Reichstein frowned. "Who is this?"

"This is a bandit, sire," said the Synthian guard. "His name is Ryder the Rider. He tried to rob us on the way. But we captured him and brought him to you."

"Okay," the king said slowly. "But, um…where's Prince Cucumbus?"

"He's gone to search for your daughter, sire," the guard said. "He said he'd arrive once he'd found her."

The king closed his eyes for a moment, looking like a volcano about to erupt. "Fine, then," he said icily. "Fine. He didn't tell you anything about his…proposal, did he?"

The guard frowned. "He was going to propose?"

"Well, no, I…maybe," Reichstein said with a frown. "That's what I'm trying to find out."

"Well, I wouldn't know much about that, sire," said the guard. "I'm not his diary."

"No. No, of course you're not," Reichstein said, standing swiftly from his throne. "I'll see to it that you're comfortable during your stay."

"And the bandits, sire?"

"Oh. Them." Reichstein frowned and gestured to the Synthian guards. "Throw them in the dungeons, I suppose."

"Right, sire," the guard said coolly. "Right away, sire."

And, with hurried and awkward bows all around, the Synthian guards grabbed the arms of the three bandits they'd found on the road and dragged them out of the room, pretending to know where exactly the dungeons of Guneer were.

And then Reichstein was alone again.

He sighed. "Why can't that boy just follow directions?" he asked the world.

And the world seemed to laugh in reply.


The sun shone directly into Duke's eyes, making him groan and clutch his head in exasperation.

Maybe it was the late nights he'd put in trying to track down his mother. Maybe it was his pressing nightmares, getting worse and worse as time went on. And maybe it was the several jars of whiskey he'd found in the castle's cupboard the night before. But either way, his head hurt like mad.

It didn't make a lot of sense for Duke to be troubled. Even if he found Theodora before anyone else – which was what Reichstein was hoping for – he had no intention of keeping her alive. She'd only be killed later, and she was one more obstacle between Duke and his royal tushie resting comfortably on the throne.

But he was worried about the boy – more so than he'd ever admit to anyone. And, more than anything, he was angry at his mother. Why did she have to steal everything? Why did she even want Frederick?

There was the fact of his power. The magic locked inside of him, a hundred times stronger than Thelma could ever hope to achieve. But all that was useless until he was properly trained, and his loyalties would always lie with the princess and her father.

No. There was something else he didn't know. Something about the boy that was so incredibly special – so incredibly prized – that Thelma would do anything to keep him in her grasp.

And that made Duke want him back even more.

But Thelma was unbelievably good at keeping herself hidden. It was one of the perks of being a magical queen. And Duke just didn't know where to search.

He rubbed his temples, frowning thoughtfully to himself.

How could you find someone who didn't want to be found?

And then it hit him like a fat woman's broom.

And he started to grin.


Another bolt of witch fire crashed against the wall.

The spiders cringed, staring at the new master they'd never asked for, watching her as she screamed and thrashed and threw random objects everywhere.

"M-m…Massster?" stammered a spider.

"They're gone," Thelma shrieked, throwing a book across the room. It hit the wall with a smack, inches above the spiders' heads, and slid defeated to the floor. "How could you let this happen?!"

"Massster, we didn't mean to –"

"Didn't mean to? Do you know what you've done?" she cried. "You let them escape! They're free!"

"We'll fix it," another spider volunteered. "We'll go out and get thhhem. We'll bring thhhem back."

Thelma stared at her minion, her gaze icy and hard. "You think I would trust you? After you failed me?"

The spiders stood silently, not one of them saying a word.

"No," she said. "This is too important now. The boy escaped me once. He won't do it again. I'll make sure of it. Even if I have to go out there and chop his legs off."

The spiders glanced at each other uneasily. "But Massster…How will you find thhhem?"

Thelma smiled. "I thought you'd never ask," she said.


Felt frowned at the palms of his hands, almost as if he thought he'd see something there.

But all he saw were the familiar lines that had been there his entire life. No magic, no eerie light, and no way to get home.

He'd tried everything. He'd meditated for hours; scoured his thoughts for Duke's advice; even sung his childhood lullaby to get his magic to flow. And nothing. Not even a flicker.

It was pretty scary, actually, to think that his magic might never work again. That something he'd always lived without was gone, right when he'd needed it most. That was just his luck.

He sighed. Why did this have to happen now? Why, after so many close calls and near-death encounters, did he have to be abandoned so far from home?

He could feel the unease of this place. Sense that the openness of the fields like a target placed on his back. And he was scared of what he'd find in the grasses around him.

Even worse, he was scared of what would find him.

Because getting away from Thelma was only the first step. There was so much more to succeeding. So much about this grass, this wind, this air, that wouldn't let Felt rest until he was safe in the castle again. Home.

And the weirdest thing, the part that made him shiver, was his shoe. It was still somewhere in Duke's castle, blown off by the water he'd gushed at Thea's prison.

And for some reason, that made him very, very frightened.

People were looking for him. He knew that somehow. Not just Thelma, but Reichstein. People he'd never known and couldn't trust. People who'd love him as soon as kill him. And they were looking faster than Felt was ready for.

He only hoped that his magic would work before they found him.


When Duke was a young boy, over forty years ago, he used to be his mother's favorite.

Naturally, that was long before he had a brother, and long before his father had died and Thelma had become the sole ruler. But it had happened. For five, sweetly splendid years, he'd felt loved.

In that time, he'd spent a lot of his childish afternoons following his mother around. And sometimes – a lot of the time – she'd let him into her study at the top of the highest tower and teach him about magic.

Duke hadn't known he was a wizard then, but he'd learned it all anyways, and took it to heart, and tried to remember.

And sometimes, even over forty years later, it still came in handy.

Like now.

He was going to track someone, the way Thelma had tracked a thief who'd stolen her jewels when Duke was only five. Only this time, Thelma's spells were going to be used against her.


It was dark magic that Thelma used. Always had, from the moment she'd passed the magic test at the age of thirteen. There was something about it that suited her well. It smelled sweet and overpowering, disturbing to most but strangely comforting to her, like an old woman's soup that cured her when she was ill. And the power it created, the souls it consumed…

When Thelma was a teenager, some odd fifty years ago, she'd often dreamed that her magic had been born black. Just like the shadows she felt so comfortable in. That hadn't been true, but it may as well have been. By the time Thelma wed, the very whole of it was dark as night and every piece of goodness in her soul had been overpowered by it.

That's why it felt so welcoming to do the tracking spell again. She'd always loved the tracking spell, and it had always come in handy. It made her feel like she was in control, like her loved ones would never be lost.

It took some effort, of course, and a great deal of time, and would unfortunately make her a touch weaker than before, but it was well worth it if she found what she needed.

And right now, that was Eileen's son.


The spell didn't need much. Just some dark spaces, a large black cauldron, and something owned by the person you were tracking. And, lucky for Duke, he had all three.

It was a good thing that all the guards had been too scared to clear out Thelma's study. Or maybe they just still had faith that she'd return someday. But either way, it came in handy.

The place still smelled the same way – the same sickly sweet stench of dark magic that Duke had oftentimes created himself. It reminded him of childhood. Of the time before Reichstein was born.

But still, a job was a job. And this was the only place in the whole castle that it could be done.

So Duke gave a weary sigh and locked the door behind him.


The spiders looked awed as Thelma's eyes lit up and her hands began to glow.

A soaking wet, discarded shoe was placed in the middle of the cauldron, lost by the boy in the heat of his escape. Rows upon rows of candles were scattered around the room – mainly for dramatic effect – unlit and burning to burn.

She touched a candle beside her and lit it afire, scarcely noticing when the others followed suit, surrounding her in soft pink fire. And she smiled to herself.

She was ready.


Duke decided to use his mother's sheets.

They smelled of her – like dark magic and silk – and seemed at home in the center of his mother's black cauldron.

He closed his eyes, thinking back to the image of the robber's silver coin over forty years ago. Of how Thelma had taught him to set it afire.

"If you truly wish to find someone," she'd said at the time, "You must show them that you can. That you own them. You must destroy what once was theirs."

Duke nodded. "Okay."


Smoke rose from the shoe as it struggled to burn, still wet from the water blast hours before. The flame of the candles rose around her as the cauldron's flame grew, eating Felt's shoe until only ashes remained.

She picked up the ashes in the palm of her hand, unfazed by their heat. "Show me where you are," she demanded.

"Show me!" Duke cried, clutching the ashes.

He could feel his world melt around him, the floors falling away in an eerie red sludge and turning to air.

He was on a cloud – moving yet not moving, still in Thelma's bedroom yet whizzing through the air.

It seemed to be guiding him, showing the path he needed to take and making sure he remembered. Making sure that he knew where he needed to go.

And then he was there.

In his own castle, the one he'd abandoned not long ago. In his own study, with his own spiders and his own possessions all around.

And there was Thelma, standing in front of a cauldron, casting the same spell.

Duke grinned to himself. "Found you," he said.


Thelma was almost there.

She was on her own cloud, drifting over the mountain, over the Black Forest, over the dark bog. The spell was showing her the way, giving her notes and directions so she'd know where to go.

And then, just when the boy was so deliciously near, she heard something.

Her eyes opened, and she was back in Duke's castle. Back with the spiders and the cauldron and the burned ashes of shoe. And she listened.

"What'sss wrong, Massster?" asked a spider.

"Duke," she snarled.


Bright pink witch fire flew straight at Duke before he even had a chance to react, a chance to cry out…

He opened his eyes with a yell and a gasp. He was back in his mother's room now, his face drenched with sweat and fear. The ashes in his hand were cold and unfeeling, and his face still ached with the witch fire's burn.

But Duke still grinned.

"Found you," he smirked.


Thelma gave an angry roar, throwing the cold ash on the floor in frustration.

Leave it Duke to ruin everything. That had always been the only thing he was good at.

She'd been so close – just a mile away…

But a mile was not far.

And sure, she didn't know the exact location. But she knew the general area and the direction she was supposed to go in.

It would take time. But she would find them. She'd sworn it.

She smiled sinisterly to herself. "Don't worry, Eileen," she murmured. "I'll find him. I always keep my promises."