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Daughters of Fate (Chapter 20)

And darkness will follow the one-eyed man. It will draw The Child of the Storm to the feet of the dark lord who sits on Earoni’s throne. And it will corrupt her. A thousand years of darkness will follow. Then the death of the world. 

Forgive me, mother. Despite your warnings, this is a vision that I know I must change. 

-Journal of Reane Matir

Chapter 20 (30th of Taru-Des in the Year 6198)

The lock pick slipped in Sheala’s fingers. Battling for control of it far more than she should have, the thief worked to remove the cuffs binding her hands behind her back. After a brief stumble, it once more moved with renewed effortlessness. She regained her long-practiced control of the sliver of metal, sliding it into the keyhole. 

“Easy,” she muttered. Her mind was once more solely focused on the task at hand, having done this a hundred times. 

“Come on, Sweetheart!” Brentai’s voice rose from among the crowd of gathered sailors. All watched as she worked her magic on the deck of the Oracle while it continued to limp along under partial sail towards Fimmirra. 

She didn’t let the noise of the crowd distract her, keeping her cool as the pick fell neatly into place within the mechanism. The sound of the timing metronome at her feet reminded her that this was not only a test to see if she could free herself but also a race against the clock. 

“Come on, baby!” Brentai called again. “I’ve got two weeks pay riding on you!” Sheala wished he would shut up. 

With a twist, there was a click. Metal released from her wrists, and the shackles fell to the deck with a clatter. A mixture of cheers and groaned complaints rose from the crowd as Sheala slid her pick back into the small tear in her cuff. 

“Thank you,” Sheala gloated. “Thank you very much.” She bent over and picked up the metal restraints, as though displaying the carcass of a dead beast she had slain. “Please don’t be sore losers! Remember to pay your debts! Maybe we’ll do this again sometime?” And with that final taunt, she collected the assortment of coins that laid at her feet. 

Brentai came up and gave her an affectionate hug. “That was wonderful, baby! You even beat your old record. You’re great.” 

“I know. I almost feel sorry for those poor fools. It’s too easy.” Sheala looked across the deck and spotted Anthony as he leaned on the railing and stared across the sea. “Perhaps I need a new challenge?” 

Brentai followed her eyes. “You think he might enjoy a little bet?” 

“From what you’ve told me? He might. It could be moderately interesting.” Sheala sauntered over to where Anthony stood, swinging the conquered irons in her hand. 

Anthony never turned his head as she approached. But he did recognize her presence. “Rather impressive display,” he said in a tone that told Sheala he wasn’t actually too impressed. “Is that how you make your living? Conning people?” 

“Maybe you’d like to try your hand?” He was silent at her challenge. “Oh, come on. You broke into Hedric’s palace. I know you’ve picked your share of locks. Brentai’s told me some of the stories you’ve shared with him.” 

Anthony smiled as he watched the water rush by the hull. “I wouldn’t feel right taking your money.” 

Those words were like a punch to Sheala’s ego. “My, my, my – aren’t we confident?” 

“Listen,” Anthony tried to explain. “I’ve gotten out of a lot tougher cuffs than those. There’s no way you would beat me.” 

“I think you’re all talk.” A small crowd began to gather as they caught the words exchanged between the two. “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” 

Anthony stood up straight, looking down into the shorter woman’s eyes. There was that feeling again. The one that he just couldn’t place. That he’d seen this woman before. “How much are you willing to bet?” 

“I’ll go easy on you,” Sheala dismissed the challenge he might make of it. “Say five pieces of Imperial gold.” 

“That’s all?” 

“Make it twenty!” Reane bellowed as she walked along the deck, working hard to hide the pain and discomfort that twinged in her side. Brentai looked at her with what she took as surprise. But she didn’t care. She had spent too much time cooped up in her cabin and needed to get out. “I’ve got two pairs of shackles in my hold that no one’s ever been able to get out of. Dwarven made. Told they were used in the infamous Vasaln Prison.” 

Sheala stared back at Anthony. “Alright. I’m game if you are.” 

“Twenty pieces of Imperial gold,” Anthony confirmed. 

Reane took that as his acceptance and ordered to Brentai, “Go and fetch the two pair of the special irons.” 

“Yes, Captain.” He disappeared into the now growing crowd. 

Sheala sized up her competition. 

Anthony looked back with a stone gaze. 

“I hope you’re not a proud man,” she taunted. There was a flurry of noise as sailors began placing bets and a silent standoff ensued. 

A short time later, Brentai returned carrying two sets of heavy shackles. Each was a mass of so many chains that they might have been metal octopuses. The masses of joined links clanged as he approached where Sheala and Anthony stood. 

Reane warned him, “I trust you can secure them both and make this a fair competition?” 

Brentai looked at Sheala, who smiled and winked, and then back to his captain. “I’ll make sure the shackles are properly placed, Reane.” 

Scowling at his reply, Sheala crossed her arms. 

Brentai dropped one of the sets of chains to the deck, hoisting the other before him. “Easy way or the hard way, Sheala.” 

Angry that he would not show her favoritism, Sheala turned around and placed her hands behind her back. “I don’t need your help to beat him.” She flicked her eyes in Anthony’s direction. 

The shackles were soon on her wrists as Brentai clamped them on. There were several clicks as he tightened the cuffs. Then he looped another set of the chains between her legs and over her shoulders. He finished by attaching a second set of restraints about her forearms. 

Sheala shifted and jiggled the restraints as he worked, trying to keep them as loose as possible. But Brentai was wise to her tricks and kept them tight despite her best efforts to gain an advantage. Satisfied by his work, Reane’s First Mate went to place Anthony in the other set of restraints. 

As he was finishing up, the Captain announced the terms. “To win, you must remove both sets of restraints. Now,” she looked to both participants, “are you ready?” Anthony and Sheala nodded simultaneously. Reane paused for a second and then said, “Go!” 

Immediately, Sheala popped the pick from her cuff into her palm. She had to stretch, but found the keyhole on her right wrist immediately with practiced skill. Risking a glance over to Anthony, she saw him starting on his own cuffs with a pick he also must have kept hidden somewhere convenient. 

Sheala had a harder time finding the locking mechanism than she anticipated. She could tell it was buried deep and protected by a series of countermeasures. But she soon felt the pick come into contact with a set of pins. They popped. But the cuffs did not release. She grimaced, realizing that there had to be a second mechanism. With the utmost care, she used the edge of her tool to seek it out. 

She was working well when a clatter broke her concentration. With a quick look up, she saw Anthony’s first set of chains were already off and laying on the deck, his wrists free. “What?!” she cried out. As Sheala tried to refocus her thoughts, she found it impossible to not watch while he moved with amazing speed to the second set of restraints. 

Her hands began to sweat. The tool slipped from her grasp, falling. She tried to corral it with her fingers but failed and it clattered to the deck. 

As she flopped to the ground and floundered for the tool, Sheala heard some of the sailors begin to laugh. Unsuccessful at recovering her pick, she tried to wrench her wrists free unsuccessfully. She started thrashing as she struggled in desperation. 

Sheala could only look on as Anthony removed the final set of restraints with an ease that should have been hers. There was a cheer from those sailors that had won their bets. 

That only further enraged Sheala. Her fit became more pronounced as she started to growl and scream unintelligible things. 

At her side, Brentai reached out to try and calm Sheala down. “Easy,” he couldn’t get a firm grip on her, even though he tried. “So, you lost. It’s no big deal.” 

She glowered at him with hateful green eyes. “NO BIG DEAL!” she boomed as she continued to try to wrench herself free. “Get me out of these things!” 

“Calm down, baby. You’re making a fool out of yourself.” Brentai was finally able to get a hold of her, but it was difficult to control the flailing woman. 

Many of the sailors who had gathered chose to watch Sheala’s folly. Some with great glee. Reane interjected herself into the tantrum as well. “What’s wrong? Sheala, calm yourself.” 

“Well,” Anthony paced over, “guess that’s that.” He dropped his set of shackles on the deck. “As soon as you figure out how to get those restraints off, I’ll be expecting my money.” 

Sheala lunged for him, but Brentai’s firm grip on the chains pulled her back and planted her rear end on the deck. “Brentai!” Sheala cried, “Let me go! Get these chains off me! Brentai!” 

Reane’s First Mate ignored her request, dragging her kicking and screaming over to the main mast. He collected up the other set of chains that had held Anthony. “I think you need to cool off for a while,” he scolded. Taking the second set of chains, he attached them over, through, and around the ones that already bound her. Then he attached them to the structure of the main mast. 

“Brentai! I’m warning you!” 

With a smile, he stepped back and patted the pockets of his shirt. “Oops, I seem to have misplaced the key.” Then he let out a deep throated laugh. 

The jury-rigged bonds held Sheala as she now lurched for him. “Wait until I get free!” 

“Promises, promises.” He turned, then started to follow Reane and Anthony. Both of whom had already left the scene. 

“Oooooh, get back here! I’m warning you! You son of a motherless donkey. I swear, I’ll get you for this!” 

The sun was just beginning to set as Sheala watched Brentai catch up to the captain and her passenger. And then all three disappeared into Reane’s aft suite together. Sheala tried one last time to wrest herself free, the angry motion nearly pulled her shoulder out of its socket. The pain was enough to get her to realize that a more reasoned approach was required. 

She slumped, defeated, onto the deck. The few remaining members of the crew that were still milling about tried to avoid her as best as possible. 

With deep breaths and a few long moments of silence, Sheala tried to focus her concentration. “Come on,” she told herself, “you’ve gotten out of tougher places than this.” Then she waited until she had control and a clear enough mind to act. 

She stretched her fingers towards her boot. It was a struggle, but she managed to reach the spare pick hidden in a pocket of the seam between the leather and the sole. With revitalized skill, Sheala turned it around and began working again on the first of the locks that held her. 

“How humiliating,” Sheala mumbled to herself. 

She knelt on the deck, halfheartedly running the soapy sponge across the aged and worn wood, trying to avoid yet another splinter. Her hair was tangled and matted, both damp and crusty from the salty air. Her eyes showed bags from lack of sleep. 

As she wrung out the sponge into a bucket of dirty water, Sheala continued to lament her current situation. “I can’t believe this is happening.” 

“Now, now,” Approaching, Reane hovered over her and looked down at her friend. She was certainly not in the most dignified of positions. “You missed a spot.” 

“Very funny. Can’t you just leave me to my shame?” What annoyed Sheala most was that Reane seemed in a particularly chipper mood. 

“I think it’s a lesson well learned for you. You need to understand that finding someone that does something better than you is not the end of the world.” 

“Maybe not for you,” Sheala growled. “For the life of me, I can’t figure out how he worked through those chains so fast.” 

Reane leaned against the rail. “Believe it or not, he’s done it before on a similar style restraint. We were right about this one. He’s got some very interesting stories to tell. I learned a lot more about him over dinner last night.” 

Sheala looked up. “So, a nice romantic dinner for two, eh? I’m warning you about him, Reane.” 

“Actually, Brentai was with us for dinner.” A small frown crossed Reane’s face. “Pity you couldn’t join us,” Reane teased. “I don’t think Anthony’s ready for a dinner for two quite yet. I’m still softening him up. Besides, did you know Brentai made over thirty pieces of gold betting against you?” 

Sheala growled. “That bastard.” 

Reane laughed at her friend’s foul mood and changed the topic back to Anthony. “I think he’s taking a liking to me. I’ve still got it.” 

“But you’re still too chicken just to come right out with it. Too afraid to tell him how you feel. Especially when you can’t tell what he’s thinking. Of course,” Sheala lamented, “that’s so like you.” Begrudgingly, she continued her work. 

“Yeah, but that makes it all the more fun.” 

“Oh, pu-lease,” Sheala chided her. “It will wind up being the same as always. You’ll be moping around after he breaks your heart. Maybe he’s already got someone. Ever think of that?” 

“Nah, he seems to be too much of a loner.” Reane turned to leave her friend to her punishment. “Keep up the good work. We’ll be reaching the reef in about seven days. I think we’ll stay for the Yule Festival instead of leaving right away. King Turon did always know how to throw a party.” 

“Bah.” 

Reane shook her head. “Sheala, it wouldn’t hurt you to get out a little more. Mingle. Network.” 

“You’re really boring me. You know that?” The last thing on Sheala’s mind was setting a foot off this ship once they reached Fimmirra. 

“If you want to sulk on the ship for the whole time, that’s fine,” Reane admonished. “I hope you’ll be happy.” 

“Can’t you tell? I’m just bursting with joy.” 

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