Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)
Theodora sat up immediately, her fatigue vanished. There was stunned silence followed by an uproar outside. The villagers wouldn’t riot but it would be a heck of a barbeque if the enforcers didn’t get the crowd to disperse quickly which meant there wasn’t much time to get ready and get out.
This family had mistreated and ignored Theo her whole life and she knew deep down as probably everyone did that this was an incredibly suspicious summons; even if this was a legitimate summons only a handful of girls from the dozen or so outlying villages would become his wives or concubines, and certainly Theo would not make the cut. In fact, they might mercy kill her as she wheezed her way up the many, many stairs of the palace. The only person she could think of who might catch the prince’s eyes would be Edith. The thought was kind of sickening.
This should have been a moral quandary of some sort, theo should have been pacing the floor debating the ethicality of leaving her entire family to die while she struck out on her own………………………………………………………….…she zipped up her backpack.
Theo unzipped her backpack. Comedic timing aside, do I have everything I need for the journey? She laid everything out across her bed. Two changes of clothes? Check. Water? Check. Snacks? Check. Edith? Check.
It took a lot of effort, but Theo lifted Edith up, walked her to the door, placed her on the other side of the door, and closed said door.
“Right, I think I’m ready to go.”
“No, you’re not!” Edith burst back into the room.
“I put you outside. Be a good little dog and wait quietly for your owners to return. Thank you.”
“I’m not a dog!”
“Sorry, I was being polite. I meant to say blonde bitches who blab get stabbed. I think that rhymed, didn’t it?” to further drive her point she revealed a small hunting knife tied to her thigh, then hoisted her bag onto her shoulders.
“I still have magic.”
“Then what are you still doing here? Out of my way.”
Edith continued to block her way, “I’d really like to get out of here, but if you insist on stopping me I’ll have to get violent. You know my reputation, right? The wild child, the forest rat, uncivilized ape… I think you came up with that last one.” Theo drew her weapon.
Edith’s expression seemed calm despite a knife being waved in front of her. It wasn’t time to panic, there was still plenty of noise outside and above all the noise Cambria seemed to be the loudest. It would be a couple of minutes still before the crowd was forcibly dispersed. She had several cards to play in the meantime. The most straight forward way to go about this would be to simply tell Theo that she wanted to accompany her, but her own pride wouldn’t allow it, so she had to try other avenues.
“You’re not going to get very far. I can just picture it. Little Theo dying in a little cave all alone, what a sad, pathetic little life. It was a miracle she made it to 14, but miracles weren’t made to last. Boo-hoo.”
Theo’s eyes wavered but she held her ground. “Are you just going to insult me? I’ve heard it all before.”
“There are many monsters in the woods, I’ve heard that the deeper you go the larger and stronger they are, and oops you don’t have any magic. Do you really think that puny little knife is going to cut anything larger than a rabbit? Apparently, your spitefulness is sharper than your mind. And do you think your body will hold out? A sickly, weak, little worm with no magic doesn’t stand a chance against what’s lurking in those woods.”
That should have been enough to convince Theo to let her tag along. Theo lowered her head, a sadness hung about her, “Two days” she whispered.
“Huh?” Edith was now the one puzzled.
“Two days and all three of you get put down. All I have to do is sit and wait in the forest. If I can avoid the monsters and enforcers for two days and two nights, then you all die. I’m just sad I won’t get to see it.”
“You can’t be serious?” Edith could feel her legs shaking. What she’d read as sadness was pure malicious intent. There was a secondary uproar outside, the enforcers had finally been dispatched by the chief. Time was running out. “I have magic, I can restrain you until the enforcers get here!”
“I. Dare. You.” Theo was clearly dead set on everyone dying, everyone who’d ever done her wrong, and her sisters were among the worst offenders. She had a special hatred in her heart reserved just for them. Edith had expected this to be easy, for Theo to just let her come along, just like that. She hadn’t wanted it to come to this. Her offensive magic capabilities weren’t up to par with Cambria’s or even Rhonda’s. In fact she’d only been drilled on the basics and could only do the most minimal things. It would be apt to say that her threat to use magic was a bluff and Theo clearly was not bluffing. Edith had no choice but to come out and say it.
“I want…I want to…” The words were too hard to say, it was making her gag, “I want to go with…you.” She got the words out, she felt like she was about to cry, like that feeling after you vomit and nothings coming out anymore so your eyes are tearing up as you dry-heave, “I want to go with you! Please!”
It was Theo’s turn to be shocked, her brain was practically short-circuiting after hearing those words. “You want to go with me?” She even said please. Theo was about ready to stab the trollop when she uttered those words, and it seemed like she really meant what she said. No! This has to be a tactic. Edith wouldn’t want her sisters dead would she? They were practically a single entity. What’s more she wanted to leave with Theo, the girl they’d been bullying for 14 years. Though, Edith was probably the most approachable of the three, which she knew and often used to her advantage. Time was running short and a decision had to be made.
“You know your precious Cambria and Rhonda will be killed, right?”
“All of us are dead if you manage to escape. I’ll have no future. I’m keeping things simple and only looking after myself.”
“It’s possible that this summons is legitimate and it’s possible that you’ll be picked by the prince. You’re not unattractive.” A regretful smile crossed Edith’s lips. They both stared at each other for a moment, the yelling outside was beginning to subside. They both knew instinctively the probability of either of those statements being true was unlikely.
“You’re not wrong, I’m super cute. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my future and currying the favors of older, reliable gentlemen. I put a fair amount of effort into my appearance, but only my appearance. You’ve seen the inside me. You know I’m not a good person. I’m as ugly on the inside as you are on the outside.”
“I hate you.”
“Same to you.”
They left the house through the back door. The villagers all heading back to their houses. Theo and Edith hung behind Mr. Gibblett’s house which wasn’t far from Mr. Damer’s. It would be unfortunate to be spotted at this point, they couldn’t just sprint to the forest, there was a long stretch of road between Mr. Damer’s and the edge of the wood and the likelihood of them being spotted was high. They had no idea of everyone’s location and the minute Cambria and Rhonda realized what Theo and Edith had done they’d sound the alarm and enforcers would be hot on their tails, so Edith proposed they hide out somewhere.
They needed to get to the other side of the village, Mr. Bartsmith, one of Edith’s suitors, would let them use his shed if we could get there. They scurried to the next house, ducking under a windowsill. A woman’s voice could be heard coming from inside, “The prince is so open minded, to think he’d give such a chance to those of such slim opportunity. I’ll lend you one of my dresses Marcy, the prince is sure to…” we moved onto the next house. Marcy would look like a low rent whore no matter what dress she whore, a more expensive dress might even make her look cheaper.
They continued ducking behind houses and avoiding being seen for what felt like an hour. They continued to overhead snippets of conversation and most of them were of the same attitude as Marcy’s mother. It seemed that there were very few people shared the same flight-or-fight instincts as Theo and Edith. After a while their destination came into view. It wasn’t perfectly in line with the rest of the houses, so they’d have to run fast to get there. It was about 200 yards between Mr. Bartsmith’s and the Bergmans.
“Do you know any invisibility spells, or speed boost, or anything useful at all?”
Edith looked annoyed, “Look at you, relying on me for everything. Miss independent wants help from her older sister. Well, there are some things you have to do on your own.”
“Takes one to know one.”
“Absolutely useless.” Theo grumbled, why did Edith have to be so difficult. There were a few voices being carried on the wind, but it was comparatively more quiet than it was 10 minutes ago. “I think we can manage it. We’re fairly far away from the village center, unless they have spotters on the far hill I think we can get over there without being caught by the enforcers. Do you see or hear anything?”
They quickly dashed across the field. No one saw them. They’d made it to Mr. Bartsmith’s house. It was a slightly large than most of the other houses, Mr. Bartsmith’s family was one of the original settlers out here and in the capital, it’s said that there were two brothers that came into a disagreement of some sort so they split apart, one remained in what would become the capital and the other helped found this village. The magic school Cambria would have been going to was called The Bartsmith Academy which named after Dietrich Bartsmith, the elder brother, and a fairly prolific mage. Younger Bartsmith didn’t inherit any particularly distinguishing traits, this village didn’t even bare his name despite being one of the original settlers. Our village was called Rhoaldstead, after the chief’s family.
Edith knocked on the door, after a tense minute of waiting a slouching older man in a suit answered the door. He wordless nodded upon seeing Edith and cast his eyes over to the shed. This was going to be a rough day.
The shed was bigger than what most people would imagine a shed to be bit it was still small, luckily so were we.
“We’ll hide out here until just before dawn and then-” Edith stepped carefully as she talked as though she were afraid of stepping on something.
“We’re leaving just after nightfall.”
Edith stopped stepping and stared at Theo slack jawed, “I don’t think I heard you, it sounded like you wanted to go out into monster infested woods right when those woods are at their most monster infest-iest.”
“Do you want to get caught. Our best bet is to get to the other side of the woods as soon as possible. We need to sort out the state of the other villages and find a safe place to hide out.”
“You’re weirdly pragmatic.” She went back to feeling around with her feet.
“You’re just an idiot.”
“That attitude of yours is why no one likes you.”
“I have this attitude because everyone treats me like they do. There was never any room for me in this damn village. Everyone approached me with hatred so I respond in kind. Venomous words beget venomous words.”
“Found it.” Edith clears away some hay to reveal a slight indent in the floor. “Mother told me that she gave all her old stuff to Mr. Bartsmith for a rainy day.” She begins stomping on the floor but it refuses to yield, she then grabs for a nearby hammer. Theo grabs her wrist before she can take a swing. “You’re being loud.”
“I’m going to have to cleanse this hand with fire now. How dare you touch me!”
Theo rolls her eyes, takes out her dagger and cuts into the indents. “I haven’t had a good look at your hands in a while. They’re still scarred.” There was something close to genuine concern in her voice.
“It’s just another in a long list of scars this village has left me with. It doesn’t bother me anymore. Don’t show concern on my account.” Theo managed to get her fingers under a crease and pull up the floor. It seemed there was a space underneath the floor.
Theo stood up and gestured at the entrance, “Lead the way.”
“But it’s so dusty.”
“You’re used to it. I did all the work, now go.” Edith complied and slid into the hole landing with a light clop. “Is there a ladder or rope down there?”
“No! Are you blind? There’s ladders and ropes up there.” Theo looked around and saw a small ladder, she tied a rope around it and lowered it through the hole. There was a loop on the ceiling, she threw the rope across and tied the best knot she could manage before descending into the dark basement.
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