “Thank you so much! I haven’t been able to communicate with anyone in thirty three years!”

Derrick and Cally gave her each other an astounded look, and after absorbing the shock a little, Derrick uttered, “Who are you?”

The cat regarded them, “My apologizes! My name is Galena, and I used to be the apothecary of Bohemma.”

Cally and Derrick’s jaw dropped at that, and Cally probed, “How on Earth did you become a cat?”

Galena recalled, “Not long after I gave King Henrick and Queen Avalyn a remedy to help counteract the infertility effect of a potion someone most likely slipped her, word got out that the queen had conceived a child. A sorcerer found me at my cottage. He was furious that I helped them procure an heir to the throne! We battled it out, and somehow, he bested me. I turned into a cat, and he laughed. He teased me about not being able to talk or do magic ever again before he left.”

“He had a plan,” Derrick deduced. “He knew you had the power to stop him.”

“He was pleased you couldn’t talk?” Cally questioned. “Was there something he didn’t want you to reveal?”

Galena shrugged. “I’m not sure what he thought I knew. He didn’t tell me anyways. He actually didn’t say much other than the fact that he wanted Duke Ferrin to take over Lacoria.”

Derrick remarked, “Maybe you know something that you don’t realize is significant to him. Did anyone else in Bohemma go missing around the same time as you?”

“In Bohemma?” Galena replied. “Not that I know of.”

“Do you know why a sorcerer would have given me this?” Cally showed her star on her palm.

Galena studied it curiously. “Binding spells aren’t easy to do. There’s a difficult ritual that must be done to give the spell a lasting effect, and it comes at a heavy price. Just like a fatal hex, this one requires you to give up part of your soul. Those gifted with magic grow their talents by helping others, but to take away someone’s freedom, your skills become less potent. To make this sacrifice, the need of the caster must be great! Whoever did this to you needs you to stick around for a very important reason, a matter of life or death!”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 9

Do you think she’s connected to my missing parents?” Cally posed to Derrick.

Derrick mulled it over for a moment. “Hmm… She went missing around the same time that they did, but she didn’t have any kids, so she couldn’t be your mother unless she hid her pregnancy.”

“Joanne and Sasha said she was kind and helpful, so why would she lie about something like that?” Cally pondered.

“True,” Derrick acknowledged. “And if she admitted to the town that she was a sorceress, she must have been a fairly honest person. But if she didn’t give birth to you, then what connection could she have to you?”

“The binding spell.” Cally reminded him by showing him her palm with the star on it. “Either she cast it to make Reisseck keep me or Reisseck cast it on me to keep me from her. Both scenarios would make sense as to why Reisseck wouldn’t tell me about where I came from.”

“But then why did she disappear?” Derrick probed. “If the solution to a custodial conflict was a binding spell, wouldn’t the problem have gotten solved at that point? Why would he be motivated to make her disappear? Unless she just witnessed the crime and Reisseck wanted to silence her.”

“I could see Reisseck doing that,” Cally remarked. “But if he did something to my parents, why did he keep me alive? Did the binding spell save my life or did he have some other purpose in taking me?”

“I don’t think we’ll know for sure until we figure out what really happened.” Derrick surmised. “The missing sorceress may have nothing to do with your case, so investigating her disappearance may waste our time. My gut says the two crimes are connected though.”

“Mine too,” Cally agreed. “So, I guess we need to see if her cottage is…”

Cally trailed off as they saw the people roaming the streets suddenly dart inside the nearest building, hiding and cowering in fear. Derrick and Cally looked on in confusion, so Elif grabbed them and pulled them inside the bakery. “Don’t let him see you!” he hissed.

“What’s going on?” Derrick whispered.

As Elif locked the front door of his shop, he informed them, “The sorcerer is here. Stay out of his way, whatever you do!”

Elif’s wife motioned for Cally and Derrick to join her behind the counter, so they dashed over there.Elif did as well and peaked at the street through the display case. Derrick and Cally curiously peaked at the scene as well. The entire area grew eerily quiet as the faint sound of footsteps echoed in the distance. Soon, a figure emerged wearing a tattered old cloak that covered his face. As he grew closer, Cally caught a glimpse of his boots and gasped, “It’s Reisseck!”

“Shh!” both Elif and his wife spat.

Reisseck glanced in their direction, so they all ducked out of his eyesight. They could tell he was lingering there to search for the source of the noise, and Cally scolded herself for not using more caution. She inwardly prayed that Reisseck wouldn’t come inside and find her. She could only imagine the devastating consequences that would stem from that! To their relief, they heard his footsteps sound again. Elif peeked first, and, after a moment, Cally and Derrick followed suit. They saw Reisseck staring incredulously at the horse, and Derrick’s face fell. “No! Not Oriane! Please don’t hurt her!”

Reisseck stared hard at the white steed, and Derrick looked ready to defend her if needed. They all breathed easier when he did not touch the horse at all. Instead, he went into the library, and Elif groaned, “I hope he doesn’t stay there long! Usually he just leaves after he’s patrolled the city.”

“How often does he come here?” Cally asked Elif. She was glad that he hadn’t discovered that she didn’t have work that day because one of her first thoughts had been that he came to retrieve her, but now she wondered about his motive for consistently coming to Bohemma.

Before Elif could answer, Reisseck came out of the library cursing. They watched as he stomped away in the direction he came. They could feel everyone’s dread as he walked past them, and they could tell no one wanted to feel the brunt of his wrath. For a while, the whole town stood still. Movement began again in trickles, and they realized that it must have meant that Reisseck left. Elif told Cally, “It’s always different. He hasn’t bothered anyone in years though, but I haven’t seen him get made like that before, so I’m worried that will soon change!”

Elif’s wife put in, “What could have possibly set him off like that?”

Derrick and Cally exchanged guilty glances, and then Derrick pulled his sack of coins out. He handed Elif some money and said, “Keep the change!”

“We hope this episode hasn’t scared you from returning!” Elif addressed them as they started to head out.

Cally somewhat darkly responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back!” They quickly left.

Derrick and Cally raced to the library, and when they got inside, they saw people timidly leaving their hiding spots. Derrick asked the woman behind the counter, “Is everyone okay?”

The lady shakily answered, “Yes, we’re all fine. He just got really angry and yelled loud, which made us all nervous!”

“What did he say to you?” Cally now felt stressed that the clerk revealed that she had been there. If she told Reisseck that, he would know that she was investigating him, and she could not go back home. She wouldn’t mind leaving Dregs Hollow forever, but she couldn’t go far from there because of the binding curse. Plus, the more she hung around him the more information she could potentially gleam from him. She didn’t want to leave until she solved this mystery and could roam the world freely!

The clerk replied, “I was too frightened to speak! He asked me if someone from Barlock asked for the newspapers, and I nodded yes. He got frustrated and stormed out.”

Cally apologized, “I’m so sorry that our inquiry put you in such a difficult position!” She felt relieved that Reisseck didn’t suspect her, but she didn’t want to put innocent people in danger over this!

“We all know who he is,” the clerk assured her. “If you’re doing something to take him down, we’ll do what we can to help you!”

Derrick and Cally were touched by this show of solidarity, and Derrick graciously communicated, “Thank you so much! If there’s anything we can do for you, please let us know!”

Outside of the library, Derrick took Oriane off of the hitching post, but they didn’t ride her so that they could properly discuss the events that just occurred. Cally stated, “I had no idea he even came around here! I thought he sent me here because he’s too lazy to come himself!”

“What does he send you down here to do?” Derrick queried.

“I buy items for his collection,” Cally explained. “He likes to surround himself with treasures and antiquities, I guess it makes him feel more important. He always wanted me to leave his name out of any of my transactions, but I always thought it was because he didn’t want any association with Dregs Hollow. I had no clue he terrorized Bohemma!”

“It really solidifies my theory of his guilt,” Derrick noted. “I would be surprised if he told the truth about the lord and lady if he hid all of this from you.”

“I agree,” Cally concurred. “He’s probably been doing this since the sorceress disappeared. It seems logical that he would get rid of her to take over the town. Maybe my parents tried to stop him.”

“We’ll have to check to see if her cottage still holds any evidence,” Derrick reckoned. Cally nodded in agreement, and they hopped on the horse to go check it out.

When they got to the path near the Oreads Forest, Oriane turned left to head towards the sorceress’s cottage. At that moment, Cally felt a gravitational pull tug her in the other direction. Oriane could sense her discomfort and stopped. Cally hopped off and walked backwards so she didn’t tempt the spell from going into full effect. Derrick turned around and looked deeply concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve hit the boundaries of the binding curse,” Cally told him ruefully. “I guess you’ll have to go there without me.”

Derrick dismissed that notion, “I could, but I think it would be less effective because you might recognize something significant from your past. You may not remember it now, but seeing it in person may trigger your memory. Hmm, how can we get around this enchantment?”

Cally shrugged and shook her head. “The only way I could go further is if he did.” From behind her, she could hear people traveling. They turned their attention in that direction and saw a carriage in the distance. Cally supposed, “They must be heading out of Camellia’s Circus. It’s not like people travel out of Dregs Hollow!” Suddenly, an idea struck her! “When Reisseck goes to Bohemma, he’ll be close enough to the cottage for me to travel there! We could wait right here until I feel the pull lessen on me on my next day off!”

“I could pay your days wages,” Derrick offered. “I know you want to stay in good standing with your job to maintain your cover to Reisseck, but sometimes people get sick, right?”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 8

Well, we’re not going to give up!” Derrick affirmed. “I’ll ask Henrick to make a royal proclamation to give us access to that room and their files. In the meantime, we’ll have to look in other places for information. Does this have its own newspaper?”

“It does, actually,” Cally told him. “Reisseck reads it a lot since its the closest one to Dregs Hollow. The Bohemma Beacon. I’m not sure where it is though.” She glanced around the area and saw an old newspaper laying on a wooden bench in the lobby, so she snatched it up and combed through it. “Aha! They posted the address right here.”

“Let’s go!” Derrick responded.

They came to a small factory and asked the reception, “May we see your newspapers from thirty three years ago?”

The receptionist replied, “I’m sorry, sir, but we had a fire that year and all of our originals were burnt. You could try the town historian.”

They went to a house of a scholarly man, but when they questioned him about the newspapers, he regarded them, “I’m afraid I sold my collection to the library. May I ask what you’re looking for in such old newspapers?”

Derrick explained, “We’re looking for missing person cases from thirty three years ago. You wouldn’t happen to have any records on this, would you?”

“Nothing specific,” he contemplated. “Offhand, the best I could give you is statistics on the crime rates of that year. I’ll look around to see if I find anything though. Feel free to return in a couple days or so, and I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Thank you!” Derrick chimed. “In the meantime, can you give us directions to the library?”

“I know where it is!” Cally blurted out excitedly.

The historian stared at her quizzically. “I know that voice! You’re the woman who always comes in with the red hood over her face! Are you trying to buy a specific newspaper for your master?”

“No!” Cally flushed at his recognition of her past as well as her connection to Reisseck. “I’m just working on a personal matter.”

“I see…” He raised an eyebrow, but after mulling it over for a moment, he shrugged it off. “Well, good luck with your research! Please fill me in on the story when you have it!”

“Okay!” Cally agreed to it. If her past really did connect with Bohemma, then she could see why the historian would want to document it.

“We’ll be in touch.” Derrick nodded his head respectfully, and the historian did the same in return.

When they went up to the librarian behind the counter, she informed them, “Our collection from that year got loaned out years ago and was never returned. We actually stopped allowing people to remove newspapers from the library because of that.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Derrick said with a note of disappointment in his voice.

After they left the library, Derrick suggested, “Why don’t we take a break at a cafe? My treat, of course!”

Cally had always wanted to eat at one of the restaurants in this town, but she found it hard to get excited about the concept because of her dismay at how their day turned out.

They walked over to a nearby bakery and sat down at a little table outside. A pleasantly plump man with red hair and a matching beard walked over to them and handed them menus. “Welcome to Elif’s! Can I get you… I’ve seen you before! Don’t you work for the king?”

“Sort of.” Derrick grinned at the idea. Cally knew that he was relishing a little anonymity, so she didn’t correct him.

“You don’t look like you work for the king.” The baker had turned to Cally and observed her admirably. “Let me guess, you’re one of Avalyn’s ladies?”

Cally giggled, “No, I’m just a servant.”

“You’re a servant?” the baker reacted incredulously. “If I knew they made servants this beautiful, I would have scraped together the money to hire one a long time ago!”

From inside the shop, a woman who was obviously his wife smacked him in the arm in a reprimanding way. “Elif, did you even take their orders yet?”

“I was getting to it, I swear!” he meekly expressed to his wife, who glared at him suspiciously.

Derrick requested, “Actually, can we have a minute to read the menu?”

“Of course!” Elif obliged. “I’ll be back momentarily. And if I’m not, you know why…” He discretely pointed to his wife, who still saw his gesture despite his best efforts. She closed the bakery door behind him in a way that conveyed that he was about to get yelled at.

Derrick and Cally laughed. Cally needed that bit of humor to cheer herself up. She then asked Derrick, “So, is there any way we can get answers today, or we just going to wait until the historian finds out some information?”

He answered, “We can try asking people old enough to remember that year. It’s kind of a long shot, but it’s better than nothing.”

Cally shrugged. Before she could voice her opinion, two middle aged women walked into the bakery. Elif warmly greeted them, “Joanne! Sasha! The usual, I presume?”

Joanne chirped, “As always!”

Sasha inquired, “Do you happen to know who rode in on that horse by the library?”

“Probably those servants outside.” Elif pointed to where Cally and Derrick were sitting.

After Elif’s wife handed Joanne and Sasha a bag of baked goods, they curiously came over to them. Joanne queried, “Pardon me, but have you two seen the king recently?”

Derrick disclosed, “I check in with him daily. Why?”

Sasha expounded, “We haven’t spoken to him much since his daughter died. Things were never really the same after that.”

“We miss him,” Joanne added. “But even if we saw him again, it wouldn’t go back to the way things once were.”

“You guys were friends with King Henrick?” Cally sounded both surprised and and impressed.

Elif came out as Joanne and Sasha pulled up two chairs to their table. Derrick and Cally hadn’t thought much about what they wanted to eat, so Derrick proposed, “How about some tea and a pie for us all to share?”

“What kind?” Elif wondered.

“His honey pies are the best!” Sasha hinted.

“That sounds delicious!” Cally opinionated. She rarely got the opportunity to get any sort of treat, so she got excited to try it.

Derrick told Elif, “The lady wants honey, so honey it is1” Cally always got bashful at his level reverence for her. She didn’t know if she could believe a man in such a dignified position could actually view her in an elevated status over him, but the thought alone was sweet enough!

As Elif went inside to make their pie, Joanne returned to the original subject, “About forty years ago, King Henrick rode into this town and crashed that horse into our house.”

Sasha corrected her, “No, he crashed into our house. His horse stopped unexpectedly and threw him off.”

“That’s right!” Joanne remembered. “Anyways, we took him inside for a while. It turned out he was searching for an apothecary to make him a healing elixir.”

Sasha clarified, “Henrick was dying, and even with the finest doctors in the land, he couldn’t find anyone who could cure him.”

“That’s right!” Joanne concurred. “It’s lucky he ran into us or he may have died! The apothecary was out of town, and if he hadn’t found us, he wouldn’t have known that Solomon’s daughter had some.”

“Solomon?” Derrick questioned. “You don’t mean…”

“The queen’s father,” Sasha confirmed. “We were the ones who introduced them! So, for a while, we’d visit each other quite often.”

Joanne remarked, “I miss those days! Ever since they lost their daughter, we hardly ever see them anymore. Henrick rarely even leaves Barlock, and that’s all Avalyn ever does! Grief never seems to have left them.”

Cally commented, “I imagine they’re also stressed because they haven’t produced another heir and Duke Ferrin is set to take the throne.”

“Ugh! Don’t remind me!” Sasha cringed. Cally knew that Reisseck couldn’t wait for him to take over because he was more lax on certain laws, but she didn’t want to admit that she lived such a horrid lifestyle in Dregs Hollow, so she decided not to mention it and let herself fit in with these townsfolk.

Joanne brought up, “It’s such a shame that they never did find that apothecary again! She made them a fertility potion that helped them conceive one child, but she disappeared after that.”

At the subject of a missing person, Derrick and Cally’s ears perked up. Cally probed, “So, the apothecary from this village that made the healing elixir which cured both King Henrick and Queen Avalyn was also the sorceress that made the potion that helped them conceive the princess?”

“Yes,” Joanne verified that information. “A lot of people in the village didn’t realize we had a sorceress amongst us! She was so kind and helpful that it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that she had that ability!”

“Is her shop still around?” Derrick inquired.

Joanne replied, “Actually, the reason she went out of town that night we met Henrick was to look for a new place. She got a new shop just outside of town because her business did so well that she needed a bigger space, and this cottage was remote enough that she got a good price on it.”

“Not in Dregs Hollow…” Cally would have remembered if a sorceress moved into her town, but if Reisseck felt like he had a serious competitor, she wouldn’t put it past him to make her disappear.

Sasha informed her, “No, she lived due west of the main road leading into town from the road by the Oreads Forest.”

Derrick queried, “How long ago did she disappear from that cottage?”

They both mulled it over, and Joanne came up with, “She made the potion for Avalyn after seven years of them having no luck conceiving a child, so it would have to be thirty three years ago.”

Cally and Derrick gave each other a knowing look, and then Cally probed, “Did she have any kids?”

Sasha sadly said, “No. No spouse, no kids, no one to carry on her legacy…” Elif brought them a plate of honey pie for each of them, and just as they were about to dig in, Sasha happened to glance at her pocket watch. “Oh goodness! Look at the time! Joanne, we got to get going!”

They picked up their pies by hand, and Joanne thanked them, “It was lovely chatting with you! Next time, it’s our treat!” As they scurried off, Derrick and Cally contemplated the meaning of what they just learned…