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…