The Emerald Angel of Vegoz, Chapter 7

“How do we get inside?” Daphne asked the other three as they stared at the front entrance to the jade fence that surrounded the lofty, juniper building.

“By waiting outside,” Nick answered. “The Emerald Angel doesn’t allow just anyone onto his property- if he made it available to the public, then everyone would want to see him! There’d be a line going around the block ten times over! He only lets certain people in, and that’s only after his team thoroughly vets them first! We can’t simply walk in, but we can stand by until one of his approved guests appears at the gate! If we explain our situation to them, they’re bound to-.”

Heathrow pointed to a small button on the wall and queried, “Couldn’t we ring the doorbell instead?”

Nick seemed flustered by the detail he overlooked, and he clumsily strove to cover it up, “Possibly! But it… he… Well, we can consider that, I suppose…”

As Heathrow reached for the button, Lionel’s eyes grew wide. Prior to Heathrow completing his task, Lionel cried, “Hold on! Let’s turn back!”

“What? After all of the trouble we went through to get here, why would we give up now?” Daphne challenged Lionel.

“Why? Why? You wanna know why?” Lionel shakily responded.

Daphne retorted, “Um, yeah! That’s why I said it!”

Lionel spouted, “Well, there’s something almost scarier than Whitney- rejection! Oh, we’ve set ourselves up for an enormous failure!” He let out a whimper and then threw himself into the nearby hedges.

“If we don’t even make an attempt, then for sure we’ll fail!” Heathrow differed with Lionel. “At least if we give it a try, we’ll have a small shot of success!”

“That’s true…” Lionel acknowledged from the bushes.

Nick reached into the thicket and pulled Lionel up by his shirt. “Get out of there! We didn’t come this far to only come this far!”

Daphne directed Heathrow, “Go ahead and ring the bell.”

Heathrow pushed the button, and a loud chime echoed throughout the interior. Everyone’s heart beat wildly as they anticipated the door opening up for them! Daphne initially assumed that the Emerald Angel himself would greet them, but since Nick mentioned that he had employees at the helm, she contemplated who would actually come down to receive them. Based on the descriptions of all the wonderful things that the Emerald Angel did, she conjectured that his staff would act warmly and welcome them with open arms. She stood up straight and planted a friendly smile on her face to ensure that their graciousness was reciprocated, but then…

“Who rang the doorbell?” an irritated male’s voice growled. The five travelers emitted a startled reaction, but before they could verbalize anything, a small square above the button became ajar. A man with thick, red hair, bushy sideburns, and a grand mustache poked his head out, and he crassly spoke to them, “Can’t any of you read?”

“What are we supposed to be reading?” Heathrow inquired. He glanced around and came up blank. “Can you help me out, fella?”

The man released a noise of annoyance. “Ah, we’ve got a wise guy here, huh?”

Heathrow disagreed, “Me? Not at all! I’m totally brainless, which is why we-.”

“Ugh! I’m talking about the sign right there! It’s as plain as the nose on my face!” He gazed down, and when he saw that nothing was there, he changed his tone, “Oh, shoot! I forgot to put it up! I better do that! And get my nose checked probably!” He ducked down and returned shortly with a notice.

“Doorbell broken! Please knock!” Heathrow, Lionel, Nick, and Daphne all read aloud after he placed the placard on a nail below the window he occupied. The man shut his opening, so Heathrow rapped the entryways…

The man popped back up, and he more pleasantly regarded them, “Well, that’s more like it!”

Nick somewhat perplexedly stated, “The doorbell sounds fine to me…”

“I don’t know you well enough to get into the details of that! How can I help you?” the man canvassed them.

“We’re here to see the Emerald Angel,” Daphne informed him.

The man seemed confused by her assertion. “You are? I don’t recall seeing any of you on the schedule…” He retrieved a clipboard and scanned through the agenda. “You wouldn’t happen to be the Hickory family, would you? You’re three hours early, you know…”

Heathrow let him know, “We’re not the Hickory’s! My name’s Heathrow, and this here is Lionel, Tater, and Daphne. We traveled a long distance to see if the Emerald Angel would help us.”

“Yeah, you and everyone else! Listen, there’s a reason the Emerald Angel is so exclusive. His powers are extraordinary, and he can solve anyone’s biggest dilemmas, but he can’t solve everybody’s dilemmas! The whole world would use his services if they could, but that’s simply not possible for him, so he only reserves his abilities for those in the greatest need of a boost,” the man spelled out for them. “For example, the Hickory family want to restore their farm so they can feed needy individuals in war-torn countries.”

“So, you’re not gonna let us in?” Lionel questioned.

The man shook his head, so Nick joked, “Well, in that case, we’re the Hickory family after all!” The man stared at him without an ounce of amusement so Nick tried another tactic, “Actually, we’re already aware of how restrictive the Emerald Angel is about visitors. We came here ‘cause of our mission to benefit humanity…” The man appeared skeptical, but he listened with intrigue. “We’re gonna prove that the Ochre Angel is guilty of heinous crimes and put a stop to her mayhem for good!”

With a heavy sigh, the man relayed to him, “Go onto his website and fill out the proper paperwork. Our personnel will review it, and if we’ve found that your cause meets our strict criteria, we’ll contact you to set up an appointment within six to ten weeks.”

“Six to ten weeks?” Daphne uttered in appall. “Oh, no! We can’t wait that long!”

“I’m sorry,” the man articulated in a manner that implied he didn’t sincerely possess any remorse over this, “but those are the rules!”

Nick probed, “What are the exceptions to the rules?”

The man folded his arms contemptuously. “What makes you believe you’re special enough to deserve an exception?”

“Sapphire, the Blue Angel of Boulder Expressway, sent us here,” Lionel reported.

“Prove it,” the man spat.

Heathrow gestured towards Daphne’s feet. “She’s got the Carmine Clogs!”

The man looked unimpressed by this revelation. “Uh-huh. Every shoe store in Vegoz has replicas of those!”

“These are real! I can’t get them off! See!” Daphne lunged towards her footwear, but she got shocked by a jolt of red electricity. “Ow!”

“Well, bust my buttons!” the man gasped. “I’ve never seen any replicas do that!”

Lionel beseeched him, “Please, let us in! Whitney wants to kill us over these things! I don’t wanna get murdered like that!”

The man glimpsed at them with a softer visage. “Wow! You guys really are in fear for your lives, aren’t you?” Daphne, Nick, Lionel, and Heathrow all vigorously affirmed this, so the man mulled it over for a moment. He then reluctantly agreed, “Alright, alright! You can come in!”

Daphne and the others lit up in delight of this development. They could hardly accept it as reality until the man opened the entryway. Their jaws dropped as they soaked in a large and lush courtyard filled with leafy plants and blossoming fauna, and a fountain in the center gently circulated mossy water! Dozens of genial folks in various shades of green business wear strolled by with authentic grins, and the gorgeous, minty architecture above them glistened without a hint of dust or dirt! The quartet was in awe of this spectacle, but their admiration got interrupted as the man grouchily barked, “Will you hurry and get in here before that awful woman shows up?”

They all rushed in, and the man swiftly shut the door behind them. He then stood before his guests and formally introduced himself, “Welcome to the Emerald’s City Center! I’m Charley Toto, Guest Relations Director. I’m going to contact Henry Grapewin, the Emerald Angel’s personal assistant, to fill him in on the situation…” He took a gander at their disheveled appearances, and he added, “… after you four get a makeover!” Tater glared at him, and he addressed him, “What? You want a bath?” Tater started licking his face and ignored Charley.

“A makeover is a lovely idea, but we don’t have any money for that,” Daphne sheepishly conveyed to him.

“Yeah! I don’t even have a wallet!” Heathrow rummaged through his back pocket, and it surprised him to discover something there. “Oh, wow! I do have a wallet! And there’s something in it! Ah, it’s a coupon for apples. Do you take these as payment?”

Charley explained, “Sir, we’re a nonprofit agency, so we don’t charge a fee for our services. We do accept donations if our clientele have them, but please, keep your coupon! We’ll get you another later that isn’t expired. Follow me!”

While Charley led them through a hallway, various passersby merrily bade them hello, which prompted Lionel to opine, “Dudde! This place is great!”

“It really is! I keep wondering what the catch is!” Daphne eyeballed Charley, but he gave no indication of any stipulations to their stay.

“Hey, everyone! We have four!” Charley alerted the bored attendants of a rather ritzy salon. They snapped to attention, and Charley regarded the four patrons, “Enjoy your spa treatments! We’ll fetch you when the Emerald Angel is ready for you.”

Nick catechized, “What are the odds of him never being ready for us?”

Heathrow quarreled, “Oh, come on! Do you really expect they’d hand out beauty transformations just to avoid speaking to us?” Daphne and Nick exchanged distrustful glances with each other, but Lionel and Heathrow were sold on the concept. Neither Nick nor Daphne could discern any contrary evidence to the other two’s opinion, so they shrugged and agreed to participate. 

“First, we’ll clean your clothes!” one of the attendants told them.

“Alright, where do we change?” Lionel wanted to know.

The attendant responded, “You won’t need any privacy for this!” Daphne and the other three nearly fainted at that notion, and the attendant elaborated, “We have state of the art technology that makes wardrobe removal unnecessary.”

With a trio of attendants tending to each individual, they were scanned by electronic wands that simultaneously sprayed out soapy water and sucked in moisture. It was hard to not get impressed by these devices, but Nick cynically remarked, “They got these from mere donations?” 

“We certainly did! The Emerald Angel gets several large donors to participate in his various projects. And these machines were manufactured by a small business that he funded,” another one of the attendants illuminated him.

“Oh, don’t touch my shoes!” Daphne warned them. An attendant got zapped, and Daphne apologized, “Sorry! I didn’t choose the Carmine Clogs, but I’m stuck with them!”

That particular attendant focused on another area, and she commented, “Gee, the Carmine Clogs! It’s amazing you need the Emerald Angel’s assistance at all! You’d think you could magick the solution to your issue yourself!”

Daphne eagerly quizzed her, “Can they do that?”

“No clue! Okay, you look sharp now! Please sit in that chair over there,” that attendant instructed her.

“Same with you,” an attendant of Nick echoed.

A person working on Lionel decreed, “Same with you too!”

One of Heathrow’s attendants esteemed, “This’ll take a while!”

Daphne got her hair washed, Nick got his nails cleaned, and Lionel got a facial shave. Daphne unwillingly admitted, “This is really relaxing!”

“How do I apply to this joint?” Lionel pondered.

“It’d be volunteer work,” Nick advised him.

Lionel notified him, “I meant to live here!” They all laughed, and Lionel blissfully articulated, “Luxurious detoxing and no fallen angels… Seriously, I could get used to this!” Heathrow, Daphne, and Nick concurred, and then a dark shadow shrouded the premises… 

Crimes of the Fay, Chapter 17

I don’t know what I expected to happen. I guess since I had such a profound new perspective enhancing my case that I’d get significant communication that confirmed my theory about the killer’s anti-human mindset. To discover something so deep and meaningful only to have it followed by a trivial matter seemed unimaginable unimaginable until I saw the caller ID. Logically, I should have known it was just Ben returning my call, but it still disappointed me to lose that momentum that I had just built up! I begrudgingly answered the phone, “Hello, asshole! Taking a break from your whores to talk to me?”

He hesitated slightly before he told me, “Uh… I’m having dinner with my parents. They can hear you…”

“Oh!” At first, I regretted my choice of words, but then I realized that I didn’t care about sparing his feelings anymore. “Did you guys know that your son is a man slut?”

“Okay… I’m gonna take this call in another room…” As I heard him making his way to an area out of his parents’ earshot, one of my mother’s cats went onto my lap. I stroked its fur, but I really wasn’t thinking about the kitty much. The longer it took for him to get back on the phone, the more irritated I got! Finally, he got back on and chided me, “That was rude!”

I laughed derisively at him. “I’m being rude? You cheated on me and stole all my money, and you wanna lecture me on manners?”

He pointed out to me, “We’re married, so it was both of our money!”

“BOTH OF OUR MONEY!” I roared. I stood up so fat that I sent the poor cat flying across the room! Don’t worry, it didn’t get hurt, but it did give me a dirty look as I berated him, “Look, I didn’t like bringing this up when we were still married ’cause it didn’t matter to me, but I make a lot more money than you! You put me in a situation where I had to go out on my own, so I should have access to all the money I worked my ass off to earn! But fine, for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s both of our money. You didn’t split it evenly and blow your half, you spent almost all of it! I spent forty plus hours a week making most of that money, and all that effort got blown by your prostitution addiction! You didn’t even leave me enough to survive on! So, no, you don’t get to claim ownership of that money! You stole from me!”

“Woah, woah, woah! What do you mean, ‘when we were still married?’ We’re still married,” Ben brought up.

I let out a noise of disgust because I definitely mentioned divorce to him before, and he obviously still didn’t get it. I thought perhaps that I didn’t make myself clear before, but after that response, I truly believed that he was still in denial. It bothered me that I had to tell it to him again, and just as I prepared myself to let him have it, Wade unceremoniously burst into the house. “Whew! What a night! WE had this group of people come in from-!”

I indicated to my phone and informed him, “Um, I’m on the…”

“Oh, okay!” He plopped down onto his favorite chair, and I always forgot how badly he smelled until I got close to him. I stood up and headed towards my room to take the call, but then he blasted the TV and bellowed, “Hey, hon! Our favorite show is on!”

“Who’s that? Your new boyfriend?” Ben probed.

I tried to reply back to him, but Wade kept shouting to my mom about what was happening on the random show he turned on, and my mom only heard portions of it as she prepared dinner. He realized that I wouldn’t heard the call in any part of the house, so I stepped outside.

As I got onto the front stoop, I remarked, “That was my mom’s husband. Listen, you need to get it through your-!”

It started pouring down rain, and I knew that I couldn’t complete this conversation in the house, so I decided to run to my car. I wasn’t about to hang up, I wanted to get this over with! Before I could get to my car, I heard Travis’s voice call out, “Where’s my bike?”

“I don’t know!” I barked. I didn’t let him ask me anything else before I got into the car. It felt like such a relief to get out of the rain! I turned on the speaker phone as I pulled out my wand to dry everything off, and as I worked, I finally revealed to Ben, “I’ve already left you! I don’t wanna be married to you anymore! I want a divorce!”

“A divorce? Please, baby, I can change!” he moaned.

I hardly listened to his sniveling. The rainwater prompted my cellphone to open up several apps, and after I dried it off and started closing everything, I noticed the map from Aidan’s tracker showed him moving. I watched it as he headed eastbound. He had already gone out of Anaknock, but if he moved out of Slygow county, I’d have to go get him! From the way he was moving, I got the sense that he would go out of bounds, so I conjured my car keys and waited for the moment he crossed the line. He got closer and closer, and just when he neared the edge, Ben got my attention, “Babe? Babe! Are you listening?”

I bluntly said to him, “No. I gotta go! See you in court!” He tried to argue with that last tidbit, but I wouldn’t let him. I saw Aidan land on the border, and I used all my concentration to magick myself there. A flash of light enveloped the car, and then, poof! I disappeared from the lot.

As I tailed his bright yellow, luxury sports car, I paged dispatch, “This is Detective Shannon Vidette. I’m in pursuit of a suspect who’s under surveillance, he’s heading out of our jurisdiction. Requesting permission to proceed.”

“Detective Vidette, what is your location?” the dispatch operator responded.

“I’m in…” I saw a flash of light surrounding his vehicle, and I felt determined not to let him get away, so I stepped on the gas to propel myself forward enough to get included in his spell. It worked, and once again, I disappeared into the night air!

I landed directly behind on an unfamiliar road, and we were going too fast for me to check my navigation so I could determine my location. Dispatch repeated its request, but I didn’t know what to tell them. “I’m… I went to…” All of a sudden, Aidan hopped out of the car and began running. I ran after him and continued my conversation with dispatch on my cellphone, “I’m in a foot pursuit.”

The dispatch operator queried, “A foot pursuit where?” When I couldn’t come up with an answer, dispatch inquired, “Are you in danger?” Aidan unexpectedly stopped, and as I raised my wand in preparation of a possible combat, dispatch concluded, “It sounds like we have an officer down. I’m using your GPS to send back up immediately! Stay calm, Officer Vidette, help is on the way!”

I ignored my phone as I continued to hold my wand up towards Aidan. He just stood there gazing out into the distance. I didn’t think he planned to harm me, but I had no idea what his intentions were, so I commanded, “Don’t move!”

“I’m not moving,” he reacted with unexpected calmness.

“I know, I meant don’t move from this point further.” It irked me that had a snarky attitude after he led me on a chase!

He challenged me, “Why? You have no authority here.” I’d never admit it to him, but he had a valid argument! Despite that, I kept my wand raised in case he decided to attack. He turned to me with a slightly remorseful expression and put his hands behind his back. “You can cuff me anyways if it makes you feel better.”

I approached him with caution. It had to be some kind of trick, I thought. It didn’t make sense to me that he would take such a great effort to escape only to surrender so easily like that! I pulled out my cuffs, and my nerves were through the roof as I inched towards his hands. I fully expected him to suddenly lunge out and carry out his nefarious objective, and it truly shocked me when I put the cuffs on without trouble! I actually stood still for a second, waiting for some kind of catch, and when nothing happened, I couldn’t help but cry out, “What the hell! Why? Why would you-?”

“I knew you’d follow me,” he explained. “I could also tell you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, so I thought you could use the break.” Before I could scream that putting me through a pursuit like that was hardly a break, he added, “This is the beach town I go to when I wanna relax. You told me your work never brought you to places like this, well, now it has!”

“You did all this just as an act of kindness to me?” I stared at him with the utmost skepticism.

He asserted, “Well, I kinda got the impression that not a lot of people have been very nice to you recently, which I don’t think is at all fair! You seem like such a good person, and you deserve that kind of treatment!”

It really bewildered me to hear such an accurate assessment of my situation! I wanted to feel touched by the gesture, but I reminded myself of his adept ability to read and manipulate people. I didn’t want to fall for his ruse, and my apprehension still clutched to the notion that he had ulterior motives for doing this. I worried that accepting his attempt to cheer me up would put my guard down, which would cause me to leak vital information or get blindsided by an attacker lurking in the shadows. Either of those scenarios playing out would have made much more sense to me than what appeared to have been absolute honesty! I didn’t understand why he’d behave so compassionately towards me, but I also didn’t detect an ounce of deception, which just left me totally confused. “I… You… We’re really by the beach?” I know it sounds a little silly that, out of all the questions swirling in my head, I chose to ask about that, but I really wondered if we had actually traveled to the coast. I wouldn’t have put it past him to fool me into thinking that we did that so he could stir up my emotions and really expose my vulnerability.

“The ocean is right in front of us! Take a look,” he invited.

“No!” I fixed my focus purposefully to the ground. When my father planned out that seaside vacation twenty-seven years ago, I built up tremendous anticipation for the opportunity to travel, but once we caught my mom committing infidelity and their marriage fell apart, the idea of going anywhere outside of Anaknock scared me. That incident felt like a bad omen, and I lost any inkling to venture outside the city I resided in. The very concept that I had just done it didn’t feel real! Catching a glimpse of the coast would just confirm that I did, indeed, journey somewhere, and I didn’t know what would happen if I accepted this fact, but it frightened me to risk everything I had left just to see some water! I knew that lots of people traveled everyday, but if I did it, I believed that something bad would occur. I didn’t want to tempt fate, so I wanted to avoid the reality of my current circumstance if I could help it!

Aidan appeared to have inferred what I was going through because he correctly assessed, “You were scared to travel.” I didn’t say anything so I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of being right, but I think my lack of a response confirmed his theory. “We don’t have much time before they get here. You’re gonna have to face your fears eventually, so why not get it over with?” I didn’t want him to continue to bug me about it, but, once again, he was completely right. I’d obviously have to look up sometime, especially when my colleagues got here, and I didn’t want to risk freaking out in front of a large group of my peers. I mean, I saw pictures of the beach prior to that, so I reasoned that I wouldn’t see anything drastically new. I decided that I may as well relent to his wishes, and when I finally saw it, my jaw dropped!

Pictures didn’t do the beach justice! The water glittered like a jewel, and it stretched further than I could imagine! The colors of the sunset made it look like a painting, and I could feel a coolness in the air that I’d never felt before! I could hear the waves crashing gently against the shore, and even the aroma it emitted invigorated my senses! I could understand why Aidan frequented this place now, and it made me ponder what its effect on my family would have been if we had visited here all those years ago. Just the very thought of its inherent healing abilities brought tears to my eyes! Thinking about what could have been if we had come here was too much for me, and I couldn’t help but weep!

Aidan gently commented, “I’d hug you right now, but… you know…” He gestured his head towards his back where his cuffs were.

With the heavy weight of the tumultuous sentiments bearing down on me, I felt like I’d collapse if I didn’t brace something at that moment! Temporarily forgetting all of my previous prejudices against him in this instance, I threw my arms around him and just let myself sob into him! He leaned his head in so he could convey his support, and after the initial wave of this episode lessened a bit, I remembered my assignment. Through my crying, I stated, “This doesn’t change anything about the case!”

“I know!” he softly acknowledged while continuing to hold me. This comforted me in a way I had never experienced before! I began to feel a pleasant warmness in the pit of my stomach that radiated throughout my body. No one spoke a word, so all I could hear was the waves and my heart pounding. I picked my head up, and as my eyesight met his, I could see genuine care exuding from deep inside of him. It just heightened the beauty of his eyes! His lips curled into a tender smile, and a part of me thought they were so inviting… All of a sudden, it dawned on me- Sandra was right, I did feel attracted to him!

I heard sirens blaring, and I instinctively jumped away from Aidan. As I saw police from this town arrive, I could feel myself flushing. I hoped that no one noticed my brief temptation of impropriety, and I regretted letting myself succumb to any rudimentary desires that I unknowingly harbored. “Sorry for the confusion! My suspect used magic to transport us, and I lost my orientation.”

“Don’t worry about it!” an officer reassured me. “We’re glad you’re alright!” She turned to Aidan and warned him, “Don’t try any funny stuff with us! One way or the other, we’ll make sure you get back to Slygow county!”

As they escorted him to a squad car, I got reminded of his criminal nature, and I felt very irresponsible about what just played out! He found a weakness, and I wondered how he might use it against me! It hurt me to think he had faked his affection to get something out of me, and I considered that perhaps I had made incorrect assumptions about him. Just when I contemplated giving him an apology for my misconceptions, my cellphone rang. It was Sandra, and I could imagine this event made her worry about me, so I picked up the call and assured her, “It’s okay, I’m fine!”

“I know you are! I’m not calling about that! They just found another body with your killer’s DNA on the scene!” she revealed. As I watched the vehicle carrying Aidan drive off, I got angry again. Maybe he didn’t want to console me at all, I thought. Maybe he was trying to create an illusion of innocence so that I wouldn’t catch on that he had just fled from a murder scene!

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 3

Judith walked into an ornate dining hall with a long table where Stephen, Emily, and Amelia sat laughing heartily. She set the tray down in front of them and politely conversed, “What’s so funny?”

“Oh, you had to be there,” Emily replied.

Stephen poured himself another glass of whiskey as he noted, “Wow, you’re still here!”

Judith told him, “We’re a bit short staffed today, so I didn’t mind working overtime. Besides, I’ll get the next few days off after this, so it balances out.”

“Good! You need to rest!” Stephen commented.

“Oh, that sounds like the pot calling the kettle black!” Emily teased him.

Stephen defended himself, “Hey, she has a choice! I don’t always get the option. Like, when was I supposed to take a break in the hidden forest?”

The three of them laughed again, and Judith half smiled but sort of seemed uncomfortable, so Emily regarded her, “Go home, Judith! Enjoy your weekend!” Judith looked a little reluctant to leave, so Emily added, “Queen’s order!”

Grimacing slightly, Judith complied, “Yes, Queen Emily.”

After Judith finally left the room, Amelia poured herself another drink and remarked, “I bet if the public knew about your experience in that forest, that producer wouldn’t have had the nerve to scare you with that hobgoblin like that! That was really mean!”

Stephen shrugged. “If she knew what happened to us in the forest, her tactic would have been more idiotic than mean. The gargoyle was much scarier than Petey was!” Once again, they all laughed uproariously.

Emily picked up her cup of tea and put in, “Their whole team didn’t seem that sharp to me. I mean, suitor or impostor? If she really thought that an impostor was at the castle, wouldn’t she contact law enforcement before she posted it on social media?” She almost took a sip, but first she shared another thought, “Why is everyone so interested in my love life anyways? My education referendum will have a lasting impact on Amouraq’s future, but no one wants to talk about that! I don’t get it!”

“Because that would require brain cells to explain,” Stephen joked. They all chuckled, but secretly Stephen felt relieved that Emily didn’t get mad at him for inadvertently playing a part in creating that story. She didn’t seem upset that some people thought they were an item, which made Stephen wonder if that stemmed from the ridiculousness of the scenario or if, perhaps, she wanted it to be true. He hoped for the latter, but he still didn’t have the chance to talk to Emily about it. As much as he welcomed Amelia’s company, he wished that she would go hang out somewhere else for a while because he didn’t want to discuss such a personal matter in front of her. He supposed it didn’t make that much of a difference though since there were so many castle staffers scattered throughout the place, so no one was making this easy for him. He resolved to keep spending time with her until that opportunity came along, and he knew that as soon as they managed to be by themselves, he had to seize the chance and talk to her immediately. He still had no clue on how exactly he wanted phrase his feelings to her, but he knew that if he didn’t do it soon, he would lose the nerve to do it all. He hoped that when the opportunity finally came that the right words would naturally flow out.

“Some things never change!” Amelia asserted. “I remember when I was in school, nobody cared when they shy, quiet girl won first prize at the science fair, but…”

She paused when she saw Stephen’s face fell from amusement to concern. He saw Emily make a strange face after she sipped her tea, so he asked her, “Is everything okay?”

Emily answered, “This tea tastes kind of weird! Probably ’cause it sat out too long and got cold.” She set the cup aside and declared, “Oh, one more drink won’t kill me!” She took back her whiskey glass and poured some more alcohol. “Please continue, Grandma!”

“Oh, the shy, quiet girl won the science fair, and no one really cared, but they couldn’t get enough of her when she started dating the star quarterback! No one seemed to understand it- the jocks and the nerds just didn’t mix, and yet these two seemed to be madly in love! No one thought it would last, but we were voted best couple in the yearbook!” Amelia fondly recalled.

“We?” Stephen reacted. “Wait, that was you!”

Amelia nodded. “Yes, I was the geek who won the heart of the quarterback, and that quarterback later turned into Emily’s grandfather! Stew let his grades slide to play more football, but he wanted play in college, so he needed to get his GPA higher to get in. I got assigned to mentor him, and it turned out we had a lot more in common than people thought!”

Emily stated, “Oh, I forgot you and Grandpa were gossiped about! How did you guys handle it?”

As Amelia regaled them with her familiarity on the subject, Stephen observed that Emily’s behavior returned to normal. The face she made after drinking that tea made him anxious for a moment, but since she didn’t act sick or afflicted by anything, he let it go and just enjoyed himself for the rest of the night.

At the end of the night, the three of them walked down the corridor leading towards their chambers. “Yeah, it ended up burning!” Stephen chuckled at the memory. “I swear, I used to be an amazing cook, but it’s been so long since I’ve used the stove that I had to search the internet for recipes on how to cook rice!”

That made Emily giggle. “I probably would too! Between living in a castle and living with my grandma, I…” She looked around and realized Amelia was no longer with them. “Oh, I guess she didnt’ wanna interrupt us. Goodnight, Grandma!”

“Goodnight, Amelia!” Stephen chimed in.

“Goodnight, you two!” Amelia called out to them.

As Stephen and Emily continued walking down the hall, Stephen’s heart began to pound. They were actually alone together, and Stephen knew he should seize the opportunity to talk to Emily about his feelings. He tried to think of a way to bring it up without it feeling awkward, but before he could come up with an opening line, Emily sighed, “Tomorrow’s gonna be rough!”

Stephen deemed that addressing her concerns as more of a priority, so he chose to address this instead of just blurting out that he felt something deeper than friendship for her. He hoped that the topic might come up naturally in the conversation! “Why do you say that?”

“The parliament is discussing that bill first thing in the morning,” Emily explained. “I really hope that the day off made everyone cool down! We really need to get on the same page and get this thing passed! If I can’t get the majority of them to agree on it, my first piece of legislation will fail, and that’s all anyone will ever talk about! But I can’t let it fail! I have to get this thing done because it’s so important for the country! What am I gonna do if-?”

“Hey, hey, hey!” Stephen gently interrupted her as they arrived at her bedroom door. “You’re gonna be fine! If the bill fails, at least it’ll show that you tried! But I’ve seen you face bigger challenges than this! If you can battle dragons and outsmart Xavier, you can figure out a way to make this happen too! It’s like I told you in the hidden forest, you have to believe that you’ll succeed even when you’re inches away from death! You got this!”

Emily echoed his point, “I got this! You’re right! I can do this!” She beamed as she complimented him, “You’re amazing! What would I do without you?”

This was it, Stephen thought. He had an opening to admit how much he cared for her, but with the way she stared at him, he didn’t want to say anything at all! He had the strongest impulse to lean in and kiss her, and his body flooded with excitement at the prospect! Her lips were so inviting, and he could already feel her heat as he stepped closer. Suddenly, he felt a little dizzy, and he got forcibly reminded that he consumed quite a bit of whiskey. He began to question his judgment and wondered if the signal of readiness he saw from her had just been wishful thinking on his part. Plus, he remembered that she had a few drinks too, and while he didn’t think she was close to the point of drunkenness, he didn’t want her to wake up tomorrow and regret any actions she took with him that night. With a surge of disappointment running through his veins, he decided he shouldn’t do anything that night. It was such an important matter that he didn’t want alcohol to have an influence on anything. He pat her on the back and told her, “Goodnight, Emily!”

“Goodnight, Stephen!” She turned towards her room, and Stephen’s body ached watching her slip away. He had to assure himself that he did the right thing in order to pull himself away, and as he headed to the next door, he resolved to wake up early and catch Emily before she went to parliament in the morning. After he entered in his chambers, he began taking his shoes off to get ready for bed, but he knew he wouldn’t get any sleep that night! His mind would be racing all night hoping to see that same look she gave him tonight when he admitted his feelings for her tomorrow!

Later on, as Emily slept comfortably beneath her sheets, her breath started to grow more and more rapid. She began to breathe heavier and heavier until, all of a sudden, her eyelids shot wide open! Her golden brown eyes turned into a hellish red, and her pupils became reptilian-like! She didn’t totally believe it, so she drew herself out of the bed and walked over to her vanity table in an almost trance-like manner. When she studied her face closer, she seemed pleased at what she saw. She declared, “It worked!”

Stepping out from the shadows, Judith concurred, “Yes, it certainly did! When Emily sent me out of the dining room, I worried that it wouldn’t take! How do you feel, your majesty?”

“Excellent!” Emily grinned at her reflection triumphantly. “Except for this frilly nightgown!” She pointed at herself and chanted, “Gestero black robes!” Her pajamas changed into a dark, hooded garment. “Ah, that’s better!”

“Your team is waiting for you at Rogue’s Alcove, your majesty,” Judith informed her.

Emily replied, “Good! Simeon was right about you! Keep an eye on the castle for me! Do whatever you can to slow them down so they don’t find her!”

Judith promised, “I won’t fail you, your majesty! It’s an honor to work for you, Xavier Ryder!”

Emily wickedly grinned, chanted, “Lanumaciae Rogue’s Alcove,” and disappeared into the night!Emily's Serpent Eyes

Amouraq II: Curse of the Serpent’s Tongue, Chapter 2

Freeze!” a woman chanted from her front stoop while pointing at the creature that stood before Stephen, and the creature froze on the spot. The woman ran over to Stephen and apologized, “I am so sorry! Our hobgoblin doesn’t like strangers, and somebody…” She looked back at the house where a preteen boy guiltily shuffled. “…forgot to shut the gate to the backyard!”

“Oh, don’t worry about it!” Stephen understood that sometimes animals could get overprotective, but as he stared at the hobgoblin’s immobile body, he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why anyone would want one of these creatures for a pet!

Just when Stephen intended to continue his jog, the woman inquired, “I don’t recognize you from this neck of the woods! Are you new to the neighborhood?”

Stephen thought she seemed like a perfectly nice person, but he sensed that she was a bit of a chatterbox, and he didn’t have much interest in small talk at the moment. Not only did he want to get back to exercising, but he wanted to think over his important decision on his next career move. Plus, he wanted to get back to the castle before Emily woke up. Besides the fact that he took his job seriously, he wanted to spend as much time with her as possible before their occupational duties would cause them to go their separate ways. He enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends, but now wasn’t the time for it! He tried to think of a reply that wouldn’t garner a lot of follow up questions, and he came up with, “I’m Emily’s… Queen Emily’s… bodyguard. Please excuse me, but I-.”

“Bodyguard, huh?” the woman interrupted him. “So, Emily hired a bodyguard from out of town? What made her choose you? Are you really good at protection spells?”

“Uh…” Stephen noticed her energy shift from Chatty Cathy to a nosy busybody, which had always proven to be an inconvenient haphazard of his undercover work. He never wanted to divulge a lot of information to strangers while on assignment since he never knew who could be working for the enemy, and his lack of interest in having this conversation just deepened. “Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but I really am under a tight schedule, so please excuse me!”

He started jogging again before she could give a response, but that didn’t stop her from trying. “Wait! How long have you been…?” He ignored her, and he could tell that she reluctantly gave up. . He heard her grab the hobgoblin as it started moving again, and she yelled to her son, “Angus! Come get Petey!” Stephen found that name odd, but his desire to get away outweighed his curiosity, so he didn’t turn around to ask about it.

Emily opened her bedroom door while drying her hair off with a towel, and when Judith saw her looking around the hallway, she informed her, “Stephen went on a jog.”

“Oh!” Emily’s expression looked slightly crestfallen. “I was just gonna ask if he wanted to join me for breakfast. Oh well! This gives me time to do my make up before I see him.”

She went inside her room and sat at a vanity mirror that laid between her four-poster bed and her bathroom door. She pointed at her face and chanted, “Conifingo!” Her cosmetic products flew up, and she pointed at which ones she wanted to use. As the spell applied each one to her face, Judith walked in and gave her a knowing smile, so Emily probed, “What?”

Judith shrugged. “It’s just cute the way you like to get dolled up for him!”

“What? Oh, it’s not like that!” Emily refuted. “I just want to look professional for our guest from America.”

“Oh please!” Judith politely differed. “You two have a little more than just a working relationship!”

Emily responded, “Okay, we went through a lot together, so we’re good friends, but that’s all it is!”

Judith smugly pointed out, “You’re blushing!”

Emily blurted, “I’m wearing blush!”

Judith smirked as she she stated, “I went through the same thing with King Patrick when he first met his future wife! You two are so much alike! So, you can’t lie to me!”

“Yes, I can! I’m queen, and I can do whatever I want!” She paused and added, “Not that I have any reason to lie…”

“Uh huh, sure!” Judith folded her arms in disbelief of her claim.

Emily chanted, “Comperaso!” to make the make up incantation stop. She grew uncomfortable at this topic, so she asked Judith, “Don’t you have some cleaning to do?”

Judith answered, “Always! But Stephen requested that I look over you while he’s gone.”

After she pointed at her hair and chanted, “Seccium,” he hair instantly dried. She got up and regarded Judith, “I’m going to the dining room now, so Dagan can watch over me.”

“Alright, alright, I can take the hint,” Judith replied. “If you ever do feel like talking, you know I’m always here for you.”

“Thank you.” Emily gave her a half grin but clearly didn’t seem keen on the idea of confiding in her. She cordially left the room, so Judith shrugged and began using cleaning spells in her room.

As Emily made her way to the dining room, she saw Stephen and her eyes went wide. “Woah, you’re in sweatpants?”

Stephen lightheartedly shot back, “Did you expect me to go jogging in my suit?”

Emily put a hand on her hip and retorted, “Oh, it’s my fault that I thought you owned one outfit?”

They both laughed at that, and then Stephen let her know, “Hey listen, Alastair just called for an important meeting. It shouldn’t take long, but if it does, don’t hesitate to give me a call, ‘kay?”

“Boy, they sure let you dress casually when they call you in on the weekend!” Emily teased him.

“I’m gonna change first, wise guy!” Stephen grinned.

Emily chuckled, and then she said to him, “Okay, see you later, Stephen!”

“Bye, Emily!” Stephen watched her as she walked away, desperately wishing he could spend the whole day with her! He knew Alastair wouldn’t call for a last minute meeting if it wasn’t urgent, but he still lamented the lost time that he could have spent with her. The only joy he got out of watching her leave was admiring her figure from a different point of view! He didn’t want to let his eyes linger for too long in case anyone was watching him, so he peeled himself away and turned around to go upstairs to change. To his surprise, he nearly ran into Yvette, Oscar, and Dagan, who had apparently been watching their interaction with great amusement! He challenged them, “What are you looking at?”

Oscar joked, “Oh, we were just interested in learning what a bodyguard does while he’s on duty!”

The three of them snickered, but Stephen grew a little nervous. The castle staff all knew who he was and what job he did, so his comment would only make sense if he knew about his conversation with Angus’s mother. He didn’t understand how Oscar could have known about that, and then Yvette showed him her phone. “Apparently you talked to a producer from Celebrity Tonight!”

He gazed at her phone with trepidation, and to his horror, he saw that Penny Melrose’s social media account had a post that read, “Strange man coming out of castle claims to be Queen Emily’s bodyguard, but story doesn’t add up! Is he a suitor or an imposter?”

Stephen saw a picture of him jogging, and he groaned. Up until now, he had been really good at avoiding public scrutiny, and laying low made solving his cases a lot easier. Of course, Xavier already knew about him, but if he had reporters tailing him, then it would give his fugitive an edge by letting him know his whereabouts. Furthermore, he worried that this rumor would create an awkward situation with Emily. Every interaction they had would get scrutinized, and he feared that it would create some distance between them, especially if she didn’t have any romantic feelings towards him. He explained to them, “Look, I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep, so she caught me at a vulnerable moment. These guys will do anything to sell a story! They’ve created all kinds of claims that were later debunked!”

Dagan started to say, “Yeah, but…”

Judith came in and intervened, “Hey, he has a job to do, leave him alone!”

“Thank you, Judith!” He felt grateful to have the chance to quickly slip away.

‘You guys have work to do also!” Judith scolded them. “Dagan, Emily is waiting for her breakfast! And you two! The castle is filthy! Come on, let’s get moving!”

Yvette reacted defensively, “Alright, alright! Jeez, we were just having a little fun!”

Judith judgmentally remarked, “You’re breaking castle protocol! We’re clocked in, so we’re supposed to work!”

“Okay, we’re leaving!” Dagan relented.

“Miss Goody-Two-Shoes!” Oscar muttered. “It’s like you don’t have a bad bone in your entire body!” After they left her, Judith wickedly smiled.

Stephen tried to walk into the meeting room as casually as possible, but with all eyes on him, he had a suspicion on why Alastair called this meeting. The Amouraqian agents stared curiously, especially Allison. Stephen had a huge appreciation for her after she helped him and Emily escape from the hidden forest, but he avoided eye contact with her at the moment. Although she always acted with professionalism around him, today she had a gleam in her eye suggesting that she heard some juicy gossip. He purposefully took a seat away from her, but she abandoned her old chair to sit next to him. “So… What’s new?” she pried.

To his relief, he didn’t have to answer her. A man with silver hair, dark brown eyes, and a neatly combed goatee marched into the room, and his presence commanded everyone’s attention. Stephen silently prayed that Alastair’s grim expression didn’t have anything to do with him! Alastair addressed the group, “Good morning, agents! I have two things we need to discuss. First of all, we have a sighting!” He pulled out a photograph and plopped it onto the table for everyone to see. It showed a hauntingly beautiful young woman in provocative clothing coming out of an apothecary shop. “One of Xavier’s associates, Blythe Tanith, was seen buying herbs from this store. Now, they’re common ingredients to a number of potions, so we have no proof she’s up to no good, but she’s a wanted criminal, and she’s lurking somewhere here on the island. The task force I assigned to her will monitor the situation, but everyone should keep an eye out for her. Now, the second thing we need to talk about…” He stared towards Stephen’s direciton, and Stephen’s heart raced with apprehension. “Everyone wish Allison a happy twenty fifth birthday!” Everyone clapped as Alastair chanted a spell to make cake and ice cream appear. Someone put a party hat on Allison and threw confetti, and Stephen’s body flooded with relief. It was just a ruse for a surprise party! So, he thought he could slip out without discussing the buzz about him on social media!

As the other agents gathered food and mingled, Stephen tried to leave unnoticed. Allison spotted him and insisted, “Uh-uh! You’re not leaving without having a slice!”

Stephen could see the determined look on her face, so he gave in, “Okay, but I can’t stay long. I need to get back to the castle.”

Alastair stepped in and told Stephen, “Before you go, I need to have a word with you.” He lowered his voice and asked, “Is there any truth to the rumor Penny Melrose is spreading?”

Stephen felt grateful that he didn’t publicly berate him, but he still dreaded having to talk about this subject. “A woman that I didn’t know was a producer for that show caught me off guard and I stuttered a bit. I haven’t been sleeping well lately, so it was hard to think. Next time, I’ll be more careful!”

“You didn’t answer my question,” Alastair pointed out. “Is there something going on between you and Emily?”

“We’re just friends!” Stephen disputed. He wished they were more than that, but that was the truth.

Allison chirped, “He didn’t give a direct answer, there is something there!”

Stephen argued, “An indirect answer doesn’t automatically mean I’m hiding something!”

Alastair probed, “Do you have romantic feelings for Allison?”

“No!” Stephen immediately replied.

“Do you have romantic feelings for Emily?” Alastair questioned. Stephen didn’t reply right away. He didn’t want to admit it to anyone, but he also didn’t didn’t want to lie. Alastair observed, “You see the difference in your answers!”

Allison squealed, “Actually, he didn’t answer, but he also didn’t say no! He totally likes her!”

Stephen cringed. Investigative agents were always good at digging out the truth, and he realized that the highly developed intuition of a powerful sorcerer and sorceress would figure it out. A bit puzzled, Stephen remarked, “You sound happy about this.”

“You two would make an adorable couple!” Allison gushed. ‘You should ask her out!”

“I can’t just ask out a queen!” Stephen could feel himself reddening and really hoped they would drop the subject soon.

Allison differed, “Oh, come on! I see the way she looks at you! She’s not gonna say no!”

Alastair agreed, “You need to sort this out or it could interfere with your job. Actually, it could help you decide what you wanna do career-wise. If she doesn’t return your feelings, you can got back to the States and stay with the FBI. If she does feel the same way, you can take over my post and I can finally retire. Simple!”

Stephen disagreed about its simplicity, but he knew he was right about everything else. The deeper his feelings got, the more it could effect his work performance. Plus, Alastair deserved to get an answer soon since his future depended on his answer. “I’ll do something soon.”

“Atta boy!” Alastair celebrated, and Allison shared his sentiment.

Stephen’s stomach churned at the prospect, and he suddenly felt too nervous to eat. “Excuse me!” He sat down his cake and dashed out.

That night, Dagan struggled to clean the mountain of dishes that piled up, so when Judith walked into the kitchen and saw this, she offered, “I can bring Emily’s tea to her.”

“You’re a life saver! Thanks!” Dagan replied graciously.

She secretly smirked as she strolled over to a cup and saucer on a silver platter. When no one was looking, she took a vial out of her pocket and poured it into Emily’s drink. It simmered for a moment, and after it settled, she quickly pocketed the vial and brought the tray out of the kitchen.Sneaking in the Potion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simeon nodded. “Yes, your majesty!”

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

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

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

“Thank you, Hugo!” Emily acknowledged him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amouraq, Chapter 19

Stephen felt both the sensation of falling and flying as the three of them were whisked through an air of nothingness. They were sucked into a beam of light, and in a flash, Stephen found that they had landed in an empty room in some kind of office setting. Going from outdoors to the inside of a building disoriented him for a moment, and his adrenaline was still pumping from narrowly avoiding danger. It hadn’t totally sunk in for him yet, so he asked, “Where are we?”

Allison answered him, “The International Crime Investigation’s main headquarters. Agent Allison Ramiro, at your service!” She extended her hand for him to shake.

Stephen shook her hand, but his brain could hardly process what she just told them. “Wait, if we’re in the main headquarters, that means…” He almost had it, but the idea just seemed too incredible to be true!

Emily guessed, “We’re in Ovelstrofe?” Allison nodded, and so Emily exclaimed, “We made it!”

Stephen’s heart nearly leapt out of his chest! As much as he swore that they’d make it to this point, it almost seemed unimaginable. After surviving that mystical forest for hours and hours, his body hard sort of adapted to that as a new reality. It stunned him to think they had actually made it to civilization again, and yet he couldn’t deny it any longer. Allison’s words coupled with what he saw with his own eyes made everything click, and when he realized their victory, he cried out in jubilation, “We made it!” He and Emily engulfed each other in a hug as they jumped up and down in celebration. He gratefully expressed to her, “You’ve totally perfected the whole rescuing thing! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Are you kidding me?” Emily reacted joyfully. “I would never had made it with out you!”

“You could have totally made it without me!” Stephen happily pointed out. “You just needed the confidence to know you could do it!”

Emily gleefully differed, “Yes, and you gave that to me! You’re my hero!”

Stephen’s heart swelled with pride to hear her think so highly of him, but when he noticed Allison out of the corner of his eye, he acknowledged, “And where would either of us be without her? Thank you!”

“We made a good team!” Allison observed. Emily and Stephen agreed, and they all formed a group hug.

Alastair had his head buried in his hands with a look of utter distraught as he leaned over his desk. Suddenly, he heard the sound of exuberant voices coming from the other side of the hall. He found that strange, so he curiously walked over to decipher what was occurring. He saw three people in the teleportation area, which perplexed him until he recognized one of the distant silhouettes as Allison! “Allison!” He rushed over to her, and she met him in the hallway to give him a huge hug. After a quick squeeze, he rejoiced, “You’re okay! Where’d you go?”

Allison smiled knowingly at him. “How about I let these two explain it?”

Alastair looked behind her and could hardly believe his eyes! “Stephen? Emily?” They both nodded. “You’re both alive! This is great!” He wrapped his arms around both of them in a huge wave of relief. “You’re still alive! I have so many questions for you! First, where did your plane go after…?” He cut himself off when he remembered something important. “Wait, we’ll have to discuss it later! King Patrick is dying as we speak, and he wants to see you both, so we gotta go!” He grabbed their arms and chanted, “Lanumaciae Alexendar’s castle!” They instantly disappeared.

In a large, stately bedroom with gray, stone walls, a group of servants stood around the bed with somber expressions. A few of them even wept as they gazed upon an elderly man who wore a ceremonial suit and a simple yet elegant gold crown. Stephen and Emily sheepishly entered, and both of them felt too uncomfortable to say anything at first. After a while, a couple of servants peeked their heads up and began whispering to each other, which stirred up a conversation throughout the room. The man on the bed picked up on the shift of focus and, in a weak but very kind voice, he questioned, “Who’s there?”

The servants abandoned all pretense and stared in their direction. Stephen broke the awkwardness of the moment by clearing his throat and introducing them, “Stephen Knight, FBI. This is Emily.”

One of the maids reacted, “Emily? As in the heir next in line?” Emily bashfully nodded, and all of the servants started buzzing about this eventuality.

“You made it!” The man on the bed then requested, “Please, come closer!” The servants cleared a path for them, so Stephen and Emily approached him. Even in his feeble state, Stephen thought he exuded sheer strength! And yet he still had an air of altruism and wisdom to him too. He addressed them, “I’m King Patrick, ‘though not for long! Soon, the throne will be yours. Dear Emily, you came from a neighboring land just as our beloved King Alexander did! He set out to dominate the world, but when he fell in love, he realized there was a greater way to spread his empire. Anyone can take over the world and force people into submission, but by offering friendship and brotherhood, more people will be drawn to you and follow your leadership. No force is necessary when you are truly loved! People will willingly come to your side when you need protection and will willingly uphold the laws that you decree. Their fidelity will come naturally so long as you never let them forget that you care! Please carry on Alexander’s legacy with pride and the utmost integrity!”

“I will!” Emily promised as her eyes brimmed with tears.

“Stephen, thank you for protecting our future queen!” King Patrick extended his hand, and naturally, Stephen shook it. As he did so, King Patrick motioned for him to come closer. Stephen leaned in, and King Patrick whispered, “Promise me you’ll always love her, even when she makes it difficult to do so!”

Stephen felt bewildered by his request. He couldn’t deny that he had romantic feelings for Emily, but he hadn’t crossed that bridge into calling it love yet. He hadn’t told a soul about how he felt about these feelings though, so he wondered how King Patrick knew to say that! He remembered Emily saying that he had strong intuition, and Amouraqians seemed to take royal predictions very seriously. The last bit of his words echoed back to him… even when she makes it difficult to do so… He glanced up at Emily, and he couldn’t imagine any scenario that would make it difficult to love her! So, he promised King Patrick, “I will!”

King Patrick regarded the entire room, “I want to leave letting you all know that I love each and every one of you in my kingdom! May you all have a peaceful and abundant future! Goodbye!” He closed his eyes, and after taking one last gulp of air, he stopped breathing. The servants all stared at his body forlornly, and some of them cried and consoled each other. Tears formed in Emily’s eyes, so Stephen put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She gazed up at him gratefully and wiped her eyes.

After a couple of minutes, some people in medical uniforms came in and requested, “When you’re ready, can you please clear the room so we can do his final examination?”

A few people left immediately, but some lingered for a while. Alastair entered with a balding man that had small glasses, a gentle grin, and a vibe of ardent enthusiasm for the academia, and Alastair informed Emily, “This is Hugo Boman, he’s deputy head of parliament.”

Hugo shook her and and told her, “Whenever you’re ready, we have a lot of paperwork to go over to officially instate you as queen before the coronation ceremony.”

Emily didn’t look pleased at the prospect, and before she left, she caught Stephen’s eye, and he mouthed the words, “I told you so!” She silently chuckled before following Hugo and Alastair out of the room. It made Stephen feel warm inside to see that the right person was set to take the crown!

Before he left the room, he took one last look at King Patrick. He wished that he had gotten here sooner so he could have asked more questions. He felt relieved to hear that Alexander had a change of heart about world domination, but he wondered why Xavier and his followers hadn’t accepted that view of him. He didn’t question royal predictions, but he didn’t believe that Alexander’s ambitions had been altered by his experiences. Xavier seemed to truly believe that he got robbed of his dream, and he became bound and determined to live out his original vision for the world. Stephen could only assume that Xavier didn’t believe in love, but King Patrick obviously did. His message of kinship seemed to guide his leadership decisions, and it obviously was effective. President Truett was only too eager to assist him in this crisis, and King Patrick was humble enough to ask for help from a cose. For an instant, Stephen thought that King Patrick must have hired him to really irk Xavier, who clearly viewed sorcerers as superior to anyone who couldn’t do magic, but then he remembered the prophecy that Xavier had shared with him. He figured that King Patrick must have heard it too, so now Stephen couldn’t tell if King Patrick hired him because he wanted to scare Xavier or if he truly believe in it also. Then, he recalled what King Patrick had asked of him moments ago, and he couldn’t figure out if King Patrick had foreseen some other role for him in the future.

Some of the servants were tidying up the room a bit with cleaning spells, and Stephen tapped one of them on the shoulders to inquire, “Was King Patrick psychic?”

“Psychic?” he repeated. “You must be a cose! No, sorcerers and sorceresses connect with the energy of the nature around them, so they’re more in tune with what’s happening in the universe. Coses can sense things too, but our instincts are a little more prone to picking up on things. And the more adept we are at our magic, the stronger our intuition becomes. King Patrick was the most powerful sorcerer I knew, so his predictions tended to be very accurate!” He paused and added, “Why?”

Stephen didn’t answer right away. He remembered that Emily had something similar, and now his mind began reeling with all of kinds of different possibilities! He became aware of the servant’s stare, so he quickly excused himself, “No reason. It’s been a long day! If you’ll excuse me, I need to have a word with the ICI.” The servant nodded cordially, and Stephen dashed out of the room. He owed Alastair an explanation, and he hoped he could give him advice on what in the world he would tell his boss about his ordeal!

A couple of days later, Stephen stood by the entrance of a huge ceremonial room. The pews were packed with people in colorful formal attire, and he could only assume that since they were in dark colors for King Patrick’s funeral that they wanted to wear something more vibrant and life affirming for today’s proceedings. He recognized some of the people as the castle’s servants, but it took him a while to make the connection since their moods were so vastly different. He saw Amelia waving to him, and he naturally waved back. She began whispering to the people next to her, and he knew that she must have talked about him because they all tried to subtly turn around to scope him out. The press had scattered throughout the room and hurried to make last minute adjustments since Emily was due to arrive at any moment. The entire room seemed to buzz with excitement to see the next heir take the throne.

“Oh hello, Stephen!” Allison chirped. Stephen turned his attention to her, and it took him a moment to register that it was her since she was wearing a much more conservative ensemble. She arrived with a group that Stephen could only assume was other Amouraqians agents since they stood in a guarding formation. “Would you like to sit with use during the ceremony?”

“Thank you for the offer,” Stephen politely declined, “but I have a plane to catch.” He indicated to a suitcase next to him.

Alastair entered the room, and he offered to Stephen, “Oh Stephen, before you go, I’d like to talk to you. I’m planning on retiring soon, and I’d like to nominate you to take my place!”

Stephen hadn’t expected to hear this! It wasn’t the first time he had gotten a job offer from another agency, but he never would have guessed anyone would pick him to head a magical law enforcement unit! “You want me to take your place? You want a…?”

“You’d be the first,” Alastair admitted, “but we’ve seen firsthand that you can handle it. My team would really benefit from your experience.” Allison vehemently nodded.

Stephen didn’t know what to say. He had spent his whole adult life working for the FBI, and he never really pictured doing anything else. Of course, Emily had been completely right in that he didn’t think much about the future. Everyone had gathered here today because she was their future, but he didn’t know about himself. He had been so busy in the last couple of days that he didn’t have time to think about his feelings for her. He still held her in high esteem, but after spending more time apart, he wondered if any of his romantic notions would go away. She was about to become queen, and he still had a job to do, so they probably wouldn’t be together much. If he took Alastair’s position, he figured that they would have to interact from time to time. If he did that and his feelings deepened again, eh didn’t think he could handle it if she didn’t reciprocate that sentiment. He wouldn’t be very effective at his post if he had to endure the heartache of seeing her constantly without becoming romantically intertwined. With her as queen, he didn’t see how she could desire him the way he wanted her! He also considered that their near-death experience just caused him to develop a crush. He thought that maybe after some time that this phase would pass. He didn’t know what to tell Alastair, so he started to reply to him, “Well, I’ll have to talk to…”

Emily entered the room, and Stephen’s breath almost literally went away when he saw her appearance! She wore an embellished white gown with gilded threads and ornate jewelry that had sparkling blue jewels on it. Stephen had never seen anyone so beautiful that he couldn’t speak, and yet here he was unable to say a word! She beamed at him, and his heart beat wilder than it ever had before! At that moment, he knew that his feelings for her weren’t just a phase!

Allison grinned at the other agents and suggested, “Let’s go have a seat! I think Emily is in good hands!” She winked at Stephen as she led the others to take a seat.

“Just let me know when you’ve made your decision.” Alastair pat his back and went to take his seat.

Emily approached him, but when she noticed his suitcase, her face fell. “Oh, you’re off to another assignment already?”

Stephen quickly explained, “Oh no! My case isn’t closed yet since Xavier is still out there! Actually, it’s my uncle Brian’s birthday today, and I’m taking him on a fishing trip.” Emily’s eyes widened in surprise, so he remarked, “Yes, I’m taking a few days off. After our excursion in the forest, I got to thinking… life is short, and I should spend time with my loved ones while I still can.”

“So true!” Emily smiled approvingly at this, which made his heart swell.

He almost got lost in thought staring at her again, but he was able to swiftly recover. “Anyways, I just wanted to stop by before your coronation to wish you luck. Oh, and here’s my new cell phone number. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to let me know!” He handed her a business card, and after she accepted it, he added, “Don’t you forget about me now!”

“I won’t!” She tucked his card into her clothes just as Hugo summoned for her to come on stage. She flung her arms around Stephen and squeezed him tight. “Just promise me you’ll come back!”

“Yes, ma’am!” He didn’t want to let her go, but he had no choice. She had to go, and so did he. He wished he could have stayed to watch the whole ceremony! As she walked towards the stage, he knew he had to tear himself away from there now or he wouldn’t have the nerve to do it at all. He couldn’t help but take one last look at her though. As they began the ceremony, he whispered, “I’ll never let Xavier get to you! I promise!” As he spoke, a vision of Xavier’s menacing eyes and haunting cackle flashed before his eyes. He shoot it off, grabbed his suitcase, and headed towards the airport.

The End

For now…The Crown

Amouraq, Chapter 15

You got something?” an agent queried Alastair, who got a notification on his cellphone.

Alastair checked his phone and grinned. “Check it out!” The two other agents peered over his shoulders and saw Allison posing in a joyous photograph with a mix of large men in all black and young women in provocative clothing.

The other agent commented, “I guess they didn’t recognize her face from their surveillance of us in Portland!”

“I don’t think they’re looking at her face!” Alastair haf joked. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed movement on his map. He set his phone down, but when he took another look at the map, he saw that the dot he had monitoring had disappeared! “Where did she go?”

“They must have teleported somewhere,” the first agent guessed.

Alastair disagreed, “No, the map would show us anywhere in the world where she went, so either she found out about the spell and removed it, or…” He took a second look at the selfie Allison took, and his eyes went wide when he made a startling realization. “She didn’t take this picture in the club!”

The second agent questioned, “Are you sure?”

“Look at the wood in the picture!” He zoomed in so the other two agents could see the detail he had indicated. “That club is geared towards a hip, young crowd, and the room they’re in here has old, dilapidated walls. I don’t think they’re in the club anymore! They must have teleported to another building!” He pointed to the map and chanted, “Apando Ostracium!” The map glowed green for a moment, so Alastair concluded, “The spell is still active. That means they teleported somewhere that’s not on the map! But… how is that possible?” Alastair looked to the other two agents, who shook their heads and shrugged, so Alastair just stared at the map in perplexion.

“Cabraeco!” Emily chanted with her hands over her head.

Stephen curiously asked her, “What are you doing?”

Emily explained, “It’s a concealment spell. I’m sure that Xavier is watching us, so I thought I’d give it a shot.”

“How do you know if it worked?” Stephen inquired.

“I’m not sure,” Emily answered. “Hmm, maybe I should try practicing something else.” She paused and chanted, “Lanumaciae!” She waited to see if the spell took effect, and when it did not, she tried again, “Lanumaciae!”

Stephen watched her attempt the incantation multiple times, and while she didn’t have any luck, she didn’t stop trying. She didn’t get as frustrated as she did the last time, so Stephen found her behavior cute. When he caught himself thinking this amorous thought, he tried to quickly dismiss it. He blamed the high emotions that came from going through a dangerous situation together at first, but the more he got to know her, the more he admired her. He couldn’t help it if he had a growing reverence for her as a person! And with so much time to learn about each other, he thought it was reasonable to develop an attraction to her impressive nature! Plus, he couldn’t exactly ignore her beauty when she was right in front of him! He couldn’t see her pretty face at the moment, but he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed seeing her from the back! As he watched her voluptuous curves move as she attempted this spell, he wondered if she had any magic that she could use in a more private setting…

“I felt something!” Emily exclaimed.

Stephen had to shake himself out of his trance again. “Huh?”

Emily expounded, “It didn’t work, but I think I made some progress ’cause I felt a tingle. Did you see any tingling?”

“Uh…” Stephen suddenly felt hot under his collar and had to turn away from her to get his mind of of its racy track. To clear his head, he took a deep breath and concentrated on the scenery ahead of him. Just then, it occurred to him that he could actually see some of the trees without her light, so he surmised, “Hey, I think the sun is rising!”

Emily studied the sky and agreed, “You’re right! Wow, we’ve been here all night? I would’ve thought we’d have gotten there by now!”

Stephen concurred, “Yeah, me too! ‘Though at least we won’t have to face Xavier in the dark!”

“True!” Emily nodded.

“Then we can arrest that son of a bitch before lunch!” Stephen sort of kidded, which made Emily chuckle a little. “I bet they’ll have a huge feast for us too!”

Emily somewhat glumly commented, “Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be nothing but fine dining from now on!”

Stephen found her morose attitude odd, so he probed, “Why do you sound so bummed out about that?”

“I dunno…” Emily responded thoughtfully. “I guess I’m being ungrateful, but I never wanted to be famous! I mean, I wouldn’t mind lavish parties and stuff once in a while, but all the time? All my time would be spent either in front of parliament or doing other public appearances, so when would I get to do what I want? My whole life will get taken over by this, and it’s not like a bad life or anything, but it doesn’t seem like I’ll ever get the chance to have a normal life!”

“First of all, what you described won’t eat up the majority of your time,” Stephen told her. “You’re gonna spend most of your time doing paperwork. You have no idea how much the government runs on paperwork!” Emily tittered, and he went on, “Second, and more importantly, you’ll be queen, you get to call the shots! If you wanna take the day off to binge watch a TV show or bake cookies from a new recipe or whatever you think of as a normal day, there’s no reason why you can do that! There’s no reason why you can’t have ordinary moments while living an extraordinary life!”

Emily took a moment for his words to really sink in, and when they did, she nodded in agreement. Stephen felt pleased that she took his advice to heart, but another thought seemed to have crossed her mind right afterwards. She posed to him, “So, how come you don’t do that?”

“Do what?” Stephen reacted quizzically.

“Take some time off to enjoy ordinary moments?” Emily clarified.

Stephen gave that some serious consideration, and he couldn’t’ really come up with a plausible explanation. “It just feels natural to jump from one assignment to the other, like my mind’s constantly in work mode, so I never lose my edge. If I take too much time off, I get too relaxed and unfocused, and it’s harder to solve a case.”

Emily didn’t really appear totally satisfied with his reasoning. “That makes sense, but it doesn’t seem very healthy. If you’re always going fast, don’t you get burnt out?”

“I guess that’s why I never slow down,” Stephen supposed. “I don’t give myself time to think about being burnt out.”

“Maybe you just need a reason to slow down,” Emily speculated. She saw the look of surprise on his face and immediately apologized, “I’m sorry if that was too personal. It just seemed a little lonely. I know how that feels!”

She lost eye contact with him, and Stephen could tell that she felt embarrassed for admitting that. She didn’t realize that what had shocked him was how accurate her assertion had been. He never really gave it serious consideration before, but truthfully, he knew that if he didn’t bury himself in work, he would be alone. He truly had a passion for his job, so he hadn’t really considered having a life outside of the FBI until now. After their adventure in the hidden forest was concluded, he realized that they would probably go their separate ways, and suddenly going back to his apartment all by himself didn’t seem so appealing! Emily needed someone by her side during her transition into royalty, and he knew he could probably help her through that process. She hung her head sadly, and that made his heart ache! She didn’t deserve to feel lonely! She needed someone to constantly remind her about what an amazing woman she was, and he knew he could do that! He saw her hand dangling within reach of him, and he longed to hold it and let her know she wasn’t alone and that he’d be there for her if she needed him. He still didn’t feel worthy of her affection, but his desire to help her overrode that notion. He reached out his hand, and his fingers brushed hers…

All of a sudden, they heard the trees rustle above them, and they turned to face the perpetrator of the noise. Multiple trees were shaking, and they stood at the ready. All at once, creatures like he’d never seen came teeming out from the branches! They had the scaly structure of a lizard, but they also had the segmented body of an ant1 A swarm of them scurried towards them, so Emily pointed at Stephen and chanted, “Speed!” She pointed at herself too and repeated the chant, “Speed!” She quickly added, “Run!”

Stephen and Emily moved with superhuman speed, but the team of strange creatures were close behind them! Stephen asked her, “How do we kill them?”

“We could kill one easily,” Emily answered, “but we’re a little outnumbered right now!”

They managed to get a little ahead of them when the spell wore off. They kept going, but they could hear the creatures catching up to them! To their horror, they saw something massive now blocking their path ahead, so they had no choice but to stop. They stood ready to fight off as many as they could, but they both had a look on their faces as if they were doomed. Stephen couldn’t think of a way out of this, and he dearly wished that he could say goodbye to Emily before they were barraged! The creatures came too rapidly, and Stephen prepared himself for the worst…

Very unexpectedly, the creatures all came to a screeching halt! They wouldn’t cross a certain point on the path and screeched from frustration as if some kind of fence were holding them back. He felt utterly confused, but something dawned onto Emily. “It’s a protective spell! But who would…?”

Stephen turned around and studied the barrier that they had encountered. His eyes went wide when he discovered what it was, and he reported to Emily, “That’s why they stopped!” She turned to see what he meant, and her jaw nearly dropped to the floor! They had come to a wooden house!Sweet & Scary

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 21

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course!” Galena purred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please don’t!” Derrick sobbed.

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

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

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

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