Amouraq, Chapter 4

There’s no time to explain! I need to go!” Emily jumped out of the car and made a beeline for her house.

“Wait!” Stephen got out of the car and quickly followed her. He felt a little hurt that she apparently decided that she didn’t trust him, but he also felt deeply concerned that Emily showed signs of wanting to go rogue. He couldn’t have that happen! It was his job to protect her so she can restore stability to Amouraq and quell the anxieties of the countries that depend on it, but more importantly, he didn’t want her to isolate herself because that’s exactly what the other heirs did before they were murdered. He knew Emily had been correct in her assessment that he had no idea what the Amouraqians were capable of, but he did know that it was always safer to have an extra set of eyes around. He wouldn’t let her face this alone, so he vowed to himself to always keep her in his sight no matter what.

He let himself into the house, and he saw Emily march right past Amelia, who looked utterly bewildered at her demeanor. “Emily! Emily?” When she saw Stephen, she inquired, “What happened?”

“I’ll explain later!” He brushed past her to make sure Emily didn’t escape through a back door or window. He went down a small hallway to a little bedroom with a queen sized bed, an antique dresser, and compact desk all taking up the majority of the space. Emily pulled a gray duffle bag out of her closet and flung it onto her bed. He could see that it was mostly full, but she unzipped it to add to it. She pulled a large, ancient looking book out from under her bed, and as she packed it away, without looking at him, she sourly remarked, “I suppose it won’t do any good to tell you to stop following me, will it?”

“Nope!” Stephen affirmed. “The FBI assigned me to the high risk division for a reason. I’m willing to lay my life on the line to bring justice to those who deserve it, and I’ll do the same to protect the people who need it!”

Emily stopped packing as she dourly expressed, “I don’t want you to die protecting me! I feel bad enough about that other agent getting shot trying to keep me safe! I shouldn’t have let her stay with me!”

Stephen debated her, “She wouldn’t have lived with herself if she neglected her duty and let something happen to you. She did her job, which comes with risk no matter what assignment she gets. The same goes for me. I got assigned to this case, and I’m going to see it through to the end no matter what!”

“You’ve done your job though,” Emily argued. “You saved my life once, and I’m grateful for that. But I couldn’t, in good conscious, put you in a situation where you don’t stand a chance! Thank you for your help, but I can’t take you with me!”

She slipped past him, but he closely tailed her. “Look, my superiors warned me that this assignment would be more dangerous than normal, but they didn’t have to. I knew going into it that Amouraqians have skills that no one else can match, but I took the assignment anyways! If King Patrick didn’t think I could handle it, he wouldn’t have let me take the job!”

Emily froze at his last statement, and she slowly turned to him and cautiously asked him, “King Patrick knows about this?”

Feeling hopeful at this change of attitude, Stephen answered, “It was his idea. Amouraq exhausted their resources trying to solve this case, and King Patrick personally requested our assistance.” He paused as he watched this information sink in for her, and then, in a stroke of inspiration, he added, “I’m going to Ovelstrofe with or without you, but I don’t think King Patrick will be too pleased if I show up and you’re not there, don’t you think?”

For a moment, she stood as still as a statue, but to Stephen’s relief, she suddenly dropped her duffle bag to the floor. She looked totally perplexed as she sank into a chair beside Amelia. “King Patrick wanted a cose to protect me? I don’t understand!”

“What did you just call me?” Stephen curiously wondered.

Emily’s eyes grew wide as if she had revealed something she shouldn’t have. Amelia calmly yet firmly put a hand on her knee and advised her, “Emily, you need to tell him. He’s going to find out sooner or later, and it’s better that he knows now instead of figuring it out when it’s already too late.”

Emily seemed uneasy about the idea. “I’m not supposed to say anything about it to anyone though!”

“I’m good at keeping secrets,” Stephen reassured her. “I’m a secret agent, it’s what I do.”

After taking a deep breath, Emily relented, “If King Patrick wanted to hire you, I suppose he’d want you to know. Okay, I’ll tell you! I don’t know where to begin though!”

“How about at the beginning,” Stephen suggested as he sat down on the couch.

“The beginning?” Emily recalled, “I suppose it all started in the middle ages when Europeans began exploring the world. Before Alexander became king, he led a fleet of ships west of Ireland to see how far the ocean stretched. Suddenly, there was a storm, and Alexander’s boat got engulfed by the waves. He washed up on the shore of an uncharted island, and while he didn’t see any sign of the rest of his crew, he went looking for them anyways. He went deep into the nearby forest and almost got killed by a monster. His life was saved by the Nymph Queen of Good, who led him through the forest to the other side of the island where the surviving fleet landed. After a joyous reunion with his crew, he and the Nymph Queen of Good realized that they had fallen in love with each other. They couldn’t go back to Ireland because his new bride had other nymphs to watch over. They founded the country of Amouraq and sealed off the forest so the mystical creatures would remain safe. No man could enter the forest, but many of the creatures found their way out, including the other nymphs. Many of them created children with the men who arrived there, and their children were half human and half demi-goddess. Each generation passed on the gift to manipulate the environment, so that’s why, to this day, the people of Amouraq can do magic.”

Stephen had found this story interesting, but the conclusion raised a considerable amount of skepticism. He knew that Emily was an intelligent person, so he found it hard to believe that she would suggest such a preposterous idea. Trying not to sound disrespectful, Stephen questioned, “Amouraqians can do magic?”

“You don’t believe me,” Emily referred. “I know it must seem like an outrageous claim to you. Amouraq has gone through great lengths to make it the stuff of legend. The people who discover its reality go through great lengths to get access to it.”

Stephen thought about it for a moment and noted, “That would explain why so many people are trying so zealously to get on the list of heirs, but…” He couldn’t finish his sentence, it just seemed too outlandish to be true!

“I didn’t believe it at first either,” Amelia commented. “Not until I saw it for myself. One explainable incident could be a fluke, but it became very clear the more time I spent with her father that he could make miraculous things happen on a whim!”

Since Stephen still seemed unconvinced, Emily brought up, “Did you feel a wind go by you before that assassin started blurting out the truth?”

“Yeah, that was weird,” Stephen acknowledged. “But I-.”

Emily told him, “I’ll give you another demonstration.” She pointed two fingers at him and chanted, “Opieum Clerivol!” Stephen felt that same wind envelope him, and all of a sudden, the scuff marks and stains he got from the pursuit had vanished! His mind raced trying to come up with a logical explanation for this phenomenon, but he came up blank. Emily continued to explain, “When I say a spell in Amouraqian, the effect is permanent. When I say it in English, it’s temporary.” She pointed both of her palms at him and chanted, “Levitate!” Stephen’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest as he found himself floating above his seat! He didn’t have any kind of harness or wire, the air just raised him up as if it were a natural occurrence!

After about a minute, gravity kicked back in, and he landed back on the sofa. His mind had trouble absorbing this revelation. Everything he thought he knew about the natural world and logic appeared to be wrong, and it sort of felt unsettling to accept such a supernatural concept. After watching him for a moment, Emily folded her arms and scoffed, “You don’t wanna help me anymore, do you?”

When Stephen heard that, his sense of duty kicked in and took control over everything else. “This doesn’t change anything! Forty six innocent people were brutally murdered, and it’s my job to find the person responsible! I have a duty to stop them from hurting anyone else, including you! I may not know a lot about this… weapon they use, but that’s not gonna stop me from completing my assignment! You’re my top priority right now, and I won’t let anything, not even this, keep me from doing what’s right!”

Emily’s expression softened by his speech, and after a moment, she spoke up, “So, now what?”

Stephen mulled it over, and he came up with, “King Patrick doesn’t have a lot of time left, so we need to get you to Ovelstrofe immediately! Let me give Seatac the heads up, and when can go.”

As he pulled out his phone and started sending a text message, Emily probed, “We’re going by plane?”

“Don’t worry, we’re not going on a commercial flight. Airport employees see well dressed people boarding a private jet, so they don’t ask questions. And the FBI has taken extra precautions for agents’ safety. It’s the least dangerous way to get you to Amouraq.” After he sent his message, he saw Emily still looked doubtful, so he added, “Can Amouraqians fly in that altitude?”

Emily admitted, “Well, no.”

“Alright then, let’s go,” Stephen directed.

Amelia and Emily both stood up and gave each other a tight hug. “I’ll let you know if we get there okay!” Emily promised.

“Not if, when!” Amelia gently corrected her. Emily grabbed her duffle bag and then gave Amelia another hug. Amelia said to her, “Stay safe, child!” She turned to Stephen and addressed him, “You as well!”

“You can count on me to make that happen!” Stephen shook her hand. He looked to Emily and inquired, “Ready?” She took a deep breath and nodded. Amelia watched as they took one last look at her as they shut the door behind them.

Amouraq, Chapter 3

He couldn’t explain why he had this feeling, but every instinct in his body forced him to move urgently! As he hopped back in his car, he felt a small token of gratitude that he studied maps of this neighborhood thoroughly before he got there, so he wasted no time with directions. He peeled out and sped down the road, and he thought that if his hunch turned out to be wrong, it would probably look a little strange of him rushing to them like that. A part of him hoped for that scenario, but everything in his gut told him that they were in danger, so he didn’t hesitate to hurry to them.

The roads were clear until he started getting closer to a major intersection. Traffic started to become congested, and he grew irritated that he couldn’t drive as fast as he wanted to. He audibly groaned when he got stuck behind several vehicles at the red light. He collected his focus and scanned the area to see if he could see them. He had to raise himself up a bit to see the cars on the other side of the street, and his heart nearly skipped a beat when he finally spotted the silver, four-door car belonging to the Seattle agent. Her car idled in the left hand lane, and since she was about to turn on the road he had just gone down, he knew they would make it to Emily’s house safely. His stomach lurched, and somehow he knew it wouldn’t be that simple!

As the agent turned left, a long, dark green car from the street perpendicular to hers suddenly jolted out and blocked her path! Stephen quickly put his car in park and sprang out with his gun out as did the Seattle agent. She partially hid behind her door while two men in black, leather jackets and sunglasses emerged from the other vehicle with their hands in their pockets. She immediately aimed her gun at them and shouted, “Federal Agent, put your hands up!” When they didn’t obey her command and advanced towards her, Stephen jumped onto the hood of his car. The Seattle agent fired at the larger man while Stephen aimed at the thin one. Both of the men fell down, and each agent ran towards them. The Seattle agent approached them with her gun still drawn.. To her astonishment, the larger man had a gun in his hand and fired at her chest!

“No!” Stephen screamed as he saw the Seattle agent fall to the ground. The larger man heard Stephen and picked himself up. At the same time, the backseat door of the Seattle agent’s car opened up, and a woman dashed out, running in the opposite direction. The large man chased after her, and Stephen rushed to catch up with them, yelling, “Federal Agent, I order you to stop!”

The large man caught up with her and put his gun up to her head. “Come quietly or I’ll shoot!” Stephen got close enough to shoot him, but the man moved out of range, scooped Emily up with one arm, and ran off! He couldn’t risk hitting Emily, so he muttered, “Damn it!” as he followed them.

The man ran down an alleyway, and Stephen managed to grab the man’s arm and spin him around, which forced him to drop Emily. Stephen pressed him against the wall and held his gun up to the back of his head. “Drop your weapon!” Stephen barked.

He dropped his gun, and then he hissed, “Shoot me!”

“Did someone send you here?” Stephen forcibly asked him.

“Go to hell!” the man growled.

Stephen huffed, “Did someone send you, or are you gonna take the rap for forty six murders?”

Before the man could answer, Emily stood up, made a claw out of her fingers, and chanted, “Truth be told!”

Stephen felt a cold wind brush by him, and he saw the man’s eyes widen and suddenly turn misty. In a flat, low voice, the man revealed, “Xavier Ryder.”

“Where is he?” Stephen urgently inquired.

“Hidden deep where only one man has gone before,” he unemotionally reported.

Stephen’s brow furrowed at that cryptic remark. Before he could ask anymore questions, the look disappeared from his eyes and he tried to run for it. A score of Hartwood police officers blocked his path with their weapons drawn. Extremely unwillingly, the man surrendered to the police.

After breathing a sigh of relief to see him in handcuffs, Stephen went up to the officers and showed them his badge. Somewhat winded, Stephen quickly spoke to them, “Stephen Knight, FBI. How’s Agent Chae-Won?”

One of the officers reported, “An off duty nurse tended to her, and she’s on her way to the hospital right now. She was still breathing when they were putting her in, but…”

Stephen’s insides wrenched to hear one of his fellow agents got harmed in the line of duty, but his attention quickly averted back to the other victim of this incident. “Miss Pageman, are you…?”

He turned around and saw Emily walking towards him. Despite going through such a frightening ordeal, she moved with such composure! Her makeup didn’t smudge at all, and her hair, while slightly ruffled, still sculpted her face very neatly. He had only seen a picture of her head, so he didn’t see what her body looked like until now. She had a thick frame, but she still had an hourglass figure. She wore a pink blouse and tan trousers that accentuated her curves very nicely. She moved with such grace that Stephen had no doubt that she was definitely a future queen!

Emily approached him and gave him a little smile as she queried, “Was he wearing a bulletproof vest?”

“Huh?” Stephen shook off his torpor and got back to business. “There wasn’t any blood on him, so he must have been.”

“Yes, ma’am, he is,” another police officer confirmed for her. “Oh, if you two don’t mind, I have some questions for you.”

Stephen declined, “Sorry, but she’s a high profile subject, and we need to get her to safety. I’ll give my report to my superior, and I’ll have her email you a copy.” The officer nodded, and Stephen turned back to Emily. “Follow me.” Emily seemed a little hesitant, but after noticing the officers behind him, she reluctantly agreed.

Stephen and Emily reached his car without saying a word to each other. They could hardly discuss classified information in such an active scene, and he knew it was imperative to get Emily out of the area quickly, but he felt a little inconsiderate to rush her out of the spot without communicating anything to her. She nearly died, and she probably had very little idea about would happen next. He was impressed at her ability to appear unemotional after all she had gone through, but he knew inwardly she must feel very distressed. He logically reasoned that they didn’t have a great distance to travel to get to his car, but at this time, it felt really long! She didn’t have to deal with her inner turmoil for that much longer, but he still felt a surge of guilt for the minute she had to go through it!

When they finally arrived at his car, he opened the passenger door for her. She didn’t look thrilled to climb in, and he didn’t blame her. He figured that she probably had a lot of trust issues at the moment. They stayed quiet as he got into the car, started it, and made a u-turn. Once they were away from the crime scene, Stephen waited for Emily to break the ice. He didn’t quite know how she would react to surviving such a harrowing ordeal, and he wondered if she would burst out crying or if her anxiety would cause her to rant and rave. He also supposed that she would blurt out a flurry of questions, but he was prepared to receive whatever scenario that she offered. What he didn’t expect was more silence. He hoped that she didn’t think he was rude for not speaking to her, and his mind reeled from different possibilities on how to begin. To his surprise, she calmly said, “They wore bulletproof vests!”

Her statement baffled Stephen. Out of all of the things for her to get mystified about, he couldnt’ believe that she focused on that! He reminded himself that trauma can sometimes make a person hyper-focused on a random detail of the event, so he tried to show her support. “Yes, they did. Sometimes a criminal has the foresight to wear some kind of body armor, which is why I usually aim for the head if I have to take someone down.” He instantly regretted disclosing that information to her and now hoped that he didn’t upset her by talking about killing someone after she almost died.

She stunned him once again by not responding to his comment. Instead, she absentmindedly gazed out of the window as she wondered aloud, “Why would they wear bulletproof vests when they could do a…? Unless they were… No, that couldn’t be!”

The more she talked, the more perplexed he grew. As politely as he could, he queried, “I’m sorry, but what do you mean by-?”

She suddenly whipped her head to face him, and her expression displayed the utmost concern as she questioned, “How much did they tell you about us?”

“You mean the heirs?” Stephen replied. “We did a background check on everyone, but-.”

‘You should go,” Emily advised him. “You’re not safe with me!”

Stephen assured her, “I understand it’s a dangerous assignment, but all of my assignments are like that. It’s okay, I accept the risks, and I have the training to-.”

She interrupted him again, “Trust me, you don’t have the training for what you’re about to encounter! You have no idea what Amouraqians are capable of!”

As they arrived at her house, Stephen requested, “Then please, enlighten me.” She sighed exasperatedly, and she gave the matter serious consideration…

Amouraq, Chapter 2

The simplistic beauty of the neighborhood was almost unnerving! The small, nineteen fifties style houses were all neatly painted and had beautifully manicured lawns. Trees with bushy, green leaves lined the sidewalk, but the streets were free from twigs or foliage. He saw a young child helping his mother unload groceries from her van, and he couldn’t imagine a more ideal place to grow up. He couldn’t believe that somewhere inside this picturesque piece of Americana an abhorrent massacrer was plotting vile chaos and utter demise! He almost wished the area had less of a homey charm to it because it tempted him to bask in the quaintness that it offered. It disgusted him to think of any criminal perverting the serenity of these roads, and to know that one of the most bloodthirsty people on the planet lurked in the shadows just incensed him more! The only plus side he could think of was that, of the very least, people would notice if something was out of place. Wherever the creep decided to hide, someone noticed! As he got closer to his destination, he felt more and more determined to find them and bring him or her to justice!

In a small living room, an elderly lady wearing a lacy shawl over a full length dress and an elegant bun sat on a cushy, antique chair while she crocheted a blanket. She glanced up when she saw a ritzy, black sedan pull up in front of her house, and when she noticed Stephen emerge from the vehicle, she set down her yarn and needle and somewhat hesitantly went to her front entrance. Before Stephen could even knock, she opened the door a crack and gruffly asked, “Who are you?”

Stephen felt a little taken aback by her abruptness, but he quickly recovered himself and showed her his badge. “Stephen Knight, FBI. Can we talk?” She studied him as if she were evaluating his story, and when she got a grasp of his authenticity, she opened the door wider and invited him inside.

Once he stepped inside, she closed the door and apologized, “I’m sorry about that. We can’t be too careful right now.”

“I understand,” Stephen responded. “I would prefer to see you air on the side of caution during these times! I’m assuming you’re Missus Lambert.”

“Call me Amelia.” She extended her hand, and Stephen shook it. “Please, have a seat.”

Stephen replied, “Thank you,” as he sat down on a couch in the corner of the room.

Before Amelia joined him, she took another look at him and decided something. “How do you take your tea?”

“Oh, I don’t need anything, thank you,” Stephen politely declined.

“Oh, yes you do,” Amelia stated firmly. “You haven’t slept well in days, you need the energy boost.” Stephen seemed surprised at her assessment, so she quickly explained, “I’m a mother of four and a grandmother of eight, it just comes naturally. So, do you take cream with your tea?”

Stephen answered, “Just sugar, thanks.”

As Amelia went into the adjoining kitchen, Stephen looked around at the various pieces of furniture and knick-knacks. Everything looked about as old as the house, so he couldn’t help but titter a little to see a cellphone charger in the wall! He heard Amelia used a single serve coffee maker, and he thought that perhaps Emily tried to help her update the place. He observed several pictures on the fireplace mantle, and one in particular really caught his eye. It had to be at least thirty years old based on the picture quality, and it showed a little girl making a funny face while wearing a witch’s costume. Based on her facial features, he thought that it had to be Emily. He chuckled slightly wondering if that little girl had any idea that she’d grow up and inherit the throne of Amouraq!

“How many lumps?” Amelia inquired.

“Huh?” Stephen pulled himself out of his momentary stupor and replied, “Oh, two lumps should be fine.”

As she stirred his tea, he noticed a silver frame on a round end table. It had a man with red hair and a toothy grin and a woman with dark hair draped over his shoulder giving him a kiss. Before he could guess who they were, Amelia appeared in the living room with a tray that had his tea on it, and she let him know, “That’s a picture of my daughter, Sylvie, and my son in law, Ronald, on their honeymoon. They’re Emily’s parents, they… They died fifteen years ago from a car crash.”

“I’m sorry to hear that!” Stephen empathized.

Amelia seemed saddened by the memory, and she said forlornly, “I do wish I didn’t have to bury my children, but, in a way, maybe it’s better they went out this way, you know, quickly, instead of the way the others are…”

Stephen grimaced at the thought. He ensured her, “Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen to Emily! I sent an agent from the Seattle office to watch over her while I flew here, and she’ll bring her home when she gets off work.” He glanced at an antique clock and wondered, “What time does she usually get here?”

“Usually, she gets home around three thirty, four o’ clock,” Amelia told him, “but today, I’m not sure. She handed in her resignation this morning. She wanted to teach them one more day to say goodbye, but she knows she can’t stay there. With a target on her head now, she couldn’t risk putting those kids in danger!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put it past them to harm children,” Stephen grimly remarked. “In some cases, innocent civilians were killed instantly if they got in this murderer’s way. One way or another, he or she gets them isolated so they can… Well, my guess is torture. I have no idea how they’re able to kill people in the way that they do, but it seems extremely painful. Whoever commits these atrocities must find isolated spots so no witnesses can hear the screaming. Do you have any idea where someone could do that around here?”

Amelia shook her head. “If the killer is Amouraqian, then they have methods that I can’t even begin to imagine! They could make it happen almost anywhere without anyone having the slightest clue about what’s going on! That’s how they’ve been getting away with it all this time! They made it almost impossible to find them!”

Stephen emphasized, “Almost. Nothing is completely impossible, and no matter what kind of skills this person possesses, they’re only human and humans leave traces of themselves wherever they go! No matter how good they are at recovering the evidence, no one is perfect! Sooner or later, we all make mistakes, and someone has picked up a clue about this person even if they don’t realize it yet! Somebody heard something, saw something, even smelled something, and I’m gonna find out what that is! Now think, has anything unusual occurred here recently? Any minute detail? No clue is too small!”

Amelia jogged her memory and tried really hard to recollect anything like what he described. “It was freezing this morning. It was kind of strange because normally it starts to warm up this time of year. And the fog looked thicker than normal. That’s all I can think of. Is that helpful?”

Stephen jotted this information down inside of his phone before he spoke up, “It could be. Sometimes the significance of a detail doesn’t present itself in an obvious way. It may say something about the killer’s profile. I’ll have to see if weather played a role in any of the previous cases.” He paused before he added, “This is kind of a long shot, but do you have any idea who may be behind it all?”

“If I knew anything for sure, I’d tell you,” Amelia responded.

“What if you knew something less sure?” Stephen challenged her. “Would you still tell me?”

Amelia stared at him in surprise for a moment, and then she divulged, “Well, there was something Ronnie said once that keeps popping up in my head lately. When he mentioned his distant relation to King Patrick, he really highlighted the fact that his ancestors got on the family tree legitimately. When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained that for centuries, people would court an heir just to get on that list of those who could inherit the crown. Ronnie’s forefather fell in love with a woman who happened to be on the list, he didn’t seek her out for any ulterior purposes. Not all of the heirs could make that claim. Some people took drastic measures to try to get on that list, including kidnapping and even rape! Not everyone on that list is noble!”

Stephen surmised, “So, you think someone on that list is responsible for all of this?”

“I don’t know.” Amelia shrugged. “Ever since all of this started, I just keep thinking about everything Ronnie and Emily told me about Amouraq, and that’s the biggest thing I know about the heirs. It would make sense to me that someone low on the list is trying to fight their way up to power. I suppose someone from another country could try to destabilize the Amouraqian government, but there must be hundreds of people with trace amounts of royal heritage, so could they really murder everyone? It’s possible, but it seems like it’d be easier to marry someone on the list or at least conceive a child in order for their family to move their way into the Ovelstrofe castle. People have been trying to taint the list for centuries, so I just thought maybe this is one of those times. Does that make any sense to you? My only experience with crime solving is watching Murder She Wrote.”

Stephen laughed a little at her last sentence, but the rest of what she said really got him thinking. He flashed back to seeing that list on that desk, but it didn’t occur to him to do an extensive background check on any of them. On the surface, nothing about the current heirs really jumped out at him, but now his mind was reeling about any detail that he might have missed. “You’re making a lot of sense. When we’re on the plane, I’ll have to look at…”

A ringtone chimed from a cellphone next to Amelia’s seat, and Amelia read the message that she received. “It’s Emily. She just wrapped up at the school, and she’ll be here soon.”

Connecting the subject that they were just discussing with Emily’s arrival gave Stephen a foreboding feeling. He knew she was in very capable hands with the Seattle agent, but all of a sudden, he got this overwhelming feeling that he should assist her. He bolted out of his seat and briskly remarked, “I’ll make sure of that!” as he sped out of the house.

Amouraq, Chapter 1

He took a deep breath and collected himself as he rode a finely polished elevator. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been through this before, but somehow, this one felt different. He gazed at his reflection on the wall and saw that his creamy skin looked unblemished and his copper-colored hair was neatly combed. He didn’t have any stubble on his pronounced jawline, and the area around his dark blue eyes didn’t have a hint of red to it. He adjusted his purple tie and smoothed out his tailored suit just as the elevator doors opened up to his floor. As he joined the various people in professional attire milling about the hallway, he did his best to convey the idea that everything was business as usual. He felt grateful that no one stopped him to chat because he didn’t think he could maintain this confidence during small talk. One man gave him a curt nod, and a lady said hello, but luckily for him, he made it to the room without incident. He shook off his nerves before he went in, after all, he couldn’t let any misgivings show during such an important matter! He couldn’t delay the moment any longer, he was ready as he’d ever be. He pulled open the heavy, wooden door and went inside.

Across the room, he saw a man with gray hair and a fairly youthful face talking to a middle aged woman with dark hair and a small pair of glasses that made her already stern eyes appear even sharper. He couldn’t help but compare the two contrasted personalities between the two of them. He knew her to be typically cold and calculating whereas he usually adopted a more lighthearted, somewhat playful attitude. Not today though, both of them had grave expressions on their faces and fell silent upon his arrival. He very cordially greeted them, “Good morning, President Truett! Agent Dulcie!”

Agent Dulcie informed Truett, “Mister President, this is Agent Stephen Knight. He’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

“Are you really?” Truett let a small smile momentarily crack through his lips. “Forgive me, but with all of the accomplishments she listed, I expected an old man!”

“Thank you, sir,” Stephen said graciously. “The closer I get to forty, the older I start to feel!”

Truett half kidded, “Give it a couple of decades and that age will feel young!” He tittered a bit, and then he sobered up to invite him, “Have a seat.”

Stephen sat in a chair in front of Truett’s desk, and Agent Dulcie addressed him, “Based on the recent headlines, I think you can guess why we called you in here.”

Stephen’s stomach lurched when she confirmed what he had been dreading. “My next assignment involves the heirs of Amouraq, doesn’t it?”

Agent Dulcie somberly told him, “Correct. As you know, King Patrick is dying, and the people next in line for the throne are all getting killed. The number reached forty six as of this morning.”

“Did he… Did they find the body in the same condition as the others?” Stephen tentatively asked.

“Exactly the same,” Truett answered with repulsion. “And DNA confirmed him to be the man set to take the throne next. I don’t know how they could do that to a body! Frankly, I don’t want to know! Several descendants live in the United States, and I want them to stay safe! However this person is doing it doesn’t matter to me, I just want them stopped!”

Agent Dulcie directed Stephen, “You’ll be coordinating with Agent Alastair Vendari, head of the International Crimes Unit of the Amouraqian government, in discovering who is behind this string of mass murders. As of right now, they don’t have any suspects.”

Stephen reacted incredulously, “Forty six murders and not a single suspect? How is that possible?”

“That’s why they’re working with us,” Truett responded. “Amouraqians are a very advanced race, they have skills we can’t even imagine! That’s what makes this situation so scary; they’re known for helping the world solve their problems, and they don’t have a clue on what to do with this! King Patrick asked for our help, and I told him we’d be honored to assist! They’re our greatest ally, but the whole world needs this country to stay strong!”

“It’s not only several governments at stake,” Agent Dulcie added. “The bloodline to their founding leader, King Alexander, runs all around the world, so there’s a lot of lives at stake! We need you to not only find the culprit responsible for this genocide but to ensure the protection of the people at the top of the list for the crown.” She plopped a long list in front of Stephen, whose eyes went wide at the vast amount of potential victims. “Our top priority is to keep the person next in line safe.”

She put a manila folder in front of him, and when he opened it up, his eyes were immediately drawn to the picture inside. He saw a woman with golden brown eyes, a warm smile, smooth, beige skin, and coffee colored hair that neatly accented her face. Without thinking, Stephen commented, “She’s pretty; she looks like a model!”

When Agent Dulcie spoke again, Stephen almost jumped. He got so entranced by the photo that for a second he forgot where he was! Agent Dulcie stated, “This is Emily Pageman. She’s thirty three years old and works as a school teacher in Hartwood, Washington.”

“Is she married?” Stephen inquired. Agent Dulcie raised an eyebrow to him, and he realized that he must have sounded a little too eager with his question. He inwardly admonished himself for his inadvertent lack of professionalism, and, as casually as he could, he clarified, “Does she have a husband, kids, or anyone else we need to protect?”

Agent Duclie eyed him suspiciously for a moment, but she appeared to dismiss whatever notion she had and moved on. “She lives with her grandmother, Amelia Lambert. Missus Lambert isn’t part of King Alexander’s ancestry and therefore isn’t in any danger. Miss Pageman’s royal lineage came from her father, who passed away years before any of this started.”

President Truett jumped in, “Miss Pageman is in serious danger, and King Patrick doesn’t have much time left, so it’s imperative that we get her to Ovelstrofe safely!”

Stephen went through Emily’s file, and when he got to the end of it, he got thrown off by how quickly he got through it. His eyes darted between the file and the list of heirs, and his brow furrowed. Before he could say anything, Agent Duclie notified him, “I’ll send you the police files from the American victims, and Agent Vendari is going to send you information that they gathered down in Amouraq. We’ve also spoken to to agencies in Ireland and Greenland, but unfortunately, between all four countries involved, no one has much more information than what the public sees in the news.”

Stephen cringed at that thought, and Truett shared his sentiment. “I know, it’s not a lot to go on, especially for a case of this magnitude!”

“I’ll take a look at it all. There’s got to be some small detail that’s been overlooked!” He stared at Emily’s file, and suddenly, he concluded, “The killer knows she’s next in line. Chances are they’re in Hartwood right now! I need to go there and interview the people there! Something new is in the neighborhood, and someone there is bound to notice this! I’m gonna find this creep before they have a chance to hurt anyone else!”

“Good luck, Agent Knight!” Truett wished him earnestly. “Stay safe out there!”

The initial trepidation that he harbored prior to this meeting had vanished and been replaced by a renewed sense of vigor. A lot of families out there were waiting for justice on this case, and that thought alone was enough to fuel him to get started without hesitation! He responded to Truett by shaking his hand and vowing, “Don’t worry, I won’t let you down!” He shook Agent Dulcie’s hand as well before he strode out of the room.

At the airport, Stephen strolled up to a private plane on the tarmac where a pilot stood at the ready by the staircase going into the plane. He formally greeted Stephen, “Good morning, sir! Nice to see you again!”

“Likewise!” Stephen replied cordially.

“Where are we going today, sir?” the pilot asked.

Stephen answered, “Hartwoord, Washington.”

The pilot told him, “The closest airport to there is Seatac. I’ll arrange for a car to get you to Hartwood.”

“Thank you!” Stephen gave him a courteous grin, which the pilot returned before Stephen entered the plane.

During the flight, Stephen thumbed through files on his tablet while he jotted down notes on his cellphone. He looked through the last file sent to him from Agent Vendari, but he realized he hadn’t processed any of it. He gazed at the ceiling and took a deep breath before he returned to his work. He scrolled through it and saw pictures of where the body was found. The image of the brutal state the killer left the victims in had been burned into memory forever, and the sadness of it made him shake his head. “How did they do this to you?” he wondered.

Just then, the intercom broadcasted the pilot’s voice, “Please fasten your seatbelt, Agent Knight. We’re almost there!”

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 21

They watched as Impusa pulled the wagon past some stone pillars towards a large, wooden door. All five eagerly awaited the chance to catch a glimpse of what laid within the palace walls, but all of a sudden, a wheel fell off of the wagon! Impusa scuttled to the back of the small cart to examine the damage, and when she tried to pick the wheel up, she found that she couldn’t lift it. She tried to get the attention of someone in a room that had a large window overlooking the area, but they could see that her efforts were to no avail. She threw her hands up in frustration, and Kefalia queried, “Should we go help?”

Mercinon stood in front of his desk with a bundle of sticks, and one by one, he attempted to throw each of them into a bucket placed in the center of the room. He missed every time, and he cursed loudly, “Damn it! Why is this so hard? It’s supposed to be a children’s game! Oh well, at least no one was around to see it!”

Impusa walked in at that moment and gave directions to someone behind her, “You can just set it down anywhere.”

Quite bewildered, Mercinon watched as Dason and the five heroes came into the room with armfuls of gold. As they set it down, Mercinon reacted, “What in the name of Zeus are you doing ? Are you helping our enemies?”

“Actually, they’re helping me,” Impusa corrected him. “I got your ransom, just like you asked me to!”

“But you led them to my hideout!” Mercinon argued. “My secret hideout! I called it a secret because I didn’t want anyone to find it, especially these guys!” He peered at them behind the gold and asked, “Why did you bring the ransom money if you’re free?”

Akintos wondered, “Yeah, why did we do so much work bringing in gold for someone we’ll probably have to kill?”

Exelda answered, “We had to gain Impusa’s trust so she’d lead us to the bad guy.”

Impusa refuted her slant, “He’s not a bad guy! He’s just a little power hungry! You just used me, so I-!”

“Of course they used you, you twit!” Mercinon scolded her. “”That’s why you don’t help our enemies!”

“I wasn’t helping them!” Impusa differed. “They were trying to make me feel dumb for trusting you, so I wanted to show them that they were wrong.”

Mercinon rubbed his temples in frustration. “Wow, I can’t even… Oh, forget it! I’ll deal with your ineptitude later. Marcin!” He waited for a moment before calling him again. “Marcin! Where are… Oh right, I fed him to the jackals.”

Impusa questioned, “You fed my boyfriend to the jackals?”

“It was long overdue.” Mercinon shrugged. “His incompetency really slowed things down this operation, and thank gods I don’t need him anymore!”

“You were just using him?” Impusa probed.

Mercinon replied, “He was my employee, I employed him. Then I deployed him when his work was done. Do me a favor, go fetch the reinforcements, ‘kay?” Impusa shot him a dirty look before she left the room.

Dason stared at Mercinon curiously. “So, you’re the one plaguing my kingdom?”

“That’s right,” Mercinon confirmed. “I’m Mercinon, your future king! So, do you wanna surrender now, or…?”

“Why would we surrender?” Exelda pondered. “There’s six of us and only one of you. In fact, what are we waiting for? Let’s arrest him now!”

They advanced towards him, but Mercinon wagged a finger at them. “Uh-uh! Do you really think I’d try to take over an entire kingdom without backup?” A noise sounded in the hallway, which prompted him to say, “Ah, here they are now!”

The six of them prepared themselves to fight, but instead of some sort of adversary, to their astonishment, Krimeno walked through the door! “See, I told you those voices weren’t just in my head!”

“You idiot!” Cyrek berated him. “You weren’t supposed to make yourself known! Now how are we supposed to report back to the troops?”

“You guys can go,” Dason regarded them. “He doesn’t have any powers, so we’re just going to arrest him and go.”

Cyrek and Krimeno looked to each other, shrugged, and left the room. Narcius said derisively to Mercinon, “So, do you wanna surrender now, or…?” He laughed hysterically at his own joke.

Krimeno and Cyrek burst back into the room, and Cyrek reported, “There’s a bunch of enemy soliders coming up the stairs!” Narcius’s hysterical laugh turned into a more nervous one.

“Just as the oracle predicted!” Mercinon relished.

“Wait, you consulted Melampia too?” Cyrek inquired.

Mercinon delightedly told him, “Of course! She’s given me lots of useful information on these supernatural jerks!”

Stocastin realized, “She’s the one that revealed the laughter defect that Kefalia has!”

“That bitch!” Akintos exclaimed.

“Tell me about it!” Krimeno remarked.

Dason and the five heroes stared at him in confusion, but before they could get an explanation for it, they heard the sound of many people marching towards them! Mercinon teased, “Any last words?”

Kefalia commented, “You are so short!”

Mercinon glared at her, and as a group of men in armor ran inside, Mercinon commanded, “Get them!”

As soldiers trickled in, the five heroes and Dason all spread out and fought many people at once. Stocastin was invisible and confused the soldiers around him with his unseen attacks. Mercinon’s men were not equipped to withstand his fireballs. Kefalia was was able to evade attacks in the air while she dove in and out to attack them. Narcius moved too fast for anyone to catch him or avoid his attacks. Exelda was able to gnab one of the soldier’s swords and easily fought against anyone who advanced on her. She felt slightly surprised to see Dason had skills almost equal to hers! Cyrek and Krimeno took on Mercinon, who kept trying to escape the room each chance that he could.

At first, Dason and the other heroes seemed outnumbered, but soon the royal guards entered in, which quickly gave them the upper hand. Mercinon knew he needed to act quickly. He snuck up Exelda and held a sword up to her neck! He made his voice boom across the entire room, “Nobody move!” Both sides stopped and watched in shock as he held her hostage as he slowly backed towards the exit. “Nobody move or your princess gets it!”

“I’m not a princess!” Exelda corrected him.

“Really?” Mercinon puzzled.

Exelda iterated, “Yeah, I’m a warrior!”

Mercinon stated, “Sometimes warriors can also be princesses!” No one had a response to that assertion, which made him remember his original plan. “Anyways, she’s obviously in charge, and if you try to stop me, you’ll lose her!” As he stood by the doorway, he ordered, “Now everyone put your weapons down!” The royal guards, Dason, and the other four heroes all reluctantly did as they were told. “That’s right, I don’t want any funny stuff as I leave!”

“You mean like this?” Exelda reached behind her and lifted Mercinon into the air! She turned around and threw him out of the window!

He managed to hold onto the ledge, so they raced over to push him over the edge. Before they could, they were stunned to see a giant hand pick him up! Narcius inquired, “Polyphema?”

Mercinon replied triumphantly, “Nope! This my secret weapon, Impusa! Ha! That means I win!” Impusa sat him down in the palace as she crawled in while her body began to shrink down. Mercinon maniacally cackled, and he joyfully regarded them, “Now, I’ll spare your lives if you promise to…”

As Impusa’s form took its original shape, they saw that she wasn’t alone! The Minotaur jumped out of her pocket, and before Mercinon could ask what was happening, Impusa coldly let him know, “Now you’ll get to see what it’s like to get eaten alive!”

“Nooooo!” Mercinon cried out. As the Minotaur charged at him, he pleaded, “Someone save me! Help! Hel…” He trailed off as the Minotaur started to devour him!

“He’s dead!” Dason called out.

Kefalia rejoiced, “That means we won!”

Everyone except for Mercinon’s surviving soldiers clapped and cheered for a moment, but when they caught a glimpse of the Minotaur eating him, they were grossed out. One royal guard revolted, “This is kind of hard to watch!”

“Yeah, let’s celebrate our victory downstairs!” another guard suggested. Most of the room agreed as they put shackles on Mercinon’s men and hurriedly left the room.

Exelda and the other heroes caught each other’s eye, and words couldn’t express their gratitude for each other, so they went in for a group hug. Dason watched them fondly, and when Exelda took notice of this, she invited him to join them. Their warm moment got interrupted when the Minotaur announced, “I’m full! You can have the rest.” Cyrek and Krimeno looked at the body with disgust.

Impusa expressed to the Minotaur, “You can keep it! In fact, you can keep this whole damn place! I don’t anything to do with it anymore! Oh, but where does that leave me then?”

“Do you wanna join our superhero thingy-ma-bob?” Akintos invited her.

“Really? You’d take me after I helped your enemy?” Impusa wondered.

Stocastin pointed out, “You did assist our adversary, but you also helped us defeat him, so it stands to reason that we can trust you.”

Impusa mulled it over for a moment and concluded, “Eh, why not.”

“Great! Can we go back to the palace now?’ Cyrek saw Mercinon’s body out of the corner of his eye and winced. “This place is really giving me the creeps!”

“Thanks for the chance to redeem myself,” the Minotaur told Impusa. “I’m not always a coward and I-.”

Impusa interrupted him, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! My bones ache! Let’s go! Quick!” She shuffled forward as fast as she could.

Dason kidded, “So, did anyone at the palace notice I was gone?”

Exelda grinned. “Aleta is more than ready for you to return!”

“You talked to Aleta?” Dason’s face fell a little, and he stood beside her rigidly. “Did she say anything about… What did she say to you?”

“She said…” Exelda’s memory stirred about her entire conversation with Aleta, and a specific detail made her heart race. She intended to tell him everything, but when she looked him in the eye, her instincts prompted her to wrap her arms around his neck and kiss him passionately!

“Aww!” Kefalia cooed as they watched them embrace.

Impusa sarcastically said, “Oh yeah, real romantic making out in front of the corpse of your enemy! Come on, let’s go!”

Exelda and Dason smiled at each other affectionately before they prepared to leave arm in arm. As everyone’s attention shifted ahead, they were shocked to see their path had been blocked by an incredibly wrinkled old woman who eyed them with very sharp, beady eyes. She addressed them, “Excuse me, I’m looking for my son, Mercinon. Do you know where he is?”

Akintos, Kefalia, Narcius, Stocastin, Exelda, Dason, Krimeno, and Cyrek all shifted awkwardly, and Narcius spoke up, “I’m sorry, but your son is… in the underworld now.”

“Really? I was just there and didn’t see him!” She put her hands on her hips in frustration. “Hmpf! Well, when you see him, tell him I’ll be back!” She disappeared into thin air!

Everyone stared blankly ahead trying to process what just happened. After a bout of silence, Krimeno commented, “I don’t get it! Is it over or not?” Everyone shrugged.

The End…?

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 20

She let out a deafening screech as she rose out of the pile of boxes and sprouted wings as well as feathers. It didn’t take long for her to transform into a giant eagle, and she immediately dove for Dason! Narcius used his super speed to push him out of the way, and she swooped back up into the air. Kefalia flew up to her and brandished her sword. She tried to strike Kefalia with her beak, but Kefalia dodged it. Impuse suddenly felt heat sting her underbelly, and when she looked down, she saw Akintos firing at her. Before Kefalia could slash her, she barreled down towards Akintos. When she got close, she saw a sword come from seemingly nowhere! She avoided getting stabbed, but as she halted, a crate rammed right into her chest! As she got pinned to the wall and struggled to breathe, the contents of the box spilled out, which made it light enough for her to push it off. She tried to reach for her cane, but just as he was about to grab it, Dason put his foot on it. “You’re really gonna take a cane away from an old lady?” she scathed.

“Why do you need it?” Kefalia questioned. “You can just wait until your powers reset and just become something that can walk better!”

“Don’t give her any ideas!” Stocastin advised her.

Impusa gave them both dirty looks and renewed her efforts to retrieve her cane. Exelda stared at her curiously until an idea struck her. She picked the cane up, and when Impusa urgently crawled towards her, she tossed it to Akintos and directed him, “Burn it!”

“Nooooo!” Impusa desperately cried. She tried to tone it done as she added, “I need it to walk!”

Exelda responded, “We’ll get you another one, we’re just going to destroy this one. Akintos, burn it!”

Akintos formed a fireball in his palm, and Exelda watched Impusa’s panicked expression deepen as the flame grew closer to her cane. “No! I want that one! Please don’t!” Exelda gave her a knowing look, so she unwillingly admitted, “Alright, fine! That cane is special. Now, give it to me!”

“You can’t use your powers without your cane, can you?” Exelda surmised.

Impusa snidely confessed, “Okay, fine, Missy! Not all of us are lucky enough to have our powers imbued within us! Some of us rely on a relic to enact our abilities! Happy now? Now, give it to me!”

“This cane makes people shapeshift? Woah!” Akintos closed his eyes and tired to make himself transform, but he practically strained himself trying. “How does it work?”

“It doesn’t work for just anyone!” Impusa said indignantly. “It has the ability to recognize-.”

Narcius requested, “Let me try!” He took it from Akintos and flipped it in various directions to try to make it work for him. “Hey, this is kind of fun!”

Impusa glared at him for his flippant attitude towards her precious object, and Exelda took her bout of silence to bargain with her, “We’ll cut you a deal: give us information on your boss and we’ll give you back your cane.”

“Okay, he colors his hair. Now, gimme my cane!” Impusa demanded.

“Give us useful information if you want it back,” Exelda clarified.

After she huffed from annoyance, she warned them, “Any minute now, my boyfriend’s gonna come help me, and then you’ll all be in trouble!”

Kefalia remarked, “You have a boyfriend?”

“Of course I got a boyfriend!” Impusa told her proudly. “Who wouldn’t want this body?”

“I wouldn’t!” Akintos retorted. Stocastin, Narcius, and Dason all shared his sentiments.

Impusa didn’t look ruffled by their slant. “Fine, your loss! I can turn into anything, you know!”

Dason pointed out, “Yeah, only for a minute!”

‘What, you need more time than that?” Impusa shot back.

“Yeah, a lot more!” Dason stated firmly.

Exelda reacted pleasantly to him, “That’s good to know!” Dason shrugged sheepishly, and Exelda shifted her focus back to business. “Ahem, anyways… We need something from you!”

Narcius exclaimed, “Mirrors!”

“What?” Exelda and Impusa asked simultaneously.

“That’s what was in the boxes!” He bent down and picked one up with excitement. “Hello, beautiful!”

Stocastin challenged Impusa, “Why do you have such an unwavering allegiance to your boss when he has shown you none in return?”

Impusa differed, “Excuse me? He’s been real good to me, and under his rule, I’ll have a much better life than I would under your parents’ rule.” She indicated to Dason. “Your laws haven’t been very fair to my people, so why should I help you?”

“Laws take time to enforce,” Dason countered. “Just because a law changes doesn’t mean people will obey them. Like we have a rule against treason, but that hasn’t stopped your boss from doing it!”

“I guess that’s true,” Impusa unwillingly acknowledged. “But he’s still promised me a fabulous lifestyle for helping him! I’d be crazy to give that up!”

Akintos brought up, “This guy can make you all kinds of promises too! Doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen!”

Impusa looked affronted. “You’re calling him a liar? He’s been nothing but nice to me, so why should I-?”

“He’s just using you!” Exelda told her. “He’s buttering you up so he can get what he wants out of you. I’m sure he’s not the first man to do that to you!”

“You’re wrong!” Impusa emphatically denied. “If you just met him, you’d know that he’s a genuine guy!”

Kefalia commented, “I don’t think any of us thought he was a girl!”

Stocastin started to correct her, “No, she meant-.”

Exelda interrupted him, “Too bad we can’t meet him and verify your story since we don’t know where he is!”

“Yeah, I guess we’ll just have to imprison you and have troops storm the entire area,” Dason tacked on. “I bet your boss won’t be too happy with that!”

Impusa didn’t seem too keen on that alternative, and everyone but Narcius, who couldn’t tear himself away from his reflection, watched her as she did a lot of thinking. Finally, she seemed to have come to a decision. “I gotta deliver this ransom money. If I go too late, he’ll have the night guard surrounding the place. I need to go now so no one has to deal with any guards.”

Exelda picked up on her hint right away, “Gotcha!” Dason agreed, and Stocastin as well as Akintos realized what she had really meant to say. Narcius wasn’t paying attention, and Kefalia looked lost in thought. Exelda addressed her, “We’ll explain later.”

“Now gimme my cane!” Impusa snatched it from a distracted Narcius and picked herself up. “I need to hurry!”

She trudged along as fast as she could, but she could still hardly inch along. Akintos wondered, “Wouldn’t it be faster if you turned into an animal that can move quicker?”

Impusa responded to him, “I gotta save my powers in case I’m attacked. It’s okay, I’m moving along just fine!” The rest of them watched her maintain her slow gait, which prompted Narcius to impatiently sigh.

As the sun began to set, Dason and the five heroes had weary expressions as they walked at a snail’s pace. “Can we at least play a game ’til we get there?” Narcius requested.

“No!” Exelda snapped. “And keep it down! We could be getting close, and we don’t want this guy to hear us! Plus, we need to stay vigilant for any traps he may have for us.”

“Wouldn’t Impusa have already run into these traps before us?” Akintos probed.

Stocastin replied, “She would know how to get around them, and we’re not close enough to her to see how she would do it.”

Akintos argued, “Then why can’t we just get closer? She already knows we’re following her, why can’t we just-?”

“Hey! The lady said no, and her word is final!” Dason admonished him.

Exelda smiled at his support, but she sternly reminded Akintos, “We need to stay out of this guy’s sight. Once his attention is on the gold and his guard is down, we-.”

Kefalia gasped, “Oh my Zeus!” Everyone turned to her with wrapt attention. “My ear finally popped!”

Exelda rolled her eyes. “Okay, no more talking until we get there!” They rounded the corner, and a giant palace suddenly came into view. “Well, we’re here, but I still don’t want you to talk!”

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 19

We’re going to have to split up,” Exelda stated grimly.

“Why does that sound so foreboding?” Akintos responded.

Exelda didn’t address his comment and made a quick decision, “Okay, Narcius and Stocastin, you go left. Kefalia and Akintos, go right. I’ll take the center path.”

The other four suddenly had looks of horror on their faces. Narcius nervously asked her, “We can’t go with you?”

“There’s five of us and three paths,” Exelda answered him, “One of us has to go alone, and I don’t want any of you guys by yourself! Now go! We-!”

“We can’t go without you!” Kefalia cried. “You’re our leader, and you always seem to know what to do! Without you around, we’ll be lost!”

Stocastin added, “Quite literally since we’re in a maze! Your presence just makes us feel safer!” Kefalia, Narcius, and Akintos agreed.

Exelda seemed touched by that sentiment. “You guys, that’s so-!” She heard a loud crash in the distance and went back to business. “We don’t have time for mushiness right now. I’ll meet you on the other side! Good luck!” She ran down the center aisle, and the others reluctantly went down their respective ways.

Holding her sword at the ready, Exelda walked down the empty row with extreme vigilance. She heard noises coming from a few different directions, but she tried not to think about it. She came to a corner, but before she could turn left, a tall creature with the top half of a bull and the bottom half of a man blocked her path! Before she could react, he commanded her, “Halt!” Exelda complied but eyed him suspiciously. “In order for you to pass, you must correctly answer a riddle. If you guess wrong, I will devour you! Now, here it is: A man puts on a clean toga every night before bed. On the first night, he puts on a blue toga and sleeps for five hours. He gets an hour more of sleep for each different toga he wears: blue, black, red, green, yellow, gray…”

“I don’t have time for this!” Exelda pushed him out the way.

He landed on the ground in a heap and began whimpering pathetically, “You’re mean!” Exelda rolled her eyes and shook her head as she left him there crying.

The next aisle was pretty short, and she saw another corner with an opening that led to a more open area. Excited to have made it to the other side of the building, she hurried over to the end. When she got there, she caught a glimpse of what looked like a large cage, and instinctively, she knew what that meant. “Dason!” She moved so fast and kept her eyes so fixated on getting to him that she almost fell into a giant hole in the floor! She felt the support from under her leading foot falter, so she stopped mid-track. She pulled herself away just in time to save herself from getting snatched by the jaws of a ravenous jackal! She looked down the giant chasm and saw about a half dozen of them eyeing her rapaciously. She glanced up and saw that this pit blocked the only way into the clearing, so she knew she had to find a way to get past it. She searched the area around her for resources, but aside from the wooden boxes, nothing else was near her. She suddenly got an idea from that though. She went back to the corner and hurled herself into the wall of crates. They toppled over, and to her delight, they completely filled up the pit of jackals!

She climbed over the boxes, and her heart fluttered when she saw Dason there! His hands and ankles were bound, and he stared at her with a mixture of excitement and worry. She rushed over to the cage, but all of a sudden, a thought occurred to her. When she got to him, she held her sword over him and directed, “Prove to me you’re the real Dason! Tell me something only he would know!”

Dason thought for a moment and came up with, “The last thing I said to you before I got captured was, ‘You’ll be fine without it, I promise!’”

“It is you!” She pulled a couple of the bars of the cage apart, and then she hopped inside to free his hands. “Sorry, I had to do that, I just had to…” she trailed off somewhat sheepishly.

“I know! It’s okay!” he assured her. After she freed him from the restraints, he inquired, “Where are the others?”

Exelda replied, “They’re still in the maze! Here!” She gave him her sword, and they immediately headed into the labyrinth.

While they explored another aisle, Exelda queried, “Do you know what other monsters are in here?”

“Just one,” he told her. “But I can’t say what form it may…”

Before he could finish his sentence, they saw Kefalia and Akintos lying against the boxes in a dead end of the maze, so they ran up to them full of concern. Exelda knelt beside Akintos and gently shook him. “Akintos! Kefalia! Please tell me you’re okay!”

Akintos yawned and stretched his body. “Yeah, we’re fine. Why do you ask?”

Exelda stood up and stared at them with her arms crossed. “What are you doing? Why are you both napping?”

Kefalia explained, “Well, Akintos said that instead of looking for the monster, we should sit here and wait for it to come to us. I thought I was a good idea!”

Exelda clicked her tongue out of frustration, but before she could say anything else, Dason asked them, “Did you see a monster go down this way? What did it look like?”

“That!” Akintos pointed behind Dason.

Dason turned around to see a giant spider right behind him! Exelda, Kefalia, and Akintos were ready to fight it, but Dason swung the sword he had and killed it immediately! “Wow, good job!” Exelda complimented him.

“Good thing Narcius didn’t get that monster!” Kefalia commented. “If he screams at a little spider, can you imagine what he’d do if-?” They heard a long, shrill scream in the distance, so they ran in that direction.

When they got to a small clearing in the center of the maze, they saw Narcius standing on top of a crate shaking and biting his nails. Stocastin entered the clearing from a different pathway, and when he saw Narcius, he called out, “There you are! What were you running from?”

Shakily pointing towards a pile of boxes, Narcius revealed, “It was a mouse!”

“Seriously?” Stocastin reacted incredulously. “With all of the monsters we’ve faced, you’re still afraid of a little mouse?”

Narcius started to object, “You don’t understand, it was a mouse, but-.”

“You’re right, I don’t understand!” Stocastin ranted. “What’s the worst thing it could do? Bite you?”

At that moment, the pile of boxes that Narcius had indicated the mouse went under tumbled apart as a lion arose from beneath it! “Yeah, that’s the worst thing it can do!” Narcius conveyed to Stocastin.

The lion growled menacingly towards Narcius, who was closest to it, so Akintos threw fireballs at it. It began to head in their direction, and while Akintos, Exelda, and Dason braced themselves for a fight, Kefalia flew up in the air and zoomed back towards it. She landed on top of it and held onto its mane as it tried to buck her off. Exelda ran over to it, but right when she was ready to strike, Kefalia got thrown off. Exelda backed away from it as it inched closer to her. Narcius used his super speed to barrel into it, which made it stop in its tracks. An invisible Stocastin went up to it and tried to stab its stomach. The lion sensed him and lunged at him, pinning him down. Before it could hurt him, Exelda pushed it out of the way, sending it hurling towards a wall of boxes. The boxes buried it, and as it emerged, Dason held the sword he had up to its nape and ordered, “Don’t even think about it, Impusa!”

“Impusa?” Exelda puzzled. “How did you know…?”

They watched in shock as the lion’s shape shrunk and morphed into the old lady that they saw in the streets! She couldn’t move under the weight of the boxes and looked thoroughly miffed about it. “Oh, just you wait until my powers reset! I’m going to turn into an eagle and claw your eyes out! Or maybe I’ll turn into a snake and-!”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Dason interrupted her. “The only reason you’re still alive is because my friends need to know-!”

“What in the name of Hades is in these boxes?” Narcius probed.

Stocastin jumped in, “Wait, so you can shapeshift?”

Impusa confirmed, “That’s right! I can morph into anything I want and-!”

“You can morph into anything and you chose this body?” Akintos questioned.

“You’re crazy! My body’s sexy!” Impusa retorted. “I look damn good for my age! I got an hourglass figure that drives the men wild and-!”

Dason cut her off again, “We only have about a minute before she can shapeshift again, so let’s focus on what’s important! Tell us where your boss’s headquarters are!” Exelda, Stocastin, Kefalia, Akintos, and Narcius all watched her response with great interest, but she pursed her lips and said nothing. Dason held the sword up to her neck and threatened, “You have three seconds to give it up! Three… two… one!” Dason raised the sword up, but before he could strike, Impusa opened her mouth and…

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 18

What is that?” Narcius asked as he gazed at a rectangular, one story building shrouded in shadows from the neighboring mountains.

“I have no idea,” Exelda answered him. “Probably not her house though!” She watched as the elderly lady dragged the wagon with the gold to a door on the far left.

Kefalia wondered, “Why would they make a building in the middle of nowhere?”

Akintos replied sarcastically, “So weird, why would a criminal need so much secrecy?”

Stocastin appeared before them and joined in on the conversation, “I actually don’t believe the guilty party would try to take over the polis if this individual had the ability to build a structure of this magnitude. If they could, then they could just find an empty land and start their own polis. Akintos is correct about the strategic value behind the malefactor’s plan, but Kefalia’s premise on the premises is valid. Premise on the premises? How droll!” He gave a very snort-filled laugh at his observation.

No one else found it quite as humorous, so Narcius changed the subject, “What do you think they would have originally put in a building like this?”

“Duck!” Exelda ordered.

‘Why would they store ducks in-?” Narcius started to say.

Exelda pulled Narcius behind some nearby brush, and they saw the old woman scoping out the area. The five heroes had nervous looks on their faces, but luckily for them, she didn’t seem to have spotted anything suspicious. She dug through her pockets and mumbled, “Let’s see… Where did I put my… Oh, here!” She found a key ring with several keys on it. “Oh gods, why in the world do I have so many dang keys? He should have marked them! Whatever! I’ll try… this one!” She tried it, and the key didn’t fit. “No? Okay, I’ll try this one! Hmm, this one? This one? Wait, that was the first key again! Not that or that or that… Wait, what about this one? Oh, here we go!” She opened the door, and the five heroes tried to catch a glimpse of what was inside. They could only see a blank wall as the elderly woman dragged in the wagon with the ransom money, and as she entered inside, they tried to see more with no success as the door got shut promptly.

Akintos queried, “Now what?”

“We’re going to follow her in,” Exelda told them all. “If we’re lucky, it’ll be an empty room with just her and the bad guy sitting in it. We’re not that lucky though, so we’ll see what monsters or traps might be waiting for us inside! Let’s go!”

They crept up to the door that the old lady had gone through, and they all hid behind Exelda as she cautiously reached for the latch. When she couldn’t open it, Exelda quietly lamented, “It’s locked! I’ll have to break down the door!”

Kefalia pointed out, “There’s another door over there.” She indicated to another door a little farther to their right.

“That door is probably locked too,” Exelda assumed.

“It’s not,” Narcius said after he tested the other door.

Exelda stared at the door in front of her and frowned. “That looks like it’s part of a different room.”

Stocastin put in, “Different room! This is hardly a palace, so it’s highly unlikely that it’s got more than one room in it!”

“It’ll be faster if I just tear down this one!” Exelda objected.

“You just want to break something, don’t you?” Akintos probed.

Exelda initially denied that claim, “No I don’t, I…” She mulled it over for a second and then admitted, “Well, I do, but-.”

Kefalia concluded, “Sounds like we should go in the open door then!” Stocastin, Akintos, and Narcius agreed with her and already started going inside.

“No! Guys, wait! Ugh!” When she saw them enter the building, she begrudgingly ran in after them.

They found themselves in a hallway with a wall to the left and wooden crates stacked up almost as high as the ceiling to their right. The room was too dark to see what was on the other side of the building, so Akintos found a torch on the wall and lit it. Narcius observed, “There’s a door right there!”

“Great! Come on, let’s hurry!” Exelda directed. They rushed over to a small door in the middle of the wall, but before they could see whether or not it was locked, they heard some loud growling behind them. With trepidation, Exelda remarked, “Akintos, please tell me that was your stomach!”

They slowly turned around, their eyes grew wide when they saw what perpetrated the noise. The creature standing behind them had six dog-shaped heads with sharp teeth, tentacle legs, and a cat tail! Kefalia flew above the monster while Narcius used his super speed to dash around it, and both actions confused the various heads. Stocastin turned invisible and tried to stab its heart, but his sword wouldn’t penetrate its skin. Exelda tried to chop off one of its heads, but even with her super strength, she couldn’t break through its hide either. Akintos threw fireballs at it, and it twinged the monster a bit, which prompted Stocastin to gasp, “Wait a minute! I know what this is! It’s a Scylla!”

While still darting between the heads, Narcius snapped back, “Are you going to tell us what that is? ‘Cause it’s a little hard to remember our research right now!”

Stocastin started to explain, “The base of its molecular-.”

“Cut to the chase!” Exelda interrupted him as she fended off a couple of the heads. “How do we kill it?”

“Sunlight!” Stocastin replied simply.

Kefalia, who flew close to the ceiling, noted, “There’s a window behind these boxes!”

Exelda stated, “I can knock the boxes down if you can get this thing away from them for a minute.”

“I know something faster!” Akintos stepped into Narcius path, which made him crash into him. Akintos stole Narcius’s mirror and handed it to Exelda, who tossed it up to Kefalia. Kefalia flew behind the boxes and pointed the mirror in various directions until the sun finally reflected onto the Scylla. The Scylla shrieked as the mirror broke, and just like the mirror, the Scylla also burst into a bunch of little pieces!

“My mirror!” Narcius wailed ramatically.

Kefalia winced as she picked a piece of glass out of her arm. “At least you didn’t get any-!” She screamed as she was suddenly dragged down below! Exelda, Akintos, Narcius, and Stocastin ran into a small opening in the boxes to go help.

They found her wrapped in a long, green vine that stemmed from a giant, red tulip sitting under the window! She tried to slip out of it, but its grip was too strong. Exelda ran over to her and held up her sword to free her, but another vine snatched Exelda up! She dangled upside down, so she couldn’t reach the vine to free herself. The vines slowly dragged them closer and closer to the flower until something sliced off Kefalia and Exelda’s vines from its base! “Thanks, Stocastin!” they both chimed in unison, but before he could reply, they saw more vines growing out of the flower!

All of a sudden, a green haze flew across the room, and the flower absorbed it, which made it immediately go limp! The five heroes turned around and saw a small but beautiful deer standing in the entrance that they had just gone through! Kefalia cooed, “Aww! Thanks, little guy!”

She flew towards it, and Exelda warned her, “Don’t pet it! It could be dangerous!”

“But it’s so cute!” Kefalia got near it, but before she could pet it, it snarled at them and then breathed out more green fog. Kefalia dodged it by flying upwards, and the others dived to the ground to avoid it. Kefalia yelled, “Bad deer!” and used her sword to cut off its head! When its body hit the ground, more of the same green smoke flowed out of its body and began filling up the air around them. The five of them ran down another aisle of boxes to get away from it.

They cautiously walked down the long row of wooden creates, expecting to get attacked at any time, After nothing seemed to be happening, Akintos commented, “Maybe we killed all of the monsters already!”

“That would sure be nice!” Exelda responded wistfully. “But I doubt it! Plus even if the rest of this building is empty, we still have to find our way back to the entrance and find that old lady! She’ll lead us to Dason and the person responsible for all of this!”

“I wonder what’s inside all of these boxes.” Kefalia peered closely at them as they passed by.

Stocastin put in, “It appears as though they were mass producing something before their operation got shut down. It mostly likely isn’t anything valuable or else the manufacturer would have absconded with it.”

“Maybe it’s something useful… like more mirrors!” Narcius looked at a lid of one with great interest.

Exelda advised him, “Don’t open it! It could be dangerous!”

Akintos assured her, “Don’t worry, it’s nailed shut.”

Despite what Akintos asserted, Narcius tried to open one anyways, but he couldn’t make it budge. “Fine! But if we pass by an open one, I’m looking in!”

“You know, curiosity killed the cat!” Akintos teased.

“But he’s not a cat!” Kefalia disputed.

Before anyone could correct her, they suddenly came to an intersection with three vast hallways that they could choose from. “It’s a maze!” Exelda said in awe. They heard a man scream in the distance, and Exelda exclaimed, “That’s Dason!”

“I can’t calculate which way would lead us to his location the fastest!” Stocastin fretted.

“What do we do?” Kefalia asked Exelda, and Exelda couldn’t come up with an answer right away. She gazed down each row and appeared to come to a conclusion that made her uncomfortable…

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 17

Is it something that lives in the ocean?” Narcius asked Stocastin while they were crouched behind some large-leaved bushes. Akintos had fallen asleep while leaning against a tree, Kefalia absentmindedly doodled in the dirt, and Exelda looked as though she were about to lose her patience.

“No,” Stocastin answered Narcius.

Narcius inquired, “So, it’s something that just swims in the ocean?”

Stocastin chirped, “Nope! That was twenty questions, so I win!”

“What was it?” Narcius questioned.

“An evia barbel,” Stocastin replied.

Narcius raged, “A fish? You said it didn’t live in the ocean!”

Stocastin educated him, “It doesn’t! It’s a freshwater fish!”

Exelda hissed. “Will you two keep it down? Someone could hear us?”

“Who can hear us? There’s no one here!” Narcius argued.

“They’ll never come if they hear us! They’ll think they’re being ambushed!” Exelda peered over the bushes and saw the small wagon with a pile of gold was still sitting there by itself. “Maybe it’s already too late! Maybe they already heard us and won’t come!”

Kefalia put in, “But we haven’t heard anyone coming all day!”

Exelda shot back, “What do you expect? They’re not going to bang a drum or sing at the top of their lungs! They’re traveling alone, so they won’t make a lot of noise! And how do you expect to hear anything if we keep making noise?” Kefalia shrugged disinterestedly. Exelda sighed and she turned to Stocastin, “Go back on the pathway and keep watch.”

“But it’s such a lackluster task!” Stocastin objected. “I can’t make any noise, so there’s only so many things I can do to occupy my-!”

“Go there or I’ll throw you there!” Exelda threatened.

Stocastin became invisible and muttered, “Okay, okay!”

They saw one of the branches move forward and then quickly back. Stocastin turned visible again as he fell backward and landed on top of Akintos’s belly. Akintos woke up with a start and reacted, “Oof!”

“Sorry!” Stocastin apologized before turning invisible again and heading out.

Akintos yawned and stretched his arms and legs. “Is it time for lunch?”

“Shh!” Exelda spat. “He or she could come any time to collect the ransom, and if they get scared away because of us, we’ll-!”

“We’ll get fired?” Kefalia guessed.

Akintos responded to that concept grimly, “If we’re fired, we won’t get paid! Okay, I’ll be good!”

Exelda almost spoke up about something, but as Akintos fell back asleep, she decided to let it go. The stick Kefalia had been drawing with snapped, so she flung it away from her. They heard Stocatin cry out, “Ouch!”

“What are you doing here?” Exelda quietly scolded him. “You’re supposed to be-!”

“Shh!” Stocastin interrupted. “Someone’s coming!”

Narcius and Kefalia’s eyes lit up, and Exelda shook Akintos’s foot to wake him up. All five of them peered behind the bushes, and they watched the pathway with baited breath. For a long moment, nothing happened, so they shifted uncomfortably. “Squatting like this really hurts my legs!” Kefalia softly complained.

Exelda ignored her and whispered to Stocastin, “”Are you sure someone is-?”

Narcius gasped, “Look!”

From a distance, they saw a small figure bobbing ahead. They watched with much anticipation, but they began to grow confused as to why it was taking the individual so long to arrive. When the figure got closer, they could see a dark skinned, elderly woman hunched over and clutching a cane. As she slowly hobbled forward, the five heroes began to doubt that she would be the one who the villain sent to collect the ransom money. Akintos slumped down to go back to sleep, but Exelda grabbed him by his toga and made him sit back up. Under his breath, Akintos questioned her, “What? It’s not like they’d send a moorish grandmother to-.”

“Don’t let appearances fool you!” Exelda warned him. “It could be a disguise.”

They continued to watch the old lady as she approached the small wagon with the gold. Kefalia whispered, “What if she takes the gold and just brings it to her house?”

Narcius quietly commented, “I’m pretty sure we can take her!”

Exelda shook her head but didn’t say anything because the old lady reached the ransom spot. She counted the gold there and looked reasonably satisfied, so she took the handle with her free hand, turned herself around, and made her way down the path she came from. Exelda softly instructed, “Stocastin, go out there and let us know when she gets far enough for us to follow.” Stocastin became invisible and waited by the clearing where the gold had been. After a long pause, Exelda quietly scolded, “Stocastin!”

Stocastin assured her, “I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you!”

Kefalia, Narcius, Akintos, and Exelda inched forward along a dusty, dirt road that was surrounded by trees. Narcius impatiently asked, “How long is this path?”

“I have no idea!” Exelda answered. “We never did get a chance to study the maps of the outer ridges of Chaos.”

“I never thought I’d say this, but I miss hiding behind the bush!” Kefalia moaned.

Akintos shared her sentiment, “I never thought I’d say this, but I wish we would move faster!”

Narcius squinted so he could see between the trees. “The sun is starting to set! I’m not facing anymore monsters in the dark! I’d say we tie her to the wagon and force her to tell us where this secret lair is!”

Kefalia and Akintos agreed with him, and Narcius readied himself to use his powers to get her, but Exelda grabbed his toga to stop him. “We can’t do that!”

“Why not?” Akintos probed. “We’re wasting so much time by-!”

Stocastin suddenly appeared before them and reported, “Still no updates!”

Exelda reminded him, “I told you, you don’t need to keep updating us like that! We’ll assume there’s been no changes until you tell us otherwise.”

“I know,” Stocastin acknowledged. “I was just bored.”

“Get back over there in case she disappears!” Exelda ordered him. Stocastin begrudgingly complied.

Kefalia puzzled, “Wait, does she have the same powers as Stocastin?”

Exelda replied, “I have no idea, but that’s the point! I know she seems like a harmless old woman, but the person responsible for all of this mayhem isn’t going to send just anybody for this important task! They sent her for a reason! We may not be the only ones in Greece who the gods gave supernatural abilities to! If we act too rashly, she may reveal a threat that could get one of us hurt or killed! Plus, if we approached her now, we don’t know if she would actually reveal her boss’s secrets. If she stays silent, then we may never find out the mastermind’s hiding spot! In order for us to save our kingdom, we need to make sure she gets all the way there!”

“What if she breaks a hip on the way there!” Akintos wondered. “Or what if someone else attacks her on the way?”

“Then we’ll save her life,” Exelda reasoned, “and she’ll owe us a favor.”

Akintos relished that idea. “Ooh, we can blackmail her! I like it! Oh please, Zeus, Athena, whoever’s listening, please let this happen!”

Exelda admonished him, “That’s a terrible thing to ask for! You shouldn’t wish harm on anyone!”

“Uh, she does work for the bad guy,” Narcius pointed out.

“Yes, but we need her right now!” Exelda disputed. “We should be calling upon the gods to get her there quickly and safely.”

Kefalia exclaimed, “Ooh, she’s on our side right now and doesn’t even know it! She has no idea how much she’s helping us right now!”

Exelda grinned slightly at this, but then she added, “Let’s hope she stays helpful when we get there!” All of a sudden, Stocastin appeared in front of them again. “Stocastin! Are we almost there, or are you about to get into a lot of trouble?”

“Probably both,” Stocastin told her. “I see a building in the distance!”

The other four looked shocked, and Exelda swiftly commanded, “Narcius, dart over to the troops and let them know the news. We’re almost there!” Narcius used his super speed to dash behind them, and Exelda repeated, “We’re almost there!”

As Stocastin turned invisible and returned to his post, Akintos excitedly remarked, “Finally, some action! I hope!”