The Shadow Path, Chapter 18

Aidan fell limp, and suddenly everything became like a slow moving dream for her. She rolled over to free herself, and upon doing so, she immediately checked on him. He was still breathing, but it was very labored. “No!” Yasmina wailed desperately.

She heard Daeva cackling behind her, and the idea that she relished not only Aidan’s suffering but the torment it caused her incensed Yasmina. Her soul lit up with an ire that she had never felt before, and she let it be known with a furious howl! As she got up, she saw Daeva back up, and Yasmina refused to accept any attempts of escape. As she stepped towards her, she whipped her wand in a circle, creating a high ring of fire! Daeva leered, “You fool! Now no one can help you!”

Yasmina could care less about this fact. “You’re not going anywhere! This ends now!”

Daeva laughed derisively at her. “Oh, did you love him?”

“I still do! He’s not dead yet!” Yasmina ignored her mocking laughter as she growled, “But I also love this country! I’m not going to let you break me and do this all over again to other people! No more tricks! No one to hide behind! Let’s finish this!”

“So be it!” Daeva raised her wand and aimed for Yasmina, who easily dodged it as she fired one back. Daeva used her wand to produce a spell to shield herself. In Yasmina’s rancor, she fiercely tried to curse Daeva from all different angles, but Daeva swat them away as easily as she would swat away a cumbersome insect. Yasmina paused for a moment to wait for Daeva to let her guard down, and Daeva used this moment to shoot more spells at her. Yasmina didn’t know how to do a shield, so she evaded by moving around as fast as she could. They became more and more difficult to dodge, and between this and the energy it took to produce spells, Yasmina began to grow tired, something Daeva was quick to notice. “What’s the matter? You getting tired? Let me finish you so you can join Aidan in the afterlife!”

Yasmina’s rage got renewed by that insult, and she shot a spell that Daeva narrowly avoided. They continued firing back and forth at each other, but as Yasmina continued to survive, Daeva’s spellwork became more and more complicated. One curse came at her from two different directions, which caught her off guard, making her lose her footing. She fell forward, causing her wand to fall from her hand! She tried to grasp it, but Daeva shot another spell at her, so she had to roll out of the way. The spell hit her leg, sending pain throughout her body and making her cry out in anguish. Daeva cackled, “So much for love! You lost your soulmate and your country when you lost your wand! You actually thought you could beat me? You, with such a pure heart, aren’t capable of the spell-work that I am! As angry as you are with me, in your heart, you could never use your magic for malice, can you?”

Yasmina wanted to deny her claim, but inwardly, she reluctantly realized that Daeva had a point. “I don’t enjoy having to kill you, but I-!”

“That’s where we’re different!” Daeva exclaimed. “You care more about other people than yourself! That’s your weakness! I knew eventually if one of your comrades fell that eventually you’d corner me. But unlike you, I put myself first! I will turn Caragsona into a paradise for my kind to live in, and you’re standing in the way of progress. It’s very selfish of you to do this to your own people! Even if you don’t value your own pathetic life, you should think about the lives of your fellow magi!”

“We can all live in harmony!” Yasmina weakly shouted. “It doesn’t have to be us versus them! Nice try, but I’m not going to surrender to you! Never!”

Daeva scoffed, “You don’t have a wand! You’re finished!” She raised her wand, and Yasmina couldn’t think of magic dark enough to kill her on the spot. Daeva arrogantly sked her, “Any last words?”

The fire grew higher behind Daeva as she spoke, and it suddenly clicked for Yasmina. Through her blinding pain, she stood up to face her, who seemed amused by this display. She steeled herself before she boldly told her, “I don’t need a wand to do magic, and I don’t need dark intentions to get rid of you!” Daeva looked confused as Yasmina summoned magic to her fingertips. Yasmina could see panic hit Daeva’s eyes as she realized it was too late. Yasmina sent all of her energy out and pushed Daeva hard, sending her flying into the fire! She watched just to make sure that Daeva didn’t escape. Daeva’s shadow writhed, and she let out a blood-curling scream. Soon, the shadow disappeared, and the room got quiet. She was gone!

Yasmina put out the fire as soon as she was sure the whole ordeal was over, but she did not celebrate yet. She could hardly move her leg, but she hobbled over to Aidan as fast as she could. Everyone watched as she fell next to him, all of them with grim looks on their faces. He did not move a muscle, so she put an ear to his chest to see if she could hear him breathe. Ardeshir noted, “Yasmina, you’re hurt!”

Yasmina didn’t want to deal with her injury at such a crucial moment. “It’s nothing! A healing potion will fix this right away!” That statement gave her an idea. “Wait, the healing potion!” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a vial of potion, and then she opened Aidan’s mouth and started pouring it in. “This will fix him up, and he’ll be okay!” She said it out loud, but she really had to convince herself of this. She poured all of it in just to make sure, and she waited. No one else seemed very optimistic, but she ignored them and encouraged him, “Come on, Aidan! You got to wake up and take the throne, just like we talked about!” Nothing happened, and a lump rose up in her throat. “Please! Aidan!” When he still did nothing, she felt her soul rip into pieces! She couldn’t accept he was gone, but her logic gave her no other choice. She collapsed onto his chest and burst into tears.

No one else moved except to wipe away tears off of their cheeks. Yasmina hardly noticed them though, nothing else mattered then! She had survived the battle, but she felt as though a huge part of her died right then. She felt as though she were falling down a dark spiral, the pain drowned her. Just when she thought she couldn’t go on, her heart nearly jumped out of her chest when she heard a very raspy voice rale, “Did you mean it?”

Everyone’s attention got transfixed by this, no one dared to believe it. Yasmina peered at Aidan, and even though he hadn’t moved, she spoke to him, “Did I mean what?”

To everyone’s astonishment, they saw Aidan’s lips move! “In the fire, you told Daeva that you loved me. Did you mean it?”

Yasmina’s whole body trembled, but she somehow she felt too shocked to move. She compelled herself to answer, “Of course I did!” She then stuttered, “Did you…do you…also…?”

Aidan opened his eyes and affirmed, “I’d die for you!”

Through tears of utter relief and joy, Yasmina cried, “Please don’t!” She wrapped her arms around him, and they kissed passionately! Yasmina’s body felt as though she was filled with a warm light, and she never wanted this bliss to end! Eventually, they took a breath, and Yasmina could see in his eyes that he felt exactly as she did. She smiled wider than she had ever had in her life, and he used his thumbs to wipe the happy tears off of her face. Yasmina joked, “Kadera left this out of her prediction!”

Aidan laughed, and Jakan and Ardeshir helped them both up. Yasmina forgot about her leg and almost fell, but Aidan caught her. Ardeshir interjected, “I don’t mean to spoil the moment, but can we get out of this ghoulish castle?”

Yasmina and Aidan’s attention swayed back to the room they were in, and they saw that not only were Ardeshir, Jakan, and the thieves watching, but a few of the hooded figures had survived. Jakan inquired, “What should we do with them, your majesty?”

Aidan suggested, “Why don’t you ask your future queen?”

Yasmina’s heart could still hardly believe she was fortunate enough to have her love reciprocated, but it never occurred to her that this lonely, peasant witch could ever become anything more than that, so the title of queen was hard to fathom! It overwhelmed her, but when she saw that everyone had turned to her for answers, she couldn’t ignore that. They had accepted this notion, so she felt it her duty to make a decision. “Well, you’ll all get knighted soon, so take them to the dungeons of Rogamaith! Let’s all go home!” Everyone cheered as they mounted their brooms. Yasmina and Aidan kissed again before doing the same.

King Kahlil called for the kingdom to gather, and he broke the news that Prince Aidan had not perished as once thought, a fact for which the whole kingdom rejoiced. Jakan and his former thieves all watched the process in knights’ armor. Ardeshir had gotten dubbed a royal advisor, and he introduced Yasmina to everyone, explaining how she was a hero to the kingdom and that she and Aidan had fallen in love. He performed a wedding ceremony, and then King Kahlil recognized them formally as Prince Aidan and Princess Yasmina. A couple of days later, in a solemn ritual in the throne room, they were coronated as king and queen! They took over Caragsona before too much damage got done, and though a lot of work needed to be done, their message of unification spread to magi and mortals alike, which began a new era of peaceful rebuilding. The first project- revamipng the Shadow Path tino the Alliance Access!

The End

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The Shadow Path, Chapter 17

Yasmina’s heart pounded from the exhilaration of soaring above the kingdom! She admonished herself for not embracing her magi nature sooner because this experience gave her an amazing sense of freedom. The moment only got heightened by the fact that Aidan had his arms around her waist! For a while, she savored the bliss of it all, but as a dark castle came into view, the reality of the situation began to loom in- they were about to face a powerful evil!

The closer they got to Duanolc, the more her nerves twisted inside of her. It almost seemed insane that they were going to fight Daeva after seeing how Kadera could take on seven people at once! Yasmina could see why Jakan had objected to idea originally! And yet, he willingly chose to accompany them as they began the battle. She felt more emboldened by this fact as well as the difficult magic she performed that day, but with all that could go wrong with this feat, she couldn’t help but feel a vast amount of dread from what they were about to do!

As they got closer to the castle, they moved to the cover of the trees on the Shadow Path to avoid detection. They moved slowly and paid close attention to their surroundings, fully expecting to awaken a booby-trap. Yasmina began to ignore her nerves in order to concentrate on what they needed to do. She knew that they could hardly walk into the front door! Even if they got through the locks, she felt certain Daeva would have an ambush waiting for them if they tried such an obvious method to get into Duanolc. Aidan had explained why Rogamaith had many different entrances, so she figured Daeva’s castle would have a similar set up. They would have to find a back entrance to get inside.

They heard a noise ahead of them, so they quickly brandished their wands, anticipating a fight. To their relief, they found that the culprit was a bird landing on a branch! Yasmina laughed from both relief and from noting that a bird had scared them for a second time. Ardeshir stared at it with great interest, os Aidan reminded him, “You’re not a cat anymore.”

“Right!” Ardeshir remembered, which made them all chuckle.

Suddenly, they heard distant chatter in the distance, so they landed their brooms and hid behind some trees. They saw a line of people wearing black cloaks with hoods over their heads marching towards Duanolc. Jakan whispered, “Daeva is building an army!” Normally, Yasmina would have felt that getting outnumbered would greatly diminish their chance at victory, but instead, it gave her an idea.

They crept closer and noticed a few people lagging at the end, and Yasmina felt grateful for this stroke of luck. Silently, Yasmina, Jakan, and even Ardeshir used their magic to knock out four cloaked people. Yasmina felt proud of Ardeshir for performing his first spell in a hundred years, but they couldn’t risk the noise that their voices would create, so she stayed quiet. They quickly dragged the stunned bodies into the bushes and joined the group as fast as they could.

As soon as the cloaked people entered Duanolc, Daeva made them all line up before her. Daeva coldly addressed them, “Four of you are traitors!” A few of the hooded figures whispered from a mix of surprise and curiosity. Daeva went on, “I called upon my loyal magi to assist me in battle, and yet you were so careless that you failed to notice a few of your own that got left behind!” The hooded figures shifted guiltily as she loudly berated them all, “Didn’t I emphasize that the fate of our land was at stake? Do you think I would call you here if it wasn’t of the utmost imporance? Why then wouldn’t you take every precaution to ensure our victory? Do you realize what you’ve done? I hired you to guard every entrance so that no one could enter, but I had to scrap that plan because I can’t trust any of you! The enemy is here!” No one’s face could be seen, but the fear of the hooded figures was palpable. Daeva concluded, “Your presence is not a total waste of time though or else I would kill you all right now! Our enemies are fools who are heavily outnumbered! I urge these moles to show themselves immediately!” No one moved. “You can’t hide forever! You came to face me, so show your faces! Do you want to do this the hard way? Cowards!”

“We’re not the cowards!” Yasmina vehemently shouted. The other hooded figures gasped as Yasmina, Aidan, Ardeshir, and Jakan took off their hoods. Yasmina stepped towards Daeva and enspeeched, “You hired a small army to take on a few people! You’re scared! The idea of magi rising against you is scary enough, but what you truly fear is dealing with an adversary on your own! You’re hoping that these guys kill us before you have to lay a finger on your wand! And do you know why? You have an addiction to control! You like to take the reins only when you know what to expect, and you have no idea what I’m capable of! I don’t know what I’m capable of either, but the difference is that I embrace this fact! I don’t know everything that will happen today, but I can tell you one thing that will definitely occur- you’ll get more scared and whether or not I survive, your regime won’t!”

“Enough!” Daeva screamed almost hysterically. She regained her exposure and responded, “I’m glad you admit that you know you could die tonight because your story will end when your life does!” She turned to the hooded figures and commanded, “Kill them!”

The hooded figures scattered across the room and began firing spells at them from all different directions. Yasmina stood where she was while Aidan, Ardeshir, and Jakan rolled in three different directions. Ardeshir went to the left, Jakan went to the right, and Aidan went behind the battle lines, shuffling to each side giving the three magi a heads up when they were getting blindsided by unexpected attacks. Yasmina found this extremely helpful because dodging multiple hexes was already difficult enough! After a while, she realized that simply avoiding the curses wouldn’t be enough. From the corner of her eye, she saw Ardeshir develop a rhythm of sidestepping a spell and then firing one of his own, so she adopted that tactic as well. She found it effective! She confidently battled on.

When only a few hooded figures were left, Daeva’s two witch assistants flew into the room on broomsticks and not only were they singing their spells loud enough to echo throughout the space, but their colorful magic clouded much of their vision! The three magi found a new rhythm to fight, but it just got harder! Plus, they couldn’t hear Aidan’s warnings unless he was almost next to them. Yasmina could only trust that the others’ survival instincts would keep them alive as they battled on.

Yasmina lost track of time, however, after a while, with the few hooded figures that had survived, she thought by now they should have been defeated, but she kept seeing pop up. She couldn’t understand why at first, and eventually it dawned on her that a second wave of them had arrived! She tried not to let it affect her, but she wondered just how many of them were set to arrive. Her adrenaline sustained her, but she could feel her body get drained of energy, and if she felt that way, the others must feel it too. It felt endless, but she kept reminding herself that her fears were lying to her and she must press on!

Suddenly, the windows burst open with glass flying like raindrops, and half a dozen broomsticks zoomed in! To Yasmina’s relief, it was the rest of Jakan’s thieves! They swarmed in with the same battle cry Jakan made when he confronted Kadera and immediately saw what they needed to do. A couple of them fought Daeva’s aides in the air while the rest of them joined the three magi on the ground. Yasmina’s heart fluttered, and even though she couldn’t see most of them, she had a feeling this would do the trick!

The room slowly began to empty, and Yasmina realized that most of the hooded figures were gone! Daeva’s assistants were still singing their spells and erupting the room in smokey chaos. Yasmina turned her attention to them and tried to find them in the haze. When she did see one or both go by, she shot a spell out at them. Either she kept missing her targets or they had some kind of spell to shield themselves against attacks. She refused to give up though! Once these two were gone, there would be no one left but Daeva. She knew Daeva could probably fight her entire team at once, but with the intense skills they displayed in this foray, she felt more confident than ever that they would achieve victory!

Suddenly, Yasmina thought she heard Aidan calling her name, but with all of the noise happening, she didn’t know for sure. The aides flew by shooting spells at her, and she managed to dodge them and fire back. Aidan’s voice got closer, and this time she clearly heard him shout, “Daeva! She’s right here!” Yasmina’s blood went cold, but she could not look for her because the assistants were now targeting her specifically. She kept fighting them but kept an eye out for any attacks by Daeva. Just as the others came to help her and she was ready to seek out Daeva, all of a sudden, Aidan pounced on her! As she got knocked to the ground, she saw Aidan absorbed a spell!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 16

Dorian looked just as surprised to see the three of them as they were upon his entrance. For a moment, they all seemed to have gotten on the same level, but after that spell, Dorian shook off the sentiments and returned to his usual swagger. “Are you here to kill me?”

“You seem awfully smug for someone who’s outnumbered!” Aidan shrewdly observed.

“You can’t kill me!” Dorian said factually. “What a pity! You came all this way for nothing!”

“We didn’t choose to come here,” Yasmina corrected him, “You brought us here! We weren’t going to waste our time with a puppet- we’re after the puppet-master!”

Dorian seethed, “How dare you! As king, it’s my duty to form partnerships that provide me with the necessary means to secure my power! Only a fool would turn down such an alliance!”

Aidan vehementally differed, “Only a fool would sell his soul to serve his own selfish needs! Uprooting century long alliances and sending your country to the brinks of war, and for what? You won’t have power if there’s no one left in the kingdom! After combat, you won’t have much of a country left to rule!”

“Mortals will die, that’s what they do!” Dorian replied dismissively. “The strong will survive, that’s nature!”

Yasmina pointed out, “You’re mortal! If Daeva is successful and does eradicate the mortals, what use will she have you?”

Dorian didn’t seem worried about this possibility. “We have a deal.”

Ardeshir interjected, “She took your essence, didn’t she?” Yasmina couldn’t tell if the stunned look on Dorian’s face stemmed from the fact a cat had spoken to him or by the substance of what he just brought up. In any case, Dorian didn’t answer, so Ardeshir pressed further, “She put it in an obscure object, didn’t she?”

Dorian truly appeared scared at this point, but before he could recover from this blow, Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir suddenly got enveloped by rope! From inside the bureau, Kadera emerged! “Oh! It is you!” Kadera leered delightfully. “Well, we’ll make this quick then!”

As she raised her wand, Yasmina knew she couldn’t fight back, so her instincts prompted her to keep Kadera talking. “You were wrong about me!”

Those words clearly stung Kadera. She lowered her wand and argued, “My predictions are never wrong! You are a witch and you lived a life of loneliness. I knew you would reject the archetype, so you wouldn’t fit in with mortals or magi. I was right!”

Yasmina shot back, “I rejected the narrative that all witches are evil beings bent on destruction, something you probably created to suppress the the good magi out there who have the potential to challenge you! The truth caught up though, it always does! You think I’m the only one who would rise up against your regime? You may kill me, but there will be others!”

“You are no soothsayer!” Kadera spat.

“No, I’m not,” Yasmina acknowledged. “But a person doesn’t need fortune telling abilities to figure that out! Besides, you’re forgetting something. You made two predictions that turned out to bear some degree of truth, but that day in Neodrach, you made three predictions. The third was that I would try to kill the king. You were wrong about that!”

“You were trying to kill Master Daeva, which is essentially the same thing!” Kadera reasoned.

“But it’s not!” Yasmina emphasized this bottom line. “I had the intention but I never had the chance. You were wrong!”

“Enough!” Kadera snapped. “Nice try, but I’m not going to let you go just to make a prediction right! I should’ve killed you a long time ago! You can die knowing your purpose in life was truly pointless! You lose! Goodbye!”

She raised her wand again, but before she could strike, it suddenly got shot out of her hand! An almost joyful battle cry came from the door, and Jakan burst in! His fellow thieves came from all different directions. Kadera summoned her powers through her fingers and took aim at Jakan, but the thieves shot back at her before she could. Although Kadera was outnumbered seven to one, she could still take them all once. A few got knicks, but none of the thieves were seriously hurt. They did start to grow frustrated at their attempts to harm her getting repeatedly thwarted!

During the foray, one of the thieves untied Aidan, Ardeshir, and Yasmina. Aidan immediately drew his sword and fought off Dorian. Yasmina ran towards Kadera, but she couldnt’ take her eyes off of Aidan and Dorian. She detected something off about Dorian’s fighting skills, but she couldn’t figure out why her instincts had prompted her to think that. He seemed to have a formidable aptitude to do battle, but he didn’t move much. He acted as though he was cornered even though he had plenty of opportunity to move from that spot. His stance suggested he was guarding something, but the only thing that stood behind him was the painting…

Suddenly, it clicked for her, and she knew what she had to do! She had never done magic this advance, but every fiber of her being told her that she could do it. She concentrated each cell of her body on exactly what she wanted to happen, and she felt her magic build more and more. When she felt it mount to a peak, she knew it reached the time to release. Without thinking about it, she shouted, “Switch!”

The whole room stopped as everyone watched her powerful spell shoot out in three different directions. First, it went to the painting, next to Ardeshir, and finally to Dorian. With a final blast of light, the hex had finished by blasting a hole in Dorian’s painting! They heard Dorian’s voice cry out, “No!” It didn’t come from Dorian’s body, it came from the cat!

Dorian’s body voiced Ardeshir’s words, “No way!”

With Kadera fully distracted, Jakan aimed his wand and quickly shot a spell her way! She fell to the floor, barely able to move or breathe! Yasmina strutted over to her and gloated, “Dorian’s essence lived in the painting. That’s how Daeva controlled him! She won’t be able to do that anymore! And I highly doubt that Caragsona will willingly let themselves get ruled by a cat! Dorian will have to find a new puppet! And by the way, I still haven’t tried to kill the king! You lose! Goodbye!”

“You bested me, but you’ll never win against Daeva!” With that last thought, Kadera took one last breath and moved no more!

Yasmina and the others celebrated, but Dorian interrupted them, “You fools! I’m still king! This is still my kingdom and you’re all still criminals!”

“That’s exactly why we came!” Jakan told him. “You sentenced us to death, so we figured if we’re doomed anyways, we might as well go out with a bang! That way we’d at least die as heroes! Turns out we don’t have to! Good luck trying to rule the kingdom as a cat!”

Dorian growled, “Cat or not, I am king!” He went into the hall and found some nearby chamber maids. “I hereby order you to-!” The chamber maids screamed, grabbed broom from their carts, and chased after him.

Everyone in Dorian’s chamber had a hearty laugh at this, but that instance gave them an idea. They saw two broomsticks left, and Jakan remarked, “That’s okay. We can pair up, and the rest of you can find more and join us.”

“Who am I riding with?” Yasmina inquired.

Jakan replied, “You and I will have to be the head riders.” Yasmina began to object, but Jakan over-ruled her, “Aidan needs to come, and your friend here…”

“This is amazing!” Ardeshir raved as he examined his hand clutching a broomstick. “I haven’t been able to hold anything in a hundred years! Remarkable!”

“…he probably shouldn’t be left alone,” Jakan finished. “Plus, people may assume he’s the improper king and…well, he’s safer leaving the castle immediately!” Yasmina still seemed worried, so Jakan went on, “If we go by foot, we won’t get there for a couple of days. Do you want my crew to get to the battle before you?” Yasmina hadn’t thought of that, and this notion was totally unacceptable to her! Jakan continued, “That’s what I thought! Look, if you can do an essence-switching spell, you definitely have the power to fly a broomstick!”

Yasmina knew he was completely right, and she felt heartened by his encouragement. “Okay, I’m ready!”

“I’m not!” Ardeshir ran over to Kadera and stole her wand. “Okay, let’s go!”

“We can take off from the balcony,” Aidan suggested.

Jakan agreed, “Let’s go!”

They ran towards the front of the castle, but before they could get to the balcony, they were greeted by some knights. “Sire, what are you doing?”

In his most regal voice possible, Ardeshir commanded, “Stand aside!”

The knights were clearly puzzled by his voice, but they did as they were told. Ardeshir, Jakan, Aidan, and Yasmina ran to a large, stone balcony that overlooked the entire kingdom. The view was breathtaking, and for a moment, Yasmina forgot about where she was and why. “Wow!”

“This is where my parents addressed the kingdom,” Aidan said wistfully. “Although, as a kid, I had more fun watching the townspeople enter over the drawbridge!”

Yasmina peeked over the edge to see the drawbridge and nearly had a heart attack! She saw King Kahlil standing before the castle with an army of his knights behind him! Ardeshir also peeked over, and Kahlil addressed him, “King Dorian, for the horrendous crimes you’ve committed against your own-!”

“Woah, woah, woah!” Ardeshir responded. “I’m not Dorian!”

Aidan ran to the edge and desperately shouted, “Please don’t wage war on my kingdom!”

Kahlil’ jaw dropped. “Prince Aidan? I thought you were dead!”

“I’ve been alive this whole time!” Aidan informed him. “But I don’t have time to explain. I have to go to battle to save the soul of my kingdom, but if I don’t come back, watch over Caragsona for me, okay?”

Kahlil looked utterly confused, but he agreed, “Upon my honor!”

Jakan had already mounted his broomstick, and Ardeshir fell in place behind him. Aidan got onto the back of her broom and encouraged her, “You can do this!”

Yasmina mounted the broom and reminded herself, “You have to believe you can do this!” She concentrated hard just as she did with the essence-switching spell, and soon she felt the magic leave her fingertips and enter the broom. Before she knew it, they were up in the air and zooming towards Duanolc!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 15

Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir dashed out the door before the knights changed their minds. As they ran down the hallway and headed up the stone staircase, they heard Sarid shout, “Hey!” Yasmina’s heart beat wildly. She wondered if they actually had changed their minds as she feared or worse, they set them up for a trap. She turned around expecting the worst, but instead, Sarid tossed her wand to her! Eamon stared incredulously, so Sarid justified himself, “She overpowered me and took it!”

“Thanks guys!” Yasmina regarded them as they ran up the stairs.

They cautiously exited the dungeon and looked to see if the coast was clear. At first, it seemed as though they were safe, however, as soon as they tried to head back to the Shadow Path, they heard knights coming. They weren’t going to assume that these knights were as generous as Sarid and Eamon, so they ran in the other direction. The three of them ran behind the castle with the intention of going the long way back to the woods that they came from, but Yasmina heard a voice in the distance that sent chills down her spine say, “Where are they?”

“It’s Kadera! Hide!” Yasmina whispered.

The three of them dove into the shrubbery next to the castle and waited with bated breaths. Yasmina had her wand ready just in case, but inwardly she hoped that she wouldnt’ have to use it. The sooner they got away from Rogamaith, the sooner they could get to Daeva. She didn’t want to delay this any longer than she had to, so she inwardly prayed that Kadera would give up and fly back to Duanolc. They watched her slowly fly pass by, astutely scanning for any sign of them. Thankfully, she rounded the corner towards the dungeon area, but they weren’t out of danger yet. They heard her tell the knights, “She’s here, I can feel it!”

Dread filled Yasmina’s body. She sincerely didn’t want to face Kadera, but she didn’t see any way out of it. Just as she began to mentally prepare herself to fight, Aidan quietly told them, “This way!” They quickly darted out of the bush and followed him to a small corner between the castle and another tower. He pushed a certain stone, and a secret door opened up! They swiftly went into this entrance, and Aidan immediately shut the stone door. They couldn’t hear Kadera or the knights, so it appeared that they had narrowly avoided peril!

Or had they? The three of them realized they faced a new problem. Ardeshir softly asked, “How do we get out of here?”

“Follow me!” Aidan instructed. As they walked up this staircase, Aidan explained, “Rogamaith has many exits. The public enters through the drawbridge in the front, but the servants have entrances all over the castle. And there’s secret entrances like this one for the royals to escape in case of an emergency. I think those are probably our best bet. The next closest one is by my old chambers.”

“That’s the one you…that day…!” Yasmina remarked.

“Yes,” Aidan confirmed somewhat gruffly. Yasmina could see the haunted look on his face from reliving that horrifying day, but he quickly refocused his attention to their escape. At the top of the staircase, Aidan cracked open another secret door, and the three of them peeked into the castle hallway. Yasmina saw that they appeared to be in the corner between two hallways. The floor was lined with red carpet, and the walls had a wooden door that was presently closed. This part of Rogamaith seemed to be empty, no noise came from the rooms and no one roamed the halls. Before they entered, Aidan explained, “The hall lining the back wall leads towards the king and queen’s chambers, so we don’t want to go down there. Dorian most likely claimed the space.” Yasmina and Ardeshir nodded in understanding, and they tiptoed out of the secret entrance, heading towards the other hallway.

They slowly crept and kept a vigilant eye out for any sign of movement since any person in castle could purposefully or accidentally alert Dorian or Kadera to their location. They didn’t move far, but it felt longer than the Shadow Path at that moment! Yasmina kept expecting something to jump out at them from every corner, and she wished that the escape door were closer! All of a sudden, they heard a noise ahead of them, and the three of them hid behind a suit of armor. They expected an adversary, but they soon discovered that it was a few chamber maids gossiping about all of the excitement happening right then. It didn’t seem like the chamber maids were going to leave that general area, so they reluctantly followed Aidan down the other hallway.

Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir heard more noise coming from the floor below, so they moved more quickly. They managed to reach another corner, but just when they were heading down another hall, they heard more noise from ahead of them. They hid behind a large vase as the cacophony grew closer, and as it approached, they could hear a number of servants searching for them. To add to their distress, they heard the chamber maids’ voices growing louder, which could only mean that they were heading in their direction. Seeing no other way out, the three of them dashed into the room closest to them.

After they quietly shut the door behind them, they immediately turned around to scope out the room behind them. To their relief, the room appeared empty. Yasmina kept a weary eye on the door in case the servants came in, but she couldn’t help but study the place they had just sheltered themselves in. A four poster bed stood diagonally from where they were stationed, and while it seemed very comfortable, it didn’t look like it had been rested in for quite a while. Two purple gossamer curtains were shut on the other side of the room, making the room very dark despite the sunlight outside. They were close to a very large, wooden bureau, suggesting the owner of the space had an expansive wardrobe. She grew curious about whose chamber this was, but she didn’t think it was prudent to ask while they were hiding. She hoped its owner wouldn’t return while they were there!

The clamor softened, but they could still here people in the hall. Ardeshir whispered, “We can’t stay here!”

“I know!” Aidan said quietly. “The secret door is really close to here, but if we open the door, we will probably give away our position. We’ll be okay for a little while. They didn’t put any escape doors in anyone’s chambers in case an enemy caught wind of it and decided to go after someone in their sleep. So, if someone enters this room, we’ll know. Be ready to fight off whoever does come in. I know we don’t want to hurt an innocent servant, but we may not have a choice…”

Yasmina stared at the bed and suddenly got struck with an idea. “What if we used the sheets to make a rope and we went out the window?”

Aidan contemplated this notion. “Hmm…I don’t hear anyone outside right now. They must be searching the nearby woods as well as the inside of Rogamaith to figure out where we went, so that area could be clear by now. Okay, Ardeshir, keep listening at the door incase someone comes in or if the hall is clear. Yasmina, you watch the window to make sure it stays clear as I make the rope.”

Ardeshir and Yasmina agreed to his idea. While Ardeshir fiercely listened at the door and Aidan began to roll up the sheets, Yasmina silently debated between the two sets of curtains and arbitrarily decided to pick the one on the left. She had assumed that the drapes had covered a window, but when she peeked behind it, she saw a painting. Puzzled, she opened it further and gasped. Ardeshir and Aidan turned to see a giant portrait of Dorian as king! Other than its large size, the style was realistic, and although they couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason, something about it gave a creepy aura. The three of them shook off this feeling and continued on their tasks.

As Yasmina lifted up the curtains to the actual window, she noted, “We’re in Dorian’s chamber! This seems dangerously reckless!”

“Dorian is a tyrant and a puppet of Daeva, but he isn’t superhuman,” Aidan assured her as he quickly worked. “If he tries to come in the room, he’ll use the door . We’ll hear him coming and have the upper hand so we can ambush him.”

Yasmina gingerly asked, “Is this…was this your parents’ chamber room?”

“No,” Aidan answered, “I guess he didn’t have the guts to take over their chambers after all! Deep down, I think he knows that he isn’t the proper king! This was always his chamber, but I believe that painting is new. It must have taken a while to finish, so maybe he always had ambitions to rise to royalty. But if it were old, I couldn’t see his wife approving of artwork without her in it. She died that day too. I guess he loved power more than her!”

Suddenly, Ardeshir interjected, “I hear something!”

Yasmina and Aidan fell silent as they listened. They heard footsteps in the distance, and for a moment, the three of them were ready to go out the window to get away. As it grew closer, it almost seemed as though the sound was coming from in the walls. They stood in confusion as the noise stopped. Their hearts nearly jumped out of their chests as the bureau drawer opened and a foot stuck out. To their horror, the person entering the room was Dorian!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 13

Looming over them, a creature with the head of a wildcat, the torso of a deer, the claws of an eagle, and a tail like a lion snarled with its horns gleaming and ready to strike! For a moment, the three of them felt startled, but before the monster could do anything, Aidan pulled out his sword and, in one swift movement, chopped off its head! They looked around and when they didn’t see any other beasts around, they breathed a sigh of relief. They did notice that they had blood spatter on them though! Yasmina and Aidan seemed grossed out, but Ardeshir instinctively began grooming himself. Yasmina lamented, “I wish I could take a bath at a moment’s notice like that!”

Ardeshir momentarily stopped to correct her, “It’s more like scrubbing. I haven’t taken a bath since I was human!”

Aidan joked, “Too bad it stopped raining!”

“We don’t really have time to wash anything,” Yasmina noted, “so we should probably just move on…unless there are creatures attracted to blood…”

“Unfortunately, there is!” Aidan sighed. “Wait! Maybe you can use your magic to get it off!”

Yasmina hesitated. “I don’t know…If something goes wrong, I could never forgive myself!”

“Nothing is going to go wrong!” Aidan said firmly. “If you can send a Comeheistear into a warlock’s throat, then you can cast blood off of our clothes!”

“Yes, but…” Yasmina became very nervous at the thought of possibly hurting either of them and ruining this whole quest in an attempt to do a simple spell.

“No!” Aidan coached her, “If you want to defeat Daeva, you can’t keep focusing on what could go wrong because then it will! You have to tell yourself that you can do it!”

“Okay, okay! I’ll try!”

“No! Say I got this!”

“I…got…this…”

“Say it like you mean it!”

“I got this!” Yasmina shouted as the message finally sunk in. Aidan stood ready to receive her spell-work, and she got rid of any doubt about her abilities, concentrating hard on the blood coming off of his clothing. She felt the magic leave her fingertips and pointed her wand at him. To her delight, she saw the blood fall off of his clothing! Smiling broadly, she scoured his clothes off and then her own. When she finished, she felt proud, and yet she had just as much doubt as her mind wanted to deny what just happened. “Wow!”

“You’re more powerful than you realize!” Aidan grinned. Yasmina knew he was right, and it felt like a strange truth to accept. After feeling so limited in her little cottage all these years, she had no idea what her being a witch made her capable of!

At the castle Rogamaith, a servant burst into the king’s quarters. He saw that Dorian had finished closing a curtain on the wall, and he bellowed, “I told you to never enter this room!”

“I’m so sorry, Sire!” the servant apologized. “I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t an emergency. It’s just that, well, I saw a witch flying by the castle!”

“And?” Dorian responded coldly.

“What do you mean, ‘and?’ Witches killed the royal family!” The servant stared at him incredulously.

Dorian reasoned, “Witches exist in this kingdom. They fly on brooms sometimes. I can’t stop them from living their lives!”

The servant clarified, “Yes, I realize that, but they were banned from the grounds after the massacre. This witch could be connected with the murders! Shouldn’t we summon her for questioning?” Before Dorian could answer, the servant found a piece of bristle from a broomstick on the floor. “She was here? Sir, why would she come…?” The truth dawned on him, and he went pale. “You…you were part of…what? Why?”

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t seen that! Good servants are so hard to find!” Dorian picked up a dagger from his bureau drawer and flashed it menacingly!

As Yasmina, Aidan, and Ardeshir walked along the Shadow Path, Yasmina noted, “It’s kind of strange that we just watched a creature die and are unfazed by it! This is a weird place, so odd occurrences have become normal! Have we gone crazy like everyone said we would for setting foot on this land?”

“Maybe, but does that change anything for you?” Aidan half joked.

Yasmina chuckled, “I guess not!”

Ardeshir put in, “And I’d like point out that I believe I was crazy before I turned into a cat and came to live here!” They all laughed.

“We’re almost to Bothar Ri!” Aidan rejoiced. “It will be nice to bask in the ambiance of Rogamaith! A villainous king may reside there now, but its history and all it stands for is far more powerful than anything Dorian brings there! Sorry for babbling! It’s just that it’s my home, you know what I mean?”

“No,” Yasmina and Ardeshir said in unison.

Ardeshir expanded on that, “I’ve lived in these woods for a century, but this place has never been my home, just where I lived.”

“I felt the same way about Neodrach,” Yasmina concurred. “I never felt like I belonged there.”

Aidan suggested, “When we get to Bothar Ri, see if it feels like home. If so, I can make it happen!”

“You want us to live with you?” Yasmina inquired.

“Of course!” Aidan replied. “After all we’ve been through, do you really think I’d let you live somewhere where you feel miserable? You’ll feel like you belong at Rogamaith, you’ll see when we get to Bothar Ri!”

Ardeshir kidded, “What if we feel like we belong because of the aura from Duanolc? They’re about the same distance away!”

As Aidan went on about how that would never happen, Yasmina froze from a numbing dread. When Aidan and Ardeshir realized she had fallen out of their footsteps, they circled back to get her. Aidan asked, “What’s wrong?”

Her mouth didn’t want to move, so she had to force herself to answer him, “We’re going to be at Duanolc tomorrow!”

Aidan hadn’t thought of it like that, but he realized the magnitude of the moment as he nodded. “Yeah!”

“I’m not ready!” Yasmina spit out unexpectedly. “It’s too soon! I need more time! I can’t…!”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Aidan put his hands on her shoulders to gain her focus. “I know it’s scary! I’m nervous too! It’s a huge thing we’re about to go through, and a lot of responsibility lays on our shoulders. But we’ve come too far to quit now! Think about what will happen if we don’t take a stand! When it comes to the really important things in life, are we ever really ready? The time has come, we’re called to action now, and all we can do is try our best and deal with whatever consequences resulting from our efforts! What do I keep telling you?”

“You have to believe you can do this to get through it,” Yasmina recited.

“Exactly!” Aidan exclaimed. “I believe you can do this! But if you’re still too scared to move, just remember you can rely on me for support!” He held out his arm in a way that invited her to link with him, which she did, and he escorted her down the path.

A little while later, the dirt on the road changed into a softer mud. Ardeshir queried, “You feel this loose dirt?” Yasmina and Aidan indicated that they did. “You know what that means right?” They didn’t seem sure, so Aidan told them, “It’s been traveled on a lot!”

“If a lot of people have traveled here, that must mean we’re close to…” Aidan didn’t finish his sentence as his face lit up. He began to run, and since her arm was still linked with Yasmina, she ran alongside him. All Yasmina could see was trees and a pathway that got wider and wider, but Aidan’s excitement had an infectious quality to it that made her smile. Soon, the crossroads came into view, and they practically skipped there at this point. At first, the fork at the road only revealed a dark wood just ahead, but when she looked to a path on the right, she saw a light-stoned tower in the distance and understood why Aidan had gotten so impassioned to come to this point! Aidan fell to his knees and shed a tear as he stared at its majesty. “I’m home!”

Yasmina and Ardeshir smirked at each other in a way that conveyed how happy they were for Aidan. They were also both very aware of Aidan’s invitation to them after this quest had finished. Yasmina liked the idea of living in the royal castle instead of her small, isolated cottage, but she felt a little sad to get put on the same level as a cat. She knew Ardeshir was more of a friend than anything, but she realized that a part of her still hoped that Aidan thought of her as more than just a friend. At this point, she knew that she could never totally get rid of her romantic feelings towards him. She reminded herself that someday Aidan would get married and it would probably really hurt her, but until that happened, she feared this would continue to pop up. She valued his friendship, and so she shook this notion and made a point to herself to focus on the mission they were on. After they had given him a moment, she addressed him, “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah.” Aidan stood up and added, “We’ll be back soon!” Borrowing his optimism, they willfully headed towards the dark woods. Without warning, everything suddenly went black!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fair enough,” Ardeshir agreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you want?” Daeva grumped.

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

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

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

“So!” Daeva replied coldly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Earlier this evening,” Dorian told him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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