The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 13

He’s still here!” Cally declared.

“How do you know?” Derrick looked down to where she was staring and saw a river of blood!
Joanne and Sasha saw it too and shrieked. Derrick pulled back the curtains, and Cally, who was closest to the entry way, burst into the room first. She followed the trail of blood to find Homer on the ground with a sword sticking out of his chest! The four of them cautiously approached the body only to find he was still gasping for air! Sasha cried out, “I’m going to go get help!” She dashed out of the room and was quickly followed by Joanne.

Homer’s breath appeared very labored, and they could tell he didn’t have long. He reached a clenched hand towards Cally, and she assumed he wanted comfort in his final moments, but when his palm met hers, he slipped a crumpled piece of paper to her. As soon as she took it, his body went limp and he stopped breathing.

Before she could open the paper to see its contents, Joanne and Sasha returned with a constable. Joanne gasped, “Oh no! We’re too late!”

The constable checked the pulse in his neck to verify this. “He’s gone!” Joanne and Sasha held each other as they began to weep, and Cally became upset as well after watching him die. Derrick offered his arms, and she fell into them gratefully. She didn’t know Homer well, but it traumatized her to think he had suffered so greatly just for helping them! The constable questioned them all, “Did any of you see anything?”

Derrick replied, “No. We just came to visit and found him like that.”

“How do you know the victim?” The constable had asked them very routinely, but Cally and Derrick weren’t sure how to answer that. Before they could even try, another constable barged in. “Ah, Porter, we have a-.”

“Shh!” he hissed as he locked the door behind him. “Get down!” He shut the curtains as the other constable ushered them against the wall in order to stay out of sight. He then pulled the curtain in front of Homer’s chambers and joined them in cowering along the wall.

They heard the door open and heavy boots stomp in. The perpetrator shut the door behind them, and for a moment, they all hoped that whoever it was had left. A moment later, they heard Reisseck say, “Give it up, old man!” As he approached Homer’s chambers, everyone’s hearts beat rapidly, but none as hard as Cally’s did! She froze solid because she was now cornered, and although Galena had assurred them that his powers would get weakened if he killed someone, they were standing next to proof that this consequence didn’t deter him! They had no way out, so she put her hood over her face and prayed he would spare them. The constables drew their weapons as Reisseck pulled the curtain back…

Before he could see into the room, they saw a beam of light that narrowly missed him! Reisseck turned around, and when he saw who did it, he seethed, “You!” He drew out his wand and chased after whoever did it.

For a while, no one moved. The house sounded empty, but they used the utmost caution with this matter. The constables were the first to approach the entry way, and after they searched the area, Porter stated, “It’s clear in here. Prewitt, can you secure the streets?”

Prewitt kept his weapon out as he very alertly made his way out of the house, and when he got onto the street, he pointed his weapon as he surveyed it all. After a very thorough search, he called out to them, “Clear!”

Porter relaxed a little and put his weapon away. He addressed the other four, “You should get out of here in case he comes back. Contact us if you can think of anything relevant to the investigation.” They all agreed and hurried out of there.

Joanne and Sasha turned left towards their house, and Cally and Derrick turned right where they could see their horse tied to a hitching post in front of a nearby tavern. After they got to their ride, Derrick wondered, “Which way did they go? Which way do we go?”

Cally scanned the ground for footprints and found paw prints going towards the northern end of town. “Oh no! Galena!”

“She’ll be okay!” Derrick assurred her. “Cats are quick and nimble, and I don’t think Reisseck quite measures up!” Cally chuckled slightly as they took off towards the southern exit.

They rode out into a field which had lush, green grass, billowy shade trees, and wildflowers sprinkled all over. It seemed like it would provide an enjoyable ride for them, but as they began to get some distance from Bohemma, Cally felt a strong pull. “Stop!” she directed Derrick.

“What’s wrong?” Derrick responded swiftly.

“The binding spell.” She felt disappointed at this setback. Instead of a nice country ride, they would have to go back to the chaos that they just escaped from. She also worried about possibly facing Reisseck again, and that prompted her to come up with a realization. “Reisseck obviously isn’t in Bohemma anymore! He must be heading back to Dregs Hollow.”

“Then let’s go find Galena,” Derrick suggested. Cally nodded in agreement, and they headed back into the village.

As they trotted through Bohemma, they saw that people had resumed their normal activities, which Cally found kind of bizarre. She couldn’t believe that a menacing sorcerer could terrorize their town one minute and as soon as he left, they went about their day as if nothing happened. She supposed that they didn’t have a choice, but she didn’t think she could get over it so easily. She knew that none of them were worried about Galena like she was, and she figured that this fact may have spawned her critical thoughts. She couldn’t help it though, after all, she gave them so much help! Plus, she just saved six people’s lives, so she certainly didn’t want her to get killed over it! She really hoped to see a sign of her soon!

They passed by the street where Homer had lived, and they saw several constables investigating his murder now. “Why do they bother? It’s not like they’re even going to try to arrest him!” Cally muttered somewhat bitterly.

“It’s good they’re documenting it,” Derrick opinionated. “We can show this to Duke Ferrin if he becomes king and tries to enact laws too favorable to criminals like him.”

As they took off from that area, Cally remarked, “They should appoint a sorcerer or sorceress to head a law enforcement division devoted to these kinds of crimes!”

“That’s a good idea!” Derrick complimented. “You know, I think you’d make a good queen!”

Cally found herself blushing furiously, but before either of them could say more on the subject, they spotted paw prints heading out of the north end of town. They followed them as they created a trail leading up to the Oreads Forest path and into some brush by the lake that Cally had frequented. At first, the lake seemed empty, but once Galena realized that they were there, she hopped out from inside a bush with her tail wrapped around a wooden wand! “You’re okay!” Cally gushed.

Galena responded quite unabashedly, “He bested me once, you think I’m going to let him do it again? You should have seen the look on people’s faces when the big, scary sorcerer was chasing after a little kitty cat!” She laughed, and Derrick and Cally smiled. “Besides, his powers are a little weaker now since he killed someone.”

“He must have had some pretty important information against Reisseck for him to kill Homer,” Derrick observed.

“The piece of paper!” Cally recalled. She pulled the crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket. “Homer had this in his hand as he was lying on the floor. He must have died trying to protect it from Reisseck!”

“Either that or he found it as he was lying on the floor,” Galena theorized. “He definitely wanted to tell you something!”

Derrick put in, “Let’s hope he found Reisseck’s real name! Open it!”

Cally spotted drops of blood stained on it, but she tried not to think about it as she unraveled the small ball it had gotten squeezed into. As she unfolded it, she could tell that it came from a newspaper. Everyone’s nerves were high in anticipation as she revealed the article. It had a picture of Queen Avalyn and King Henrick with utterly distraught looks on their faces as they addressed a large crowd in front of Barlock, and the headline read: “Newly Born Princess Murdered Inside of Her Nursery.” Cally, Derrick, and Galena looked puzzled, and Cally said thoughtfully, “Well, we did ask about disappearances from thirty three years ago. We didn’t give him a lot of details about what we were looking for.”

Galena pointed out, “But when Reisseck entered into Homer’s house, he specifically told him to give something up. This story must be significant to Reisseck! I wonder why!”

Derrick scanned through the columns of the story. “Hmm, I don’t see any mention of Reisseck or even an evil sorcerer. We’re definitely missing something! What is it about this piece that would make Reisseck return to the crime scene to retrieve it?”

Cally studied the picture for a moment, and eventually she spotted something in the corner that looked familiar. Suddenly, it clicked for her! “He was there that day! Now it makes sense why he didn’t kill you, Galena. He had already planned to weaken his powers on someone else! He killed the princess!”

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The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 12

When Cally got to their usual meeting point along the Oreads Forest path, she saw that Derrick had not only arrived there before her but had brought a tall, slender, brown hourse. He quickly explained, “I figured we may have to dash out of Bohemma quickly if Reisseck shows up again, so I didn’t think we should walk. But I couldn’t risk bringing Oriance since she’s so recognizable. Poor thing, she was so confused when I didn’t pick her! Oh, and I thought your cloak would be too recognizable as well, so I bought you this.” He reached into a saddlebag and brought out a brown, hooded cloak. “It blends in with the color of most of the buildings there. What do you think?”

Cally didn’t know what to say. She took it into her hands and caressed it, feeling the smooth texture of the fabric. “Wow, I can’t remember the last time I got new clothes! Or a gift! This is so…!” She couldn’t decide on a word that accurately summarized how this kind gesture made her feel, so instead, she gave him a hug. He embraced her back, and for a moment, they both lingered. Cally so rarely received any kind affection that she had almost forgotten what it felt like! Occasionally, a customer would give her a squeeze from excitement of winning a prize, but this felt different. Something about getting wrapped up in his arms made her feel safe, and being this close to him made her feel closer to him in a metaphysical way too. She didn’t want to let go, but when she heard the horse whinny, she remembered the task ahead of them. “We don’t have much time!”

“Right!” Derrick instantly let go, and Cally swiftly unbuttoned her cloak to switch her red one for the brown one that she just got. When she took her old cloak off, Derrick’s eyes went wide. “Woah!”

“What?” For a moment, Cally feared he spotted something dangerous near them and looked around to see what he saw.

“Oh, I’m sorry! It’s just… I’ve never seen you without your cloak on!” Derrick shifted his eyes to the ground bashfully.

Cally usually only took her cloak off at the house, so she didn’t think much of her white blouse, light brown corset, and long, dark brown skirt, but she could understand why he would got surprised by their reveal. “I know, it’s all patchy and old. It doesn’t look that great, but-.”

“No, it’s very flattering on you!” Derrick’s face showed genuine interest at the way she wore her clothes.

Cally blushed profusely. “Oh, thank you!” She incidentally broke eye contact with him, and when she noticed the horse, she again reminded herself of their need to hurry. She quickly put her new cloak on and commented, “I can’t let Reisseck find me here!”

“Right!” Derrick’s attention snapped back into place and he hopped onto the brown horse. Cally put her red cloak in the saddlebag, and then Derrick had the horse lower itself so she could get on easier. After she hopped on, he informed her, “Henrick gave me a royal decree to let us search the hall of records, so I thought we’d start there.”

“Sounds good to me,” Cally responded. Derrick signaled the horse to gallop, and off they went.

When they got to the government building where the hall of records were located, the clerk spotted them from across the room and was about to shut them out again when Derrick waved a roll of parchment wit ha royal seal on it so could clearly see it. Her face fell, and she got off of her stool to open the door on the side. Cally and Derrick saw a cramped room full of filing cabinets crammed to the max, but before they could wonder where they would begin, the clerk bitterly notified them, “The missing persons files from that year were burnt down.”

Derrick and Cally groaned, and then Cally probed, “When did this happen?”

“That same year,” she replied listlessly.

Derrick puzzled, “Why couldn’t you tell us this before?”

“I swore I wouldn’t tell,” she disclosed. “Bad things happen to people who go against him.”

“The sorcerer?” Cally inferred.

“Shh!” The clerk rapidly shut the metal gate over the window. “Don’t let anyone hear you talk about him! People will gladly turn you over to him to save their own hides!”

Derrick remarked, “The newspapers from that manufacturer got burnt, the library’s copies went missing, and now this! He’s really covering his tracks!”

“Do you know what information he’s trying to conceal?” Cally inquired.

The clerk folded her arms defiantely. “I’m not saying a word! Now, will you two please do your research and get out of here? I’m not willing to risk him catching me talking to you if he goes on another patrol today!”

“The librarian told us you all were willing to do whatever it takes to help take him down,” Derrick pointed out.

“Did she now?” The clerk raised an eyebrow. “She’ll be next!”

“Next for what?” Cally prodded.

The clerk snapped, “If she’s willing to risk her life, that’s her business! I don’t like his presence in our village either, but I’ll do what I can to stay alive! Look around if you insist, but you won’t find help here.” Cally and Derrick glanced at each other and non-verbally decided that there was no point in riffling through these files for something that probably didn’t exist anymore, so they decided to just leave.

When Cally and Derrick left the building, Cally posed to Derrick, “Should we check on the librarian first or go see if the historian found anything?”

Derrick thought about it for a moment. “Hmm.. If the historian found something relevant, we may not need to any of our own research. If he doesn’t, then we can go to the library for a while.”

“That’s a good idea,” Cally agreed. “Plus, Reisseck may come by the time we get to the library, but it’s close to the southern exit, so it would be easier to escape from him there. The historian lives right in the center of town, so it would be harder to get away from him there. We should get to the historian quickly before he gets here!” Derrick nodded in agreement, and they hopped on the horse to do just that.

When they strolled up to the historian’s place, immediately, they could tell something was wrong. From the window, they could see papers strewed across the floor, which greatly differed from the neat and tidy office that they had seen last time. Derrick pulled out a small dagger out of his pocket and held it to his side in a ready position. He knocked on the door, and the sound echoed as if the house was almost empty. Derrick called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Cally turned the other way to scan the streets and make sure they didn’t have the wrong set of eyes on them. When no one answered, they decided to go inside.

The door was locked. Cally affirmed, “There must be another way inside!” They looked around the front to see if they could find a spare key, but they found none. While they were scouring the area, a familiar female’s voice asked them, “What are you looking for?”

They looked to the cottage on their right, and they spotted Joanne with her head peeking out of the window! Derrick answered, “We’re trying to find a way to get in. We think something may be wrong.”

“Oh no!” Joanne ducked back inside her house and paged, “Sasha! Bring out Homer’s key!”

Sasha and Joanne came over to them, and when they glanced inside the window, they both gasped. Sasha exclaimed, “Oh no! When did this happen?”

“We were hoping you could tell us that!” Cally had hoped that his neighbors might have offerred insight into what may have occurred here, but they seemed just as surprised as they were.

Sasha expounded, “We just got back not too long ago. Our job takes us away for days at a time.”

Joanne added, “We’re scullery maids on a trade ship, and we just got back from our last voyage and were about to take a nap when we heard you knocking next door. It had me worried because normally we have Homer watch our house while we’re gone…”

“We’re going to have to check on our house when we’re finished here,” Sasha noted. She shook her head and handed them a key. “Sorry! Here!” Derrick, who had been closest to the door, took the key and gingerly put it in the lock. He slowly opened the door, and they all peered inside.

File cabinets had gotten tipped over, but they were clearly empty. The books that had once surrounded the place were no longer there, and all that seemed to remain was a stray piece of paper here and there. “He took all of it?” Cally reacted in shock. “Why?”

Joanne put in, “How could someone have taken all all of these books and papers out of this house with no one seeing it happen? It’s not like they could just vanish into thin air!”

Derrick and Cally gave each other knowing looks but didn’t say anything, and then Derrick directed, “Let’s see if here’s in here somewhere.” Between the mess and Homer’s already stuffed conditions, moving around the house was like going through a maze. They didn’t see anything suspicious in the dining area, so they made their way to his chambers, which had been sectioned off by a curtain. Before they could pull back the curtain though, Cally stepped on something that filled her with dread. She looked down only to see her worst fear had been confirmed…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 11

What could be so important that Reisseck would give up a piece of his soul?” Cally wondered.

“He wants Duke Ferrin to take over the kingdom,” Derrick brought up. “Maybe you have ties to that.”

Cally mused, “Maybe my parents had something to do with him not taking the throne, like maybe they were helping the king and queen look for ways to conceive a child or maybe they were part of a rebellion to take Duke Ferrin down! But then why keep me around? He would have been better off killing me too.”

“I don’t think he killed them,” Galena put in. “Taking away someone’s freedom weakens one’s powers, but taking a life takes away so much more. If he was willing to do that, I don’t think he would have permanently disfigured me.”

“Why didn’t he permanently transfigure you?” Derrick asked Cally. “If he could permanently transform someone, why do you have to take a potion every day?”

“That does seem strange,” Cally answered. “He didn’t want anyone to recognize me, but he obviously didn’t want anyone to recognize you, Galena, either. Yet he made your disguise permanent. Maybe he wants my identity to get revealed someday! But what would he be waiting for?”

Galena theorized, “He wants Duke Ferrin to take over Lacoria, and he’s bound himself to you. You are a woman, maybe he wants you to marry Duke Ferrin, and since he’s bound to you, he’ll get to enjoy a palace life without having to do any of the work required to run a country.”

“He does like power with minimal work!” Cally felt revolted at the thought of marrying Duke Ferrin. “But how does he know Duke Ferrin would even want to marry me?”

“Any man would gladly marry you, given the chance!” Derrick remarked, making Cally blush.

“Maybe that’s why he disguised you temporarily,” Galena inputted. “He doesn’t want another man to marry you and destroy his plans. However, he does want you to maintain your looks so Duke Ferrin will marry you when the time comes.”

“That’s possible,” Cally considered. “But he’s had me since I was a baby. He couldn’t have known how my looks would turn out back then.”

“Your parents could have arranged for you two to marry,” Derrick supposed.

Galena commented, “If that was the case, then he would have kept her parents around. Perhaps he forged some documents to make it seem as though your parents did make that arrangement and he’s waiting until Duke Ferrin moves into the castle to present them to him.”

“That sounds like him!” Cally slumped down, feeling quite dejected at learning this. “Ugh, I don’t want to marry Duke Ferrin! And Queen Avalyn is getting close to the age where she can’t have kids anymore, so if that happens, King Henrick and Queen Avalyn could get challenged for the throne! Oh, we don’t have much time!”

Derrick put an arm around her reassuringly. “You won’t have to marry Duke Ferrin! We’ll find a way to make sure that doesn’t happen!” He turned to Galena. “How do you break a binding spell?”

Galena explained, “As complicated as it is to create this hex, it’s actually pretty simple to break. The captive one simply needs to say the castor’s name three times to release themselves.”

“That’s it? That’s too easy! I can…” Her face grew crestfallen at a sudden realization. “I’ve said his name more than three times in my life. Reisseck isn’t his real name.”

Galena suggested, “You can try telling stories about random people and say a different name each time. You might guess it by accident.”

“I could try,” Cally agreed to it. “With so many names out there though, it may take a while.”

“The woman at the library told us she’d help us in taking him down. She can point us to books of names! And I can check the castle records to see if they have any files on national crimes involving a sorcerer or plots against Duke Ferrin,” Derrick offered.

“That sounds…” Cally felt something pull at her, and she moaned, “Oh no! He’s heading back to Dregs Hollow! We got to go!”

“We’ll be back,” Derrick informed Galena. “We were planning to go to Bohemma tomorrow to talk to a historian, so we’ll be in the area!”

“Oh, the historian may have some ancient names that might help too,” Galena responded. “Feel free to stop by tomorrow! I’ll do my own research too and let you know what I find.”

“Deal! See you tomorrow!” Cally waved goodbye and dashed out the door before the binding spell made her freeze. Derrick quickly said goodbye as well before he followed after Cally.

Back in Dregs Hollow, Cally walked into the house as if she had a particularly long day at work, and as she took her cloak off, Reisseck emerged from his bedroom and inquired, “How was your day?”

Normally, Cally didn’t vent too much about her day since Reisseck didn’t really care about the mundane details about her work, but she had a mission to complete this day. She tried to think of the list of names that she and Derrick compiled while they waited for the time she would normally come home and ranted, “It was awful! First, Tristan threw up all over Albert, and Bertrand and Marshall fought over…” She watched Reisseck’s face as she rattled off different names, and he didn’t flinch at all. She thought it was kind of a long shot that she would nail it on the first day, but a small part of her hoped that this nightmare would finish that night, which resulted in her no longer needing to feign a depressed mood!

In a large library with gray, stone walls, Derrick feverishly searched through record books while the candle he used to light the room had almost melted into nothing. Henrick came in with a fresh candle and placed it in front of him. “Here, this will help you see the pages better.”

“Huh?” It took a moment for Derrick to come out of his stupor and tune in to what was happening at the present moment. “Oh, thank you, Henrick!”

“Is everything okay with you?” Henrick queried.

Derrick replied to his question with another question, “Why do you ask?”

“You’re acting strangely.” Henrick pulled up a chair and sat next to him. “And I think I am the authority on royalty acting strangely!”

Derrick chuckled slightly, and then he reported, “There’s a sorcerer terrorizing Bohemma, and I’m trying to find more information about his identity.”

“Uh huh.” Henrick didn’t look totally convinced. “What’s her name?”

“Uh, I said sorcerer not sorceress,” Derrick corrected him as nicely as possible.

“No, no, no! I’m not that out of it. Tell me there’s not a girl involved.” Henrick watched him expectantly.

Derrick bashfully admitted, “Her name is Cally.” Henrick smiled with the satisfaction of knowing he had been correct. Derrick elaborated, “The sorcerer is holding her captive in Dregs Hollow, and the only way we can break the spell that’s binding her to him is to find out his true name.”

“Wow, that’s quite a predicament!” Henrick reacted. “She must be something for you to risk the wrath of an evil sorcerer!”

“I’ve never met anyone like her!” Derrick sighed happily. “She loves books as much as I do! She’s so smart! And kind! And just… she has this thirst for adventure, and all I want to do is take her to explore the world!”

“I bet that’s not all you want to do with her!” Henrick said with a wink.

Derrick grinned wryly. “Well, she is beautiful… But I’m not doing this just to talk her into bed! She’s an amazing person who doesn’t deserve to live such a wretched life! I can’t go back to Andor without her!”

“I understand,” Henrick related. “I would have done the same if Avalyn had been in peril. I keep worrying about her when she goes on these long trips, like I keep feeling like one day I’ll hear that she’s in danger and I’ll have to go rescue her.”

“Why don’t you go with her on these trips?” Derrick pondered.

Henrick sadly shook his head. “After she’s finished with official business overseas, she goes on long searches for our daughter. She thinks because we didn’t find her body that she’s still alive, but there was blood by the window in the nursery, there’s no way she could be…” He couldn’t finish that sentence, even the very thought of it seemed to give him pain. He cleared his throat and changed the subject, “Boy, I could use a drink right now! Care to join me?”

“I can’t!” Derrick groaned. “I won’t be able to get any rest until I get some answers!”

“You won’t get any answers if you work yourself to death,” Henrick reasoned. “Besides, wouldn’t you have better luck searching in the Bohemman records?”

“I tried that,” he told Henrick. “They wouldn’t give me access to them. I meant to ask you…”

“I’ll provide you with a royal edict in the morning,” Henrick assured him.

“Great! Thank you!” Derrick responded graciously. “I think I will join you for that drink after all!” Henrick warmly smiled and gently pat Derrick on the back as they left the room.

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 10

As everyone who worked at Camellia’s Circus stood in line for their daily tasks, Cally made sure that Claude could see her face. Besides the fact that her transfiguring potion still took effect, she had chipmunk cheeks from a full mouth. When she got close to the front, Claude asked, “Cally, are you okay?”

Cally released the pressure she put on her mouth to keep the contents inside, which spewed a chunky brown liquid across the ground! The few people who were still there shrieked as they bolted out of the way. Cally weakly told Claude, “This has been going on all morning.”

“Why don’t you take the day off?” Claude suggested.

“I think I’m feeling better…” Cally clutched her stomach as if it were lurching.

Claude gently directed her, “Go home and rest. Why don’t you take tomorrow off too? Just in case.”

“If you insist…” Cally suddenly put her hands over her mouth and ran off.

Cally found Derrick on the dirt path that ran alongside the Oreads Forest. “Man, that concoction you made tasted disgusting!”

“If it tasted good, you would have enjoyed it too much and it would have been less effective!” Derrick kidded. “Do you want to know what was in it?”

“No!” Cally immediately responded, which made Derrick grin somewhat mischievously before they headed out of the area.

Derrick and Cally sat at the furthest point that Cally could go. Cally, whose face was now clear, read the book that Derrick had lent her while he looked over her shoulder. Cally read a particularly exciting part and exclaimed, “Wow!”

“I know!” Derrick agreed. “Just wait ’til you get to the next part where he-!”

“Hey!” Cally interrupted.

Derrick defended himself, “I wasn’t going to reveal anything too salacious!”

“No, look!” She folded the corner of the page she left out on, stood up, and took a step forward. “The pull is lessening! He’s on the move!”

“Let’s hope he takes his time in Bohemma!” Derrick remarked as he got up and fell into her footstep.

At first, they just inched along, but after a while, they were able to reach a comfortable gait. Not too much later, they saw a huge cottage with rounded walls and a somewhat domed roof. The peeling red paint and disheveled rooftop gave the place an abandoned feel to it. When they got closer, they saw wooden steps leading up to a purple door. They gingerly stepped onto the small stairs and were relieved to find that the structure didn’t buck under their weight. Cally knocked on the door and waited for a response. When they got none, Derrick called out, “Hello? Is anyone there?” Cally, who was closest to the doorknob, slowly opened the door, and they both peeked inside.

To their astonishment, the place was in total disarray! Furniture had gotten torn and thrown everywhere, and personal belongings spilled out all over the place. Cally concluded, “She got attacked here!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t doubt that,” Derrick concurred. “There isn’t a thick layer of dust though, so I imagine the royal guards have been here to investigate her disappearance. At least it still looks like the original crime scene is in tact. Hopefully, they left behind some clues to what happened here! Let’s look around.”

As Derrick checked out the other side of the cottage, Cally searched through the stuff in the front. This appeared to be where the sorceress ran her apothecary business. She saw several empty bottles and a cash till on the floor, but her curiosity got roused when she saw several books in the corner. She had always been drawn to books, so she thought that maybe there was a connection to her parents there. A part of her was dying to read magical lore, but she tried to focus on the task at hand. She spotted an open book on the floor and thought she may as well start there. As she reached for it, something darted out from under some blankets, which startled her enough to make her yelp! Derrick came out to assist her, and they both saw that the perpetrator had been a gray cat with a patch of white on its chest. Cally said breathily, “Oh, it’s just a cat!”

Derrick joked, “At least we won’t run into any rats in here!”

Cally laughed as she sifted through other books. From the corner of her eye, she noticed that the cat stared hard at her as if it were trying to get her attention. It tapped its paw twice on a page of the book it sat on, something Cally found a little odd. She shook it off and tried to stay focused, but the cat kept trying to get her attention. Finding herself too distracted, she stopped what she was doing and wearily expressed to the cat, “Kitty, I know you’ve been lonely for quite a while, but we don’t have a lot of time, so…”

She finally noticed the words that the cat’s paw kept pointing to, “Talking Potion.” Intrigued, she decided to check it out. The kitty hopped off the book as she picked it up, and Cally thought it seemed like an easy elixir to make. Derrick could sense that her attention had shifted and looked over to see her enthralled by a book. He inquired, “Did you find something?”

“Maybe a witness.” Cally showed him the page she had been reading.

Derrick peeked over her shoulder, and his face contorted to display a lot of skepticism. “A potion to make animals talk?”

“The cat pointed it out to me,” Cally justified herself.

“It was probably a coincidence,” Derrick opinionated.

Cally disagreed, “The book was open to this page, and the cat put its paw on the title repeatedly. I think it wants us to make it because it wants to tell us something.”

Derrick wanted to be supportive, but he still appeared fairly doubtful. “I’ve never even heard of some of these ingredients! We can’t spend our time searching everywhere for this stuff when we need to…” He spotted the cat pacing in front of a jar, and he noted that this element was listed in the directions. “That’s not normal cat behavior!”

Cally put a cauldron she found on the ground. “Worth a shot!”

Each of them searched about the cabin for the ingredients, and if they couldn’t find one, the cat would park itself in front of it. When they found all of them, the cat pushed a wooden spoon towards them, and Cally picked it up and stirred all of it together. The liquid inside turned into an almost translucent color and bubbled slightly. When it was finished, Derrick and Cally watched with rapt attention as the cat stood on its hind legs and lapped up some of the elixir.

After the cat finished, it sat down on the floor next to the cauldron, and for a moment, it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen. When the cat began to move its lips, the two of them almost fainted! The kind voice of an elderly female addressed them, “Thank you so much! I haven’t been able to communicate with anyone in thirty three years!”

Derrick and Cally gave her each other an astounded look, and after absorbing the shock a little, Derrick uttered, “Who are you?”

The cat regarded them, “My apologizes! My name is Galena, and I used to be the apothecary of Bohemma.”

Cally and Derrick’s jaw dropped at that, and Cally probed, “How on Earth did you become a cat?”

Galena recalled, “Not long after I gave King Henrick and Queen Avalyn a remedy to help counteract the infertility effect of a potion someone most likely slipped her, word got out that the queen had conceived a child. A sorcerer found me at my cottage. He was furious that I helped them procure an heir to the throne! We battled it out, and somehow, he bested me. I turned into a cat, and he laughed. He teased me about not being able to talk or do magic ever again before he left.”

“He had a plan,” Derrick deduced. “He knew you had the power to stop him.”

“He was pleased you couldn’t talk?” Cally questioned. “Was there something he didn’t want you to reveal?”

Galena shrugged. “I’m not sure what he thought I knew. He didn’t tell me anyways. He actually didn’t say much other than the fact that he wanted Duke Ferrin to take over Lacoria.”

Derrick remarked, “Maybe you know something that you don’t realize is significant to him. Did anyone else in Bohemma go missing around the same time as you?”

“In Bohemma?” Galena replied. “Not that I know of.”

“Do you know why a sorcerer would have given me this?” Cally showed her star on her palm.

Galena studied it curiously. “Binding spells aren’t easy to do. There’s a difficult ritual that must be done to give the spell a lasting effect, and it comes at a heavy price. Just like a fatal hex, this one requires you to give up part of your soul. Those gifted with magic grow their talents by helping others, but to take away someone’s freedom, your skills become less potent. To make this sacrifice, the need of the caster must be great! Whoever did this to you needs you to stick around for a very important reason, a matter of life or death!”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 9

Do you think she’s connected to my missing parents?” Cally posed to Derrick.

Derrick mulled it over for a moment. “Hmm… She went missing around the same time that they did, but she didn’t have any kids, so she couldn’t be your mother unless she hid her pregnancy.”

“Joanne and Sasha said she was kind and helpful, so why would she lie about something like that?” Cally pondered.

“True,” Derrick acknowledged. “And if she admitted to the town that she was a sorceress, she must have been a fairly honest person. But if she didn’t give birth to you, then what connection could she have to you?”

“The binding spell.” Cally reminded him by showing him her palm with the star on it. “Either she cast it to make Reisseck keep me or Reisseck cast it on me to keep me from her. Both scenarios would make sense as to why Reisseck wouldn’t tell me about where I came from.”

“But then why did she disappear?” Derrick probed. “If the solution to a custodial conflict was a binding spell, wouldn’t the problem have gotten solved at that point? Why would he be motivated to make her disappear? Unless she just witnessed the crime and Reisseck wanted to silence her.”

“I could see Reisseck doing that,” Cally remarked. “But if he did something to my parents, why did he keep me alive? Did the binding spell save my life or did he have some other purpose in taking me?”

“I don’t think we’ll know for sure until we figure out what really happened.” Derrick surmised. “The missing sorceress may have nothing to do with your case, so investigating her disappearance may waste our time. My gut says the two crimes are connected though.”

“Mine too,” Cally agreed. “So, I guess we need to see if her cottage is…”

Cally trailed off as they saw the people roaming the streets suddenly dart inside the nearest building, hiding and cowering in fear. Derrick and Cally looked on in confusion, so Elif grabbed them and pulled them inside the bakery. “Don’t let him see you!” he hissed.

“What’s going on?” Derrick whispered.

As Elif locked the front door of his shop, he informed them, “The sorcerer is here. Stay out of his way, whatever you do!”

Elif’s wife motioned for Cally and Derrick to join her behind the counter, so they dashed over there.Elif did as well and peaked at the street through the display case. Derrick and Cally curiously peaked at the scene as well. The entire area grew eerily quiet as the faint sound of footsteps echoed in the distance. Soon, a figure emerged wearing a tattered old cloak that covered his face. As he grew closer, Cally caught a glimpse of his boots and gasped, “It’s Reisseck!”

“Shh!” both Elif and his wife spat.

Reisseck glanced in their direction, so they all ducked out of his eyesight. They could tell he was lingering there to search for the source of the noise, and Cally scolded herself for not using more caution. She inwardly prayed that Reisseck wouldn’t come inside and find her. She could only imagine the devastating consequences that would stem from that! To their relief, they heard his footsteps sound again. Elif peeked first, and, after a moment, Cally and Derrick followed suit. They saw Reisseck staring incredulously at the horse, and Derrick’s face fell. “No! Not Oriane! Please don’t hurt her!”

Reisseck stared hard at the white steed, and Derrick looked ready to defend her if needed. They all breathed easier when he did not touch the horse at all. Instead, he went into the library, and Elif groaned, “I hope he doesn’t stay there long! Usually he just leaves after he’s patrolled the city.”

“How often does he come here?” Cally asked Elif. She was glad that he hadn’t discovered that she didn’t have work that day because one of her first thoughts had been that he came to retrieve her, but now she wondered about his motive for consistently coming to Bohemma.

Before Elif could answer, Reisseck came out of the library cursing. They watched as he stomped away in the direction he came. They could feel everyone’s dread as he walked past them, and they could tell no one wanted to feel the brunt of his wrath. For a while, the whole town stood still. Movement began again in trickles, and they realized that it must have meant that Reisseck left. Elif told Cally, “It’s always different. He hasn’t bothered anyone in years though, but I haven’t seen him get made like that before, so I’m worried that will soon change!”

Elif’s wife put in, “What could have possibly set him off like that?”

Derrick and Cally exchanged guilty glances, and then Derrick pulled his sack of coins out. He handed Elif some money and said, “Keep the change!”

“We hope this episode hasn’t scared you from returning!” Elif addressed them as they started to head out.

Cally somewhat darkly responded, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back!” They quickly left.

Derrick and Cally raced to the library, and when they got inside, they saw people timidly leaving their hiding spots. Derrick asked the woman behind the counter, “Is everyone okay?”

The lady shakily answered, “Yes, we’re all fine. He just got really angry and yelled loud, which made us all nervous!”

“What did he say to you?” Cally now felt stressed that the clerk revealed that she had been there. If she told Reisseck that, he would know that she was investigating him, and she could not go back home. She wouldn’t mind leaving Dregs Hollow forever, but she couldn’t go far from there because of the binding curse. Plus, the more she hung around him the more information she could potentially gleam from him. She didn’t want to leave until she solved this mystery and could roam the world freely!

The clerk replied, “I was too frightened to speak! He asked me if someone from Barlock asked for the newspapers, and I nodded yes. He got frustrated and stormed out.”

Cally apologized, “I’m so sorry that our inquiry put you in such a difficult position!” She felt relieved that Reisseck didn’t suspect her, but she didn’t want to put innocent people in danger over this!

“We all know who he is,” the clerk assured her. “If you’re doing something to take him down, we’ll do what we can to help you!”

Derrick and Cally were touched by this show of solidarity, and Derrick graciously communicated, “Thank you so much! If there’s anything we can do for you, please let us know!”

Outside of the library, Derrick took Oriane off of the hitching post, but they didn’t ride her so that they could properly discuss the events that just occurred. Cally stated, “I had no idea he even came around here! I thought he sent me here because he’s too lazy to come himself!”

“What does he send you down here to do?” Derrick queried.

“I buy items for his collection,” Cally explained. “He likes to surround himself with treasures and antiquities, I guess it makes him feel more important. He always wanted me to leave his name out of any of my transactions, but I always thought it was because he didn’t want any association with Dregs Hollow. I had no clue he terrorized Bohemma!”

“It really solidifies my theory of his guilt,” Derrick noted. “I would be surprised if he told the truth about the lord and lady if he hid all of this from you.”

“I agree,” Cally concurred. “He’s probably been doing this since the sorceress disappeared. It seems logical that he would get rid of her to take over the town. Maybe my parents tried to stop him.”

“We’ll have to check to see if her cottage still holds any evidence,” Derrick reckoned. Cally nodded in agreement, and they hopped on the horse to go check it out.

When they got to the path near the Oreads Forest, Oriane turned left to head towards the sorceress’s cottage. At that moment, Cally felt a gravitational pull tug her in the other direction. Oriane could sense her discomfort and stopped. Cally hopped off and walked backwards so she didn’t tempt the spell from going into full effect. Derrick turned around and looked deeply concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve hit the boundaries of the binding curse,” Cally told him ruefully. “I guess you’ll have to go there without me.”

Derrick dismissed that notion, “I could, but I think it would be less effective because you might recognize something significant from your past. You may not remember it now, but seeing it in person may trigger your memory. Hmm, how can we get around this enchantment?”

Cally shrugged and shook her head. “The only way I could go further is if he did.” From behind her, she could hear people traveling. They turned their attention in that direction and saw a carriage in the distance. Cally supposed, “They must be heading out of Camellia’s Circus. It’s not like people travel out of Dregs Hollow!” Suddenly, an idea struck her! “When Reisseck goes to Bohemma, he’ll be close enough to the cottage for me to travel there! We could wait right here until I feel the pull lessen on me on my next day off!”

“I could pay your days wages,” Derrick offered. “I know you want to stay in good standing with your job to maintain your cover to Reisseck, but sometimes people get sick, right?”

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 8

Well, we’re not going to give up!” Derrick affirmed. “I’ll ask Henrick to make a royal proclamation to give us access to that room and their files. In the meantime, we’ll have to look in other places for information. Does this have its own newspaper?”

“It does, actually,” Cally told him. “Reisseck reads it a lot since its the closest one to Dregs Hollow. The Bohemma Beacon. I’m not sure where it is though.” She glanced around the area and saw an old newspaper laying on a wooden bench in the lobby, so she snatched it up and combed through it. “Aha! They posted the address right here.”

“Let’s go!” Derrick responded.

They came to a small factory and asked the reception, “May we see your newspapers from thirty three years ago?”

The receptionist replied, “I’m sorry, sir, but we had a fire that year and all of our originals were burnt. You could try the town historian.”

They went to a house of a scholarly man, but when they questioned him about the newspapers, he regarded them, “I’m afraid I sold my collection to the library. May I ask what you’re looking for in such old newspapers?”

Derrick explained, “We’re looking for missing person cases from thirty three years ago. You wouldn’t happen to have any records on this, would you?”

“Nothing specific,” he contemplated. “Offhand, the best I could give you is statistics on the crime rates of that year. I’ll look around to see if I find anything though. Feel free to return in a couple days or so, and I’ll let you know what I find.”

“Thank you!” Derrick chimed. “In the meantime, can you give us directions to the library?”

“I know where it is!” Cally blurted out excitedly.

The historian stared at her quizzically. “I know that voice! You’re the woman who always comes in with the red hood over her face! Are you trying to buy a specific newspaper for your master?”

“No!” Cally flushed at his recognition of her past as well as her connection to Reisseck. “I’m just working on a personal matter.”

“I see…” He raised an eyebrow, but after mulling it over for a moment, he shrugged it off. “Well, good luck with your research! Please fill me in on the story when you have it!”

“Okay!” Cally agreed to it. If her past really did connect with Bohemma, then she could see why the historian would want to document it.

“We’ll be in touch.” Derrick nodded his head respectfully, and the historian did the same in return.

When they went up to the librarian behind the counter, she informed them, “Our collection from that year got loaned out years ago and was never returned. We actually stopped allowing people to remove newspapers from the library because of that.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Derrick said with a note of disappointment in his voice.

After they left the library, Derrick suggested, “Why don’t we take a break at a cafe? My treat, of course!”

Cally had always wanted to eat at one of the restaurants in this town, but she found it hard to get excited about the concept because of her dismay at how their day turned out.

They walked over to a nearby bakery and sat down at a little table outside. A pleasantly plump man with red hair and a matching beard walked over to them and handed them menus. “Welcome to Elif’s! Can I get you… I’ve seen you before! Don’t you work for the king?”

“Sort of.” Derrick grinned at the idea. Cally knew that he was relishing a little anonymity, so she didn’t correct him.

“You don’t look like you work for the king.” The baker had turned to Cally and observed her admirably. “Let me guess, you’re one of Avalyn’s ladies?”

Cally giggled, “No, I’m just a servant.”

“You’re a servant?” the baker reacted incredulously. “If I knew they made servants this beautiful, I would have scraped together the money to hire one a long time ago!”

From inside the shop, a woman who was obviously his wife smacked him in the arm in a reprimanding way. “Elif, did you even take their orders yet?”

“I was getting to it, I swear!” he meekly expressed to his wife, who glared at him suspiciously.

Derrick requested, “Actually, can we have a minute to read the menu?”

“Of course!” Elif obliged. “I’ll be back momentarily. And if I’m not, you know why…” He discretely pointed to his wife, who still saw his gesture despite his best efforts. She closed the bakery door behind him in a way that conveyed that he was about to get yelled at.

Derrick and Cally laughed. Cally needed that bit of humor to cheer herself up. She then asked Derrick, “So, is there any way we can get answers today, or we just going to wait until the historian finds out some information?”

He answered, “We can try asking people old enough to remember that year. It’s kind of a long shot, but it’s better than nothing.”

Cally shrugged. Before she could voice her opinion, two middle aged women walked into the bakery. Elif warmly greeted them, “Joanne! Sasha! The usual, I presume?”

Joanne chirped, “As always!”

Sasha inquired, “Do you happen to know who rode in on that horse by the library?”

“Probably those servants outside.” Elif pointed to where Cally and Derrick were sitting.

After Elif’s wife handed Joanne and Sasha a bag of baked goods, they curiously came over to them. Joanne queried, “Pardon me, but have you two seen the king recently?”

Derrick disclosed, “I check in with him daily. Why?”

Sasha expounded, “We haven’t spoken to him much since his daughter died. Things were never really the same after that.”

“We miss him,” Joanne added. “But even if we saw him again, it wouldn’t go back to the way things once were.”

“You guys were friends with King Henrick?” Cally sounded both surprised and and impressed.

Elif came out as Joanne and Sasha pulled up two chairs to their table. Derrick and Cally hadn’t thought much about what they wanted to eat, so Derrick proposed, “How about some tea and a pie for us all to share?”

“What kind?” Elif wondered.

“His honey pies are the best!” Sasha hinted.

“That sounds delicious!” Cally opinionated. She rarely got the opportunity to get any sort of treat, so she got excited to try it.

Derrick told Elif, “The lady wants honey, so honey it is1” Cally always got bashful at his level reverence for her. She didn’t know if she could believe a man in such a dignified position could actually view her in an elevated status over him, but the thought alone was sweet enough!

As Elif went inside to make their pie, Joanne returned to the original subject, “About forty years ago, King Henrick rode into this town and crashed that horse into our house.”

Sasha corrected her, “No, he crashed into our house. His horse stopped unexpectedly and threw him off.”

“That’s right!” Joanne remembered. “Anyways, we took him inside for a while. It turned out he was searching for an apothecary to make him a healing elixir.”

Sasha clarified, “Henrick was dying, and even with the finest doctors in the land, he couldn’t find anyone who could cure him.”

“That’s right!” Joanne concurred. “It’s lucky he ran into us or he may have died! The apothecary was out of town, and if he hadn’t found us, he wouldn’t have known that Solomon’s daughter had some.”

“Solomon?” Derrick questioned. “You don’t mean…”

“The queen’s father,” Sasha confirmed. “We were the ones who introduced them! So, for a while, we’d visit each other quite often.”

Joanne remarked, “I miss those days! Ever since they lost their daughter, we hardly ever see them anymore. Henrick rarely even leaves Barlock, and that’s all Avalyn ever does! Grief never seems to have left them.”

Cally commented, “I imagine they’re also stressed because they haven’t produced another heir and Duke Ferrin is set to take the throne.”

“Ugh! Don’t remind me!” Sasha cringed. Cally knew that Reisseck couldn’t wait for him to take over because he was more lax on certain laws, but she didn’t want to admit that she lived such a horrid lifestyle in Dregs Hollow, so she decided not to mention it and let herself fit in with these townsfolk.

Joanne brought up, “It’s such a shame that they never did find that apothecary again! She made them a fertility potion that helped them conceive one child, but she disappeared after that.”

At the subject of a missing person, Derrick and Cally’s ears perked up. Cally probed, “So, the apothecary from this village that made the healing elixir which cured both King Henrick and Queen Avalyn was also the sorceress that made the potion that helped them conceive the princess?”

“Yes,” Joanne verified that information. “A lot of people in the village didn’t realize we had a sorceress amongst us! She was so kind and helpful that it didn’t cross anyone’s mind that she had that ability!”

“Is her shop still around?” Derrick inquired.

Joanne replied, “Actually, the reason she went out of town that night we met Henrick was to look for a new place. She got a new shop just outside of town because her business did so well that she needed a bigger space, and this cottage was remote enough that she got a good price on it.”

“Not in Dregs Hollow…” Cally would have remembered if a sorceress moved into her town, but if Reisseck felt like he had a serious competitor, she wouldn’t put it past him to make her disappear.

Sasha informed her, “No, she lived due west of the main road leading into town from the road by the Oreads Forest.”

Derrick queried, “How long ago did she disappear from that cottage?”

They both mulled it over, and Joanne came up with, “She made the potion for Avalyn after seven years of them having no luck conceiving a child, so it would have to be thirty three years ago.”

Cally and Derrick gave each other a knowing look, and then Cally probed, “Did she have any kids?”

Sasha sadly said, “No. No spouse, no kids, no one to carry on her legacy…” Elif brought them a plate of honey pie for each of them, and just as they were about to dig in, Sasha happened to glance at her pocket watch. “Oh goodness! Look at the time! Joanne, we got to get going!”

They picked up their pies by hand, and Joanne thanked them, “It was lovely chatting with you! Next time, it’s our treat!” As they scurried off, Derrick and Cally contemplated the meaning of what they just learned…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 7

As Cally walked through Dregs Hollow, she found pretending that everything was business as usual to be of the utmost difficulty because she felt elated about her endeavor with Derrick. The more she thought about it, the more she realzied that she didn’t belong there, and she couldn’t wait to figure out where she came from. She really believed that Reisseck was hiding something now, she had never really seen him nervous until she brought up her true origin. When she originally learned of this betrayl, it frightened her at first, for the world she knew fell apart in an instant. At this point, she thought that her life had never really been put together in the first place. She couldn’t wait to see what laid ahead in the next chapter of her life, so it wasn’t easy for her to pretend to have angst about going to work. She also disliked having to transfigure herself each night knowing how she looked beneath the blemishes! Just as her thoughts had drifted to that very subject, she felt the potion fading, so she hid her face as discretely as she could while trying not to draw too much attention to herself as she left the village gates.

Once she got far enough away from the prying eyes that lurked about Dregs Hollow, she took off her hood as she walked down the path. The fresh air felt good as it combined through her hair. She wore that hood so much that almost no one knew she was a brunette! Actually, she had almost forgetten what it looked like! She thought her hair had a darker hue to it, but maybe she reached that opinion simply due to the insufficient lighting of their cavern abode. Her rapture only got heightened by the thought that she could roam freely in Bohemma that day. Most of the time, if Reisseck had her run an errand there, she didn’t linger long because she feared people discovering her deformities, which was also why she never ventured there when she had time off. She realized that today she could explore the city as a completely normal human being, and that just felt incredible to her!

It felt strange to pass Camellia’s Circus and not head to the employee’s entrance, but she felt such relief as she headed away from that horrid metal fence! She began to see Derrick in the distance, and the closer she got, the more her heart fluttered! Up until now, this plan still seemed like a fantasy, but now it felt real! As she neared him, she could see his smile grow too, so she knew that this journey had a shared sense of enthusiasm for both of them. When they got into the same vicinity as each other, Derrick greeted her, “Hello there!”

“Hi!” After she had voiced that, she noticed that his horse stood behind him. “Oh, are we riding into Bohemma?”

“Well, of course, why wouldn’t…?” He trailed off as something occurred to him. “You’ve never ridden a horse before.”

“No, but I’ve always wanted to.” She had meant that, but as she got closer, she became a little intimidated. She had seen Derrick bring his steed close to the employee’s entrance of her work, but it never really registered to her just how large in size the creature had been! She always found these animals to be so beautiful, especially this one because of its snow white fur, so she never realized how much damage that these creatures could do if they really wanted to!

“Don’t feel nervous!” Derrick gently advised. “Oriane is the sweetest horse in Barlock’s stables! I always borrow her during my visits. Actually, she’s the king’s personal favorite, and since we need him in one piece, obviously she’s not vicious.” Cally softly chuckled. “Why don’t you get to know her a bit before we hop on.”

“Okay.” Cally took a deep breath and approached the horse carefully. She found it helpful to know that both King Henrick and Derrick rode this one a lot, obviously, she was very good with people. She held out her hand, and after Oriane sniffed it a bit, she bowed her head for her to pet her. Cally did so gladly, and she noted the look of serenity on the horse’s face as she savored the attention, which made Cally smile broadly. “She is really sweet!”

“Told you!” Derrick grinned. He touched the horses reins in a way that made her kneel down, and after he mounted her, he regarded Cally, “Don’t worry, she does most of the work.” He held out his hand to help Cally get on, which she did with slight trepidation at first. Once she slipped on, she noticed how close she was to Derrick and practically blushed. Derrick instructed, “Hold on to my waist.” Now she felt sure her face had gone red as she wrapped her arms around him. Derrick motioned for the horse to rise, and even though she had been a little scared, she got a little excited now that they were about to take off. It forcibly reminded her of the children at Camellia’s Circus who tried an amusement ride for the first time. Derrick announced, “And away we go!” He made a signal to Oriane, and they galloped off!
Cally couldn’t believe how much fun she had traveling by horseback! The rush of speed flew over her body as though she were flying! The fact they were quickly getting away from Dregs Hollow just enhanced the whole experience, not to mention the warmth she felt from his body! If they didn’t have such important work to do in Bohemma, she wouldn’t want the experience to end! When they neared the peasant village, Oriane slowed to a trot, and although Cally had been there quite a few times, she looked forward to observing it with fresh eyes. She remarked, “I can’t believe we’re already here!”

“It’s kind of a long walk,” Derrick commented. “I know you’re used to it, but I figured we needed as much time as we can get here.”

“True! I need to go back before supper.” Cally cringed at the thought of returning to Dregs Hollow to carry out her dull daily routine. “Unless we can break the curse before sun down!”

Derrick told her, “I’ll do my best!” as the strode into Bohemma.

A lot of people in the kingdom looked down on the peasant village, but Cally always found it quaintly charming. The sandy-colored stone walls looked so sturdy, and even the slightly dilapidated wooden beams still looked like they were in better shape than the ones in Dregs Hollow! The people who traveled this road greeted each other pleasantly as they passed by one another, something which she almost never saw in her own town! Children played together on the streets, and neighbors gathered together to converse, which made her wonder why the people of Dregs Hollow couldn’t get along like that! Cally could tell that even though the people there didn’t have a lot of money, they were really happy with the life they had in Bohemma. She pondered whether or not the inhabitants here knew just how lucky they had it!

As Derrick and Cally rode through the streets, people stopped what they were doing to watch them as they went by. At first, she worried that they somehow knew of her freakish alter ego, but then she observed that they didn’t look disgusted at her. She got so used to being the subject of gossip in Dregs Hollow and Camellia’s Circus that it took her a minute to realize that they weren’t judging them at all. Quite the contrary, actually! People gazed at them admirably, and a lot of them even smiled and waved. Cally mentioned to Derrick, “Wow, you have a lot of friends here!”

“No, I haven’t met most of the people here,” Derrick genially countered her statement. “They see we’re on a horse with a royal seal, so they know we’re someone important.”

“We?” Cally reacted incredulously. “No, they’re paying respect to you. I’m no one special!”

“First of all, that’s not true,” Derrick differed. “You’re an extraordinary lady, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Second, they’re definitely talking about both of us. Listen closely!”

Cally didn’t believe him, but she did as he had suggested. She had expected to hear them talk about him since he was a prince, but she heard one woman ask her friend, “Is that a princess?”

“Oh, look!” a little boy gasped. “A princess!”

She heard more and more people call her a princess, and it made her want to cry! Derrick smirked and said, “I think they’re more excited to see you than they are to see me!” Cally actually did shed a happy tear after that!

They came across a man in a uniform with a badge, so Derrick steered the horse towards his direction and addressed him, “Excuse me, Constable!” The constable heeded his attention towards Derrick. “Where can we find your hall of records?”

“Go straight down this road and turn right at the fork. You’ll see our courthouse on the left,” the constable informed him.

“Thank you, sir!” Derrick nodded his head respectfully, and the constable did the same in return before they continued on their way.

When they turned down the street that the constable had indicated, they saw that they had a somewhat large government building amongst a row of shops and restaurants. They stopped in the front of the courthouse, and as Derrick tied Oriane to a hitching post, he asked her, “This is it, this is where we’ll get some answers! Are you excited?”

“I can’t wait to find out what he’s been hiding!” she exclaimed.

They entered the building eagerly, and they saw two stories where a large common area led to several different hallways. A couple of rooms stemmed off the main room as well as a window that had the label “Records” above it. They walked over to the clerk behind this window, and the clerk gave them a friendly greeting, “How can I help you?”

Derrick requested, “We’d like to look through the missing person files from thirty years ago.”

The clerk’s eyes grew wide, and the color disappeared from her face. “I’m sorry, this office is now closed!” She rolled a metal cover down to shut them out.

Derrick and Cally looked at each other peculiarly, and then Cally asked, “So, now what?”