His dagger sliced through the air, expertly moving to not leave even a nick. Eagle brought an arm up in a late block, shifting his cape in a distracting move. In that moment, he whispered, “Drive me back to her.”
Nodding slightly and relieved that Eagle had broken Isabella’s control, Hawkeye stepped aside before moving in with an aggressive but harmless flurry of strikes. Eagle stayed on the defensive, stepping back between strikes as though he was trying to get away. Off in the corner, Isabella was still pleased with herself, watching them with an inexpert eye. Closer and closer, step by step… Eagle readied his sword behind his cape. Hawkeye then hopped to the wall in time for his friend to swing around and use his momentum to draw his sword and attack Isabella with a powerful attack. She screamed as she was knocked into the wall. To make sure she couldn’t get away, Hawkeye moved in to stun her.
A flash of red filled his sight as Isabella sent powerful fireballs at them. The magic threw them both across the room and onto the floor. “What’s going on in here?!” guards called as they burst through the door.
Acting scared, Isabella stammered, “Th-these two suddenly attacked us! They’re traitors.”
“How could you two fools betray our king?” a guard asked, kicking Hawkeye in the head and knocking him unconscious.
As a girl, Jessica had been taught different techniques of the Nevarl Thieves’ Guild than the boys. An alluring dance to cause others to lower their guard, sweet charms both mundane and magical to make them think she was an innocent pretty face… and when they were in a stupor from wine, magic, or sleep, slip away with a few small treasures. It was better to take small valuables, to make her marks think they’d merely been misplaced. That would allow her to steal from the mark and their neighbors on other days. Besides, a good number of men and even some women could be conned into giving her expensive gifts too.
Jessica thus recognized Isabella using the same skills on her father. He should know better, should recognize those tricks as the guild leader. Unfortunately, Flamekhan indulged in taking a consort as his favorite for a few months before moving on to another. This wasn’t the first time that it caused him problems either. At least one such consort had managed to run away with some of the guild’s treasures, while another had attempted to blackmail him into marriage. It was sad that at his age, he had become the kind of man she could take advantage of… although she wouldn’t do that because he was her father.
This time around, things were getting bad. Flamekhan had allowed Isabella to take care of guild business in the past week and now they were declaring that the guild was going to become a kingdom. Jessica wasn’t sure how to take that. On one hand, it’d be good to have more food and fresh water available from lands they owned. They could also take money from greedy merchants as taxes and not be labeled thieves for it. But then they’d have to change a lot in order to be taken as a legitimate nation, including taking better care of the desert towns rather than focusing on their fortress.
It was a strange change of heart in Flamekhan too. He used to mock royalty, despising them for sitting on their thrones every day while not lifting a finger to help the poor peoples of their nations. Around a year ago, he had put on a mockery of a show, acting as a lazy arrogant king to the entertainment of the guild. Jessica, Eagle, and Hawkeye had even joined in, all three of them dressing up like princesses to act silly, spoiled, and airheaded. The funniest part was how Hawkeye was taken as the prettiest of them three and he went hammy acting as one. People enjoyed the show so much that the three of them took their silly princess act on the road as a cover for a multination thievery spree; it had been very successful.
But to turn the guild into a kingdom to invade others? That didn’t seem like her father’s idea. And now she was hearing talk that Eagle and Hawkeye had attempted to assassinate Flamekhan to take the new kingdom for their own. That was ridiculous! Her brothers were loyal to the guild leader. Of course, they were suspicious about the sudden change too. Jessica thought Isabella had something to do with this. She tried talking with other members of the guild to convince them that something was going wrong.
Eventually, someone caught her shoulder as she was passing by a hall that seemed empty. Something clapped over her neck as well. “What are you doing around here, girl?” Isabella asked.
Jessica tried to retort with the same question, but no words came from her lips.
“Likely causing trouble just like your brothers,” Isabella said. “I can’t have any of you telling the truth, so I won’t let you even speak. If one of you, Eagle, or Hawkeye tells anyone about how I’m controlling Flamekhan, then you will choke and die. That necklace is also tied to my life, so if anyone kills me, you will die as well. Now let’s get you in the cell with your brothers and let them know my conditions as well.”
This couldn’t be her father’s will… something had to be done to save him from this witch.
Isabella’s laugh echoed down the hall as she left and no one accompanying her seemed the least bit disturbed. And then, it was the three of them in the cell accused of conspiring against their father: Eagle as the oldest son, Hawkeye as the adopted son, and Jessica as the one daughter who was still in the fortress. They had been working under Lord Flamekhan for their entire lives. Unfortunately, that loyalty meant nothing now.
“Well this is a sorry state of affairs,” Eagle said after checking over the burns on his body. While everyone seemed hypnotized by Isabella, at least they were still decent enough to give them some medicines to patch themselves up.
“No kidding,” Hawkeye said, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned on the wall. “Who is that woman? She didn’t seem magically inclined, but she’s got everyone bewitched. Even us for a bit.”
“I’m sorry, she made me think that you’d attacked first,” Eagle said, feeling guilty about falling for the trickery. “But I realized something was up since you were attacking with the flat of your blades. It’s not as easy for me to fake a fight with my sword.”
Hawkeye shrugged. “Don’t mind it, you still put on a good show. I’m sorry I fell for it too, and that we couldn’t protect you Jessica.”
“Right,” Eagle said.
Unable to speak, Jessica shook her head. It seemed like she didn’t blame them for this.
Rubbing his forehead, Eagle said, “I knew this whole going to war thing couldn’t have been father’s idea. I mean, sometimes he talks about how this desert used to be a forest and wanting to find some way to bring that back.”
“But he’d never talk about getting the guild involved in war,” Hawkeye finished when he didn’t continue. “Stealing things is one matter, but stealing a whole other country and ruling them? That’s not our style.”
“Man, but what are we going to do now?” Eagle asked. There weren’t locks to break in these cells, since any guild member worth their salt knew how to pick locks. Their father wouldn’t have them executed. At least, not if he was in control of himself. They couldn’t count on that now. Perhaps at the execution itself, depending on what was done to them…
“If they try to execute us, we know how to escape those circumstances,” Hawkeye said, echoing Eagle’s own thoughts.
He nodded. “Right. But even if we get away, that curse is going to be an obstacle. We can’t ask anyone for help with it, and I have no clue how we’d research it. Maybe if we got into Altena somehow, we could figure something out.”
Jessica put her hands to her lips. She might have an idea. But as she couldn’t tell them, it was making her cross.
“I don’t know either, but you seem to know something,” Hawkeye said, then offered one of his daggers to Jessica. “Sorry I don’t have a pencil with me; we’re lucky they didn’t take what we had on hand away.”
Taking the dagger, Jessica carved some words into the dirt on the floor. ‘Wendel Priest of Light.’
“Oh yeah, that guy might actually be useful,” Eagle said. “We’d have to be careful with what we ask him, but he’s supposed to be a holy guy. He should notice the curse on Jessica and be able to advise us from there.”
“That’d be a good destination once we figure out a way out of here,” Hawkeye said, taking another look around the cell while Jessica rubbed out her words.
Then a knock came from the back wall. “Hey guys, you in there?”
“Yeah Nikita, all three of us are in here,” Hawkeye called back, going over to the back wall.
“Great! I was worried they might’ve moved you around. Stand back and I’ll get you out in a jiffy.”
After a blast to knock the wall down, they all escaped upstairs to Nikita’s shop counter. “Thanks bro,” Eagle said, having thought over what to say to not trigger the curse. “We’re glad you believe in us.”
“Right, but we can’t exactly explain things,” Hawkeye said.
Nikita shrugged. “No problem, bro, I know none of you would betray the guild leader. But things have gotten fishy around here. You all better high tail it out of here for now.”
“That’s what we mean to do,” Hawkeye said. “We’re going to Wendel to see the priest about a curse and what we might be able to do despite it. Wanna come with?”
“I dunno about that,” Nikita said, his ears twitching. “If Jessica can cast magic while silenced, then she ought to be safe with both of you. But I’m no fighter, just a merchant.”
“We know that,” Eagle said. “But you’ve got other useful talents and you’ll be in hot water if you stick around. Either that or you’re gonna fall for Isabella as well. If nothing else, you can find somewhere else to set up shop for a while.”
“Hmm, you have a point there, bro,” Nikita said, picking up his merchant sack. “All right, let’s scram.”
And so the four escaped from the Nevarl fortress, seeking for a way to break Jessica’s curse and save Lord Flamekhan. Little did they know that the fate of the entire world was about to be placed in their hands.