Dreams in Makawee, Chapter 1

A toast! As of today, April twenty-first, nineteen eighty four, Bancroft Marketing Consultants is officially ten years old!” Hadeon raised his martini glass above his head as he spoke to an exceptionally upscale office full of people in fine suits and gorgeous cocktail dresses. Hadeon certainly seemed to relish the looks of admiration as they watched him on stage, and he flashed them all a wry smile that lit up his already striking features. He feigned a sense of humility by running his smooth, creamy fingers through his slicked back, jet black hair as he told the crowd, “It seems like just yesterday we were just a small business cramped inside of my uncle’s garage…” He paused and saw that the projector screen behind him remained empty. “Sorry folks, there was supposed to be slides to go along with this speech…Stacy!”

Stacy snapped to attention from the back of the room, and she felt her pale cheeks flush. She readjusted the black bow in her dirty blonde, feathered hair as a she rushed towards the front of the stage where Hadeon stood. He stayed smiling, but she could tell by the look in his cold, brown eyes that her blunder angered him. “Sorry!” she apologized as she rushed to get the slides up and running.

Hadeon didn’t address her but instead talked to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, you all recognize my wife and your secretary? Probably not since she doesn’t have food in her hand!” Everyone but Stacy chuckled. She pretended to smile it off, but inwardly, she cringed. She was by no means thin, but she hadn’t considered herself overweight either. This didn’t stop the jokes though, a recurring issue that she ignored at the moment as she attempted to get his slides going. Hadeon asked her, “Why aren’t you wearing lipstick?”

She awkwardly answered, “I did. It must have come off on my drink.”

Stacy saw a flash of anger flicker on his face, but his consciousness of his audience caused him to grin and joke, “Save some for the rest of us, Honey!” He got more laughs, but Stacy didn’t respond. Luckily for her, he didn’t expect one since she got the slides going. A picture of Hadeon and a couple of other guys in office casual wear working at a small desk in a crowded garage displayed, which delighted Hadeon. “Ah, there we are! My company started as a simple door-to-door operation, but even back then I knew one day it would grow into Nashville’s number one marketing firm!” Stacy tried hard to convey interest as he continued his speech, but she mostly listened hard for her next cue for the projector.

Later, with newly applied lipstick, Stacy sipped a drink with a straw as she weaved her way through the room. Unexpectedly, a woman from a very posh circle stopped her, “Oh, hello Missus Bancroft!”

“Oh, hello!” she responded politely.

A man from the group remarked, “Congratulations on your company’s anniversary!”

She replied, “Oh, it’s my husband’s company. I just tag along for the ride!”

“Sounds fabulous!” another woman commented. “You are so lucky! I can only imagine the opulent lifestyle you must lead!”

“No need to imagine! We spend so much time here, you can pretty much see our whole life’s story at the office!” Stacy spoke truthfully, but they laughed as if she had said it in jest.

Hadeon strolled up to them, and the first woman complimented, “Oh, hello Mister Bancroft! Lovely speech you gave!”

“Thank you!” Hadeon flashed her a smile before he very measuredly requested, “Will you all excuse me? I would like to have a word with my wife.”

Stacy tried to act casually, but she knew he wanted to lecture her, so she begrudgingly followed him. He led her to an empty office, and she hung her head as he softly shut the door. He turned around and gave her a look of utter malice, and then he very coldly asked her, “What was that?”

“I’m sorry!” she shamefully apologized.

“We planned this!” Hadeon scolded. “You know what you were supposed to do and when, and yet you left me on that stage all alone! How do you think that made me look?”

“I think it turned out fine,” Stacy expressed with the hopes he would realize she had a point and they would skip the argument.

Hadeon’s mood only darkened. “Image is everything! One of the number principles of my business is always be prepared! I teach it to everyone who works for me, and yet my wife slash secretary didn’t prepare for one of the most important events of the year! This could have costed me a client!”

“I already said I was sorry! What else do you want me to say?” Stacy knew she shouldn’t have snapped like that, but she couldn’t help herself.

“You could act more sorry!” Hadeon growled. “You don’t seem to even care about what you did! No explanations either!”

“I don’t have an explanation!” Stacy scoffed. “I got distracted by a good conversation. I should have paid more attention, but it was nice to have a little bit of fun for once!”

“For once?” Hadeon seethed. “You don’t have fun?I give you everything! A job, a nice house, designer clothes… How could you be so ungrateful?”

“I am grateful!” Stacy shouted vehemently. “You take good care of me, but sometimes I wanna take care of myself! I’ve spent the last five years devoting my whole life to helping you and your business, and sometimes I just need a little break to focus on me! It was just nice to have people care about my opinion! I felt like I could be myself for a little while! Look, I really am sorry that I was late for something important to you, but it would be nice if you recognized what’s important to me sometimes!”

Hadeon roared, “Fine, but now isn’t the time!”

“When is the time?” Stacy retorted. “Tonight is about you, and tomorrow is the Easter picnic, and then we’re back to the office for the next six days! I’m not asking for constant attention, but it would be nice to feel important sometimes! At the very least, if I make a mistake, I don’t wanna get punished like I’m a little kid!”

“I treat you like a little kid ’cause you act like a selfish brat!” Hadeon yelled. “Ugh! Look, I don’t have time for this! We’re going to go back out there and I want you to tell everyone how happy you are with this company to make up for what you did earlier! Got it?” Stacy wiped away a tear of frustration, which just seemed to incense him. “You’re going to cry? Great, you’re gonna smear your mascara! Just tell people you have allergies, which make your eyes-!”

“I’m crying, and all you care about is how it makes you look?” Stacy cried out.

“Don’t interrupt me!” Hadeon’s temper boiled over, causing him to slap her across the face! Stacy stared at him in shock, and even Hadeon appeared surprised by his own action. “I’m so sorry!”

“You hit me!” Stacy rubbed her cheek, which felt sore. Her hands started shaking from the sheer adrenaline of the moment. For a moment, she didn’t know what to do. He tried to caress her face, but she dodged his touch. Suddenly, the truth dawned on her, and she knew exactly what to do. “No! I’m done! I’m leaving!”

“Okay,” Hadeon relented. “I’ll tell everyone you went home sick and-.”

“No,” Stacy corrected him, “I’m done with you! This marriage is over!”

Hadeon laughed derisively at her. “You’re too emotional right now. We’ll talk this over after the party.”

“I’m done talking!” Stacy stated firmly. “I’m not staying in an abusive relationship!”

“It was an accident!” Hadeon rolled his eyes. “Quit being so dramatic! It won’t happen again!”

“My father is a police officer!” Stacy reminded him. “I’ve seen what happens when women stay in abusive relationships. I knew you had become neglectful, but I didn’t know things were this bad! I don’t deserve this! I’m packing my things and leaving!”

Hadeon sneered, “Everything in this house was paid for by me! You’ll leave with nothing!”

“Just my dignity!” Stacy countered him. “That’s all I need! I don’t want anything that reminds me of you anyway! I’ll start over with my own stuff and get a fresh start! Good bye, Hadeon!”

As she started to walk out, Hadeon stopped her by saying, “If you walk out that door, you’re fired! You won’t be able to afford anything on your own! You’ll have no choice but to crawl back to me!”

“I’ll make it on my own!I’m never coming back! Never!” She stormed out, and as she marched towards the exit, she passed by the group she had talked to earlier. One of the women asked, “Are you okay, Missus Bancroft?”

“My name is Stacy!” she exclaimed, and then she walked straight out of there without looking back!

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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

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 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 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!