The Shadow Path, Chapter 12

Yasmina silently scolded herself for allowing these feelings to develop. She reasoned that her loneliness and isolation made her vulnerable, and, naturally, she would fall for the first man who was nice to her. Still, she felt like a fool for even thinking about loving Aidan. He was the prince and future king, and while it may not have been totally unheard of for a royal to wed a peasant, it was unheard of for a witch to take the throne! When the kingdom learned the truth about Daeva’s control over the current ruler, the mistrust of a witch in power would only heighten! She decided not to encourage herself to allow these notions to manifest anymore. She wanted to believe that Aidan would still maintain a friendship with her after they succeeded in their quest, but she had gotten so used to people hiring her for a short time only to boot her out as soon as they could get by without her. She didnt’ want to get heartbroken at the end of this, so she reminded herself to be more careful from now on.

Avoiding these feelings suddenly seemed difficult as Aidan let out a contented sigh. She wanted to fancy that their closeness brought about that response, but her mind alerted her to what she just promised herself, so she quickly looked for a distraction. She found herself absentmindedly petting Ardeshir, so she shifted her attention to him. “So, Ardeshir, you have the essence of a warlock, how come you cant’ release magic through your paws or something?”

“I’ve been asking myself that for the last hundred years!” Ardeshir replied. “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and what I came up with was that it was a design of nature to only have magic be honed by human beings in order to protect and preserve the planet. If you could switch bodies with a Comas or some other large monster and you could do magic, can you imagine the chaos?”

To Yasmina’s relief, Aidan did not revert back to the sentimental conversation they had before and stayed on the current subject. “Why did you pick a cat? I mean, if you could become any animal, wouldn’t you pick something more powerful?”

“My house-cat was already around, it was convenient. If I had to do it all over again, I would pick a more impressive animal!” When he heard his thought out loud, he quickly changed his mind. “No, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have done that spell at all! If I ever get another human body again, I’ll be a little less reckless. I realize there’s a line that the magi were not meant to cross! There are dire consequences for those who do so!”

“What about Daeva?” Yasmina asked somewhat bitterly. “She seems to have faced no punishment for her wicked deeds! And you know she has probably broken all kinds of rules of the natural world!”

“There’s still time,” Aidan pointed out. “Maybe we’re the repercussion for of the evil she has done.” Ardeshir and Yasmina hadn’t thought of that before and seemed to enjoy the idea. Aidan looked to the ceiling and called out, “Do you hear that, Daeva? We will get to Duanolc and you face justice soon!”

Ardeshir informed him, “She can’t hear you. The potion allows you to spy on someone visually but nothing beyond that.”

“You don’t know that,” Aidan retorted.

“Fair enough,” Ardeshir agreed.

Yasmina mused, “If she can’t hear you, I wonder what she thinks you’re doing by yelling at the top of this tree!” The three of them laughed.

When the rain stopped, the sun began to rise. Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir had fallen asleep but got woken up when they heard something land on a nearby branch. They woke up startled, then they ducked down to assess the situation. They were ready to attack whatever creature knew that they were cornered in that tree hollow, but then it hopped onto a branch that they could see. The three of them felt incredibly silly to have gotten scared by a robin! Out of a mix of relief and foolish feelings, they breathily chuckled. Ardeshir joked, “Who wants breakfast?”

Yasmina and Aidan made disgusted faces, and Yasmina responded, “Not that I’m tempted, but I don’t think that bird would have enough meat for all three of us!”

Ardeshir wondered, “What if it’s not actually a bird? What if it’s a shape-shifting monster?”

“Time to go!” Aidan responded immediately, and they all left as rapidly as possible.

As they walked down the sunlit road, Yasmina brought up, “When you hunted food in these woods, did you ever go after a shape-shifting monster?”

Ardeshir replied, “A couple of times. You can usually tell when they’re a real bird versus a shape-shifter, the latter behave differently than the creature they’re pretending to be.”

Aidan noted, “Daeva watched us get scared by a bird! She probably thinks we’re going to be easy to defeat!”

“I don’t know about that,” Yasmina differed, “She deliberately spied one of us. If she didn’t view us as a threat, she wouldn’t have done that.”

Ardeshir debated, “But if she really thought we stood any chance to defeat her, wouldn’t she have come out and destroyed the threat a long time ago?”

Aidan reminded him, “She prefers to let others do the dirty work, like making her puppet take the throne instead of finding a way to call herself queen. Even with my family, she sent other people to do the deed instead of facing us herself. If anything, if she sees us as a threat, she’ll send her servants to get us before we make it to Duanolc.”

Yasmina added, “I’m kind of glad she has that policy! If she had shown up at the onset of our journey, I wouldn’t have been ready! I’m still not, but I have a better shot at surviving than I did before!” They all laughed.

In the dark castle, Duanolc, Daeva sat imperiously on a black, thorny, throne-like chair that overlooked a nearly empty and dark room. A small, skinny, old woman nervously walked in, her footsteps echoing each step she took. Whe nshe came to the dais that Daeva had perched on, she curtsied. “Greetings, Master Daeva!”

“What do you want?” Daeva grumped.

The old woman stammered, “King Dorian cut off trade with-.”

“Yes, I know!” Daeva cut her off. “He did so by my design.”

“Oh!” the woman became somewhat flustered. “It’s just that my village relied on trading with that kingdom! Without their ingredients, we can’t make the potions that people come to our village for!”

“So!” Daeva replied coldly.

“So?” the elderly witch puzzled. “Master, without these potions, we’re nothing! We’re running out of money, which means we’re running out of food too!”

Daeva definitely seemed more annoyed than sympathetic. “Learn a new trade! Grow your own food! Adapt or you will perish!” The old witch looked shocked, which made Daeva yell, “What do you want me to do? Reverse my decision just for you? How can you be so selfish?”

The old woman hung her head low. “I thought you wanted mortals to waste away, not your fellow magi!” She quickly realized what she had said and gasped.

Just as the elderly witch had feared, Daeva exploded, “How dare you! Kadera!” Kadera came limping in, and Daeva told her, “Dispose of her!” The woman begged for her life as Kadera dragged her out of the room.

As Aidan, Yasmina, and Ardeshir walked down the Shadow Path, Aidan excitedly conversed, “Can you believe it? In a few hours, we should arrive at Bothar Ri!”

Ardeshir less enthusiastically noted, “The crossroad to the castles Duanolc and Rogamaith, each only a day’s journey away!”

“Yes, exactly! Aidan chimed. “Sorry, but it’s so close to my home! I’m just excited to get near it!”

Yasmina gingerly asked, “It doesn’t, um, remind you of where your family lost their lives?” Aidan’s face twisted into a bit of a frown, so Yasmina quickly apologized, “I’m sorry if I seemed insensitive! I was just thinking that if it were me, I don’t think I could even lay eyes on the place where my family got massacred!”

Aidan replied, “I will always remember that horrible day! Every detail! But it is also why I must return! Their blood runs in my veins, and I must carry on their legacy! I hate the fact that this spineless, vile, horrible excuse for a king walks where they once did! I have to make it right!”

“You’re fortunate that you have such an honorable lineage!” Yasmina commented. “I come from a line of peasant farmers who turned away their only daughter, not caring if she lived in isolation and misery! That’s nothing to be proud of!”

“That’s not true!” Aidan disagreed. “The fact that you went through all of that and still have the courage to show others kindness and love shows you have a strong heart and a noble spirit! You’ve created a new path to follow and greater ideals for future generations!”

Yasmina found herself flushing furiously! She had no idea anyone let alone a prince thought so highly of her! It was so hard for her to imagine future generations until this moment, and after picturing returning to isolation after this quest, it felt strange to even imagine! Aidan inquired, “Do you want to have kids someday?”

Without thinking, Yasmina joked “Is that an invitation?” She heard herself say it out loud, and gasped, “I’m so sorry! I’m so weary from the journey, it just slipped out!” Ardeshir roared in laughter, and she felt surprised to see it was Aidan’s turn to blush. She cringed and secretly wished for a distraction. She regretted that desire as a large shadow appeared before them…

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The Shadow Path, Chapter 11

What for?” Yasmina questioned. She had no idea how they were going to get out of this situation, and all she could think to do was to keep them talking until an opportunity came up.

The knight who had led the pack informed them, “For the murder of the soothsayer, Makkedah.”

“We didn’t murder him!” Aidan argued. “He killed himself!”

“Don’t lie!” the knight coldly responded. “We had an eye witness report the whole story.”

Ardeshir probed. “How is that possible? You were nowhere near the village at the time! I patrolled the area extensively and I didn’t see you anywhere! We haven’t been gone that long, so how can you possibly get a proper account in such a short time? Wait, did Daeva…?”

“How we know is none of your concern!” the knight snarled. “And don’t you try to hex us, witch! We know your powers aren’t developed enough to take us all at once!” Before the three of them could respond, they heard growling in the distance. “I said no hexes!”

“I didn’t do anything!” Yasmina told him truthfully. “I don’t know what that is.”

The growling sounded again. “I know what that is!” Aidan realized. “If I were you guys, I’d start running!”

“Nice try!” the knight returned. “But we aren’t easy to fool as your victim! Go on, now! Arrest them!”

As the knights were prepared to apprehend them, the growling got so loud that it made them vibrate. Suddenly, a large creature that resembled a dog with spikes instead of fur pounced on one of the knights! They soon saw a pack of the monsters had surrounded them! The knights took out their swords and fought against them. Aidan, Ardeshir, and Yasmina used the distraction as a chance to escape. They had to duck, dodge, and jump to get out of the foray. When they thought they were out of the battlegrounds, one of the beasts hopped in front of them! It growled as it steathily walked towards them. Yasmina pulled out her wand and concentrated hard on knocking it out. Energy shot out of her wand, and to her relief, it worked. They ran from the scene as inconspicuously as possible.

When they were unable to hear the knights fighting the creatures, they paused to catch their breaths a bit. Yasmina asked, “What were those things?”

“The Comas,” Aidan answered. “They’re not easy to defeat since they travel in packs and have such a rough exterior. If we run into them again, remember that their underbellies are their weak points. Although your spell seemed to do the trick!”

Yasmina grinned, but soon after, she suddenly felt flooded with guilt. “Should we have stayed to help them? What if they all die?”

“Then good riddance!” Ardeshir remarked. “They wanted to take use to the castle dungeons! Do you think Dorian would have spared our lives? Just like with Makkedah, it was kill or be killed. Although they might survive, who knows! I think the more pressing matter is how did Daeva know where we were?”

Yasmina remembered, “Wait! There’s a potion that allows you to surveille a person of your choosing. Daeva has been watching us the whole time! But who was she watching?”

“Could be any one of us really,” Aidan replied. “What we do know is she uses Dorian as a puppet. But Rogamaith is not so close to Duanolc, so how could she send knights here so quickly?”

Ardeshir put in, “It would have to do with the spell she is using to make him a puppet. If we can figure out how she does that, it would help us bring down the Dorian-Daeva regime!”

Meanwhile, in the castle Rogamaith, a large group of knights merrily drank wine and sang drinking songs. Dorian entered with a sour expression on his face as he observed the frivolity. “Enough!” he shouted. The volume of the room drowned out his voice, so this time he bellowed so loud that the walls practically shook, “Enough!”

One knight inquired, “I”m sorry, Sire! Did we wake you?”

“I did not get a chance to sleep. What are you celebrating exactly?” Dorian eyed them judgmentally.

“Well,” another knight replied, “Life, really!”

“Here, here!” the other knights jovially chanted.

A third knight invited, “Care to join us, Sire?”

Dorian made a noise of utter annoyance. “How can you think of making merry when some of your colleagues have died?”

The knights all gasped. The second knight asked him, “Who was it?”

Dorian answered, “Most of the knights I sent to the Shadow Path to apprehend the murderers of the soothsayer of Baile Daonna. A few are heading back to nurse their injuries.”

“Wait, they’re not back yet?” the third knight probed. “How do you know all this then?”

“Never mind that!” Dorian snapped. “I need a group to go back to the Shadow Path to finish the mission.”

The third knight agreed to it. “Alright, but we’ll need more details. When did the soothsayer die?”

“Earlier this evening,” Dorian told him.

“Earlier this evening?” the second knight puzzled. “Sire, that village is about a day and a half’s journey. How did you receive word of this death so soon?”

“What’s with all of these questions?” Dorian aggravated. “Yesterday, I sent men into those woods to retrieve these criminals, and after they killed the soothsayer, I sent them to arrest these guys. Then they ran into a pack of monsters! But the three outlaws still need to get captured, so I need you to… Why do you all look so confused?”

The first knight nervously brought up, “You sent knights to the woods before they committed the crime? Were they guilty of other crimes?”

“Stop asking me questions!” Dorian roared. “Don’t ask how I know, I just know! Now, be on the lookout for a witch, a man claiming to be the prince, and a gray cat!” Whispers erupted across the hall at the mention of arresting a cat, which only incensed Dorian. “That is not an ordinary cat! I am the king! You pledged an oat the serve me, so you must obey! I need a group to head to the Shadow Path immediately!” The knights, who were still partly under the influence of alcohol, were surprised that he demanded an immediate departure, so they hesitated. Dorian screamed, “Now!” He stormed out. The knights all looked to each other in a confused suspicion.

As they walked, Aidan, Yasmina, and Ardeshir found themselves trekking in the rain. Aidan and Yasmina opened up their cloaks and put their arms together. As they hunched over slightly, they created a tent for Ardeshir to travel under. Ardeshir asked, “How long do you think you can walk like that?”

“I don’t know,” Aidan answered. “Let’s find out together!”

They all chuckled, and Yasmina commented, “At least we’re still moving forward! But I do hope all of the monsters have gone to bed for the night!”

Aidan joked, “Probably everyone did, except for the Kelpies. I mean, if they can breathe underwater, then a little rain wouldn’t bother them!”

“Kelpies!” Yasmina exclaimed. “That was the name of that creature in the lake!”

“Oh finally! It only took a day!” Aidan teased. “Yasmina retaliated by pinching his back, so he kidded, “Ouch! Hey, when I’m king, that will be an arrestable offense!
“You’ll have to catch me first!” Yasmian retorted. “By then I’ll know how to fly a broomstick!” Aidan and Yasmina laughed.

Ardeshir changed the subject, ‘Hey! There’s a large hollow in that tree! Maybe we should stay in there until the rain stops.”

“No,” Aidan replied. “Let’s keep moving! We’re getting closer, and if we keep going, we can reach…” As he spoked, the rain turned into a torrential downpour. They couldn’t see in front of themselves anyways, so Aidan relented, “Okay, a little while couldn’t hurt.”

The hollow had enough room for all of them, but it was a tight squeeze and they found themselves huddled together. Trying to make light of the awkwardness, Yasmina pointed out, “At least we’ll stay warm!”

“Yeah,” Aidan said with a note of disappointment in his voice. He stared at the rain and noted, “It’s kind of funny, we can past all of these monsters but we get disabled by Mother Nature!”

“We’re still making good time!” Ardeshir pointed out.

“He’s right,” Yasmina added. “We’ll be there before you know it! What is it you always tell me? You have to think positive!”

“You’re right,” Aidan admitted. “After ten years of waiting, just being this close and yet so far is maddening!”

“I can imagine!” Yasmina responded sympathetically. “Personally, I’m glad I have had a little bit of time to practice my spell work before we face Daeva. I wouldn’t have been ready if we faced her right away! Of course, there’s not a whole lot of room to practice here, but I’m sure another creature will come along soon enough and I’ll get more practice then!”

Aidan heartily laughed. “Thanks! You cheered me up!”

Yasmina humbly smiled. “Well, you always cheer me up too!”

“Thanks! We make a good team!” Aidan remarked.

“Yeah!” Yasmina agreed. The sentiment made her feel warm, and when she noticed how close they were, it made her heart race. They were literally close, but she felt happy that their relationship grew close too. She hadn’t bonded with anyone since her childhood when she had friends and her parents still acknowledged her. But she felt a little deeper for him than them. She admired his character so much, and she appreciated all he did to support her. It made her so grateful that if he did one more kind thing for her, her rush of gratitude would make her want to scour him with affection! Suddenly, she made a horrifying realization; while she didn’t have much experience in the area and couldn’t know for sure, she began to ask herself- was she developing romantic feelings for Aidan?

The Shadow Path, Chapter 10

Makkedah glared at the townspeople, but no one made a move or sound. Yasmina hoped that if no one made a fuss that he would assume she left already, but Makkedah didn’t look dissuaded. As he craned his head in their direction, Aidan and Ardeshir stood in front of her protectively. Although Makkedah didn’t identify anyone, he marched towards them and seethed, “Show yourself, witch! Don’t protect her or you will receive what’s intended for her!”

Yasmina couldn’t stand the idea of an innocent person getting hurt, so she stepped out and brandished her wand. “Leave them alone!”

Makkedah leered victoriously when he saw that he had made the correct assumption. He inquired, “Who are you?”

“My name is Saphra,” Yasmina fibbed.

“Liar!” Makkedah called her out. “Who are you really?”

Yasmina didn’t know how he knew she had lied, but she had no intention of giving him any more information than she had to. She raised her wand and told him, “None of your business!”

“Careful who you wave that wand at!” Makkedah sneered.

“Or what?” Yasmina challenged him. “Are you a soothsayer or are you a warlock?”

“I can be more than one thing!” He slowly pulled out his own wand, and the villagers gasped as they learned the truth about a figure in their town. “Give me the money you made from doling out a cure to these mortals!”

“I didn’t charge them anything,” Yasmina informed him. “I didn’t even consider it. I saw people in trouble and I helped them, end of story.”

“You simpleton!” Makkedah raged. “I’ve waited for dozens of days for them to scrape together the money for my services and now I lost out on part of my salary just because you’re a softy!”

“Wait,” Yasmina asserted, “You’ve known all along what the cure is and you held back just to make a little money? These people were starving, but you were willing to watch them die for your own superficial needs? How could you?”

Others agreed with her, but he ignored their outcries. “Why do you care? Mortals have never given our kind a lot of respect, and Daeva is eventually going to make sure we outnumber them, so why would you stand in the way of progress?” He paused as he realized, “You’re trying to usurp her, aren’t you?” Yasmina didn’t say anything, but he could tell from her expression that he was right. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?”

He raised his wand and shot some energy towards her, which she narrowly avoided. She hadn’t mentally prepared herself to duel with anyone until she confronted Daeva, and she felt terrified that she didn’t get enough practice to fight an experienced warlock! She raised her wand, but he struck again before she could hex him. She continued to dodge him, but her evasions made it hard to concentrate, so she didn’t execute very strong incantations back. Makkedah picked up on this and dashed out spells faster and faster. She tried to think fast but found it pretty impossible!

All of a sudden, from Makkedah’s side, a basket flew to his head. Makkedah curiously turned his head, and he saw Aidan brandishing his sword. “Leave her alone!”

“Foolish mortal! You dare challenge me!” Makkedah rumbled.

As Makkedah threatened Aidan, Yasmina noticed that the basket he threw was similar to the one she knocked over, which gave her a brilliant idea! While Makkedah was distracted, she pointed her wand at a Comeheistear corpse and made it zip right into Makkedah’s mouth! The villagers gasped, and one of them exclaimed, “You swallowed a Comeheistear!”

Yasmina smugly told him, “I guess there’s no point in killing me since you’re going to starve to death anyways!”

“Don’t be so naive!” Makkedah snickered. “I brought the antidote, remember?” Yasmina pretended to feel disappointed as he pulled a vial of dark green potion out of his pocket, and she watched with rapt anticipation as he brought the bottle to his lips. To her relief, he swallowed a bit of it! He raised his wand to her and leered, “Where were we?”

“Why didn’t it come out?” a child in the crowd loudly asked. “It did when we took the poison!”

Makkedah scoured the ground around him to no avail. “No!” He searched inwardly, and he didn’t feel anything coming up, so he repeated louder, “No!” His eyes blazing, he pointed his wand at Yasmina, who calmly watched him as his insides began to churl. He growled and moaned before falling to the floor. He twitched and wailed more and more frantically, and then, all of a sudden, he stopped. His stance mimicked the dead Comeheistears, and everyone knew he was gone!

The villagers all cheered, and as Aidan and Ardeshir approached, she rejoiced, “I did it! I won!”
“Congratulations!” Aidan grinned.

A villager shouted joyfully, “You saved us twice! Ever since he arrived, Baile Daonna has struggled. You set us free!”

Yasmina humbly responded, “I couldn’t have done it without these two guys! They were the ones who taught me about the Comeheistears. I needed the distraction Aidan risked his life to make, and Ardeshir helped me hone my magic skills! Thank you both so much!”

“The cat taught you magic?” a town person probed. Yasmina forgot that as far as they knew, he was an ordinary cat, and she wondered if she had just ruined all of the good that they just did by that comment. Thankfully, the villager followed up with, “Cool! Is he magical too?”

With the receptive look on everyone’s face, Ardeshir felt it was safe to say,. “Yes I am!”

The crowd cheered in excitement, and after a moment, Yasmina addressed them, “Listen, we would love to stay and celebrate with you, but we have to get going. We need to get to the grand sorceress Daeva so that no other village will continue to suffer what you had to endure!”

“Say no more,” a villager replied. “Just know we have a deep appreciation for what you’ve all done! You’re always back in Baile Daonna!” The others agreed and cheered for them. Two people gave them new cloaks, and a couple of them gave them food to take with them on the way. After a few well-wishers expressed their sentiments, the three of them entered the pathway that led back to the Shadow Path.

Kadera and the other two witches stared into the cauldron with looks of shock and appall. Daeva popped into the room and inquired, “What’s happening?” The three witches hesitated, silently debating who would get the unpleasant task of telling her unwanted news. Daeva grew impatient and snapped, “I’m waiting!”

Kadera reluctantly revealed, “Makkedah is dead.”

Daeva’s face fell, but in a fit of denial, she projected a bit of optimism. “Of natural causes?” The other three hung their heads to avoid her eye contact, which gave her the answer to her question. She groaned, “So, she killed him!”

“Sort of,” one witch remarked. “She tricked him into taking poison.”

“She got lucky!” the other witch added. “Her magic is still very clumsy and inept. She’s no match for you!”

Daeva bellowed, “Idiots! Sometimes cleverness is far more dangerous than skill! Perhaps we should try a different approach…”

Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir walked through the dark woods with a spring in their steps. “It’s sort of sad,” Yasmina commented, “Makkedah made himself so detested in that town that they’re actually celebrating his death! Do you think he had family?”

“We all had family at some point,” Aidan mused, “However, when you dedicate your life to your own self interests, you tend to sever any loving relationships you might have had. When you love, sometimes you put someone else’s needs before your own. I can’t see any of Daeva’s crones going home to their families to talk about their day!”

Ardeshir imitated Makkedah, “I’m home, honey! Boy, what a long day! It is so tiring haunting an entire town to the point of insanity!”

The three of them laughed, and Yasmina realized, “Makkedah made himself into an intregal figure in this town under the same title that Kadera used back in Neodrach. Do you think Daeva does to every mortal town?”

“That would make sense!” Aidan nodded. “Too bad we…”

Before Aidan could finish his sentence, they heard a branch break in the distance. They stood still and listened to assess the situation. The sound was too far away to know for sure, but to Yasmina, it sounded like hooves. The sound stopped, but in no way did they assume the danger was over. Yasmina and Aidan brandished their weapons and waited. For a moment, nothing happened. Soon, they heard rustling on the right. They watched the bushes in that direction, but then from behind them, they heard more movement. Yasmina and Aidan stood back to back knowing that whatever it was, they were now surrounded! They were mentally prepared to fight a fearsome creature, so they were thrown off completely when a dozen knights jumped onto the path! They encircled the three of them, and one of the knights told them, “You’re all under arrest!”

The Shadow Path, Chapter 8

The birds that she heard were not only giant but they were made of metal! As shocked as she got from seeing a flock of these beasts staring at them hungrily, their sight and behavior triggered a memory for her. Yasmina, at the same time as Aidan and Ardeshir, shouted, “Be loud!” The three of them hollered at the creatures as they flew towards them one by one, but after a while, their voices were starting to get hoarse, and so their defense was starting to get less and less effective. The three of them looked to each other, but none of them seemed to have any ideas.

Suddenly, a flurry of pots and pans flew over their heads and banged together loud enough to create such a ruckus that the metallic birds all flew away. Once they left, the pots and pans were recalled back to an area just ahead of them on the Shadow Path. They discovered that the ones who came to their rescue were a group of rough, disgruntled men and one equally intimidating woman. The man who led them had a tall, slender frame, pale skin, piercing blue eyes, and stringy black hair. He smiled warmly at them and joked, “Prince Aidan! You didn’t come prepared!”

“They don’t usually come in droves in like that!” Aidan said in his defense, but he didn’t sound terribly angry.

The man lamented, “They’ve been doing that a lot lately. They know something’s up.”

As the man spoke, Yasmina felt as though she recognized him, and yet she was sure that she had never met him before. She inquired, “Why do you look so familiar?”

He replied, “Ah, well, you probably know my brother, Duke…I’m sorry, ‘King’ Dorian. What different lives we led! My older brother married a duchess and later became the so called king. Before any of that happened though, I discovered that I was a warlock and got kicked out of the family. Luckily, the Thieves of Mitthuscint took me in! We both rose to leadership, but unlike him, I kept my soul! Jakan, at your service!”

“At our service?” Yasmina reacted quizzically. “Sorry! When you told us you were thieves, I thought you were going to rob us!”

Yasmina thought she had offended him, but Jakan laughed, “What would we steal from you, your cat?” The other thieves reacted jovially at his joke.

Ardeshir half kidded, “If you’re looking for valuables, look no further! How often do you find a talking cat?”

The thieves gasped when they heard him talk, but then Jakan rubbed his chin contemplatively. “Hmm…that does seem rare!” Aidan cleared his throat, which shook Jakan from his thought. “Before you ask, the answer is no.”

“I wasn’t going to ask again,” Aidan retorted. “I found a witch to help me.”

Jakan gave Yasmina an incredulous look. “Why would you do that? It’s a suicide mission!”

Yasmina flushed a little. She had always feared this possibility but never really entertained it. Aidan kept such a positive attitude towards it that it sort of shocked her to hear such pessimism. Despite this grim outlook, Yasmina’s instincts solidly assured her that she was doing the right thing, so she refused to let this slight sway her. “Someone has to take a stand against her!”

“True!” Jakan agreed, “but that’s why our mission is to steal from and wreak havoc against the evil witches and warlocks that support her. We’re not accepting their tyranny lying down! The more they oppress this kingdom, the more miserable we’ll make them!” The other robbers emphatically concurred. Jakan then offered, “You’re welcome to join us if you want.”

Yasmina was surprised to hear him say that, and although she could see the appeal of such a lifestyle, she refused to give up on their quest. “I appreciate the offer, but we need to continue on this mission, it’s too important!”

Jakan differed, “There’s other ways to resist that are a little less deadly! You could settle down somewhere and be happy, which is exactly what she’s trying to take away from you!”

Aidan put in, “I could never live peacefully knowing that a tyrant sits on my rightful throne! My family has a duty bound deep in their blood to protect this land at all costs, and it would be an insult to their memory to go against our code of honor at such a crucial juncture!”

“Oh, I forgot about your family,” Jakan admitted.. “I can see why you would be driven to vengence! I sincerely hope you’re successful and that Caragsona could be set free again! I only worry about your odds. It would be devastating to lose people with so much good and potential in them!”

“Let us worry about the odds!” Aidan responded. “Don’t get too shocked when we beat them! The only thing I want you to worry about is my offer of knighthood when I get crowned as king!”

Jakan guffawed, “I had forgotten your offer of honest work for my men and me upon your success! Well, we’ll cross that bridge when when we get to it. Speaking of bridges, when you come across the bridge and see a village, don’t go there! Their people are starving and yet they’re giving away all of their food! It’s sad!”

“Thanks for the tip,” Aidan told him.

Jakan nodded cordially, and then addressed the other thieves, “Let’s carry on with the hunt!”

“Good luck!” Yasmina chimed.

“To you as well,” he said seriously. The thieves all non-verbally acknowledged them as they headed in the opposite direction. Ardeshir, Yasmina, and Aidan continued forward down the Shadow Path.

Back in the castle Rogamaith, Dorian sat cockily in the throne room as a group of scribes hastily took notes. Dorian decreed, “And therefore, anyone who is caught stealing shall be sentenced to death!”

All of the scribes stopped in mid-sentence and murmured in confusion. One man queried, “To death, sire? For stealing?”

“Yes!” Dorian confirmed.

Another scribe inquired, “What is the minimum value that would constitute-?”

Dorian replied, “If a twig from someone’s house gets taken from them, the person responsible will immediately get captured and brought to the dungeons for a beheading!”

The scribes all stared at him in shock. Another scribe questioned, “A beheading for thievery? You don’t think that’s too harsh?”

“Too harsh?” Dorian grew incensed by their position on the issue. “I was just accused of not caring about peasants, and here we are with a huge robbery problem in our most impoverished villages and I’m being too harsh? If these people are truly starving, they can spare no expense, therefore any resource stolen from them is tantamount to death for them. So, the punishment is fitting! The scribes all looked to each other to confirm their confusion on his logic, so he snapped, “Don’t just stand there gawking! Go! Do your jobs and tell your towns!” The scribes all hastily scrambled out while Dorian chuckled maliciously.

As they traveled, Ardeshir gave Yasmina more lessons on properly using her magic. She held a stone in her hand and pointed her want at it. Ardeshir suggested, “Perhaps it would help to say an incantation.”

“How do you say an incantation?” Yasmina inquired.

Ardeshir explained, “Just say what you want to happen. Some people find it easier to concentrate their energy by saying a spell out loud, but the disadvantage is that when you’re fighting or trying to be sneaky, people can hear what you’re intending to do, which gives them time to evade or offer a counter-curse. A few warlocks and witches will make up a word to avoid this, but it’s important that your body and mind knows exactly what you mean by this word or it would become more of a hindrance.”

Concentrating as much as she could, Yasmina commanded, “Float!” Nothing happened. “Float! Float!” The pebble wiggled a little, so she asked, “Did I make that happen? Or did something on the road make it move?”

Aidan answered, “I would hazard a guess that it was your magic. The forest is pretty still right now. There’s a river coming up, but it seems pretty calm.” Something clicked for him, and so he remarked, “This must be the bridge that Jakan had referred to! Oh, I know the village that’s coming up. It’s Baile Daonna, a town of mortals who got lost in the woods, either accidentally or on purpose, and stayed there. They’re pretty protective of themselves, with good reason! It’s not a place I would have suggested stopping to visit!”

Yasmina puzzled, “So, why did Jakan say that they were giving away all of their food?”

“Something’s not right,” Ardeshir noted. “But if we got involved, it would take precious time away from our quest. Of course, as people with hearts, we can’t just ignore people who need our help. What should we do?” The three of them looked to each other for answers, but none of them knew what to do.

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 27

Gwynivara held up her arm and stunned everyone as she willed the orb to push past the pile of clothes and fly into her palm. Rafeneita’s jaw dropped and she gasped, “Where did you get that?”

“It came from Emorick.” Gwynivara gazed into it as clouds swirled around inside and began to form shapes. “Where he got it, I don’t know, but he does have a message for you…”

The clouds inside the orb the orb shaped into an ethereal form of Emorick, who’s voice echoed out, “Give her hell!”

Gwynivara taunted Rafeneita, “I can’t disobey a direct order!”

Rafeneita genuinely seemed frightened. The Rebel officers, especially Gwynivara, were all amped and ready for whatever she had in store for them. Rafeneita backed away slowly, giving them a very cold glare. When she reached the edge of the mountain top, it almost looked as thought she would jump off. Instead, she leered, “Have it your way then!” She sprang up as if she were about to do a back-flip off of the cliff, but what actually happened- she disappeared into a mystical portal! In the same instant, a dozen men in the same white clothes as the Rebels appeared all around them, brandishing swords. And with that, the battle began.

Kierram magicked the daggers out of their belts and enlarged them to become swords. Gwynivara had the utmost confidence that the Rebels would prevail in a sword fight, but she figured that this was just the first wave, that the attacks would prove more and more difficult as time went on. For this reason, she kept a weary eye out for signs of other danger as she fought. All of the training they went through made them motions of the battle simple, but actually striking down someone was a new experience. They didn’t have time to think about it though, right then, their entire focus aimed at survival.

After defeating the last swordsman, Gwynivara noticed how quiet the grounds became. She looked around and saw that the rest of the Rebel officers were also studying the area to check for survivors. None of her people appeared to have died or got seriously injured save for a few cuts and bruises! They could hardly move though because the mountain top floor was now littered with bodies! Gwynivara felt awful for taking a person’s life, so to see how many lives were now over was deeply unsettling. She had no idea that so many people worked for Rafeneita, an she briefly wondered what their perspective had been going into the battle. She reminded herself that none of them had a choice, and the important thing was that the Rebels survived.

No one moved or spoke for quite a while. Everyone had the same instinct, that this first wave got overcome way too easily, and their eyes darted back and forth looking for what was next. Max whispered, “I’m gonna call for back up.”

“Max, don’t!” Bernadette, who was closest to him, hissed.

Max didn’t listen and tiptoed through the bodies. The rest of them, still on high alert, silently prayed that he wouldn’t stumble across an ambush. He crept towards the pile of clothes, and all of their nerves were palpable. He found a radio pretty quickly, held down the call button, and whispered, “We need back up on the-!”

It happened too fast. Without warning, a beast twice as tall as them sprung up from the side of the mountain and clenched its jaws around Max’s torso! They involuntarily screamed as they watched the monster snap him in half! His instant death was shocking enough, but they didn’t have time to react to it. They soon found that creatures of great magnitude approached them from all different directions! As terrifying as their presence was, the Rebel officers had fought monsters before, and they were always ready to fight them. Today had been no exception. The Rebel officers got attacked from all different directions, so it took all of their concentration and skills. Gwynivara didn’t have time to keep an eye out for the other Rebels, but as soon as the mountain grew quiet again, it was the first thing she did. She spotted Bernadette, Kierram, and a few other Rebels, but to her dismay, a few more officers had been killed.

They didn’t have a moment to mourn for their losses. One second, they were completely surrounded by bodies of people and giant creatures, and the next thing they knew it all disappeared. Knowing that this could mean nothing good, the remaining Rebel officers stood in a back to back circle, waiting. Suddenly, Abigor and his cronies appeared from a small rip in the air near the ground. They strutted out in a very cocky manner in an attempt to appear condescending, but the Rebel officers wouldn’t let themselves get intimidated. Abigor leered, “You should’ve joined us when you had the chance! Look how many of your men have died just for you to make a point! What a waste!”

“I guess I should’ve been more like you and let dozens of my people die without blinking an eye!” Gwynivara retorted.

Abigor and his followers circled them like a vulture circling it’s prey. “It’s not too late. We’ll give you one last chance to change your mind.”

“Never!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram replied in unison.

“Then so be it!” Faster than they could blink, Abigor conjured a ball of dark energy and hurled it towards them! Kierram reacted quickest and created a sheer barrier that deflected his spell from them all. Abigor and his team made multiple attempts, but Gwynivara and Kierram kept blocking them. Bernadette and a couple of others who were in the Rebellion long enough to know the theory of how to use their Venenatus Sanguis as an enchantment did their best to help Kierram and Gwynivara out, but they were definitely outnumbered in terms of people who possessed the ability. Their minds raced to think of a solution, but their heads were blank. No one was sure what they would do.

All of a sudden, Abigor stopped. His attention got drawn to a noise he heard in the base of the mountain. Abigor’s henchmen took this as a cue to cease as he investigated. A very loud hum reached the Rebels’ ears. It grew louder, indicating its fast approach. As rapidly as the noise came, it let up. Abigor and his men peered over the side of the peak, but they saw nothing. They turned their attention back to the Rebels, ready to strike again when suddenly, one of the henchmen got shot in the head! At that moment, dozens of motorcycle cops flooded the area, shooting at the henchmen! The Rebels all figured that their foes had the skillset to destroy the police in ways that they couldn’t even imagine, but Abigor and the others were still humans who would succumb to bullets just as anyone would. Considering this as well as the vast number of law enforcements present, they were properly distracted, which leveled the playing field for the Rebels, and the battle resumed.

Kierram sought out Abigor and found him firing off enchantments left and right. He threw one at him, which he easily deflected. Kierram made a couple more, and Abigor swatted them away as easily as if they were a bothersome fly. After a few rounds of this, he fired back. Kierram’s counter hit Abigor’s dark force, and for several moments, the two specters collided. Abigor and Kierram used all of their might to keep this force away from themselves, and they did all that they could to push it onto the other person. Kierram secretly didn’t know how much longer he could last, but suddenly, Abigor got a look on his face that conveyed blatant fear and pain. Kierram used this split second distraction to push back the spell onto Abigor. He fell face down onto the ground, revealing a knife in his back and Bernadette standing behind him. The gave each other looks of approval and headed back into the battlefield.

Gwynivara marched purposefully through the midst of it all, searching everywhere. She finally had enough and shouted, “Come out and fight, Rafeneita, you coward! Show yourself, you lousy bitch! You act so high and mighty, but you won’t show off your powers at all! You’re gonna let us kill each other off, just like always, huh? It’s ‘cause you’re weak! Your people don’t deserve-!”

Rafeneita manifested herself at that moment. “Don’t you dare insult my people! Weak, am I? You wanna see my powers? Well, you got it!”

Rafeneita hurled an energetic force towards Gwynivara, who not only evaded it but sent one back. The sheer strength of their craft halted the battle on both sides as they mesmerizedly fixed their gazes on the two of them giving it all they had. Gwynivara came in with great energy, but if began to wane as time went on. She did her best not to show it to her, but eventually, Rafeneita figured it out. Gwynivara started dodging her instead of fighting back, and Rafeneita delighted in the turmoil she was causing. Gwynivara felt her muscles weaking more and more. In a horrifying moment, she almost fainted, and that momentary distraction gave Rafeneita the upper hand. A dark cloud hit her, and pain shout throughout Gwynivara’s entire body! She couldn’t help but scream as she writhed in pain!

“No!” Kierram cried out.

“Shut up!” Rafeneita stopped torturing Gwynivara for a moment, sending her tumbling to the ground, in order to attack Kierram.

That stunt drew out Gwynivara’s primal side! The pure love that she felt for him strengthened her heart and gave her body strength. She saw that the orb had rolled out from the clothes she wore, and instinctively, she grabbed it, rolled over, and held it to the sky. Concentrating all of her energy, she willed it to absorb Rafeneita’s work, and when Rafeneita felt that particular enchantment leave her, she grew utterly terrified. Gwynivara didn’t stop there. The more energy she took from her, the more she felt in the orb. It quickly flowed from the orb into her flesh, and as it flowed into her veins, the great eminence lifted her into the sky. A pink and gold cloud enveloped around her, and even her eyes grew florescent. With a billowing voice, she roared, “You shall not have my planet!”

Gwynivara threw a bolt of lightning towards Rafeneita, who disappeared into thin air right before it hit her. Gwynivara fell to the ground as a small rift in the sky opened up and dropped something. Gwynivara used the last of her strength to grab it. She hit the ground, and everything went black.

The few remaining Rebels rushed to her side. Kierram knelt before her and desperately clutched her body. He gently shook and pleaded, “Gwyn! Please wake up! Please!” When she didn’t respond, tears began to roll down his cheeks.

As he sobbed, Bernadette unlatched Gwynivara’s grasp and discovered the ornate vile along with a papyrus note attached to it. She read out loud, “Keep your planet. There’s plenty more to choose from! Take this token as a peace offering.”

John, who appeared to have a broken ankle, limped over to see the note. “So, she’s going to do the same thing to another planet?”

At that second, Emorick’s face appeared inside the orb in Gwynivara’s hand, and his voice sounded, “Not if we can help it!” He conjured a ball of energy and shot it towards Gwynivara.

To everyone’s astonishment, immediately after Emorick made the gesture, Gwynivara’s eyelids flipped open, and she gasped. Kierram stared in dumbfounded amazement as she regained her breath and control of her body. His tears changed to those of happiness, and Kierram exclaimed, “You’re back!”

“I never left!” Gwynivara had never felt such relief in her life as she did right then! Her body healed, and she felt lucky to be alive. Waking up in his arms made the moment perfect! Her heart sang as she gazed into his eyes. Unable to contain herself, she flung her arms around him and passionately kissed him!

The other Rebel officers smiled warmly as they watched their loving embrace. Bernadette couldn’t help but tell Gwynivara, “I told you!”

Gwynivara turned to see Bernadette standing there with a playful smirk. She said gratefully to her, “I’m gonna let that one slide ‘cause I’m just so happy you’re alive!”

Gwynivara sprang up and gave her a huge hug. Bernadette rejoiced, “We did it! We survived!” Once it finally sunk in for everyone, the remaining Rebel officers celebrated with hugs, relieved sobs, and lots of joyous noise.

The policemen who were still living arrested the henchmen that survived. Kierram put his arm around Gwynivara and asked her, “So, now what?”

Gwynivara mulled it over for a moment. She realized that she had been absentmindedly playing with the orb, which gave her an idea. She said to the other Rebels, “Let’s go find Emorick!” Everyone nodded in approval, and with an air of total optimism, they headed down the mountain.

The End

(For now)

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 25

Zoom! They raced through the city at top speed with the sirens on top of the car blaring at full volume. Gwynivara hadn’t realized how heave police belts were until that day! It briefly took her attention away from watching the scene as it passed by. She could only imagine what people were thinking as half a dozen police cars raced through their neighborhood! No one in the vehicle spoke but not because of nerves; their adrenaline pumped massively high from both the stunt person level of driving happening at the moment but also the speed that they were arriving at their destination. When they left for it the first time, the walk took long enough that their feelings had time to fester, but after what felt like an instant, they were already almost there! Gwynivara held some pride in her team’s ability to control their emotions at a time like this! If they had created a beast after fighting to prove that they weren’t dangerous, it would ruin their new alliance with Chief Forsythe. She felt so grateful to him for vetting his men to prevent any sabotage by the origin! However, she knew that he had been doing all of this on the contingency that they came back with the cure, so she silently prayed that if they lived through this that they returned with it.

They slowed down as they reached the point where they left off because the barrier that the henchmen created still remained. Gwynivara theorized that finding the tracking device must have really spooked them. Bernadette, Kierram, and she hid their faces discretely enough so it couldn’t get noticed by their adversaries but not enough where it would have been super obvious that they were trying to hide. The policeman driving the car they were in stopped and casually waved to Abigor. “Mornin’!”

Abigor didn’t match his friendly tone. Quite contrarily, he appeared completely on edge. “I got the page about searching the mountains. I don’t understand; we got them all last night!”

The policeman shrugged. “Our intel indicates that they had more Rebels waiting in the wings. The first wave was planned- they wanted to distract us so the rest could sneak in!”

“Unbelievable!” Abigor griped. “Well, they slipped past me once, they won’t do it again!”

After that firm statement, Abigor’s curiosity got roused and he began to peer into the squad car curiously, but luckily for the Rebels, the policeman averted his attention by telling him, “Well, we better get going. Every minute they’re out there is another minute they could be enacting their plan!”

“Right!” Abigor remembered where he was and returned his focus to the policeman. “If you find them, page us! You have no idea the destructive power they possess!”

“Okay then!” The policeman rolled up his window as Abigor gave the car a pat. Gwynivara’s heart pounded as they drove past the barrier. The last thing they needed was for Abigor to discover their ruse. Thankfully, he let them pass through. She turned back and watched the rest of the Rebels’ cars go through. If just one car gave away their cover, it could spell out disaster for the whole operation! She dreaded the idea of, after all they went through, their journey stopping right there! To her immense relief, all of the cars made it through! She didn’t know what awaited them on the other side of that barrier, but at least they were safe for a little while longer!

After driving down a very windy road, they came to a dirt lot just outside a closed path. Everyone got out of the cars they came in and convened in a circle for further instruction. The policeman that had transported Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram addressed the Rebels, “This as far as our cars will go. We’ll use this as our base camp. If you need back up, radio for us immediately. Careful what you say though ‘cause they’re listening too!”

“Thank you, Deputy Cairdeas,” Gwynivara responded cordially. She then turned her attention to the whole group. “Just to review, we’re heading up a service road that hikers don’t have access to, so the nature around the path will look pretty undisturbed…except for the way the henchmen toke to get to the origin. Keep an eye out for signs of humans once being there. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for any potential traps. Okay, let’s go!”

“Good luck out there guys!” Officer Cairdeas told them encouragingly. They nodded at him to acknowledge that they heard him, but their concentration fixated on the final mission, so they didn’t say anything back. They all walked up to the flimsy wire that blocked the road ahead and just stared at it for a moment. The sign read: Restricted Access, Dangerous, Do Not Enter. They collectively took a deep breath, and then Kierram held up the wire so everyone could enter easily. One by one, everyone ducked under the wire and went onto the other side. Gwynivara went next to last and held up the wire for Kierram. After the last person crossed over, everything felt so strange. They had spent a lot of time talking about it and preparing for every possibility, but it didn’t feel real until this moment. After taking a moment to collect themselves, they started moving forward purposefully.

The dirt path they traveled on had lots of leafy trees and thick, green bushes on their right while the rocky side of the mountain stood solidly on their left. Birds chirped in the branches above them, and the sound of squirrels chattering periodically filled the air. If it wasn’t for their heavy burden, Gwynivara would’ve found the trail rather beautiful. It felt almost inconceivable that such terrible danger loomed close by! Gwynivara didn’t see anything that resembled what she had seen in her dreams, which made her question the validity of them. She didn’t dare bring them up again even though she felt certain they were accurate. She suspected that when they got closer to the origin, the environment would change dramatically, but she didn’t share this insight with the Rebels in case her hunch proved false. She feared pulling them in the wrong direction, so she let the scenery speak for itself.

The officers were diligent in searching for signs of humans straying off the main path, leaving no twig or stone unexamined, but after a lot of walking, it became a bit frustrating. John groaned, “Ugh! I need a break! My head hurts from all this concentration!” The other officers concurred with this opinion.

Bernadette and Kierram turned to Gwynivara, who wrestled with the desire to get this process done and over with versus her own growing fatigue. She wished she had some idea of where they were so she might have a clue to what she should do, and then an idea popped in her head. “A quick breather so we can get our bearings.” The Rebel officers breathed a sigh of relief. John found a rock to sit on while the others rested by leaning on a tree. Gwynivara pulled out the orb and examined the map. “Oh, I didn’t realize that the service station was on Obair Chrua! I thought it was its own peak! This mountain is definitely the entrance to the Athas Ridge, but the origin wouldnt’ be so close to the service station. The Cinealtas is north of here and the Misneach is due east. If the origin is on the latter, we should find the hidden pathway any time now.”

“Oh please let it be that one!” Bernadette clasped her hands together and looked to the heavens. “I just wanna get this over with! My nerves are killing me!” Everyone shared this sentiment.

“This place kinda reminds me of ‘Nam,” Kierram reminisced. “Sometimes missions got real tedious and you just wanna get it over with. But don’t think for a minute you’re gonna feel any better when you come across the enemy!”

Gwynivara put the orb away and said to them all, “It’s never gonna get any easier, but it will get harder if we don’t find this place by sunset. Let’s try to avoid camping in these woods overnight! As painful as it is, let’s keep going.”

They knew she was completely right, so they mentally prepared themselves to begin again. John sighed deeply, craning his head to the sky while doing so. At that moment, he noticed something in the branches above him. “Guys! I think I found something!” he called out excitedly. In an instant, everyone flocked over to where John sat and glanced up. They saw a branch of a tall bush inwardly bent and almost severed. “I don’t think any forest creature did that!”

“Not likely.” Gwynivara peered behind the bush, and she saw the valley covered in green, but between the brush, she noticed the grass had a small dirt path that could only come from frequent footfall. “This is it! Good job, John!” Everyone congratulated him as they followed Gwynivara into the woods.

As they walked through the flora, they saw more and more subtle signs of humans’ frequent travel. They made it down the mountain without incident. During their time traversing through the valley, the area had the eerie echo of total silence. They spoke very little as they maneuvered through the rocky grounds. Their pathway slowly got rougher and rougher as they went more and more east. No one talked unless they had to, and even then they were limited to a brief whisper. None of them had thought to bring a watch, probably because, like Gwynivara, they figured they would have found the origin sooner. None of them knew how long they had been out there, but they did notice the sun setting behind them. The anticipation just added to their bodies feeling totally drained. They kept going, inwardly praying to find out their fate at any second!

Just when they thought that they would never make it there before sunset, a peak came into view in the distance! They took a moment to study it, and once their eyes adjusted to the shadows, they noticed movement on the mountaintop that appeared to be human! Without disclosing this fact to anyone, Gwynivara saw that this scene mirrored what she saw in her dreams! She didn’t to say it though, everyone knew that they had found the right place! They quietly acknowledged this small victory before they ascended up to the origin’s location.

Shortly after they started up the path going upwards, Gwynivara stopped dead in her tracks. She had been in the back, and only Kierram noticed this. He went up to her and quietly asked, “What is it?”

“Something’s wrong,” Gwynivara answered him while she deciphered her feelings that kept her bolted to the ground. “It was…it was just too easy! I mean, we had a huge barrier in the beginning, and after that, nothing? It doesn’t make sense!”

“What do you..?” Before Kierram could finish his sentence, they heard commotion ahead of them. Their jaws dropped as they saw an electric cloud snatch up one of the Rebel officers! The rest of them scattered and hid as this force snatched them one by one. Kierram and Gwynivara ran and hid under a rock formation. Gwynivara couldn’t fathom how to fight this, and apparently Kierram didn’t either. He urgently told her, “Before we go, I gotta tell you that the night we first met, I was trying to die! You saved my life!” The dark energy got closer, so he swiftly revealed, “And one more thing…I love you!”

Gwynivara’s heart nearly exploded after hearing this! But before she could react, the thing snatched him away! Within seconds, she saw it coming for her too…

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 23

Are you serious?” Kierram asked her.

“Like I would joke about something like this!” Gwynivara pulled out the orb, which showed a crude map with a red dot resting just outside the area that Rick lived in. “It’s been sitting there since last night.”

Bernadette inquired, “You think the origin is somewhere in that neighborhood?”

“No,” Gwynivara replied. “If you were the origin, would you let people visit your house willy-nilly?”

“Of course not,” Kierram agreed. “They must have some kind of security check.”

Bernadette surmised, “They found the tracking device.”

“Exactly!” Gwynivara analyzed the evidence, “They would stop somewhere on the way to their hideout but still far enough away so that if they were followed they wouldn’t give away the origin’s location. What would you do if you found a tracking device on your property? Take it off and immediately chuck it right?” Kierram and Bernadette nodded in agreement. “It’s the natural human reaction if you find something unsettling. Once it was off, they probably thought they were in the clear. They could have gone anywhere from there, in theory, but what lies just beyond that neighborhood?”

“The Great Dismal Mountains!” Bernadette exclaimed. “The mountains would be the perfect place to hide, very secluded!”

“There’s a few trails and camping grounds in that range,” Kierram contemplated. “But it starts to get pretty gnarly along the Athas Ridge. If the origin is in a place to avoid detection, it would be there.”

“Totally,” Bernadette concurred. “But there are three peaks in that area- Cinealtas, Obair Chrua, and Misneach. We couldn’t scale them all ‘cause the origin and their henchmen would figure out what we’re doing and stop us before we found the correct one. So, how do we know which one is the right peak?”

“There would be signs before we got there,” Gwynivara reasoned. “When we get there, we can narrow it down.” Suddenly, it all became real to her. She knew all along that this was the end game, but now that the time had come, it frightened her. She thought out loud, “We’re not prepared! I just got here, I don’t know all the battle plans! I only got a couple lessons on harnessing my Venenatus Sanguis! I barely know what I’m doing! And the others- I didn’t get enough skills to teach anyone to do it too! And a lot of the officers are brand new! They didn’t even get weapons training yet! I can’t… I mean, right now? I-!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Kierram cut her off. “It’s okay! We can wait and do more training if that’s what you think is best, and if this was a military operation, that’s exactly what I’d do. But really, we don’t know what the enemy is capable of. We could be dealing with weapons that we can’t even fathom, so all of that training could be a waste of time. When we get there, if we get a chance to do some reconnaissance, we will, but I think the only way we’re going to know for sure what to expect from the origin is to confront it head on. We need to act quickly, lives are at stake!”

“Kierram’s right,” Bernadette added. “We can train the officers and make them experts at everything and still have shit go wrong. Either way, this could be a suicide mission. The important thing is that we take a stand, let the origin know that what they’re doing isn’t acceptable! No matter what, if we all live or die, the origin would hear our message. The fact that we stood up to them at all would let them know they’re not infallible and someday, our planet will stop them! We’re all capable of telling them that, so, I would say we’re all ready for this.”

Gwynivara knew they were both right and calmed down as much as a person could in a situation like this. She mulled it over for a bit and concluded, “We’re not all going to die. If all of the officers perish, we still have Rebels staying here who would carry on our message. And we could appoint a designated survivor to recruit more officers. We could tell him where we’re going so if we don’t return, he could find us. Oh, and we can let the origin know this so she knows even if she slaughters us all, she’s not safe! We could use that as leverage for…”

She stopped mid-sentence as she heard footsteps approaching. She quickly stashed the orb away as Agnes poked her head in. “We got lunch for all of you if you’re hungry.”

“Oh yes, thank you!” Gwynivara tried to maintain a normal tone, but she could tell Agnes suspected something was up. Agnes didn’t say anything though, and after she left, Gwynivara whispered, “How are we going to do this?”

In a large dining room, several Rebels ate sandwiches with Agnes in an awkward silence. Gwynivara couldn’t tell if it was due to a similar sense of wariness that they all picked up on or because she was a stranger to them. Riley broke the spell by saying, “Great sandwiches, Mrs. Ashling!”

Gwynivara wondered how she would convey vital information while Agnes was present, but she suddenly got an idea. “Oh yes, they remind me of the ones we ate by the Athas Ridge, remember Riley?”

“Athas Ridge? We never ate any sandwiches by the…” In the middle of his sentence, it clicked for him what Gwynivara meant. “Oh right! I remember now! Yes, these are very similar.”

Catching on to Gwynivara’s tactic, Kierram casually suggested, “We should take the Rebel officers there for a hike.”

“When?” Riley replied.

“How about tonight?” Bernadette proposed.

Trying to hide his growing anxiety, Riley probed, “Tonight? So soon? Shouldn’t we wait to do an outing like that?”

“If we don’t do it soon, it could be too late and we’ll never get another chance.” After Bernadette spoke, she saw her mother glance up, so she quickly added, “The first snow of the season is due anytime.”

Riley remarked, “I understand. I guess it makes sense to do it tonight, but some of your Rebels aren’t very experienced with…hiking. Are you sure you want us all go tonight?”

Gwynivara told him, “Actually, I was thinking that you should stay here and teach them everything you know. Then if we…get lost or something, you can lead them to where we went.”

“You want me to stay behind?” Riley’s eyes widened and his voice crackled a little, but he did his best to maintain a normal tone. “But if something happened to you all, that would make me in charge! Are you sure I’m the most qualified person to-?”

Kierram interrupted, “You’ve been with the Rebellion the longest. You know what needs to be done. If you can’t do a specific task, you know who to appoint for the role. No one could do it better than you. So, we’ll take the Rebel officers tonight, and you can hold down the fort here, okay?”

“But…!” Riley saw the logic, but Gwynivara could see that emotionally, he didn’t want to let them go.

Unexpectedly, Agnes put in, “Oh, come on boy! There’ll be other hikes! You can handle things on your own for one night! Personally, I’d take any excuse to stay home! Hiking is too much work! But whatever floats your boat, I guess. Just make sure you bring something to fend off those mountain lions!” To their relief, Agnes appeared to have totally bought that hiking alibi.

Riley sighed, “As long as it really is just one night!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, Kierram looked to the other Rebel officers in the room, who all nodded at each other. It suddenly got hard to eat the rest of their meal normally, not now that it was official- they were going to confront the origin tonight!

As the Rebel officers walked down the street in that neighborhood leading to the mountains, no one spoke. They were naturally a little nervous, but the tension didn’t really surface very much. The whole situation felt like a dream, and as they traveled, they wondered if they would ever get a chance to see any of it again- the houses, the flowers, the trees…A cold wind blew past them, making them tighten up their black hoods. Gwynivara glanced at the others and saw that her theory on walking in the middle of the road to avoid the streetlights had panned out, but from what she could see, she could tell everyone was lost in thought. Gwynivara remembered the old cliché that a person’s life flashes before their eyes when he or she approaches their time to die, but she didn’t feel that. It felt more like nostalgia, thinking about who played a large role in her past, wondering what could have been. John and Max just got here. They escaped a horrible fate in quarantine only to come to this days later. She wondered if Rebekah and Cody would end up married. Niqun would probably adopt the children that Kennith had saved, she had been thoroughly enjoying watching over them lately. Riley would probably hire new leaders and continue his administrative role. She hoped she would get to find out for herself someday!

She glanced to her left and discretely watched Kierram. Her heart fluttered just to have him there at that moment. She longed to hold his hand and receive the comfort of his touch during this harrowing ordeal. She wondered if they had the opportunity to have more time if they would ever have gotten together. She had no idea if he even felt the same about her. It saddened her to think that she may never know. Gwynivara mused about actually achieving this mission successfully and how nice it would be to run off with him. Or would they separate when it was all over? If they accomplished this, she thought, she had no idea if any of the Rebels would stay friends actually. Kierram looked in her direction, so she quickly switched her gaze to Bernadette. She didn’t want him to know she had been staring at him for a while. If he didn’t have feelings for her, she would hate to have an acute awkwardness to distract them at a crucial time like this. Still, even though she looked away, her heart pined for him.

Bernadette let out a soft sigh. Gwynivara felt a surge of gratitude for her presence. She didn’t need to take part in the Rebellion at all; she could have taken her mother’s money and hid like she did. She chose her morals over material goods and personal safety, which Gwynivara found to be a very selfless and admirable choice. She was incredibly kind and loyal, a great teacher…Gwynivara wouldn’t have made it this far without her! Interrupting her train of thought, Bernadette pondered reflectively, “When we were kids and dreamed about the future, we sure didn’t think we would end up here!”

Gwynivara slowly nodded. “When you and I were kids, we couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain or swim in the same pool! Thank god people fought back against society on that! Those rebels made the world a better place!” She realized how much her words tied into their current situation, and it became an odd moment between them all. Without saying it out loud, everyone wondered if their won Rebellion would have that kind of impact. Gwynivara reminded them all, “That’s why we’re here! Don’t forget, that’s why we’re doing…”

Before she could finish her sentence, a bright light ahead of their path blinded them all. Gwynivara’s mind had already been in a dreamlike trance, and this haze added to her confusion. She didn’t understand what was happening until a figure emerged that made her blood curl…