Streams to Ashes first 3 chapters

This is bonus material for my Kickstarter backers.




Brad jumped off the couch when his sister’s car sputtered and came to a halt in the driveway. As the sedan hissed and shut off, he peered out the window and took a long look at it, hoping the timing belt wasn’t going out. He’d rather it was something simple he could fix like a spark plug misfiring. Still, he was no mechanic and would most likely have to take it to the shop for her before it died for good. With a heavy sigh, he opened the front door and watched Elisa get out of the car.

“Well?” Elisa asked, pulling the grocery bag out of the back seat. “Aren’t you going to help?”

“You said you were coming three hours ago,” he complained, standing on the porch with his hands on his hips.

“I never said that. This afternoon is what I said.” Elisa gave him a dirty look and slammed the door shut with her foot. She stormed up the porch stairs, brushed past him, and hurried inside with her arms loaded.

“I swear, Brad, when are you going to learn to be a gentleman?”

“I’m a gentleman, just not to my sister.”

She set the paper sack on the couch and wiped the wrinkles in her blouse before giving him a scowl.

“What smells?” she asked, scrunching her nose.

“Crispy toast. What did you get?” Brad peeked into the bag.

“Ribeye, chuck steak, and veggie burgers. There’s a timer on your toaster, you know. You don’t always have to burn it.”

“I like it burned. Veggie burgers? Why?”

“I thought we’d try to get him accustomed to eating vegetables. The price of meat is sky-high. If we can get him to eat veggie burgers, I could learn to make them myself. It’d be a budget-friendly and clever option.

Brad shook his head and laughed. “We won’t keep him caged forever, you know. He’ll be able to hunt on his own soon enough.”

Elisa rolled her eyes. “No, Brad.”


“Hunt where? He has nowhere to go. Someone would capture him in the Realm, and he can’t come here.”

Brad pulled his sweatshirt from the closet. “Whatever. Let’s go. We’re late.”

“I feel sorry for him,” she continued. “If there were a way—”

“Maybe there is a way. Let’s see what happens.” Brad nodded toward the bag. “Grab it!”

“You can’t carry it?” Elisa sighed, picked up the groceries, and followed him.

Brad kept the key to the back bedroom in his pocket, along with the keys to his new house. Well, the house wasn’t new exactly. It was sixty-years-old, yet new to him. After years of begging, he finally convinced Ian to owner-finance with a down-payment proof. It thrilled him when he discovered Alex’s old computer tucked away in the foundry, hidden beneath a sheet of cobwebs. He worked diligently to resurrect the computer, despite Ian trying to convince him the scientists had fried it when they hacked into the portal. Ian had stashed it away before he moved, and would have thrown it out, but Brad wouldn’t let him.

“Nope! My home, now, my stuff,” Brad had told Ian. “I paid for it.”

“It’s junk,” Ian had argued.

“My junk!”

Ian refused to get involved with portals again, as his daughter was still living at home after her last heart-wrenching experience in the Realm.

Not so with Brad.

Encouraged by his sister, Brad’s fascination with the alternate world beyond the portal stayed with him well into his adult years. The dangerous, yet mesmerizing experiences he encountered in that world left an indelible impression on him. Some unknown force pulled him to return.

“Let’s hurry.” Brad grinned as he opened the door to the den and ushered Elisa in.

“I’m glad we can do this,” Elisa set the bag down on the bed and ripped the meat out of the wrapper, shoving the packaging in the wastebasket. “I’ve worried about that poor creature for how many years now. It seems he’s really coming along, though. A little food, a little kindness!”

“That poor creature will be of use someday, Elisa. He’ll redeem himself. You watch and see.”

Slipping on the pair of thick leather gloves that were kept vigil by the monitor, Brad grabbed a chunk of steak in one hand and the controller in the other. He stepped into the center of the room as Elisa bundled up the rest of the meat in her arms and joined him. With the click of a button on the remote, a blue light flashed, and the two were standing in the dark tunnel that separated two worlds—reality and the Realm.

“Don’t just stand there, light the torch!” Elisa ordered in a hushed voice.

Brad pulled the striker from his sweatshirt pocket and lit the bamboo lamp they kept on the wall near the portal entrance. The smell of lighter fluid interrupted the natural odors of the chamber. Moss, dampness, and a distinct animal smell returned as soon as the tinder ignited. Before Brad could ask where the dragon was, old Stenhjaert grunted affectionately. Elisa hurried to him, set her goods at his feet, and held a chuck steak under his nose.

“There now, Stenhjaert. Dinner’s on,” she said.



Hacatine’s Revenge


On one clear evening, Donis stood atop a butte, her view illuminated by the dancing light of the campfires. It had been three years since she left her sister’s castle in Telamande for the northern point of the island. There she taught the Serpent Whisperers the magic of the sea. The training had been a vigorous ritual of gathering herbs, reciting chants, learning dances and finally summoning sea serpents. Tonight, on the shores outside the capital, and when the full moon rose, the women would call upon the serpents again and this time choose one to enchant and make it their personal slave. After that, vigorous drills with their serpents, taming them and breaking them to ride, would prepare them for Hacatine’s invasion of the Otherworld. After such a lengthy separation, it overwhelmed Donis with enthusiasm at the prospect of highlighting her accomplishments in front of the royal court.

Queen Hacatine’s strategy was brilliant—they would use the serpents to drive the dragon through the portal. There, they would conquer nations and rule both worlds. Donis would be victorious; not the deceased Layla, nor Breilla, nor Cepha. It would be her campaign, and because of that, Hacatine would award her dominion over one of the two realms.

Cepha, her captain, climbed the hill and dusted her hands, settling next to Donis with a sigh. The woman’s smile vanished when Donis scowled.

“Everything is ready,” Cepha said. “Shall we proceed?”

“What do you think, Cepha?” Donis asked, her chin high, her asp-like hair wafting in the night breeze. “Will the sea creatures surrender to our rule and bend to our will?”

“I think Hacatine’s new Savant has more wisdom and cunning than Simbatha ever had, even though the girl is only half her age. The potions she has crafted are unrivaled in quality.”

“Then you think it will work as planned, and the sea slaves will be docile enough to ride?”

“Not only docile, but eager to be ridden.”

“Ridden to the edge of the world. And then on to uncharted lands beyond. If you are right, which you best be,” Donis warned.

The woman nodded, paused, perhaps for conversation. When Donis said nothing more, Cepha mumbled to herself, and slid back down the hill.

Donis was unsympathetic to Cepha. The woman was deceitful, and her ambition was annoying. Yes, Hacatine had appointed her to be Donis’ aide. But the queen had little knowledge of the choices Cepha had made in the past. The last time the woman was on a mission, her decisions had deadly consequences. Donis would have preferred a more subordinate minion.

Dozens of harnesses lay in wait on the beach. Thick elk hide straps that would fit around the serpents’ bellies were spread out on the sand. Bits made from iron would control their heads and guide them, and crops laced with magic would keep them restrained.

All was in order. All was ready.

It was time.

Donis raised her hand as a signal. With the beat of a drum, the Whisperers chanted, while the soldiers worked the billows that would blow the enchantment out to sea. Gold bangles and ankle bells jangled in rhythm to the drums. The women’s silk shalwar glimmered in the firelight. What a romantic sight the lot of them were. Their ritual was a dance of spiritual magnitude. These special Taikan warriors were stunning, with a radiance no one else could equal.

They poured buckets of liquid magic into the trenches—potions made from herbs of the island’s northern desert. These potions had taken the Whisperers three years to gather and blend to perfection. Now Donis watched the fruit of her labor as steam rose and swirled like ghostly hands. Blue and green vapor billowed from the bubbling solution, rising into the atmosphere. From there, it drifted over the rolling breakers, where it coalesced into a spectrum of colorful clouds. A musty fragrance filled the air, the smell which would lure the sea serpents. And if the magic worked, if all went as planned, the creatures would swim to shore already subdued as willing servants.

Donis took a deep breath, a smile on her lips, as she watched the phenomenon unfold. Dark mounds appeared among the whitecaps, rising, and disappearing only to rise again. It worked! The giant eel-like creatures circled under the vapor, gathered in a horde, and swam toward shore. They were hers now and to own the serpents was the same as owning the world. Even Hacatine could not claim such power. Donis held her breath. Her heart thumped with glee as she waited for the moment their heads appeared on shore and she could touch them, caress them, command them.

 Farther out to sea, a serpent larger than any she had seen before made its way toward the beach, passing the others and stirring up the surf.

“Cepha, more potion. Send it that way.” Donis pointed at the large intruder. “That one looks dangerous,” she added. With a groan, she skidded down the hillside and hurried to the trench.

“Add more potion and aim your billows toward that large one,” she instructed. The workers obeyed, yet the added magic did not stop the angry creature.

“Look what it’s doing,” Cepha declared. “It’s rounding up the others and heading them away from shore.”

“More potion!” Donis ordered. “More!” Panic drove her words as the horde of serpents changed course and swirled in the water. A chaos of riptide and swells splashed in complete disorder. The enormous serpent mingled in among the other slimy bodies as if speaking to them and herding them away from shore.

As the cloud of magic grew so thick that even the Whisperers had to step away from its spells, Donis advanced, anger raging like a forge.

“I don’t care how large you are. A sea slave will not foil my mission and make a fool of me. Be gone, you beast!” she cried out, shaking her fist. She had worked too hard for this moment. They had painstakingly gathered the herbs and pressed them for their oils. Time spent perfecting the blend was too valuable, the work of training her recruits, the hours of scheming with the queen—no, she would not give it up. She waded into the water and glared into the fog, shooting flames of magic at the beast. The inferno simply sizzled into steam.

There were no other sea slaves to be seen. They had dispersed—gone back to the deep where they had come, the magic spent, her dreams vaporized. Only two dark eyes staring at her from the ugly head of a gigantic sea monster remained.

“Bring them back!” Donis ordered, sure that the serpent had breathed in some of the spell. How could it not?

The serpent tossed its head in protest and screeched.

“Bring them back!” Donis repeated.

When the creature’s eyes met hers, Donis stepped back. What was this dangerous monster that her spells could not control it? Sea slaves had tongues of poison that could kill on contact. Was this a creature she should take arms against?

“More potions!” Donis ordered her team in hopes they had not all vacated the beach. Another puff of steam from the trenches engulfed both her and the serpent. Donis coughed, dizzy from the magic of the vapor, but she forced herself to remain standing.

The sea slave opened its mouth, and Donis shuddered. Was this her end? Would she die here in the water from the strike of a slave she sought to subjugate?

But instead of a ravenous tongue, words seeped out of its mouth in a deep, coarse voice.

“Avenge me,” the creature said.

Stunned, for she had never heard a serpent speak, she stood thunderstruck for a moment, staring into its eyes.

“Avenge you? Who are you?”

The serpent screeched repeatedly until Donis could not mistake the name.


Donis walked backward until the surf no longer splashed over her feet.

“Hacatine,” she whispered.

The serpent found its tongue and Donis, mesmerized by what it said, remained motionless.

“Three years ago, after you left, I followed a man named Ivar on his quest to find my dagger, thinking I would let him retrieve it from the ice caves of Deception Peak, and then take it from him and bring it home to where it belonged. But just when I thought I had accomplished my mission, he pierced my heart with it. Look what it has done to me! I fell to the depths of the sea in this wretched body. Three years it took to learn to live as a serpent, yet wishing I could rise again as your queen. Oh, I have grown, but not in the physique I had hoped for. It took me all that time to gain my speech. Only now, upon hearing your incantations, I recognized you as my people. I come to you with a command. You must avenge me!”

It was difficult for the serpent to articulate its thoughts as it coughed and sputtered in its attempts. “Declare war against him.”

Paralyzed, the warriors stood in awe as the serpent regarded each of them.

“You … you are my army. Avenge me. Declare war on those who took up arms against me. Destroy the traitors. Take back the crown.”

With that, the serpent dove back into the sea. Before it disappeared, it herded the other serpents from out of the deep, pushing them toward shore. One by one, the horde slithered onto the sand, docile as if Hacatine herself had commanded them to conjoin. The Whisperers wasted no time going to work, coddling them, and attaching the harnesses and saddles.

Donis retreated to the bluff again, stunned by what she had heard.

“How could it be true?” Cepha asked her as she sat down by her side.

“We’ve been away too long. Someone must return to Telamande and find out if indeed Hacatine no longer sits on the throne. If she’s still there, we need to alert her to this impostor!

“And if it is our queen?”

 Donis looked Cepha in the eyes. The woman would not want to go on such a mission, which would be even more reason to send her.

“You must find out.”


“Find out what happened to the queen and who is in the castle, who has committed treason and how large an army they have. We’ll wait outside the city.”

Cepha rose, resentment in her eyes. “That’s a remedial assignment for someone of my station.”

“You will have no station at all if you don’t do it.”




With Cepha on her mission, Donis kept her troops hidden. She hoped that what they had seen was simply a mirage, a hazy creation of the strong magic the Whisperers had summoned. To believe that a stranger turned her sister into a serpent was absurd. How could anyone overpower the queen? An impossible feat and rare that someone would try. But Donis, ever the prudent sorceress, couldn’t help but investigate a vision of this magnitude.

She sat on a log by the fire, alone, for she had no desire to speak to her troops. Too many of them were speculating. She would wait until Cepha returned before calculating her next step.

Donis stared at the flames of her campfire, recounting the words the serpent had spoken. What if it were true? Sorceresses changed into animals often enough. Goodness, it was a trick often used to fool their enemies. But what kind of magic was so powerful that even Hacatine couldn’t reverse it?

She smiled to herself as she imagined what might come next. If it were true, if Hacatine were gone, what entitlement belonged to Donis? Could she rise to the throne now, being the queen’s sister? Could she ignore Hacatine’s demands for revenge and instead walk into the palace and claim the Crown for herself? Or would she have to fight both the serpent and Ivar for it? Ah, but perhaps she had the magic to do both!

The moon made its course over the heavens, and Donis kept the fire burning well until dawn, unable to sleep. Just when the sun was about to crest the horizon, branches snapped. She jumped at the sound, but felt relieved when Cepha appeared.

“Well?” Donis asked and stood to meet her. “Did anyone follow you?”

“No one saw me. I stayed in the shadows and kept muted. I’m not a court jester.”

“You’ve had your victories.”

“A long line of them, and I shall not stop now.”

Donis raised an eyebrow but refused to challenge the woman. Why lower oneself?

“What the serpent said is true. The creature we saw was probably her.”

Donis took a sharp breath but held her head high. She’d be a fool to display emotion in front of Cepha. The woman could easily become a competitor. She may already be plotting.

“A man named Ivar claimed the throne, and no one is contesting him. It’s sickening. Little wonder Hacatine cries for vengeance.”

“Is he that fearsome?”

Cepha laughed. “No.”

“Who are the conspirators?”

“The entire village, the queen’s guards, all the soldiers.”

“You know this? How?”

“I’m a proficient spy,” Cepha reminded her. “I eavesdropped near the servants’ quarters, and this is what I heard. The man Ivar crowned himself and declared victory. This all happened several years ago, after we left. Why no one sent us word, I cannot tell you, but it seemed the traitors kept us in the dark for reasons of their own.”

“So those who were loyal to my sister are no longer her servants?”

“There is no one in the city who is loyal to her. We were it!” Cepha agreed.

“And the man, Ivar. What is he like?”

“There are rumors. There is no proof, only gossip. One servant claimed he was insane. Others talked of his charity. I know this, though. He wields magic.”

“He’s a wizard? From Kaempern?”

“That I couldn’t tell you. But he entertains the village people with spells and foolish tricks that only magic can spin. Some people are calling him a boy, rather than a man. He pines over a Taikan warrior named Promise and has ordered a search party for her. I’m not sure why. Perhaps she was a conspirator against him, but it seems more like he might be in love with her.”

“Promise? I know the name. Why do you say he might be in love with her?” Donis asked.

“He calls her his bride.”

“Taikan warriors don’t marry!” Donis blurted. “The sacrilege of that!”

“I’m afraid the Whisperers are the last of the Taikan warriors,” she said, her voice heavy with dread. “Everyone else has sold their souls to this man.”

“Interesting. And what are his charitable acts?” The more she knew about her enemy, the quicker she might defeat him. Winning the throne might not be as difficult as it seemed.

“He gave everyone on the island their freedom. Wizards have come out of hiding, and the rumor is that many have regained their powers. Personally, I thought you had slain all the wizards.”

“Men? Wizards?” Donis frowned. This was troubling news.      

“A girl Anna was also with them. She’d be easy to take out. I know her.”

“No. No, we’ll plan our next steps with precision. Slaying them one by one would prove nothing, not if the forces against us are so powerful. We’d never be able to secure Taikus for ourselves against a city full of wizards. We must have a plan.”

“I don’t believe the rumor. They’ve no magic. We would win.”

“We cannot be too sure of that.”

“Hacatine commanded us to—”

“I know what Hacatine commanded,” Donis snapped. “She commanded a war, and she’s right. That’s the only way to overthrow the lot of them.”

“What are you saying, then? We could only win if the wizards were powerless. My guess is that Hacatine knows something we don’t.”

“We do not win a war on a guess.”

“Then how do we win a war?” Cepha asked.

“We don’t.”


“I’m not suggesting we declare war,” Donis smiled, a scheme forming in her mind. “If we do this correctly, there would be no loss on our part.” She pivoted back to the campfire, sat down, and picked up her mug.

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

Donis looked up at her, hopeful that the plan might somehow bridge the gap between the two of them and form an alliance, at least while she attempted to win the crown. She could use Cepha’s skills. The woman had powers unlike any of the other sorceresses. That’s why Hacatine favored her. If they joined forces, used their talents for the common cause, their chances of victory would increase.

“I will take half of the women south with me. You stay here.”

“Why must I stay?”

“To spy. Keep me informed. If you see Ivar building an army, find out who they are and how many. I need all the details. If you find the warrior named Promise, capture her. She might be valuable to us. Whatever you do, stay out of sight.”

“Who would declare war if not us, Donis?” Cepha asked again.

“Alisubbo,” Donis whispered.

Cepha raised her brow and stared at her for a long while. Donis grinned, sipped her wine, and as she watched the flames in the campfire, she imagined it being an inferno swallowing a fleet of ships.




In Alisubbo


Martim had been king for three years, now, and though he was a quick learner, he depended on Maestro Sanchez as his adviser—for matters of State. Personal matters were just that. Personal. And so, with Sanchez’s proposition, he took a moment to contemplate. He strolled to his mahogany desk and poured two glasses of bourbon, swirling one gently as he stared into the golden liquid. With a polite smile, he pivoted about and handed Sanchez the other glass.

“We have a new fleet and no one to command them,” Sanchez argued. “Nor do we have enough men trained to be officers.”

Martim sighed.

“Those are the only two major concerns of mine.” Sanchez sat up in his chair and straightened his suit jacket before receiving the drink.

“Conscription and marriage?” Martim huffed. “How ironic.”

“Your navy is growing old, Martim. It’s been three years since anyone has enlisted.”

“Hmm,” the king mumbled. “And I am growing old as well?” he laughed, though bitterness was at the core of that outburst. He walked wistfully to his curio cabinet and opened it as he had every evening before he retired.

“She’s gone, Martim.” Sanchez cleared his throat.

A reality Martim refused to accept. The young king paused, his eyes scanned over the items he kept close to him—relics that were as cold and dead as time, brutal in the memories they kindled. Yet he kept them in a glass case under lock and key so that no one could take away those moments of his life—moments that made him who he was.

  The crown occupied the top shelf. It didn’t fit; he had never aspired to be king. He certainly hadn’t asked for the position. The shelf below held the gloves he had worn the day of his father’s assassination. On them lay a dried flower from the bouquet his mother had thrown at the assassins. An act that had saved his life.

At eye level was his most treasured possession, the one in which he placed his hope, and there he kept his gaze.

“You need a wife, Martim. You need heirs. Without sons or daughters, this kingdom will fall to insurrectionists. Valerio will return.”

“Valerio…?” Martim whispered. “He’s a ghost. A rumor.”

“He’s still alive,” Sanchez affirmed. “If not him, others like him.”

Cassandra had called it a smartphone. It felt cold in his hands, yet there was a comfort in holding it. He squeezed the hard object as his pulse quickened and he pulled it from the curio cabinet.

Martim glanced up at the man in uniform sitting in his den. Distinguished, Sanchez’s dark complexion spoke of his nationality, his wavy black hair salted with gray above his ears. Maestro had been a father to him ever since his own father had died, always compassionate, always wise.

“I’m not in love with anyone else, Maestro. Who would I wed?”

“You’re a king, Martim. You’ve been king for three years now. It’s time for boyhood fantasies to be placed on the shelf….” Sanchez nodded at the curio cabinet and downed his bourbon. He stood and placed a hand on Martim’s shoulder. “But you know all of that. I’m ready to begin conscription whenever you say the word. We need men.”

“You may enlist. By all means,” Martim said, his thumb sliding gently over the glassy surface of the phone as he slipped it back onto its appointed shelf. He couldn’t close the door. He could barely take his gaze from it, thinking only of Cassandra, wishing he had the magic that would bring her back. How often he had tried to activate the device only to have the cold, dark screen do nothing but reflect his image.

Sanchez nodded, picked up his hat, and walked to the door. Thinking the man had left, the thud startled Martim. He spun around to see Maestro Sanchez lean against the door frame and then slide unconscious to the floor. A blue haze eddied into the den.

“Sanchez!” Martim’s blood ran cold when four women marched into the den, their swords gleaming in the dim light.

“Come with us on your own, or be bound,” one woman said.

 Martim had no time to answer, nor to move. Before he could draw his sword or call for help, a woman cloaked in blue silk burst into his room and cast a bolt of light at him. Stunned, his mind went blank, and he remained conscious long enough to see himself lifted onto the shoulder of another woman. She stepped over Sanchez’s body as she carried him down the hall of the castle. Corpses of servants, guards, and soldiers were strewn across the corridor. A haze of magical vapor enveloped his abductors, shielding them from bullets as they ran past the palace guards.

His body paralyzed, Martim fell into darkness.




Carmen looked up from the bread dough she’d been kneading when she heard the scream.

“What was that?” Gina, the chief cook, asked.

The floorboards trembled with the pounding of feet racing through the corridor. Gina wiped the flour from her hands, Carmen glanced at the scullion and the two of them followed the chef. The plump, dark-haired woman pushed them both back into the kitchen.

“It’s not safe,” Gina cautioned.

 Carmen’s heart raced when she saw a cloud of blue vapor flash. Seconds later, a stampede of men chased after it. Gina peeked out, and Carmen pushed the door open.

Chaos had infiltrated the halls with soldiers and guards alike, running in many directions it seemed. Her heart thumped wildly as she asked people what had happened.

“The king has perished,” someone declared.

“They have captured him,” another proclaimed.

“Taikans! It was magic!”

Soldiers flew down the hall, their boots drummed like kettles, echoing through the palace.

“We need a doctor up here!” came a voice from the stairwell.

“Call a physician,” a woman screamed toward the grand hall. Carmen spun about in panic, unsure which way to turn. Gina threw off her apron and ran toward the stairs.

Soon, men in white robes carrying leather cases hurried toward the royal rooms. Carmen followed them, navigating her way against the crowd running for the plaza. She gasped when she saw the first body.

“Darling, you had better get back to the kitchen,” Gina grabbed the girl’s shoulders and turned her around. “Let the physicians take care of this. They need room to work.”

Carmen let Gina guide her away from the scene. Already tears welled in her eyes, and she felt she would gag.

“What happened?”

“Fresh air,” the woman said, “Hurry. You should go home to your siblings and take care of them. Who knows what else those sorceresses are up to?”

Confused and in shock, Carmen didn’t know what to do, nor did anyone else. The soldiers had gathered in the plaza, but there were no officers to command them. Had all personnel died? No one seemed to know. Carmen bit her lip, holding back tears as she listened to the confused soldiers in front of her.

“They came by sea.”

“And our ships are burning. Hurry!” Three soldiers took off running.

“They took King Martim to the water,”

“They already set sail.”

“Who’s in command?” a soldier asked.


“He’s disposed,” another answered.

“Colonel Fern.”

“He’s wounded, unconscious. They were in a meeting in the palace. They were all hit!”

“Hit with what?”


“We’re on our own, then.”

“To the ships. Hurry! Run!” Soldiers raced away as villagers filled the streets, the smell of smoke from burning ships lingered in the air.

Carmen followed the crowd to the bluff overlooking the sea. A sloop bearing the colors of Taikus sent a wake across the water in its haste to escape as an inferno raged near the coast. The Lisbon fleet burned.

“This can’t be happening!” Carmen cried. The clamor of the desperate men and women around her muffled her voice.

“No!” Tears streamed down her cheeks. Martim was like an uncle to Carmen. Having saved her and her family from poverty and from the plague, he had taken her and her brothers to the palace. There, they learned to play the violin and cello, to read and write. He had given them work, clean clothes, food for her mother and younger siblings. For three years, she had been part of his family. He gave her the books he learned from. Only the other day they had shared memories of when their friend Cassie was here, and he had shown her the phone the girl from the other world left for him. Kings don’t do that for just anyone. She couldn’t watch him disappear like this.

“We have to do something,” she muttered through her tears.

“The soldiers will. They’ll save him,” a woman told her. “We still have ships afloat in the bay. They did not destroy our entire navy.”

“But there is no one to command them,” a man grumbled. Magic incapacitated all officers in the palace. They even blackened the halls with their poison.”

Carmen groaned and ran back down the cobblestone alley. She pushed through the crowd on her way to the courtyard. Avoiding anyone who might try to stop her, she skipped up the stairs to the castle.

“Where are you going?” a stranger asked as she opened the palace doors. Rushing down the long corridor, she could hear the faint wails of the wounded and the physicians speaking in hushed tones as they hurried to revive them. Two men in white carried the body of a poor soul who had died.

With tears in her eyes, Carmen burst into the king’s den and froze, her eyes fixed on the curio cabinet.

The glass door hung open, and as if it was an invitation for her, Cassie’s phone rested on the shelf, blinking a harsh blue light, as if Martim had tried to use it. Carmen swallowed and took a courageous step toward it.

If it was magic that took her king away, magic would bring him back.





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