Ashley put a finger to her lips and gestured towards an alleyway. She moved close to Inés and whispered directly into her ear. “One of the entrances into the guild is through there. Stay close to me and stay quiet. There will be sentries.”
Inés nodded and winked.
Ashley took Inés’ hand and hurriedly did some gestures. Her voice was barely audible as she chanted. “Of the darkness we were born. Into the darkness we are sworn. From the darkness we will emerge. Our enemies to purge. Shadow walk.”
Inés felt a tingle as a mist swirled around the two of them. Inés watched as her feet vanished. After a very short time, she could feel Ashley’s hand, but couldn’t see anything of her.
She allowed Ashley to direct her into the alley. Inés didn’t notice the sentries until they were really close. They were hidden in the shadows. Ashley tugged her hand, hard. Inés looked in the direction she was pulling. Leech stones were set up around the entrance.
Ashley pulled her hand again. This time in the direction of one of the sentries. Inés squeezed her hand and Ashley let her go.
Her staff slammed against the back of the woman’s head, knocking her unconscious. She turned to the second sentry. Ashley’s bagh nakh were sticking through his throat and he was coughing up blood.
The pair hurried inside. The leech stones glowed as they entered and Ashley’s spell was broken.
“This way,” Ashley whispered. “It won’t take them long to find out we’re here.”
The guild was a network of tunnels with branching paths and a confusing layout. Inés followed Ashley’s lead, knowing that she’d have a rotten time trying to find her way out without the young thief’s help.
Serena contemplated going to the city’s guard. Sure, it was a small amount of money, but she was worried that Inés might get in trouble for dealing with it herself.
Then again, the damage was already done. If she said anything, she might get Inés in trouble for sure. And how much trouble could one petty thief cause anyway?
She was passing by some guardsmen when she noticed something. They were putting up wanted posters.
“That girl!” she cried.
“You saw her?” one of the guards asked.
“Where was she?” the other demanded.
“Oh, she was back at the marketplace,” Serena answered. “Is she really dangerous?”
“One of the worst thieves in the city,” the first guard answered. “Suspected in several murders too.”
“Oh no,” Serena said. She bolted back towards the marketplace.
“The main chamber is ahead,” Ashley whispered. “We’ll have to deal with my brother’s goons.”
“Just leave it to me,” Inés stated.
“You may be strong,” Ashley said. “But I’m a bit worried that we haven’t run into anyone aside from the sentries.”
The two crept into the main chamber. There was no sign of anyone. That was when steel bars rose from the ground, trapping them.
“Sis, sis, sis,” A reproaching voice rang out. “Haven’t I always warned you not to be so complacent? Wasn’t it obvious I’d do some redecorating?”
A young man stepped forward, followed by a dozen men. Like Ashley, he had yellow eyes, dark hair and pale skin. His hair was grown long and tied into a ponytail.
Inés examined the bars. They’d been adorned with Leech Stones.
“Sebastian,” Ashley spat the name out. “You’d slaughter all your kin?”
“If I have to,” Sebastian said. “You don’t understand, little sis. Just like our father didn’t understand. Our guild needs must be strong to survive. We can’t show mercy. Do you really think the authorities care about some ‘code of honour?’ No, they’ll chase us down and bring us in given the chance. Code or no.”
“That doesn’t matter!” Ashley declared. “The code isn’t there for the authorities. It’s there to guide us. To keep us from becoming cold. You should understand that.”
“Pretty little words, but wasted,” Sebastian said. “Our father’s staunchest followers are elsewhere at the moment. The leech stones have your void magic sealed. You and your little friend are helpless. You have two choices. Perish or fall in line.”
“Three choices,” Inés countered. She swung her staff with all her might, the bars caved outward. A second swing tore them apart.
Inés stepped out of the cage. “Okay, which of your goons wants to face my staff first?”
Several of Sebastian’s people stepped back. He drew a pair of daggers. “Don’t panic!” he commanded. There are only two of them.”
“I’d wager mine is worth more than a dozen of yours,” Ashley said.
“Maybe,” Sebastian admitted. “But even if you can beat me, they won’t accept you as their leader. Our poor father dies of illness and you would claim his position after being known as a traitor?” He shook his head.
“We both know he didn’t die of illness,” Ashley said. “But you are right. If I were to kill you here and now, they wouldn’t accept me.” She pointed at him. “I challenge you to a duel of succession. One on one, in front of the entire guild.”
“And what’s my incentive to take you up on that?” Sebastian asked.
“Because you stand a better chance against me than you and your little friends stand against her,” Ashley said. “And, if I get killed, she has no reason to fight you any more.”
Sebastian scratched his chin. He turned to look at his men. “Fine,” he agreed. “As much as it pains me to kill you, I’ll accept your challenge but I have another condition.” He pulled out a scroll and wrote a message. “If I lose, you get this scroll. My confession, if you will. But if I win that friend of yours swears fealty to me.”
“I can’t make her…” Ashley began.
Inés put an arm on her shoulder. “You need that to convince your guild, right?” she whispered. Then, she spoke more loudly. “I’ll agree to the condition but if I see any of your people try to interfere, I’ll step in.”