Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 9

Gwynivara walked up to the building with total confidence, she had assumed this role a million times, but she hoped that the others would find a way to make themselves appear less awkward! They expressed more nervousness about realistically portraying janitors and cafeteria workers than using their incantations to rescue Emorick from his captors! Gwynivara had done so many custodial jobs that strolling in with the uniform on felt like second nature to her, but in the back of her mind, she worried more about how the other rebels would show up! She wished that they could have all arrived at once, but that would have been realistic. They had to slowly trickle in just like folks would for any other workplace, which complicated their plan even further since she had to make sure that everyone had gotten in and found the right spots without becoming too conspicuous to the rest of the staff. She also knew that Rafeneita would have people on the inside, and while she had no clue who they were or what they looked like, she especially didn’t want to do anything to rouse their suspicion! She tried not to think of everything that could go wrong at this point, she just took a deep breath and hoped for the best as she approached the courthouse.

A guard stood by the back door, and even though her heart pounded wildly from the weight of it all, she maintained a cool demeanor and gave the guard a cordial nod as she entered the building. He returned the gesture, and just as she had conjectured, the guard didn’t ask for an ID or even bat an eyelash about her presence in the courthouse! That gave her some relief- if everyone else followed suit, then they could all get inside without a fuss! As she began walking down the halls, she could hear Kierram’s voice behind her giving the guard a curt hello. She loosened up a little bit- so far, so good!

She didn’t make eye contact with anyone as she made her way through the hallway, but it seemed like most of the people there had a lot on their mind and didn’t pay much mind to a person who blended into the background. She knew that whoever Rafeneita’s lackeys were that she probably would have shown them a picture of their targets, so she hoped that she didn’t run into them before the trial even began! Fortunately, she made it to the restroom without incident! Once she got into a stall, she ripped off her janitorial uniform, and she didn’t realize how hot she felt until she took off that extra layer! She took a quick glance at her skirt suit in the mirror, and once she established herself as believable, she headed out of there. She passed by Niqun as she left, and while they couldn’t stare at each other long enough to communicate, they both had a sparkle of comfort about them just to be able to see each other safe and well!

When Gwynivara entered into the courtroom, she saw that most people gave Emorick a wide berth. She thought part of the reason probably stemmed from their vitriol towards a soldier accused of treason, but she also guessed that the attendees got warned about his condition. Her theory got confirmed after she took a seat behind Emorick. After she sat down, his attorney turned around and warned her, “Just to let you know, my client has Venenatus Sanguis and may produce a manifestation from the emotions of this event. You’re welcome to sit there, but just be aware that you may end up in the line of fire.”

Gwynivara queried, “Is he wearing gloves?” She peered in his direction, and while she checked out his hands, she caught a glimpse of his facial expression. His skin still looked somewhat sallow, so she knew he hadn’t completely conquered whatever ailment put him into a coma. He very determinedly fixated his gaze on the empty judge’s bench ahead of him, but Gwynivara knew that he knew she was there. He had a very hardened fire in his eyes, and she could tell that her choice had upset him. Her feelings did not get hurt by this, they prepared themselves for him to vehemently object to this plan due to entirely selfless reasons. He would never have approved of this plot, but once he learned all of the facts, they knew he would forgive them for this risk. He was angry with her right now, but it reassured her that he at least knew they set something in motion so that he wouldn’t get blindsided when it happened! She regarded his lawyer, “I’ll take my chances!”

José joined her in the front and sat to her left. Shortly afterwards, a man in a dress military uniform sat to her right. Unlike José, this man looked directly at her, his cold eyes flashing at her in warning, and Gwynivara had no shadow of a doubt that Rafeneita had sent him there! She didn’t know whether her people used that disguise to get into the building or if she had infiltrated the military, and she sincerely hoped that it wasn’t the latter case, that wouldn’t have boded well at all! She didn’t let this man intimidate her though, she would not permit failure when the fate of humanity depended on their success!

“All rise!” the bailiff commanded. The man in the military uniform partially blocked Gwynivara’s view of Emorick, but this didn’t deter her at all. This guy clearly had no idea just what the Rebels were capable of! “The honorable Judge Jareth is now presiding!”

“You may be seated!” Judge Jareth permitted as he took his seat at the bench. “We’re here to court martial Lieutenant General Emorick Conley. Will the defendant please rise?”

His lawyer informed Judge Jareth, “Your honor, my client is unable to physically do so due to health reasons.”

Judge Jareth didn’t seem particularly phased by this. “Very well. Lieutenant General Emorick Conley, you’re being charged with abandoning your post in order to commit high treason. How do you plea?”

“Your honor, I plead not guilty!” Emorick stated firmly, which generated a disbelieving laughter from the crowd.

“Order!” Judge Jareth banged his gavel. “Counsel, please proceed with your opening-.”

Before he could finish his sentence, a loud uproar sounded from the back of the room! Rebekah, Cody, Naama, and John all held up anti-glove protest signs and repeated a lot of the sentiments they heard Rialowe’s supporters utter. They yelled loud enough that the bailiff could hardly hear Judge Jareth order him to have the disrupters removed. As he made his way over there, Gwynivara tried to stand up, but the man in the soldier’s uniform grabbed her wrist and attempted to pull her down. José shed his gloves and sent a spark of light over to him. He succeeded in freeing Gwynivara, but the crowd took notice of this and gasped. And, with that, their plot had officially begun!

All of the Rebels except for Gwynivara and Bernadette did an incantation to create smoke. Gwynivara and Bernadette created balls of light, and as the room became hazy, they still had the ability to see. They made a beeline for Emorick, and the other Rebels followed the lights. Kierram and Riley grabbed Emorick by his arms as Rafeneita’s plants found them and tried to fight back. The Rebels who did not have anything in their hands outnumbered them and easily kept them at bay. Bernadette and Gwynivara led them out of the exit that Judge Jareth entered the room in, and John let out one more strike before shutting the door behind him.

As soon as they stepped out into the hallway, they were met with bullets! A number of military police shot at them, and the Rebels could hardly keep up! Gwynivara wanted to retrieve their guns as they had done in their escape from the FBI, but she had to concentrate on the bullets already flying at them. Her head frantically raced as she tried to think a way out of this, and then suddenly, a red haired man led the Great Dismal motorcycle cops out of the courtroom with shields! As the motorcycle cops returned fire, the red haired man instructed, “Go! We don’t have much time!” The Rebels did as he suggested and made their way out of the back door.

“Go to the street!” the red haired man shouted as he ran behind them. The Rebels all headed in that direction, and the motorcycle cops came shortly afterwards.

“Where are we…?” Gwynivara started to wonder, but when she spotted the manhole ahead of them, she understood completely! They borrowed a church van, but the place they parked it at got totally blocked off, so she felt eternally grateful that a backup plan showed up!

The motorcycle cops surrounded them completely as a group of police officers emerged from all side. As the gunfire resumed, Gwynivara and the other Rebels shot incantations too since bullets were able to slip through their barricade. They slowly made their way to the manhole, but Gwynivara didn’t know how they would get it open without accidentally getting shot. Plus, she knew it would be foolish to jump into the sewers with the police watching, they would just follow them! She desperately prayed for some kind of distraction…

She instantly regretted making that wish! As soon as she had thunk it, the red haired man abruptly dove in front of Emorick, and a bullet entered into his back! Rebekah shrieked, “Daddy!” as he fell to the floor, and everyone ceased their fire for a moment. Obviously, the police hadn’t considered their ages as they fired upon them, and it evidently crushed their souls to see a child’s heart break over one of her parents!

“Chief Forsythe!” Gwynivara knelt by him to check on his status, and she grew as white as a ghost to see so much blood spewing out of him! “You saved us!” she told him gratefully.

“I knew you’d be there! I had to…” His speech grew weaker and weaker as he croaked out, “Take care of Rebekah for me!”

Rebekah wailed, “Daddy!”

With his last remaining bit of strength, Chief Forsythe pled to Rebekah, “Get the cure out!” He took one final breath before he became motionless, and Rebekah sobbed uncontrollably. Everyone who watched the scene couldn’t help but weep a little! After a moment though, the police inched their way closer to them…

All of a sudden, a giant gargoyle swooped in and roared at some of the police! The police had no choice but to fight the beast. With everyone’s attention swayed in that direction, José and John got the manhole open. Kierram and Riley got Emorick into the sewers. Gwynivara stood guard as the rest of them made their way into the sewage system, watching both what the Rebels did behind her as well as what the beast did before her. Rebekah didn’t want to leave her father’s side, so Bernadette and Cody had to force her to vacate the vicinity. The creature grew closer to her, so Gwynivara created more smoke and slipped into the sewer. As she began to put the cover back on, she saw it about to strike some of the police officers. She created a fireball and shot it at the beast, who roared in pain as it stumbled to the ground! They still needed to kill it, but she felt confident they could hand it now as she recovered the manhole just before the smoke evaporated completely.

Bernadette had to muffle Rebekah’s mouth until they got to a safe distance from the scene. Their adrenaline kept them moving for quite a while, but soon, all of the incantations they did as well as all of the running caught up to them. Much of their energy rapidly left their bodies, and Gwynivara had to brace herself against the wall to keep from collapsing. Rebekah wanted to keep crying, but she became too drowsy to muster up the vigor to do so. Unexpectedly, a demonic-looking beast crawled feverishly on the ceiling towards them, and John responded quickly, creating a ball of light to take it out. Rebekah sorrowfully apologized, “I’m sorry, I keep creating beasts!”

“Don’t worry about it, kid! I would’ve done the same thing if it happened to my dad!” Kierram assured her before turning to his father, who just stared at them in total astonishment until…

“Why did you do that?” Emorick bellowed. “Why did you gamble all of your lives just to save me?”

Kierram asserted, “A good soldier never leaves a man behind! They would’ve killed you for treason!”

Emorick’s volume lowered a bit, but he still sounded furious. “I’m not worth sacrificing the mission! You should have kept your focus on finding the origin and getting the cure!”

“We did!” Gwynivara pulled the cure out of her pocket and showed it to Emorick. “It wasn’t enough though! The origin, an alien woman named Rafeneita, has corrupted parts of the government! Not only do they not believe us, but she’s tricked them into spreading it! We can’t get the cure out there without your leadership! I tried! I led our officers into capture, and while I was able to get most of them out, I lost track of of a few of them. My last plan got her father killed! If I don’t have your help, I’ll probably just lead more people to their deaths! Without you, we’ll never make it through this alive! The entire human race will get wiped out! The Rebellion is yours, and we’ll never make it without you! We need you! The whole world does! Rafeneita has loads of military experience, but my strategy skills are too undeveloped for something like this! We need you to rejoin us or the earth will never get saved!” Gwynivara bowed her head in shame.

“Gwyn, look at me!” Emorick gently requested, and she readily complied. “I didn’t put you in charge because I thought you would always make the perfect decisions. I put you in charge because you had the drive to make big things happen! Some bad things went down, so learn from that experience, but don’t dwell on it! The Rebellion did well in your hands, and if I didn’t come back, you would have prevailed in the end, I know it! You did a lot of right things too, be proud of that!”

Gwynivara smiled graciously at him. “See, this is why we need you!” He softly grinned at her sentiments.

Bernadette questioned Emorick, “Since you said you’re back now, what’s our next move?” The decision came to Emorick in an instant…

Rebels of Darkness II, Chapter 4

A man with pepper gray, slicked to the left hair, large and thin metal framed glasses, and pale skin smoked a pipe as he paced down the hall of a house with old, wooden floors and plush, coral shag carpeting with matching walls. The hallway had many wooden doors, and while most of them were closed, a few people poked their heads out and peered at him curiously. A teenage boy with blonde, straw-like hair and a tall but slender frame dared to stand in the man’s path, and he timidly got the man’s attention, “Riley?”

“Yes, Cody?” Riley responded without stopping his pacing or making eye contact with Cody.

“Have you heard from Rebekah yet?” Cody wanted to know.

Riley snapped, “Does it look like I’ve heard from Rebekah yet?” He caught sight of the hurt look on Cody’s face, and then he hastily apologized, “I’m sorry, kiddo! I’m just a little upset. I haven’t heard from anyone yet, and I feel like I should have! I mean, I knew it would take a while for them to get up that mountain, and who knows what the origin had up there for protection, but it’s almost dinner time now! I should’ve heard something by now! Yes, it’s good we didn’t hear any bad news, but at least if we heard about an unpleasant development, I’d know what to do! I don’t wanna act if Gwyn is fine, it’s not my place, but if something did happen to her, I’m just wasting time by not continuing the mission! I don’t know how much longer to wait before I should do something!”

Cody lamented, “That’s what Rebekah said before she left! They were gone all night, so she wanted to find out what was going on. But now she’s missing too…”

“Why did you let her go?” a middle aged, Hispanic man came out of his room and posed that question to Riley.

“José, I didn’t let her go!” Riley refuted. “You can’t force a strong willed woman to do anything! You know that! She just left!”

Cody defended her, “She just wanted to go to the police station to talk to her father! It’s not like anything could happen in a place full of cops, right?”

Riley and José both shrugged, and then Riley fretfully remarked, “I don’t know, but it’s almost been twenty four hours, so we should have gotten something by now!”

“If they got killed, they’d come here to tell Agnes,” José stated. “Bernadette wasn’t married, so they’d give the notification to her mom. Since we haven’t gotten it yet, they’re probably still alive.”

“Probably, but not certainly!” Riley distressed.

This didn’t appear to comfort Cody either. “What if they don’t know they’ve been killed yet? What if all our Officers are out there dying? If we don’t find them on time, they could all die and it’d be our fault! We should go look for them or-!”

A short, elderly, Chinese woman, who gave off a tremendous amount of energy considering her age, came up the staircase behind the men and confidently told them, “They’re all fine! I can tell!”

Riley skeptically asked her, “How do you know?”

“Woman’s intuition!” she answered firmly. “Don’t give me that look, it’s true! When our male ancestors went hunting, the women protected the household. Their instincts would pick up on things so we could act if we needed to protect our future generations, and they passed this skill to us. It grows stronger when we become mothers, and since I’m a grandmother, it’s only tripled! They’re okay, I can feel it!”

“Is that why you neglected your post at the telephone, Niqun? No need to worry about any calls, they’re all fine!” Riley folded his arms and stared at her crossly.

Niqun disputed that assertion, “Young man, you know I would never just abandon my post! Agnes took a business call in the lounge, so Naama can hear it while she keeps an eye on the news. Anyways, we can hear you pacing downstairs, so I came to find out how you take your tea.”

Riley barked, “Tea? I don’t want any tea! I don’t want any of this! I just thought I was supposed to babysit the Rebels ’til Gwyn came back! I didn’t think I’d actually have to take over! I can’t do this! I just can’t! I-!”

“Calm down!” Niqun directed him. “You’re not in charge of the Rebellion, you’re in charge of finding out what happened to our Officers! You can’t do that when you’re panicking! You need to relax so your mind will be clear enough to know what to do. I’m gonna brew some tea to help soothe your nerves. If you don’t want to tell me how you take it, you’re getting it plain!” She turned away from them and headed back downstairs.

“Two spoonfuls of sugar!” Riley called out to her, and she gave him an approving nod. Riley then admitted to José and Cody, “She’s completely right. We need to focus on one step at a time! We gotta figure out what happened to the Officers when they went to the mountain.”

Cody added, “And we need to figure out what happened to Rebekah! The police station should have been a safe place!”

Riley commented, “We gotta figure it all out! Did Rebekah find them? Did she join them in the battle? Did they win? Are they out celebrating their victory? Are they getting the cure out to the Public Health Center? Did they get captured and put into quarantine? Did they even make it to the origin? Are they still able to continue in the Rebellion? I know Niqun says they’re fine, but what if she’s wrong? What’ll we do then?”

“You know, Emorick is still alive,” José pointed out. “He could recover, and then you don’t gotta worry about your or Gwyn leading us.”

“That would be nice! But we gotta figure out what to do if we can’t find any of them! You’re the only Officer with combat experience who’s still here! No one else wanted to become an Officer! How do we carry on without them?” Riley bit his lip and got lost in his anxious thoughts.

Cody reminded him, “You’re thinking too far ahead again.”

Riley agreed, “You’re right, you’re right! One step at a time! We gotta figure out what the situation is become we know what we gotta do about it. So, where do we begin?” Riley, José, and Cody contemplated the issue.

A young woman with bright red hair came running up to a pink mansion with ivy and iron fencing surrounding it, and she breathed a sigh of relief! She quickly glanced around to make sure no one had followed her, and then she dashed inside the mansion as fast as possible!

Niqun handed Riley a teacup, and Riley reacted graciously, “Thank you! I was this close…” He held two of his fingers closely together to illustrate his point. “… to creating a beast from the pressure of it all!” Niqun appeared as though she wanted to say something about that, but Riley interjected, “Yeah, I know you know!” Niqun put her hands on her hips, but she had an amused expression on her face.

Before anyone could say or do anything else, they heard the heavy, oaken front door creak open, and with an instant spring of hope rising up within them, Riley as well as José, Cody, and Niqun all ran to the railing that overlooked the entryway. They desperately desired to receive some good news, but they remained cautious in case an adversary had come to collect them. To their delight, they saw the red haired girl! Cody exclaimed, “Rebekah!”

“Cody! I’m so glad to see you!” Rebekah ran to meet him, and when they met up with each other, they gave each other a hug and a kiss out of relief. “I have so much to tell you!”

“Oh, thank god!” Riley expressed in an exasperated alleviation. “Where are…?”

A woman who nearly mirrored Bernadette’s looks except that she was obviously much older came into the area and politely scolded them, “Would you guys keep it down? I’m on a long distance phone call!”

Riley apologized, “Sorry, Missus Ashling!” She gave Rebekah’s disheveled visage a judgmental glance, but she didn’t say anything else as she returned to her phone call.

As Agnes exited the room, a young woman in a hijab came in. She glimpsed at Agnes to make sure she walked out of earshot, and then she informed the others, “You should see what’s happening on TV right now!” They all seemed torn since they wanted to hear Rebekah’s story quite badly, but something about the urgency of Naama’s voice prompted them to follow her.

They could hear and see Agnes talking numbers to some associate on one side of the lounge, and they saw a television set with its volume down low on the opposite end of the room. The hurriedly tiptoed to listen to what the anchor described, “… The group had apparently snuck in some kind of explosives in order to break out, but when authorities caught up with the escapees, all they could find were the motorcycle cops that assisted with the illegal departure…”

“That looks like Great Dismal Falls Police!” Riley gasped. He spoke a little too loudly, causing Agnes to give him a reproachful stare, so he whispered, “Motorcycle cops helped a group escape from… Is that the FBI?”

“Yes!” Rebekah softly but assertively confirmed. “They were gonna send me there, but I managed to get away!”

In a hushed tone, Riley requested, “Okay, kid, spill it!”

Rebekah took a deep breath and summarized her experience, “My dad had the Officers locked up so the FBI could get them on some kind of weapons charge. I came in and forced my dad to listen to Gwyn and everyone else, and when he realized that they had a way to end Venenatus Sanguis, he released them. They went to the to top of the Athas Ridge, and everything was quiet at the station for a while. Then they asked for backup, so my dad sent those motorcycle cops to help them. Right after that, my dad heard the FBI arrive, so he had me hide in a closet. He didn’t want me to go back to quarantine, you know! They were furious at him for letting the officers go, and they put him in handcuffs, saying he let a bunch of murderers free! They took him away, and the other police officers in the station started searching for me. I got so scared and accidentally created a beast! But since they were distracted, I ran out of there. They’ve been looking for me all day! It took me forever to get back here!”

Naama, who stayed tuned to the television, reported, “They never found the Rebel Officers, but they had their pictures plastered all over the set. They can’t find the motorcycle cops either. The helicopter lost sight of them when they ran into a cave, but when the FBI arrived there, everyone was gone!”

“So, everyone got captured, but they all escaped…” Riley rubbed his chin as he absorbed all of these revelations.

“See! I told you they were okay!” Niqun brought up.

José grimly pondered, “Yes, but for how long? They avoided getting captured in Great Dismal Falls, but we have a much smaller law enforcement system and a ton of disguises. They have nothing out there, and they’re on foot!”

Cody inquired, “So, we need to get a car and bring them home?”

Riley replied, “Well, yeah, but we’ll need more than just a car to…” He trailed off as a story came on about capturing someone guilty of treason. Agnes got off the phone, so he instructed Naama, “Turn it up!”

“…abandoned his post and has eluded authorities for seven years now. His trial will begin as soon as he finishes a medical procedure. In other news, President Ford hit the campaign trail…”

“That couldn’t be-?” Riley began to ask.

Agnes interrupted, “Speaking of trails, your friends still haven’t come back yet, have they? I’m starting to get worried! Maybe we should call the police!”

Riley, Rebekah, Cody, José, Niqun, and Naama all said in unison, “No!” Agnes got perplexed by their reaction, so Riley attempted to smooth things out, “We’re gonna go up there and see if we can find them first! Come on guys, let’s go get our boots on!”

They all rushed upstairs as rapidly as they could, and José queried, “So, we’re gonna steal a large vehicle and go get the Officers?”

“Yes,” Riley affirmed, “but first I’m gonna send a team to find out what happened to Emorick! I won’t leave ’til I know he’s okay!” The other four nodded in agreement.

In a dark room, a man in a fine, imported suit gazed into an ornate mirror. He stared at his olive toned skin, his slicked back, jet black hair, and his cold, brown eyes as if he beheld a ghost right in front of him. He adjusted his tie more out of nervousness than anything else, and when he tried to clear his throat, he nearly choked on the lump that had risen there. He saw a pair of green lips hover by his ear, and Rafeneita hissed, “It’s time!”

Amouraq III: The Secret of the Dagger, Chapter 14

“Not so tight!” Emily requested as a soldier used a spell to dress her in a steel vest. “I’ve got a bit of a sour stomach.”

“Yes, ma’am!” The soldier loosened it a bit, and after she did so, Stephen expected Emily’s muscles to relax more, but she appeared just as tense. “How’s that, your highness?”

Emily croaked out, “Fine! Thank you!”

As she stiffly walked over to Stephen, who already had his armored vest on, he questioned her, “Are you alright?”

“No, I’m not!” she blurted out. “I’m nauseous, my arms and legs are numb, my heart is beating a mile a minute… I just keep thinking about everything that could go wrong, and it’s scaring me to death!”

“Then stop thinking about it,” Stephen advised. “Whenever I prepared myself for a dangerous mission, I kept my cool by just putting my fears to the side and focusing on everything I needed to do.”

Emily thought about this piece of wisdom, and then she regarded him, “You’re right! I need to do that! When Xavier held you captive in his hideout, I didn’t really have time to feel afraid. All I could think about was what I needed to do to rescue you. If I’m gonna save my kingdom, then I need to think about how to prepare and not about all of the negative outcomes! Just the possibilities seem so real, and they’re daunting enough to overwhelm you!” She pulled at the collar of her shirt as if she were letting out some hot steam.

Stephen inquired, “Do you remember what I told you before I got captured in the Hidden Forest when you started to get nervous?”

“No matter what the chances are against you, you have to keep believing that you’ll succeed!” Emily recalled. “Even when you’re inches away from death, you can’t stop believing!” Emily let out a big exhale, and then she hugged him tightly. “You’re my rock! What would I do without you?”

“Go to Hawaii by yourself?” Stephen joked. Emily giggled, and it thrilled him to see her smile. Not only did it signify that her panic was starting to ebb, just knowing that he caused a bit of happiness in her elated him! He savored the warmth that he absorbed that her compressed body generated onto him, and he momentarily wondered if he would ever get to enjoy a touch like this from her again. He quickly veered his thought train away from that notion by commenting, “Man, a cocktail on the beach sounds real good after this!”

Emily concurred, “Mmm-hmm! We should book a couple’s massage too!”

Stephen agreed, “Yeah! Then after that, let’s never leave the honeymoon suite!”

“Sounds good to me!” Emily purred. She looked into his eyes longingly, and Stephen sorely wished that they were in their hotel room right then! He stroked her hair, and he mused how only she had the power to sway his thoughts from such an arduous task! Tears began to form in her eyes, and she stated sweetly, “I love you so much!”

“I love you too!” Stephen gave her a kiss, but then he had to pull himself away from her. If he lingered too long, he could tell he would let his emotions get the better of him. He held onto her hand though because, in this dark moment, he needed that sort of comfort!

Emily ruminated for an instance, and then she concluded, “We’ve been waiting for Xavier’s forces for a while now. We should make sure our fighters haven’t let their anxieties fill in the time!”

Stephen complimented her, “See, this is why you’re queen! You have great ideas!” Emily smiled, and she gave him a quick peck on the cheek before they ventured into the next tent.

After passing through a canvass-covered walkway, they came into a tent that contained nothing but Slentersel in it. Stephen approached him and jovially greeted, “How’s it going?” Slentersel jumped away in revulsion, which confused Stephen until he remembered, “Oh, right, we’re wearing steel.”

“You know, you don’t have to do this,” Emily pointed out.

“Yes I do!” Slentersel differed. “I’ve revealed as much relevant information about my species as possible, but there’s always a chance that I left out a detail that I didn’t realize could help. I wouldn’t feel right if I let you find out for yourselves! Besides, I could use my powers to help heal your soldiers. I can’t bring them back to life without help from more of my bretheren, but I’ll do everything I can to fix it!”

Emily asked him, “Do you understand the risks you’re taking by stepping onto the battlefield?”

Slentersel answered, “I recognize that I may never see my planet ever again. I may not live to see my family one more time, but at least I can find comfort in knowing that they’ll get to cherish the memory that, when given the choice, I did the right thing!”

“You’re a good man, Slentersel!” Stephen remarked to him. “Or a being or however you define yourself, you’re good!”

“Thank you! If we should see each other again, please remove the steel so that I may shake your hand!” Slentersel gave them a bow, and they bowed back before moving on to the next tent.

Stephen and Emily came to a large area full of various military members from all over the world, but before they could check on them, Allison swooped in and embraced them both! “In case I don’t get to see you guys again, I just wanted to say you’re like a brother and sister to me! You’ve taught me so much, and it’s been an honor serving you! There’s no one I’d rather follow into battle!” Emily’s face contorted in a way that conveyed a surprising disbelief, and Allison took notice of it. “Why are you surprised? You’re an amazing leader!”

Emily explained, “I’ve always felt like I’m doing a mediocre job! I mean, I didn’t have a lot of time to learn the job, and half the time, I feel like I’m just guessing at it! When I was a school teacher, I could measure my performance by seeing my students’ progress, and now my people are at war with each other, so…”

“This war was inevitable!” Allison asserted. “I’m glad you’re leading us through it because you truly care about us! You can tell how much you care because your face lights up when you talk about our country! You just walked in here glowing! Your passion makes you a great queen!”

“I keep telling her that!” Stephen chimed in. “I’ve met a lot of world leaders in the past, and I’ve never met anyone who…” He trailed off as Alastair and Finnian came up to them with somber expressions. “What’s up?”

Finnian reported, “We were just talking to some of the soldiers, and, well, morale seems a little low.”

Emily and Stephen urgently walked over to the soldiers, and Emily queried, “What’s going on?”

“We feel like animals going out to slaughter!” one soldier complained.

“Yeah!” another soldier added. “This is our first time dealing with magic or aliens, and it just seems so impossible for us to get a victory here!”

Many of the soldiers shared his sentiment and began yelling their opinions loudly. It annoyed Stephen enough to see trained fighters adopt such a callous attitude towards their mission, but when they didn’t respect Emily, the queen and supreme commander of the military, enough to let her speak, he had to say something! His voice boomed as he bellowed, “What’s wrong with you all? Most of you are experienced soldiers who didn’t know what your enemy was capable of, but you fought and won anyways! Is this the attitude you carried when you were on the battlefield? Of course not! You’d all be dead if you thought you were doomed to failure! I have no magical skills, but I still defeated a number of powerful creatures, so you can too! Quit focusing so much on your burden! Yes, it’s heavy, but so is your job! You have to keep your spirits up so you’re the ones we turn to protect everything we hold dear! Your family, your friends, your country, your city, your home, your grocery store, your library, your trash can, your mailbox, every little thingis at stake! If you want your life to ever go back to normal, think about the actions you take today! The future of humanity depends on you! We know we can count on you to do the right thing, that’s why you got sent to us! You’re the finest group the world has to offer and nothing- not Xavier, not his aliens, no one will stand in our way! So let’s go out there and fight with every last breath that you have!”

The entire room got jacked up from his speech, and they loudly hooted and hollered in a fervor after he finished. AS they reveled in this voracity, Emily whispered to Stephen, “You’re gonna make a great king!”

Stephen had almost forgotten about that concept. Nothing would stop him from marrying Emily, but it felt strange to consider the fact that his social standing would get elevated! It humbled him to know that Emily trusted him to help take care of her kingdom, and he sheepishly responded, “Well, technically, I’d be a kingly consort!”

Emily seemed to politely disagree, and she started to tell him, “Well, actually, you…”

All of a sudden, Marcus burst into the room, and he announced, “Xavier is here!” Everyone grew quiet for the exact same reason- the battle had begun!

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 1

His footsteps echoed throughout the cavern hall. A faint glow emanated from his brown, hooded robe, but still all he could see was a seemingly endless, pitch black tunnel. He cringed at the nerve-wracking passage that he had to embark on every time he needed to speak to him, but he didn’t dare voice his complaint out loud. His master would have condemned him as unfit for his job, and nothing would tempt him into losing that! He understood why he deemed it necessary to do it this way, but he wished he had a fraction of his courage to do this constantly! Perhaps he had a better grasp of how long it took to reach the entrance and knew what to expect, he thought. It felt never ending to him, and each passing second just built up his anxiety! Just when he thought he couldn’t take it anymore, he finally saw a light flickering in the distance! He breathed a sigh of relief as he rushed towards the illumination that was seeping out of a wooden door. He knocked, and a cold, booming voice responded, “Who is it?”

“It’s Simeon, your majesty!” he replied. The door opened on its own, and Simeon entered.

The source of the small bit of shine turned out to come from the fire that heated a cauldron, which had a nearly translucent liquid simmering inside of it. Curious, Simeon asked, “Were you able to see anything?”

The other person in the room answered, “Psh! Are you kidding me? That castle has the highest protection guarding it; there’s no way I’d have a chance to keep an eye on that so called queen! I’m reduced to finding out what she’s up to through those bloodhounds who relentlessly hunt information, which doesn’t help me much since most of them are on her side! Just look at this headline!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to show a a headline that read: Xavier Ryder Still at Large. After Simeon had a chance to see it, Xavier quickly took it away from view. Xavien then grouched, “When I’m king, they’ll be sorry for disparaging my name like that!” After he growled from frustration, he eyed Simeon in annoyance and probed, “Why did you ask me that? Do you dare question my judgment? What I do in my private quarters is no business of yours!”

“I agree, your majesty!” Simeon timidly jumped in. “I’m sorry if my intentions weren’t clearer. I only wanted to know if our newest recruit managed to break down a barrier.”

“New recruit?” Xavier’s attention peaked when he heard that. “Did you do a better job vetting this one?”

Simeon shifted uncomfortably at that reference. “We most certainly did, your majesty! We wouldn’t make that mistake twice! And this one won’t even need to come here! We found someone who works at the castle that’s willing to help us!”

Xavier raised his eyebrows in an impressed expression. “So, they’re willing to sneak in the…?”

Simeon nodded. “Yes, your majesty!”

“Wow!” Xavier reacted in relief. “Finally, some good news!” He waved his hands over the cauldron to convey a distant view of the royal castle. “They’ve been lulled into a false sense of security for far too long! Soon, they’ll see that it doesn’t pay to double cross me!” He cackled delightfully as he made the image of the castle disappear.

“Order! Order!” Emily banged her gavel on the small podium in front of her seat in a large room, and several people in professional attire stopped bickering and reluctantly took a seat. When they were all facing her, Emily calmly addressed them, “I appreciate the passion that you all put inot this cause, but please remember that no one will buy into your argument if you try to force them into it! At the end of the day, we all want what’s best for Amouraq, we just have different ways on how to get there. Please try to keep that in mind before you jump down each other’s throats!” The parliament murmured in a begrudged agreement. Emily sighed, and then she concluded, “Look, we all want this thing passed, but I can’t sign something that doesn’t exist yet. Why don’t we call it a night, refresh ourselves for a while, and come back on Monday with some compromises so we can get this thing done? You’re dismissed.”

After she banged her gavel, a balding man with small glasses and a thin body that emitted an aura of ardent enthusiasm for the academia announced, “Parliament will resume again Monday at nine!”

“Thank you, Hugo!” Emily acknowledged him.

“My pleasure, Madame Queen,” he replied courteously.

Emily reminded him, “I told you, you can call me Emily.”

Hugo very cordially disagreed, “No, I don’t think I can!” He gave her a small grin, and she chuckled in response.

Outside of the parliament doors, three people stood in a circle chatting. One was a plump, very genial-looking woman in a maid’s uniform, one was a gaunt, lanky young man in a custodian’s uniform, and the other was a stocky, middle-aged man with a bushy mustache and a chef’s hat. When they saw Emily emerge, the woman in the maid’s uniform commented, “Boy, you look like you’ve had a rough day!”

“I do? Oh no!” Emily rushed to a decorative mirror hanging on a nearby wall. She could see bags under her normally shiny, golden brown eyes, and her coffee brown hair seemed a bit frayed. She thought that her skirt suit flattered her well in the morning, but now she questioned it. She felt like it accentuated her thick, hourglass figure, but now she wondered if it actually complimented her like she thought.

The man in the custodian’s uniform reassured her, “Yvette didn’t mean that you looked anything less than your usual, lovely self. You’ve just been here long enough where we can tell when you’ve had a long day without you having to tell us, that’s all!”

“Oh!” Emily seemed a little relieved to hear him say that. “Thanks, Oscar! Sorry if I’m a little on edge! I’m just trying really hard to get something accomplished soon! Everyone keeps pointing out how little I’ve done since I’ve gotten here.”

“Not everyone,” Yvette differed. “Just a few reporters who don’t have anything nice to say about anyone! I actually just read an article about how well you’ve assimilated into your role; I’ll send it to you.” She pulled out her cellphone and proceeded to text her the link.

The chef shared her sentiment, “don’t let your critics get you down! You’ll never be universally popular, but most people really like you. King Patrick always said he’s doing his best, and if that’s not good enough for someone, then screw ’em!”

Emily smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Dagan! You’re right, I’m gonna spend the rest of the weekend relaxing so I can just forget about it!”

“How about I whip you up some nice comfort food for dinner?” Dagan suggested.

“That sounds great! Thanks for the support, guys! You’ve been really helpful to me this past month!” Emily appreciatively told them.

Oscar affably responded, “Anytime!” She gave them a gracious look as she walked away.

Later that day, Emily sat on a cushy couch in a posh but comfortable-looking living room while she watched a kooky-sounding show in her pajamas. She rested her head in her hand with a despondent expression. All of a sudden, the channel changed to a station playing a more serious show! Emily blew up, “Hey! I was watching that! Why would you-?” She turned to see who had committed that offense against her, expecting to argue with them, and instead, to her delight, she saw a handsome man with copper-colored hair, deep blue eyes, a strong jawline, and a nicely toned physique! “Oh, hello stranger!”

With a very toothy grin, he greeted her, “Stranger, huh? I guess that means you didn’t miss me much!”

“Obviously not!” Emily joked. They both laughed, and then Emily noted, “Usually, I just get a text message or a phone call from you, so you must be here for a more substantial message.” She paused and added, “Please don’t be bad news!”

“Well…” He sat down on the couch with a hand behind his back. “I heard you were having a rough day, so I brought you something.” He revealed that he had gotten her a small, white box with a chocolatier’s logo on it, and Emily’s face lit up to see that! “I hope it’s good! I had to rely on the sales person ’cause of the allergy.”

Emily beamed as he handed it to her. “I’m sure it’s delicious! You are so sweet! Thank you, Stephen!”

Stephen’s heart skipped a beat as she threw her arms around him to give him a hug. He had been so busy working on his case that he had almost forgotten how warm her body felt! He didn’t want to let go, but he certainly didn’t want to create an awkward moment for her either. After they broke apart, he playfully informed her, “I hope you didn’t get too comfortable with me being a stranger ’cause it’s my turn to bodyguard you this week!”

“Oh, that’s…” Emily trailed off as something on the television caught her attention.

A middle-aged woman with an outdated hairstyle and an ample amount of make up that failed to make her look younger boisterously told the camera, “I’m Penny Melrose, and this is Celebrity Tonight! We’ve got the latest on the reality show spat that has the whole world talking, but first, let’s go to Bernard Andrew for his exclusive interview with one of Queen Emily’s old flames.”

The camera panned to a good looking, well dressed man who eagerly spoke, “That’s right, Penny! Emily came to power as a single woman, but everyone wants to know who might join her on the throne! My next guest says she won’t stay single for long! Please say hello to her ex boyfriend from-!”

“Ugh, turn it off!” Emily stared at the the television in disgust.

As Stephen complied with her request, Emily’s sour mood prompted her to open up the chocolate he had gotten her. Her annoyance instantly melted away as she ate the candy, and Stephen felt pleased to see his gesture generated his intended effect. Before either of them could say anything else, an elderly woman with an elegant, gray bun and a knitted shawl over her dress entered the room and pleasantly remarked, “Oh, Judith wasn’t lying, you are here!”

“Yup!” Stephen grinned at her. ‘Nice to see you again, Amelia! Tell me, how’s castle life treating you?”

“It’s a lot different than Hartwood!” Amelia sat down in a chair by them and began regaling him with her experiences in this new environment.

The next morning, an older woman in a maid’s uniform carried a stack of towels down the hall. Despite her age, she had a shrewd visage that gave off plenty of energy. She saw Stephen waiting outside of Emily’s chambers, so she queried, “What are you doing?”

“Oh, hi Judith!” Stephen requested, “Would you mind watching over Emily for a little while so I can go for a jog?”

“Not at all!” she obliged. “Enjoy your jog!”

“Thanks!’ Stephen left as she assumed his position.

Stephen could see his breath as he jogged through the cobblestone streets around the castle. He loved how going through Ovelstrofe felt like stepping into a time machine! The medieval buildings were still artfully in tact, and he didn’t see very many people with cars. He knew most people in the area would use a teleportation spell and didn’t need them, but regardless of the reason, he enjoyed how fresh the air felt without a bunch of exhaust hovering over the town! He was glad that Emily finally got a chance to sleep in, but he woke up early because couldn’t sleep at all the previous night. He had the same dread he usually faced before embarking on a new assignment, which was strange since he still hadn’t closed his case with Xavier yet. He didn’t understand it but theorized that perhaps it just stemmed from his general anxiety at the moment. He still hadn’t decided if he wanted to take over Alastair’s position at the International Crime Investigation headquarters or if he wanted to stay with the FBI.. He didn’t know which way his instincts were pulling him since all of his thoughts were preoccupied with his imagination going into overdrive from having Emily in the next room! His mind revisited a few of his enticing fantasies as he reminded himself of her curvaceous silhouette…

All of a sudden, a small, green creature with pointy ears and sharp claws jumped out of someone’s yard and snarled at him!Xavier's Vision

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 14

A dull ringing sounded in her ears, and she could feel a throbbing pain on the back of her head. Yasmina could only see pitch black, and it took a moment for her to realize that her eyes were closed. Her lids were so heavy that it took great effort to open them. When she did, she saw metal bars on a wood floor. She also noticed that they were moving. She didn’t totally understand what was going on, but she remembered Aidan and Ardeshir and immediately attempted to bolt up to find them. At that moment, she realized her hands were tied behind her back. She grunted from frustration and used her stomach muscles to flip herself over. To her relief, she saw Aidan and Ardeshir laying next to her and still breathing! They were still alive, but now she needed to figure out what happened.

Ardeshir woke up next and gasped when he saw his paws were bound together. He sniffed the air and observed, “We’re heading towards Rogamaith!”

“Rogamaith? So that means we got captured by knights!” Yasmina figured out. “They must be taking us to the dungeons. They ambushed us at Bothar Ri! But how come they didn’t kill us?”

“Try not to complain about that decision too much,” Aidan weakly joked. He rolled over and came face to face with Yasmina. “They must want some information from us, like who we are and why we were heading to Duanolc.”

“They probably want to confirm our idenities too,” Ardeshir added. “They were under orders to find three travelers, but they won’t know it’s us that Daeva wants. The longer we hold out information, the longer we’ll stay alive.”

“Unless they send Dorian down to the dungeons; he’d probably recognize us.” Yasmina frowned. She closed her eyes and concentrated hard on sending powers to her fingertips, but she found that the magic coursing through her veins hit a road block. “Ugh! The rope is slowing down circulation to my hands! I can’t use my magic to get us out of here! Sorry guys!”

“It’s okay,” Aidan responded gently. “We’ll figure out something.”

“How can you be so calm?” Yasmina probed. “Even when all evidence is to the contrary, you always have faith that things will work out! How can you continue to maintain optimism no matter what?”

Aidan replied, “Well, my mother always told me when there’s a will, there’s a way. I’ve always found that to be true. In case you haven’t noticed, it keeps proving itself right. Our instincts helped us survive the Shadow Path. It’s also how I found you. I trust them completely, they’ve never steered me wrong!”

Yasmina’s heart skipped a beat when he mentioned finding her as a victorious feat, but she didn’t have time to contemplate what it meant because they suddenly stopped. The three of them instantly fell silent, and their nerves were palpable. The back door swung open, and a pair of armored hands grabbed them and stood them up on the ground. Yasmina saw a tower with light-colored stones, and its simplistic beauty left her awestruck! She didn’t have much time to marvel at it because a knight pushed her forward and gruffly ordered, “Move!” She saw a wooden door at the bottom of the tower, which she could only assume was the dungeon entrance. As they walked, Yasmina ardently tried to conjure her magic, inwardly echoing Aidan’s sentiments on never giving up, but it was to no avail. She knew once they passed that door, their odds of escaping were a lot slimmer. She wondered what miracle would save them now.

The knights took off their ropes and threw them inside a dungeon cell that had stone walls and floors, hay strewn about the space, and a small window with metal bars high above them. The knights shut the heavy, wooden door but opened a rectangular, metal peephole to address them. One knight questioned, “Who are you?”

Yasmina responded, “Does it matter? No matter what we say, you guys will just convict us as if we were who you were hoping for!”

All but two knights left, and the two remaining ones turned their backs to them in order to guard the door. For a moment, no one said anything, but after a while, one of the knights couldn’t help himself, “We found your wand. We know who you are.” Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir stayed silent, and so the knight added, “They’re going to kill you, you know!”

“Sarid, don’t!” the other knight hissed.

Sarid argued, “Eamon, they’re going to find out soon anyways, what are we supposed to do? Let them sit in the dungeon all night wondering what’s going on? Let their worries fester to a maddening level?”

Eamon differed, “I’m sure they have a vague idea of what’s going on. If you open your mouth, we could get in trouble! Our jobs, or worse, our lives, aren’t worth it!”

“Why do you do it?” Aidan inquired. “Why work for people who are so sinister?”

Eamon replied, “What choice do we have? There isn’t a lot of work out there, and we have families to feed!”

“But you once worked for a noble king and queen,” Aidan disputed. “How could you carry out their orders? That makes you just as culpable for these monstrous acts as they are!”

“Hey! That’s not true!” Sarid objected. “We have no choice but to obey their commands. Besides, if we weren’t here, the situation would be so much worse. We were the ones that convinced them not to kill you on the spot! I couldn’t do it, it was just wrong!”

“Plus, if we weren’t here, the kingdom will have less protection,” Eamon explained, “and right now, Caragsona needs as much protection as it can get! Especially if King Kahlil does declare war on us!”

Aidan’s eyes widened in shock and agony upon hearing this. “Our country is on the brink of war with a trade partner?”

Sarid confirmed, “His kingdom for sure, and I suspect others may follow suit.”

Aidan slumped to the floor with a very far away look on his face. Yasmina could completely understand why Aidan felt so much anguish at the idea of Caragsona possibly going to war. His kingdom was already falling apart from within, so an outer threat could destroy the country! She loathed the thought of it too, but she couldn’t think about it right then. She could sense a vulnerability in Sarid and Eamon, and she wasn’t sure how, but she had a hunch that this could lead to their escape! She went up to the peephole and probed, “Doesn’t it bother your conscious to sit back and let this happen?”

“Of course it does!” Sarid snapped, clearly stung by her remark. “Our will doesn’t matter though; we’re subjects to the king!”

Yasmina countered with, “Did you swear an oath to protect the king or the kingdom?”

Eamon answered her, “We’re sworn to protect Caragsona, but what difference does it make? Dorian rules the kingdom and-!”

“There is a difference!” Yasmina interrupted. “You can something to protect the kingdom! You know why we were on the Shadow Path. It had nothing to do with whatever lies that Dorian told you! I’m sure he painted a horrible picture of us wreaking havoc without real purpose except to sow seeds of mayhem against a supposedly innocent and pure king. You know that isn’t true, don’t you?” Sarid and Eamon didn’t say anything, but they hung their heads guiltily. “You know what needs to happen to save the kingdom! You can make that happen!”

“No we can’t!” Sarid said ruefully. “We have a responsibility to our family and to the land. Without us, everything would become so much worse! We need to preserve our lives, and defying Dorian would get us killed!”

“If you don’t help us, you could end up dying anyways from all that is happening!” Yasmina pointed out. Sarid and Eamon didn’t say anything, but she could see on their faces that they knew it was a possibility. She prodded them further, “How long do you think you’ll last? You’re a mortal, and you work for a king that’s controlled by a witch. Do you really think they have your best interests in mind?”

Near tears, Eamon croaked, “We can’t just let you out! How would we explain that without losing our heads?”

“You’ve already figured out that I’m a witch,” Yasmina told them. “And I’m sure you think that because you took away my wand that you disabled my powers. What you don’t know is that while the wand channels our powers, our magic lies within us. I don’t need to have my wand to curse you!” She pointed her entire palm on the peephole and inwardly concentrated on letting out a bunch of energy. It didn’t take long to create an electric bauble that shot out of the dungeon cell, hit the wall on the other side of the hall, bounced back, and knicked each knight in turn. They felt a sharp sting as the spell dissipated. Yasmina leered, “So, like with Dorian, you have no choice but to obey me. If you don’t open this door, I’ll destroy this door and take you with it!”

Sarid and Eamon looked startled at what just transpired, and Yasmina suspected that the fact that she went from a helpless victim to a formidable adversary in mere minutes probably disturbed them. The knights looked to each other, and Sarid reasoned, “We can tell him she overpowered us and we had to do it.” Eamon clearly had misgivings about the idea, but he relented and slowly cracked the door open…

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.

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!!!

War of the Mystics: Frozen, the Novel

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