Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 4

Stephen woke with a start! He saw that the sun had risen and worried that he didn’t wake up in time to catch Emily before she left for parliament. He looked at his cellphone and saw it was still five minutes before Emily’s alarm would go off, and he breathed a sigh of relief. He dashed out of his bed, and as he quickly changed out of his pajamas, he admonished himself for picking last night out of all nights to pass out! He supposed that his lack of sleep over the last few days coupled with the alcohol he drank really made him knock out, but he had really hoped to wake up earlier. He wanted plenty of time to freshen up and carve out what he would tell her before he saw her, but he figured now he would have to just wing it. As soon as he was dressed, he rushed to his bathroom, ran his comb through his hair, gargled some mouthwash, and sprayed on some cologne. He didn’t think he looked his absolute best, but he settled on it since he was running out of time. He just hoped that Emily didn’t decide to get up early as he grabbed his cellphone and zipped out of his door.

As he stood in front of Emily’s bedroom, he heard her alarm clock go off. He felt relieved that she probably hadn’t gotten up yet, and he took a moment to collect himself before he entered. He knew Emily probably wouldn’t totally enjoy talking about his feelings as soon as she woke up, but he couldn’t help it! He felt like he was going to burst if he didn’t tell her immediately! He took a deep breath, but before he knocked on her door, he noticed that her alarm hadn’t been silenced yet. He found that strange; in the other agents who guarded her’s reports, they noted that she wasn’t a sound sleeper and would wake up from the slightest noise. He hoped that she, like him, got a good snooze out of the whiskey and wasn’t sick from it. Now he felt it was his duty not only to check on her but to wake her up in time to do her job. With that in mind, he swiftly opened her door.

He came into an empty room, and shivers suddenly went down his spine. He tried not to jump to any conclusions, but this did not bode well in his mind. His logic talked him out of his panic, and he began to search for clues to her whereabouts. He turned off the alarm on her cellphone, and he hoped that since he found this on her nightstand that she hadn’t gone far. He observed that her bathroom door was shut, so he went over and knocked on it. “Emily?” No answer, which he found really odd! If Emily had been in there, she would have replied back to him! He opened the bathroom door, and to his dismay, he didn’t see her in there! He saw that she had the clothes she intended to wear sitting on the sink by her shower, so he didn’t think she had left the area, or at least, he hoped that she hadn’t!

He wondered if her anxiety of passing that bill, or maybe the gossip about their near romantic moment, caused her to run into her grandmother’s room. He tapped on her door, and Amelia groggily responded, “Yes?”

“Is Emily in there with you?” Stephen inquired.

“No. Why would she…?” He heard Amelia bolt out of her bed, and she hurried over to the door. “She’s not in her room?”

Amelia’s concern over the matter made Stephen worry even more. Clearly, this behavior didn’t coincide with her normal habits, so he felt sure something had happened! He just inwardly prayed that her disappearance would amount to a trivial incident, and he refused to believe the worst case scenario! “Her cellphone is there, but she isn’t!”

Amelia grabbed her robe and told him, “I’ll go check downstairs in the dining room. Maybe she isn’t feeling well and went to settle her stomach.”

“Good idea! I’ll check the rooms up here in case she wandered into one of them because… I don’t know!” He hastily began opening doors as Amelia sped towards the dining hall.

Each time he opened a door and didn’t see her, his fear just heightened more and more! He didn’t think he could handle it if they didn’t find her! He burst open the last door in the hall, and he had almost forgotten that King Patrick resided there! No one had gone in that room since the day he died, and it sort of felt eerie for Stephen to wander inside of it now, but he couldn’t help himself. He remembered King Patrick gave his final words just after he and Emily had arrived, and he had Stephen lean in so no one else could hear him say, “Promise me you’ll always love her, even when she makes it difficult to do so!” His stomach churned as he wondered if his final request to him had anything to do with her sudden disappearance. He lamented the fact that King Patrick didn’t have more time to explain why he had said that! He yearned to know what King Patrick had foreseen, and he sincerely wished that he could be here right now to give him advice on how to solve this problem!

All of a sudden, he heard Yvette’s voice ring out through the castle, “Attention, Queen Emily! Please report to the parliament room immediately! Thank you!” Stephen realized that they couldn’t find her downstairs, and he ran out of the room in hopes that Emily would comply with that request.

As he marched down the hallway, he got on the phone with Alastair. Before Alastair could say anything, Stephen reported, “We have a situation at the castle! Bring the whole team!” Before Alastair could ask any follow up questions, Stephen hung up in order to investigate downstairs.

Stephen found Yvette and Amelia with utterly distraught expressions on their faces. Stephen asked them, “No sign of her?”

“No!” Yvette answered. “I see members of parliament coming in, but I haven’t seen Emily since yesterday!”

“Oh Stephen! What if something happened to her?” Amelia fretted. “I lost her parents already, if I lose Emily, I’ll just…”

Stephen asserted, “You won’t lose her! We’re gonna find her, I guarantee it!” As he said that, he watched the parliament members trickling in, and it became more and more apparent that something horrible happened to Emily! He knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Emily wouldn’t miss this meeting unless something drastic prevented her from it! His insides began to twist in knots as he wondered if he would be able to keep his promise to Amelia.

Alastair and a dozen other agents walked determinedly into the castle, and Alastair questioned Stephen, “Stephen! What’s going on?”

A lump formed in his throat in anticipation of what Stephen had to tell him. He could hardly bear to think it let alone say it out loud! Still, he had a duty to relay this information to him, so he forced himself to turn around and confess, “Emily may be missing!”

Allison and the other Amouraqian agents all gasped, and Alastair’s face contorted in a manner much like someone would if they were forcibly slapped. He stammered, “She’s… Emily is… are you sure?”

Stephen couldn’t stand to say it again, so Amelia told him, “We checked everywhere in the castle and can’t find her anywhere!” Yvette nodded in agreement.

Upon this confirmation, Alastair addressed his team, “We’ve got a possible missing person! You know what to do!” The team sprang into action performing various spells and making phone calls. Alastair turned back to Stephen and probed, “When was the last time you saw her?”

“Last night before we went to sleep,” Stephen replied. “We said goodnight and went into our separate bedrooms. I didn’t hear a thing coming from her room after that!” Stephen bit his bottom lip in guilt. He felt as though he should have heard something, and now he berated himself for not paying more attention.

“Yeah, it was super quiet last night,” Amelia agreed. That made Stephen feel a little better. He felt reassured that he didn’t miss something huge, but that didn’t stop him from the growing shame he had over the incident. He got hired to protect her, and she got into trouble, so now he thought his failure made him totally unequipped to do his job.

Alastair went on, “What about her behavior? Did she say or do anything out of the ordinary last night?”

Stephen recalled, “No, she behaved normally…” All of a sudden, he remembered something crucial. “The tea!” He turned to Yvette and urgently asked her, “Did you clean up our drinks from last night?”

“Somebody cleared the table to prepare for breakfast,” Yvette recounted, “but since we’re short staffed, I don’t think anyone has had time to wash the leftover dishes.”

Stephen barreled into the kitchen and hoped that no one had touched it yet. Alastair closely followed him and queried, “What about the tea?”

Stephen explained, “Last night, she made a weird face and said her tea tasted funny. I didn’t think anything of it ’cause she acted normally after that, but…” He found the tea cup and, to his relief, it hadn’t gotten completely emptied!

He handed the cup to Alastair, who stared at apprehensively. Stephen couldn’t blame him! It scared him to death to think that someone might have slipped something in Emily’s drink! He knew that the ideal outcome would have been to find nothing unusual inside of her drink, but a part of him hoped that they would get a major clue on Emily’s whereabouts! He inwardly prayed that if something was inside of the cup that it wouldn’t show anything too nefarious! Alastair held a shaky finger above the tea cup and chanted, “Ostracium venepotia!” Alastair and Stephen watched the liquid inside swirl around as Yvette and Amelia waited nearby on pins and needles. All of a sudden, a shape started to form from inside the cup. When it became clear that it depicted a snake’s head, Alastair dropped the cup in pure astonishment. “No!”

Stephen knew that his reaction meant that he found a horrifying potion, but he still didn’t want to believe that Emily was in any kind of mortal peril! “What? What does that mean? What did you find?”

Alastair’s breath grew short, and he had to take a big gulp of air before he revealed his findings. “Emily has been infected by the Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue!”Stephen's Nightmare

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 3

Judith walked into an ornate dining hall with a long table where Stephen, Emily, and Amelia sat laughing heartily. She set the tray down in front of them and politely conversed, “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, you had to be there,” Emily replied.

Stephen poured himself another glass of whiskey as he noted, “Wow, you’re still here!”

Judith told him, “We’re a bit short staffed today, so I didn’t mind working overtime. Besides, I’ll get the next few days off after this, so it balances out.”

“Good! You need to rest!” Stephen commented.

“Oh, that sounds like the pot calling the kettle black!” Emily teased him.

Stephen defended himself, “Hey, she has a choice! I don’t always get the option. Like, when was I supposed to take a break in the hidden forest?”

The three of them laughed again, and Judith half smiled but sort of seemed uncomfortable, so Emily regarded her, “Go home, Judith! Enjoy your weekend!” Judith looked a little reluctant to leave, so Emily added, “Queen’s order!”

Grimacing slightly, Judith complied, “Yes, Queen Emily.”

After Judith finally left the room, Amelia poured herself another drink and remarked, “I bet if the public knew about your experience in that forest, that producer wouldn’t have had the nerve to scare you with that hobgoblin like that! That was really mean!”

Stephen shrugged. “If she knew what happened to us in the forest, her tactic would have been more idiotic than mean. The gargoyle was much scarier than Petey was!” Once again, they all laughed uproariously.

Emily picked up her cup of tea and put in, “Their whole team didn’t seem that sharp to me. I mean, suitor or impostor? If she really thought that an impostor was at the castle, wouldn’t she contact law enforcement before she posted it on social media?” She almost took a sip, but first she shared another thought, “Why is everyone so interested in my love life anyways? My education referendum will have a lasting impact on Amouraq’s future, but no one wants to talk about that! I don’t get it!”

“Because that would require brain cells to explain,” Stephen joked. They all chuckled, but secretly Stephen felt relieved that Emily didn’t get mad at him for inadvertently playing a part in creating that story. She didn’t seem upset that some people thought they were an item, which made Stephen wonder if that stemmed from the ridiculousness of the scenario or if, perhaps, she wanted it to be true. He hoped for the latter, but he still didn’t have the chance to talk to Emily about it. As much as he welcomed Amelia’s company, he wished that she would go hang out somewhere else for a while because he didn’t want to discuss such a personal matter in front of her. He supposed it didn’t make that much of a difference though since there were so many castle staffers scattered throughout the place, so no one was making this easy for him. He resolved to keep spending time with her until that opportunity came along, and he knew that as soon as they managed to be by themselves, he had to seize the chance and talk to her immediately. He still had no clue on how exactly he wanted phrase his feelings to her, but he knew that if he didn’t do it soon, he would lose the nerve to do it all. He hoped that when the opportunity finally came that the right words would naturally flow out.

“Some things never change!” Amelia asserted. “I remember when I was in school, nobody cared when they shy, quiet girl won first prize at the science fair, but…”

She paused when she saw Stephen’s face fell from amusement to concern. He saw Emily make a strange face after she sipped her tea, so he asked her, “Is everything okay?”

Emily answered, “This tea tastes kind of weird! Probably ’cause it sat out too long and got cold.” She set the cup aside and declared, “Oh, one more drink won’t kill me!” She took back her whiskey glass and poured some more alcohol. “Please continue, Grandma!”

“Oh, the shy, quiet girl won the science fair, and no one really cared, but they couldn’t get enough of her when she started dating the star quarterback! No one seemed to understand it- the jocks and the nerds just didn’t mix, and yet these two seemed to be madly in love! No one thought it would last, but we were voted best couple in the yearbook!” Amelia fondly recalled.

“We?” Stephen reacted. “Wait, that was you!”

Amelia nodded. “Yes, I was the geek who won the heart of the quarterback, and that quarterback later turned into Emily’s grandfather! Stew let his grades slide to play more football, but he wanted play in college, so he needed to get his GPA higher to get in. I got assigned to mentor him, and it turned out we had a lot more in common than people thought!”

Emily stated, “Oh, I forgot you and Grandpa were gossiped about! How did you guys handle it?”

As Amelia regaled them with her familiarity on the subject, Stephen observed that Emily’s behavior returned to normal. The face she made after drinking that tea made him anxious for a moment, but since she didn’t act sick or afflicted by anything, he let it go and just enjoyed himself for the rest of the night.

At the end of the night, the three of them walked down the corridor leading towards their chambers. “Yeah, it ended up burning!” Stephen chuckled at the memory. “I swear, I used to be an amazing cook, but it’s been so long since I’ve used the stove that I had to search the internet for recipes on how to cook rice!”

That made Emily giggle. “I probably would too! Between living in a castle and living with my grandma, I…” She looked around and realized Amelia was no longer with them. “Oh, I guess she didnt’ wanna interrupt us. Goodnight, Grandma!”

“Goodnight, Amelia!” Stephen chimed in.

“Goodnight, you two!” Amelia called out to them.

As Stephen and Emily continued walking down the hall, Stephen’s heart began to pound. They were actually alone together, and Stephen knew he should seize the opportunity to talk to Emily about his feelings. He tried to think of a way to bring it up without it feeling awkward, but before he could come up with an opening line, Emily sighed, “Tomorrow’s gonna be rough!”

Stephen deemed that addressing her concerns as more of a priority, so he chose to address this instead of just blurting out that he felt something deeper than friendship for her. He hoped that the topic might come up naturally in the conversation! “Why do you say that?”

“The parliament is discussing that bill first thing in the morning,” Emily explained. “I really hope that the day off made everyone cool down! We really need to get on the same page and get this thing passed! If I can’t get the majority of them to agree on it, my first piece of legislation will fail, and that’s all anyone will ever talk about! But I can’t let it fail! I have to get this thing done because it’s so important for the country! What am I gonna do if-?”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Stephen gently interrupted her as they arrived at her bedroom door. “You’re gonna be fine! If the bill fails, at least it’ll show that you tried! But I’ve seen you face bigger challenges than this! If you can battle dragons and outsmart Xavier, you can figure out a way to make this happen too! It’s like I told you in the hidden forest, you have to believe that you’ll succeed even when you’re inches away from death! You got this!”

Emily echoed his point, “I got this! You’re right! I can do this!” She beamed as she complimented him, “You’re amazing! What would I do without you?”

This was it, Stephen thought. He had an opening to admit how much he cared for her, but with the way she stared at him, he didn’t want to say anything at all! He had the strongest impulse to lean in and kiss her, and his body flooded with excitement at the prospect! Her lips were so inviting, and he could already feel her heat as he stepped closer. Suddenly, he felt a little dizzy, and he got forcibly reminded that he consumed quite a bit of whiskey. He began to question his judgment and wondered if the signal of readiness he saw from her had just been wishful thinking on his part. Plus, he remembered that she had a few drinks too, and while he didn’t think she was close to the point of drunkenness, he didn’t want her to wake up tomorrow and regret any actions she took with him that night. With a surge of disappointment running through his veins, he decided he shouldn’t do anything that night. It was such an important matter that he didn’t want alcohol to have an influence on anything. He pat her on the back and told her, “Goodnight, Emily!”

“Goodnight, Stephen!” She turned towards her room, and Stephen’s body ached watching her slip away. He had to assure himself that he did the right thing in order to pull himself away, and as he headed to the next door, he resolved to wake up early and catch Emily before she went to parliament in the morning. After he entered in his chambers, he began taking his shoes off to get ready for bed, but he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep that night! His mind would be racing all night hoping to see that same look she gave him tonight when he admitted his feelings for her tomorrow!

Later on, as Emily slept comfortably beneath her sheets, her breath started to grow more and more rapid. She began to breathe heavier and heavier until, all of a sudden, her eyelids shot wide open! Her golden brown eyes turned into a hellish red, and her pupils became reptilian-like! She didn’t totally believe it, so she drew herself out of the bed and walked over to her vanity table in an almost trance-like manner. When she studied her face closer, she seemed pleased at what she saw. She declared, “It worked!”

Stepping out from the shadows, Judith concurred, “Yes, it certainly did! When Emily sent me out of the dining room, I worried that it wouldn’t take! How do you feel, your majesty?”

“Excellent!” Emily grinned at her reflection triumphantly. “Except for this frilly nightgown!” She pointed at herself and chanted, “Gestero black robes!” Her pajamas changed into a dark, hooded garment. “Ah, that’s better!”

“Your team is waiting for you at Rogue’s Alcove, your majesty,” Judith informed her.

Emily replied, “Good! Simeon was right about you! Keep an eye on the castle for me! Do whatever you can to slow them down so they don’t find her!”

Judith promised, “I won’t fail you, your majesty! It’s an honor to work for you, Xavier Ryder!”

Emily wickedly grinned, chanted, “Lanumaciae Rogue’s Alcove,” and disappeared into the night!Emily's Serpent Eyes

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 2

Freeze!” a woman chanted from her front stoop while pointing at the creature that stood before Stephen, and the creature froze on the spot. The woman ran over to Stephen and apologized, “I am so sorry! Our hobgoblin doesn’t like strangers, and somebody…” She looked back at the house where a preteen boy guiltily shuffled. “…forgot to shut the gate to the backyard!”

“Oh, don’t worry about it!” Stephen understood that sometimes animals could get overprotective, but as he stared at the hobgoblin’s immobile body, he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why anyone would want one of these creatures for a pet!

Just when Stephen intended to continue his jog, the woman inquired, “I don’t recognize you from this neck of the woods! Are you new to the neighborhood?”

Stephen thought she seemed like a perfectly nice person, but he sensed that she was a bit of a chatterbox, and he didn’t have much interest in small talk at the moment. Not only did he want to get back to exercising, but he wanted to think over his important decision on his next career move. Plus, he wanted to get back to the castle before Emily woke up. Besides the fact that he took his job seriously, he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before their occupational duties would cause them to go their separate ways. He enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends, but now wasn’t the time for it! He tried to think of a reply that wouldn’t garner a lot of follow up questions, and he came up with, “I’m Emily’s… Queen Emily’s… bodyguard. Please excuse me, but I-.”

“Bodyguard, huh?” the woman interrupted him. “So, Emily hired a bodyguard from out of town? What made her choose you? Are you really good at protection spells?”

“Uh…” Stephen noticed her energy shift from Chatty Cathy to a nosy busybody, which had always proven to be an inconvenient haphazard of his undercover work. He never wanted to divulge a lot of information to strangers while on assignment since he never knew who could be working for the enemy, and his lack of interest in having this conversation just deepened. “Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but I really am under a tight schedule, so please excuse me!”

He started jogging again before she could give a response, but that didn’t stop her from trying. “Wait! How long have you been…?” He ignored her, and he could tell that she reluctantly gave up. . He heard her grab the hobgoblin as it started moving again, and she yelled to her son, “Angus! Come get Petey!” Stephen found that name odd, but his desire to get away outweighed his curiosity, so he didn’t turn around to ask about it.

Emily opened her bedroom door while drying her hair off with a towel, and when Judith saw her looking around the hallway, she informed her, “Stephen went on a jog.”

“Oh!” Emily’s expression looked slightly crestfallen. “I was just gonna ask if he wanted to join me for breakfast. Oh well! This gives me time to do my make up before I see him.”

She went inside her room and sat at a vanity mirror that laid between her four-poster bed and her bathroom door. She pointed at her face and chanted, “Conifingo!” Her cosmetic products flew up, and she pointed at which ones she wanted to use. As the spell applied each one to her face, Judith walked in and gave her a knowing smile, so Emily probed, “What?”

Judith shrugged. “It’s just cute the way you like to get dolled up for him!”

“What? Oh, it’s not like that!” Emily refuted. “I just want to look professional for our guest from America.”

“Oh please!” Judith politely differed. “You two have a little more than just a working relationship!”

Emily responded, “Okay, we went through a lot together, so we’re good friends, but that’s all it is!”

Judith smugly pointed out, “You’re blushing!”

Emily blurted, “I’m wearing blush!”

Judith smirked as she she stated, “I went through the same thing with King Patrick when he first met his future wife! You two are so much alike! So, you can’t lie to me!”

“Yes, I can! I’m queen, and I can do whatever I want!” She paused and added, “Not that I have any reason to lie…”

“Uh huh, sure!” Judith folded her arms in disbelief of her claim.

Emily chanted, “Comperaso!” to make the make up incantation stop. She grew uncomfortable at this topic, so she asked Judith, “Don’t you have some cleaning to do?”

Judith answered, “Always! But Stephen requested that I look over you while he’s gone.”

After she pointed at her hair and chanted, “Seccium,” he hair instantly dried. She got up and regarded Judith, “I’m going to the dining room now, so Dagan can watch over me.”

“Alright, alright, I can take the hint,” Judith replied. “If you ever do feel like talking, you know I’m always here for you.”

“Thank you.” Emily gave her a half grin but clearly didn’t seem keen on the idea of confiding in her. She cordially left the room, so Judith shrugged and began using cleaning spells in her room.

As Emily made her way to the dining room, she saw Stephen and her eyes went wide. “Woah, you’re in sweatpants?”

Stephen lightheartedly shot back, “Did you expect me to go jogging in my suit?”

Emily put a hand on her hip and retorted, “Oh, it’s my fault that I thought you owned one outfit?”

They both laughed at that, and then Stephen let her know, “Hey listen, Alastair just called for an important meeting. It shouldn’t take long, but if it does, don’t hesitate to give me a call, ‘kay?”

“Boy, they sure let you dress casually when they call you in on the weekend!” Emily teased him.

“I’m gonna change first, wise guy!” Stephen grinned.

Emily chuckled, and then she said to him, “Okay, see you later, Stephen!”

“Bye, Emily!” Stephen watched her as she walked away, desperately wishing he could spend the whole day with her! He knew Alastair wouldn’t call for a last minute meeting if it wasn’t urgent, but he still lamented the lost time that he could have spent with her. The only joy he got out of watching her leave was admiring her figure from a different point of view! He didn’t want to let his eyes linger for too long in case anyone was watching him, so he peeled himself away and turned around to go upstairs to change. To his surprise, he nearly ran into Yvette, Oscar, and Dagan, who had apparently been watching their interaction with great amusement! He challenged them, “What are you looking at?”

Oscar joked, “Oh, we were just interested in learning what a bodyguard does while he’s on duty!”

The three of them snickered, but Stephen grew a little nervous. The castle staff all knew who he was and what job he did, so his comment would only make sense if he knew about his conversation with Angus’s mother. He didn’t understand how Oscar could have known about that, and then Yvette showed him her phone. “Apparently you talked to a producer from Celebrity Tonight!”

He gazed at her phone with trepidation, and to his horror, he saw that Penny Melrose’s social media account had a post that read, “Strange man coming out of castle claims to be Queen Emily’s bodyguard, but story doesn’t add up! Is he a suitor or an imposter?”

Stephen saw a picture of him jogging, and he groaned. Up until now, he had been really good at avoiding public scrutiny, and laying low made solving his cases a lot easier. Of course, Xavier already knew about him, but if he had reporters tailing him, then it would give his fugitive an edge by letting him know his whereabouts. Furthermore, he worried that this rumor would create an awkward situation with Emily. Every interaction they had would get scrutinized, and he feared that it would create some distance between them, especially if she didn’t have any romantic feelings towards him. He explained to them, “Look, I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep, so she caught me at a vulnerable moment. These guys will do anything to sell a story! They’ve created all kinds of claims that were later debunked!”

Dagan started to say, “Yeah, but…”

Judith came in and intervened, “Hey, he has a job to do, leave him alone!”

“Thank you, Judith!” He felt grateful to have the chance to quickly slip away.

‘You guys have work to do also!” Judith scolded them. “Dagan, Emily is waiting for her breakfast! And you two! The castle is filthy! Come on, let’s get moving!”

Yvette reacted defensively, “Alright, alright! Jeez, we were just having a little fun!”

Judith judgmentally remarked, “You’re breaking castle protocol! We’re clocked in, so we’re supposed to work!”

“Okay, we’re leaving!” Dagan relented.

“Miss Goody-Two-Shoes!” Oscar muttered. “It’s like you don’t have a bad bone in your entire body!” After they left her, Judith wickedly smiled.

Stephen tried to walk into the meeting room as casually as possible, but with all eyes on him, he had a suspicion on why Alastair called this meeting. The Amouraqian agents stared curiously, especially Allison. Stephen had a huge appreciation for her after she helped him and Emily escape from the hidden forest, but he avoided eye contact with her at the moment. Although she always acted with professionalism around him, today she had a gleam in her eye suggesting that she heard some juicy gossip. He purposefully took a seat away from her, but she abandoned her old chair to sit next to him. “So… What’s new?” she pried.

To his relief, he didn’t have to answer her. A man with silver hair, dark brown eyes, and a neatly combed goatee marched into the room, and his presence commanded everyone’s attention. Stephen silently prayed that Alastair’s grim expression didn’t have anything to do with him! Alastair addressed the group, “Good morning, agents! I have two things we need to discuss. First of all, we have a sighting!” He pulled out a photograph and plopped it onto the table for everyone to see. It showed a hauntingly beautiful young woman in provocative clothing coming out of an apothecary shop. “One of Xavier’s associates, Blythe Tanith, was seen buying herbs from this store. Now, they’re common ingredients to a number of potions, so we have no proof she’s up to no good, but she’s a wanted criminal, and she’s lurking somewhere here on the island. The task force I assigned to her will monitor the situation, but everyone should keep an eye out for her. Now, the second thing we need to talk about…” He stared towards Stephen’s direciton, and Stephen’s heart raced with apprehension. “Everyone wish Allison a happy twenty fifth birthday!” Everyone clapped as Alastair chanted a spell to make cake and ice cream appear. Someone put a party hat on Allison and threw confetti, and Stephen’s body flooded with relief. It was just a ruse for a surprise party! So, he thought he could slip out without discussing the buzz about him on social media!

As the other agents gathered food and mingled, Stephen tried to leave unnoticed. Allison spotted him and insisted, “Uh-uh! You’re not leaving without having a slice!”

Stephen could see the determined look on her face, so he gave in, “Okay, but I can’t stay long. I need to get back to the castle.”

Alastair stepped in and told Stephen, “Before you go, I need to have a word with you.” He lowered his voice and asked, “Is there any truth to the rumor Penny Melrose is spreading?”

Stephen felt grateful that he didn’t publicly berate him, but he still dreaded having to talk about this subject. “A woman that I didn’t know was a producer for that show caught me off guard and I stuttered a bit. I haven’t been sleeping well lately, so it was hard to think. Next time, I’ll be more careful!”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Alastair pointed out. “Is there something going on between you and Emily?”

“We’re just friends!” Stephen disputed. He wished they were more than that, but that was the truth.

Allison chirped, “He didn’t give a direct answer, there is something there!”

Stephen argued, “An indirect answer doesn’t automatically mean I’m hiding something!”

Alastair probed, “Do you have romantic feelings for Allison?”

“No!” Stephen immediately replied.

“Do you have romantic feelings for Emily?” Alastair questioned. Stephen didn’t reply right away. He didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but he also didn’t didn’t want to lie. Alastair observed, “You see the difference in your answers!”

Allison squealed, “Actually, he didn’t answer, but he also didn’t say no! He totally likes her!”

Stephen cringed. Investigative agents were always good at digging out the truth, and he realized that the highly developed intuition of a powerful sorcerer and sorceress would figure it out. A bit puzzled, Stephen remarked, “You sound happy about this.”

“You two would make an adorable couple!” Allison gushed. ‘You should ask her out!”

“I can’t just ask out a queen!” Stephen could feel himself reddening and really hoped they would drop the subject soon.

Allison differed, “Oh, come on! I see the way she looks at you! She’s not gonna say no!”

Alastair agreed, “You need to sort this out or it could interfere with your job. Actually, it could help you decide what you wanna do career-wise. If she doesn’t return your feelings, you can got back to the States and stay with the FBI. If she does feel the same way, you can take over my post and I can finally retire. Simple!”

Stephen disagreed about its simplicity, but he knew he was right about everything else. The deeper his feelings got, the more it could effect his work performance. Plus, Alastair deserved to get an answer soon since his future depended on his answer. “I’ll do something soon.”

“Atta boy!” Alastair celebrated, and Allison shared his sentiment.

Stephen’s stomach churned at the prospect, and he suddenly felt too nervous to eat. “Excuse me!” He sat down his cake and dashed out.

That night, Dagan struggled to clean the mountain of dishes that piled up, so when Judith walked into the kitchen and saw this, she offered, “I can bring Emily’s tea to her.”

“You’re a life saver! Thanks!” Dagan replied graciously.

She secretly smirked as she strolled over to a cup and saucer on a silver platter. When no one was looking, she took a vial out of her pocket and poured it into Emily’s drink. It simmered for a moment, and after it settled, she quickly pocketed the vial and brought the tray out of the kitchen.Sneaking in the Potion

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 1

His footsteps echoed throughout the cavern hall. A faint glow emanated from his brown, hooded robe, but still all he could see was a seemingly endless, pitch black tunnel. He cringed at the nerve-wracking passage that he had to embark on every time he needed to speak to him, but he didn’t dare voice his complaint out loud. His master would have condemned him as unfit for his job, and nothing would tempt him into losing that! He understood why he deemed it necessary to do it this way, but he wished he had a fraction of his courage to do this constantly! Perhaps he had a better grasp of how long it took to reach the entrance and knew what to expect, he thought. It felt never ending to him, and each passing second just built up his anxiety! Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, he finally saw a light flickering in the distance! He breathed a sigh of relief as he rushed towards the illumination that was seeping out of a wooden door. He knocked, and a cold, booming voice responded, “Who is it?”

“It’s Simeon, your majesty!” he replied. The door opened on its own, and Simeon entered.

The source of the small bit of shine turned out to come from the fire that heated a cauldron, which had a nearly translucent liquid simmering inside of it. Curious, Simeon asked, “Were you able to see anything?”

The other person in the room answered, “Psh! Are you kidding me? That castle has the highest protection guarding it; there’s no way I’d have a chance to keep an eye on that so called queen! I’m reduced to finding out what she’s up to through those bloodhounds who relentlessly hunt information, which doesn’t help me much since most of them are on her side! Just look at this headline!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to show a a headline that read: Xavier Ryder Still at Large. After Simeon had a chance to see it, Xavier quickly took it away from view. Xavien then grouched, “When I’m king, they’ll be sorry for disparaging my name like that!” After he growled from frustration, he eyed Simeon in annoyance and probed, “Why did you ask me that? Do you dare question my judgment? What I do in my private quarters is no business of yours!”

“I agree, your majesty!” Simeon timidly jumped in. “I’m sorry if my intentions weren’t clearer. I only wanted to know if our newest recruit managed to break down a barrier.”

“New recruit?” Xavier’s attention peaked when he heard that. “Did you do a better job vetting this one?”

Simeon shifted uncomfortably at that reference. “We most certainly did, your majesty! We wouldn’t make that mistake twice! And this one won’t even need to come here! We found someone who works at the castle that’s willing to help us!”

Xavier raised his eyebrows in an impressed expression. “So, they’re willing to sneak in the…?”

Simeon nodded. “Yes, your majesty!”

“Wow!” Xavier reacted in relief. “Finally, some good news!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to convey a distant view of the royal castle. “They’ve been lulled into a false sense of security for far too long! Soon, they’ll see that it doesn’t pay to double cross me!” He cackled delightfully as he made the image of the castle disappear.

“Order! Order!” Emily banged her gavel on the small podium in front of her seat in a large room, and several people in professional attire stopped bickering and reluctantly took a seat. When they were all facing her, Emily calmly addressed them, “I appreciate the passion that you all put inot this cause, but please remember that no one will buy into your argument if you try to force them into it! At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for Amouraq, we just have different ways on how to get there. Please try to keep that in mind before you jump down each other’s throats!” The parliament murmured in a begrudged agreement. Emily sighed, and then she concluded, “Look, we all want this thing passed, but I can’t sign something that doesn’t exist yet. Why don’t we call it a night, refresh ourselves for a while, and come back on Monday with some compromises so we can get this thing done? You’re dismissed.”

After she banged her gavel, a balding man with small glasses and a thin body that emitted an aura of ardent enthusiasm for the academia announced, “Parliament will resume again Monday at nine!”

“Thank you, Hugo!” Emily acknowledged him.

“My pleasure, Madame Queen,” he replied courteously.

Emily reminded him, “I told you, you can call me Emily.”

Hugo very cordially disagreed, “No, I don’t think I can!” He gave her a small grin, and she chuckled in response.

Outside of the parliament doors, three people stood in a circle chatting. One was a plump, very genial-looking woman in a maid’s uniform, one was a gaunt, lanky young man in a custodian’s uniform, and the other was a stocky, middle-aged man with a bushy mustache and a chef’s hat. When they saw Emily emerge, the woman in the maid’s uniform commented, “Boy, you look like you’ve had a rough day!”

“I do? Oh no!” Emily rushed to a decorative mirror hanging on a nearby wall. She could see bags under her normally shiny, golden brown eyes, and her coffee brown hair seemed a bit frayed. She thought that her skirt suit flattered her well in the morning, but now she questioned it. She felt like it accentuated her thick, hourglass figure, but now she wondered if it actually complimented her like she thought.

The man in the custodian’s uniform reassured her, “Yvette didn’t mean that you looked anything less than your usual, lovely self. You’ve just been here long enough where we can tell when you’ve had a long day without you having to tell us, that’s all!”

“Oh!” Emily seemed a little relieved to hear him say that. “Thanks, Oscar! Sorry if I’m a little on edge! I’m just trying really hard to get something accomplished soon! Everyone keeps pointing out how little I’ve done since I’ve gotten here.”

“Not everyone,” Yvette differed. “Just a few reporters who don’t have anything nice to say about anyone! I actually just read an article about how well you’ve assimilated into your role; I’ll send it to you.” She pulled out her cellphone and proceeded to text her the link.

The chef shared her sentiment, “don’t let your critics get you down! You’ll never be universally popular, but most people really like you. King Patrick always said he’s doing his best, and if that’s not good enough for someone, then screw ’em!”

Emily smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Dagan! You’re right, I’m gonna spend the rest of the weekend relaxing so I can just forget about it!”

“How about I whip you up some nice comfort food for dinner?” Dagan suggested.

“That sounds great! Thanks for the support, guys! You’ve been really helpful to me this past month!” Emily appreciatively told them.

Oscar affably responded, “Anytime!” She gave them a gracious look as she walked away.

Later that day, Emily sat on a cushy couch in a posh but comfortable-looking living room while she watched a kooky-sounding show in her pajamas. She rested her head in her hand with a despondent expression. All of a sudden, the channel changed to a station playing a more serious show! Emily blew up, “Hey! I was watching that! Why would you-?” She turned to see who had committed that offense against her, expecting to argue with them, and instead, to her delight, she saw a handsome man with copper-colored hair, deep blue eyes, a strong jawline, and a nicely toned physique! “Oh, hello stranger!”

With a very toothy grin, he greeted her, “Stranger, huh? I guess that means you didn’t miss me much!”

“Obviously not!” Emily joked. They both laughed, and then Emily noted, “Usually, I just get a text message or a phone call from you, so you must be here for a more substantial message.” She paused and added, “Please don’t be bad news!”

“Well…” He sat down on the couch with a hand behind his back. “I heard you were having a rough day, so I brought you something.” He revealed that he had gotten her a small, white box with a chocolatier’s logo on it, and Emily’s face lit up to see that! “I hope it’s good! I had to rely on the sales person ’cause of the allergy.”

Emily beamed as he handed it to her. “I’m sure it’s delicious! You are so sweet! Thank you, Stephen!”

Stephen’s heart skipped a beat as she threw her arms around him to give him a hug. He had been so busy working on his case that he had almost forgotten how warm her body felt! He didn’t want to let go, but he certainly didn’t want to create an awkward moment for her either. After they broke apart, he playfully informed her, “I hope you didn’t get too comfortable with me being a stranger ’cause it’s my turn to bodyguard you this week!”

“Oh, that’s…” Emily trailed off as something on the television caught her attention.

A middle-aged woman with an outdated hairstyle and an ample amount of make up that failed to make her look younger boisterously told the camera, “I’m Penny Melrose, and this is Celebrity Tonight! We’ve got the latest on the reality show spat that has the whole world talking, but first, let’s go to Bernard Andrew for his exclusive interview with one of Queen Emily’s old flames.”

The camera panned to a good looking, well dressed man who eagerly spoke, “That’s right, Penny! Emily came to power as a single woman, but everyone wants to know who might join her on the throne! My next guest says she won’t stay single for long! Please say hello to her ex boyfriend from-!”

“Ugh, turn it off!” Emily stared at the the television in disgust.

As Stephen complied with her request, Emily’s sour mood prompted her to open up the chocolate he had gotten her. Her annoyance instantly melted away as she ate the candy, and Stephen felt pleased to see his gesture generated his intended effect. Before either of them could say anything else, an elderly woman with an elegant, gray bun and a knitted shawl over her dress entered the room and pleasantly remarked, “Oh, Judith wasn’t lying, you are here!”

“Yup!” Stephen grinned at her. ‘Nice to see you again, Amelia! Tell me, how’s castle life treating you?”

“It’s a lot different than Hartwood!” Amelia sat down in a chair by them and began regaling him with her experiences in this new environment.

The next morning, an older woman in a maid’s uniform carried a stack of towels down the hall. Despite her age, she had a shrewd visage that gave off plenty of energy. She saw Stephen waiting outside of Emily’s chambers, so she queried, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, hi Judith!” Stephen requested, “Would you mind watching over Emily for a little while so I can go for a jog?”

“Not at all!” she obliged. “Enjoy your jog!”

“Thanks!’ Stephen left as she assumed his position.

Stephen could see his breath as he jogged through the cobblestone streets around the castle. He loved how going through Ovelstrofe felt like stepping into a time machine! The medieval buildings were still artfully in tact, and he didn’t see very many people with cars. He knew most people in the area would use a teleportation spell and didn’t need them, but regardless of the reason, he enjoyed how fresh the air felt without a bunch of exhaust hovering over the town! He was glad that Emily finally got a chance to sleep in, but he woke up early because couldn’t sleep at all the previous night. He had the same dread he usually faced before embarking on a new assignment, which was strange since he still hadn’t closed his case with Xavier yet. He didn’t understand it but theorized that perhaps it just stemmed from his general anxiety at the moment. He still hadn’t decided if he wanted to take over Alastair’s position at the International Crime Investigation headquarters or if he wanted to stay with the FBI.. He didn’t know which way his instincts were pulling him since all of his thoughts were preoccupied with his imagination going into overdrive from having Emily in the next room! His mind revisited a few of his enticing fantasies as he reminded himself of her curvaceous silhouette…

All of a sudden, a small, green creature with pointy ears and sharp claws jumped out of someone’s yard and snarled at him!Xavier's Vision

Amouraq, Chapter 19

Stephen felt both the sensation of falling and flying as the three of them were whisked through an air of nothingness. They were sucked into a beam of light, and in a flash, Stephen found that they had landed in an empty room in some kind of office setting. Going from outdoors to the inside of a building disoriented him for a moment, and his adrenaline was still pumping from narrowly avoiding danger. It hadn’t totally sunk in for him yet, so he asked, “Where are we?”

Allison answered him, “The International Crime Investigation’s main headquarters. Agent Allison Ramiro, at your service!” She extended her hand for him to shake.

Stephen shook her hand, but his brain could hardly process what she just told them. “Wait, if we’re in the main headquarters, that means…” He almost had it, but the idea just seemed too incredible to be true!

Emily guessed, “We’re in Ovelstrofe?” Allison nodded, and so Emily exclaimed, “We made it!”

Stephen’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest! As much as he swore that they’d make it to this point, it almost seemed unimaginable. After surviving that mystical forest for hours and hours, his body hard sort of adapted to that as a new reality. It stunned him to think they had actually made it to civilization again, and yet he couldn’t deny it any longer. Allison’s words coupled with what he saw with his own eyes made everything click, and when he realized their victory, he cried out in jubilation, “We made it!” He and Emily engulfed each other in a hug as they jumped up and down in celebration. He gratefully expressed to her, “You’ve totally perfected the whole rescuing thing! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Are you kidding me?” Emily reacted joyfully. “I would never had made it with out you!”

“You could have totally made it without me!” Stephen happily pointed out. “You just needed the confidence to know you could do it!”

Emily gleefully differed, “Yes, and you gave that to me! You’re my hero!”

Stephen’s heart swelled with pride to hear her think so highly of him, but when he noticed Allison out of the corner of his eye, he acknowledged, “And where would either of us be without her? Thank you!”

“We made a good team!” Allison observed. Emily and Stephen agreed, and they all formed a group hug.

Alastair had his head buried in his hands with a look of utter distraught as he leaned over his desk. Suddenly, he heard the sound of exuberant voices coming from the other side of the hall. He found that strange, so he curiously walked over to decipher what was occurring. He saw three people in the teleportation area, which perplexed him until he recognized one of the distant silhouettes as Allison! “Allison!” He rushed over to her, and she met him in the hallway to give him a huge hug. After a quick squeeze, he rejoiced, “You’re okay! Where’d you go?”

Allison smiled knowingly at him. “How about I let these two explain it?”

Alastair looked behind her and could hardly believe his eyes! “Stephen? Emily?” They both nodded. “You’re both alive! This is great!” He wrapped his arms around both of them in a huge wave of relief. “You’re still alive! I have so many questions for you! First, where did your plane go after…?” He cut himself off when he remembered something important. “Wait, we’ll have to discuss it later! King Patrick is dying as we speak, and he wants to see you both, so we gotta go!” He grabbed their arms and chanted, “Lanumaciae Alexendar’s castle!” They instantly disappeared.

In a large, stately bedroom with gray, stone walls, a group of servants stood around the bed with somber expressions. A few of them even wept as they gazed upon an elderly man who wore a ceremonial suit and a simple yet elegant gold crown. Stephen and Emily sheepishly entered, and both of them felt too uncomfortable to say anything at first. After a while, a couple of servants peeked their heads up and began whispering to each other, which stirred up a conversation throughout the room. The man on the bed picked up on the shift of focus and, in a weak but very kind voice, he questioned, “Who’s there?”

The servants abandoned all pretense and stared in their direction. Stephen broke the awkwardness of the moment by clearing his throat and introducing them, “Stephen Knight, FBI. This is Emily.”

One of the maids reacted, “Emily? As in the heir next in line?” Emily bashfully nodded, and all of the servants started buzzing about this eventuality.

“You made it!” The man on the bed then requested, “Please, come closer!” The servants cleared a path for them, so Stephen and Emily approached him. Even in his feeble state, Stephen thought he exuded sheer strength! And yet he still had an air of altruism and wisdom to him too. He addressed them, “I’m King Patrick, ‘though not for long! Soon, the throne will be yours. Dear Emily, you came from a neighboring land just as our beloved King Alexander did! He set out to dominate the world, but when he fell in love, he realized there was a greater way to spread his empire. Anyone can take over the world and force people into submission, but by offering friendship and brotherhood, more people will be drawn to you and follow your leadership. No force is necessary when you are truly loved! People will willingly come to your side when you need protection and will willingly uphold the laws that you decree. Their fidelity will come naturally so long as you never let them forget that you care! Please carry on Alexander’s legacy with pride and the utmost integrity!”

“I will!” Emily promised as her eyes brimmed with tears.

“Stephen, thank you for protecting our future queen!” King Patrick extended his hand, and naturally, Stephen shook it. As he did so, King Patrick motioned for him to come closer. Stephen leaned in, and King Patrick whispered, “Promise me you’ll always love her, even when she makes it difficult to do so!”

Stephen felt bewildered by his request. He couldn’t deny that he had romantic feelings for Emily, but he hadn’t crossed that bridge into calling it love yet. He hadn’t told a soul about how he felt about these feelings though, so he wondered how King Patrick knew to say that! He remembered Emily saying that he had strong intuition, and Amouraqians seemed to take royal predictions very seriously. The last bit of his words echoed back to him… even when she makes it difficult to do so… He glanced up at Emily, and he couldn’t imagine any scenario that would make it difficult to love her! So, he promised King Patrick, “I will!”

King Patrick regarded the entire room, “I want to leave letting you all know that I love each and every one of you in my kingdom! May you all have a peaceful and abundant future! Goodbye!” He closed his eyes, and after taking one last gulp of air, he stopped breathing. The servants all stared at his body forlornly, and some of them cried and consoled each other. Tears formed in Emily’s eyes, so Stephen put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She gazed up at him gratefully and wiped her eyes.

After a couple of minutes, some people in medical uniforms came in and requested, “When you’re ready, can you please clear the room so we can do his final examination?”

A few people left immediately, but some lingered for a while. Alastair entered with a balding man that had small glasses, a gentle grin, and a vibe of ardent enthusiasm for the academia, and Alastair informed Emily, “This is Hugo Boman, he’s deputy head of parliament.”

Hugo shook her and and told her, “Whenever you’re ready, we have a lot of paperwork to go over to officially instate you as queen before the coronation ceremony.”

Emily didn’t look pleased at the prospect, and before she left, she caught Stephen’s eye, and he mouthed the words, “I told you so!” She silently chuckled before following Hugo and Alastair out of the room. It made Stephen feel warm inside to see that the right person was set to take the crown!

Before he left the room, he took one last look at King Patrick. He wished that he had gotten here sooner so he could have asked more questions. He felt relieved to hear that Alexander had a change of heart about world domination, but he wondered why Xavier and his followers hadn’t accepted that view of him. He didn’t question royal predictions, but he didn’t believe that Alexander’s ambitions had been altered by his experiences. Xavier seemed to truly believe that he got robbed of his dream, and he became bound and determined to live out his original vision for the world. Stephen could only assume that Xavier didn’t believe in love, but King Patrick obviously did. His message of kinship seemed to guide his leadership decisions, and it obviously was effective. President Truett was only too eager to assist him in this crisis, and King Patrick was humble enough to ask for help from a cose. For an instant, Stephen thought that King Patrick must have hired him to really irk Xavier, who clearly viewed sorcerers as superior to anyone who couldn’t do magic, but then he remembered the prophecy that Xavier had shared with him. He figured that King Patrick must have heard it too, so now Stephen couldn’t tell if King Patrick hired him because he wanted to scare Xavier or if he truly believe in it also. Then, he recalled what King Patrick had asked of him moments ago, and he couldn’t figure out if King Patrick had foreseen some other role for him in the future.

Some of the servants were tidying up the room a bit with cleaning spells, and Stephen tapped one of them on the shoulders to inquire, “Was King Patrick psychic?”

“Psychic?” he repeated. “You must be a cose! No, sorcerers and sorceresses connect with the energy of the nature around them, so they’re more in tune with what’s happening in the universe. Coses can sense things too, but our instincts are a little more prone to picking up on things. And the more adept we are at our magic, the stronger our intuition becomes. King Patrick was the most powerful sorcerer I knew, so his predictions tended to be very accurate!” He paused and added, “Why?”

Stephen didn’t answer right away. He remembered that Emily had something similar, and now his mind began reeling with all of kinds of different possibilities! He became aware of the servant’s stare, so he quickly excused himself, “No reason. It’s been a long day! If you’ll excuse me, I need to have a word with the ICI.” The servant nodded cordially, and Stephen dashed out of the room. He owed Alastair an explanation, and he hoped he could give him advice on what in the world he would tell his boss about his ordeal!

A couple of days later, Stephen stood by the entrance of a huge ceremonial room. The pews were packed with people in colorful formal attire, and he could only assume that since they were in dark colors for King Patrick’s funeral that they wanted to wear something more vibrant and life affirming for today’s proceedings. He recognized some of the people as the castle’s servants, but it took him a while to make the connection since their moods were so vastly different. He saw Amelia waving to him, and he naturally waved back. She began whispering to the people next to her, and he knew that she must have talked about him because they all tried to subtly turn around to scope him out. The press had scattered throughout the room and hurried to make last minute adjustments since Emily was due to arrive at any moment. The entire room seemed to buzz with excitement to see the next heir take the throne.

“Oh hello, Stephen!” Allison chirped. Stephen turned his attention to her, and it took him a moment to register that it was her since she was wearing a much more conservative ensemble. She arrived with a group that Stephen could only assume was other Amouraqians agents since they stood in a guarding formation. “Would you like to sit with use during the ceremony?”

“Thank you for the offer,” Stephen politely declined, “but I have a plane to catch.” He indicated to a suitcase next to him.

Alastair entered the room, and he offered to Stephen, “Oh Stephen, before you go, I’d like to talk to you. I’m planning on retiring soon, and I’d like to nominate you to take my place!”

Stephen hadn’t expected to hear this! It wasn’t the first time he had gotten a job offer from another agency, but he never would have guessed anyone would pick him to head a magical law enforcement unit! “You want me to take your place? You want a…?”

“You’d be the first,” Alastair admitted, “but we’ve seen firsthand that you can handle it. My team would really benefit from your experience.” Allison vehemently nodded.

Stephen didn’t know what to say. He had spent his whole adult life working for the FBI, and he never really pictured doing anything else. Of course, Emily had been completely right in that he didn’t think much about the future. Everyone had gathered here today because she was their future, but he didn’t know about himself. He had been so busy in the last couple of days that he didn’t have time to think about his feelings for her. He still held her in high esteem, but after spending more time apart, he wondered if any of his romantic notions would go away. She was about to become queen, and he still had a job to do, so they probably wouldn’t be together much. If he took Alastair’s position, he figured that they would have to interact from time to time. If he did that and his feelings deepened again, eh didn’t think he could handle it if she didn’t reciprocate that sentiment. He wouldn’t be very effective at his post if he had to endure the heartache of seeing her constantly without becoming romantically intertwined. With her as queen, he didn’t see how she could desire him the way he wanted her! He also considered that their near-death experience just caused him to develop a crush. He thought that maybe after some time that this phase would pass. He didn’t know what to tell Alastair, so he started to reply to him, “Well, I’ll have to talk to…”

Emily entered the room, and Stephen’s breath almost literally went away when he saw her appearance! She wore an embellished white gown with gilded threads and ornate jewelry that had sparkling blue jewels on it. Stephen had never seen anyone so beautiful that he couldn’t speak, and yet here he was unable to say a word! She beamed at him, and his heart beat wilder than it ever had before! At that moment, he knew that his feelings for her weren’t just a phase!

Allison grinned at the other agents and suggested, “Let’s go have a seat! I think Emily is in good hands!” She winked at Stephen as she led the others to take a seat.

“Just let me know when you’ve made your decision.” Alastair pat his back and went to take his seat.

Emily approached him, but when she noticed his suitcase, her face fell. “Oh, you’re off to another assignment already?”

Stephen quickly explained, “Oh no! My case isn’t closed yet since Xavier is still out there! Actually, it’s my uncle Brian’s birthday today, and I’m taking him on a fishing trip.” Emily’s eyes widened in surprise, so he remarked, “Yes, I’m taking a few days off. After our excursion in the forest, I got to thinking… life is short, and I should spend time with my loved ones while I still can.”

“So true!” Emily smiled approvingly at this, which made his heart swell.

He almost got lost in thought staring at her again, but he was able to swiftly recover. “Anyways, I just wanted to stop by before your coronation to wish you luck. Oh, and here’s my new cell phone number. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to let me know!” He handed her a business card, and after she accepted it, he added, “Don’t you forget about me now!”

“I won’t!” She tucked his card into her clothes just as Hugo summoned for her to come on stage. She flung her arms around Stephen and squeezed him tight. “Just promise me you’ll come back!”

“Yes, ma’am!” He didn’t want to let her go, but he had no choice. She had to go, and so did he. He wished he could have stayed to watch the whole ceremony! As she walked towards the stage, he knew he had to tear himself away from there now or he wouldn’t have the nerve to do it at all. He couldn’t help but take one last look at her though. As they began the ceremony, he whispered, “I’ll never let Xavier get to you! I promise!” As he spoke, a vision of Xavier’s menacing eyes and haunting cackle flashed before his eyes. He shoot it off, grabbed his suitcase, and headed towards the airport.

The End

For now…The Crown

Amouraq, Chapter 18

Xavier looked paralyzed by fear, and Stephen could understand why. The woman who waked in had to be nine feet tall, and the black and red feathers and skull beads in her crown just heightened her further. The really transparent black veil attached to her headpiece had the flowy movements of a phantom, and her two-piece, toga-like outfit clung to her like spider webs. The deep glower on her face could intimidate a person immediately, and Stephen quickly figured out who she was- The Nymph Queen of Evil! She bellowed to Xavier, “What did you do with my nymphs?”

“I didn’t do anything to them! He’s the one who pitted them against each other!” He pointed to Stephen.

The Nymph Queen of Evil completely ignored Stephen and continued to glare at Xavier. “They were in your care! I trusted you would keep them safe, and you let me down!”

Xavier slowly backed away from her as he nervously reasoned, “They’ll regenerate! It’s not like they’ll be gone forever!” He instantly knew he had erred as her expression grew angrier. “I’m so sorry! I lost your trust, and I sincerely hope I can make it up to you! I do think our partnership is mutually beneficial, so if you’ll just give me some time, I promise I’ll rectify this grievance I’ve committed against you!”

“What is that? A line from your script of things to say to your clients?” the Nymph Queen of Evil spat. “You can’t charm me like you do with your floosies! Why should I give you another shot?”

“Remember what we discussed when you invited me here? I needed to use your forest to eliminate the heirs that came before me so that I could take over Amouraq, and after I do that, you’ll be able to expand your realm further. We can still do that! I’ve made tremendous progress, we’re getting so close to making that happen! If you let me stay, I can finish what we started, and with you as queen, I’m sure your influence will sway enough hearts to regenerate your nymphs in no time! Everything will work out in the end, and together, you and I will get what’s rightfully ours! So, what do you say? Are you still with me?” Xavier gazed up at her hopefully.

The Nymph Queen of Evil scoffed at him, “Do you really expect me to fall for that twice? I believed you once, and it got my most powerful nymphs destroyed! How do I know you won’t get more of what’s important to me destroyed?”

“I won’t, I swear!” Xavier sniveled. “It was a fluke! I’ll kill the cose who manipulated them into destroying each other, and then we can move on to the next heir…”

“So, the current heir is dead?” the Nymph Queen of Evil probed.

Xavier’s face fell, and he replied, “Well, almost…”

The Nymph Queen of Evil raged, “What do you mean, almost?”

Xavier tried to explain, “My men will find her soon, and I’ll-!”

“YOU LET HER GET AWAY?” the Nymph Queen of Evil raged.

“A simple miscalculation!” Xavier cowered behind his desk. “Last time I checked, she couldn’t figure out how to teleport! She couldn’t even figure out a simple cloaking spell! I don’t know how she suddenly figured out how to do both! But don’t worry, I doubt she would leave the forest without trying to rescue him!”

Once again, Xavier tried to shift attention over to Stephen, but the Nymph Queen of Evil seemed to have a single focus at the moment. “You’re just guessing! What if she finds my sister and brings her here?”

“She’s weak right now, you can take her!” Xavier assured her.

“Or what if she goes to Ovelstrofe and brings back a team to help her?” the Nymph Queen of Evil challenged him.

Xavier responded, “My team can fight them!”

The Nymph Queen of Evil brought up, “Your team couldn’t defeat her on her own, so what makes you think they could handle her when she has help?” Xavier stuttered but had no answer to her. “Or what if she goes to the castle and takes the crown?”

“We’ll find a way to get to her and remove her from there!” Xavier told her.

“You don’t have a plan for that?” the Nymph Queen of Evil seethed. “King Patrick is on his deathbed, and you don’t have a plan for the next person who’s set to take over? Did you expect to kill everyone that’s in front of you in the little bit of time he has left?”

Xavier’s eyes grew as wide as they could get. “I… uh… I….!”

The Nymph Queen of Evil’s voice grew demonic as she shouted, “Your incompetence will cost you dearly! You took my people away from me, so now I’m going to take something from you! Goodbye, Xavier Ryder!” She conjured up a ball of light, but before she could throw it at him, Xavier almost inaudibly chanted a spell. Suddenly, he disappeared! The Nymph Queen of Evil boomed, “NO! I almost had that bastard! It would have been perfect! It would have been sweet! And now there’s no way for me to know where his is!” She sighed and more calmly expressed, “Oh well! At least you’re safe, Stephen!”

Stephen felt utterly confused by that last comment. “Wait, you want to protect me? The one responsible for killing your nymphs? Why would you…?” The Nymph Queen of Evil turned around and looked at him with adoring, caring eyes, and that didn’t make any sense to Stephen. He didn’t understand how the embodiment of evil could possibly feel any kind of love in her heart, unless… It suddenly occurred to him that Xavier just got duped by a disguise! “Emily?”

The Nymph Queen of Evil smiled triumphantly waved her hands in front of her body and chanted, “Avero Consimulo!” A puff of smoke appeared and shrouded the Nymph Queen of Evil, and when it cleared, it revealed Emily standing there! “Sorry I’m late! After I teleported out of that room, I had to help that girl fight the other sorceresses. She’s still down there, so we gotta go!” She pointed at him and chanted, “Relashio!”

The ropes that bound him were released, and he quickly slipped them off. Emily offered him a hand to help him up, and he took it gladly. He knew they had important business to do, but it was so hard to be this close to her and not show her any kind of affection! She grinned at him, but she pulled herself away in order to keep moving. He knew it was the right thing to do and tried to shake off his previous sentiment. Before he followed her out, he noticed something glimmering out of the corner of his eye. He requested to Emily, “Wait!” She complied but didn’t totally understand why he was delaying them. He dashed over to Xavier’s desk, grabbed her magic book, and handed it to her.

Emily’s expression grew shocked to see it again. “My book! You found it! You don’t know how much this means to me!” She was near tears as she gazed up at him, and he beamed to see her feel this much joy. They heard a crash downstairs, and Emily’s attention snapped back into place. “We gotta go!” She grabbed his wrist and led him out of the room.

As they hurried down the staircase, Stephen’s mind returned to its professional track. “What happened out there?”

Emily explained, “That girl apparently saw us in the forest, and she told me to say the destination. That’s why the teleportation spell never worked for me! So, I teleported myself outside, and those bimbos found me! That girl blocked their spells, and we were battling it out a bit. Obviously, we didn’t have much of a chance, we were totally outnumbered, and then we ran into…”

She opened a door to the outside, and Stephen felt surprised to see a statuesque woman in a flowing white gown and a crown made of gilded feathers and sapphire-like beads hovering over the foray! Xavier’s sorcerers and sorceresses were fighting Allison and the vulpecular, and Xavier’s people kept trying different spells to hit them, but they seemed to always bounce off. Stephen could tell that the Nymph Queen of Good had found them, and she was clearly using the last bit of her strength to shield them. She looked tired, and it didn’t seem like she could carry on much longer. The vulpecular tried to bite the sorcerers and sorceresses, but they managed to avoid it for the most part. Allison had a number of spells to use against them, but no one was staying still long enough for her incantations to hit them. Emily held up her hand and started to chant, “Sercoup Stephen’s-!”

“Hold on!” Stephen put his palm on hers to block the spell. “I have an idea…”

Emily jumped into the battlegrounds next to Allison, and Allison hastily asked, “Where’s Stephen? Did you find him?”

Xavier’s voice answered, “No, she didn’t!”

The sorcerers and sorceresses turned to him with surprise, and the head sorcerer addressed him, “Your majesty! We have her cornered! We can take care of the Nymph Queen of Good while you-.”

“Shut up!” Xavier hissed. “Didn’t you see the cose run out here?”

“Uh…” The sorcerer shifted guiltily. “We were too busy fighting them! We’re so sorry! We-!”

Xavier bellowed, “Go find him! Now!” He pointed to his right, and all of his sorcerers and sorceresses hastily obeyed.

When they were out of sight, Emily pointed to his right, and all of his sorcerers and sorceresses swiftly obeyed.

When they were out of sight, Emily pointed at Xavier and chanted, “Avero consimulo!”

After the poof of smoke disappeared, Stephen ran up to Emily and Allison and remarked, “We don’t have much time until they figure it out, so we need to leave immediately!”

“I’ll get us to a safe spot!” Allison affirmed. She linked arms with Stephen and Emily, but before she got them out of there, she gazed up to the Nymph Queen of Good and said graciously, “Thank you for your help!”

The Nymph Queen of Good smiled fondly at the three of them, and in a divine, almost echoing voice, she addressed them, “Thank you for frighting for the sanctity of my forest! You three area always welcomed back here!”

Stephen, Emily, and Allison each briefly thanked her. At that moment, they could see a couple of Xavier’s people pointing at them in the distance. Allison quickly chanted, “Lanumaciae Michael’s Deck!” Before the other sorcerers and sorceresses could reach them, they disappeared!Good vs Evil

Amouraq, Chapter 17

The robed sorcerers carried Stephen up a flight of rickety stairs that led to a bare hallway, and the head of the pack knocked on a closed door at the end of the foyer. A cold yet booming voice replied, “Come in!”

The sorcerers entered into a room that was pitch black save for a cauldron with a bubbling, translucent liquid inside of it. The main sorcerer gazed behind the cauldron, but Stephen couldn’t see anyone there. The sorcerer informed the figured, “Your majesty, we got the cose!”

The man in the shadows asked, “And the girl?”

The sorcerer shifted uncomfortably as he answered, “Your ladies went after her.”

“She got away?” the shrouded male seethed.

‘She couldn’t have gotten far!” the sorcerer reasoned. “I mean, she barely survived the-!”

The dark figure commanded, “Go help them! We can’t let her get away!”

The sorcerer obsequiously bowed. “Yes, your majesty!” He and his colleagues scrambled out of the room.

As they hastily exited the area, a flood of relief coursed through Stephen’s body. She managed to escape, and so far, she was able to elude the sorceresses’ capture! He hoped that she would find a way to get to Ovelstrofe rather than trying to rescue him because he cared much more about keeping her safe than his own life, and the torture of seeing her pass away right in front of him would be more than he could bear! He never did find out what spell he used on his numerous victims, and a part of him really didn’t want to know, but now he felt curious about what to expect from here. He wanted to believe that both he and Emily would make it out of the hidden forest alive, but he couldn’t fathom how that would be possible given the circumstances. His only hope at this moment was to keep Xavier preoccupied with him so that Emily would have enough time to get away!

When the others were out, he heard the man chant, “Claudostium!” The only door in or out of the room clicked as if it were being locked. “Lumenia modeo!” The room suddenly lighted up as if someone had turned on a lamp. The room was small and fairly unadorned, and behind the antique desk and classic, cushioned office chair, a long speech had been pinned up in a language that Stephen could only assume was Amouraqian. He never bothered to learn the language since it was said to be an archaic one that no one used anymore, but now he wished that he had so he could gain insight into Xavier’s character.

Stephen had expected Xavier to have revealed himself sooner and felt surprised he waited so long. He thought perhaps Xavier believed that he was building up suspense for him, so to show that he hadn’t phased him, Stephen cheekily regarded him, “Your majesty, huh? Nice palace you’ve got here!”

In a very measured tone, he responded, “You have no idea where we are right now, do you?”

Stephen shrugged. “Some shack in the middle of the woods?”

His slight obviously got to him as he saw his feet hit the floor. “Some shack! This house once belonged to King Alexander! He used it when he came to visit his wife’s family. You know, you sound awfully cocky, Mister Knight! Don’t get too pleased with yourself! Emily is a foolish little sorceress, and we’ll find her soon!”

Stephen prodded him, “I hope you didn’t set up one of your stupid booby traps to catch her! She got through the last ones pretty easily enough!” He could see him slam his hand down onto the desk, and he swiveled his chair around. His dark, beady eyes narrowed down in a glare, and his pale, thin lips were pursed up into a scowl. He had almost too much gel in his get black hair, and he could smell expensive cologne wafting off of his fine suit. Stephen almost rolled his eyes at his initial impression of him- he obviously tried very hard to show off his elite financial status! He boldly greeted him, “Hello, Xavier!”

A mischievous smile etched out onto Xavier’s face. “Oh, you did your homework! Not enough of it though or you wouldn’t have found yourself in such a predicament, would you?”

“But I didn’t put myself here, did I?” Stephen shot back. “Captain Lefevre could have killed me a long time ago, but you had him keep me alive. You designed it so I would come here and we could meet face to face! The only thing I don’t understand is why. You’ve killed so many other people who stood in the way of your prey, but not me? Why keep a stupid little cose alive?”

“When you did your research, you looked at all kinds of maps and news articles, but did it ever occur to you that you had the answers right in front of you?” He reached under his desk and plopped Emily’s magic book in front of him. “Your case was all about ancestry and history, but you didn’t even bother to look here? Did Emily even tell you the full story it tells about my people?” Stephen didn’t have a clever response to that, so he just shook his head. Xavier explained, “King Alexander didn’t set sail to explore the world just for the hell of it! His clan ruled over a large land with aims of founding an empire built on intellectual discovery and technological advances, but a group of ruthless vikings destroyed their territory and drove the survivors out of their homes. They discovered Amouraq, and their global ambitions were renewed again. That didn’t last long though because of the witch hunts that occurred back home. They became too afraid to reveal their true abilities, and our cowardly royals decided it was in the country’s best interest to keep our magic secret. The people that took the crown after that carried on this tradition until historians later discovered that the original royals made many predictions about the future of Amouraq, one of which was that one day, one of their descendants would renew their noble efforts, and I have. They also predicted that a cose, much like King Alexander, would survive the spells and mythical creatures of this forest, and after he put a stop to the one who carried out Alexander’s original intentions, that man would get crowned king!”

Stephen hated to admit it, but Xavier had a point about him not reading Emily’s spell book when he had the chance! He just assumed that it simply listed spells like a recipe book, so it never occurred to him to read it. Emily had recounted Amouaq’s history in a brief summary, but he thought that she had gotten the information from her father or some other source. If he knew the book expanded on King Alexander’s life story, he would have read it immediately! He didn’t have any way to verify Xavier’s claims now! He had a hard time believing his version of the events, but he had now way to prove him wrong. He felt as though Emily would have mentioned it if King Alexander had any dark intentions, so he just presumed that he was a decent guy. Emily had proven herself as a good person who actually didn’t want the power that came behind becoming royalty, and it seemed logical that she was a reflection of her ancestor. It sounded like the book gave further insight into the mindset of Amouraqians’ past leadership, and Xavier obviously had a high opinion of their visions. He could understand how Xavier might have gotten spooked by him surviving the forest after reading a prediction of a cose retracing Alexander’s path, but his logic seemed flawed. Emily was destined to become queen, and even if he married her, he would technically become a kingly consort. She would have most of the power, so it seemed strange to him that Xavier would find the situation threatening except for the fact a kingly consort would still have more power than Xavier would as a civilian. Xavier eyeballed him as if he were trying to match Stephen’s reaction with the theory that he implied through the information he divulged. Stephen tried his hardest not to give him the satisfaction of a strong reaction. “So, now what?”

Xavier pointed his fingers at his stomach and chanted, “Doleteum!” Stephen felt a sharp pain his his gut, and he tried not to react to it, but it was severe enough that he couldn’t help but wince. This made Xavier smirk, but he quickly got more serious as he stood up and orated, “How is it a stupid cose could help defeat some o the most powerful beings on Earth? You pride yourself in providing justice to others, but where’s their justice? I’ll bet you haven’t given a thought about justice for my people! You’re fighting to keep us hidden in the shadows, do we deserve that? We’ve already done so much good for the world in secret, using our magic to provide critical information that coses could never find on their own and to create cures and treatments that your people never could have made on their own! Imagine how much good we could do if we were in charge of the world! Would an evil cose dare to commit a crime if he knew a sorcerer could take him down in an instant? I’m fighting for a better, safer world, and I’m not gonna let your misguided antics stand in my way! You may have gotten past my traps and creatures, but you’ll never get me! I will have my empire, mark my words!”

Stephen sagely pointed out, “You can’t build a solid empire on top of a blood bath! It won’t last, and neither will you!”

Xavier glared at him and again chanted, “Doleteum!” Stephen grunted from the pain, but Xavier’s ire prevented him from enjoying that moment. He went in front of his desk, stared him dead in the eye, and, with a very icy tone, informed him, “You’ll never become king because you’re not leaving this room! Before you die, I’ll give you one thing, a piece of evidence you’ve been missing: the spell that killed all of the heirs, Nervascam Nimcalgo! It bakes your nerves until all of your organs and bones melt inside your skin! Normally, it’s an honor I only reserve for the wrongful heirs that I eliminate, but today, I’ll make a special exception for you!”

He pointed his palm at him and chanted, “Nervascam Nimcalgo!” A cloud of green electricity engulfed him, and he suddenly felt every nerve fiber in his body light up! It caused him so much agony that he couldn’t help but cry out in pain! The heat began to course through his body, and he wished it would finish him off faster because he couldn’t endure this unbearable pain any longer! Suddenly, it stopped! Stephen saw Xavier’s face as he listened to some banging noises coming from downstairs, but as soon as it ceased, he resumed his spell again. He cried out in anguish as endured the spell once more! Just when he thought he got to the point where his inside would have gotten damaged permanently, Xavier stopped again! He watched Xavier stare at the door in fear as it instantly got immersed in flames and disappeared! His eyes widened as a mysterious figure marched into the room…Xavier Ryder

Amouraq, Chapter 16

Stephen and Emily stared at the building in a cowed awe. The structure itself didn’t give any reason for an admirable impression. It was two stories high, and the material seemed somewhat flimsy. The wood looked weathered and worn enough that it erased any sort of notion of comfort that it may have once offered, and without any landscaping or personal touches, it seemed unlikely that anyone would want to live in this abode. And yet it somehow gave the sinister aura that someoen with ill intentions haunted the area. The air around it felt cold to Stephen, and even though he knew very little about magic, something about the dense energy around it made him think that a lot of dark magic was present there. He thought his hunch had merit based on the aghast expression on Emily’s face, and neither of them had to say it out loud- they had found Xavier’s hideout!

A more primal part of Stephen wanted to burst in there with guns blazing with the intention of just pulverizing the dastardly villain responsible for ruining so many lives and for threatening a person as a good as Emily, but his sense of logic overtook his judgment, and he knew that his primitive desires wouldn’t prevail as a good idea. He knew he had to take a much more subtle approach for his attack strategy, but he sort of felt confused on where to go from here. He had been in similar situations before, but the person that he got assigned to guard usually stayed outside while he went inside the criminal’s hideout, but he knew that Emily would never agree to that. She would want to come in with him so he wouldn’t have to face a sorcerer without magic on his side, but it seemed reckless to bring the mass murderer’s next intended victim right to him! If he had managed to convince Emily to hide outside, he didn’t feel totally confident that she would remain safe. The monsters that had been chasing them before began to dissipate, but he didn’t feel totally confident that no other creature could break through the barrier. Plus, Xavier could have some kind of animal of his own guarding the place. He could imagine Emily had some kind of desire for revenge brewing in her gut, so she probably would find it satisfying to get the chance to confront him. Stephen didn’t think it would be so bad to give her that opportunity, and he might have ended up needing her magical skills in this operation, so he decided that the best option seemed to be to let her go in with him.

Emily whispered to him, “What do we do now?”

Stephen mulled it over for a moment and came up with, “We need to find some kind of back entrance. Come on!”

They tiptoed up to the house, and Stephen studied the details of the walls to see if he could spot any kind of hidden door, and when they didn’t see anything, they snuck around the building’s perimeter. They came to a window, but when they tried to open it, they found that it was sealed pretty tightly, so they decided to move on. They groped around but didn’t see any kind of secret entrance. They found another window, but it, too, wouldn’t budge. When they ventured around the corner, to Stephen’s delight, there was a window with a hole in the glass. It looked big enough for them to reach inside and open it, so he thought that they had finally found the key to penetrating the interior! Just as he wondered whether or not Xavier would have been hanging out close to the room that this window led to, the ground beneath them disappeared!

Stephen immediately felt foolish for not checking for any trap doors on the floor, but the terrain didn’t give away any kind of clues that something laid beneath it. In addition to that, the rudimentary structure seemed basic enough that he didn’t think that this scenario would even be a possibility. As they plummeted down a dark tunnel, he knew that he had gotten lulled into a false front! They landed on some hard tiles with a thud, and he felt grateful that their fall hadn’t been high enough for them to break their legs again! As he drew out his gun, he inwardly prayed that whatever was waiting for them here wouldn’t be hard for them to defeat!

When they looked up, they saw a group of large men wearing hooded, brown robes staring at them with a gleam of malicious delight sparkling in their eyes. For a moment, Stephen readied himself to start fighting for their lives right away, but then he remembered that Xavier liked to torture his victims before he killed them, so he decided to, for now, let the events unfold as they may. By keeping them alive for even a short window of time, he thought a chance to escape might present itself. One of the hooded men pointed his palm at him and chanted, “Sancroup gun!” It didn’t matter how tightly he had griped it, the gun flew straight out of his hand and into the robed sorcerer’s palm! Stephen found the loss of his best weapon disconcerting, which the other sorcerers picked up on, making them snicker. The sorcerer who took it taunted him, “Don’t feel too bad! We have protection spells around us, so your weapon would’ve been useless anyways!” The men alongside him laughed derisively.

To his astonishment, he heard the sound of female laughter behind them. Grouped just after where the sorcerers stood, a number of young women in alluring clothing watched in amusement, and Blythe ushered another girl in gold into the room, excitedly hissing, “Pay attention! This is how we handle traitors to the crown!”

Stephen got the impression that the girl in gold was new to the gang, and at first glance, she fit right in. They briefly made eye contact, and his opinion of her changed. Her face showed no fear, but she couldn’t hide the look of appall that she clearly felt deep down inside. She almost seemed as though she were trying to send a signal to him, like through her disgust at their actions, she truly cared about the innocent and was trying to calculate a way to help. Stephen suddenly realized that she must have be an agent! He hoped that he had conveyed his understanding to her before he shifted his focus. He wouldn’t dare risk her life by giving any clues to his suspicion, so instead he responded to Blythe’s snide remark, “What are you talking about? It’s Emily’s rightful throne, you’re the traitors!”

They all got offended by his statement, but they didn’t really seem surprised. Blythe seethed, “This isn’t even your fight, you stupid cose! How dare you, you-!”

“Easy, Blythe!” the sorcerer that headed the pack calmly interrupted her. “He’s just tragically misinformed.” He turned to Stephen and, in a very condescending tone, educated him, “We don’t mean the pathetic excuse for an empire that King Patrick and his line developed! We’re here to fulfill the vision that King Alexander designed centuries ago! It’s long been abandoned, and we’re here to restore dignity back to our noble island!” He saw the confused expression on Emily’s face and scornfully regarded her, “You don’t even know what we’re talking about! Well, we’ll let Xavier explain it to you!”

“Because you can’t?” Emily goaded him, which sent a rush of pride throughout Stephen’s body.

Allison strutted up to her and probed, “Just who do you think you are talking to him like that? He’s been practicing magic longer than you’ve been alive!” She went up to her face and shouted, “How dare you!” The sorcerers and sorceresses didn’t see it, but Stephen noticed her whisper something to Emily. He strained his ears to hear what she said, but he didn’t catch anything. Emily raised her eyebrows but otherwise didn’t comment on the transaction.

The main sorcerer pulled her back and gently chided her, “Now, now, there’s no need for that! I like your fire, but don’t let your enemies see your emotions!” He faced Emily and Stephen as he went on, “Besides, we have the upper hand here! They have no choice but to come quietly!”

“We’re not gonna do that!” Emily and Stephen retorted in unison.

The sorcerers raised their hands to strike, but Stephen and Emily rolled out of the way. Stephen didn’t see where Emily went, which worried him for a second. He didn’t have time to think about it as he had a dozen hands raised and ready to strike him with a spell. All Stephen could think to do was keep moving as if he were evading bullets. The sorcerers grew frustrated by their inability to hit him, and Stephen took advantage of how stationary their spell work made them and threw a few jabs out as he passed them. When ducked low, he managed to get a couple of kicks in too. He felt pleased to see a few of them go down, and for a while, he believed that he would win the battle!

All of a sudden, he felt his legs lock, and he fell to the floor. A warlock yelled, “Ligabeum!” Out of nowhere, a set of ropes appeared in the air in front of him, and he couldn’t get himself out of the way in time. The ropes wrapped around him and bound him tightly! He scowled as he landed on the floor and realized that they had succeeded. He wondered if they had gotten Emily too and desperately tried to search for her in the room. He didn’t see or hear any movement, and for a moment, he feared the worst. He dismissed that idea and reminded himself that he had to have faith that she was alright if he was going to get through this!

The sorcerers picked him up to face them, and Stephen seized this opportunity to gain perspective on Emily’s welfare. He didn’t see her in the room, nor did he see any of the other sorceresses in the area. He didn’t know if that boded well or not. As he gazed at the men in front of him, he saw that some of them had visible injuries from his defenses, and he hoped that it caused them a considerable amount of discomfort. The head sorcerer sneered, “Was that worth it?”

“Was it worth it to fight back against evil?” Stephen boldly replied. “Always!” The sorcerer scoffed at that, but before he could say anything, Stephen asked, “Where’s Emily?”

“That’s none of your concern!” he answered. “You’re coming with us!”

As they began dragging him out of the room, Stephen felt unsettled by his assertion. Before he faced Xavier, he urgently needed to know that Emily was alright! Hoping to see some signs of where she went, Stephen called out, “Emily! Emily! Emily!” He saw absolutely no movement around him, and as they exited the room, Stephen’s heart dropped. He didn’t care what happened to him at this point, he just hoped that she was okay!Xavier's Sorcerers

Amouraq, Chapter 15

You got something?” an agent queried Alastair, who got a notification on his cellphone.

Alastair checked his phone and grinned. “Check it out!” The two other agents peered over his shoulders and saw Allison posing in a joyous photograph with a mix of large men in all black and young women in provocative clothing.

The other agent commented, “I guess they didn’t recognize her face from their surveillance of us in Portland!”

“I don’t think they’re looking at her face!” Alastair haf joked. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement on his map. He set his phone down, but when he took another look at the map, he saw that the dot he had monitoring had disappeared! “Where did she go?”

“They must have teleported somewhere,” the first agent guessed.

Alastair disagreed, “No, the map would show us anywhere in the world where she went, so either she found out about the spell and removed it, or…” He took a second look at the selfie Allison took, and his eyes went wide when he made a startling realization. “She didn’t take this picture in the club!”

The second agent questioned, “Are you sure?”

“Look at the wood in the picture!” He zoomed in so the other two agents could see the detail he had indicated. “That club is geared towards a hip, young crowd, and the room they’re in here has old, dilapidated walls. I don’t think they’re in the club anymore! They must have teleported to another building!” He pointed to the map and chanted, “Apando Ostracium!” The map glowed green for a moment, so Alastair concluded, “The spell is still active. That means they teleported somewhere that’s not on the map! But… how is that possible?” Alastair looked to the other two agents, who shook their heads and shrugged, so Alastair just stared at the map in perplexion.

“Cabraeco!” Emily chanted with her hands over her head.

Stephen curiously asked her, “What are you doing?”

Emily explained, “It’s a concealment spell. I’m sure that Xavier is watching us, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“How do you know if it worked?” Stephen inquired.

“I’m not sure,” Emily answered. “Hmm, maybe I should try practicing something else.” She paused and chanted, “Lanumaciae!” She waited to see if the spell took effect, and when it did not, she tried again, “Lanumaciae!”

Stephen watched her attempt the incantation multiple times, and while she didn’t have any luck, she didn’t stop trying. She didn’t get as frustrated as she did the last time, so Stephen found her behavior cute. When he caught himself thinking this amorous thought, he tried to quickly dismiss it. He blamed the high emotions that came from going through a dangerous situation together at first, but the more he got to know her, the more he admired her. He couldn’t help it if he had a growing reverence for her as a person! And with so much time to learn about each other, he thought it was reasonable to develop an attraction to her impressive nature! Plus, he couldn’t exactly ignore her beauty when she was right in front of him! He couldn’t see her pretty face at the moment, but he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed seeing her from the back! As he watched her voluptuous curves move as she attempted this spell, he wondered if she had any magic that she could use in a more private setting…

“I felt something!” Emily exclaimed.

Stephen had to shake himself out of his trance again. “Huh?”

Emily expounded, “It didn’t work, but I think I made some progress ’cause I felt a tingle. Did you see any tingling?”

“Uh…” Stephen suddenly felt hot under his collar and had to turn away from her to get his mind of of its racy track. To clear his head, he took a deep breath and concentrated on the scenery ahead of him. Just then, it occurred to him that he could actually see some of the trees without her light, so he surmised, “Hey, I think the sun is rising!”

Emily studied the sky and agreed, “You’re right! Wow, we’ve been here all night? I would’ve thought we’d have gotten there by now!”

Stephen concurred, “Yeah, me too! ‘Though at least we won’t have to face Xavier in the dark!”

“True!” Emily nodded.

“Then we can arrest that son of a bitch before lunch!” Stephen sort of kidded, which made Emily chuckle a little. “I bet they’ll have a huge feast for us too!”

Emily somewhat glumly commented, “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be nothing but fine dining from now on!”

Stephen found her morose attitude odd, so he probed, “Why do you sound so bummed out about that?”

“I dunno…” Emily responded thoughtfully. “I guess I’m being ungrateful, but I never wanted to be famous! I mean, I wouldn’t mind lavish parties and stuff once in a while, but all the time? All my time would be spent either in front of parliament or doing other public appearances, so when would I get to do what I want? My whole life will get taken over by this, and it’s not like a bad life or anything, but it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever get the chance to have a normal life!”

“First of all, what you described won’t eat up the majority of your time,” Stephen told her. “You’re gonna spend most of your time doing paperwork. You have no idea how much the government runs on paperwork!” Emily tittered, and he went on, “Second, and more importantly, you’ll be queen, you get to call the shots! If you wanna take the day off to binge watch a TV show or bake cookies from a new recipe or whatever you think of as a normal day, there’s no reason why you can do that! There’s no reason why you can’t have ordinary moments while living an extraordinary life!”

Emily took a moment for his words to really sink in, and when they did, she nodded in agreement. Stephen felt pleased that she took his advice to heart, but another thought seemed to have crossed her mind right afterwards. She posed to him, “So, how come you don’t do that?”

“Do what?” Stephen reacted quizzically.

“Take some time off to enjoy ordinary moments?” Emily clarified.

Stephen gave that some serious consideration, and he couldn’t’ really come up with a plausible explanation. “It just feels natural to jump from one assignment to the other, like my mind’s constantly in work mode, so I never lose my edge. If I take too much time off, I get too relaxed and unfocused, and it’s harder to solve a case.”

Emily didn’t really appear totally satisfied with his reasoning. “That makes sense, but it doesn’t seem very healthy. If you’re always going fast, don’t you get burnt out?”

“I guess that’s why I never slow down,” Stephen supposed. “I don’t give myself time to think about being burnt out.”

“Maybe you just need a reason to slow down,” Emily speculated. She saw the look of surprise on his face and immediately apologized, “I’m sorry if that was too personal. It just seemed a little lonely. I know how that feels!”

She lost eye contact with him, and Stephen could tell that she felt embarrassed for admitting that. She didn’t realize that what had shocked him was how accurate her assertion had been. He never really gave it serious consideration before, but truthfully, he knew that if he didn’t bury himself in work, he would be alone. He truly had a passion for his job, so he hadn’t really considered having a life outside of the FBI until now. After their adventure in the hidden forest was concluded, he realized that they would probably go their separate ways, and suddenly going back to his apartment all by himself didn’t seem so appealing! Emily needed someone by her side during her transition into royalty, and he knew he could probably help her through that process. She hung her head sadly, and that made his heart ache! She didn’t deserve to feel lonely! She needed someone to constantly remind her about what an amazing woman she was, and he knew he could do that! He saw her hand dangling within reach of him, and he longed to hold it and let her know she wasn’t alone and that he’d be there for her if she needed him. He still didn’t feel worthy of her affection, but his desire to help her overrode that notion. He reached out his hand, and his fingers brushed hers…

All of a sudden, they heard the trees rustle above them, and they turned to face the perpetrator of the noise. Multiple trees were shaking, and they stood at the ready. All at once, creatures like he’d never seen came teeming out from the branches! They had the scaly structure of a lizard, but they also had the segmented body of an ant1 A swarm of them scurried towards them, so Emily pointed at Stephen and chanted, “Speed!” She pointed at herself too and repeated the chant, “Speed!” She quickly added, “Run!”

Stephen and Emily moved with superhuman speed, but the team of strange creatures were close behind them! Stephen asked her, “How do we kill them?”

“We could kill one easily,” Emily answered, “but we’re a little outnumbered right now!”

They managed to get a little ahead of them when the spell wore off. They kept going, but they could hear the creatures catching up to them! To their horror, they saw something massive now blocking their path ahead, so they had no choice but to stop. They stood ready to fight off as many as they could, but they both had a look on their faces as if they were doomed. Stephen couldn’t think of a way out of this, and he dearly wished that he could say goodbye to Emily before they were barraged! The creatures came too rapidly, and Stephen prepared himself for the worst…

Very unexpectedly, the creatures all came to a screeching halt! They wouldn’t cross a certain point on the path and screeched from frustration as if some kind of fence were holding them back. He felt utterly confused, but something dawned onto Emily. “It’s a protective spell! But who would…?”

Stephen turned around and studied the barrier that they had encountered. His eyes went wide when he discovered what it was, and he reported to Emily, “That’s why they stopped!” She turned to see what he meant, and her jaw nearly dropped to the floor! They had come to a wooden house!Sweet & Scary