Amouraq, Chapter 14

I’m not waiting anymore!” Emily exclaimed. “If that vulpecular’s owner shows up, they can finish the job, but I can’t take this anymore!” Stephen watched her raise her hands up to perform a spell, and he expected to watch her heal herself, but instead she put her hands over his legs and chanted, “Relevia delero! Medio ospin!”

“No, no, no!” Stephen objected as she repeated the same phrases and worked on a section at a time.

Emily retorted, “What, you’re the only one allowed to be selfless?” She again chanted, “Relevia delero! Medio ospin!” She paused and added, “I’m not changing my mind, so don’t even try!”

Stephen had intended to argue the point, but he knew that her determination had made up her mind. In addition to that, he knew the more he debated the issue with her, the more time she would take away from her healing herself and he wouldn’t let her stay in agony any longer than necessary! As he watched her weave her way up his leg, he could tell she was hurting a lot, and yet she chose to work on him first without hesitation! As she reached the top of one leg and made her way down the other, he noticed her wincing became more and more pronounced. Despite her obvious discomfort, she never once looked tempted to stop. It amazed him that she didn’t fuss or grumble once! Her unselfish concern for others buoyed up even more respect he had for her character, and he now believed that she was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside!

When she went over every inch of his legs, she finally shifted over to herself. He felt relieved to know that soon she wouldn’t suffer from her injuries anymore. He could feel his own maladies slowly ebbing, so he knew that it would work on her too. He heard a twig break in the distance, and he realized that, for a moment, he had forgotten where they were! He kept vigilant for any signs of danger, but he also really hoped that nothing attacked them while she nursed her broken bones. Every bit of noise made him paranoid, and he didn’t know how effective he would be against vicious, mythological creations in this condition! He positioned himself so that he could get up and fend off whatever threat came their way. He knew he would risk worsening his injuries by putting weight on it too soon, but he didn’t care! He would do anything to make sure that she stayed safe!

Luckily, she finished the mending process without incident! She exhaled and leaned back with an exhausted expression on her face. She glanced over at Stephen and informed him, “It’ll take a few minutes to work.”

“It’s starting to feel better already!” Stephen remarked as he bent his knee slightly. It still felt a little stiff and tender, but he could already feel a huge improvement!

“I knew it would!” Emily commented confidently. “Obviously, I practiced these spells a lot!”

Stephen playfully teased her, “Oh, how often do you injure yourself?”

Emily grinned at that. “I hurt myself a lot when I was a kid. It opens up a world of trouble knowing you can heal yourself almost instantly!”

Stephen chuckled, and then he asked her, “Is that why you healed me first? You’re used to getting hurt?”

Emily laughed, but then she shook her head. “You deserved to go first. I mean, it’s my fault you’re even in this situation!”

“You didn’t make the plane crash!” Stephen disputed. “It’s not your fault!”

“Yes, but you wouldn’t have been in the plane at all if you didn’t have to protect me!” Emily differed. “If I could have learned the teleportation spell, I wouldn’t have needed to fly to Ovelstrofe. I’m the one that put you in all of this danger! I’m really sorry!”

Stephen emphatically responded, “Emily, listen to me… None of this is your fault! Those other heirs probably knew how to teleport, and it didn’t lessen the danger for them! I got assigned to fight a mass murderer and to protect the current heir, so I would have been on that plane regardless of who was next in line for the throne! If I had to go through this ordeal with anyone, I’m glad it was you! You work hard without complaint, and you’re talented enough to get us through anything! You’re easy to talk to, and not everyone I’ve had to protect has been such enjoyable company! Anyone else might have made this difficult journey even worse, but not you! So, don’t feel bad for any danger I face while we’re here; it’s been an honor to serve with you!”

Emily’s eyes sparkled as if she were holding back tears, and Stephen could tell she didn’t typically get a lot of appreciation, which just didn’t seem right to him since she really deserved it! He had this urge to put his arms around her and give her a hug tight enough to show his support, but before he could, she softly spoke to him, “I’m so glad you feel that I’ve helped you, but you’ve helped me more than you could have imagined! I never could have gone through this without your help! Your bravery and kindness has made me feel more hopeful for the future than I’ve ever been in my life! You’ve got a gift for seeing the good in people when they need it the most, and I’m so lucky to have gotten the chance to experience your invaluable wisdom! I’ll probably never been able to repay you for all you’ve done for me! Thank you for everything!”

Her praise really touched him! He devoted his life to helping people, but if he got any thanks for it, it was aimed towards the job he did and not for the person he was! His heart beat wildly to hear someone he admired so greatly think so highly of him, and for a brief moment, he savored her appreciation so much that he wanted to give her a token of his gratitude. He felt an impulse to kiss her, but that thought put him into a panic. He didn’t realize it until right then, but he knew now that he had developed feelings for her that were deeper than admiration! He admonished himself for crossing professional boundaries like that! It wasn’t against the rules technically, but it did have improper implications for the legal side of things. Besides all of that, he couldn’t imagine such an amazing woman would actually feel anything romantic for someone as unworthy as him! A goddess destined to become queen, he didn’t think he stood a chance! He supposed that the difficult nature of their predicament may have stirred up his emotions, and he also speculated that the spells she used on him may have had some side effects that made him act foolish. Regardless of the case, he resolved to squash these feelings and focus more on the mission.

Suddenly, the noises Stephen had been listening to grew louder, and he felt sure that something was approaching them! He tried to stand up, and while he was able to bend his knees, his legs weren’t strong enough to prop himself up. He flipped himself over and crawled towards a nearby tree to use it for support, but he could sense a heat coming from the bushes nearby Emily, so he moved back towards her direction. That’s when he spotted a pair of yellow eyes staring at them! Before either of them could react, a large, dark creature suddenly pounced on Stephen! He saw an almost dog-like feline with oversized, pointy ears and sharp claws glowering over him, but instead of attacking him, it opened its mouth and brutishly uttered, “Give it back!” Stephen’s nerves were too shocked to let him speak, so the creature repeated, “Give it back!”

Stephen didn’t know what to say to it except, “Give what back?”

This had been the wrong answer to give to it. The creature howled in anger and brandished a claw to strike! Stephen grabbed a nearby branch and held it over himself. The beast’s claws tore right through it, but Stephen was able to use this as a momentary distraction. He pushed the strange animal away from him and rolled out of its way. He reached for his gun, but the creature caught up with him pretty quickly. Before it had a chance to assail him, Emily chanted, “Tamulta delero!” The beast’s spine straightened out, and it doubled over in pain. Stephen pulled out his gun, but the creature swatted it out of the way, which spun Stephen onto his stomach. The beast lunged onto his back, but Emily chanted, “Consciti pello!” A huge gash appeared on its side, and it decided to turn its attention towards Emily. Stephen quickly dove for his gun and immediately shot it. The bullet hit its shoulder blade, and Emily backed away from it as far as she could. It recovered quickly and managed to hop out of the next shot’s trajectory. Before it could maul her, a light bulb seemed to go off in Emily’s head, and she cried out, “We don’t have it!”

The creature seethed, “You lie!”

“Tail!” She pointed at its bare hindquarters, and a long tail sprouted out of it! “If we could give you your real one, we totally would!”

The beast looked to Stephen, who nodded in agreement, which only confused it. “But humans take!”

“We’re not with those humans!” Stephen assured it. “We’re different people!”

The creature had to really contemplate this concept, but after gazing at its temporary tail again, it finally put all of the pieces together. “Okay!” It scampered off into the darkness, and the two of them didn’t hear it make anymore sound.

Stephen and Emily each used the tree closest to them to pick themselves up, and then Stephen noted, “It headed towards the path.”

“That’s okay,” Emily responded unconcernedly. “It’s not looking for us anymore. If it had its tail, it wouldn’t be vicious at all, so obviously Xavier took it so it would attack us.” She bore a disgusted expression at that thought.

Stephen shook his head at the cruelty of that thought. “Well, if we’re lucky, it’ll find them before we do and destroy them before we have to.” Emily smiled at that thought, and with a slight wobble to their step, they walked back towards the pathway.

As a hit song blared out from the speakers, a bunch of well dressed young people danced on a packed dance floor. A couple of large, muscly men gruffly made their way around the room and closely watched the patrons that they passed by. All of a sudden, the one on the right hit the one on the left’s chest to get his attention, and he pointed to a group nearby. The guy on the left didn’t have to ask who he had been thinking of, he instantly knew! He saw a woman with long, wavy, blonde hair dance very skillfully in a gold sequined dress that amply displayed her very finely shaped figure, and even though he couldn’t see her face, he nodded in agreement. They strolled over to her and tapped her shoulder, and the man on the left invited her, “Excuse me, miss! Would you join us in the VIP section?”

With a pitch higher than she’d normally use, Allison replied, “Okay, sure!”

They escorted her to an opulent staircase led to a lounge with several cushy seats rested. A couple of other men wearing all black were up there watching over a few other scantily clad women, including Blythe. Allison recognized her instantly but did not dare to let her eyes linger. In any case, she didn’t see their potential victim around, so she stayed focused on the bouncers that brought her up there. They pulled a bottle of champagne out of an ice bucket and poured her a glass. The guy on the right requested, “Please join us in a drink!”

“Okay!” She eagerly took a sip and gushed, “Wow, it’s super yummy!”

The guy on the right bragged, “It’s made from the finest grapes grown in Amouraq!”

Allison pretended to be really impressed by that, and the guy on the left inquired, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a hostess at Splendor’s,” she fibbed.

“Are you happy there?” the man on the left asked.

Allison came up with, “I hate my job! No one’s ever nice to me! Not the customers! Not the staff! Nobody!”

The man on the left proposed, “What would you say if we gave you an opportunity to do a job that’ll not only make you rich but really well respected?”

Allison answered, “I would say that I’m listening…” The Tailypo Attacks

Amouraq, Chapter 13

No!” he cried out in anguish. He bolted away from the bubbling cauldron and began pacing in the dark room. “I thought the stupid cose might outsmart them, but destroy them?” He stopped his erratic movements and tried to collect himself. “It’s okay! It’s not like they’ll be gone forever! They’ll get reborn, and the queen will get them back! So, no reason for her to get angry with me, right?” He sort of wished he had someone else in the room to keep him stay calm, but he was also glad no one had been around to witness that! Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “No one saw why they destroyed each other! She can’t prove that my plan brought about their downfall! So, we’re gonna be okay!” He sat back down in his chair and reiterated, “It’ll be alright! Gotta stay focused!” He gazed back into the cauldron and watched Emily and Stephen trek through the woods.

“Charturna!” Emily chanted. Stephen glanced over at her, but nothing had happened. “No, maybe it’s… Charturma! Charturnia! No, that’s not it either!”

“Whatcha doing?” Stephen inquired as casually as he could. He could tell she was becoming frustrated with herself, and he hoped that a nonchalant tone would help her feel more at ease.

Emily lamented, “I can’t remember the spell to make paper. I thought that since I couldnt’ get your phone back that maybe we could relay a message to Ovelstrofe by air message. I wish I could remember the right incantation! I know I’m close!”

Stephen assured her, “Don’t worry about it! We’ll be out of here before you know it, and we can tell them in person!” Emily smiled gratefully, but she didn’t look totally convinced. “We’ve gotta be getting near the end of it! Usually, a dragon doesn’t show up until the story is almost over, right?”

“You would think so!” Emily half chuckled.

Stephen could sense that she still felt guilty for not coming up with the right method to produce paper, so he tried to think of something more humorous to cheer her up. Before he could say anything else, they saw that the path ahead appeared to have been overtaken by wet, grainy soil. Stephen asked her, “Is that mud, or did we actually come across quicksand?”

“It’ looks like mud to me,” Emily answered him, “but I’d rather not take any chances! Take my arm.” She held her elbow up towards him, and while Stephen had no idea what her intentions were, he trusted her enough to comply. After he linked arms with her, she really concentrated as she chanted, “Lanumaciae!” After a moment, she grumbled, “Oh, I know that’s the right spell! Why isn’t it working?”

Stephen told her, “I have trouble concentrating on things when I get too mad at myself. Why don’t you try again when you’re more relaxed?”

“But I’m supposed to know this one!” Emily fretted. “I should have practiced it at home, but I thought I had more time! Every seasoned sorcerer and sorceress knows how to do this! I shouldn’t have saved it for last! If we do make it out of here alive, what are they gonna think of a queen who can’t even do a teleportation spell?”

“They’re gonna think you’re a bad ass for surviving this forest with only basic spells!” Stephen exclaimed. “Just imagine what you’ll do when you’re more seasoned! When the time is right, you’ll be able to do it, you’ll see!” This seemed to do the trick as he saw her fully smile at him for saying that, which made him so pleased to see! He noticed a strand of hair had strayed over her eye, and he felt tempted to brush it off of her. That notion reminded him that their arms were still intertwined, and he suddenly admonished himself for acting so graceless. He quickly pulled himself away and cleared his throat to get his mind back on track. “It looks small enough where we could just jump over it.”

“Oh, okay, let’s try it,” Emily agreed. They both stepped backwards so that they could get a running start. When they got far enough, they both propelled themselves forward and leapt over the muddy patch. It worked! They both landed just on the other side of it.

All of a sudden, Stephen felt a warmth form behind him. They turned around only to see a wispy, orange flame had risen up rapidly! They stepped away from it, but it began to spread at an alarming speed! “Run!” Emily yelled, and they both took off. The faster they went, the closer it got to them! Emily chanted, “Fute!” It had no effect. “Rain!” she pointed towards the sky, and the water came pouring down, but the fire still raged on! Just when the flames were licking their heels, Emily chanted, “Bird!” twice.

Stephen felt his body shift into a smaller, more agile shape, and when he saw that his arms were replaced with wings, he immediately started flapping. Both he and Emily lifted themselves above the trees and started barreling themselves forward. The fire chased their path from down below, so Stephen questioned, “How long will it go?”
“Til it reaches the end of its territory, however long that is!” Emily replied as she put all of her energy into flying forward. They managed to get ahead of it, but it still accelerated rapidly! The two of them desperately needed to see some kind of sign of where the fire would stop, and finally, Emily shouted, “There! To my left!”

Stephen looked in the direction that she had indicated and spotted an animal with lustrious, white fur fleeing from the flames as quickly as it could, so they aimed to land by it. At that moment, Stephen could feel the effects of the spell wearing off, but instead of conjuring another landing pad, they both saw a tree branch that they could grab on to. Before they could grasp it, the bough got consumed by the fire! They unexpectedly plummeted to the ground, and as his feet hit the floor, Stephen could feel a terrible pain shoot up both of his legs! He could hear Emily moan from her hard landing too, and Stephen felt sure that both of them had broken some bones! They saw the flames engulf the tree, and to their horror, they found that neither of them could get up! They flipped themselves onto their stomachs and tried to pull their bodies away from danger, but they could feel that the heat had reached them! Stephen threw himself on top of Emily and shielded her, dearly hoping that this gesture would keep her alive!

Before the flames could touch them, the creature they had seen earlier emerged from the nearby bushes and stood boldly in front of the fire. Stephen wondered what the fox-like critter intended by this action, and then it opened it mouth. They felt a strong pull come from the animal, and it stunned Stephen to see it was sucking in the flames! In a matter of seconds, the fire had disappeared!

Stephen and Emily turned themselves over and saw the creature happily gambol towards them. Although Stephen was still hurting tremendously, he couldn’t help but grin as it merrily approached them. He pat its head, and it simpered contentedly. “It’s cute!” Stephen croaked out.

In a very strained voice, Emily informed him, “It’s a vulpecular.” The vulpecular hopped over to her, and she pet it as she continued to explain, “They feed on oxygen. Good nymphs often keep them as pets.”

The vulpecular chirpily barked at them, and Stephen told it, “Thank you for saving our lives!” It cheerily barked again before it ran off. “Considering how rare good spirited creatures are here, we got incredibly lucky!” A twinge of pain shot up his legs, and he winced. “Okay, maybe not that lucky! Do you think our friend there belongs to someone?” Emily shrugged. “So, now what?”

Alastair, Allison, and two other men stared at a map and watched a red dot travel from the end of one street to the other. One of the agents probed, “She’s in the middle of downtown Ovelstrofe, so could her boss’s headquarters possibly be there?”

“She may not go there right away,” a second agent pointed out. “She might be hanging out somewhere far away from his or her hideout because she assumes we’d be tracking her for a while.”

“Or the person could be hiding in plain sight,” Allison remarked. “She’s heading towards the clubbing area, so maybe the suspect is using all of the noise to cover up their own.”

A memory got stirred up for Alastair. “A club? One of the heirs owns a nightclub!” He reached for a stack of papers behind him and quickly scanned down to the section he needed. “Forty six Douglas Avenue?”

The first agent confirmed, “She just walked in there!”

The second agent queried, “Who owns it?”

Alastair put the file down for them to examine it. “He’s a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, not very high on the list though.”

“Not yet anyways,” Allison darkly commented.

The first agent asked, “So, is she going in there because he’s the potential suspect or a potential victim?”

Alastair shrugged and answered, “We’ll have to go there and find out.”

“How do we wanna do this?” the second agent questioned. “Should we send a SWAT team, or do we wanna wait for a judge to issue an arrest warrant?”

“No, no, no!” Alastair shook his head. “We can’t do any of those things. If he’s a victim, we could risk the lives of the patrons there while we try to capture him or her. If he is our suspect, he’ll be prepared for a police ambush. We’ll have to use a much subtler approach.” He turned to Allison and inquired, “Have you ever done any undercover work?”

Allison seemed taken aback by his premise. “You want me to go in there? Wouldn’t it be safer to brew a surveillance potion?”

Alastair reasoned, “If the suspect is there, he or she would use a concealment spell to block anyone from viewing his or her activities. No, if we want to learn anything, we need to integrate ourselves into their world.”

Allison wondered, “What exactly did you have in mind?”Vulpecular

Amouraq, Chapter 12

Blythe and Nathair were waiting in the interrogation room when Alastair burst in with his team excitedly whispering and pointing behind him. Alastair shushed his team before he took a seat opposite of Blythe, who still confidently leered at him. Nathair probed, “So, Agent Vendari, what do you got?”

Allison handed Alastair a piece of paper, and Alastair revealed to Blythe and Nathair, “What I have is a job offer for you, Miss Tanith.”

Whatever Blythe had expected him to say, it wasn’t that! His comment wiped the smirk right off of her face, and Alastair secretly reveled in how thrown off she got. Nathair addressed him, “Is that a joke?”

“I’m not mocking your client, Mister Lyndstrom.” Alastair pushed the piece of paper he had towards Blythe, who only had seconds to see it before Nathair snatched it up to examine it. “When we did a background check on her, we saw that she’s been out of work for quite some time. I figured by now she must be low on funds, especially after buying that plane ticket! Now, it so happens that we have an immediate opening for a receptionist position back at our Amouraqian headquarters! So, I thought, with all of your customer service experience, that you’d be a good fit for the job! What do you think?”

Blythe eyed Alastair suspiciously. “This is some kind of trick!”

Nathair reminded her, “Don’t talk to him.” He turned to Alastair and asserted, “I’m assuming since you’re giving her a job that you didn’t find any evidence against her?”

“We confirmed that she was, indeed, on board a flight from Seattle to here. According to two flight attendants, she never even left her seat. She did cause a big fuss for the crew the whole way there, almost as if she wanted to make sure that people knew that she was on that plane at that time.” Alastair glanced at Blythe, who continued to glare at him but said nothing. “While I do find it strange that she happened to handle a number of energy drinks at Seatac and then proceeded to miss her original flight, I don’t have any links suggesting that she had anything to do with the crime in question.”

“So, she’s no longer a person of interest in your case?” Nathair surmised.

Alastair confidently dismissed the idea, “I don’t know what I was thinking in the first place! It’s not like a simple retail worker could ever devise such an elaborate crime!” As he laughed derisively at his remark, he could see that he had successfully struck a nerve in Blythe, whose scowl overtly displayed a boiling rage at him. “She’s no criminal mastermind, but she’d make a great receptionist!” He turned to her and asked, “So, what do you think of my offer?”

“What do I think?” Blythe snarled. “I think you-!”

“Don’t say anything to him!” Nathair recommended.

Blythe snapped at him, “Don’t tell me what to do! Neither one of you respect me! Just because I was a minimum wage worker, you think I’m not worth anything! I don’t want anything to do with pricks who can’t see my potential!”

She got up to storm out, but Alastair stopped her by saying, “Is that what he did?” She froze on the spot as he went on, “Your new boss? He made you feel special and convinced you to do his dirty work for him? Oh, I just remembered, your last boss told us you listed your reason for leaving as ‘Found a New Opportunity,’ so I guess you wouldn’t be interested in my receptionist position after all!”

Nathair vehemently responded, “That was a mean, underhanded ploy to use on her!”

Alastair retorted, “What do you care? I think she just fired you.”

Nathair ignored him and ordered Blythe, “Don’t say anything else! We’re going to file a complaint about his behavior!” Alastair looked undeterred as he ushered her out of the room.

When Nathair and Blythe were out of earshot, Alastair whispered to his team, “Did it work?”

“Like a charm?” Allison showed him another piece of paper, and he grinned victoriously.

“Lumenia Minimius!” Emily chanted as she pointed her palm directly in front of her. A soft light cascaded around her, and their dark path illuminated as if she had held a small flashlight. With a faint glow around her, Stephen couldn’t help but remember that she was a descendant of a goddess! She had an unearthly characteristic about her, and if she hadn’t already convinced him on the concept of magic being real, this image alone would have been enough! “What?” she inquired curiously.

Stephen snapped out of his torpor. He found her irresistibly fascinating, but he couldn’t keep letting his imagination distract him, especially when they had a dangerous criminal to apprehend! Connecting the two of them together, Stephen wondered, “If Xavier’s a descendant of King Alexander too, then he also comes from the Nymph Queen of Good. With her blood running through his veins, how can he possibly do so much evil?”

Emily shrugged. “I dunno. How does anyone ignore their conscious? How does anyone cause so much suffering without it tearing them apart?”

Stephen put in, “Well, the thing about bad guys is that they never think that they’re the bad guys. In their mind, they’re the ones fighting against evil. I’ve seen hundreds of people like that, I just didn’t think it applied to you guys since you come from the embodiment of all things good.”

“He could be the descendant of someone evil too,” Emily pointed out. “If that’s the case, it would come down to his own choices.”
“Yeah, I guess it…” Stephen trailed off as he noticed a wispy, bright red flame far ahead of them. They both stopped talking and cautiously crept closer.

As they neared the strange flame, they could hear the faint sound of women’s voices whispering. Emily quietly chanted, “Fute!” The light around her extinguished, and she very softly relayed to Stephen, “Nymphs!”

Stephen stepped closer to her and muffled his speech as much as he could, “How do we tell the good ones from the bad?”

“We don’t,” Emily replied in a hushed tone, “They’ll tell you! But that tree said the good ones were scarce, so we should avoid them if we can help it.”

“Right!” Stephen agreed. They moved as stealthily as they could, but Stephen half worried that they could hear his heart pounding! He had snuck by enemies before, but he always had a plan to fallback on if he got caught. If the nymphs were evil, their only shot for survival was to outsmart them. He tired to think of ways to do that, but he found it hard to concentrate on the road ahead, so he hoped for the best in order to press on.

As they got into the vicinity of the nymphs’ fire, Stephen thought the flame almost looked like pure light. He assumed it generated some warmth when he saw five females sitting around it. He wasn’t close enough to see any details about them, but he could tell that they were much taller than him! They were on a grassy hill to their right, so Stephen and Emily crawled on their stomachs to avoid detection. He couldn’t see them, and he inwardly prayed that they didn’t have any way of seeing Emily or him. Traveling in such a manner was more time consuming than walking, which really prodded at his nerves. He couldn’t wait to get out of their periphery!

Without warning, the voices fell silent and the sky grew darker, and Stephen sincerely hoped that they were simply turning in for the night. Emily and he froze on the spot in case they were ambushed, which he truly dreaded since they had no plan. After a moment of pure silence, Stephen and Emily suddenly found themselves flying in the air! They were shoved to the top of the trees, and ropes made out of vines magically bound them! Emily raised her hand up to do a spell, but a harsh woman’s voice cackled, “Silly sorceress! Your human ancestors tainted your bloodline, so you can’t hurt us!”

A group of very tall women in sexy, toga-like clothing winglessly flew up to them, and the haze of light they emitted really highlighted the malicious expressions on their faces. The woman in green introduced herself, “Hello, you fools! I am the Nymph of Destruction!”

The one in purple introduced herself, “I am the Nymph of Abuse!”

The one in brown introduced herself, “I am the Nymph of Torture!”

The one in red introduced herself, “I am the Nymph of Murder!” She paused and added, “Well now, ladies, how shall we do this? Should we show them mercy and kill them quickly?” The others snickered at that snide joke.

The Nymph of Abuse relished, “Let’s have some fun!”

The Nymph of Torture queried, “Any last words?”

For a brief instant, Stephen worried that they had landed themselves in an unbeatable situation, and he considered taking a grandstand as his final act, but he couldn’t let them do their malevolent deeds to Emily! It sickened him to think of the jubilation that her pain would bring this vile team! All of a sudden, that train of thought hit him with a stroke of inspiration. “If I have no choice but to die tonight, I only have one request: Please let the most powerful one do the honor! Which one of you would that be?”

“That’s easy! I am!” the Nymph of Destruction responded.

“No, I am!” the Nymph of Murder argued. “Hello, I kill people!”

The Nymph of Hate jumped in, “And what is the motive for murder? Hate! I am the most powerful!”

The Nymph of Abuse passionately differed, “What is responsible for the cruelest murders? I am, which makes me the most powerful!”

All of the nymphs ferociously argued with each other, and their fury grew more and more intense. Their rancor heated up more and more until it internally boiled over. They each conjured a ball of light and threw it at each other! In a flash, the nymphs were all destroyed!

Emily and Stephen’s constraints also vanished, and they slid to the forest floor. Emily gazed at Stephen in awe. “How did you…?”

Stephen very modestly explained, “Their minds were already corrupt, so it wasn’t hard to corrupt them some more!” He scanned the area just as a precaution. “They are truly dead now, right?”

“You destroyed the embodiment of their spirits,” Emily informed him. “They’ll be reborn in the hearts of humankind.”

“How long will that take?” He thought about it for a second and decided, “Actually, let’s not wait to find out!” Emily agreed with that sentiment. After they helped each other up, they hurried away from that spot and raced down the path.Evil Nymphs

Amouraq, Chapter 11

I’ve made up my mind!” Emily unexpectedly declared as they traversed down a rockier part of the pathway.

With his curiosity peaked, Stephen inquired, “About what?”

While balancing herself as she climbed down the stony terrain, Emily replied, “My first act as queen. I’m not going to any meetings or looking over any laws, I’m going on a spa weekend!” She rolled her shoulders to loosen them up.

Stephen laughed heartily at this not only because he could relate to her but because he felt so relieved to hear her talk about the future optimistically. He didn’t think she totally meant it, but it seemed like a step in the right direction.

“What about you?” Emily queried.

“What do you mean?” Stephen responded.

Emily clarified, “After this is all over, assuming we survive, what do you plan to do?”

Stephen told her, “Well, Pam usually makes me take some time off after an assignment like this, so I’ll rest up until I get called for the next one.”

“Who’s Pam?” Emily asked as casually as she could, but Stephen thought he detected a hint of jealousy in her voice, which threw him off a little. He didn’t understand what Emily would envy her for. A theory popped into his head, but he dismissed it immediately and didn’t entertain the ludicrous notion any further.

“I’m sorry,” Stephen apologized. “I should have been more clear. Pam is my boss. You’ll hear her introduced as Agent Dulcie, but we’ve worked together long enough to go by a first name basis, except on more formal occasions.”

Emily chuckled, “Oh!” She thought about it for a moment and observed, “Your work has to force you to take time off?”

Stephen shrugged. “What can I say? I love my job, and so many people out there need my help.”

Emily asked him, “What about your family? You don’t like spending time with them?”

“Well, sure, sometimes…” Stephen answered somewhat awkwardly. “They work a lot too though. Usually, after I finish an assignment, I sleep for a few days, and then I get bored and I wanna get back out there.”

“So, no hobbies?” Emily questioned. “What do you do for fun?”

Stephen expressed, “My work is fun!” Emily gave him a judgmental look, so he corrected himself, “Okay, it’s not always fun, but I’m certainly never bored!” Emily nodded but didn’t look totally convinced, so he went on, “There’s always a new adventure to go on! I get to explore new places and meet new people, and at the end of it all, I get to put a dangerous criminal behind bars! Just seeing the looks on the victims’ families’ faces when they get the good news makes it all worth it!”

Emily half smiled at his fervor, but she also seemed to gaze at him piteously. “What about the future? I mean, are you just gonna keep taking assignments ’til you die of old age?”

“Well…” Stephen couldn’t help but notice her disappointment at this thought, and that really stung him. He admitted, “I hadn’t really thought about it before. I guess I just got so caught up with winning all of these cases that it just always felt natural to jump right into the next one. I hadn’t really thought about anything else I wanted to do outside of work until right now with you.” He realized that the way it came out could imply something that he hadn’t intended, so he tried to clean it up, “I mean, because you brought it up and…” The surprised expression on her face made him think that she hadn’t gotten the wrong inference, and suddenly he felt very uncomfortable. He could sense himself getting flustered, which he found odd. Usually, he never got this tripped up, and he didn’t totally understand why he had gotten that way now…

He didn’t have time to keep analyzing his moment of awkwardness because they reached a point where they could see that their path led right inside of a cave! The rocky mass blocked their way as far as they could see, so Stephen remarked, “It doesn’t look like we have any other choice but to go through it!”

Emily scanned the area and concluded, “Even if we tried to climb over the mountain, we’d end up waking up whatever’s in that cave! It’ll be a lot easier to fight this monster on solid ground, though if we go too deep inside, we’d up getting cornered or tunneled in!”

“Maybe the creature will get drawn out when we get closer,” Stephen suggested.

“Well, it hasn’t gotten lured out by the noise we’ve been making so far. Maybe it’s only triggered by movement. Oh, that gives me an idea!” She pointed both of her palms at some nearby rocks and chanted, “Dissiliunt!”

The stones by the cave’s mouth burst, and all of a sudden, they heard a deafening shriek ring out from inside the adit! The earth shook as the beast inside raced to the entrance, and they hid behind some bushes to observe it as it emerged. Neither of them were surprised to see a large, scaly creature run out, but they didn’t expect to see three long necks with three ferocious heads attached! Stephen and Emily stood as still as they could as they watched the dragon search for whatever made the noise that disturbed it, and it began to grow irritated when it couldn’t find what it was looking for. It let out a frustrated huff, which released a bunch of steamy, billowing steam out of its mouth. It drifted in Emily and Stephen’s direction, and it overwhelmed their senses. They couldn’t help but cough, and the movement from that alerted the dragon. Their hearts raced as it barreled towards them!

Before it could reach them, Stephen jumped out onto the path and veered it away from Emily’s direction. All three heads snarled at him, and he braced himself to dodge whatever attack it threw at him. Emily chanted, “Sword!” He received the weapon just as one of the heads lunged towards him! He heard Emily chant, “Sword!” again, and he saw that the heads were distracted as she attacked them from the left. Stephen took this split second advantage and swung his sword as hard he could. The head on the right fell off of its body! The dragon roared when the other two heads witnessed what happened, and Emily took the opportunity to chop off the left head! Unfortunately, their swords disappeared after that! The remaining head pushed Stephen to the floor and turned its attention to Emily. Stephen threw a rock at it, and it let out an angry howl before it spout fire at him! Stephen rolled out of the way in time to avoid getting hit, and Emily loudly chanted, “Invertio rint!” The dragon suddenly shrank to the size of a beetle! It tried to run away from them, but Stephen was able to squish it with his foot! He examined the bottom of his shoe and confirmed that it had died!

Emily offered her hand to help him up, and he gladly accepted it. When they were face to face, he complimented her, “You’re getting so much better at this rescuing thing!”

“Thanks!” She smiled gratefully, which he couldn’t help but return. They lingered for a moment, but then Stephen felt a warmth form on the sole of his boot. He saw that it smoked slightly, and when he remembered that the dragon’s remains where still on there, he quickly tried to scrape it off on the grass. Emily directed him, “Hold still!” She pointed two fingers at him and chanted, “Opieum clerivol!”

He felt that familiar wind envelope him, and his entire outfit had gotten clean again in an instant! “Oh right, magic!” Stephen had forgotten that she could do a spell for a task like that.

“You forgot? You just saw me use it against the dragon ten seconds ago!” she teased him.

“Okay, wise guy!” He playfully shoved her, and she did the same back to him. As they walked towards the cave, he kidded, “You know, it’s a felony to strike a federal agent when they’re on duty!”

Emily pointed out, “We’re not on American ground!”

Stephen grinned. “Then it’s an international crime!”

“I think as queen I have diplomatic immunity!”

“It doesn’t apply to you until after your coronation!”

“Go ahead, try to arrest me, I dare you!” She held up her hand as if she were going to hex him, and they both laughed as they entered the cave.

The cauldron bubbled as he watched Emily and Stephen’s figures disappear inside of the rocky crag. “Hmm, you’re getting better at this! That’s okay, nightfall will be here soon; let’s see how well you do in the dark!” He snickered maliciously at that thought. “Let’s see how our red herring is doing…” He swished his hands over the potion, and Alastair’s face came into view…

Alastair read over a file while his team did research on the computer. He thought out loud, “Blythe Tanith, twenty six, retail worker with no prior criminal history…” He stared at her mug shot and wondered, “What do you stand to gain from this?” He turned to his team and inquired, “Did you find anything?”

“Nothing useful,” Allison reported.

“Wait a minute!” the man next to her exclaimed. All eyes were fixated on him as he revealed, “Her work history shows that she quit her job right before the murders started!”

Alastair found this news interesting, but he didn’t let himself get excited yet. “That’s not enough to hold her. Call her last employer and see if they can give us more insight into her mindset before it happened.” He stared at her picture again and suddenly got struck with an idea. He picked up his cellphone and called Agent Dulcie. “Agent Vendari here, do you think you can find some of the people who were on Miss Tanith’s flight?”

Amouraq, Chapter 10

How do you defeat a dragon?” Stephen wondered. His question seemed to have surprised her, so he added, “Out of all of the storybook monsters, I know there’s gotta be a dragon out here somewhere! How does a sorceress fight them?”

Emily replied, “It depends on what kind of dragon it is.”

Out of all of the responses he envisioned, he didn’t expect to hear that! “There are different types of dragons?”

“Oh sure!” Emily expounded, “It’s just like there’s types of fires. They all have different qualities that make up its structure, and so there’s different ways to extinguish it. The same goes for dragons.”

“How many different kinds of dragons are there?” Stephen asked.

Emily shook her head. “I don’t remember. Honestly, I spent most of my time studying spells that would help me defend myself against humans, not monsters! I didn’t expect to deal with a bunch of mythical creatures! Not to mention potentially dangerous natural elements! I just thought whoever it was would fight me themselves! He must have known that, that’s why he’s putting us through this!”

Stephen reassured her, “It’s not your fault! That’s a reasonable expectation to have. It’s what I would have thought would happen if he caught up with you. I knew he liked to take his time and torture his victims, but I didn’t think he would pull a stunt like this! I mean, I expect measures to be taken to guard wherever a suspect is hiding, but it’s unusual for a suspect to draw us to him to go through those measures! He’s going the extra mile to watch us do this, but why? What makes us more special than the others? Especially me! I have nothing to do with the lineage to the throne, so why keep me alive?”

“I’m glad he did!” Emily remarked. “I would have been toast if you weren’t around! Of course, if I was by myself, the copiebomb would have been pointless! But still, I’m so glad you’re alright! I really hate seeing innocent blood getting spilled!”

“Maybe that’s why he brought me here,” Stephen conjectured. “He thinks he’s tormenting you by making you responsible for keeping a cose alive while you use your under practiced magic to get through the forest!”

Emily considered that notion, but then she differed, “I think there’s more to it than that. King Patrick wanted to hire you. There’s a reason why you didn’t learn about magic until this morning! Amouraq keeps that a secret from most of the world in order to maintain the natural order of things, and we’re only allowed to tell a cose about it if they’re family. That’s it! Even the coses who move to Amouraq aren’t allowed to know! And yet, King Patrick chose you for this case! He’s a very gifted sorcerer, so his intuition is infallible. Clearly, he sees something special in you! So, my guess whould be that Xavier’s keeping you alive to find out what that is.”

This revelation kind of baffled Stephen. While he he had a proven track record of solving difficult cases, and he was adept at keeping secrets, it astonished him to think that such a powerful being saw so much potential in him and trusted him above anyone else with such a vitally important matter! He was always willing to face a challenge even when the odds were against him, but he seldom got recognition like that! Very few people even knew who he was, so it flattered him to hear such praise! “Well, I certainly wouldn’t want to let him down! I’ll repay him for his faith in me by delivering you to Ovelstrofe safe and sound before he… Well, I wish I could meet him under better circumstances!”

“You sound so sure that we’ll make it there!” Emily noted.

“I have to!” Stephen exclaimed. “No matter what the chances against you are, you have to believe you’ll succeed! If you keep thinking you’re doomed, you will be! But if you believe you’re gonna make it, you’ll have the confidence to get through anything! Plus, it’s a little more fun to imagine good things happening to you! Have you even thought about what you’ll do as queen?”

Emily seemed too shocked by the concept to really entertain it. “I never really thought I’d make it that far! Before I became next in line, when I thought about the future, I just wanted to have an ordinary life. I never wanted power! Is that awful? Would people even want me around knowing that I didn’t want to be queen?”

Stephen assured her, “Of course they would! It’s not about wanting power, it’s about what you do with it once you have it.”

Emily smiled gratefully to him, which made him automatically smile back. Before either of them could broach the subject again, their pathway began to slope down and a river came into view. Both of them stopped in their tracks as they gazed at its calm, steady flow with suspicious eyes. Out of all of the folklore Stephen heard, he didn’t remember any characters who had an easy time crossing a river! He said to Emily, “There’s no bridge, so no trolls, right?”

Emily giggled, “Probably not, but I’ll never say never in this forest!” Stephen chuckled, but she did have a legitimate point. Emily watched the water contemplatively. “There’s a spell to create a bridge, but I didn’t learn it. I could make a temporary one, but we’d only have seconds to cross it before it disappears, and how much do you wanna bet something will show up to slow us down?” Stephen nodded in agreement. “I wish I got the hang of that teleportation spell! That’s probably what Alexander did.”

“Well, what’s the alternative?” Stephen queried. “We could swim across, but I’m almost a hundred percent certain something will attack us if we go in there!”

“Right!” Emily agreed. “So, if we can’t go through it or over it… Wait, if we went high enough, we could probably avoid whatever trap is waiting for us in there! But how do I…?”

She trailed off as the river stopped flowing. As the water began to slowly rise up, both of them started to back away. When the water formed a fist, they both turned around and tried to run away. They were too late though, the aquatic arm grabbed them! The current was strong enough to grasp them tightly, so they couldn’t break free! It raised them in the air above the riverbed, and it began to sink back into its original form. Before it could drown them, Stephen shouted, “Change us into a temporary cloud!”

“A cloud?” Emily repeated.

“Trust me!” Stephen yelled.

Emily made a claw at him and chanted, “Cloud!” before quickly doing the same to herself. Right as they reached the bank, Stephen felt himself grow incredibly light, and the river could no longer grip him . As they floated up, he could see Emily had maintained her shape but otherwise had converted into a wispy, white puff. The river roared as it went back to its normal movement. “It worked!” Stephen rejoiced.

They floated higher and higher, and slowly Stephen felt less like he was floating and more like he was underwater. Emily directed him, “Swim as far away from the river as you can!” He watched her form do a breaststroke across the sky, so he followed suit. To his relief, he saw that they had made it far enough away from the river’s territory! That feeling of easement didn’t last long as he felt himself growing denser, and it occurred to him just how high up they were…

All of a sudden, they were falling! Stephen braced himself to hit the ground until he heard Emily chant, “Giant sponge!” Instantly, the floor below him now had a soft and springy-looking surface! The impact of his body’s velocity made him sink in for a moment, and as soon as he bounced back up again, he saw Emily barreling down almost right above him. He held out his arms, and she landed in them stomach first! She remarked, “Wow, that was almost a cliché!” They both chuckled at that, the sponge suddenly disappeared, which sent them both tumbling down! Stephen landed on the floor with a gentle thud, and as he lowered his arms for Emily, he joked, “I turned into a cloud today… Probably not gonna include that in my report!” Emily laughed, and they continued down the pathway.

Alastair marched down the hallway of the detention center with a determined look on his face and his team right behind him. When he got to the right spot, he waited for his team to go into a door adjacent to his before he entered into his own. There she was, that mysterious, red-haired woman from the surveillance tape! She cockily sat at the small table that faced the two-way mirror, which is exactly what he had expected to see. He did not expect to see anyone else in the room, but a man in an expensive suit sat beside her with an irritated expression at Alastair’s intrusion. “Who are you?” Alastair probed.

“Nathair Lyndstrom.” He slid a business card across the table. “I’m representing Miss Tanith. I understand that you’re the one who requested her retainment.”

“That’s right.” Alastair sat down, but he didn’t move his gaze away from Miss Tanith, who confidently smirked at him. “She’s a person of interest in my case.”

Nather questioned, “On what grounds?”
Alastair explained, “We have tow people missing after their pilot was poisoned from an item that she handled, so we have reason to believe that she has something to do with their disappearance.”

“Do you have any proof that she tampered with this item?” Nathair asked him. Alastair struggled to come up with a reason that would satisfy him. He knew that he would chew up his argument of her simply picking up the drinks implicated her in a crime, and no one had recovered the plane, so he couldn’t prove the cans she handled were even the reason that Captain Lefevre ingested the potion in the first place! “That’s what I thought. I think we’re done here!”

“Wait!” Alastair ordered. “We have the right to hold her for twenty-four hours!”

Nathair cringed and unwillingly relented, “Fine! But if you don’t come up with any evidence of her wrong doing by tomorrow, she’s leaving!” Before he left, he advised her, “Don’t talk to anyone without me present!”

As he stormed out, a police officer came to take her away. She didn’t say anything to him, but he her leer spoke volumes! He didn’t flinch in front of her, but as soon as he was alone, he shrugged to the mirror and cried out in frustration, “Now what?”

Amouraq, Chapter 9

He cackled slightly as he watched Emily and Stephen’s opalescent images proceed through the forest with vigilant looks on their faces. He then heard a soft knock on the door, and his cold, booming voice commanded, “Enter!”

A man in a brown robe with a hood that partially covered his face stood in a hallway with very weathered and worn wooden walls and hazy lighting, and after he got permission to to come in, he turned an antique knob and listened the door groan as it opened. He poked his head into the room, and the only thing he could see was a nearly translucent liquid that glowed inside of a small cauldron. He cautiously walked in and shut the door behind him. He couldn’t see anyone else in the room, so he called out, “Your majesty?”

“Come look at this!” A pale hand beckoned him over to the softly simmering pot. After the man timidly approached the disk it sat on, he gazed at the scene depicted in the field. The person shrouded in darkness leered, “Look at them! So brave! They’re so confident after defeating one little monster! They got by with rudimentary knowledge and dumb luck! They’ll need more than that to get through what else lies in the forest!” He snickered maliciously.

The man grinned slightly, and then he informed the other man, “Your majesty, we received word from Ovelstrofe that King Patrick’s condition is deteriorating. They think he’ll go within the next twenty-four hours!”

“Excellent!” the man in the shadows rejoiced. “With any luck, these two will be gone before then and our dear leader can die knowing Amoruaq won’t fall into the hands of any of his pathetic people!” He rested his feet on top of the desk, and he delightedly commented, “It’s only a matter of time now! I can feel it!” The robed man didn’t say anything else, so the other man ordered, “Go check on my business, will ya? We have to do our best to maintain appearances! So far, we’re not a suspect, and I’d like to keep it that way!”

“Yes, your majesty!” the hooded man responded obsequiously as he bowed and exited the room. The man’s thin lips sneered as he continued to keep an eye on Stephen and Emily.

Stephen felt relieved that they had gotten past the overly shaded part of the pathway, but he noticed that quite a bit of bushes lined the road now. They weren’t taller than his hips, but they were thick enough for something to hide behind it without getting seen. Emily seemed to be staring far ahead of them, and he could tell she kept her senses on high alert for the slightest change. They had both walked away from their struggle with the gargoyle feeling victorious, but after a while, the anticipation of the next creature they’d encounter began to loom in. Stephen had gone into enemy territory before, but he always had a much better idea of what to expect. It was unnerving to him to have no tangible notion on how their journey would fare, and it felt odd to think his best intelligence on the matter came from storybooks he read as a kid! Sometimes he felt as though he had wandered into a vivid dream! If it weren’t for his aches and sores, he would have been sure that he had! He comforted himself by remembering that at the end of the path, they would find the suspect and put a rest to this strange and dangerous case!

The air suddenly grew warmer, and not in a comforting way as if the sun were shining more. It had a static feel as if lightning had struck nearby. Emily and Stephen both stopped in their tracks, and Stephen questioned, “What is that?”

Emily scanned the area around them while she tried to recall what she knew about the subject. “It’s a sign of something! Something with a magical currency. What was it?”

“Is there some way we can reveal what’s hiding around here?” Stephen asked.

“Yes, but if they’re protected by any kind of cloaking or concealment spell, it won’t be effective,” Emily answered. She thought about it for a second and shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt to try!” She pointed her palms at the bushes on their right and chanted, “Ostendare!” It had no effect, so she tired again with the bushes on the left. “Ostendare!” Nothing happened, so she pointed her palms ahead of her. “Ostendare!” After it had no reaction, she shook her head and remarked, “I know something’s there! All we can do is wait for it to reveal itself!” Stephen and Emily took a deep breath and slowly stepped forward.

The further down the pathway they went, the stronger the currents in the air became. Stephen felt as though he had experienced this sensation before, but he couldn’t quite pinpoint when he had until his memory brought him a vision of him playing with blocks as a kid. He built a tower that didn’t fall because of… “Magnets!”

“Huh?” Emily reacted in surprise.

Stephen apologized, “Sorry, something about this reminded me of that.”

Emily’s head seemed to reel at that concept. “Magnets? Wait, it might be-!”

Before she could finish her sentence, a flash of light completely surrounded them! Stephen couldn’t in front of his face, so he couldn’t tell if Emily was alright or not! He shouted out, “Emily! Emily!” He didn’t get a response, and he began to panic. He didn’t see any monster nor could he envision a way to get out of this charged fog! He tried to move forward, but the force around him made it impossible for him to move. He couldn’t think of anything else to do except to cover his head and wait for the inevitable attack.

As quickly as the fog came, it disappeared! Stephen immediately searched for Emily, desperately hoping she hadn’t gotten hurt. He held his gun in front of him as he looked to his right. When he swiveled around to the other direction, his heart nearly leapt out of his chest! He saw two identical Emily’s standing before him! Both stood as still as a statue, and Stephen felt utterly confused until he spotted a large digital clock between them. The Emily on the left managed to move her mouth in time to warn him, “This is a copiebomb! You only have thirty seconds to destroy the right one or the bomb will explode, killing you and me both!”

The clock began to tick down, and Stephen’s terrified mind spun trying to make a fast decision. He couldn’t tell if the Emily on the left had pushed past the barriers to warn him or if the bomb simply notified him about the impending explosion. Nothing about their body language gave him any clues, and time was running out. Suddenly it occurred to him that he had training on how to identify impostors in the FBI, so he told the Emily on the left, “Prove to me you’re the real Emily! Conjure me my favorite chocolate!”

the Emily on the left answered, “I can’t move! Shoot the right one, and then I’ll get your chocolate!”

Stephen knew exactly what to do now! With only seconds left, he pointed his gun at the Emily on the left and fired. As soon as the bullet hit her head, sparks flew out from her as well as the clock. After energy shot out from both Emily’s, the Emily on the left made a sound like a machine was powering down. Suddenly, the air returned to normal and the Emily on the right could move freely again! “Are you okay?” Stephen inquired.

“I’m fine!” she replied somewhat shakily. “I’m so sorry! I should have realized what this was sooner! I just…!”

“It’s fine!” Stephen assured her. “Stop apologizing! I know you’re trying your best, and I can’t ask for anything more than that!”

Emily smiled gratefully at that. “Thank you!”

Stephen returned her smile and said, “Anytime!” The word time brought his attention back to the copiebomb, and he stared at the other Emily’s unmoving body with a sense of dread. He couldn’t stand seeing the sight of her lifelessness, so he averted his eyes and suggested, “Let’s keep moving!” He instantly started walking away from it, and Emily followed suit.

When Emily’s footing fell in step with his, she conversed, “I bet you’re never disarmed a bomb like that before!”

Stephen couldn’t help but laugh heartily at that. “I really haven’t!” Emily giggled, and it relieved him to see her in good spirits. Now that the excitement of that event had started to wind down, he wanted to ask her about the other creatures that could lurk in the forest, but with the modern technology involved in their last incident, he realized, “That wasn’t a natural occurrence!”

Emily concurred, “Nope! He clearly wanted to give us a small taste of what he’s personally capable of.”

Stephen smirked. “If he’s trying to establish dominance over us, it means he views us as a threat!” Emily raised her eyebrows in surprise, but after she processed it, she seemed to enjoy the thought and snickered.

A piece of paper appeared in the air, and Alastair snatched it up. When he read it, he darted out of his chair and bolted out of his office. He marched past the open area and made his way into a large, unfurnished room where Allison and two other people were waiting for him. Alastair probed, “She flew to Portland?”

“DHS picked her up as soon as she landed,” Allison let him know.

“But Portland is where the heir in line behind Emily lives!” Alastair noted. “Does that mean she’s…?”

Allison responded, “If she wasn’t, we’d know for sure.”

Alastair nodded in agreement. “Right! But then what is our mystery woman doing in Portland?” The other three shrugged. He sighed and shut the door. The four of them linked arms as Alastair chanted a spell. They were all surrounded by a soft halo, and a moment later, they disappeared!

Amouraq, Chapter 8

Where did it go?” a man with silver hair, dark brown eyes, and a neatly combed goatee thought out loud while he watched a computer screen in his office. A young woman in a nice pant suit came to his doorway and saw that not only had he taken off his jacket but he rolled up the sleeves on his dress shirt, which had sweat stains under the arms. Coupling that with the look of intense concentration on his face, the woman didn’t think it was a good time to come in. Before she left, the man had apparently seen her from the corner of his eye because he invited her, “Allison, come look at this!” She went over to his desk and looked over his shoulder at a radar image. He pushed play and pointed at a dot. “That’s their plane right there.”

She watched the dot move across the screen, and when it got about halfway across, the dot suddenly disappeared. “That’s where the plane crashed?” she guessed.

He told her, “Our naval base searched these coordinates and couldn’t find any sign of it. An hour later, I called Agent Knight, and he answered it. That means somewhere between when we lost the plane on the radar and when I made that call, the plane crashed. Given the window of time and the speed they were going, their plane should be somewhere in this area.” He pulled out a map and circled an empty stretch of ocean. “We used every piece of technology and every spell possible to search the area and couldn’t see a thing! They would have to be somewhere on the west coast because I don’t think Emily knows how to teleport. I guess the killer could have done it, but then where did the plane go?” Allison shrugged, and Alastair groaned in frustration.

After a moment, Allison warily informed him, “Sir, Agent Dulcie is on the phone.”

“Great!” He went out of his office into a large room full of desks with people either typing things up, talking on the phone, or performing various spells. Alastair hurried over to Allison’s desk and picked up a call that was on hold. After putting it on speakerphone, Alastair formally greeted her, “Hello, Agent Vendari speaking.”

“Agent Vendari, this is Agent Dulcie with the FBI,” Agent Dulcie replied. “I sent over footage of the mini mart that Captain Lefevre purchased his beverages from. She found it confusing, perhaps you can make sense of it.”

Alastair responded, “I’ll take a look.”

Allison pulled up the file of an airport store, and they watched the area where the drinks were stored. A scantily clad, red haired woman walked over to the case and put her hands on two cans. She then took away every energy drink but the two she put her hands on. Captain Lefevre entered in the store and picked up the only two energy drinks he saw in there. Allison put the call on mute and remarked, “Clearly, she used a penetration spell to put the Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue in them. I just don’t know what to tell Agent Dulcie. She’s a cose, and I don’t think she’s been briefed about our abilities. She keeps referring to the potion as poison. Should we tell her?”

Alastair mulled it over for a bit and then unmuted the phone. “Without being able to examine the cans, we don’t know for sure how she injected the poison into his drink, but from what Agent Knight described, she definitely did it somehow. The other two didn’t… get sick, so it had to be from those drinks. Were you able to get any leads on who the woman is?”

Agent Dulcie reported, “We’ve been searching our records and can’t find anything. We think she might be an Amouraqian citizen.”

“I’ll have my people search our databases.” Alastair watched the security footage again, and when he saw the red haired woman walk in, he asked Agent Dulcie. “What part of Seatac is this store located at?”

“The south satellite,” Agent Dulcie answered. “Oh, that means she had to go through security, which means she had an airline ticket! If we can figure out what flight she was scheduled for, we can search the company’s finances and get a clue on her identity!”

Alastair requested, “Yes, and see if you can find out if she actually boarded the plane she was supposed to be on.”

Agent Dulcie complied, “I will. I’ll forward my findings to your office as soon as I get them.”

“Thank you.” Alastair hung up the phone.

“Do you really think a sorceress would get on a commercial flight?” Allison inquired.

Alastair sighed, “I really hope so! It’d be a lot easier to find out where she went!” He studied the red haired woman’s face and concluded, “She’s not an heir. I’ve seen their profiles so many times that I’ll never forget what they all look like! Since she’s not an heir, then why does she want to hurt our kingdom?” Allison shook her head sadly, and Alastair let out a deep exhale in exasperation.

Stephen and Emily walked down a narrow dirt path in total silence. They were both too afraid to make a sound in fear that they would attract one of the deathly creatures that the tree warned them about. From the way the tree described the forest, he expected the pathway to be teeming over with monsters, but so far, they hadn’t seen a single one. Stephen would have been entirely grateful if they made it to the other side without seeing a single one, but he doubted that they would luck out like that. He would have preferred to have all the beasts that wanted to kill them come out at once, but it didn’t seem likely at this point. All he saw was a variety of leafy green trees, lush fauna, and the warm but not hot sunshine making everything glisten. If they weren’t forewarned about the dangers of these woods ahead of time, he would have gotten lulled into a enjoying the majesty of Amouraq’s natural beauty! The gun he held in front of him looked thoroughly out of place against the backdrop of the scenic landscape, but he wanted to stay ready for the inevitable ambush. He wasn’t entirely sure if his weapon would be effective against the supernatural animals of the forest, but he had to try.

It felt strange to have the person that he’s supposed to protect walk in front of him, but he deemed it prudent in this situation because of her magical expertise. Her instincts were completely correct about the bunyip, so he hypothesized that she must have done a lot of studying in the wake of all the murders. He didn’t think she anticipated coming here, but he imagined she read and reread her father’s spell book dozens of times, so he wondered if she had some insight on what to expect out there. He didn’t want to raise an alarm for her by speaking; ever little noise made them jump, so he didn’t want to cause her anymore distress. However, they had traveled for quite a bit of time already, and he knew that at any second, something would attack them. If she had any kind of knowledge about what they may encounter and how to defeat it, he needed to know beforehand. So, very quietly, he asked her, “Do you know what sort of things live out here?”

She softly answered him, “A lot of things you’ve heard of in myths and fairy tales, and there’s some things maybe you haven’t heard of. Hundreds of different species could be out here. I have no idea which ones he would use.”

“I guess that makes two of us!” Stephen joked, which made Emily grin slightly as they moved into a heavily shaded part of the forest.

The grounds they traversed weren’t totally dark, but the lack of sunlight bothered Stephen. It seemed like exactly the type of hiding spot where something precarious would hide. He thought he was just being paranoid until all of a sudden, they heard the sound of giant wings flapping over their heads! Stephen ran to Emily and stood with his back against hers, and they both scanned the skies for the perpetrator of the ominous din. They didn’t see anything above them, and Stephen couldn’t spot anything along the road or in the nearby foliage. He felt certain that whatever it was hadn’t left, so he stayed alert and ready to fight. Suddenly, a giant, ferocious, bat-like creature pounced on them! Stephen’s gun got knocked out of his hand as they got pinned to the ground! The creature tried to snap at them, but Emily swiftly chanted, “Slodidium!” It now moved at them in slow motion.

Stephen cried out, “Now what?”

“It’s skin can’t be broken,” Emily quickly recalled. “There’s only one way to defeat it… what was it?”

As its massive jaws inched closer to him, Stephen prodded her, “I don’t wanna tell you to hurry, but if I don’t, we’ll never see the light of day again!”

“The light of day… That’s it!” Emily waved her arms over her head and chanted, “Lumenia Totalius!” The heavy shadows created by the trees were suddenly covered in a very bright light that made the monster shriek as if it were in great pain. In an instant, it turned into stone!

They were both glad it was dead, but the new density of the already heavy creature now became even heavier! They were both gasping for air, but Emily managed to point at it and weakly chanted, “Rupe!” To their relief, it broke into several small pieces. They pushed the pieces off of themselves and sat up to collect their breath. As Stephen collected his gun, Emily apologized, “Sorry, I’m not so good at this rescuing thing!”

Stephen firmly assured her, “But you did rescue us, that’s all that counts!” Emily smiled gratefully. Stephen then inquired, “What was that thing anyways?”

“A gargoyle,” Emily replied.

“I’ve heard of those!” Stephen remarked. “Not that it would have helped much in this situation! I don’t remember them being described like that!” Emily chuckled, which made Stephen enjoyed to hear. At such an extremely hectic time, he hoped that his humor calmed her nerves a little. He picked himself up, and Emily followed suit. After they dusted themselves off a bit, Stephen commented, “Well, that’s one monster down!”

Emily concurred with his sentiment, “Now onto the next one!” And with that, they continued on their way.

Amouraq, Chapter 7

Who said that?” Stephen searched around and didn’t see anyone. Now that they were out of danger, his curiosity about who saved them intensified.

“I did!” The feminine ethereal voice boomed loud enough for her to be close to them, but neither of them could see anyone.

Emily and Stephen looked to each other for an explanation, but they had none, so Emily requested, “Can you give us a hint?”

The branch they were on suddenly swayed up and down, which made Stephen puzzle, “How did that move?”

Emily turned her head and gasped, “She did it!”

When Stephen saw what she was looking at, his eyes bugged out about as far as it could go. In the bark of the tree, they saw the soft features of a mythical woman! At first, Stephen thought it was just an ornate carving, but then he saw the eyes shift focus! The shock made him instinctively jump out of the tree. Emily followed him, but she didn’t appear as alarmed about the concept as he was. He had just started to get used to the idea of magic existing in the universe, and now he had to come to terms with the fact that a tree could speak! His mind went blank, he had no idea how to talk to a tree, but then he watched the tree as she hung her head and began to cry. While he felt guilty for possibly being the one to cause this, he did have a better of idea on what to say. “I’m sorry if I offended you, I’ve just never experienced anything like this before!”

“I’m not crying because I got insulted,” the tree told him. “I’m mourning the loss of the sacredness of this forest! It’s not enough to have that evil man’s presence here, now we must endure a bloodbath as well! For centuries, this forest lived in peace and harmony, and now we’re being used for his ill gain! And after it’s all done, what will become of us?”

In an awed tone, Emily inquired, “Are you telling us we’re in the hidden forest?”

The tree questioned, “You didn’t intend to come here?”

“No,” Emily responded. “We were heading to Ovelstrofe when our pilot got afflicted with Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue and crashed our plane in the ocean. We just came here because it was the closest piece of land we could find.”

“So, it’s true,” the tree sniffled. “He lured you here so you would meet your doom!”

Stephen queried, “By he, do you mean Xavier Ryder?”

The tree made a pained expression when she heard that name. “Please do not speak of him! He dares to taint the heritage of the Nymph Queen of Good with his acts of pure evil! He has brought much suffering to the world already, and I shudder to think of what he would do if he succeeds!”

“Well, we’re not going to let that happen!” Stephen avowed. “I’ve never failed a mission before, and I don’t intend to start now! As soon as we get to Ovelstrofe, I’ll gather a team and we’ll take down that son of a bitch before he does anymore harm!”

The tree sobbed, “I would dearly love that to be so, but it’s not so simple. You can’t just leave the forest, you must survive it first.”

“He’s set up traps for us,” Stephen surmised.

“Yes,” the tree confirmed, “and he knows that you’re a cose and you’re an inexperienced sorceress.”

Stephen turned to Emily, who had an abashed look on her face. “My father tried to teach me, but I didn’t want to learn when I was young. All I wanted was to be normal, so I tried to suppress my powers. After he died, I inherited his spell book and taught myself spell work to keep his memory alive, but I didn’t do it very often. I went to college and got my teaching certification, so I didn’t have time to study magic. I didn’t think I’d have to use it if I lived among coses. Once the killings started, I learned as much as I could, but I’m still pretty amateurish. I relied on that book, and now it’s gone!”

Stephen processed this information for a moment. “Hmm… Well, Amouraq is an island, so couldn’t we just follow the coastline until we reach the civilian part?”

“The beach is lined with bunyips,” the tree informed him. “They belong to the Nymph Queen of Evil and can only get destroyed by each other. They were designed to protect the creatures of the forest, so they’re not so easily beaten. You’re better off facing the creatures of the forest, but they’re quite dangerous themselves. King Alexander made it out of here alive, but you do not have the protection of nymphs of good. His evil has overtaken the forest, and their presence has become scarce. You can stay sheltered with me until a good nymph comes along to help you.”

Emily and Stephen briefly considered this offer, but they both seemed hesitant to accept this plan. Emily brought up, “You said that good nymphs were scarce though. How long do you think it would take for one of them to find us?”

The tree shook her head. “I used to think coming across one as being a sure thing, but these days, I’m not so certain. Sometimes days will go by without seeing any of them.”

“Days?” Stephen repeated. “So, you’re proposing that we sit here for an indeterminate amount of time just waiting for someone to come rescue us?”

“Or perhaps someone on your side will break past the seal,” the tree suggested. “He has let a number of dark sorcerers and sorceresses penetrate our boundaries, so it’s only a matter of time before someone good figures it out. They could provide you with tools and guidance to survive the forest. They did not grow up in the coses’s world, so you would fare better with their assistance.”

Emily pointed out, “That’s assuming we survive here! If a monster doesn’t kill us first, he will. He’s waiting for us, and if he doesn’t see any sign of us, after a while, he’ll come looking for us. He’ll find us here, and you’ll face consequences for helping us. You’ve already been so kind to us, we can’t let that happen!”

“If you face the creatures of the forest, you’re sure to perish!” the tree argued.

Stephen countered with, “If we face the creatures of the forest, we might die, but if we stay here, we might also die! At least if we face the forest, we have a shot at getting out of here before King Patrick passes! We need to get there before he does so she can become queen and the throne of Amouraq doesn’t fall into the wrong hands! If his henchmen can get out, then so can we!”

Emily recalled, “King Alexander got out of here too! After the Nymph Queen of Good helped him defeat a monster, she led him out of the forest to the area now called Ovelstrofe, which is exactly where we’re trying to go! If we follow their path, we might make it to safety!”

“The path is brimming with dangerous creatures now!” the tree conveyed to them. “If you manage to survive them all, then you will run into him. He’s already slain some of the most talented sorcerers and sorceresses in the world. What makes you think you can best him?”

“I’ve bested people more talented than me before!” Stephen expressed vehemently. “No matter how powerful a person is, they always have a weakness! If you can’t match their abilities, you beat them with cleverness! We’ll find a way to take him down one way or another!”

The tree fretted, “But you may be destroyed in the process!”

Stephen had an impassioned response to that statement, but to his surprise, Emily spoke up first, “Some things are worth dying for!” Both Stephen and the tree stared at her in astonishment, so she went on, “I’m next in line for the throne, so he would go after me no matter where I went. Ever since he started targeting us, I’ve been thinking about what I would do should this day ever come, and I decided I wasn’t gonna go down cowering in fear! That’s exactly what he wants! If I’m gonna go down, I wanna go down fighting! Who knows, maybe I can take a few bad people down with me, or maybe I’ll weaken him to make it easier for the next one who faces him. Others may have ran away in the hopes that he would never find them, but I always planned for this moment to happen! There’s no point in delaying what’s inevitable! I need to face him, and I’m not gonna give him the satisfaction of knowing her made me hide in the shadows to avoid him! It’s not gonna be easy, but it has to be done! I’ll never feel right if I die not knowing how far I could get! This has to happen!”

Stephen felt a surge of admiration rise up in him upon her hearing her say this, but he tried not to linger on this feeling for too long. He reassured her, “You have to tell yourself you’re going to succeed even when you’re inches away from death! We’re going to win this!” Emily didn’t say anything, but she smiled at the thought. The tree still looked worried, so Stephen reasoned, “We might run into a good nymph along the way too!”

“That’s possible,” the tree acknowledged. “Well, I wish the two of you luck! You’re going to need it!”

The tree held her branches back, revealing a small trail. Stephen turned to Emily and asked, “Ready?”

Emily answered, “Wait!” She chanted, “Relashio!” and both of their life jackets came undone. After they slipped them off, she chanted, “Seccium!” Stephen felt a warmth envelope him, and in a matter of seconds, they were dry. “Retrievo… No… Recoup… No, ugh! Wait, sanoup Stephen’s cellphone!” When it didn’t work, she exclaimed, “Damn it!”

“It’s okay.” Stephen put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “We’ll get a new one on the other side.”

“Right!” Emily collected herself and focused on the road ahead. They both took a deep breath and set foot down the path.

Amouraq, Chapter 6

The pilot had vanished! Stephen hopped onto his seat and tried to turn on the autopilot, but the button wouldn’t budge! He tried to use the controls to veer the plane upward, but that wouldn’t move either! Emily raised her arm straight into the air and chanted, “Slodidium!” The plane still fell towards the ocean but at a greatly reduced speed. “I think it’s under a spell!” Emily pointed at the control and chanted, “Reverso!” Stephen felt a cold wind fly by him, but then it immediately bounced back towards Emily, who ducked out of its path. “Yup, it’s under a spell!”

As she marched over to where where her duffle bag had been placed, Stephen picked up the radio’s microphone and shouted, “Mayday! Mayday! Our pilot is missing and our plane is going down!”

The control tower addressed him, “Can you find the autopilot?”

“Yes, but it’s been disabled,” Stephen relayed to him. “So is the steering wheel!”

“Then you’re going to have to jump,” the control tower instructed. “We’ll send someone to find you. What is your location?” Stephen looked around the cockpit and saw that the navigation tools were blank. He pulled out his cellphone and saw it couldn’t find their location either. The control tower urgently told him, “We can’t find you on our radar, we need your location!”

Stephen back on the radio and reported, “Our navigation is completely down. We’re about to jump somewhere west of Amouraq!”

Stephen got out of the cockpit, and Emily informed him, “My spell book is gone!”

“That’s strange!” Stephen handed Emily a life jacket before putting on one of his own. “The FBI is very thorough on background checks for our pilots, so he’s the last person I’d expect to be an assassin!”

As Emily put on her life jacket, she replied, “He may not have been. He could be under a spell too.”

After they both had their life jackets on, Stephen opened the plane’s door. They both gazed out to see that they had a long jump, and he directed her, “Take a deep breath!” They grabbed each other’s hand as they jumped out of the plane!

They both inhaled before they hit the water. The impact of the fall made them plunge into the water for a few seconds, but they buoyancy of their life jackets brought them back to the surface. After taking in a big gulp of air, they swam as far as they could away from the plane’s path. Though the plane flew slowly, its sheer size caused a giant wave as it hit the ocean, which pushed Emily and Stephen forward. Once they stopped, they turned around and watched as the plane completely submerged uner the water. “Now what?” Emily wondered. “Do we just wait until someone finds us?”

Stephen pulled out his cellphone and noticed that it still couldn’t find a location. “If they can find us! I don’t think anyone’s GPS works in this area, unless my phone is under a spell too.”

“Does anything else seem abnormal about it?” Emily inquired.

Stephen observed the functions of it for a moment, and then he concluded, “Everything else seems normal.”

“Can I see it?” Emily requested. Stephen handed it to her, and she observed it from various different angles. “I think you’re okay.” When she flipped back to the front of it, she questioned, “Is that time accurate?” She glanced at the sky and deduced, “The sun is up, so it must be right! Based on the time, we should be close to Amouraq now!”

After Emily handed the phone back to him, he looked at the time and concurred, “You’re right! And there’s one bar of signal on it, so that means there’s a cellphone tower nearby!” He opened up to the compass feature and let Emily know, “East is that way. If we keep swimming in that direction, we should hit Amouraq.”

“Let’s go!” Emily began swimming in that direction, and after Stephen put his cellphone away, he swam that way as well.

Neither of them could tell how long they were swimming, but it felt endless to them! With a winded voice, Emily declared, “I need another break!”

Stephen agreed, “Me too!” They both stopped to catch their breath, and as Stephen collected himself, he thought he saw a mass in the distance. He squinted his eyes to get a better look, but he felt so exhausted that he didn’t totally trust his judgment at the time. “Is that land?”

Emily took a look at what he was pointing at and expressed, “I’m not sure, but I know one way to find out!”

With the excitement of their possible discovery, they eagerly swam closer. As they neared the mass, they started to decipher some sand and trees, so Emily exclaimed, “It is land!”

They swam as fast as their fatigued bodies would let them. They felt a flood of relief flow through themselves as it became more and more apparent that they had found a small beach with a nearby forest. Stephen thought he saw a large rock on the shore, but when they approached the land, he realized, “I think that’s our pilot!” Emily grimaced as they made their way towards the shallow water.

When their feet could hit the ocean floor, they ran to the coastline as fast as they could. As soon as they finally reached dry land, they both collapsed onto the sand. As they were recovering, Stephen’s cellphone rang. He brought it out of his pocket, and the caller ID read “Agent Vendari.” He picked it up and wearily greeted him, “Hello?”

A deep but calm voice responded, “Agent Knight, you’re okay! What about Emily and Captain Lefevre?”

“She’s fine,” Stephen notified him. “And Captain Lefevre…”

Stephen put the call on speaker phone so he could set it down and deliver first aid to Captain Lefevre. He grabbed his shoulder and flipped him onto his back. To his horror, Captain Lefevre’s eyes were red and dilated like a reptile! Emily gasped, “Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue!”

Alastair reacted in astonishment, “Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue? Are you sure?”

“Yes!” Emily affirmed. “I recognize that look from my spell book! Plus, our plane acted like it was under a spell. There was no way to control it!”

“What did the pilot have to drink?” Alastair queried.

Emily recalled, “He bought a couple of energy drinks before he boarded the plane.”

Alastair remarked, “We’ll have to look at his purchase history and see where he bought it.”

“So, the curse is transmitted through liquid?” Stephen inferred.

“It’s a potion,” Emily filled him in. “a potion that contains a powerful curse that allows its castor to possess whoever drinks it.”

Alastair added, “With that potion, even a cose could do magic. It would explain how the plane got jinxed, but if he was under the Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, why didn’t he just kill you on the spot?”

Stephen put in, “Sometimes a criminal will leave the victim alive for a reason.” He was a little lost when they were conversing about magical subjects, but now that the conversation switched to criminology, he felt a lot more confident. “He kills disposable people instantly, but he makes sure to isolate the heirs. I don’t know a lot about spells, but with the way the bodies were found, it seems like they died in a slow and painful way.” Emily nodded to confirm this theory. “It’s not enough for him to just murder them, he has to play around with them first. This was his way of bringing us to him! He’s somewhere here! Wherever we are. But wait, why would he want to keep me alive?”

“You keep saying he,” Alastair noted. “Do you have a suspect?”

Stephen remembered, “I didn’t finish my report! I was gonna finalize it before we landed this morning! I asked the assassin in Hartwood who sent him, and he said…” He noticed that Emily was standing up in full alert and staring off into the distance. “Is everything okay?”

“I thought I heard some growling in that direction,” Emily said while keeping an eye out for anything precarious.

Alastair probed, “What did the assassin say?”

Stephen started to explain, “He revealed a name from-.”

Emily interrupted, “Run!” Stephen stood up and saw something in the distance barreling towards them. He drew out his gun, and Emily insisted, “Run!”

Stephen instinctively heeded her command, and they both ran towards the forest. They heard the sounds of an animal ferociously devouring something, and they turned around to see an amphibious-looking seal with a dog-like head eating Captain Lefevre’s body in an instant! When it finished, it swiveled itself towards Stephen and Emily! They continued to run as fast as they could, but they heard the beast gaining speed behind them! As they reached the beginning of the forest, Emily and Stephen began to lose energy. The bloodthirsty animal behind them didn’t lose steam though, so neither of them were sure about what to do.

Suddenly, they heard a feminine, ethereal voice call to them, “Hide up here!” They saw the branches of a large pine tree rustle, so they climbed up to it and cloaked themselves under its needles. The creature came in the vicinity shortly afterwards and searched for them, but when it didn’t sense them anymore, it appeared to give up and headed back towards the beach.

When it seemed far enough away, Stephen quietly asked, “What was that thing?”

The same feminine, ethereal voice answered, “One of the many reasons why you shouldn’t be here!”

Amouraq, Chapter 5

Stephen pulled into a restricted access section of the airport and parked his car right by the runway. He then instructed Emily, “Now remember, act casual.” Though her nerves clearly overtook her senses, she nodded in agreement.

They both got out of the car, and Stephen grabbed her duffle bag out from the back seat. “Let me carry it,” Emily requested. She leaned in and whispered, “I need something to do with my hands.”

“Right.” Stephen handed her the duffle bag, and although he wondered if the gesture would make others think he was rude to make a lady carry a bag, he did note that she seemed less stiff with something to hold on to. They both confidently walked up to the staircase where the pilot stood very uniformly. Stephen recognized him from his previous flight and regarded him, “Did you get my note? We need to go all the way to Amouraq; won’t that make you work almost twenty four hours straight?”

“About twenty actually,” the pilot replied chirpily. “But that’s alright. I’ve had longer shifts than that! Besides, I need to get as much time in as I can before I go on my honeymoon next week!”

Stephen looked elated, but Emily beat him in saying, “Congratulations!”

The pilot responded cordially, “Thanks! And who’s this enchanting young lady?”

Emily and Stephen both hid a snicker at the word enchanting, but Stephen politely responded, “This is Miss Pageman, like it said in my note. Are you sure you’re up for this flight?”

“It’s okay, I’ve got provisions!” He pulled his hands out from behind his back to reveal a couple of energy drinks. The three of them laughed, and then the pilot addressed Emily, “Welcome aboard, Miss Pageman!”

“Thank you,” Emily politely reacted as she followed Stephen up the staircase.

When Emily entered onto the plane, she got surprised to see how posh it looked! Besides having a few rows of plush, leather seats, it also had a section that looked like a small but swanky living room with a cushy sofa, a foldout table, a plasma television, and even a mini bar. Stephen took her duffle bag, and as he stowed it away, he invited her, “We’ll have to sit with our seat belts fastened during takeoff, but feel free to make yourself at home after that.”

Emily commented, “Make myself at home? I’ve never lived anywhere this nice!”

“Neither have I,” Stephen concurred. “It makes my apartment in Virginia look a lot less impressive.” Emily chuckled, as she sat down next to him and buckled her seat belt.

A little while later, as Stephen furiously typed away, Emily sat in her seat and nervously fidgeted as her muscles began to tighten up. With a slight crackle in her voice, she conversed with him, “Whatcha doing?”

Stephen told her, “Paperwork. TV doesn’t show this side of the FBI much, but we’re usually up to our eyeballs in paperwork! Everything we do has to be documented and reported.”

“Makes sense.” Emily tried hard to convey ease, but even from the corner of his eye, he could see she was becoming more and more tense as time went on. “So… um…”

“Do you drink?” Stephen queried.

Emily repeated the question back to him, “Do I drink?”

Stephen elaborated, “Yeah, it might help you relax a bit.”

“Relax?” Emily cried out incredulously. “How am I supposed to relax with an extremely violent assassin out there trying to kill me?” She stared at him typing and then probed, “How on Earth are you so calm right now?”

“I’ve had marks on my head before,” Stephen revealed. “I probably still do. I try not to think about it.”

Emily blurted out, “How? How can you not think about it when, in any second, your enemy could take you down?”

Stephen explained, “I keep busy. If my mind is forced to concentrate on something else, I can’t think about it. It’s not like I’m never scared, but if I let my fear overtake me, I can’t do my job. And if I do get ambushed, I’m more mentally prepared to handle it if I can clear my head as much as possible.”

Emily nodded as she absorbed his philosophy. She audibly exhaled and stated, “I think I will have that drink.” She stiffly walked over to the bar and couldn’t help but smile a bit when she noticed, “Dry vermouth and gin, you wouldn’t happen to like martinis, would you?”

“Shaken not stirred, yes ma’am!” Stephen grinned. Emily tittered, and then he let her know, “There’s some mixers in the fridge if you prefer.”

Emily made herself a quick drink and gulped quite a bit of it down. She still seemed a little edgy, but the effects of the alcohol quelled her a little. “Sorry, I just can’t shake this feeling like something bad is about to happen. It’s the same feeling I had the night my parents died. I don’t know if it’s just me being anxious or if all these deaths just reminded me of that day. A part of me feels like it’s neither of these things and I’ve just gone crazy! Am I making any sense to you?”

“You make perfect sense to me, and I don’t think you’ve gone crazy!” Stephen assured her. “A lot has happened recently that has made everyone feel anxious, and you’ve already gone more of an adventure than any school teacher I’ve ever known!” Emily laughed a little, and he continued, “I hope you’re not beating yourself up for feeling a little scared. The truth is I still get anxious before I go on a dangerous mission. I can’t sleep well for days before the assignment is even handed to me. I get horrible flashbacks to the day my parents died.”

“You’re parents died too?” Emily asked him with a somewhat pleasant note of surprise at this connection.

Stephen nodded and then narrated, “I was eight, and I woke up feeling ill at ease, like some kind of sickly electricity was in the air that day. I went to school, but the whole time, I had this gnawing feeling at the pit of my stomach that just got worse as the day went on. Then, in the middle of doing this math worksheet, the principal walked in and whispered something to my teacher. Somehow, I knew it was bad news for me. My teacher called me over, and the principal took me to his office where a couple of policemen were waiting. Then, they told me… They told me that there was a robbery at the bank and my parents… My parents were killed in the process!” Stephen’s eyes got watery as he flashbacked to that moment, so Emily walked over to him and reassuringly pat him on the shoulder. Her hands were smooth yet strong, and it gave him some comfort as if he had gotten a small massage. He went on, “The police pulled me out of school, and since no one in my family could afford to raise me, they had to put me in foster care. Apparently the one policeman, Officer Minette, grew up in foster care too, and he said it can be rough sometimes, but what got him through it was his comic books. NO matter where they moved him to, just reading his comic books made him feel like he was home. After CPS put me in my first foster home, Officer Minette came to visit and gave me one of his Batman comics. When I found out that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed and it made him go fight bad guys, I decided I wanted to be Batman when I grew up. Before I got adopted, I went to a few different homes and talked to kids who were victims of crimes one way or the other, so I just kept saying when I’m Batman, I’ll get them for that!” Emily tittered, and he went on, “Before every mission, I get nightmares about my parents getting murdered, but I also remember that feeling of wanting to be Batman. It’s what drove me into enrolling in the FBI, and it gives me the energy to get through any assignment. When someone’s a victim of a crime, it doesn’t just affect that individual, it has a ripple effect on an entire community! No matter how scared I get, remembering that drives me to get through every assignment, no matter how dangerous it is. If you figure out your why, it’ll help you get through this too.”

Emily slumped into a chair and forlornly remarked, “I don’t have a why. Everything has just been changing so fast that I haven’t had time to think much about the future! I started off the year as a teacher in a nice home with my fiance…” Stephen’s gut wrenched when he heard that last bit, although he couldn’t figure out why. “Then suddenly, all of these distant relatives are dying, pushing me right to the top of the list of heirs to take the throne! I was so far down, I never dreamed of actually taking over! Then, when it’s suddenly a real possibility, Richard dumps me because he was uncomfortable with the idea of me having so much power over him!”

“Psh! Coward!” Stephen muttered. “Any man who feels threatened by a woman’s power doesn’t have any of his own! If he can’t handle coming together to become a power couple, then he’s not worth it!” Stephen had instant dislike for this guy and now felt his feelings were justified. Emily looked a little stunned to hear him say that, but she smiled gratefully for it. It pleased Stephen to give her that small sense of satisfaction, but he didn’t let himself relish in that sentiment for too long. He cleared his throat and veered back to his original topic, “Anyways, you don’t need to figure out your why tonight. Try to think about something else, clear your head a bit, and you’ll figure it out.”

He saw the screensaver on his tablet bounce across his screen, and after he brought it back to the main screen, he stared at his paperwork with a sudden feeling of exhaustion. “Actually, a mental cleanse sounds great right now!” He went over to the TV and turned on the game system there. As he chose a game, he inquired, “What do you normally do to relax?”

Emily thought about it for a moment and replied, “Well, a bit of chocolate always helps.”

Stephen didn’t take his eyes off of the game, but when he heard her go into the refrigerator, he notified her, “They usually don’t stock any chocolate if they know I’m coming ’cause I’m allergic.”

“You can’t have chocolate?” Emily reacted in disbelief. “How do you live?”

“By not eating chocolate!” Stephen kidded.

Emily sarcastically laughed at that, which made Stephen smirk. She served herself some vanilla ice cream and sat down on the couch with him. She put the ice cream on the table, waved both of her palms over it, and chanted, “Covertace choco!”

Stephen glanced over to see that she had morphed the vanilla flavor into chocolate! “Cheater!”

“How is that cheating?” Emily queried mid bit.

“I was talking about the game,” Stephen said truthfully, which made Emily chuckle.

After dawn, Stephen felt the plane suddenly jolt and woke with a start. His half awake brain marveled that he had even fallen asleep, a sentiment that Emily seemed to share as she woke up and wondered, “What happened?”

Stephen observed, “I think we’re going faster!” Their eyes suddenly grew wide, and they raced over to the cockpit. Stephen knocked on the door and inquired, “Everything okay in there?” When he got no answer, he and Emily exchanged grim looks. Stephen forced the door open, and they both gasped when they saw…