The Unsuper Heroes II, Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Don’t eat me!” a man with beady, black eyes, aged, olive toned skin, and short, dark hair woke with a start. As he oriented his focus, he reassured himself, “Oh, it was just a dream!” He realized that he was staring at a ceiling, but not the ceiling of the last room he remembered being in. This one had a cavern wall and stalactites, so he reasoned, “Oh, those super powered jerks must’ve thrown me in the palace dungeons! Oh, that figures! They were too noble to actually finish me off! Eh! I guess I can’t complain! As long as I’m still alive, I can prevail! I will not give up until the kingdom of Chaos is mine!” He cackled maniacally, and after his stirred up emotions settled down, he decided, “Well, I suppose it doesn’t do a lot of good lying on the ground talking to myself! I should probably get up and find an orator to argue my case! Oh, guards! I-!” He sat up and instantly froze when he beheld three men with flesh-toned, beak-like protrusions extending out of their faces, eyes that were basically just large pupils, and onyx colored robes staring at him from tall judicial benches. “Oh, never mind, I’m still dreaming!”

“You’re not dreaming!” a man with long, peppery hair, a thick, bushy beard, very pale skin, and a gray toga stood in the corner of the room with his arms folded as he spoke to him. “You’re dead!”

The other man in the room laughed as if the bearded man had kidded with him. “Very funny! Just wait ’til my orator hears how you all played a cruel joke on me during my capture! So, what’s the meal situation for prisoners here? It better be fresh or I swear, I’ll-!”

The bearded man interrupted him, “No, you’re dead! I can prove it!” He picked up a spiky, obsidian trident next to him and pointed it at the other man.

A green electricity shot out of the trident and hit the other man in the neck! After he felt a brief stinging, his head popped off! He expected to have everything go blank as he fell into his demise, but after that never happened, he had to conclude that the bearded man’s assertion had merit. “Oh my gods! I’m dead! How did this happen?”

“Just a wild guess, whatever was eating you!” the bearded man responded to him sardonically.

“Wow, you’re so rude!” His headless body tried to retrieve the rest of itself, but it stumbled as it attempted to do so. The men with the strange physiques all laughed, and as he screwed his head back on, he grumbled, “When I get my own cool, pokey thingy, I’m so getting you back for this!”

The bearded man shook his head and guffawed at his thick-headed ignorance. “I didn’t think I’d have to introduce myself, usually my new arrivals decipher it for themselves! I’m Hades, god of the Underworld! You’re here to meet your fate for the rest of eternity, and I’m here to supervise your trial. Any questions?”

The man snapped, “I demand an orator!”

“That’s not a question!” Hades reacted to his protest with heavy indifference. “But don’t bother, you’re representing yourself here! Judges, you may proceed!”

“Mercinon of Chaos,” the middle judge started the session, “We’re here to decide if your words and deeds have merited you an afterlife of bliss in the clouds of Elysium, aimless wandering in the fields of Asphodel, or torture and punishment in the caves of Tartarus. We have a list of your good deeds…” He motioned to the judge on his right, who unfurled a small piece of parchment. “…And we have a list of your misdeeds…” He indicated to the judge on his left, who’s list rolled all the way down to the floor! The other two judges stared at it in surprise, and then the middle judge concluded, “Well, this won’t take long!”

Mercinon put his hands on his hips and made a noise of annoyance. “I wasn’t that bad!”

The judge holding his list of misdeeds exclaimed, “You killed a lot of people!”

“No, I just had them killed! I didn’t actually lay my hands on them! Well, I guess a couple of people had to get pushed into the pit of jackals…” He saw the aghast expressions on everyone’s faces, so he tired to smooth it out, “But I had to do it! I had to try and take over Chaos to rescue it from the terrible royal family and inept senate that are in charge of it! I may have a teeny bit of blood on my hands, but it was for their own good!”

“What would you have done once you took over this land?” the judge with the good list queried.

Mercinon shrugged. “I dunno! Took over more places, put my face on all the Drachmas, you know, king things!”

The good list judge observed, “That doesn’t sound very beneficial for anyone other than yourself!”

“Oh, sure it is!” Mercinon disagreed. “My subjects would adore worshiping me!” A sparkling and billowy cloud of purple light flashed past him, and he asked, “What was that?”

“Sympathy for the dead,” the misdeeds list judge answered. “Normally, this room is filled with them, but based on this list, I’m surprised you got even one!”

Hades snickered slightly, and while Mercinon wanted to utter a clever comeback, the middle judge banged a gavel to get his attention. “I’ve heard enough! We’re ready to make our decision!”

Mercinon objected, “But you didn’t even discuss it!”

“Yeah… We don’t need to say out loud where you deserve to get sent to!” the middle judge let him know.

“I know, I’m going to Elysium, right?” Mercinon grinned at them hopefully.

All three judges gazed at him as if they wished they had more than just large pupils so they could roll their eyes at him. The middle judge decreed, “We sentence you to an eternity in Tartarus!”

Mercinon’s mood deflated upon that revelation. “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Hades remarked, “Yeah, that’s the idea! If you see Kamazota, tell her I said hello!”

“My mom? She’s here?” Mercinon trembled as he searched around the room for her.

“Kamazota is your mother? Yikes! I almost wanna feel bad for you! Toodle-oo!” He pulled a lever, and the three judges chuckled at his expression as he fell down the trap door he had been standing over.

Mercinon landed on a rocky floor face first, and he dully enounced, “Ow!”As he picked himself up, he griped, “If this really is the afterlife and not some kind of horrible dream, how is it I’m still able to feel pain?”

Someone in the near distance replied to him, “Well, how would we torture you if you couldn’t feel pain? Psychological harm only works if you have a heart, and if you had that, you probably wouldn’t would never have gotten sent here!”

“I suppose not, but I-!” He stopped midsentence when he saw who had been speaking to- a giant skeleton in a gondola that floated on a river of lava leading into a dark tunnel! “Now I forgot what I was gonna say!”

“Do I frighten you?” the skeleton jeered.

Mercinon no longer seemed bothered by his daunting appearance. Not really. I dealt with all kinds of monsters when I was alive! I just didn’t expect to be having a conversation with something that didn’t have a voice box!”

The skeleton rubbed his chin contemplatively. “Interesting! I haven’t seen this level of aloofness since Kamazota came here!”

“She’s in Tartarus too?” Mercinon jumped behind a set of sharp rocks and bit his nails as he shook in a hysterical manner. “If I thought I’d have to spend an eternity with my mother, I would have tried harder to fill up that good deeds list!”

“You’re related to Kamazota? That’s helpful to know!” the skeleton noted with amusement. “I’ll have to tell Hades that when we find her.

Mercinon barked, “He already knows! And he…” His tone shifted when he came to a realization from something else the skeleton had said. “Wait, you have to find her? So, she’s missing? Oh, thank Zeus! Okay, I’ll come quietly… Wait, she got sent to Tartarus too and escaped? Tell me how!”

The skeleton scoffed at his audacity. “Do you really expect me me to tell you that?”

Mercinon threw his hands up in a gesture that conveyed his lack of knowledge on that. “Worth a shot! So, it’s possible to avoid eternal punishment after all? That’s so good to know!”

No, it’s not like that!” the skeleton corrected his misinterpretation of the matter. “We originally planned to torment her, but she scared everyone who worked here, so we decided to employ her instead.”

“But you can’t find her, so she got out!” Mercinon persisted.

The skeleton differed, “No! She’s allowed to take a break from time to time. She never really takes a true holiday, she just works on finding her son… Oh hey, that’s you!” Mercinon’s face soured by that quip, which pleased the skeleton. He then directed Mercinon, “Well, I hope you enjoyed that ’cause it’s as close to fun as you’re gonna get for the next infinity years! Get in the boat!”

Mercinon crossed his arms defiantely. “What if I refuse?”

“You think you’re the first one to try that?” the skleton retorted. “Eventually, Hades will come by to check on things, and he’ll make you get on the boat if you don’t listen to me!” He paused and added, “Plus, your mother will come back to the Underworld eventually, and trust me, it’ll be a lot easier to find you on the banks of the River Styx than in Tartarus! So, it’s either deal with unbelievable cruelty or-?”

“Or deal with torture in Tartarus! Okay, I’ll go!” Mercinon sprang up and headed over to him.

Before Mercinon boarded his vessel, the skeleton blocked his path and notified him, “Not so fast! I need to collect your payment first!”

Mercinon puzzled, “Payment? No one said anything about paying money for pain and torture! Although I think my assistant was into that sort of thing…”

“You weren’t buried with a coin in your mouth?” the skeleton asked him.

“I don’t think I was buried!” Mercinon answered argumentatively. “Actually, I don’t even know if the Minotaur left enough of my mouth for an entire coin!”

The skeleton grimaced at the image he painted. “Gross! Well, if you don’t have the payment, you’ll have to earn it! Don’t worry, it’s just a few hundred years of manual labor!”

Mercinon’s eyes widened with horror upon learning that. “Manual labor? Nooooo!” He stepped backwards from the skeleton and fell onto his backside, but the tumble didn’t phase him at the moment. “I can change, I swear! Give me another chance!”

“It’s too late! You made the wrong choices as a human, so now you’ll have to pay the price!” The skeleton extended his hand and explained, “You have to report to the foreman in that door on the other side of the bank. If I don’t take you there, Hades will force you there! Or your mother-!”

“Don’t even say it!” Mercinon winced, and as he did so, he spotted something shiny out of the corner of his eye. He craned his head towards the object and was elated to see a coin lying there! “Oh look, someone dropped their coin! I’ll use that instead of doing peasant work, thank you very much!”

The skeleton relayed to him, “Nice try! That coin is stuck down there! Go on! See if you can pick it up! I’ll wait!”

Mercinon knew that it would most likely prove to be a fruitless venture, but he also wanted to avoid this detestable task he would get forced to endure, so he decided to make an attempt at it, even if it was a long shot it was still a chance at a little freedom! When he touched it, he expected it to stick to the surface, and he had already mentally prepared himself to go do his dreadful drudgery when, to his astonishment, the coin lifted up! The skeleton gasped, “How did you do that?” Mercinon wanted to give him a snotty reply to really rub it in his face, but instead, he found himself slowly disappearing! “Where are you going?” the skeleton inquired.

As he got pulled away from the area, Mercinon replied, “Don’t know, don’t care! Toodle-oo!” The last of him vanished with a pop.

Mercinon got sucked through a vortex of pure light, for a few seconds and then, without warning, he landed somewhere hard with a thud! As he rubbed his hind quarters, he studied his new surroundings. It still looked like a cave, but it had lighter rocks and a less dim atmosphere. “Where am I?” No one responded, but it didn’t bother him much. “Oh well! At least I’m safe now!” All of a sudden, a young woman with a gnarly face, cold eyes, and charcoal robes aimed a knobby staff towards him! “Dang it! So close!” Mercinon muttered as he stared blankly at this mysterious person and awaited her intentions with him…

The Shadow Path, Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are no soothsayer!” Kadera spat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who am I riding with?” Yasmina inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jakan agreed, “Let’s go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, Ardeshir interjected, “I hear something!”

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 2

Who’s there?” Yasmina put her book down on the bed next to her. Usually, she could hear a visitor’s reply from that side of the cottage, and while she could tell the caller was male, the voice sounded too muffled for her to clearly understand the message. With a slight annoyance, she got up and walked over to the door. She cracked it open just wide enough for her eye to see who had knocked. All she saw was a dark, green hooded cloak, which covered most of the man’s face. She opened the door wider and ushered him inside. “Come in.”

The man quickly entered but awkwardly stood in one place. Yasmina went to close the back window and told the stranger, “Have a seat on the rug.” The man did as she instructed, staring into her small fireplace where a flame burned brightly. He hadn’t taken off his hood, but Yasmina didn’t seem fazed as she sat down three clay pots before him. As she sat down, she inquired, “What are you looking for?”

The man replied, “The people say you’re the Magi of Neodrach.”

Yasmina felt a jolt of surprise to hear how commanding and yet warm his voice had sounded. She didn’t know anyone who sounded like that, and her curiosity began to rise. “You found me. What kind of elixir do you need? I have a healing potion ready.” She uncovered one of the clay pots to show a burgundy liquid. “I also have a remedy for sleeplessness and another for energy.” She revealed the other two as she mentioned them, and then she put down a large tome in front of him. “I can create something else if you need it. What did you have in mind?” She couldn’t see his expression, but she could see his head bob between the objects she laid out. She didn’t hear a reaction from him, so she added, “If you’ve come for a poison or anything dangerous, you can leave now because I don’t do that.”

Finally, the man spoke, “What kind of spells can you cast?”

Yasmina found this question peculiar. No one had ever asked her that before, and she didn’t understand his motives for doing so. “I specialize in more of the apothecary field.”

“You didn’t say you couldn’t do it,” he pointed out.

Yasmina started to get uncomfortable. She stood up and folded her arms as she addressed him, “Are you here to buy something or to mock me?”

“No, no, no!” He quickly stood up to fall in step with her. “I apologize, I had no intentions of offending you! I need help, and I wanted to know what you could do.”

Yasmina eyed him suspiciously. “Who sent you?”

“No one!” he immediately responded.

“Do you work for the king?” she probed.

“No!” he said adamantly.

She gave him a hard look before she turned her back on him. “I’m not a witch! I’m not evil! You can’t prove any-!”

He interrupted, “Not all witches are evil!”

She turned back around and stared at him in shock. In her whole life, she had never heard anyone say that! “Are you a warlock?”

“No,” he answered.

Yasmina had enough. “Who are you?” He hesitated, so she ordered, “Take off your hood!”

He didn’t do it right away, but he could tell from her demeanor that he had no choice. She didn’t have any clue what he would reveal, but it never occurred to her that he could be handsome! He had dark brown eyes that reflected deep thoughts, and his expression suggested a kind nature. His olive skin was smooth but bore a few scratches and bruises. He appeared around her age, perhaps a little older, and at that observance, she knew he didn’t come from this village. He bashfully admitted, “My name is Aidan.”

“Aidan?” Her first instinct was to not believe him, but a part of her pointed to the evidence. He had an aura of royalty, but he also had a wild look that a person might have after surviving a dangerous territory. The idea was still hard to believe though. “As in Prince Aidan?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

Yasmina shook her head. “No! Prince Aidan died when King Dorian took the throne.”

“As far as he knows, I died along with my family,” Aidan told her. “I escaped, but I couldn’t return to the castle, not without help, which is why I’m here.” He took a deep breath and explained, “Ten years ago, my parents set sail to do business overseas. Not long after they left, an explosion sounded from their ship. Before my brother and I had time to even comprehend what happened, our castle was invaded. The Duke of Eidoman ran inside Rogamaith and found a massacre. After the funeral, they declared him king. This is what he told the kingdom, and all of this is true, but that’s where his honesty ends.”

“It always seemed strange that no one had any clue who did it,” Yasmina recalled.

“There’s a reason for that,” Aidan affirmed. “There was a plot to make sure that Dorian became king, but it wasn’t for his benefit. He was a puppet for someone more powerful who controls him.” Yasmina looked taken aback by his claim but did not challenge its validity. He went on, “After my parents left, my brother met with some advisors regarding his duties as next in line for the throne. I went to the other side of Rogamaith to take a nap in my chambers. Not long after I closed my eyes, I heard an explosion from the ocean. I immediately ran to the window facing that direction and saw my parents’ ship completely engulfed in flames.” He choked up a bit at this point, but he soon continued, “Before any of us could react, we heard commotion coming from the entrance of the castle. The guards were clearly fighting for their lives, so we ran to help. We didn’t get far before they found us…witches!”

“What!” Yasmina gasped. She expected a formidable opponent, but she didn’t see the story going in that direction. Her stomach twisted a a little because of her association with that realm.

“They flew in on broomsticks, pointing wands left and right, shooting spells at everyone they saw. Our weapons were useless! When I saw a wand pointed at me, I iimmediately collapsed. It didn’t hit me, but I played dead. Do you know how maddening it is to listen to people dying without being able to do anything about it?” Aidan paused as the memory haunted him for a moment. “After a while, the place was quiet. The witches surveyed their work and started celebrating. A woman who they called Daeva chided them for doing so. They were supposed to vacate the castle immediately so her puppet could find the bodies. The instant I couldn’t hear them anymore, I rushed to a secret exit and got away from Rogamaith as fast as I could! When I got far enough, I turned to see it one more time. I actually saw Duke Dorian arrive as Daeva said he would. I didn’t stay long, really, I shouldn’t have stayed at all, but I had to…say goodbye!”

A tear came down his cheek, so Yasmina handed him a handkerchief, which he graciously accepted. She gave him some time before she queried, “What have you been doing all this time?”

He replied, “I realized that I was now the rightful ruler of Caragsona, but I couldn’t take my lawful seat on the throne because a witch was always guarding the castle. I think they were secretly looking for me since they never found my body. The only way to save my kingdom was to seize control from the witches. I traveled the country learning all I could about them, and I couldn’t find any way a mere mortal could defeat a magical being. The only way Daeva and her coven could get defeated was through another witch. I’ve spent the last ten years trying to find one who I could convince to help me, but no one would do it, they’re all on Daeva’s side! I couldn’t give up though, not with so much of Caragsona collapsing because of their control! I knew somewhere, someday I would find a witch who would use her powers for good!” He stared Yasmina straight in her eyes and asked, “Are you that witch?”

Yasmina didn’t answer at first. She felt disturbed to learn that Caragsona got hijacked by evil witches, and her first instinct inclined her to help a kind soul who needed it, but her nerves were gnawing at the pit of her gut. If she opened this door, she feared the the wicked nature of a witch would take over her entire being. Admitting her identity would force her to embrace the very thing she worked so hard to escape. “Kadera the Soothsayer predicted I would try to kill the king!”

“She said you would try,” Aidan emphasized. “She told you snippets of your future to scare you, but did she tell you everything? Did she tell you that she’s also a witch?”

This revelation struck a nerve for Yasmina. “She’s a what? Ugh! She made me feel like I’m a terrible person, she convinced everyone in Neodrach that I’m a terrible person, and this whole time, she…ugh!”

“She saw something in you,” Aidan surmised. “A rival, someone who had the potential to collapse the empire they were building!”

“How could she possibly know that?” Yasmina wondered. “I’m no one special.”

Aidan responded by asking, “If you knew you had these powers, how come you’ve never used them to steal, harm, or destroy things? Or people? Have you ever been tempted to use them for your own ill gain?”

“Of course not!”

“Do you have any idea how rare that is?”

Yasmina had never thought about that before, and it certainly rang true for her. She felt a little better about herself, but she still felt hesitant about his plan. “If I were to help you, and if we succeeded, you’ll get your throne, but how is my life going to be different? How do I know you wouldn’t use me and throw me away when you’re done?”

“I give you my word that if you help me save my kingdom, I will make sure that you will live a life of dignity!” Aidan promised. “I also can assure you that if I can’t find anyone to help me, our land will crumble and decay. I know it’s asking a lot, and all you have is my word, but give me a chance to prove myself! If I show signs of betrayal, you’re free to leave. That won’t happen though because this is far too important!” He gave her a moment to mull it over before he ardently asked her, “So, are you a good witch?”

Yasmina feared that accepting this mission would risk what little she had, and she didn’t feel entirely assured that all would end well. Everything happened so suddenly, and her overwhelming emotions clouded her judgment. She didn’t think she could give an answer until she gazed into his eyes. His pleading pulled at her heartstrings, and her inner guidance urged her to do the right thing. She closed her eyes and forced herself to admit, “Yes, I am.” She opened her eyes, feeling strange. The truth was out there, and now suddenly the air felt different. The feeling both cleansed and frightened her! Something deep within her flowed free for the first time, and she knew the universe agreed with the path she chose!

Aidan asked her, “Will you help me in this quest?”

Yasmina answered him, “Yes.”

Aidan smiled in relief. “Thank you! We don’t have a moment to lose! It’s time to begin!”