©Copyright Brooke Radley 2015
All Rights Reserved.
“Please, have a seat.” The councilwoman was soft-spoken but Eleanor followed the command with haste; she’d heard about Monica Fabray before and she didn’t want to upset the woman if she could help it.
Eleanor smoothed her robe and took a seat in the closest chair. Wood scraped against tile as Ben rushed to sit in the chair next to her. The sound was loud in the quiet room. One of the older councilors let out a cough. Eleanor folded her hands on her lap. They were shaking worse now.
Light streamed in through the large window to their right, bathing the room in a bright, early morning glow.
After a moment, Councilwoman Fabray began again. “I apologize for all the secrecy. Until we were certain this mission was necessary, we couldn’t disclose all the information. I’d hoped we’d have more time, but unfortunately the situation is quickly getting out of control. We need you to help us put an end to the distribution of tangleweed. I trust you know what it is?”
“I’ve heard about it,” Ben said, “but I don’t know what it does.” He spoke slower than usual; Eleanor guessed he was focusing all of his energy on remaining calm and composed.
Eleanor cleared her throat. “We talked about it in class a few weeks ago. Our professor told us to stay away from it and then changed the subject. It’s supposed to be one of the worst drugs currently on the streets.”
Councilwoman Fabray nodded. “That’s right. It’s only been on the market for four months, but it’s responsible for over two hundred deaths. Thanks to our previous informants, we were able to stop most of the shipments to the city—at least at first. Unfortunately, we have reason to believe that the biggest importer of tangleweed just happens to be the biggest thorn in Darten City’s side.”
“The Nightshade Brotherhood,” Eleanor breathed. “This involves them?”
When Councilwoman Fabray nodded solemnly, Ben put his thumb to his mouth to chew on his nail.
“Up until a few months ago,” Councilwoman Fabray continued, “our city was mostly free of this toxic drug. The shipments were always intercepted and the criminals always caught. Now, our streets are teeming with tangleweed but we haven’t made a single arrest. The Brotherhood—as they call themselves—is always one step ahead. Until now.”
Councilwoman Fabray clasped her hands together. Her blue, watery eyes swept over Eleanor, and Eleanor straightened in her chair. She needn’t have worried—Councilwoman Fabray was uninterested in her. She focused her intense gaze on Ben. “For the last two years, one of our own has worked his way into the Nightshade Brotherhood. Last month, he came to us with his suspicions and a suggestion. The thieves are seeking new members, and he believes he can get you recruited. Once you’re in, however, you won’t be able to leave their compound.”
“That’s where you come in, Eleanor,” her uncle interjected. “Since Ben can’t communicate with us without raising suspicion, you will have to relay all of Ben’s messages for him.”
Finally, Councilwoman Fabray turned her attention to Eleanor. “You’re comfortable casting a scrying spell, I presume?” she asked. Eleanor nodded. “Very good. When you have information, I trust you will contact us.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Eleanor said. She squirmed in her seat under the older woman’s unblinking stare.
Councilwoman Fabray leaned forward. “Toby, your contact, will meet with you this afternoon at the Dancing Sword Inn. From there, he will take you to the Nightshade Brotherhood. Do you have any questions?”
Eleanor had several, but Councilwoman Fabray’s tone was impatient. She stayed quiet.
“What happens if we get caught?” Ben asked. His hand rested uneasily on the pommel of his sword. What had Eleanor gotten herself into?
“You won’t,” Councilwoman Fabray said with certainty. “Your mission is to confirm the Nightshade Brotherhood is distributing these drugs and find the location, not to put an end to it. As long as you stick to your job and don’t get overzealous, you’ll be safe.”
Ben pressed his lips together but nodded anyway.
“No further questions,” he said.
“Then you’re dismissed. Good luck to both of you.”