The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 4

The man in fine clothing peered out at the lake through the brush and saw a woman in a red cloak lying down on the ground, so he rushed over to see if she was alright. When he got close, he cautiously inquired, “Miss? Miss! Are you okay?” Cally inwardly groaned. She didn’t want to hear any taunting or ridicule from a normal person right before she died and hoped that it would happen sooner so that she would not have to endure it. Once his words sunk in more, she found the strong timbre of his voice almost comforting. He sounded very kind, which sort of confused her. People so rarely worried about her well being, so this felt both refreshing and strange…

Suddenly, even though her eyes were closed, she saw a shadow hovering over her face. She opened her eyes to see a man with smooth, bronzed skin as well as deep, light blue eyes and short, wavy, dark brown hair staring at her with concern. For a moment, she enjoyed waking up to find such a handsome man at her side, but then she remembered what her own face looked like and bolted up in terror. “Stay back!” she cried out.

“I’m sorry I frightened you!” he apologized. “I just wanted to make sure you’re alright.”

“I’m fine!” she mulled it over for a moment and then corrected herself, “Actually, I’m not fine. I’m dying…”

The man gasped, “I’m so sorry! Could I give you a ride to an infirmary? Maybe they can save you!”

Although Cally refused to show him her face again, she did sense his sincerity in wanting to help her. She felt moved by his compassion, but she couldn’t understand why he would want to save her. Patrons of Camellia’s Circus had seen her get hurt and laughed about it, so she felt surprised by such an authentic care for her. She wondered if it was a trap of some sort and began to grow suspicious of him. “An infirmary won’t help me. I’ve been cursed and we don’t know what hex did it. I’ve been taking a potion twice a day since I was a baby to stay alive and I’ve just spilled it all. I don’t have much time left.”

As the words left her lips, she felt as though she were lying. Reisseck made sure she took the potion exactly on time, not one minute longer, and yet nothing seemed to be happening. Actually, she felt a little better than she did before, lighter and a little stronger, but she couldn’t explain why. The man didn’t seem to buy her claim either, but he humored her, “Well, is there a next of kin that I can inform?”

“No!” Cally didn’t like to get reminded just how alone in the universe she was, and with her hideous visage, she didn’t get why he thought anyone would miss her if she perished. Reisseck would probably miss the money she brought in and feel irritated he would have to take care of the house himself, but other than that, it hurt to think no one would have cared if she didn’t exist anymore. “I’m a mere servant, I have no one.”

“Really?” He sounded puzzled by that statement. “I have plenty of servants, but they all have families who would miss them. I would be saddened to hear if they died as well.” Cally felt a little intrigued by a man who allegedly had multiple servants and really pondered who she might have been talking to now. “Do you have a husband?”

Cally bitterly laughed at that question. “You’re mocking me now!”

“No!” the man insisted.

“You’ve seen my face!” Cally snapped. “Why would anyone want to marry me?”

The man, utterly bewildered, responded, “You’re joking right?” Cally didn’t understand his attitude and couldn’t help but turn around to see if he truly meant it. He had a look of total incomprehension and a fierce worry for her. “Why wouldn’t a man want to marry you? You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen!”

Cally didn’t think he could possibly be telling the truth with that. While she knew beauty meant something different to each person, she couldn’t see a man of his caliber actually finding her that attractive. “You’re lying! You are mocking me!”

The man, completely baffled, stood there trying to understand her perplexing behavior, but when he saw a patch of wet ground, he remembered that she had spilled potion there and suddenly, something clicked for him. “Look at your reflection in the water.”

“Why on Earth would I want to do that?” Cally spat. “Do you think I like looking at my tentacles?Or the warts?”

“You don’t have any tentacles!” the man stated firmly. “Or warts.”

“You’re lying again! You’d have to be blind not to see that my face is covered with…” She pointed to her face to and should have touched one of her tentacles, and she got completely thrown off when she didn’t! She timidly felt her forehead, and she could hardly believe to discover its total smoothness! She ran her fingers all over her face and didn’t feel any blemishes! She ran to the lake, and when she saw her reflection, she almost screamed in astonishment! She could see her eyes for the first time, and she never knew they were a stunning golden brown! The man was right about her looks, she did have a beautiful face! She always dreamed of having a face like this, and it actually made her tear up to see it.

The man smiled warmly to see her cry happily like that. “I think that potion altered your appearance.”

Cally didn’t know what to believe at that moment. For over thirty years, she never really liked Reisseck, but the one redeeming feature he had was the work he did to make her the potion that she thought she depended on to stay alive, but now it appeared as though he had lied to her! It seemed like such a crazy thing to do that it just couldn’t be real! “Why would he want to do that?”

The man conjectured, “Usually, if someone disguises themselves, they’re trying to hide something. If he disguised you, then there’s a reason he’s trying to keep you hidden from the world.”

“Why would he do that?” Cally thought that explanation made sense, but she still couldn’t think of a logical reason as to what would motivate Reissekc to pull a stunt like that.

The man contemplated this for a moment. “Hmm… It’s hard to say. How long have you known him?”

“My whole life,” Cally replied. “I’ve been with him since I was three days old, and I’ve never seen any reason why he’d do that. I mean, I never really questioned him keeping me hidden because I was so disfigured that I didn’t want to get seen, but those disfigurements aren’t real, so why would he…?” Cally’s head felt too overloaded with all this new information, making it hard for her to think. “I’m just an orphan, I’m nothing special, why would he…?”

The man jumped in, “Where were you in the first three days of your life?”

Cally shrugged. “I have no idea. Reisseck told me he found me abandoned in the woods. He had no idea who my parents could have been because no one in the world looked like me. But if he altered my face, then I guess that couldn’t be true. I suppose my parents could have abandoned me for other reasons, but then why bother to disguise me?”

“Maybe he didn’t find you abandoned in the woods,” the man theorized. “Lots of people go missing each day, and sometimes it just takes one little clue to figure out what happened to them. Your parents could have vanished, and your true identity could prove key to finding them.”

“Maybe…” Cally considered this notion. “But that would mean that Reisseck… I’ll have to ask him about it when I see him tonight.”

The man remarked, “I don’t feel comfortable letting you go to someone who could be a potential criminal. You should come with me, I’ll keep you safe.”

Cally had always dreamed of an opportunity to get away from Dregs Hollow, and she dearly wished that she could go with him, but unfortunately, she had to turn him down. “If I could get away from him, I would have done so a long time ago. But you see this?” She showed him the star on her left palm. “I’m magically bound to stay near him. If I go too far from wherever he is, I freeze up. Maybe it doesn’t matter why my parents left, either way, I’m stuck with him!”

“But maybe if we solved that mystery, we could figure out a way to break the spell,” the man pointed out. “At the very least, we could figure out who you truly are.”

“Who I truly am?” Cally echoed. “You don’t even know who I am! And I don’t know you. How do I know you didn’t do a spell to tempt me into helping you?”

The man laughed, “I think the people of Andor would have noticed if their future king could do magic!”

“No way!” Cally reacted in shock. “You’re not…!”

He half bowed to her. “Prince Derrick, at your service!”

Cally didn’t believe him and now truly thought that he was trying to trick her. “Yeah, right! The prince of Andor just happened to be in this remote area and just found me by chance?”

Derrick refuted the notion of any ill intentions on his part, “I went to Camellia’s Circus to take a break. I often come to Lacoria because Queen Avalyn often travels and King Henrick’s mind has been in and out in terms of sanity ever since his daughter died. Queen Avalyn is still in denial about it, she actually searches the world trying to find her! It’s sad really. Well, anyways, I just needed a break from my royal duties. I’ve heard good and bad things about Camellia’s Circus, so I decided to check it out for myself. I was just heading back when I heard you shout. If something foul happened to your parents, I owe it to the kingdom to find out what. When I go back to Barlock, I’ll search through the records to see if any newspapers mention you. Can I have your name?”

“No, you can’t! It’s getting late, I need to get home!” Cally turned to run away.

“Wait!” Derrick called after her. “Please, let me help you!” Cally ignored him and ran through the thick of the trees like her life depended on it. He followed her, but since she knew this area much more than he did, she was able to weave her way out faster than he did. By the time he got back to the path, she had gone completely out of sight!

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The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 3

She walked through the streets of Dregs Hollow and glanced at the buildings as she passed by them. She had spent her whole life staring at these tacky buildings and often wondered how their flimsy structure kept on standing all these years in spite of bad weather and general rough housing. They rarely tipped over though, it always stayed the same. The same was true for the rest of the town as well. Unlike other places she had visited, witches and people with overt mutations roamed freely. Even the most normal looking people had an air of dottiness to them. She thought this commonality of being outcasted would have bound the inhabitants together, but most of the people there kept to themselves. Some of them formed cliques, but it mostly stemmed from that providing the easiest way to spread gossip. She saw that unfold in front of her at that moment as she walked down the road. She wore a red cloak with a hood that covered her face, but everyone still knew it was her. She sincerely wished that more of her neighbors would form friendships and deep bonds, but she didn’t have high hopes of that happening any time soon. She would even settle for the ability to walk down the street without getting talked about, but she didn’t see that happening any time soon either.

She came to the large, wooden fence that bordered the only entrance in and out of Dregs Hollow, and the two sentries leered at her. One sentry taunted her, “Oh look, it’s Cally! Off to work at Camellia’s Circus again? Too good to get a job in Dregs Hollow?” The two sentries snickered.

Cally blinked her eyes and coolly retorted, “Camellia’s Circus is lower than the peasant village, so if they’re on a higher tier, what does that make Dregs Hollow?”

The sentries did not like that comment, and the other sentry growled, “Hey, watch it!”

“Are you going to move? Or would you like to tell Reisseck why I lost a day’s worth of wages?” Cally folded her arms and waited expectantly. They reluctantly opened the doors, and she pushed past them as she exited the gates.

The farther she got from Dregs Hollow, the prettier the forest became. The lush trees provided a nice, cool shade, and Cally could hear the echo of birds singing on the branches above her. She cleared her head and really soaked in the scenery. Between the chaos at work and the drudgery at home, the walks she took provided her a much needed sense of peace and freedom. Books did that for her too, but she struggled to find time for that sometimes. The Oreads forest had a distinctively magical quality to it, and she would find excuses to spend more time there. She didn’t have time this morning though, so she kept on walking towards her job.

The path led to a bench with a trash bin next to it, and today the bench had people waiting for their nearby carriage, so Cally cut across the grass to avoid eye contact with them. She saw the iron bars that surrounded the park, and she always thought that the dreary fence sharply contrasted the circus tents that hung over the carnival games and ride entrances. She walked along the railing to the employee entrance, which she always hated using. Their assigned tasks were always pinned to the door of the boss’s office, which was at the back of the ticket booth of the public entrance at the opposite end of the employee’s entrance! She felt disappointed when she came to the locked door. Every day, she sort of hoped that it would disappear so that she wouldn’t have to work that day! Even after fifteen years of working there, she had never gotten used to the hard work and drama that went into her job each day. She didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, but she knew it wasn’t that. She took out her key to let herself in and sighed as she mentally prepared herself for another hectic day.

As she passed each ride, she wondered where she would be assigned today. She passed the Flying Horses first, which had eight winged stallions that were connected to a giant cylindrical structure. A large bar protruded from it, which she would push to propel the ride forward. She was glad that it had pads beneath the ride that made it easier to push it forward! Next, she passed by some carnival games, but she rarely got assigned to those because her boss gave the easier tasks to the lazier employees. He figured that it would be a waste of time putting them on the harder jobs since they wouldn’t actually do the work, and Cally really wished that he would crack the whip a little more and force everyone to do equal work. She passed by the roller coaster next, which she didn’t like much either. She had toe release a brake and pedal a bike that prompted the wheels on the track to go forward, pushing the cars up the hill with centrifugal force and gravity taking care of the rest. Most of the other rides ran on steam-powered electricity, but she hardly ever got assigned to those. She always hoped for the best but expected the worst!

When she got to the small ticket booth, she saw that most of her coworkers were gathered in the back, so she assumed that the task list hadn’t been put up yet. The majority of the people that worked there were also from Dregs Hollow, but they weren’t as disfigured as her. The townsfolk didn’t judge them for working here though, so she didn’t know why they gave her such a hard time for doing so! Everyone gave her a reproachful look, but she didn’t feel it was necessary because she knew better than to hover too close to them. She lingered a safe distance behind them and waited to see the task list last, a daily routine that never motivated her to arrive early. Finally, a man in a ringmaster’s costume stepped out of his small office and pinned a piece of parchment to the door. Everyone except for Cally got excited about what they would potentially do for that day.

When it came to Cally’s turn, she looked down the list and felt a jolt of surprise to see that she got assigned to the Ferris wheel! “Ringmaster Claude, the Ferris wheel is working again?”

Claude replied, “It’s mostly done, but it gets kind of glitchy. You’ll need to bring a tool kit.” As he handed it to her, she tried not to groan out loud. She started to head over to to it when Claude added, “Oh, Cally!” She turned around hoping he didn’t give her yet another task to do. “Don’t forget to smile!” Cally had no idea how he could tell she wasn’t smiling since she had her hood up, but she complied with his direction until he was out of sight.

If the twin steam engines weren’t so faulty, this ride would have been easy for her to operate. It would work for a little while, but then she would constantly have to close the ride for maintenance. Sometimes passengers were stuck on the top of the wheel when the ride stopped, so she felt great pressure to work quickly. Sometimes she even had to climb up the structure to oil some gears or tighten up a loose screw. The patrons liked to yell at her for these inefficiencies as if it were her fault, but if it were up to her, she would shut down such an unsafe machine! Just like any other task in her life, she had no choice but to follow orders!

By the end of the day, she could hardly move, so it took a great deal of effort to make it back to the ticket booth. Claude had already begun to hand out their daily wages, and he would to the recipient what time they were to come in the next day. Sometimes people only worked mornings or would get randomly assigned to an evening only shift. If they were lucky, he would give them the day off. Cally hardly ever got a half day or a day off, but a small part of her always hoped to hear good news. When it was finally her turn, she got disappointed when he told her that she had another full day tomorrow. She left already dreading the next day.

Cally never knew how long closing procedures would take, and today she found a bit of luck for herself in that she had a little extra time before she had to go home. When she exited Camellia’s Circus, she went in the opposite direction that she would if she had went home. After a little while, she came to a patch of trees and veered off the path. As she climbed over roots and brushed through the foliage, she saw a small lake in the distance. When she got close to the water, she pulled out her vial of potion that she took twice daily. As she pulled off the cork, she thought that she had already cleared all of the roots, so didn’t see this twig that protruded from the brush. The lace on her boot had caught onto the stick, and not only did she fall forward, but the entire contents of her vial spilled out! “No!” she cried out.

A man in very fine clothing rode his horse down the dirt road when he heard a woman yelling from the thick of the trees. Very concerned, he told his horse, “Woah!” He climbed off of the steed and quietly told it, “Wait here!” He cautiously went into the trees to investigate.

Cally’s head spun at that moment. The medicine that she depended on to survive had vanished into the ground beneath her! She panicked, she didn’t feel ready to die! She still had so much she wanted to accomplish, and she didn’t want to accept that this was it. She never had the chance to explore the world, make some friends, or fall in love, and it saddened her to think she never would. She had hoped that by the end of her lifetime that she would have done something to give her life more meaning, and she didn’t like that it had come to an end while she still felt so unimportant to the world. She wondered how much longer she had left. Reisseck had always insisted that she needed to take it right away each time, so she didn’t think she had too much time left. She considered herself lucky that at least she got to have it happen there by that beautiful lake instead of inside the ugly bowels of Dregs Hollow. She laid down on the grass and let the beautiful fall leaves surround her. She watched the sky and waited for the inevitable…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 2

The shadowy figure emerged from the bushes just as daylight broke. The potion he made to keep the baby asleep was starting to wear off, and as she began to stir, he knew he had to get her away from the beaten path. As he traveled through the thick of the trees, he saw a small clearing in the distance. When he got closer, he saw a small lake that stood still enough to make him think that no one had set foot in that place for years. He had a couple of things to take care of before he went home, and this seemed like the perfect spot to do it.

As the infant laid down in the soft, green grass, she gazed up at an old man with a decrepit body, a pig-like snout, and patchy, sallow skin. As he studied her with his dark, beady eyes, she began to cry. He leered, “You don’t like my appearance? Well, too bad! I’m binding you to me until the queen can no longer bear children! Then the kingdom will be all mine!” The little baby couldn’t comprehend the song and dance that he now did in front of her, but she watched him intensely. When he got towards the end, she felt a warm wind envelope her body. A star appeared on her left palm, and the man cackled, “You’re bound to me now!”

The man picked her up and verified that his spell had worked by peering at the mark on her hand. He thought out loud, “It worked! You can’t get too far away from me now!” He ogled her little face, which looked like like any other baby’s except for the golden brown eyes. “Ugh! You have your mother’s eyes! We can’t have that, can we?” He gave her another potion to transfigure her appearance, and then he covered her with a blanket and headed out.

As he walked down the dirt road with the baby concealed in his arms, he began to grow more relaxed. No one besides him seemed to be in this area. Even as he gazed off the path and to his left, he saw that an amusement park had completely motionless rides. It was early enough in the morning where most people wouldn’t even think of waking up, so no one even stood outside to wait for the park to open. Even if someone had shown up on the path he walked on to question him, he knew that they had no chance of recognizing the baby at this point. He didn’t want to risk running into the royal guard if he could help it though. The amusement park told him he was almost home, so he began to speed up his gait.

He came up to a tall fence made from sturdy, wooden logs sealed together very uniformly. The center had two large doors secured by two sentries in slightly rusty armor and non-human faces. One had purple skin and the other had green. They both had grotesque horns and warts spattered erratically on their visage. They eyed the baby suspiciously, and one of them asked, “What’s that?”

“I’m going to raise her to become my personal servant,” he answered. The guards gave him a peculiar look, so he roared, “Step aside, you fools! Do you remember who you’re talking to?”

The second guard apologized, “Sorry, Reisseck, sir!” They half bowed as they opened the gates for him.

Reisseck walked through a village with crudely built houses that stood lopsidedly, some so much so that they swayed in the wind. The wood used to build them was mismatched and thin. The most coordinated objects on them were the thick shutters and corpulent doors. Some of the houses had rotted, or broken in some cases, fences with unkempt yards. The streets were empty at the moment save for a rat here and there. At the edge of the village, they came to a large, craggy hill. The structure itself appeared to have small windows peaking out at odd places on the wall. In front of the cavern entrance stood a sign that read “Tower of Tatarus” hung haphazardly above their heads. He went inside the dark foyer, and as he got further inside, he passed by several small and somewhat splintery doors. After many twists and turns, he came to the biggest hunk of rock, which had the only halfway decent door. He mockingly told the infant, “Welcome to Dregs Hollow!”

After Reisseck lit a candle, he searched around his living room, which was small and full of a lot of clutter. So many pieces of furniture just didn’t seem to have a proper place, and none of it matched. He had several odd and deformed knick-knacks strewn all about the area as well. He combed through his things until he found a peeling apple box and a scruffy, old blanket. “There! You have a crib!” He set the baby down and trudged over to a small corner that had a rickety table and as small fire pit. He took out his wand and started a fire. He put a cauldron on top just as the baby began to wail. “I’m making you food! Don’t worry, I won’t let you starve! I need you alive for a while!”

Not long after Reisseck arrived home, the royal guards of Lacoria arrived at the entrance to the village. The two sentries blocked their path, and one of them growled, “You’re not allowed to patrol in Dregs Hollow! We’ve been over this!”

The head of the royal guard pulled out a roll of parchment that had a red wax seal with a crown on it. “We have a decree from the king to search the grounds. If you don’t comply, we’ll have you thrown in the dungeons! Or, if you prefer, we can return with a fleet of knights! Which would you prefer?” The two sentries glared at them, but they begrudgingly stepped inside.

After scouring over the whole town, the royal guards came to the Tower of Tatarus. Reisseck sat coolly on a patchy recliner when they entered his home. One knight saw a bundle resting in the apple box, and he alerted the others, “There’s a baby here!”

Reisseck lied, “If you’re looking for a missing child from your realm, you’re wasting your time in my chambers! This one belongs here!”

“We’ll see about that!” another knight responded. They unwrapped the swaddle around the infant, and when they saw her face, they gasped in disgust! She had long, almost clear red suction cups that covered her eyes and red warts all over the rest of her face! Reisseck chuckled rapturously at their reaction.

The head of the royal guard sternly directed him, “If you see anyone with the missing princess, you better tell us!”

“Why would anyone bring a human here?” Reisseck taunted them. They gave him a dirty look before they left. Reisseck smiled broadly.

As soon as she learned to walk, he began to teach her to do housework. He had a fierce temper, and she found herself walking on eggshells when he was around. Reisseck gave her the transfiguring potion each day, but she grew up believing it was medicine that she needed to live. She never questioned it because she feared that he grow angry at her mistrust and quit making something her life depended on. When she reached school age, he didn’t want to let her get an education at first, but when he realized he could teach her to do more complex chores, he decided she should learn to read and write. Although the other kids in Dregs Hollow were also disfigured, they sensed her meek nature and teased her regularly. Without friends at school or love from her only parental figure, she grew up extremely lonely. Her only solace came from reading books. The selection of the town didn’t offer a lot, but it meant the world to her! It taught her that the world offered a different lifestyle than the miserable one she led, and she dreamed that one day she could find happiness too. She didn’t know how she would do it, but she vowed to herself to find a way to live a more meaningful life!

As she grew older, Reisseck allowed her to fetch items for him in the nearby villages. She kept a hood over her face the entire time and didn’t interact with anyone unless she had to. She feared Reisseck’s wrath, but she also worried about the reaction of the townsfolk when they saw her monstrous appearance. Still, she couldn’t help but get entranced by the humble routines of normal people. She saw lovers holding hands as they walked down the streets, friends happily chatting outside of cafes, workers either enjoying their jobs or enjoying complaining about them, and so much more, and she longed to experience such things! She teared up at the thought that these people got to live the lives that she could only read about because she had no idea how she would ever have a chance to experience these things. She tried running away a couple of times, but each time she tried, she found herself frozen solid, totally unable to move. She still felt determined to achieve her dreams, but she began to lose hope of ever making it happen.

Since he had a servant that took care of him, Reisseck became pretty sedintary. Except for brewing potions, all he did was sit around the house barking orders at her. Inhabitants of the village would often come to him for advice or to help them settle disputes, which he thoroughly enjoyed and would babble on for hours. In his mind, he became Dregs Hollow royalty. The feeling only grew when he allowed his servant girl to take a job since he would take her money to buy finer things for his house and his stomach. His belly grew almost as large as his ego! He felt very complacent with his life like this, and he felt pleased that no one ever questioned him about the missing princess again. Things were good for him, but all of this was about to change…

The Curse of Dregs Hollow, Chapter 1

A horse clip-clopped across the rainy, cobblestone streets, and a shadowy figure eyed it closely. The rider had a cloak over his face, but the purple skirt around his steed let him know that he had found the right person. The shadowy figure reached his gnarly fingers into his own ratty cloak and took out a knobby, wooden wand. He pointed it at the projected path of the horse and shot out a spell. The horse suddenly stopped, which not only made the hex miss its target but it sent the man flying off his mount! He hit the wall of a house located in the middle of a row of closely built, sandy stone cottages. The shadowy figure advanced towards him but quickly retreated when the door of the house opened up. A woman with a long dress and apron shined her lantern on the fallen man and gasped. Another lady came outside to see what was going on and saw the first woman assisting the man. She ran out to help, and the man leaned on both of them as they took him inside.

The man shivered as he saw on a wooden chair in their dining area. A fire burned behind him as he sipped on some tea. Though his normally olive-toned skin had gone pale and his piercing blue eyes were overshadowed by heavy bags beneath them, he still had a very handsome and very commanding appearance. His dark brown hair laid limp on his shoulders as he fought off the shivers that plagued his body. Both women stared at him with concern. “Sire, what on Earth are you doing out in your condition?” one of them asked.

The king answered, “I heard the apothecary in this town is legendary. I hoped that she could make an elixir that would finally cure whatever is wrong with me.”

As the second woman draped a blanket around him, she gently reproached him, “You should have sent a servant to fetch it for you!”

“But he’s too right about the apothecary,” the first woman noted. “She’s a miracle worker!”

The second woman agreed, “Yes, she did wonders for Avalyn! Poor thing nearly died!”

The king inquired, “Where can I find this apothecary?”

“She hasn’t been in town for a few days,” the first woman regretfully replied.

The king grew crestfallen, so the second woman suggested, “Avalyn only needed a drop of this potion, so she probably still has some of it.”

“Where can I find this Avalyn?” the king probed.

The two women put on cloaks and walked with him across the dark, empty streets. The shadowy figure quietly groaned in disappointment of seeing the king with a couple of witnesses. Not far from the women’s cottage, the houses stood further apart from each other but were still made of the same stones and slightly dilapidated wooden beams. They approached a house with a peeling white picket fence and a small garden in the front yard. The three of them walked across the rock path and gently knocked on the door. A man inside cautiously opened up the door and shined his own lantern outside to see who was calling him in such a late hour. He looked old enough to be the women’s father, but he did not have the low energy of most people his age. He studied the figures and realized that he recognized them. “Joanne! Sasha! Is that… King Henrick?”

“May we come in?” Henrick requested.

“Of course!” he obliged. He stepped out of the doorway so that they could enter.

Joanne and Sasha helped Henrick into a nearby chair in the man’s dining area. Henrick told Joanne and Sasha, “Thank you, ladies! And to you as well, Mister…”

“Call me Solomon.” He paused and gingerly questioned, “Um, your highness, pardon me for asking, but what are you doing here?”

Henrick explained, “Well, as you know, I’ve been sick for a while, and I feel it’s of the utmost importance that I get well! I simply cannot let my kingdom fall into the hands of Duke Ferrin! His ideas for the land are dangerous and would destroy Lacoria! I read a newspaper column talking of the glorious work at the apothecary of Bohemma, so I came to find a cure. I’ve been told that your daughter still has some of her miracle potion…”

Solomon responded, “Say no more! Avalyn! Please bring your healing medicine over!”

A young woman with porcelain skin, sandy-colored hair, and golden brown eyes entered the room carrying a vial of amber liquid. “Father, its right here, what could you possibly…?”

Avalyn locked eyes with Henrick, who had a look of awe on his face! She, too, had an expression of great admiration and not solely for his position as king! He miraculously stood up, and she bashfully brought the elixir over to him. He took a sip and could feel his strength returning already. He fondly remarked to Avalyn, “If this potion works, I would like to woo you as my queen!” Avalyn smiled and blushed.

Months later, the kingdom showed up in droves to the castle Barlock buzzing about the king’s wedding. Not everyone could attend the ceremony, so those who couldn’t see it waited outside by a red carpet where Henrick would officially present Lacoria’s new queen. The shadowy figure stood in the back as two peasants excitedly chatted. One man commented, “I’m so glad we won’t have to have Duke Ferrin as king! What a nightmare that would have been!”

The shadowy figure cringed, and the other man pointed out, “We’re not totally out of the woods yet! They have to produce at least one heir or we’ll go right back to the same old drama!” This gave the shadowy figure an idea. Henrick and Avalyn came out, and while the crowd cheered and the smoke from the cameras lit up the sky like fireworks, the shadowy figure snuck off.

He disguised himself as a chef and penetrated Barlock’s kitchen without fuss. Dozens of cooks were preparing a myriad of different dishes, and the shadowy figure wondered which one was intended for Avalyn. He heard one person talk about “the queen’s favorite,” and he whipped his head in that direction. He saw the person walk away from a bowl of soup. He steathily made his way to the wheeled tray it sat on, and when no one was looking, he took a vial out of his pocket labeled “Infertility.” He put in a couple of drops and stirred the food to mix his potion in. When a woman came over with another plate of food, he quickly shot himself out of eyesight. He hid behind a pillar and watched a servant wheel the tray out of the kitchen, which made him smile mischievously.

For years, Henrick and Avalyn tried to conceive a child, and neither of them understood why they weren’t having any luck. They tried every trick they could find and still, nothing happened. One day, a kindly old sorceress visited the king and queen in the throne room and theorized that someone had slipped Avalyn an infertility potion. The antidote to it was difficult to make, but she finally produced it for them. They seemed skeptical about the concept of magic, but they thought that it was worth a shot to give it a try. The sorceress gave her a small bottle and instructed Avalyn to drink the whole thing. It would reverse the infertility effect for twenty four hours. If she needed more, she told them that she lived in a cottage in the Oreads forest, and she assured them that she lived far enough away from Dregs Hollow that they could be certain of their safety. Avalyn and Henrick thanked her for her gesture, and they promised that if it worked, they would find her cottage and reward her handsomely.

One day, as the shadowy figure walked along a dirt path surrounded by billowy trees, he noticed a newspaper in a trash bin next to a wooden bench. His eye had seen a picture of the royal couple with broad grins on their faces, and he didn’t think that anything that made them this happy could bode well for him, so he snatched up the newspaper and sincerely hoped his hunch would get proven wrong. When he read that Avalyn had conceived a child, he roared in fury. He threw the newspaper down and cursed the fact that he couldn’t use his powers to kill. He didn’t let this stifle his determination though and devised a new plan…

Shortly after the baby was born, Henrick and Avalyn brought the new princess to the throne room where reporters stood ready with their cameras on tripods and their quills ready to write. Henrick and Avalyn pleasantly answered all of their questions except for the one about the name simply because they hadn’t decided on it yet. Later on, Avalyn carried the infant into the nursery and laid her in the crib. As she tucked her in, she crooned, “Sleep well, little… Caliana!”

As the nighttime nanny entered, Avalyn stole one more loving glance at her baby before she left the room and fell asleep in her and Henrick’s chambers. After the nanny fell asleep on a chair on the other side of the nursery, the shadowy figure crept in through the window. He moved slowly and as silenly as he could so he didn’t wake the nanny. He swiftly grabbed the child and ran out of the window! The nanny heard him jump out of the window and woke with a start. When she saw that the crib was empty, she let out a blood curling scream. Henrick and Avalyn rushed in and nearly had a heart attack when they realized what just happened. While Avalyn uncontrollably sobbed, Henrick rounded up everyone in the castle and ordered them all to search for the culprit. They searched the grounds thoroughly, but no one saw the shadowy figure sneak off into the darkness!

The Shadow Path, Chapter 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End

The Shadow Path, Chapter 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shadow Path, Chapter 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are no soothsayer!” Kadera spat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who am I riding with?” Yasmina inquired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jakan agreed, “Let’s go!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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