Heroes of Lunde, Episode 7

WITCHES THREE, PART 1

PART 1 

It was late when Harriet got the call. She had been asleep, dreaming about roasting children over a spit, when she was so rudely awakened. She reached for her talkie, which was nestled underneath her pillow in case of emergencies. She opened one eye and checked the Caller ID. When she saw the name of her disturber of sleep, she opened both eyes and fumbled to hit the talk button. 

“Hello, Mistress.”  

“Which one am I talking to? I can never tell; you all sound the same to me,” Mistress L said, trying to sound as polite as possible. She didn’t want to hack off the three best witches she knew, after Maltrice, of course. 

“It’s Harri.” She rubbed her eyes open to appear more awake. She didn’t know why she since she couldn’t see Mistress L, but she supposed if she looked more awake, she’d sound more awake. “How may the Lindstrom Sisters be of service to the Dark Circle?” 

“I’m experiencing some problems with a certain group of people. I need them exterminated pronto.” She waited for Harri’s response with bated breath. It sounded like she had woken her up. She would have to be extra nice to her for this. “Do you think you could handle that problem for me?” 

Harri thought she detected a hint of desperation in the mistress’ voice. It must be a really big deal if she had to call at this late hour. There could be a really big pay off if they pulled off bumping off these people. It wasn’t every day they got a call from the Dark Circle. This could elevate the sisters’ status to badass bitches. No one would dare to go up against them if they had the Dark Circle on their side. She thought about how she should accept the job without sounding just as desperate. Should she tell her to call back in the morning after she’d talked it over with her sisters? She liked that option, but then she remembered who she was dealing with. It was best not to play games with the Dark Circle. She figured they owed her one anyway. “We’ll do it,” she said, resigning herself to the desperation tactic. 

“Excellent!” Mistress didn’t bother to hide how relieved she was. If the sisters could get rid of the Heroes, then everything can proceed as planned. She was also glad she didn’t have to remind Harri that they owed her. It was always a messy ordeal when one had to pull rank. “I will pay you, of course, and as a bonus, I’ll throw in some cinnamon raisin muffins!” 

Harri’s stomach growled. She loved muffins and now she was hungry. “Fantastic. We’ll get started on a plan in the morning.” 

“Thank you so much! Sorry to have called so late, but I wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t important.” 

“Girl, we got you! We’ll talk in the morning! Have a good night!” Harri waited for the mistress to hang up before she disconnected. She returned the talkie under her pillow and laid back down.  

“Who was that?” asked her sister, Veronica. She was lying between Harri and her other sister, Hermine in the same king sized bed.  

“I’ll tell you in the morning,” Harri said, already drowsy. “Go back to sleep, Ronnie.” 

“Fine.” Ronnie rolled back over and drifted off to sleep. She dreamt of roasting children over a spit. 

*** 

The next morning, Jaco woke up next to Quil as per usual. He smiled when he heard him snoring. The lovely prince could suck carriages off the streets, Jaco liked to say when teasing him about it. It was mid morning, which was when the rest of the family ate breakfast. He wondered if he should wake Quil after the day he had yesterday. He decided to put the carriages in further danger by allowing him to continue sleeping. 

He snuck out of bed and put on his red spandex pants. He was usually devoid of a shirt, but he decided if he planned on eating breakfast with the family, he should appear like a presentable citizen. He opened Quil’s closet and found a clean black shirt. He put it on and left the room. Quil didn’t wake up despite the loud creak of the door. Jaco thought about adding some lubricant to the hinges, but that would have been a waste of perfectly good lube which could be used for personal applications. 

He wandered the halls and ignored the looks from the staff he passed. They always objected to his lack of shoes and a shirt. Jaco thought they should be happy he’s even wearing a shirt today. He was tempted to take it off just to spite them.  

He made it to the dining hall and found King Oleander and Queen Jasmine just sitting down for breakfast. They welcomed him to sit down with them. A servant pulled out a chair for him. He graciously sat down and was gently pushed toward the table. 

“Good morning, Jaco,” Jasmine said, smiling at him. “It’s good to see you.” 

“Thank you, my queen.” Jaco bowed his head. 

“I trust you and Quil had a wonderful night of lovemaking last night.” Oleander winked at Jaco. He was pleased to see the young man blush a bright shade of red. “Oh, I remember the lust filled nights of my youth. I was a thin, insatiable sex machine! Women, men, I didn’t care! I was up and ready at all times!” 

Jasmine cleared her throat politely. “Lee, perhaps Jaco doesn’t want to hear about how thin and insatiable you were.” She placed a napkin on her lap as a servant served her a plate of scrambled eggs, waffles, and bacon. “You can just ignore him, dear.” 

Oleander placed his napkin on his lap, hurt. “I’m sorry, dear. I didn’t realize that we couldn’t have a civilized conversation about sex. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, Jas.” He looked to Jaco and grinned. “I think it’s healthy to talk openly about sex to break the stigma. People are way too uptight about a perfectly natural activity. Everyone has sex!” 

Jaco spoke up and said, “Not everyone, sire. Some people are asexual.” 

Oleander frowned. “I suppose you’re right. They don’t know what they’re missing.” 

Jasmine cleared her throat again. “So, is Quil still sleeping?” 

Jaco nodded his head. “I figured I’d let him since he had an awful day yesterday.” 

“I guess being possessed by a hell demon can take the life right out of you.” Oleander allowed a servant to serve him his breakfast; the same as everyone else, just a bigger quantity. “I suppose there wasn’t much sex happening last night.” 

“Lee!” Jasmine was done with that kind of talk at the breakfast table. 

When Jaco was served his plate, the three of them ate their food in silence. It was awkward sitting down not saying anything considering what the last topic was. Jaco was sure his face hadn’t lightened because he could still feel the heat in his cheeks. He was definitely not going to tell Quil this conversation happened. 

Breakfast was just about over when there was a knock on the door. Jaco knew that whoever was on the other side had bad news.  

Oleander bid the person in. It was a nervous looking messenger with his hands behind his back. When the king beckoned him to come forward, the messenger scuttled over as quick as he could. He bowed and took a deep breath, but said nothing. His mouth was open, but no sound came out. 

“Speak up, lad!” Oleander commanded. 

“Yes, sire,” the messenger squeaked. “Horrible news from Euclidia.” Jaco snickered. This distracted the messenger for a brief moment before returning his attention to the king. “It has been reported that children have suddenly turned up missing.” 

Jaco furrowed his brow. “How could something be missing, but still be turned up?” He didn’t realize he had said this out loud until he received dirty looks from everyone in the room. His face couldn’t have been redder if he tried. “Sorry.” 

“Are there any suspects?” Oleander asked. 

“Yes, sire. We believe evil witches, the Lindstrom Sisters, are responsible.” The messenger was afraid to make eye contact with His Magnificence. He had always longed for the duty to report to the King. Now that it had happened, he couldn’t contain his nervousness. 

“Witches?” Jasmine asked. “How horrible! Those poor children.” 

“Chances are those children are already dead,” the messenger added, gazing up from the floor. “It is known the sisters like to eat children, especially the little fat ones. I hear they like to slather them in butter and other seasonings like turmeric and cumin. But I just hear rumors.” He returned his gaze to the floor. 

The king frowned at this news. He turned to Jaco and with a grim face he said, “I think it’s time to wake up Quil. Assemble the Heroes and rescue those children.” 

“Yes, sire.” Jaco stood up and left the dining hall.  

As he traveled down the halls toward Quil’s room, Jaco couldn’t help but think that there was something more to the witches’ actions. It couldn’t be a coincidence that there were two unlikely events in as many days. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear that someone was trying to trap them. He made a mental note to mention this to Quil once he was fully awake, which would take a miracle at this point. Quil slept like a rock. 

*** 

Harri, Ronnie, and Hermi stepped out of a hidden cave into the morning sun. They squinted until their eyes adjusted to the light. Hermi took a moment to hiss at the sun, which earned her a strange look from her sisters. Hermi shrugged her shoulders. “I like to pretend I’m a vampire. What? Everyone does it.” 

“So, while I enjoy scooping up children early in the morning, why are we doing this again?” Ronnie asked, bending backward to realign her back. She was usually the one who had to carry the fat children because she was the strongest. She was not a waif like Harri, and not as wide as Hermi. She was perfect with just the right amount of muscle in the right places. She also thought she was the prettiest sister. They were not the haggard, old women one would expect from witches. They were moderately not unfortunate looking, each one capable of snagging a man, well, a woman in Hermi’s case. 

“Mistress L called us last night and asked us to do her a favor!” Harri replied breathlessly. She had just lugged two children on her back up a mountain and locked them in a cage, she wanted a nap. “We owe her and we owe it to ourselves to do right by her.” 

“Yes, but why would she ask us to do something we were already planning on doing next Wednesday?” Hermi asked. 

“It’s a trap to lure the Heroes of Lunde here.” Harri took a deep breath and held it in for a few seconds. She exhaled and bent over to touch her toes. “When they come, we whomp them and put them in a stew!” Ronnie and Hermi clapped excitedly. “Word has probably already reached them, so they should be here by afternoon’s end. Come, sisters! We must prepare!” 

Hermi gave Harri a sad look. “Can’t we eat a child first? Just a little one?” 

“No! They’re the bait,” Harri replied. 

“How about just a leg?” Ronnie chimed in.  

Hermi nodded with enthusiasm. “Yes, a nice, fat, juicy leg!” 

Harri shook her head.  

“Well, honestly, Harri. It’s not nice to make us kidnap them and expect us to not want to eat them.” Ronnie pouted. 

“We will after we kill the Heroes! I promise.” Harri sighed. She was exasperated by her sisters. She likened them to small children that she couldn’t eat because she would feel bad about it later when she passed them. 

“You promise?” Hermi asked, her voice high and childlike. 

“I swear on our mother’s grave!” 

All three of them looked toward the sky, placed their hands on their hearts, and said, “Mother!” 

“Okay, we must go. We must be ready!” Harri ushered her sisters down the mountain. She had such beautiful plans for the Heroes; all they had to do was show up. Today was going to be glorious, she could feel it. Things were going to happen. And happen they did. 

*** 

After Quil woke up, he made the call for the Heroes to assemble outside of the castle. Jaco left to get something and vowed to return. Andrada and Reese showed up on time. For this Quil was thankful. He filled them in on what happened in Euclidia based on what Jaco told him. Andrada was excited to get some witch blood on her blade. Reese had no emotions about it whatsoever. Quil just wanted to go back to bed. 

The three of them waited for twenty minutes before Everett and Jaco arrived. Quil was about to ask them what had taken them so long, but stopped when he saw what they were wearing. Jaco was dressed, or rather half dressed, he had lost his shirt somewhere along the way, in silver necklaces draped around his neck, bracelets with various charms on them all the way up to his elbows, a black belt with small bones (Quil hoped that they were chicken bones) attached to it, and more anklets with small teeth (no chance that they were chicken teeth) strung through them. Everett was dressed similarly, only he also had blue face paint on the right half of his face and a pentagram drawn in black make up pen on his left cheek. 

“What the actual fuck?” Quil asked. 

Jaco and Everett just stared at him with a confused look. “What?” 

Andrada scratched her head. “What’s with all the jewelry?” 

Everett and Jaco gasped collectively. “Jewelry? Jewelry!” Everett said indignantly. “These are anti magic charms! These will protect us from being hexed by those witchy bitches!” 

“Damn right!” Jaco added. 

“You look ridiculous,” Andrada replied. 

“It’s not just for us!” Everett took off a few bracelets. 

 “We brought enough for everyone!” Jaco started to take off several silver necklaces to distribute.   

Andrada, Quil, and Reese all took a step back as Everett and Jaco tried to offer them the charms.  

“You’re not going to catch me wearing any of that,” Andrada stared at the charms as if they were snakes wriggling around their arms.  “You two really can’t be serious.” 

“Serious as a heart attack!” Jaco looked to Quil for support, unfortunately, he did not find any.  

“Sorry, babe.” Quil gave him an apologetic look. “I can’t believe you’re afraid of witches. Weren’t you the one who took me to see a witch doctor yesterday?” 

“Mama Kaina, God rest her soul, was different. She helped people! She cast spells for the greater good.” Jaco couldn’t believe that he was having this conversation. “These bitches eat children! They probably dip them in butter and other spices like turmeric and cumin or something! We have to be protected from their evil spells!” 

“Honey, I’m a motherfucking wizard. I think I’ve got us covered.” Quil smirked and folded his arms. “Come on, we gotta get going. If we leave now, we can be in Euclidia by afternoon’s end.” Then he gave a chuckle. “Euclidia. What a stupid name.” 

Quil led the way toward the train station. Everett and Jaco exchanged glances of resignation. They failed to impress the importance of witch protection upon the others. They hoped that they would be okay, but they all knew that knowing them, they probably wouldn’t be. 

*** 

“Maybe we can turn them into frogs!” Hermi suggested. “Frogs are always really good in stews.” 

“But rabbit is better,” Ronnie interjected. “We should definitely turn them into rabbits.” 

“But bunnies are too cute to eat!” Hermi moaned at the thought of killing the cute little bunny rabbits. She had tasted rabbit before and claimed that she liked it, but she didn’t feel comfortable about eating it knowing what it used to be when it was alive. 

The Lindstrom Sisters were back in their two story, three bedroom house at the bottom of the Jusnic Mountains. They were trying to agree on what kind of punishment the Heroes should endure. Harri made the mistake of asking her sisters their opinions and the two of them hadn’t shut up or agreed on anything for thirty minutes. Harri stopped trying to interfere fifteen minutes ago. She thought maybe if she allowed them to free think, they might accidentally stumble upon something that made sense. So far, nothing like that had surfaced. She wondered just how much longer she should let this go on. Hopefully, not too much longer. It was hard for her to hear herself think with the two of them mattering on. Unfortunately, she couldn’t come up with anything better, so she let them continue. 

Harri checked the clock on her wall and saw that it was approaching three o’clock. If the Heroes left as soon as they heard the news, they could be expected to arrive any minute. They wasted half the afternoon arguing about their plan. Harri wished that she hadn’t wanted to include her sisters in the planning. It was obvious that she was the leader, so she should have had everything planned and instructed them on what to do. Ronnie and Hermi did not like that approach and wanted to be included. So, she lets them, much to her chagrin. 

“Look, why don’t we just kill them the good old fashioned way,” Harri said, speaking louder than both of them. “Why don’t we just kill them with curses? Sure, we could just blast them until they explode, but where’s the fun in that? Why don’t we kill them slowly? Watch them wither away minute by minute?” Ronnie and Hermi grinned as they listened. This was music to their ears. “Yes, we could have loads of fun.” 

“We’ll give each one of them a different curse to maximize our enjoyment,” Ronnie suggested.  

“Yes!” Hermi clapped her hands like a seal. “I love this plan.” 

Harri laughed as she walked into the kitchen and pulled their Book of Curses from the cabinet above the sink. “Alright, sisters! Let’s pick our curses!” She walked back into the living room and set the book on the coffee table. 

Pictures of the Heroes greeted the sisters as Harri opened the book. Ronnie picked up the picture of Reese and scrunched her face. “She’s too pretty. I hate her. Let’s cast the withering curse on her!” Harri and Hermi agreed. 

Harri picked up the picture of Quil and smiled. “Oooh, he’s a looker!” 

“Let me see!” Hermi took the picture out of Harri’s hand and glanced at it. “Tall, dark, and handsome. He is so your type!” 

“Yes, he is.” She snatched the picture back. “What to do with you, my pretty one. You, my pretty wizard will be silenced and befuddled, complete with mind numbing!” She smiled as she imagined the fun she was going to have with him. “And who have your got, Hermi?” 

Hermi picked up Andrada’s picture and hugged it. “She’s beautiful! She’s perfect!” 

Ronnie pouted. “She should get a withering spell as well.” 

Hermi glared at her and said, “I know you’re under the illusion that you have to be the prettiest in all the land, but you’re more than wrong on that point, dear sister.” Ronnie gasped and pouted harder. Hermi returned her gaze to Andrada’s picture. “I think that I would love to preserve her body… in stone.” Harri clapped excitedly for her sister’s ingenious plan. This made Hermi feel great about herself. 

Harri picked up the pictures of Jaco and Everettand held them in front of her face. She wasn’t sure what to do with them. She was getting a strange feeling about them. When she concentrated some of her power on their pictures, she sensed some kind of energy pushing back at her. The more that she focused on it, the more she found her mind began to fog. She had to pull back if she wanted to keep her mental faculties. She set the pictures down before she realized what she was doing. Before long, she found her thoughts drifting back to the other three pictures. 

“I think we’ve done it, sisters,” Harri said, snapping to get their attention. “Now, let us prepare to spring the trap!” 

The three of them huddled around the pictures and chanted the words that would ensnare their victims into a period of misery. They waved their hands over the pictures and objects began to materialize. It was difficult to see the shapes until the hex was complete. The sisters separated to reveal a shiny green and silver dagger, a gold ring with a purple jewel set in it, and leafy garland complete with daisies intertwined in it. The sisters uttered another magic word and the objects disappeared. 

“And now we wait,” Harri said, rubbing her hands together. Her sisters giggled excitedly. Oh, they couldn’t wait for all of the fun to begin. They wouldn’t have to wait for very much longer. Let the games begin. 

*** 

The Heroes arrived in Euclidia exactly when the sisters predicted. They got off the train and sniffed the air. Euclidia was famous for its artisan bread shops so the air was full of the smell of freshly baked bread. This instantly made them hungry. Jaco made an argument to make their way through the marketplace on their way to their first point of investigation. His stomach was rumbling. Quil made the executive order to acquiesce to this request. There was no argument from the others. 

Jaco and Everett received many strange looks as they traversed the marketplace. The two of them were confident enough to ignore them and kept walking with their heads held high. There was no way they were going to feel self-conscious if it meant that they weren’t going to be hexed. Though, Everett did wish that Jaco had allowed him to wear a shirt underneath all of the silver necklaces. They were quite chilly against his skin and they made his nipples harder than rocks, not that it didn’t look appealing. He caught several women checking him out. Yeah, he knew he made this look good. 

The team debated whether they should take a moment to eat something before they started their investigation or wait until after the children were rescued on the off chance they could get a free meal out of it. They were actively in the middle of this conversation when they passed a certain table with a woman wrapped in a black shawl sitting at it. She called out to them. At first, the Heroes ignored her, but when she called Quil by name, this got their attention. 

They approached the table and looked at the woman expectantly. She gazed up at them with her innocent looking green eyes hiding behind thick rimmed glasses with circular lenses. “Oh, I’m so glad I caught you. You look like you’re on a mission of great importance,” said the woman. 

“Yes, ma’am,” Quil replied. “Is there something that you need from me?” The woman looked confused. “You called me by name.” 

“I did? Hmm, imagine that.” The woman rubbed her chin. “I think it’s not a matter of me needing something from you, but rather, you needing something from me.” She gestured to her table. There were three items resting on three small black pillows. The Heroes looked at them and nodded their heads. “See anything that catches your eyes, Master Wizard?” 

Quil chuckled, embarrassed at the reverence. “Oh, I’m not a Master yet.” He placed his hand behind his head and continued to chuckle.  

The woman was amused by his embarrassment. “I’m sure you’ll get there soon. Anything you like, dearie?” She could see that Quil’s eyes had fallen upon the gold ring. She picked it up and held it in her palm. “It is quite lovely, isn’t it?” Quil nodded his head, his eyes were transfixed on it. “It’s been said that it’s supposed to increase a wizard’s powers tenfold.” The wizard’s eyes widened with want. “It’s yours if you want it.” 

“How much?” Quil asked right away. 

“Oh, not much. Just your soul!” the woman said. Quil looked shocked. She laughed. “I was joking. Two gold pieces will be just fine!” 

“You’ve got yourself a deal!” Quil reached into his pocket and pulled out his pouch. He fished in it for two pieces and then gave them to her. She gave him the ring and he immediately put it on. He instantly felt more powerful. “This is awesome.” He turned to Jaco, who did not look as enthused. “Look, babe! Isn’t it pretty.” 

“Gold isn’t really your color,” Jaco teased. He looked at the ring suspiciously. There was something not right about it, but he couldn’t figure out what. 

“And for the elf?” the woman asked. She waved her hand over the garland with a flourish. Reese’s eyes were immediately drawn to it. “Such a pretty crown for such a pretty lady, yes?” 

“Yes, it is pretty,” Reese admitted. “I used to make garlands like these when I was younger.” 

“So, it’s a bit of nostalgia you’re looking for, eh dearie?” The woman daintily lifted the garland from the table and placed it on Reese’s head. She watched as a chill came over her. Reese reached up and readjusted the garland to her liking. A smile came to her face. “You’re an absolute shining delight.” 

“How much for the garland?” Reese asked, reaching for her pouch. 

“Oh, you don’t owe me anything.” The woman giggled and placed her hands on her heart. “Just seeing your beautessence is enough for me.” 

“Beautessence?” Everett repeated. “I don’t think that’s a word.” He exchanged an “Is this for real?” look with Jaco. 

The woman turned to Andrada and saw that she was eyeing the silver and green dagger. “Oh yes, the Dagger of Agathorn, a prize for any warrior.” She picked it up and held it up to Andrada’s face. “Feel the coldness of the steel.” She grabbed Andrada’s left hand and placed her fingers on the edge of the blade. The warrior princess gave a small shiver as she connected with it. “It’s speaking to you, isn’t it?” 

“It’s very shiny,” Andrada said. She loved how cold the steel felt against her fingers. She imagined how great it would feel when she thrusted it into the chest of her enemies. The slickness of the blood as it ran over the blade and wrist would be almost orgasmic. She had to have this dagger. “I need this.” 

“For the low, low price of three gold coins, it can be yours!” The woman gave her a toothy grin. 

Andrada tapped on Quil’s shoulder. “What?” Andrada held out her hand expectantly. Quil looked at it and then slapped it.  

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Andrada said. 

“I know what you meant, Andy, and it’s not happening.” Quil gave her a smug look. “Pay for your own shit.”  

Andrada frowned as she reached for her own money pouch. “I’ll remember this.” She produced three gold coins and gave them to the woman. The woman relinquished her hold on the dagger and smiled as Andrada held it up to her face. “This is awesome! I can’t wait to use this!” 

“Neither can it,” the woman added for dramatics. “It appears you’ve bought me out. I do hope you enjoy your items.” 

“Enjoy them? We love them!” Quil said, holding the ring up to the sunlight. “Are you going to be here later? I hope to see what else you got.” He turned to look at the woman, but she was no longer there. This surprised him. He didn’t even see her leave. He looked to Reese and Andrada to see if they noticed the woman leave, but they were caught up in their items. 

Jaco and Everett didn’t see her leave either. It was as if she vanished into thin air. They must have missed it when they blinked. This made them even more suspicious. 

“I think you should throw those things away,” Jaco suggested. He didn’t like the way that the three of them were looking at their newly bought toys. “There was something not right about that woman.” 

“Yeah, she didn’t even look at my nipples,” Everett joked. He made them more noticeable by rearranging the necklaces.  

“She probably couldn’t even see you because you didn’t reach the top of the table,” Jaco joked. 

“Screw you, wolf boy,” Everett shot back. 

“Oh hush, you two. Let’s get something to eat before the sun sets,” Andrada said. “I wish they had food on the train. I’m starving.” 

The team agreed that food was probably in their best interests. They found a good bakery and ordered some food. Jaco and Everett found the table conversation to be quite lacking since there was none. Quil, Andrada, and Reese were entranced by their items. It was then that Everett decided that those things were bad news. 

“It’s not natural for people to be obsessed like that,” he said to Jaco. “There must be some kind of spell on them… a witch’s spell.” 

“That would explain why there weren’t any items for us, we’re protected.” Jaco picked up a wad of his necklaces and kissed them. “Now to get rid of those things.” Jaco reached over the table to grab Quil’s hand, but Quil pulled his hand back just in the nick of time. Quil gave him an unsettling glare. 

“What do you think you’re doing?” Quil asked. 

“I just wanted to look at it, babe,” Jaco lied. 

“Well, look with your eyes, not your hands.” Quil hesitated to put his hand back on the table, so he readjusted in his seat so that he wasn’t facing it. “It’s my precious.” 

“I thought I was your precious,” Jaco said, teasing. His mood lowered when he saw the confused look on Quil’s face. 

“And you are?” Quil blinked at him for a few moments. Jaco wasn’t sure if Quil was joking or not. “Oh, yes, Franco! Of course you’re my precious. Don’t be silly.” He went back to admiring his ring. There seemed to be a glint in his eyes as he gazed upon its shiny beauty.  

“That’s some effed up ess right there,” Everett said sadly. He looked to Reese and saw that she brushing her long, silky, white blonde hair. This was odd because she wasn’t usually worried about her hair, but it appeared that now she did. She was vigorously pulling the wooden brush through it, so much so that it started to fall out in small clumps. Reese didn’t seem to notice.  

“Reese, girl, stop!” Everett said. He looked for something to throw at her since she was at the other end of the table from him. He picked up a fry and tossed it at her. It hit her in the forehead, but she was otherwise undaunted. He looked for something heavier. Since they were sitting on the patio of the bakery, he found a small pebble on the ground and picked it up. He examined the white pebble carefully, admiring its ‘beautessence’. He deemed it a shame that he would have to toss it at a beautiful elf who was losing her hair. Everyone had their burden to bear.  

He simply flicked the pebble and it sailed across the table and pecked Reese in the forehead. It bounced off and landed on the table. Reese stopped momentarily, blinked, and then went back to brushing. Everett exchanged a worried glance at Jaco.  

Andrada stared at her dagger and smiled dreamily. Jaco stood up and waved his hand in front of Andrada’s face. Her gaze was broken, and she blinked at him. “What?” 

Jaco breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought that you might be under a spell.” He pointed to Quil and Reese. Andrada raised an eyebrow and shook her head. “That’s only within a couple of minutes ago. You three have been making goo goo eyes at your shiny toys and acting really weird. How are you feeling right now?” 

“I feel good.” Andrada casually scratched her elbow. That patch felt flakier than usual, but she didn’t think anything of it. “What are we going to do with them?” 

Jaco shook his head. “I’m not sure. Maybe if we get start the investigation, they will snap out of it?” Everett and Andrada nodded their heads. 

Jaco turned to Quil and said, “Quil, honey? Do you think it’s about time we get started working? We’ve got children to save.”  

It took Quil a lot of effort to tear his eyes away from the ring to look at Jaco, but he did it. He gave him an empty smile and said, “Yes, dear. I think that would be most appropriate. Come on, team! Let’s go get some babies!” 

Everyone stood up from the table and threw away their trash. Jaco and Everett observed Quil and Reese. They seemed to be alright for the moment. They were focused on the task of throwing things away. Jaco hoped if they are actually doing something, then they would be less likely to indulge in their items. That was going to be difficult. 

Quil led the team out into the marketplace and down the main street. Jaco and Everett kept an eye out for any weird, mysterious women wanting to sell them things. They also kept an active eye on their friends. They were sure now more than ever that they had been cursed by one of the witches. It had to be that woman. She obscured herself well, so it would be difficult to recognize her if they saw her again. They would have to be aware of every woman they passed by. How exhausting. 

“I think we should stop by the constable’s office to get the names of the children who were kidnapped,” Quil said. “They might be able to point us in the right direction.” 

Jaco nodded his agreement. 

Everything went well on the way to the constable’s office. No one freaked out or anything. Everyone acted normal. When they entered the office, they asked for the one in charge. Constable Reeves was on duty and approached them. 

“Heroes, I’m glad to see that you’ve come so quickly,” she said. She bowed before them and then shook Quil’s hand, the hand with the ring on it. “Three families have had their children abducted and we’re at a loss at where to find them. There are a lot of rumors that the witches live up on the mountain, but my staff are too afraid to go up there and look.” 

“Don’t worry about it, ma’am… we’ll save those piglets!” Quil said. Constable Reeves looked confused. “What?” 

“Children, Mr. Wizard,” Constable Reeves corrected. 

“Children? Oh no, I’m gay. I’m not going to have children.” Quil chuckled and grabbed Jaco by the arm and pulled him close. “He’s my lover! We’re going to get a farm one day.” 

Constable Reeves looked at Jaco, who only offered an apologetic smile. 

“We’ll go up the mountain to check for the children, ma’am,” Everett said, giving her the sexy eye. He rearranged his necklaces to showcase his chest. She briefly nodded and found something else to look at. 

“Yes. Thanks for the lead,” Jaco said. “Let’s go, Mr. Wizard.” He pulled Quil toward the door. The rest of the team followed. Everett gave Constable Reeves a wink as he exited. She grimaced and waved reluctantly as he closed the door behind him. She rolled her eyes once she was sure he was gone. 

*** 

As the team marched toward the mountain just outside of Euclidia, Jaco noticed that Quil was acting stranger. He would stop to talk to random people about sheep herding. Jaco knew that Quil knew nothing about sheep herding, but it suddenly became his new favorite subject. Then the bleating began. He would ‘baa’ at anyone who looked at him. Jaco knew that he was in no condition to lead the team.  

Normally, Andrada would be second in command, but she wasn’t that focused on the mission either. Jaco noticed that she was really picking at the skin on her elbow. Her skin was flaking off as she scratched. He approached her and asked her how she was doing. She insisted that she was doing fine, but it was obvious to him that was further than the truth. Jaco risked a surreptitious glance at her arm and saw that there were spotty grey patches that traveled up to her shoulders. That couldn’t be good.  

“You might want to get that checked,” Jaco suggested. 

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing,” she said. She assumed that she might have had an allergic reaction to something she ate. She assumed otherwise when she got the idea to touch the grey spots. They were hard and rough. She gasped, which startled Jaco. When he asked what was wrong, she said that she was fine. She tried to hide the concern from her face. She wasn’t sure if he bought it or not. Something was wrong with her, but she didn’t know what could have brought this on. She just hoped that she could figure it out before things got too bad. 

It was almost sunset when they left the border of Euclidia. The mountain range lay just before them. The sun was just setting behind them, casting hues of orange and purple into the sky. It would have been a beautiful sight, but for some reason, this was more sinister than met the eye. The idea that witches might be nearby gave the sight a chilling feeling to Jaco and Everett.  

Jaco and Everett took stock of the team: Quil was off his rocker; Reese sang sweetly the songs from her village in Elvish, and Andrada was increasingly itchy. This did not bode well. 

“I’m fine,” Andrada insisted. “I’m going to be okay. Let’s just find those bitches and get those kids.” 

“I don’t think you’ll be any use to us,” Everett replied. “Unless you’re going to flake them to death.” He winced at the sight of Andrada’s skin peeling off with each scratch. “You should really find a cream or something.” 

Andrada was on the cusp of telling him to go fuck himself, but she decided that it was a brilliant suggestion. What would she do about the parts that were turning to stone? What kind of moisturizer would one use for that? 

Jaco was going to suggest that she turn back and take Quil and Reese with her, but the air suddenly turned cold, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up on end. Something dangerous was near. He sniffed the air to see if he could pick up a scent of whatever was nearby. It was then that he smelled three distinct smells, all of them with hints of cinnamon. He instantly knew what the threat was. Before he could alert the team, the sound of cackling startled him.  

Everyone looked up at the first mountain and saw the three witches they were after. They stood on a ledge above them staring down at them. They were all wearing different colored dresses. The one in the middle, Harri, was wearing a red dress, the one to her left, Hermi, was wearing green, the one to her right, Ronnie, was wearing blue.  

“Oh, it’s the Heroes of Lunde! I do hope that you are enjoying the gifts I provided you,” Harri said, tossing her red hair over her shoulder. “They seem to be doing their jobs. I couldn’t be happier. Now to take care of you once and for all!”  

“You witch!” Everett shouted.  

Jaco turned to Everett with a smirk. “How original.” 

“Meh,” and a shrug was the response.

To be continued…

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