The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 10

A bus with old signage that depicted a cougar’s silhouette with the phrase, “Passage of Urban Masses Association,” on it pulled up to a battered and dingy stop, and Heathrow got off with a happy sigh, “Oh! That was refreshing!”

As Nick and Daphne dragged Lionel out of the coach, Nick muttered, “Speak for yourself!”

“What? You didn’t enjoy that?” Heathrow puzzled.

“There was nowhere to sit, it smelled funky, and strange people were staring at us like we were strange!” Daphne complained.

Lionel shrugged. “That’s the PUMA bus for ya! Like it or leave it!”

Nick exclaimed, “Leave it! Always leave it!”

“Oh, come on! It wasn’t perfect but at least it was a ride!” Heathrow debated them. “So, we had to deal with a few minor discomforts! It beats walking, don’t it?”

“Only ‘cause time is of the essence here!” Daphne argued. “I took the bus passes from Henry so we could get this mission done and over with, and it was our only real option! I don’t know why no one could’ve given us a ride!”

Lionel illuminated her, “Well, no one wants to go into Mangaboo’s Baum willingly! Including me! Personally, I’m used to taking public transit… Why didn’t you leave me on the bus all day instead of bringing me here?”

Nick dryly responded, “That’s a stupid question! Okay, how do we get to Mangaboo’s Baum?”

“You don’t know where it is? I thought law enforcement has a good layout of the city they work in!” Daphne remarked.

“I told you no one ever goes in there!” Lionel emphatically pointed out.

Nick disagreed, “It’s not that I was scared! Remember, fear is an emotion, and I don’t have any of those!” Daphne rolled her eyes at that claim. “It’s just that nobody enters onto the property, therefore, there are never any crimes to solve in that area. Well, now we have a case to untangle there, so it makes sense to go in. It’s a new experience, but I’m not nervous at all!” After he said that, his hands were visibly shaking.

Heathrow relayed to them, “Oh, it’s real easy to get there! You simply turn onto Mangaboo’s Baum Boulevard, and it takes you all the way down there!” He indicated to a side street a short distance away.

Nick seemed abashed by the obvious solution he missed, and Daphne inquired to Heathrow, “Have you been here before?”

“Yeah, once! And I vowed never to come back again!” Heathrow casually mentioned.

“Well, let me help you honor that vow!” Lionel grabbed Heathrow’s arm and tried to drag him away.

Daphne pulled Heathrow’s limb out of Lionel’s grip, and Nick advised him, “Your fears will only get worse if you don’t deal with them immediately!”

Lionel acknowledged, “You’re probably right! Okay, let’s go!” The other three people as well as Tater forged ahead, but Lionel stood in a frozen stance. Daphne and Heathrow linked elbows with him, and they headed away from that site.

At the end of an avenue full of aged and mostly unkempt homes, they beheld several towering slides with faded paint and rusty parts. It was surrounded by a lanky iron fence with a gate that had a banner which had become warped and barely legible. “Mugaboo’s Baum Water Pork?” Daphne’s brows furrowed from perplexity.

“Water park,” Nick clarified for her. “It used to be a very hip spot, but after a few lawsuits were filed, they closed the joint down. They turned the corporate office into an apartment complex, but they still haven’t done anything with the rest of it.”

“Pumperdink Gulch is in the back section. Explain again why it makes sense to go through the front,” Heathrow requested. 

Daphne queried, “Don’t you think Whitney will expect us to go that route?” Heathrow opened his mouth to speak, but Daphne cut him off, “I know, I know! You don’t think! But can you imagine all of the safeguards she’d have at the entryway to her lair?”

Lionel read from a sign near the knobs, “I’d turn back if I were you!” Before he could budge an inch, Nick and Daphne clasped his forearms, which made Lionel pout.

“How do we get in?” Daphne wondered.

“I’m gonna hold onto the door handle and push my weight into it. That lock looks pretty ancient, so it shouldn’t be too hard to bust it!” Nick clutched onto the latch, and he twisted it as he butted the entryway with all of his might. It was apparently unlocked since he nearly fell into the park’s grounds! “They didn’t secure the premises- I didn’t see that coming!”

Daphne gestured in a manner that conveyed to Lionel that he should enter, and Lionel feigned a courteous bow to her. “Ladies first!”

With a smirk, Daphne told him, “Yeah, right!” She nudged him in, and Heathrow shut the door behind them. The thud it created caused everyone to pause, and Daphne somewhat apprehensively articulated, “Wow! This is it! We’re really doing this! I mean, I knew we were going here all along, but now it just feels so… real!”

“Well, what are we waiting for? The Ochre Angel to come find us?” Heathrow laughed at his quip, but he quickly realized that he was alone in that sentiment. He glanced at their faces, and even Tater’s expression bore a note of distaste for that humor! He apologized, “Sorry! No brain, remember?”

“Uh-huh!” Daphne tersely reacted as they began to explore the territory. She surveyed the space, and it really struck her to see how untouched the expanse appeared. It was as though somebody had placed them in a time capsule from two decades ago! It also had more square footage than she anticipated, which prompted her to ask, “This is a lot of land! How is it that not a single soul ever tried to use it?”

Heathrow answered her, “Oh, it’s probably ‘cause of all the ghosts!”

Nick raised an eyebrow at that concept. “Ghosts? Seriously?”

“No, it’s true!” Lionel put in. “I’ve heard Mugaboo’s Baum is super haunted! It’s like when the living left, the dead took over it!”

“What a bunch of bunk!” Nick scoffed. “How could you say it’s true when you’ve only heard it? If it were actually true, you would give me a reason to know it!”

Lionel posed to him, “You don’t believe in ghosts, Nick?”

Nick asserted, “Oh, please! I’ve been around a bunch of bodies, and I didn’t see any evidence that their spirits were still around! If someone’s essence does return to the planet, they do it as Earth Angels. You can see how rarely that happens, it’s not like Vegoz is brimming with them! Gosh, it’d be nice if more of them did so they could take care of this whole mess!”

“I dunno… I’m pretty positive that not all of the individuals that go over the rainbow and back can get to their bodies!” Lionel opined. “There are probably loads of them around! And they’d have nothing better to do than bother all of the humans who are still alive!”

“Bunk!” Nick disputed. “There’s no such thing as ghosts!”

All of a sudden, something picked Nick up by his shoulders! He got suspended in the air for a minute, and he was too frightened to scream! He flailed his legs a little in the hopes that it would assist him in getting down, but it didn’t have an impact on the force that carried him up. Then, with an amount of abruptness equal to the juncture that elevated him, Nick’s suspension stopped and made him plummet to the floor! His companions checked on him to ensure he had not injured himself, and he jerked back into an upright position. His eyes darted in random directions, and he catechized, “What in damnation was that?”

Daphne sarcastically regarded him, “Hmm… Ghosts aren’t real, so maybe it was a pixie?”

As they resumed their trek, Lionel chanted, “I do believe in ghosts! I do, I do, I do!”

From her antiquated television, Whitney watched their frantic reactions and cackled, “Not so brave are you now, detective? A silly ‘phantom’ spooked you, and you still believe you have the guts to take me on?” She guffawed at that notion, but then she studied the screen more closely and frowned. “And yet, they haven’t given up! They’re scared, but they didn’t get scared off! That means they’ll still try to come here! Oh no! We can’t have that, can we?” She swiveled around to face her pigeons as if they would respond to her, and she took their blank visages as agreement to her sentence. She paced the room until a lightbulb went off in her head. “I’ve got it! It’s time we finish this ridiculous saga once and for all! Go get the girl! Do what you want with the others, but make sure she is unharmed.” the creatures did nothing more than blink, so she hollered, “What are you lingering for? Go! Fly, my birdies! Fly! Fly!” The entire flock took off, and she shrieked in delight as she watched them soar outside of her window.

“Maybe it was gas!” Nick theorized.

“Don’t look at me! That dragon fruit and a bit of corn were the only things I’ve eaten in a week!” Heathrow defended himself.

Nick elucidated, “No, not that kind of gas! I meant the entity that carried me up a bit ago! Maybe this facility has a natural gas leak!”

Lionel cautioned him, “Quit calling it stuff other than ghosts! “You’ll insult them and provoke them to do more!”

“So what? All they did was elevate me a tad! They don’t seem very harmful! What are they gonna do next? Spin me around and make me do the Lindy Hop?” Nick shot back.

“What’s that?” Daphne peered at the sky as she threw that question out there.

Nick ogled her in surprise. “It’s a type of dance! Like in swing music, it-!”

Daphne interrupted him, “I know what a Lindy Hop is! What I wanna know is what that is!”

She pointed to a formation moving towards them in the atmosphere. The three men did a visual examination, and Heathrow concluded, “They’re pigeons. Vegoz is full of them!”

“Typically, yeah!” Lionel focused on them with mounting trepidation forming on his profile. “These don’t seem so typical…”

Nick assessed, “They’re definitely heading straight to us! There isn’t anything here though… except for us! But birds like them wouldn’t band together to hunt humans, would they?”

As the feathered critters neared them, Daphne recommended, “Maybe we should run for cover…”

Lionel and Nick hid in a pair of tubular chutes, and Heathrow dove into a trash can and shut the lid. Daphne scooped Tater up and shielded the two of them in some topiary at precisely the best moment to do so- dozens of the winged beasts scoured the vicinity! A select number glided over the territory as if they were striving to maintain coverage in case anyone decided to flee, but most of them hovered over the sites of refuge. A few of them pecked at the surfaces above them, and Lionel denoted, “They’re not gonna hold off ‘til we come out, are they?”

“I’m guessing not!” Heathrow chimed in. “And what’ll happen if we relent to them?”

“Uh, I’d rather not find out!” Nick stated.

Daphne covered her cranium as they inched themselves to her proximity, and she urged the others, “We gotta do something! We can’t let them get us!”

The instant she voiced that, Tater defensively swiped at the beaked brutes! They were able to clutch his paws, and they dragged him out of the brush! Daphne immediately hurled herself to their level and vociferated, “Leave him alone!” She grappled onto him and attempted to pull him back, but instead, the pigeons all united and pounced on her! They hoisted her up, and Daphne cried out in terror as they carried her off the surface!

“Daphne!” Nick bellowed as he sped to save her. Lionel and Heathrow moved with swiftness too, but all of them were too late- the fowl toted her out of their reach! Nick clenched his fists and avowed, “Don’t worry, Daphne! We’re gonna rescue you!”

“You’re darn right we are!” Lionel echoed his inclination.

Heathrow pondered, “How?” Nick and Lionel signaled their cluelessness on that concept, but all three of them also demonstrated their determination to unearth a fast solution.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 9

“He’s in the room at the end of the hall,” Henry informed them. “Good luck, and God speed!”

“You mean you’re not coming with us?” Daphne inquired.

Henry replied, “I’m… gonna stay out of it! Unless your presence puts him in a good mood- then I’ll come in and take full credit for this idea!”

Nick sardonically stated, “Thanks for the vote of confidence!”

“I dunno, Nick! That didn’t sound like he had much confidence in us at all!” Heathrow opined.

“Yeah, I…!” Nick rubbed his temples in frustration. He apparently decided not to argue with him since, seconds later, he more pleasantly acknowledged him, “You’re right! Good observation!” Heathrow clapped in delight.

Daphne addressed the others, “Well guys, this is it! This is the moment we’ve been working towards all afternoon! Has it really only been a day? It felt so much longer… Anyways, everything we’ve been dreaming of is on the opposite side of this hallway! The Blue Angel wouldn’t have sent us here if anything detrimental was gonna occur to us, and our deepest wishes are about to get fulfilled, so nothing to be nervous about, right?” Henry uttered a noise of dissent, so Daphne instructed them, “Ignore him! Let’s go!”

Tater led the pack as they walked down the extensive passageway. They rounded the corner, and Daphne got relieved to lose sight of that bundle of discouragement! A large room lined with stately pillars and glistening, green walls entered into their vision, and its prominent appearance did nothing to soothe their tension! Daphne had expected something much warmer and friendlier based on his benevolent reputation, so it was somewhat disarming to behold something without an ounce of amiability! When they grew closer, they espied a colossal stage with dark curtains on both sides. Daphne assumed they would find an office much like the one she visited at the university, but it seemed as though this space had been set up in a fashion that would encourage friendly banter! Actually, it looked like his guests were supposed to visit him on that platform like peasants beseeching their king for a favor! This didn’t square with the Emerald Angel’s glowing notoriety, and Daphne found it quite disconcerting!

“Let’s turn back!” Lionel whimpered as he ogled the area with trepidation.

“What did I tell you after I revealed that we had a fallen angel after us?” Nick questioned Lionel.

Lionel responded, “I dunno! I fainted after you said that1”

Nick insisted, “Uh-huh, I know! I meant after that.”

“All great things come with great risk,” Lionel recalled. “That’s probably true! I’ve chickened out on everything I’ve ever wanted, and it hasn’t gotten me anywhere! I’m not gonna chicken out this time! I’m gonna do it!” As Tater, Nick, Daphne, and Heathrow entered into that daunting room, Lionel stood still in the entryway. Daphne and Heathrow circled back, grabbed his arms, and escorted him inside.

They gingerly approached the stage under the presumption that the Emerald Angel would emerge from the back, but when no one emerged, they lingered before the dais scratching their heads. Once a minute or so had elapsed, Daphne timidly called out, “Hello?” Silence ensued, so Daphne wondered, “Did we go to the wrong spot?”

Heathrow speculated, “he must have a bell or something to alert him to people’s arrival!” He glanced around, and when he discovered nothing, he theorized, “Maybe there’s some kind of trick door or something. I’m gonna try pulling that wooden handle.” He reached for a torch holder on a pillar, and then suddenly, it lit up along with several other lights and sparks around the scaffold! Heathrow darted down immediately, and he snapped, “Careful! I’m highly flammable!”

A tall man with long, pine hair, a matching and equally lengthy beard, olive robes, and jade, feathery wings manifested onto the staging space! His sharp, juniper eyes glared at them with total mistrust, and his scowl was pronounced enough to cause all five visitors to get spooked! They stared at with frozen fright, and nobody felt bold enough to speak to him! After an extensive stretch, the figure declared, “I am the Emerald Angel of Vegoz! Why have you disturbed me in my chambers?”

“Uh… Well, you see, we have an urgent matter that we-,” Nick started to explain.

“Do not bore me with details I already know!” the Emerald Angel barked. “I merely meant why have you disturbed me when I specifically asked you to go away?”

No one knew what to say because they all feared that if they did anything to invoke his wrath, they would destroy any chance they still possessed at fulfillment of their aspirations, so everyone clammed up. Daphne noticed Tater sniffing by one of the curtains, and not wanting to provoke the Emerald Angel any further, she quickly scooped him up. In doing so, she realized that she had stepped forward from the pack. She felt as though she had gotten herself elected as a representative for the group. They couldn’t give him nothing, someone had to be the one to speak up! So, following a deep breath, Daphne articulated all she could conjure up in her mind, “Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here to seek your guidance on our battle against Whitney, so we had to act!”

The Emerald Angel grilled her, “So, you couldn’t wait for a time and date of my choosing?”

“No, we couldn’t!” Daphne affirmed. “As long as the Carmine Clogs are on my feet, the Ochre Angel will always go after me!”

“The Ochre Angel goes after a lot of people. Why should I give you preferential treatment over them?” the Emerald Angel argued. 

Daphne countered, “Hey! We’re not just here for ourselves- if we succeed, then we can make every citizen of Vegoz significantly safer!”

The Emerald Angel sneered, “If! That is a loaded word. You’re yearning to force me into providing my valuable resources on something that is far from a sure outcome!”

“Is anything in life a sure option though?” Daphne contended. “If you invest in the Hickory’s farm, you could have a fire burn up their entire acreage! I’m positive that not all of your ventures have yielded the results you wanted, but they’re all worth the risk since the outcome of success could have a considerable impact on our planet!” She paused and added, “Oh, and please help the Hickory family! They sound like lovely individuals!”

“What makes you think you are worthy of the universe bestowing triumph to you in this endeavor?” the Emerald Angel queried.

Daphne took a moment to mull that point over. “Hmm… Gosh, I have no idea! I don’t know why the universe sent a cyclone to my home and had it drop on the Crimson Angel, and I definitely don’t understand why her magical shoes placed themselves onto my feet! I can’t grasp why the universe put these three men onto my path, but it did, and that must mean something! I don’t imagine that any of that occurred on accident- the universe put us into this realm for a reason, so we’re here and ready to try and do some good for the world!”

The Emerald Angel challenged her, “What about your goal of returning home to Kansas, California? What happens to your mission if somebody were to offer you a first-class ticket back to your hometown?”

“How did you know about that?” Daphne puzzled.

“I am the Emerald Angel- I see all and know all!” he told her.

Daphne retorted, “If you see all and know all, then why do I have to tell you?”

The Emerald Angel grimaced at her sass. “I can predict the possibilities you may face, but I cannot fathom what actions you will take at each juncture!”

“Listen, if I make a promise, I keep it!” Daphne avowed.

“Huh! I suppose you would! You have no job, so you have nothing better to do!” the Emerald Angel jeered. Daphne got insulted, and he did not seem at all remorseful for his slant. “And you, Heathrow! How can you commit to this crusade?”

Heathrow stated, “Well, being homeless and all, I’ve literally got nothing to lose and everything to gain!”

The Emerald Angel scoffed, “Uh-huh! Yeah! But how do you picture yourself as being useful for this expedition?”

“Hey! I’m useful to them! Why, I…!” He considered the topic briefly, and he got crestfallen at first, but then inspiration struck him. “Oh! I know! I may not have a brain, but I have a big heart! It evens things out since this guy doesn’t have a heart at all!”

“Will you stop telling everyone that?” Nick scolded him.

The Emerald Angel accosted Nick, “And you! You’re supposed to be some kind of quick-witted intellect, and yet you don’t have a plan on how to capture the Ochre Angel!”

Nick disagreed, “That’s not accurate! The plan is for you to assist me in collecting evidence, and I’ll get a warrant for her arrest!”

“How are you gonna get a warrant when you’re not working on a legal case?” the Emerald Angel probed.

“Uhh…” Nick’s thoughts raced striving to obtain a clever comeback for that.

The Emerald Angel further prodded him, “Do you really foresee a method of entrapping a powerful fallen angel without any sort of supernatural abilities?”

Nick repeated, “Uhh…”

“How about you, Mister So-Called Fighter?” the Emerald Angel enquired to Lionel. “Do you seriously believe you can be practical in this problem when you’re too scared to engage in any kind of combat? When the final battle commences, can we count on you to pull through, or will you continue to cower like the pusillanimous poltroon you usually are?” Lionel appeared on the verge of emitting a vocalization, but after taking a sizable gulp, he fainted instead.

“Shame on you!” Daphne rebuked the Emerald Angel. She handed Tater over to Nick and then checked on Lionel’s vitals. As she went through this process, she persisted in her berating, “You scared him to death when he came to you for help! You don’t deserve the adoration this town has given you ‘cause clearly you don’t possess an iota of compassion for your fellow human beings!” Nick and Heathrow stood in awe of her audacity, but she did not view her behavior as audacious- there was simply no purpose in pretending she wanted to stay on his good side! Lionel began to stir, so she recommended to her male counterparts, “Let’s get out of here, guys! Obviously, this jerk has no interest in anything but making us seem like fools for daring to dream of making a difference!”

Prior to anyone moving an inch towards the exit, the Emerald Angel thundered, “Don’t act like such a sensitive whipper-snapper! I have every intention of granting your requests!”

A glimmer of hope sparkled in Heathrow’s eyes. “You will?”

Nick maintained more of a skeptical stance on this development. “You will? And you gave us all that guff because…?”

“I can’t assign this responsibility to just anyone! I will not get fooled into supporting charlatans!” the Emerald Angel remarked.

“Cool, cool! Could you do mine before theirs? I won’t be very productive if I wind up passing out again!” Lionel appealed to him.

The Emerald Angel filled them in, “I’m not doing anything yet! To prove you are trustworthy of my miracles, you must complete a task for me. If you want to get courage, brains, evidence, or a way home, you have to bring me the Ochre Angel’s cellphone!”

Daphne catechized, “She has a cellphone? I mean, she can hex anything she wants into existence, and she still chooses to partake in technology us mortals have to depend on to make things happen? Huh!”

“How are we supposed to get it?” Nick pondered. “She must keep something like that on her person at all times!”

“Wow! We’d have to kill her to get an object like that!” Heathrow hypothesized.

The Emerald Angel did not bat an eyelash at that concept. “Go!” he commanded.

Daphne astoundedly commented, “Really? You’re alright with that?”

“I said go!” he ordered.

“Got another house to land on her?” Nick darkly joked as they departed from the premises.

The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 8

Daphne petitioned the others, “Is something terrible happening, or is this just how people in Vegoz react to bad weather?”

Nick told her, “That darkness didn’t come from the clouds!”

All of the employees of the City Center streamed out of their various offices, and when they went into the courtyard, they gasped at what they saw in the air! It gave Daphne quite the spring of startlement to behold Whitney in the sky! She was in her fallen angel form, which was intimidating enough, but as she flew around the atmosphere, she was using spray paint to scribble a message! In bold, orange letters, she wrote out, “Surrender,” which prompted Lionel to raise his arms up in resignation, but Nick pushed them back down. When she finished, the communication read, “Surrender Dafney!”

While many were wincing and wailing, Daphne yelled, “Hey! That’s not how you spell my name!”

“That’s not important!” Whitney shouted from her lofty position.

“But it is!” Daphne refuted. “You’re trying to intimidate me, but it looks too silly to be scary to me!”

Whitney bellowed, “I’m not done yet! When you see the rest of the threat, you’ll become overwhelmed with fear!”

Daphne folded her arms as she expressed, “Not if your grammar continues to be atrocious!”

“Ooh! You’ll see!” Whitney seethed.

“Someone go get the Emerald Angel!” one of the salon attendants pleaded with the crowd. “The Ochre Angel is terrorizing us!”

Whitney cackled in delight to overhear the sounds of distress coming from the Emerald Angel’s staff as she wrote out, “Or else.” She addressed Daphne, “See! These folks know the consequences of daring to defy me! You’d do well to take their advice, and-!”

Prior to her having the ability to complete that sentence, an airplane flew by and smacked her! Everyone reacted in shock, and then Heathrow inquired, “Did she get hurt?”

“Heathrow, how many individuals do you know who can survive getting hit by a plane?” Daphne replied. Whitney popped back up, and Daphne had to retract her statement, “Well, I guess she can, so the answer is one.”

“Maybe only one half,” Nick kidded as everyone witnessed her flying around erratically with a glazed expression.

Whitney dizzily hollered, “Don’t think this changes anything! I’ll be back!” She was still traveling in staggered circles when the magic she evoked caused her to vanish.

The entire facility except for the five travelers were still panicking about her appearance. Daphne, Nick, and Heathrow gazed at Lionel in surprise, and he shrugged it off. “Normally, I’d be crying in the corner by now, but we’ve got the Emerald Angel here! Let her try and start something while we’re close to him!”

“If that’s true, then why are they going nuts?” Nick wondered.

“How are we supposed to go home to our families with her lurking around?” a personnel member fretted to her peers. 

Something clicked for Daphne. “Oh! That’s the purpose of that stupid stunt! I mean, it didn’t seem like a very dangerous situation with some dumb, misspelled writing above our heads, but that makes a lot of sense! She doesn’t expect me to give up willingly, she’s trying to frighten us into giving up on our mission by making us anxious about going anywhere beyond this property!”

Lionel appeared daunted by the concept initially, but then he assured himself, “Eh! I’ll get my courage from the Emerald Angel, and then I won’t get bullied into backing down!”

“Yeah! And I’ll have the brains to outsmart her!” Heathrow chimed in. “And Nick will have a heart again, so he’ll-!”

“I keep telling you I’m not here for that!” Nick corrected him. “I’m here to collect evidence to build a case against her! With her behind bars, you won’t need your brains or courage! …Well, not for that anyways!”

A jumpy worker queried, “What’ll we do?”

From the other side of the courtyard, an elevator shaft opened up, and a man in a fine, malachite suit walked out. His slicked-back, black hair and flawless, porcelain skin gave him an aura of complete poise and prestige. Daphne posed to the other three, “Is that the Emerald Angel?”

“Attention, everyone!” the man vociferated. Everyone ceased their apprehension and gave him their utmost attention. “The Emerald Angel has seen your concerns, and he wants you to know that he’s got everything under control!”

“It sounds like that’s a no!” Daphne figured out the reply to her enquiry herself. “Unless he refers to himself as a third person…”

The man went on, “He says to go about your business and that everything will be fine!”

Most of the multitude breathed a sigh of relief, and some conveyed their gratitude to him with, “Thanks, Henry!”

“Henry? You wouldn’t happen to be Henry Toto, the Emerald Angel’s assistant, would you?” Nick questioned him as the collective dispersed.

“Are you all new here?” Henry catechized.

Heathrow chirped, “Very! We didn’t even get a chance to finish our beauty treatments!”

Comprehension dawned on Henry’s visage. “Ah, you’re the group that Charley mentioned. Listen, no one just sees the Emerald Angel. He’s very busy!”

“See, I knew it!” Lionel bemoaned. “We came all this way for nothing!”

“We did not!” Daphne disagreed. “The Emerald Angel has to talk to us!”

Henry raised an eyebrow to that concept. “Oh, really? The most powerful arc angel in the world has to chat with you all, huh?”

Nick countered him, “Yes! Our goals are mutual! His help to us will help himself too! We’re not here for some selfish, petty problems!”

“Well, they’re definitely not petty…” Lionel remarked.

“Interesting!” Henry eyeballed him with intrigue. “How exactly do you plan on helping the Emerald Angel?”

Daphne informed him, “We’re attempting to collect evidence to prove she’s guilty of murder and other heinous crimes. Obviously, the Ochre Angel is a menace to your organization, so incarcerating her would benefit him as well as us and the pocket of Vegoz that he protects!”

Henry gave this notion a bit of consideration. “Okay… but many individuals have strove to attain success in this endeavor, and how successful did their ambitions actually turn out?”

“Very?” Heathrow postulated.

“What makes you believe you’re different from the rest?” Henry probed.

Lionel gestured towards the area above them as he articulated, “Would we have a fallen angel doing this if we weren’t different?”

“Yeah!” Daphne confirmed. “But if you fill out paperwork about this, don’t go by her miswrite of my name!”

“Goodness gracious! This changes everything! I’ll go discuss this with the Emerald Angel immediately!” Henry dashed back into the elevator and exited their vicinity.

The quartet cheered at their perceived victory. Lionel rejoiced, “Yay! I’m gonna get my courage after all! I suppose my fears aren’t always accurate!”

Heathrow did a merry jig as he commented, “Hurrah! I can get my brain! Huh… I wonder what they’ll do with all the straw that’s in there! Hey, Nick! What’s the Emerald Angel gonna clean out of your chest when you get your heart?”

“Nothing! How many times do I have to tell you I’m here for my legal case, not my emotional space!” Nick somewhat vexedly reminded Heathrow. “Then I can go back to my precinct with pride after getting my car stolen and getting stuck in a sewer! And Daphne can go back home with a sound peace of mind!”

“Sorta! I don’t know if I’ll have much of a home to return to since that cyclone dragged it here! Ugh! What am I gonna do? Aunt Mae was my last resort after I lost my parents!” Daphne sat on a set of steps and gazed downwards in despair.

Nick sat beside her and put a sympathetic hand on her shoulder as Tater nestled up against her legs. “So, that’s why you have an emotional support cat! I’m sorry! I had no clue that your parents died!”

Daphne redressed him, “Oh, they’re not dead! They joined a cult and they’re ‘gone,’ you know…”

“Oh! I see…” Nick glanced around as though he was searching for the proper vocabulary to utter to her.

“No, you don’t! But that’s alright! It’s a weird set of circumstances, and I wouldn’t expect you to!” Daphne reached back and patted his grip. After lingering for a second, the two of them bore awkward fronts, and then Daphne abruptly stood up and affirmed, “Hey! Let’s not let my tragic backstory put a damper on this occasion! We’re about to meet the Emerald Angel, and our wishes are about to come true!”

Tater scurried to remove himself out of the path of his four human companions who all embraced each other as they anticipated this momentous juncture. They noticed that the elevator was returning, so they eagerly anticipated Henry’s reappearance. Daphne didn’t like how stoically he presented himself- it caused her to suspect the worst possible outcome to manifest itself! They held their breaths as he approached their proximity, and then…

Henry curtly announced, “The Emerald Angel says to go away!” He swiftly turned back towards the elevator before they got a window to react to this development.

They stood there in disbelief for a stretch. No one could quite process this setback until Heathrow observed, “Go away? He can’t even say three words to us?”

“Gosh, I was so happy too!” Daphne sank back to the stoop and began bawling.

“Don’t cry, Daphne!” Nick resumed his perch beside her and offered his empathy. “It’ll be alright!”

Daphne argued, “No, it won’t! For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was doing something right! But I was wrong! Trying to solve this murder was a fool’s errand! If no one else cares about a killer roaming the streets of Vegoz, then why did I bother to make an attempt to rein them in? I should’ve just stayed by my Aunt Mae’s house and guarded it! It’s probably gone now, and it’s all my fault! Poor Aunt Mae! She was so good to me! She took me in when I needed it the most, and I couldn’t even do her the favor of protecting her property! And unfortunately, I don’t even know if I can ever tell her I’m sorry! How am I supposed to get home now?”

Once a considerable measure had elapsed, Lionel caught sight of Nick and grilled him, “Dude, you’re crying too? What happened to not having any emotions?”

“I don’t! It’s my frickin’ allergies!” Nick sprang up and swiveled around so that none of them could read his mood. “What was in Whitney’s paint thingy anyways?”

“You are too shedding tears!” Heathrow contended after they heard a very audible sniffle.

Nick very honestly relayed to them, “That wasn’t me!”

He gazed past some nearby shrubs, and the other three curiously peeked too. To their astonishment, they found Henry weeping extensively from his hiding spot! His despondent frenzy was intense enough that he didn’t bother trying to evade their scrutiny whatsoever! He simply stated, “Please quit your hopelessness! It’s unbearable! I had an Aunt Mae myself! I’ll take you to see the Emerald Angel!”

“You will?” Daphne lit up with hope, but she remained cautiously optimistic in case she misunderstood his intentions.

“I promise!” Henry swore. “As long as you don’t voice anymore heartbreak! I can’t take it!” 

Lionel warned him, “Deal! But if you’re lying to us, I’ll share my tragic backstory! Heathrow too! He’s homeless, so there’s bound to be a lot of material there!”

Henry shot up and ardently acquiesced, “No, don’t! I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Don’t reveal any of that, please! I’ll do it!”

As they awaited the elevator, Daphne wiped her eyes and nudged Nick, “Did you notice how emotions saved the day here? Not so useless, are they?”

“I’m admitting to nothing!” Nick acted in defiance.

“He doesn’t like emotions?” Henry pondered.

Heathrow griped, “He claims he doesn’t have a heart! What a ridiculous idea! Even I know that’s not possible, and I don’t have a brain! There’s only straw up there!” Henry looked skeptical about his premise, and Heathrow misinterpreted this move, “Don’t worry! The Emerald Angel will fix me up!”

Henry responded, “Perhaps! If you can convince him to cooperate, but… well… I’ll escort you to his office, but I can’t guarantee anything more than a hello!” With that grim assessment broadcasted, they stepped inside of the lift as the elevator doors opened.

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 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you.” Alastair hung up the phone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen cried out, “Now what?”

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

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

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

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

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

“A gargoyle,” Emily replied.

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

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

Amouraq, Chapter 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alastair probed, “What did the assassin say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amouraq, Chapter 3

He couldn’t explain why he had this feeling, but every instinct in his body forced him to move urgently! As he hopped back in his car, he felt a small token of gratitude that he studied maps of this neighborhood thoroughly before he got there, so he wasted no time with directions. He peeled out and sped down the road, and he thought that if his hunch turned out to be wrong, it would probably look a little strange of him rushing to them like that. A part of him hoped for that scenario, but everything in his gut told him that they were in danger, so he didn’t hesitate to hurry to them.

The roads were clear until he started getting closer to a major intersection. Traffic started to become congested, and he grew irritated that he couldn’t drive as fast as he wanted to. He audibly groaned when he got stuck behind several vehicles at the red light. He collected his focus and scanned the area to see if he could see them. He had to raise himself up a bit to see the cars on the other side of the street, and his heart nearly skipped a beat when he finally spotted the silver, four-door car belonging to the Seattle agent. Her car idled in the left hand lane, and since she was about to turn on the road he had just gone down, he knew they would make it to Emily’s house safely. His stomach lurched, and somehow he knew it wouldn’t be that simple!

As the agent turned left, a long, dark green car from the street perpendicular to hers suddenly jolted out and blocked her path! Stephen quickly put his car in park and sprang out with his gun out as did the Seattle agent. She partially hid behind her door while two men in black, leather jackets and sunglasses emerged from the other vehicle with their hands in their pockets. She immediately aimed her gun at them and shouted, “Federal Agent, put your hands up!” When they didn’t obey her command and advanced towards her, Stephen jumped onto the hood of his car. The Seattle agent fired at the larger man while Stephen aimed at the thin one. Both of the men fell down, and each agent ran towards them. The Seattle agent approached them with her gun still drawn.. To her astonishment, the larger man had a gun in his hand and fired at her chest!

“No!” Stephen screamed as he saw the Seattle agent fall to the ground. The larger man heard Stephen and picked himself up. At the same time, the backseat door of the Seattle agent’s car opened up, and a woman dashed out, running in the opposite direction. The large man chased after her, and Stephen rushed to catch up with them, yelling, “Federal Agent, I order you to stop!”

The large man caught up with her and put his gun up to her head. “Come quietly or I’ll shoot!” Stephen got close enough to shoot him, but the man moved out of range, scooped Emily up with one arm, and ran off! He couldn’t risk hitting Emily, so he muttered, “Damn it!” as he followed them.

The man ran down an alleyway, and Stephen managed to grab the man’s arm and spin him around, which forced him to drop Emily. Stephen pressed him against the wall and held his gun up to the back of his head. “Drop your weapon!” Stephen barked.

He dropped his gun, and then he hissed, “Shoot me!”

“Did someone send you here?” Stephen forcibly asked him.

“Go to hell!” the man growled.

Stephen huffed, “Did someone send you, or are you gonna take the rap for forty six murders?”

Before the man could answer, Emily stood up, made a claw out of her fingers, and chanted, “Truth be told!”

Stephen felt a cold wind brush by him, and he saw the man’s eyes widen and suddenly turn misty. In a flat, low voice, the man revealed, “Xavier Ryder.”

“Where is he?” Stephen urgently inquired.

“Hidden deep where only one man has gone before,” he unemotionally reported.

Stephen’s brow furrowed at that cryptic remark. Before he could ask anymore questions, the look disappeared from his eyes and he tried to run for it. A score of Hartwood police officers blocked his path with their weapons drawn. Extremely unwillingly, the man surrendered to the police.

After breathing a sigh of relief to see him in handcuffs, Stephen went up to the officers and showed them his badge. Somewhat winded, Stephen quickly spoke to them, “Stephen Knight, FBI. How’s Agent Chae-Won?”

One of the officers reported, “An off duty nurse tended to her, and she’s on her way to the hospital right now. She was still breathing when they were putting her in, but…”

Stephen’s insides wrenched to hear one of his fellow agents got harmed in the line of duty, but his attention quickly averted back to the other victim of this incident. “Miss Pageman, are you…?”

He turned around and saw Emily walking towards him. Despite going through such a frightening ordeal, she moved with such composure! Her makeup didn’t smudge at all, and her hair, while slightly ruffled, still sculpted her face very neatly. He had only seen a picture of her head, so he didn’t see what her body looked like until now. She had a thick frame, but she still had an hourglass figure. She wore a pink blouse and tan trousers that accentuated her curves very nicely. She moved with such grace that Stephen had no doubt that she was definitely a future queen!

Emily approached him and gave him a little smile as she queried, “Was he wearing a bulletproof vest?”

“Huh?” Stephen shook off his torpor and got back to business. “There wasn’t any blood on him, so he must have been.”

“Yes, ma’am, he is,” another police officer confirmed for her. “Oh, if you two don’t mind, I have some questions for you.”

Stephen declined, “Sorry, but she’s a high profile subject, and we need to get her to safety. I’ll give my report to my superior, and I’ll have her email you a copy.” The officer nodded, and Stephen turned back to Emily. “Follow me.” Emily seemed a little hesitant, but after noticing the officers behind him, she reluctantly agreed.

Stephen and Emily reached his car without saying a word to each other. They could hardly discuss classified information in such an active scene, and he knew it was imperative to get Emily out of the area quickly, but he felt a little inconsiderate to rush her out of the spot without communicating anything to her. She nearly died, and she probably had very little idea about would happen next. He was impressed at her ability to appear unemotional after all she had gone through, but he knew inwardly she must feel very distressed. He logically reasoned that they didn’t have a great distance to travel to get to his car, but at this time, it felt really long! She didn’t have to deal with her inner turmoil for that much longer, but he still felt a surge of guilt for the minute she had to go through it!

When they finally arrived at his car, he opened the passenger door for her. She didn’t look thrilled to climb in, and he didn’t blame her. He figured that she probably had a lot of trust issues at the moment. They stayed quiet as he got into the car, started it, and made a u-turn. Once they were away from the crime scene, Stephen waited for Emily to break the ice. He didn’t quite know how she would react to surviving such a harrowing ordeal, and he wondered if she would burst out crying or if her anxiety would cause her to rant and rave. He also supposed that she would blurt out a flurry of questions, but he was prepared to receive whatever scenario that she offered. What he didn’t expect was more silence. He hoped that she didn’t think he was rude for not speaking to her, and his mind reeled from different possibilities on how to begin. To his surprise, she calmly said, “They wore bulletproof vests!”

Her statement baffled Stephen. Out of all of the things for her to get mystified about, he couldnt’ believe that she focused on that! He reminded himself that trauma can sometimes make a person hyper-focused on a random detail of the event, so he tried to show her support. “Yes, they did. Sometimes a criminal has the foresight to wear some kind of body armor, which is why I usually aim for the head if I have to take someone down.” He instantly regretted disclosing that information to her and now hoped that he didn’t upset her by talking about killing someone after she almost died.

She stunned him once again by not responding to his comment. Instead, she absentmindedly gazed out of the window as she wondered aloud, “Why would they wear bulletproof vests when they could do a…? Unless they were… No, that couldn’t be!”

The more she talked, the more perplexed he grew. As politely as he could, he queried, “I’m sorry, but what do you mean by-?”

She suddenly whipped her head to face him, and her expression displayed the utmost concern as she questioned, “How much did they tell you about us?”

“You mean the heirs?” Stephen replied. “We did a background check on everyone, but-.”

‘You should go,” Emily advised him. “You’re not safe with me!”

Stephen assured her, “I understand it’s a dangerous assignment, but all of my assignments are like that. It’s okay, I accept the risks, and I have the training to-.”

She interrupted him again, “Trust me, you don’t have the training for what you’re about to encounter! You have no idea what Amouraqians are capable of!”

As they arrived at her house, Stephen requested, “Then please, enlighten me.” She sighed exasperatedly, and she gave the matter serious consideration…

Amouraq, Chapter 2

The simplistic beauty of the neighborhood was almost unnerving! The small, nineteen fifties style houses were all neatly painted and had beautifully manicured lawns. Trees with bushy, green leaves lined the sidewalk, but the streets were free from twigs or foliage. He saw a young child helping his mother unload groceries from her van, and he couldn’t imagine a more ideal place to grow up. He couldn’t believe that somewhere inside this picturesque piece of Americana an abhorrent massacrer was plotting vile chaos and utter demise! He almost wished the area had less of a homey charm to it because it tempted him to bask in the quaintness that it offered. It disgusted him to think of any criminal perverting the serenity of these roads, and to know that one of the most bloodthirsty people on the planet lurked in the shadows just incensed him more! The only plus side he could think of was that, of the very least, people would notice if something was out of place. Wherever the creep decided to hide, someone noticed! As he got closer to his destination, he felt more and more determined to find them and bring him or her to justice!

In a small living room, an elderly lady wearing a lacy shawl over a full length dress and an elegant bun sat on a cushy, antique chair while she crocheted a blanket. She glanced up when she saw a ritzy, black sedan pull up in front of her house, and when she noticed Stephen emerge from the vehicle, she set down her yarn and needle and somewhat hesitantly went to her front entrance. Before Stephen could even knock, she opened the door a crack and gruffly asked, “Who are you?”

Stephen felt a little taken aback by her abruptness, but he quickly recovered himself and showed her his badge. “Stephen Knight, FBI. Can we talk?” She studied him as if she were evaluating his story, and when she got a grasp of his authenticity, she opened the door wider and invited him inside.

Once he stepped inside, she closed the door and apologized, “I’m sorry about that. We can’t be too careful right now.”

“I understand,” Stephen responded. “I would prefer to see you air on the side of caution during these times! I’m assuming you’re Missus Lambert.”

“Call me Amelia.” She extended her hand, and Stephen shook it. “Please, have a seat.”

Stephen replied, “Thank you,” as he sat down on a couch in the corner of the room.

Before Amelia joined him, she took another look at him and decided something. “How do you take your tea?”

“Oh, I don’t need anything, thank you,” Stephen politely declined.

“Oh, yes you do,” Amelia stated firmly. “You haven’t slept well in days, you need the energy boost.” Stephen seemed surprised at her assessment, so she quickly explained, “I’m a mother of four and a grandmother of eight, it just comes naturally. So, do you take cream with your tea?”

Stephen answered, “Just sugar, thanks.”

As Amelia went into the adjoining kitchen, Stephen looked around at the various pieces of furniture and knick-knacks. Everything looked about as old as the house, so he couldn’t help but titter a little to see a cellphone charger in the wall! He heard Amelia used a single serve coffee maker, and he thought that perhaps Emily tried to help her update the place. He observed several pictures on the fireplace mantle, and one in particular really caught his eye. It had to be at least thirty years old based on the picture quality, and it showed a little girl making a funny face while wearing a witch’s costume. Based on her facial features, he thought that it had to be Emily. He chuckled slightly wondering if that little girl had any idea that she’d grow up and inherit the throne of Amouraq!

“How many lumps?” Amelia inquired.

“Huh?” Stephen pulled himself out of his momentary stupor and replied, “Oh, two lumps should be fine.”

As she stirred his tea, he noticed a silver frame on a round end table. It had a man with red hair and a toothy grin and a woman with dark hair draped over his shoulder giving him a kiss. Before he could guess who they were, Amelia appeared in the living room with a tray that had his tea on it, and she let him know, “That’s a picture of my daughter, Sylvie, and my son in law, Ronald, on their honeymoon. They’re Emily’s parents, they… They died fifteen years ago from a car crash.”

“I’m sorry to hear that!” Stephen empathized.

Amelia seemed saddened by the memory, and she said forlornly, “I do wish I didn’t have to bury my children, but, in a way, maybe it’s better they went out this way, you know, quickly, instead of the way the others are…”

Stephen grimaced at the thought. He ensured her, “Don’t worry, I won’t let that happen to Emily! I sent an agent from the Seattle office to watch over her while I flew here, and she’ll bring her home when she gets off work.” He glanced at an antique clock and wondered, “What time does she usually get here?”

“Usually, she gets home around three thirty, four o’ clock,” Amelia told him, “but today, I’m not sure. She handed in her resignation this morning. She wanted to teach them one more day to say goodbye, but she knows she can’t stay there. With a target on her head now, she couldn’t risk putting those kids in danger!”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put it past them to harm children,” Stephen grimly remarked. “In some cases, innocent civilians were killed instantly if they got in this murderer’s way. One way or another, he or she gets them isolated so they can… Well, my guess is torture. I have no idea how they’re able to kill people in the way that they do, but it seems extremely painful. Whoever commits these atrocities must find isolated spots so no witnesses can hear the screaming. Do you have any idea where someone could do that around here?”

Amelia shook her head. “If the killer is Amouraqian, then they have methods that I can’t even begin to imagine! They could make it happen almost anywhere without anyone having the slightest clue about what’s going on! That’s how they’ve been getting away with it all this time! They made it almost impossible to find them!”

Stephen emphasized, “Almost. Nothing is completely impossible, and no matter what kind of skills this person possesses, they’re only human and humans leave traces of themselves wherever they go! No matter how good they are at recovering the evidence, no one is perfect! Sooner or later, we all make mistakes, and someone has picked up a clue about this person even if they don’t realize it yet! Somebody heard something, saw something, even smelled something, and I’m gonna find out what that is! Now think, has anything unusual occurred here recently? Any minute detail? No clue is too small!”

Amelia jogged her memory and tried really hard to recollect anything like what he described. “It was freezing this morning. It was kind of strange because normally it starts to warm up this time of year. And the fog looked thicker than normal. That’s all I can think of. Is that helpful?”

Stephen jotted this information down inside of his phone before he spoke up, “It could be. Sometimes the significance of a detail doesn’t present itself in an obvious way. It may say something about the killer’s profile. I’ll have to see if weather played a role in any of the previous cases.” He paused before he added, “This is kind of a long shot, but do you have any idea who may be behind it all?”

“If I knew anything for sure, I’d tell you,” Amelia responded.

“What if you knew something less sure?” Stephen challenged her. “Would you still tell me?”

Amelia stared at him in surprise for a moment, and then she divulged, “Well, there was something Ronnie said once that keeps popping up in my head lately. When he mentioned his distant relation to King Patrick, he really highlighted the fact that his ancestors got on the family tree legitimately. When I asked him what he meant by that, he explained that for centuries, people would court an heir just to get on that list of those who could inherit the crown. Ronnie’s forefather fell in love with a woman who happened to be on the list, he didn’t seek her out for any ulterior purposes. Not all of the heirs could make that claim. Some people took drastic measures to try to get on that list, including kidnapping and even rape! Not everyone on that list is noble!”

Stephen surmised, “So, you think someone on that list is responsible for all of this?”

“I don’t know.” Amelia shrugged. “Ever since all of this started, I just keep thinking about everything Ronnie and Emily told me about Amouraq, and that’s the biggest thing I know about the heirs. It would make sense to me that someone low on the list is trying to fight their way up to power. I suppose someone from another country could try to destabilize the Amouraqian government, but there must be hundreds of people with trace amounts of royal heritage, so could they really murder everyone? It’s possible, but it seems like it’d be easier to marry someone on the list or at least conceive a child in order for their family to move their way into the Ovelstrofe castle. People have been trying to taint the list for centuries, so I just thought maybe this is one of those times. Does that make any sense to you? My only experience with crime solving is watching Murder She Wrote.”

Stephen laughed a little at her last sentence, but the rest of what she said really got him thinking. He flashed back to seeing that list on that desk, but it didn’t occur to him to do an extensive background check on any of them. On the surface, nothing about the current heirs really jumped out at him, but now his mind was reeling about any detail that he might have missed. “You’re making a lot of sense. When we’re on the plane, I’ll have to look at…”

A ringtone chimed from a cellphone next to Amelia’s seat, and Amelia read the message that she received. “It’s Emily. She just wrapped up at the school, and she’ll be here soon.”

Connecting the subject that they were just discussing with Emily’s arrival gave Stephen a foreboding feeling. He knew she was in very capable hands with the Seattle agent, but all of a sudden, he got this overwhelming feeling that he should assist her. He bolted out of his seat and briskly remarked, “I’ll make sure of that!” as he sped out of the house.

Amouraq, Chapter 1

He took a deep breath and collected himself as he rode a finely polished elevator. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been through this before, but somehow, this one felt different. He gazed at his reflection on the wall and saw that his creamy skin looked unblemished and his copper-colored hair was neatly combed. He didn’t have any stubble on his pronounced jawline, and the area around his dark blue eyes didn’t have a hint of red to it. He adjusted his purple tie and smoothed out his tailored suit just as the elevator doors opened up to his floor. As he joined the various people in professional attire milling about the hallway, he did his best to convey the idea that everything was business as usual. He felt grateful that no one stopped him to chat because he didn’t think he could maintain this confidence during small talk. One man gave him a curt nod, and a lady said hello, but luckily for him, he made it to the room without incident. He shook off his nerves before he went in, after all, he couldn’t let any misgivings show during such an important matter! He couldn’t delay the moment any longer, he was ready as he’d ever be. He pulled open the heavy, wooden door and went inside.

Across the room, he saw a man with gray hair and a fairly youthful face talking to a middle aged woman with dark hair and a small pair of glasses that made her already stern eyes appear even sharper. He couldn’t help but compare the two contrasted personalities between the two of them. He knew her to be typically cold and calculating whereas he usually adopted a more lighthearted, somewhat playful attitude. Not today though, both of them had grave expressions on their faces and fell silent upon his arrival. He very cordially greeted them, “Good morning, President Truett! Agent Dulcie!”

Agent Dulcie informed Truett, “Mister President, this is Agent Stephen Knight. He’s the one I’ve been telling you about.”

“Are you really?” Truett let a small smile momentarily crack through his lips. “Forgive me, but with all of the accomplishments she listed, I expected an old man!”

“Thank you, sir,” Stephen said graciously. “The closer I get to forty, the older I start to feel!”

Truett half kidded, “Give it a couple of decades and that age will feel young!” He tittered a bit, and then he sobered up to invite him, “Have a seat.”

Stephen sat in a chair in front of Truett’s desk, and Agent Dulcie addressed him, “Based on the recent headlines, I think you can guess why we called you in here.”

Stephen’s stomach lurched when she confirmed what he had been dreading. “My next assignment involves the heirs of Amouraq, doesn’t it?”

Agent Dulcie somberly told him, “Correct. As you know, King Patrick is dying, and the people next in line for the throne are all getting killed. The number reached forty six as of this morning.”

“Did he… Did they find the body in the same condition as the others?” Stephen tentatively asked.

“Exactly the same,” Truett answered with repulsion. “And DNA confirmed him to be the man set to take the throne next. I don’t know how they could do that to a body! Frankly, I don’t want to know! Several descendants live in the United States, and I want them to stay safe! However this person is doing it doesn’t matter to me, I just want them stopped!”

Agent Dulcie directed Stephen, “You’ll be coordinating with Agent Alastair Vendari, head of the International Crimes Unit of the Amouraqian government, in discovering who is behind this string of mass murders. As of right now, they don’t have any suspects.”

Stephen reacted incredulously, “Forty six murders and not a single suspect? How is that possible?”

“That’s why they’re working with us,” Truett responded. “Amouraqians are a very advanced race, they have skills we can’t even imagine! That’s what makes this situation so scary; they’re known for helping the world solve their problems, and they don’t have a clue on what to do with this! King Patrick asked for our help, and I told him we’d be honored to assist! They’re our greatest ally, but the whole world needs this country to stay strong!”

“It’s not only several governments at stake,” Agent Dulcie added. “The bloodline to their founding leader, King Alexander, runs all around the world, so there’s a lot of lives at stake! We need you to not only find the culprit responsible for this genocide but to ensure the protection of the people at the top of the list for the crown.” She plopped a long list in front of Stephen, whose eyes went wide at the vast amount of potential victims. “Our top priority is to keep the person next in line safe.”

She put a manila folder in front of him, and when he opened it up, his eyes were immediately drawn to the picture inside. He saw a woman with golden brown eyes, a warm smile, smooth, beige skin, and coffee colored hair that neatly accented her face. Without thinking, Stephen commented, “She’s pretty; she looks like a model!”

When Agent Dulcie spoke again, Stephen almost jumped. He got so entranced by the photo that for a second he forgot where he was! Agent Dulcie stated, “This is Emily Pageman. She’s thirty three years old and works as a school teacher in Hartwood, Washington.”

“Is she married?” Stephen inquired. Agent Dulcie raised an eyebrow to him, and he realized that he must have sounded a little too eager with his question. He inwardly admonished himself for his inadvertent lack of professionalism, and, as casually as he could, he clarified, “Does she have a husband, kids, or anyone else we need to protect?”

Agent Duclie eyed him suspiciously for a moment, but she appeared to dismiss whatever notion she had and moved on. “She lives with her grandmother, Amelia Lambert. Missus Lambert isn’t part of King Alexander’s ancestry and therefore isn’t in any danger. Miss Pageman’s royal lineage came from her father, who passed away years before any of this started.”

President Truett jumped in, “Miss Pageman is in serious danger, and King Patrick doesn’t have much time left, so it’s imperative that we get her to Ovelstrofe safely!”

Stephen went through Emily’s file, and when he got to the end of it, he got thrown off by how quickly he got through it. His eyes darted between the file and the list of heirs, and his brow furrowed. Before he could say anything, Agent Duclie notified him, “I’ll send you the police files from the American victims, and Agent Vendari is going to send you information that they gathered down in Amouraq. We’ve also spoken to to agencies in Ireland and Greenland, but unfortunately, between all four countries involved, no one has much more information than what the public sees in the news.”

Stephen cringed at that thought, and Truett shared his sentiment. “I know, it’s not a lot to go on, especially for a case of this magnitude!”

“I’ll take a look at it all. There’s got to be some small detail that’s been overlooked!” He stared at Emily’s file, and suddenly, he concluded, “The killer knows she’s next in line. Chances are they’re in Hartwood right now! I need to go there and interview the people there! Something new is in the neighborhood, and someone there is bound to notice this! I’m gonna find this creep before they have a chance to hurt anyone else!”

“Good luck, Agent Knight!” Truett wished him earnestly. “Stay safe out there!”

The initial trepidation that he harbored prior to this meeting had vanished and been replaced by a renewed sense of vigor. A lot of families out there were waiting for justice on this case, and that thought alone was enough to fuel him to get started without hesitation! He responded to Truett by shaking his hand and vowing, “Don’t worry, I won’t let you down!” He shook Agent Dulcie’s hand as well before he strode out of the room.

At the airport, Stephen strolled up to a private plane on the tarmac where a pilot stood at the ready by the staircase going into the plane. He formally greeted Stephen, “Good morning, sir! Nice to see you again!”

“Likewise!” Stephen replied cordially.

“Where are we going today, sir?” the pilot asked.

Stephen answered, “Hartwoord, Washington.”

The pilot told him, “The closest airport to there is Seatac. I’ll arrange for a car to get you to Hartwood.”

“Thank you!” Stephen gave him a courteous grin, which the pilot returned before Stephen entered the plane.

During the flight, Stephen thumbed through files on his tablet while he jotted down notes on his cellphone. He looked through the last file sent to him from Agent Vendari, but he realized he hadn’t processed any of it. He gazed at the ceiling and took a deep breath before he returned to his work. He scrolled through it and saw pictures of where the body was found. The image of the brutal state the killer left the victims in had been burned into memory forever, and the sadness of it made him shake his head. “How did they do this to you?” he wondered.

Just then, the intercom broadcasted the pilot’s voice, “Please fasten your seatbelt, Agent Knight. We’re almost there!”

War of the Mystics: Frozen

Attention Readers: the free version of my novel, which I posted a chapter at a time on my blog, is no longer available. However…you can purchase it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble online, Createspace, and eBay. So please, check it out and spread the word!!!