The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 12

Kefalia, Stocastin, Akintos, and Narcius all walked into the throne room somewhat nervously while Exelda hid her face as she walked behind everybody. A woman with similar features to Dason sat in one of the gilded chairs and looked at several pieces of paper exasperatedly. When she saw the five of them enter, she breathed a sigh of relief. The royal servant announced, “Princess Aleta, here are the people you requested.”

“Yes, I can see that,” Aleta responded to him dryly. She turned to the heroes and regarded them, “Oh, thank gods, you’re all here! I… Wait, where is Exelda?”

Stocastin and Narcius stepped aside to reveal Exelda, who sheepishly said, “Oh, hello there! I, um, I was just-.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” Aleta interupted her. “I’m happily married now, so I don’t care about that incident from the past! Besides, I have more important things to worry about. With my parents totally out of it and my brother missing, I’m next in line for the crown! One minute I’m living a life of luxury, and next thing I know, I’m up to my elbows in paperwork and people needing me for this and that! I don’t know what all this means!” She indicated to her paperwork. “Why do I have these bills for services you received? A bathhouse, a tailor… wow, you found a female cobbler?”

Akintos corrected her, “Actually, Nike is a guy.”

“Really?” Aleta puzzled. “Why would he go by a goddess’s name?”

“He started to tell us, but we decided we didn’t want to know,” Akintos reported.

Aleta raised an eyebrow but did not press the subject. “Whatever. Just tell me why your bills are getting sent to the palace!”

The five heroes shifted guiltily, and Exelda explained, “We received these services while on official duty. It came as a result of us fighting the monsters, and Dason promised to pay us, so we figured that you could subtract the bills from the money we’re supposed to receive.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Aleta replied. “How much did he say he was going to give you?”

Exelda thought about it for a moment. “Hmm… I don’t think he actually said a specific amount.” The other four corroborated her conclusion.

Aelta let out an aggravated sigh. “How in the name of Plutus am I supposed to know what the proper amount to pay you is?” She buried her head into her arms, which rested on throne she sat on. “Why didn’t he write any of this down? Why did he have to go missing in the first place? I just want to go back to being a pampered housewife! That’s all I want!”

She kept her head buried as a young, teenage boy entered the room from a door behind her. He had a piece of parchment and a quill in his hand as he approached her. “Aunt Aleta?”

Not moving her head at all, Aleta muttered, “What?”

The boy requested, “Can you help me with my academic work?”

“You’re asking me this now?” She popped her head up an expression on her face as though she were about to cry from frustration. “I’m in the middle of-!”

“I’m supposed to see my tutor soon and I don’t have any of it done!” he exclaimed. “I can’t go with an incomplete assignment!”

Before Aleta could burst, Stocastin volunteered, “Perhaps I can be of assistance. I’m quite learned in the academic arts.”

The boy seemed a little skeptical. “Really? Do you know anything about mathematical formulas?”

Exelda, Narcius, Akintos, and Kefalia all laughed knowingly while Stocastin’s eyes lit up in sheer joy. Kefalia assured the boy, “Stocastin knows everything about mathematical formulas! He does them on his own for fun!”

“Really? Oh, okay!” The boy stepped off of the throne platform and sat next to Stocastin on the floor.

Aleta’s overwhelmed demeanor mollified a bit as she watched Stocastin delightedly explain how to solve the formulas on his parchment. She then turned to the papers in front of her and concluded, “I guess I can just pay these and keep a record of what you spent so we can figure out how much to pay you when the job is done.”

Exelda promised her, “We’ll try not to charge anything else to you.”

“Well, as long as you don’t crazy with your spending, you can still charge things to the palace,” Aleta decreed. “I want to make sure you have everything you need to get the job done, after all! I mean, your work is unbelievably important! Oh, I’m so glad that Dason hired you before he went missing! I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t!”

“Well, the senate came up with this idea,” Exelda pointed out. “You would have done just fine!”

An idea suddenly struck Aleta. “The senate! Of course! Dason must have left the details of his decisions with them!” She turned to her servant and directed him, “Please bring in the senate leader!”

“Yes, Princess!” The servant half bowed before he left.

Aleta returned her attention to the heroes. “If there’s anything you need, please let me know! I’m confident that Dason will return one day, and when he does, I want to make sure you’re all in one piece! He’d kill me if anything happened to you guys! Especially you, Exelda!” Aleta winked at her.

“What do you mean, especially me?” Exelda probed.

Aleta’s face fell slightly. “Oh, he didn’t talk to you about…?” She saw Exelda’s blank expression, which answered her question. “Oh, he’s not going to like that I just said that! Oh well! Since the cat’s out of the bag now, he’s been talking about you non-stop ever since he met you! He finds you charming and sweet, and he’s infinitely intrigued by all of your achievements in the war. He thinks you’re the prettiest person in all of Greece too, so I told him-.”

“He’s wrong!” Narcius interjected. “I’m the prettiest person in all of Greece!”

Aleta looked a little perplexed at his cause for disruption, but it was Kefalia who admonished him, “You can’t interrupt the princess!”

Narcius didn’t seem deterred by her reproach. “You know it’s true!”

“I’m starting to think it’s not so important anymore!” Kefalia huffed.

Aleta was obviously confused, “so Akintos advised her, “Feel free to cut them off anytime!”

Exelda jumped in, “If Dason really felt this way about me, why didn’t he seek me out? He could have found me any time he wanted to, so why didn’t he? Did he believe all of the rumors spread about us?”

“We’re not ones to rely on rumors,” Aleta replied. “As public figures, we have all kinds of gossip swirling around about us. Do you believe any of them?” Exelda mulled it over for a second and shook her head. Aleta continued, “He always wanted to find you, but he never did because he never thought he was good enough for you.”

Exelda’s eyes went wide in shock. “Not good enough for me? But he’s a prince! He’s so handsome and smart and kind… He could have any girl in the kingdom at a moment’s notice! And yet he’s worried about not being good enough for me? Me, a disgraced soldier turned peasant woman! He could have a girl with a flatter stomach, a high social standing, and more… more everything than me, and yet he thinks he’s not good enough for me?”

Aleta sagely stated, “It’s not like he’s perfect! He has faults just like everyone else, and dating a royal comes with some baggage! Besides, you may not think much of yourself, but he thinks a lot of you!”

Exelda’s cheeks reddened immensely, and she couldn’t help but beam broadly. Kefalia cooed, “Awwwwww!”

The royal servant returned and got everyone’s attention by clearing his throat. “The senate leader, your highness.”

Cyrek entered and commented to Aleta, “You interrupted a very busy assembly… And I can’t thank you enough! How can I help you?”

“Finished!” the boy declared. “Thank gods! Who uses the Pythagorean Theorem in real life?”

“You’d be surprised, kid!” Stocastin reacted.

Exelda told Cyrek and Aleta, “We should get going! We still have a lot of research to do!”

Narcius and Kefalia groaned, but Akintos joked, “Relax guys! Every time we try to do research, we get attacked by a monster. So if you don’t want to do any book work, don’t worry, we won’t! Maybe they’ll save us a trip and attack us before we leave!”

“That’s not funny!” Exelda punched his arm. “If we do get attacked by another monster on the way, I swear to Gaia, I will-!”

A royal guard suddenly barged into the room and urgently called out, “Help! The Agrotis village is under attack!”

“By soldiers?” Akintos timidly asked.

“No,” the royal guard answered. “Our farms are under attack by a hideous monster!”

Akintos repined, “Damn!” Exelda glared at him, so he boldly asserted, “You can’t kill me ’til after we defeat the monster!”

Exelda stared at him with raised eyebrows. “You’re not allowed to make any more predictions!” She commanded to the others, “Let’s go!” They followed the royal guard out of the palace.

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 8

Marcin entered Mercinon’s office only to to see him on all fours with his rear end pointed up in the air. Marcin cautiously conversed, “Did you lose something, sire?”

Mercinon replied, “My patience, Marcin! Which is why I’ve taken up yoga.” He laid flat on the ground and lifted up his torso. “It’s an Eastern method of relaxation and inner peace.” He flipped his body over and arched his back in a way that made his stomach jut towards the ceiling. “I can’t believe it’s taking this long to take over one measly kingdom!” He laid flat again and transitioned himself into sitting with his heels touching each other. “It’s just not fair!” he shouted as he shifted into a squat with his arms extended forward.

“I don’t think this yoga thing is really working,” Marcin remarked.

“What did you say?” Mercinon probed as he stood up and raised his right foot to his left thigh.

Marcin hastily covered up his previous statement by announcing, “I said I have a piece of good news.”

As Mercinon switched so his feet so that his left one touched his right thigh, he followed up with, “Just a piece, eh? Not a whole good news segment?” Marcin shrugged, and as Mercinon stretched his left leg behind him and grabbed his ankle for balance, he asked, “Well, what is it?”

“Let me show you!” He happily skipped into the hallway.

As Mercinon did the same pose with the opposite leg, Marcin wheeled in a large cage that had Dason bound and gagged inside of it! Mercinon got such a large shock from seeing this that he lost his balance and fell face first onto the floor. He quickly picked himself up and gasped, “What did you do?”

“I kidnapped the prince.” Marcin had clearly expected to get praised for this deed and started to get nervous when he didn’t get it.

“I can see that!” Mercinon responded with a hint of annoyance in his voice. “Why in the name of Hades would you do that?”

Marcin hung his head sheepishly. “He caught me capturing a monster.”

Mercinon forcibly raised his hand to his forehead. “So you kidnapped him? You could have pretended to be an innocent villager trying to stave off another attack! Did you even try that? You do realize that even if he did catch you committing a crime that the best solution to that problem isn’t to kidnap the witness, right? Really, this is exactly the kind of thing that we have a pit of jackals for!”

“Well, I kept him alive so you could decide what you want to do with him,” Marcin explained. “You know, in case you wanted to ask the royal family for a ransom or something.”

“A ransom…” Mercinon rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Yes, I suppose we could send an anonymous letter to the palace and demand a large sum of Drachmas! We could use the extra money, especially after The Points ate a bunch of our gold! Okay Marcin, I forgive you for this stunt!” Marcin looked very pleased with himself. “But since you brought him in, you’re responsible for feeding him and cleaning up after him! Make sure you store him somewhere safe!” Through his gag, Dason clearly tried to shout a comeback to Mercinon, who reacted in appall, “Hey! Don’t insult my mother! She could be here any time!” After he uttered this, Mercinon eyeballed the room apprehensively.

Dason turned to Marcin for explanation, and Marcin advised him, “Don’t ask!”

Mercinon quickly composed himself and maintained a dignified stance as he questioned, “This new monster is less easy to destroy, isn’t it?”

“Oh, don’t worry! No man stands a chance against them!” Marcin assured him.

“Good! If those super weirdos destroy this set, I swear to gods I will…!” He trailed off as he shook his fist in the air. Marcin stared at him in confusion as to whether or not he had finished his thought, so Mercinon told him, “You can go now!” Marcin hastily grabbed the cage’s tether and dragged Dason out of the room. Mercinon sighed, sat on his desk with his legs criss-crossed, and began humming tranquilly.

Exelda stood with her hands on her hips as Narcius used a stick to practice sword fighting with an invisible Stocasting, who clearly had the upper hand and was able to get a number of jabs in as Narcius moved around the practice space trying to find him. Narcius moaned out of a growing frustration, and then suddenly Stocastin tripped over Akintos, who had been lazily lounging on the sidelines. Stocastin lost his concentration and turned visible, and seizing the opportunity, Narcius ran over to him and pinned Stocastin down with his foot. “Ah-ha! Now you can see my ancestor’s noble blood at work! I don’t even need to see my opponent to beat them!”

Exelda rolled her eyes, Kefalia fervently clapped, and Akintos sarcastically asked, “Oh, so next time we face a monster, can we blindfold you?”

Narcius proudly answered, “Yes, you certainly can!”

“No! Absolutely not!” Exelda interjected.

“Is that jealousy I hear?” Narcius arrogantly said to her.

Exelda scoffed, “No! It’s reality!”

Stocastin put in, “You know, you can get off of me any time!”

As Narcius took his foot off of Stocastin, Exelda scolded him, “You got a lucky break! Any monster we might face probably won’t be so clumsy!”

“So what you’re saying is that there is a small chance!” Narcius reacted cheekily.

Exelda didn’t acknowledge his remark other than to shake her head. “Okay, Akintos, why don’t you face Kefalia this time?”

Everyone groaned, and Akintos complained, “We’ve been practicing all day! Can’t we take a little break?”

“Don’t get complacent!” Exelda warned. “Just because we bested two sets of monsters doesn’t mean we’ll get through the next one so easily! Now, come on! Let’s go!”

“You’re no fun when you’re sober!” Akintos grumped.

Exelda looked affronted by that. “I can have fun! We just need a lot of practice!”

“His hypothesis does seem to have merit,” Stocastin opinionated. “You seem to have replaced alcoholic beverages with combat practice.”

“I’m not addicted to practicing!” Exelda refuted. “We were hired to do a very important job, so we should do all we can to make sure we do it well!”

Akintos challenged, “ Name one fun thing you’ve done since you gave up drinking!”

Exelda exclaimed, “I do lots of fun things! Like… uh…”

The men all had satisfied smirks on their faces, but Kefalia defended her. “You guys should be nicer to her, you know! She’s probably going to be the future queen!”

“Future queen?” Exelda puzzled. “What in the name of Zeus are you talking about?”

“Oh come on! If I can see it, it must be pretty obvious!” Kefalia stated, and the others agreed with her.

Exelda’s cheeks reddened, but she dismissed these claims. “That’s crazy! What makes you think I have feelings for him?”

Akintos told her, “Because you look at him the way Narcius looks at himself in the mirror!” Narcius had coincidentally been gazing into a hand mirror at that moment, but he put it down when he heard him say that.

Kefalia comfortingly pat her arm. “It’s okay! He obviously likes you too! And you won’t be so boring when we defeat all of the monsters and find your prince!”

Akintos wondered, “What makes you think we’ll find the prince when we defeat all of the monsters?”

Kefalia shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know! They happened around the same time, so I thought the same bad guy did it!”

“Of course!” Exelda cried out. “Kefalia, you’re a genius!”

“Woah! Woah! Woah!” Stocastin, Narcius, and Akintos all reacted at the same time.

Narcius expressed, “Why are we taking orders from someone with that kind of judgment?”

Exelda elaborated, “I meant that she really has a good point! Think about it! What are the odds that two major crimes occurred simultaneously without them being connected?”

“By Hera! Why didn’t I see the correlation before?” Stocastin pondered. “Sometime between the defeat of the Menoreas and the release of The Points, the acting head of state disappeared, so it stands to reason that a single person could have orchestrated both events. Why? I’m not sure. I suppose that this individual’s intentions could be to seize power through both physical and political means!”

“Exactly!” Exelda concurred. “These monsters aren’t just randomly showing up, someone is setting them onto us! So, if we find Dason’s kidnapper, we might be able to stop these attacks! Maybe we should use our powers to go look for him!”

Everyone groaned again, and Akintos whined, “So, we’re supposed to walk around all of Chaos just so we can find your boyfriend?”

“He’s not my… I mean, not that there would be anything wrong with it if I did, but I ‘m not… Oh, never mind! We don’t have to travel through the whole city-state; we can go to the Academic village and do some research.” Exelda suggested. “They probably have some maps we can study to narrow down a region that someone could hide a bunch of monsters in. Who knows, maybe they have some knowledge about potential monsters that we could face.”

“Finally! We’re doing something I wanted us to do!” Stocastin rejoiced.

The other three seemed less excited about the prospect, so Exelda pointed out, “It’s either that or we stay here and practice some more.” They suddenly became much more interested in doing research and prepared to leave immediately.

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 6

Exelda sat at the wooden table and drank wine out of a bottle as she watched Kefalia set up two prayer shrines against the wall between the front window and the door. After Kefalia finished, she got down on her knees to pray at one, shuffled over to the next one, prayed at that one, and shuffled back to the first one. She repeated this process until Exelda asked her, “What are you doing?”

Kefalia craned her head towards Exelda as she answered, “I’m praying to Athena for wisdom and Aphrodite for love.”

“Not a good idea!” Exelda took a swig from her wine bottled before she continued, “They don’t get along.”

“Why not?” Kefalia replied curiously.

Stocastin, who had been sitting on the staircase doing equations again, informed Kefalia, “Because wisdom involves logic and love lacks logic. That’s why people who fall in love act like idiots.”

“Oh, is that why people have always called me that?” Kefalia chirped.

Exelda told her, “You didn’t fall in love when you were a child!”

Kefalia disputed, “But I loved my parents!”

“Stocastin didn’t mean that kind of love,” Exelda corrected her. “He meant when you’ve found the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.”

“I want to spend the rest of my life with my parents!” Kefalia argued.

Stocastin put in, “I meant the kind of love where you find the one you want to start your own family with.”

Kefalia fretted, “Really? Ugh, love is so confusing! This is why I need to pray to both of them!”

“Are you really praying to Aphrodite about your parents?” Exelda wondered.

“No! I’m praying to her because of my feelings for…” She grew embarrassed and shifted her eyes to the floor bashfully. “Well, I mean, I think I have feelings for… I’m not sure! I don’t know how I feel!”

“Did you know there’s a science behind falling in love?” Stocastin expounded. “It’s a combination of three biochemical reactions in your brain. First, adrenaline is released from an exciting experience, and then a hormone mixes with your brain chemicals to increase attraction. Then a different set of hormones-.”

Exelda interrupted him, “Stocastin, you should really fall in love with someone! You have too much logic!” Stocastin looked slightly miffed by her reaction. “One of you needs more logic, and one of you needs less, so why don’t you both pray for the corresponding goddess’ advice?” Stocastin and Kefalia turned to each other, shrugged, and went to the shrines to pray. To Exelda’s dismay, Stocastin went to Athena’s shrine and Kefalia went to Aphrodite. “No, you have it backwards! Ugh!”

From the hayloft above them, Akintos peeked his head over the railing and requested, “Will you keep it down? Someone’s trying to sleep up here!”

“Since when do you need quiet to sleep?” Exelda retorted.

“I’m not talking about me,” Akintos expressed to her. “Narcius is trying to get his ‘beauty sleep,’ okay?”

Exelda teased him, “So what are you doing up there? Do you also think he’s beautiful when he sleeps?”

Akintos looked affronted. “How dare you! I’m just too comfortable to get up. I mean stand up!”

Kefalia, Exelda, and Stocastin all doubled over in laughter, and in the middle of their fit of giggles, they heard a knock on the door. Stocastin indicated to Kefalia, “You’re closest to the door.” Kefalia laid perfectly still, so he awkwardly inquired, “Um, are you going to get that?”

With her teeth clenched together, Kefalia stated, “I can’t.”

“We’ve been over this before, Kefalia,” Exelda reminded her, “All you have to do is turn the knob to open it.”

“No, I mean I literally can’t,” Kefalia iterated. “I can’t move for several minutes.”

Akintos concurred, “Same here!”

Kefalia sighed, “This always happens when I laugh too hard!”

As Stocastin answered the door, he remarked, “You don’t make any sense!”

The person at the door turned out to be Dason. “Pardon?”

“I think he’s talking to me,” Kefalia let him know while still lying on the ground.

“I see…” Dason stared at her in confusion but decided not to ask. “Oh, I see you’ve been praying for luck in your upcoming battles!”

Stocastin gasped, “That would have been a great idea!”

Dason queried, “Why else would you be praying to Athena?”

“New equations to solve.” Stocastin hung his head ashamedly.

Dason raised his eyebrows but, once again, decided not to press the subject. “Oh, I see someone’s been praying to Aphrodite! Was it you?” He pointed to Exelda.

Exelda held up her bottle of alcohol in the air. “No, I’m paying tribute to the wine god, Bacchus!”

Dason probed, “Are you a drunkard?”

“I’m not a drunkard! I don’t drink that much!” She stood up and brushed her foot against another bottle, which chimed against a few more.

“You could get called into battle at any moment,” Dason gently chided her. “You shouldn’t engage in anything that impairs your judgment.”

Exelda felt deeply insulted by that. “My drinking doesn’t affect my fighting skills! And my mind is as sharp as a…”

From the hayloft, Akintos joked, “Feather.”

“Yes!” She thought about it for a second and corrected herself, “Wait, no!” Dason watched her skeptically, so she contended, “That doesn’t prove anything!”

“You want to prove yourself? Well then, punch me!” Dason challenged.

Kefalia, Stocastin, and Akintos all reacted in horror, and Exelda cautioned him, “I have super strength, I’ll kill you!”

Dason responded, “I didn’t say a hard punch. Go ahead and lob me with a soft one.” Kefalia, Akitnos, and Stocastin all had nervous expressions on their faces as Exelda stepped up to him. She pulled her fist back and sprang it forward, fully expecting to feel his clothing. Instead, she only felt air as her fist landed to the left of his arm. “Yeah, that’s what I thought!”

“You moved!” Exelda claimed.

“I can’t move yet!” Kefalia commented.

Exelda spat, “Not you!”

Dason calmly replied, “I didn’t move. Now, as prince, I order you not to drink alcohol or take any other mind altering substances so long as you’re under the polis’ employment. That goes for everyone, to be fair.”

The others didn’t seem to care, but Exelda looked irate. “To be fair! It’s easy for you to say! You don’t have any reason to drink!”

“You don’t think I have problems?” Dason disputed. “Did you forget that a decade ago, my wife died of a mysterious illness? And my parents aren’t doing so well, so I have to take over their royal duties! It’s not exactly easy to run a polis, especially when your polis is getting attacked by monsters and you don’t even know why!”

“Yeah, well…I guess you do have reasons to drink!” Exelda’s mood went from combative to sympathetic. “I’m sorry!”

Dason assured her, “I’m not mad. I know it won’t be easy, but you’ll have to find a way to deal with your problems that doesn’t involve alcohol. Personally, I like to exercise.” Exelda looked terrified at the thought, so he put a empathetic hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem too optimistic about the idea, but she did seem as though she appreciate his gesture. After a moment, Dason felt somewhat awkward and removed his hand. “Oh, um… speaking of exercise, how’s practice going?”

Akintos divulged, “We started practicing yesterday, but I made a crack about the dummy being better looking than Narcius, so he got mad and destroyed it. Now we’re bored.”

Dason shook his head. “You don’t need a dummy to practice! Find another way to hone your skills! Remember, we won’t pay you to save the city-state if the city-state doesn’t exist anymore!”

“I never thought about like that!” Akintos mulled this concept over.

Dason chuckled and added, “We want you to survive this ordeal as well, so please take this seriously!” They all mumbled in agreement. He turned to leave and said, “Take care of yourselves now!” He noticed that Exelda still seemed worried, so he softly nudged her chin up and reassured her, “You’ll be fine without it, I promise!” He smiled at her encouragingly, but she could only half smile back. He accepted this and waved to the others before he left.

After he was gone, Exelda went back to the table and picked up a bottle of wine by habit. As she uncorked it, she remembered Dason’s decree, so she put it down and grumbled, “Well, I didn’t have anything planned for today. Let’s practice!” She yelled to Akintos, “Can you see if Narcius is still alive?”

“I could,” he replied. “but I’m so comfortable here…”

“Ugh!” Exelda still had a cork in her hand, so she threw it up to the hayloft. She knew she had hit her target when she heard his high pitched scream. “Oh good, you’re awake! Time to practice!”

As Dason walked down a hillside path, he noticed a man in the bushes grunting and gesturing wildly. Dason questioned him, “Um, what are you doing?”

Marcin quickly turned around and stood as if he were hiding something behind him. “I’m not doing anything sinister!”

Dason found his behavior odd, but he decided that he didn’t want to know after all. “Okay then!”

As Dason began to walk away, Marcin got struck with an idea. “Actually, I could use your help.”

“Pass!” Dason immediately declined.

“No, no, no! It’s not what you think!” Marcin clarified. He looked at him pleadingly, and while Dason didn’t totally believe him, he stepped off the path to investigate. When Dason couldn’t see him anymore, Marcin held up a burlap sack and grinned wickedly.

The Unsuper Heroes, Chapter 5

In a vast, gilded room, a red carpet led up to a small stage with four golden thrones overlooking the area, but only one of the chairs was occupied at that moment. A handsome man with silky, black hair, light blue eyes, fine clothing that perfectly complimented his toned body, and a laurel crown sat anxiously waiting. He looked up when he heard Kefalia exclaim, “Wow, it’s so big!”

Narcius vainly joked, “Boy, I wish I had a Drachma for every time I heard that!”

Akintos retorted, “You’d have one Drachma! We’ve all seen you at the baths!” Narcius looked a little crestfallen by that point.

Cyrek cleared his throat and subtly gestured towards the man on the throne, which made everyone sober up. Cyrek bowed and greeted him, “Prince Dason!”

Dason stepped off of the stage and told Cyrek, “Please, let’s skip the formalities! Tell me what is going on in my kingdom!”

Cyrek explained, “Well, it was hard enough to get the senate to convene let alone discuss solutions for the monster invasion, so I decided to go to the oracle, Melampia for guidance. I learned that these five people had the power to stop it.”

“And I learned not to hit on an angry oracle!” Krimeno proudly shared.

“Uh, okay…” Dason raised an eyebrow but decided not to discuss Krimeno’s statement any further. “Did you say five people?” He looked over to the heroes and saw Kefalia, Narcius, Akintos, and Stocastin very clearly. He walked over to them and noticed someone hiding behind Stocastin. He peered around him and saw Exelda trying to hide her face. When he stepped closer to her, he was able to recognize her. “Hey, I know you!”

Exelda fibbed, “No, you don’t!”

Dason chuckled, “Do you think I could forget a day like that?”

“Could you try?” Exelda shot back.

“Oh, come on! It wasn’t that bad!” Dason assured her.

Exelda pouted, “Yeah, not for you! I was humiliated!”

Stocastin jumped in, “There’s obviously a story here! You know you have to tell us! We won’t leave you alone until you do.” The others fervently agreed with him.

Exelda clearly did not want to tell the history shared between them, but she knew Stocastin was absolutely right, so she relented, “Fine! You already know that I got kicked out of the military because they found out I was a girl. Well, I lied about how they found out. It wasn’t because someone hit me in the crotch and I didn’t double over in pain. The truth is that I became a war hero, and I got called to the palace so the king and queen could reward me for my service. In addition to a large sum of money, they wanted to honor me by giving me… well…”

Dason supplied, “My sister’s hand in marriage.”

Akintos, Narcius, Stocastin, Krimeno, and Cyrek all laughed, but Kefalia seemed puzzled. “Wait, you were married?”

“No!” Exelda replied while still sulking. “She tried to kiss me, so I took off my armor to show her that I’m a woman. She got mad as if I tried to embarrass her on purpose, so King Iremio and Queen Erini told me they’d let me keep the money if I promised not to let the public hear this story. So, there, now you know everything!”

Akintos commented, “You know what would’ve made the story better? If you kissed her!” Narcius and Krimeno concurred.

Exelda rolled her eyes, but before she could respond, Dason blurted out, “Hey, the story’s already really hot!” Everyone stared at him in surprise, so he questioned, “Oh, did I say that out loud?” Kefalia, Narcius, Stocastin, Akintos, and Krimeno verified that he had, and his face flushed.

‘You think the story’s hot?” Exelda probed.

Dason’s cheeks burned red as he replied, “Sorry, it’s just that seeing a manly soldier strip down and turn into a beautiful woman is, well, rather enticing!”

“Yeah, I could see that!” Narcius acknowledged. Akintos, Stocastin, and Krimeno shared his sentiment.

“Aw, you think she’s beautiful?” Kefalia cooed.

Exelda looked surprised at that thought and turned to Dason, who didn’t respond other than to show a pronounced bashfulness. After a bout of awkward silence, Cyrek spoke up, “Okay, so you obviously know Exelda. This is Kefalia, Narcius, Stocastin, and Akintos. The five of them have volunteered to help us save Chaos from the monsters.”

“Monsters?” Exelda, Akintos, Stocastin, Kefalia, and Narcius each echoed.

“Monsters?” Narcius repeated. “As in more than one?”

Cyrek attempted to respond casually, “Yeah, didn’t I mention this already?” The five heroes shook their heads. “Oh, well, now you know.”

Akintos brought up, “I also heard you say volunteer. Not only do we have to fight multiple monsters, but we have to do it for free?”

“I’ll see to it you get paid for your services,” Dason assured them. “The first monster is at least dead now, right?”

“We left it in a state that appeared to be rigor mortis,” Stocastin reported. “Its molecular structure didn’t appear to have regenerative properties, so we believe it is fully incapacitated.”

Dason seemed a little confused, so Exelda clarified, “Yes, it’s dead.”

“Oh, thank gods!” Dason sighed in relief. “I’m glad we have our best people on the case!” Everyone in the room shifted uncomfortably. “What?”

Everyone except for Krimeno thought about how to word it politely, but Krimeno thoughtlessly divulged, “I wouldn’t say they’re the best, but they have super powers, so it balances out.”

Dason’s face conveyed skepticism, so Cyrek confirmed, “It’s true, they do have super powers, they just… need some practice.”

“I see…” Dason still displayed some doubt but apparently decided not to press the issue any further. “Well, we’ll have to periodically monitor your progress. Make sure you’re ready to go at any time because we don’t know when the next attack will come. And please reach out to me if you need anything!”

“Anything?” Akintos rubbed his chin contemplatively.

Dason amended his original thought, “Not anything!” He offered his hand to shake, and Akintos begrudgingly shook it as he turned to to leave. He shook each of their hands in turn, and when he got to Exelda, he told her, “I’ll see you soon!”

“Yes, your majesty,” Exelda responded formally.

“Please, just Dason,” he let her know. Exelda smiled but didn’t say anything else to him as she turned to leave.

Before Cyrek showed them out of the room, Kefalia waved to him. “Goodbye, Just Dason!” Dason chuckled as they went out.

Later that day, Marcin went up to Mercinon, who appeared to be sleeping with his face down on the desk. Marcin shook him gently. “Sire? Sire?”

Mercinon groggily woke up, and when he became fully alert, he wondered, “I’m still here?” He saw Marcin shrug, and when he had his arms extended, Mercinon noticed a bunch of scratch marks all over his extremities. “Wow, your new girlfriend likes it rough!”

“My girlfriend didn’t do this!” Marcin refuted. “Oh, well she did that one.” Mercin began tapping his fingers impatiently, so Marcin went on, “Anyways, I found some monsters for you. It took some persuasion, but I’ve convinced them to help us.”

“Why do I feel like there’s a big but there?” Mercinon speculated.

Marcin disputed, “My girlfriend’s butt isn’t that big!”

Mercinon growled, “I’m talking about the monsters, you moron! I can tell there’s a catch. How did you persuade them to join us.”

“Uh… well…” Marcin seemed hesitant to tell him, but when Mercinon glared at him, he admitted, “I had to promise them gold.”

Mercinon clearly expected something much more dire, so he loosened up when he heard this. “That’s it? Good! Tell them I’ll pay them after the job is done.”

Marcin nervously informed him, “They demanded the gold up front.”

After he clicked his tongue in annoyance, Mercinon gave in, “Fine! Normally, I don’t like to pay until the work is done, but-.”

“Oh, they don’t want the gold for payment purposes,” Marcin explained. “They need it as food.”

“WHAT?” Mercinon roared. “They eat gold?”

Marcin got down to his knees. “I’m so sorry! I can go find cheaper monsters. I just thought since we’re dealing with people that have super powers that you’d want me to find the most-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” Mercinon interrupted. “People with super powers?”

Marcin’s face went pale. “I forgot to tell you about that, didn’t I?” Mercinon scowled at him. “That’s a yes. I’ll just see myself to the jackals!”

Mercinon stopped him, but he still sounded thoroughly vexed. “What do you know about these people with super powers?”

Marcin shook his head. “I don’t know anything.”

“Isn’t that the truth!” Mercinon exclaimed. “Look, I’ll spare you from the jackals if you can keep yourself useful. Go find out what you can about these supernatural people and report back to me.”

“Yes, sire!” Marcin sounded immensely relieved to have been spared. He paused and then gingerly asked, “So, do you want to feed the monsters I found or…?”

Mercinon went under his desk and grabbed a sack of coins. He tossed it to Marcin, hitting him in the stomach hard enough to make him grunt. “Find some less expensive monsters! I’m not feeding them again!”

Marcin readily agreed, “Yes, sire!” He hastily left the room, and Mercinon exasperatedly sat down at his desk. After a moment of digesting everything, he spotted a gold coin on his desk. Curious, he picked it up and tried to take a bite out of it. He found that it tasted awful and threw it away from him in disgust.

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 21

As a baby, she remembered a younger, gaunter Reisseck setting her on the grass by the lake she frequented as an adult. He stood before her with his wand out and began to do a little jig. As he danced, an eerie glow seeped out of his wand like ribbon and flowed to her as he sang, “Tonight, tonight, my plans I make./ Tomorrow, tomorrow, your freedom I’ll take./ You will freeze when you go too far,/ and to remember this, I’ll give thee a star./ The rule will always stay the same/ until, three times, you say my name… Rumpelstiltskin! Rumpelstiltskin! Rumpelstiltskin!” He laughed manically as the star appeared on her infant hand.

Slowly, Cally became aware of her body in the present. Her chest emitted a great pain, and her eyes felt so heavy that she couldn’t open them. Sound was muffled for her, but she could sense an intense amount of anger in the cacophony made. Little by little, the noise became clearer and clearer, and she realized people were shouting. She recognized a male’s voice, it was her father’s. Henrick shouted, “… high treason!”

“You fools! No dungeon will hold me!” She knew that voice too, Reisseck. She corrected herself, his real name was Rumpelstiltskin. She remembered her mission and summoned all of her strength to tell the others, but her body would not budge.

“We’re not going to let you get away with this!”her mother raged. Cally could hear in her parents’ voice just how devastated they got to see her so gravely injured, and she so dearly wanted to tell them what she discovered! She could make her lips move, but she couldn’t talk or open her eyes at that point.

“Stand back!” Cally could hear Rumpelstiltskin brandish his wand threateningly. Her spirits buoyed a bit when she managed to lift her eyelids and see a bit.

“Your powers must be almost gone after killing another innocent person!” She saw Galena point her wand at him.

“Rump… Rump…el…” Cally’s words were hardly audible.

Rumpelstiltskin scoffed, “Actually, they’re…” He had a sudden realization, and he glanced towards Cally. His eyes didn’t linger though. Instead, he began backing away towards the exit. “I may have lost some of my ability, but I can still out match you! Do you really want to take that risk?”

“Rump… el… stilt… rump… el…” Cally’s voice grew stronger, but everyone had followed him, so no one could hear her.

“He’s bluffing!” Cally’s heart soared to hear Derrick alive and well. “Let’s cuff him and-.”

“I’m not going anywhere!” Rumpelstiltskin roared. “If I have to take the throne in another way, so be it!” Cally watched as Rumpelstiltskin pointed his wand at Derrick, and her blood boiled! Derrick moved his hand out of the way, but he struggled against his brute force to keep the wand away from being able to aim at him. Rumpelstiltskin shot off a spell that nicked Derrick in the shoulder…

Seeing blood trickle down Derrick’s body revitalized her senses, and her adrenaline gave her the strength she needed. She stood up, and her voice shook the entire room as she bellowed, “Rumpelstiltskin! Rumpelstiltskin! Rumpelstiltskin!”

A wind flew out of her body, racing up the walls and out of the room. When it blew past everyone near the foyer, Rumpelstiltskin cried out, “No!”

Cally could hardly believe it herself! She felt a s though it were over, but such a joyous feat felt more like a dream than a reality. She needed confirmation, and with her hands trembling, she looked to her left palm. The star had vanished! She quickly put her palm in the air so that Rumpelstiltskin could see it. His eyes widened, and he made a noise as if he were choking. Cally boldly exclaimed, “It’s over! You hear me? You don’t own me anymore! I’m free! I’m FREE!”

Rumpelstiltskin’s shock paralyzed him. Taking advantage of his astonishment, Galena pointed her wand at him, which caused him to freeze and fall down backwards. Nearby knights immediately put shackles around his wrists and ankles. Galena jumped onto his chest and looked him dead in the eyes. “I out matched you after all!” Rumpelstiltskin groaned. She happily hopped off as the knights took him away.

Avalyn, Henrick, and Derrick turned to Cally with totally stunned expressions on their faces. They stayed silent as if acknowledging this miraculous phenomenon would disturb the delicate balance that kept her standing. Avalyn timidly stepped forward. “Caliana? You’re alive?” Cally nodded, and when it really sunk into their heads, Avalyn and Henrick rapturously ran to her. They instantly wrapped their arms around her and squeezed her tightly, and all three of them were in tears. Derrick, Duke Ferrin, and Galena watched them with warm smiles on their faces.

After a moment, it dawned on Cally that she was holding her parents! She had gone her whole life with no family, and now they were here, right in front of her! It seemed incredible to her that they immediately accepted her and that she actually belonged somewhere! Rumpelstiltskin always had so much venom for the king and queen, but Cally thought that anyone that he he harbored that much hate for must be opposite of him and there fore a good person, so she secretly admired them this whole time. Still, it amazed her that she came from them! She broke apart from them so that she could make eye contact and verify this information. “Father?” Henrick nodded. “Mother?” Avalyn nodded. “Wow, I…” She wanted to express her appreciation for them entering into her life, but she got overwhelmed with emotion. Henrick and Avalyn seemed to have understood what she meant to say and gave her another hug.

Galena went up to them and commented, “Wow, you held on to my elixir all of these years?”

“Are you kidding? We couldn’t let it go after all it did for us!” Avalyn picked Galena up and gave her a hug.

Henrick addressed Galena, “We can’t thank you enough! Your role in this whole thing has been instrumental! I’d like to appoint you for a special task force to create new laws and procedures regarding magical crimes.”

“I accept!” Galena beamed with a sparkle in her eye.

“I’d like to help,” Duke Ferrin stated. “After fighting against a sorcerer, I have some ideas.”

“Of course!” Galena purred.

He told Cally, “I’d like to consult our new princess as well! After all, you did survive a powerful curse!”

Galena remarked, “That’s right! You sure did! Obviously, the healing elixir helped, but how did you survive the sword to the heart?”

Cally pulled out a blood-stained book with a huge gash down the middle out of her chest and turned to Derrick, who had watched them from a distance. “I guess your novel absorbed some of the impact! Sorry for returning it in such shape!”

Derrick tittered, but his mind fixated on another thought. “You brought my book with you on your wedding day? Why?”

“I wanted to keep you close to my heart,” Cally replied with more tears forming in her eyes. “You… I …!” Once again, Cally lost the right words to convey the passionate emotions she felt, but Derrick seemed to grasp the concept anyways. They ran to each other and wrapped their arms around one another. Their faces were close, and although Cally never kissed anyone in her life, her instincts guided her body on what to do. Their lips met, and Cally couldn’t remember feeling lighter or more peaceful than she did right then with him! A blissful excitement coursed through her body, and she never wanted to let him go!

Henrick, Avalyn, Galena, and Duke Ferrin gazed at them fondly until Cloris gave the knights a hard time as they tried to put shackles on her. “Let me go! You had no right to come here! We had every right to defend ourselves!”

Avalyn asked Cally, “Caliana, what do you think is the proper punishment for her?”

Cloris looked at Cally in horror. “You’re going to kill me as revenge for everything, aren’t you?”

Cally chuckled, “Why, is that what you would do? I wouldn’t. There’s been enough blood shed already! Take her to the dungeons for a while, and when she’s done, send her back to Dregs Hollow. I think having me rule over her is punishment enough!” Cloris glowered at her, which signaled to Cally that she had the correct line of thinking. “But living here shouldn’t be a punishment! I’d like to have a merit system to help the innocent citizens of this town!” Henrick and Avalyn looked to each other and nodded in agreement. Now that everything had wrapped up, Cally suddenly felt awkward still standing in the ceremony room of this town. She never felt like she belonged there, and she inwardly celebrated the fact that she no longer had to stay there! She recommended to them all, “Let’s go home!” For the first time in her life, home was somewhere she actually wanted to be! With a feverish glee, they all made their way out of there.

As they walked through the streets of Dregs Hollow, Cally gazed at the buildings with a certain fondness. She had survived so much in this village that being able to walk through it as a free woman felt like gazing upon a battle scar. She appreciated the fact that she had overcome such struggle, and it felt unreal that this part of her life was over. She would never forget where she came from, and although she was miserable in Dregs Hollow, she felt almost sad to say goodbye. Almost. She walked hand in hand with Derrick while Avalyn and Henrick strolled by their sides, and while she didn’t know what to expect in her new home, she would savor every bit of it, good times and bad, just remembering where she got started.

They came to a hitching post in the center of town, and Cally hadn’t realized until now that it even existed. Avalyn and Henrick each mounted their own horses, and Duke Ferrin put Galena into his saddlebag before he climbed onto his steed. Cally expected to ride behind Derrick, but instead, Derrick asserted, “I think you should learn to steer, my lady!” Cally felt stunned at his offer to teach her, but she gladly accepted it. After a quick lesson, they galloped off!

Cally’s heart skipped a beat as they raced through the gates of Dregs Hollow, but the reality of the situation still didn’t feel real to her since she was still on familiar grounds. They passed by Camellia’s Circus, and Cally felt eternally grateful that she never had to set foot in there again! She relished in the fact her new line of work had so much more meaning to it! When they got to the fork in the road by Bohemma, Cally almost felt as though she would freeze up again, and when she didn’t, the concept really cemented in her head- she was free!

Several years later, sitting below a painting of Derrick in a handsome tuxedo and Cally in a simple yet elegant wedding gown, Derrick and Cally held hands as they each read a book. A servant entered and bowed to them. “Your royal majesties of Lacoriandor-.”

“I told you,” Cally reminded him, “You don’t need to formally address me every time we speak! You can call me Cally!”

The servant looked quite nervous about the idea. “Uh, no, I don’t think I can! Lady Joanne and Lady Sasha are here. Your parents have already joined them.”

Derrick regarded him, “Thank you, Andel!” Andel half bowed as he exited the room. “He needs to loosen up!”

Cally laughed, and then she offered her arm. “Shall we?” He linked his arm with hers as they left the room.

The End

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 20

Cally felt grateful for the interruption to the ceremony, but she now worried that these hooded figures would become more of an enemy than ally. Based on Reisseck’s expression, she could tell they weren’t invited guests. She hoped that these strange people would provide enough of a distraction so that she could slip out. She didn’t know how long she could evade Reisseck if she escaped, but she at least wanted to find Derrick and Galena to tell them what she just learned. She thought that maybe they could run to the library to find more books with unusual names in it, or perhaps she would write a letter to King Henrick and Queen Avalyn so they could use their royal powers to put a stop to this unholy union. At the very least, she wanted to see Derrick one last time before Reisseck forced her into this plan. She eyeballed the nearest exit to run out as soon as Reisseck’s attention ebbed.

“Who are you people?” Reisseck snarled. The hooded figures parted to create a path that one of them walked down, and when that person got to the most forward position amongst them, they took off their hood to reveal their face. “Duke Ferrin?” Reisseck’s concern seemed to vanish, and with a cocky swagger, he strolled closer to them with one hand on the pocket where he carried his wand. “Are you here to challenge me for the throne? Well, you’re too late! There was a time when I counted on you to take power and pass laws that would make my life easier, but then I found a better way to improve my circumstances! As soon as I marry her, I’ll become king and get everything I’ve ever dreamed of! You can try to stop this marriage if you dare, but mark my words, I can end you all with one swipe of my wand!”

The rest of the hooded figures began to circle the room, and Duke Ferrin calmly pointed out, “You could, but would you really be willing to put your own people at risk? The only souls who have stood by your side all of these years? Do you bear no honor or shame?”

Reisseck observed the position of the rest of the hooded figures, and he looked thoroughly miffed about their proximity to the inhabitants of Dregs Hollow. He didn’t address Duke Ferrin’s concern and instead asked a question of his own, “So, what do you want?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Duke Ferrin replied.

“You’re trying to stop me from marrying her so you can take the throne.” Reisseck drew out his wand, ready to fight back.

Duke Ferrin laughed derisively, which incensed Reisseck. “Up until this evening, I was ready to take over the crown as a duty to Lacorian law, but I discovered I don’t have the right to the throne, and neither do you!”

“I will when I marry Cally!” He pulled her close, which made her scowl. “She’s the heir to the crown, and when I marry the future queen, I’ll become the future king! It’s all perfectly legal!”

Duke Ferrin scoffed, “You kidnapped the princess and you have the gall to talk about legality?”

Reisseck threw Cally to the ground stepped towards Duke Ferrin menacingly. “What do you stand to gain from doing this?”

“A clean conscious.” Duke Ferrin drew his sword.

Reisseck sneered, “Do you really think you’re going to stop me?”

“No,” Duke Ferrin responded coolly. “They are!”

On cue, the hooded figures all revealed themselves. To Cally’s shock, she saw that Avalyn, Henrick, and Derrick had brought a group of knights with them! Reisseck’s guards drew their weapons, and the royal guards did the same. Reisseck coldly remarked, “So it begins!” He pointed his wand at Duke Ferrin, who used his sword to butt Reisseck’s wand out of his range. Reisseck’s men took that as their signal to advance on the royal guard, and the battle began!

Cally saw several Dregs Hollow citizens advance towards her, so she quickly picked herself up and ran to the decorative swords on the wall. She felt grateful that she was able to easily get one down, but she had a momentary flash of panic when she realized she hadn’t done any swordplay in her life! She didn’t know that so many of her former neighbors had weapons! She had no choice, she had to do her best to defend herself! She didn’t have combat experience, but she used several tools at Camellia’s Circus, which prompted her to swiftly strategize. She needed a tool to block attacks and to make some of her own if necessary, so with this in mind, she joined the battle.

Reisseck knocked Duke Ferrin to the ground, but before he could strike, a burst of light hit him in the arm! “No!” he cried out in dismay. He glanced over to the entrance and confirmed his fear, Galena had entered! Reisseck tried to use his wand to strike her, but Duke Ferrin kicked his hand, sending Reisseck’s wand flying! Reisseck lunged for it, but Duke Ferrin rose up and pushed him out of the way! Due to his massive size, Reisseck didn’t go far, but from his new point of view, he saw Cally struggling to fend people off, so he shouted, “Don’t hurt her! She’s mine!”

When they heard this, Reisseck’s loyalists still fought her out of a desire to get her to submit, but their skill seemed to have lessened since they couldn’t kill her. Cally used this to her advantage and moved around more freely. Reisseck’s words echoed in her head, and it really burned her up inside! She couldn’t believe he viewed a princess and future queen as his property! Her distraction gave someone the opportunity to get a hit on her, and that person sliced her hand! It hurt, but she rmanaged to ignore it and created a huge gash in her attacker’s arm! She felt thrilled at her success, but she had to keep fighting because other people were still coming after her. She caught a glimpse of her left hand and saw that the star that marked her binding curse had no mark on it! She realized that this was the reason Reisseck felt he could claim her. Furious, she slowly made her way towards him.

Cally got within earshot of Reisseck, and although she thought that her idea was a long shot, she decided to try it anyways. As she fought off attackers, she began spouting off names to him. Reisseck didn’t say anything since he was fighting off Duke Ferrin as well as a couple of knights, but Cally could see the look of irritation on his face, so she knew her ploy had the right effect. Duke Ferrin and the knights didn’t seem to understand why she was doing that, but they wanted to help, so they joined in. Slowly, Derrick, Henrick, Galena, and Avalyn joined in too. Cally secretly hoped one of them would guess Reisseck’s real name so that they could end this battle. She didn’t fully know what to expect after it finished, but she wanted to prevent as much destruction as possible.

Reisseck could tell his side was losing, and soon he was surrounded by people shouting names at him. More and more pressure grew on him, and he knew he had to act fast before it was too late. To his delight, Cloris tossed him his wand, and as he held it, he felt his sense of omnipotence return to his body. He knew the only way he could escape victoriously was to show the loathsome meddlers just what he was capable of! He saw the other decorative sword on the wall and pointed his wand…

Cally saw the sword budge, and she looked at Reisseck, who pointed his wand to Derrick. Her heart froze, but protective instincts flared up and took over her body. She ran to Derrick and used her body to shield his. Part of her thought Reisseck would stop the hex because he needed her to stay alive, but another part of her didn’t care what happened to her now. Nothing was worth seeng Derrick die!

Derrick didn’t realize what Cally was doing until it was too late! A sword magically hurled itself into the middle of her chest! “No!” he wailed in anguish. The whole room stopped what they were doing to watch blood seeping out of her chest as she fell towards the ground! Avalyn shrieked, and Henrick howled in horror. Derrick caught her as everyone in the royal guard ran towards her. None of the Dregs Hollow denizens seemed to care except for Reisseck, who looked shocked at what she made him do. With tears forming in his eyes, Derrick cried, “Cally! Why did you do that?”

Cally could feel her energy lessen, and it took more and more effort just to inhale and exhale. She breathily told Derrick, “I’d die for you!”

“Please don’t!” Derrick sobbed.

Though she trembled immensely, Avalyn dug into her pocket and took out a vial of potion. “I have a healing elixir!” she knelt down to Cally’s side and desperately stated, “This prevented me from dying, and it worked for your father too! It’s a family tradition, you see? You’re going to take this and be fine! You’ll see!” Cally couldn’t respond, but she accepted the potion into her mouth. Avalyn waited to see it take effect, and when Cally’s consciousness seemed to slip away, Avalyn exclaimed, “Why isn’t this working?”

Galena sadly explained, “It can’t repair tissue if it’s already dead. With the force a spell like that can muster, it may have taken her heart immediately.”

Henrick bolted up in fury, and he voraciously hollered, “Reisseck, you fiend! I’ll tear you up from ribs to rump!”

Cally saw Reisseck flinch at the word rump, and it stirred up a memory for her, which flashed before her eyes as she began to blackout…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 19

For a moment, the three of them sat in silence as they allowed their minds to absorb this realization. Derrick felt stunned to learn that Cally was the princess that the kingdom thought they lost forever, but he knew his astonishment couldn’t compare to what Henrick and Avalyn going through! He couldn’t imagine the effect it had on their hearts to find out the daughter that they thought got murdered thirty three years ago was actually alive! All of a sudden, Avalyn grabbed her napkin and began dabbing her eyes. “I knew it! I knew it! She’s alive!”

“It’s a miracle!” Henrick rejoiced. He went over to Avalyn, and they held each other as they wept. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Henrick. “Wait, our baby is about to get married to a murderous sorcerer!”

“No!” Avalyn cried. “She can’t!”

“And she won’t!” Derrick avowed. “It may not be too late! Let’s go!”

Avalyn and Derrick rose up, but Henrick commanded them, “Wait!” They looked at him with irritation, not comprehending Henrick’s hesitation. “I’m sure Reisseck is prepared for an ambush, so we can’t just rush in like that!” They knew he was completely right, so they begrudgingly sat back down. Henrick asserted, “Now, we’ll never be able to match his magical defenses, so we’ll have to outsmart him. We need a distraction, something that will catch him off guard so we can slip in unnoticed.”

They all mulled it over for a moment, and then Derrick declared, “I have an idea!”

Cally caught a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror that someone had set up in the living room. The wedding gown she wore had a gaudy design and an antique feel to it. The color had yellowed a bit, and she felt sure that Reisseck could have whipped up a potion to fix it if she requested it, but she didn’t care. This didn’t feel like a real wedding to her, so she could have cared less about what went on during the ceremony. As she stared at her reflection, a sickening feeling arose in the pit of her stomach. She turned away, but the view of their living room wasn’t much better. Reisseck packed away all of their belongings into boxes, and it only reminded her of her fate in the near future. The only solace she found was that while Duke Ferrin performed his royal duties, she could roam the castle freely, a privilege she intended to use to find out Reisseck’s true name and break the binding spell. She didn’t want to become the soon to be king’s queen, but once she got rid of the curse that bound her to Reisseck, she would use her royal powers to see that he got punished severely for all of the crimes he committed!

She went to the last remaining box that hadn’t yet been sealed with the intention of putting her red cloak in there. It felt weighty to her, and she remembered that she left a couple of things inside it. She found what was left of the transfiguring potion, and she tossed that to the side. She tried to comfort herself with the knowledge that she’d never have to use it again, but she just couldn’t enjoy that fact. She couldn’t say she wanted to go back to taking it regularly again, but she would miss the small bit of freedom she had from the opportunities she got when she left Dregs Hollow. Most people who took the throne would relish in freedom that they never had access to before, but as long as Reisseck was around, she would never be free! As he dragged her out of the woods, he taunted her with the forewarning that the only reason she would stay alive was so that she would produce an heir. She wondered how long it would take and how long she would last once it was done.

She couldn’t think about the that at this moment, so she shook it off and pulled out the other thing in her cloak pocket. It was the book that Derrick had lent her! Her heart shattered into pieces at the thought of him! It seemed so unfair and cruel to have found someone that she fell in love with right before she got forced into a detested marriage! She remembered his beautiful eyes, his warm smile, and the way she felt in his strong, firm arms, and she fell to her knees in tears. In her whole life, no one had made her feel so good about herself or gave her such a feeling of purpose until he came along. She couldn’t stand the thought that she would never get to see him again! She would try her hardest to break that spell so she could return to him, but she couldn’t guarantee when or if that would ever happen. She vehemently despised the fact that she had to marry someone who was him, but Reisseck told her that if she didn’t go through with it that he would kill him. She had to do it to save Derrick’s life, but it was pure agony to think they would be apart forever! She held the book to her heart, clutching it as if it were the only thing keeping her upright, and she sobbed mercilessly.

The sentries at the entrance of Dregs Hollow leaned against the tall, wooden fence and yawned. Suddenly, they felt the ground beneath them began to shake, and this prompted them to stand at attention. In the distance, they saw a dozen hooded figures charging towards them, so they drew up their spears in a ready position. When the hooded horsemen approached the sentries, one of them growled, “We’ve told you a dozen times that the royal guard isn’t allowed here unannounced! Stand aside!”

“We are not the royal guard!” The man at the head of the pack took of his hood to reveal a robust yet elegant man in his sixties.

“Duke Ferrin!” the other sentry responded in surprise. Both of them kneeled before him. “What are you doing here? You’re not trying to stop the wedding, are you?”

Duke Ferrin waved off this notion. “Not at all! In fact, I’d like to give Reisseck my blessings! But first, we must secure the area. I heard that he could use some reinforcements.”

The sentries nodded in agreement, and one of them inquired, “How did you know that?”

“I have my ways,” Duke Ferrin said with a wry grin. “Forgive my men for not removing their hoods. It’s a rather covert mission, not one I wish to spread around…”

“Right! Of course, we understand,” the other sentry assured him. “Please, come on in!” The gladly opened the gates for him.

“Thank you!” Duke Ferrin began to enter when he noticed that sentries on the inside stepped aside as well, which made him raise an eyebrow. “You keep people from leaving too?” The sentries looked at each other suspiciously before they nodded. Duke Ferrin shrugged it off. “Ah, I see. Carry on!” He put his hood back on and led the rest of the hooded figures inside.

Just as Cally had finished putting on her veil, Cloris entered with a mischievous smile on her face. Cally knew that she had to know what torture this moment was for her and did not give her the satisfaction of showing any emotion. Cloris leered, “It’s time!” She grabbed her arm and led her away from that home.

As Cloris practically dragged her to a cavern ceremony room, she noticed a number of Dregs Hollow denizens guarding the entrance with swords and spears ready to use if necessary. She found it odd because she didn’t think that anyone in their village could even afford a weapon! It seemed rather ominous to have such a battle-ready set of people as the first thing guests would see as they arrived, but she reminded herself that nothing about this occasion was traditional! Cloris left her in a small foyer and sneered, “Good luck!” Cally didn’t give her a reaction, but Cloris seemed to know what she was feeling snickered as she took her seat.

Awful pipe organ music began to play, and Cally’s heart thumped wildly in her chest. She couldn’t believe that this was really happening! She gazed at the altar, which was empty. She felt that was strange, but she didn’t dare to think that Duke Ferrin changed his mind. She thought perhaps that he intended to make an entrance, which sort of disgusted her. She didn’t think that he would actually enjoy this, and it revolted her to think that a person could enjoy taking away someone’s freedom like that! Reisseck stood up, and Cally cringed at the frilly, terribly old-fashioned tuxedo he was wearing. He impatiently motioned for her to come in, and Cally knew this was it! She figured she may as well get it over with, sighed, and entered the ceremony room.

She walked slowly and kept her eyes low. Reisseck could force her into this marriage, but he couldnt’ force her to enjoy it! The closer she got to the altar, the more her heart pounded. She didn’t want to do this, and every fiber in her being wanted to turn around and run away. When she got to the end of the aisle, she decided she shouldn’t show Duke Ferrin any fear. If he was willing to commit such a heinous act, she was going to force him to look into her angry, hate-filled eyes! When she looked up, she expected to see Duke Ferrin standing there, so she glared as hard as she could! To her astoundment, Duke Ferrin wasn’t there! Only Reisseck and the man performing the ceremony stood before her. Utterly confused now, Cally asked, “What’s going on? Where’s Duke Ferrin?”

“You’re not marrying Duke Ferrin!” Reisseck answered her. “You’re marrying me!” Cally didn’t believe him, she thought he had to be joking. “Your parents weren’t nobles who sold you to me to save your mother’s life! You’re the king and queen’s daughter, and I’m marrying you to become ruler of Lacoria!”

Cally found this claim too outrageous to be true! She became overwhelmed with bewilderment, not understanding why Reisseck would even say that! “No! The princess died a long time ago! She’s been gone since I was born!” It suddenly clicked for her, and she couldn’t believe she didn’t see it before! Reisseck kidnapped the princess, and just days later, he obtained a baby girl! Suddenly, Cally knew why Homer handed her that article before he died! He figured it out quicker than she did! The idea slowly trickled into her head, but she hadn’t quite accepted it yet. “I’m the missing princess?”

She didn’t know what to do; she was still too shocked to move. The master of ceremonies began the wedding, and her head scrambled with what she should do with this information. She couldn’t go ahead with the marriage knowing what she now knew! She couldn’t just let Reisseck become king! And she certainly didn’t want to conceive a child with him! She saw a couple of decorative swords hanging above them, and she wondered if she should use them. She saw Reisseck’s wand sticking out of his pocket and knew that idea wouldn’t work. She felt compelled to take action, but she had no clue what to do… Luckily, she didn’t have to figure it out since a dozen hooded figures entered the room…