“No!” he cried out in anguish. He bolted away from the bubbling cauldron and began pacing in the dark room. “I thought the stupid cose might outsmart them, but destroy them?” He stopped his erratic movements and tried to collect himself. “It’s okay! It’s not like they’ll be gone forever! They’ll get reborn, and the queen will get them back! So, no reason for her to get angry with me, right?” He sort of wished he had someone else in the room to keep him stay calm, but he was also glad no one had been around to witness that! Suddenly, a thought occurred to him. “No one saw why they destroyed each other! She can’t prove that my plan brought about their downfall! So, we’re gonna be okay!” He sat back down in his chair and reiterated, “It’ll be alright! Gotta stay focused!” He gazed back into the cauldron and watched Emily and Stephen trek through the woods.
“Charturna!” Emily chanted. Stephen glanced over at her, but nothing had happened. “No, maybe it’s… Charturma! Charturnia! No, that’s not it either!”
“Whatcha doing?” Stephen inquired as casually as he could. He could tell she was becoming frustrated with herself, and he hoped that a nonchalant tone would help her feel more at ease.
Emily lamented, “I can’t remember the spell to make paper. I thought that since I couldnt’ get your phone back that maybe we could relay a message to Ovelstrofe by air message. I wish I could remember the right incantation! I know I’m close!”
Stephen assured her, “Don’t worry about it! We’ll be out of here before you know it, and we can tell them in person!” Emily smiled gratefully, but she didn’t look totally convinced. “We’ve gotta be getting near the end of it! Usually, a dragon doesn’t show up until the story is almost over, right?”
“You would think so!” Emily half chuckled.
Stephen could sense that she still felt guilty for not coming up with the right method to produce paper, so he tried to think of something more humorous to cheer her up. Before he could say anything else, they saw that the path ahead appeared to have been overtaken by wet, grainy soil. Stephen asked her, “Is that mud, or did we actually come across quicksand?”
“It’ looks like mud to me,” Emily answered him, “but I’d rather not take any chances! Take my arm.” She held her elbow up towards him, and while Stephen had no idea what her intentions were, he trusted her enough to comply. After he linked arms with her, she really concentrated as she chanted, “Lanumaciae!” After a moment, she grumbled, “Oh, I know that’s the right spell! Why isn’t it working?”
Stephen told her, “I have trouble concentrating on things when I get too mad at myself. Why don’t you try again when you’re more relaxed?”
“But I’m supposed to know this one!” Emily fretted. “I should have practiced it at home, but I thought I had more time! Every seasoned sorcerer and sorceress knows how to do this! I shouldn’t have saved it for last! If we do make it out of here alive, what are they gonna think of a queen who can’t even do a teleportation spell?”
“They’re gonna think you’re a bad ass for surviving this forest with only basic spells!” Stephen exclaimed. “Just imagine what you’ll do when you’re more seasoned! When the time is right, you’ll be able to do it, you’ll see!” This seemed to do the trick as he saw her fully smile at him for saying that, which made him so pleased to see! He noticed a strand of hair had strayed over her eye, and he felt tempted to brush it off of her. That notion reminded him that their arms were still intertwined, and he suddenly admonished himself for acting so graceless. He quickly pulled himself away and cleared his throat to get his mind back on track. “It looks small enough where we could just jump over it.”
“Oh, okay, let’s try it,” Emily agreed. They both stepped backwards so that they could get a running start. When they got far enough, they both propelled themselves forward and leapt over the muddy patch. It worked! They both landed just on the other side of it.
All of a sudden, Stephen felt a warmth form behind him. They turned around only to see a wispy, orange flame had risen up rapidly! They stepped away from it, but it began to spread at an alarming speed! “Run!” Emily yelled, and they both took off. The faster they went, the closer it got to them! Emily chanted, “Fute!” It had no effect. “Rain!” she pointed towards the sky, and the water came pouring down, but the fire still raged on! Just when the flames were licking their heels, Emily chanted, “Bird!” twice.
Stephen felt his body shift into a smaller, more agile shape, and when he saw that his arms were replaced with wings, he immediately started flapping. Both he and Emily lifted themselves above the trees and started barreling themselves forward. The fire chased their path from down below, so Stephen questioned, “How long will it go?”
“Til it reaches the end of its territory, however long that is!” Emily replied as she put all of her energy into flying forward. They managed to get ahead of it, but it still accelerated rapidly! The two of them desperately needed to see some kind of sign of where the fire would stop, and finally, Emily shouted, “There! To my left!”
Stephen looked in the direction that she had indicated and spotted an animal with lustrious, white fur fleeing from the flames as quickly as it could, so they aimed to land by it. At that moment, Stephen could feel the effects of the spell wearing off, but instead of conjuring another landing pad, they both saw a tree branch that they could grab on to. Before they could grasp it, the bough got consumed by the fire! They unexpectedly plummeted to the ground, and as his feet hit the floor, Stephen could feel a terrible pain shoot up both of his legs! He could hear Emily moan from her hard landing too, and Stephen felt sure that both of them had broken some bones! They saw the flames engulf the tree, and to their horror, they found that neither of them could get up! They flipped themselves onto their stomachs and tried to pull their bodies away from danger, but they could feel that the heat had reached them! Stephen threw himself on top of Emily and shielded her, dearly hoping that this gesture would keep her alive!
Before the flames could touch them, the creature they had seen earlier emerged from the nearby bushes and stood boldly in front of the fire. Stephen wondered what the fox-like critter intended by this action, and then it opened it mouth. They felt a strong pull come from the animal, and it stunned Stephen to see it was sucking in the flames! In a matter of seconds, the fire had disappeared!
Stephen and Emily turned themselves over and saw the creature happily gambol towards them. Although Stephen was still hurting tremendously, he couldn’t help but grin as it merrily approached them. He pat its head, and it simpered contentedly. “It’s cute!” Stephen croaked out.
In a very strained voice, Emily informed him, “It’s a vulpecular.” The vulpecular hopped over to her, and she pet it as she continued to explain, “They feed on oxygen. Good nymphs often keep them as pets.”
The vulpecular chirpily barked at them, and Stephen told it, “Thank you for saving our lives!” It cheerily barked again before it ran off. “Considering how rare good spirited creatures are here, we got incredibly lucky!” A twinge of pain shot up his legs, and he winced. “Okay, maybe not that lucky! Do you think our friend there belongs to someone?” Emily shrugged. “So, now what?”
Alastair, Allison, and two other men stared at a map and watched a red dot travel from the end of one street to the other. One of the agents probed, “She’s in the middle of downtown Ovelstrofe, so could her boss’s headquarters possibly be there?”
“She may not go there right away,” a second agent pointed out. “She might be hanging out somewhere far away from his or her hideout because she assumes we’d be tracking her for a while.”
“Or the person could be hiding in plain sight,” Allison remarked. “She’s heading towards the clubbing area, so maybe the suspect is using all of the noise to cover up their own.”
A memory got stirred up for Alastair. “A club? One of the heirs owns a nightclub!” He reached for a stack of papers behind him and quickly scanned down to the section he needed. “Forty six Douglas Avenue?”
The first agent confirmed, “She just walked in there!”
The second agent queried, “Who owns it?”
Alastair put the file down for them to examine it. “He’s a hedge fund manager and philanthropist, not very high on the list though.”
“Not yet anyways,” Allison darkly commented.
The first agent asked, “So, is she going in there because he’s the potential suspect or a potential victim?”
Alastair shrugged and answered, “We’ll have to go there and find out.”
“How do we wanna do this?” the second agent questioned. “Should we send a SWAT team, or do we wanna wait for a judge to issue an arrest warrant?”
“No, no, no!” Alastair shook his head. “We can’t do any of those things. If he’s a victim, we could risk the lives of the patrons there while we try to capture him or her. If he is our suspect, he’ll be prepared for a police ambush. We’ll have to use a much subtler approach.” He turned to Allison and inquired, “Have you ever done any undercover work?”
Allison seemed taken aback by his premise. “You want me to go in there? Wouldn’t it be safer to brew a surveillance potion?”
Alastair reasoned, “If the suspect is there, he or she would use a concealment spell to block anyone from viewing his or her activities. No, if we want to learn anything, we need to integrate ourselves into their world.”
Allison wondered, “What exactly did you have in mind?”