Trouble was brewing in the city-state of Castevand. Tensions had risen, almost unnoticed, until one day it boiled over. And it was all centered on the Chietor Mansion, currently owned by a man called Fuery.
No one knew if Fuery was his real name, but it described the feeling he brought to Castevand ten years ago. Buying the mansion with cash, Fuery quickly fell from the public eye. How long could someone talk about an average middle-aged man? Even his strange hat was not that uncommon. Plenty of people wore top hats- so what if his hat had a single green eye and bat wings along with the usual goggles?
Then five years ago people began joining Fuery up at the Victorian-style mansion. Businessmen in trench coats, engineers in oil-stained overalls and well-dressed women came at all hours. Visitors were not unusual for Castevand, the walled city-state attracted strangers from all over the world. But there was something suspicious about the constant stream of newcomers.
It seemed Fuery brought the world to him, for he rarely left the mansion. When he did, it was only for short periods of time. He was often accompanied by an even stranger couple, who went by the names of Hawk and Arabella. The former, a huge man with wires tangled in his shaggy blonde hair and the latter, a lady who men swore was the most beautiful in the world. Her long black hair framed a pale and haughty face. Eyes accented with heavy makeup, she made heads turn.
Fuery made the newspaper twice- once with a small article stating he had bought the city’s largest oil rig, and another, slightly larger, article the next year saying he paid for the factories of lower Castevand. What the newspapers failed to report were other under-the-table deals, placing Fuery as the owner of almost all of Castevand. If Fuery continued as planned, he would have owned it all, eventually taking over as the ruler of Castevand and claiming the city-state’s treasure as his own.
Then it all exploded. A servant from the Chietor Mansion leaked Fuery’s plans to the newspaper. Now everyone knew.
How the city roared! Rage had been building for years, and now it was all funneled towards Fuery. The people seemed to move as one as they pounded on the doors of Chietor. The mob would be controlled no longer. Their yells for revenge were backed by the steady beat against the wood gates.
“It’s over.” Arabella watched from the window as the mob screamed below. “If we hand you over, Fuery, do you think they’d let Hawk and me go?”
Hawk snorted from the corner.
“Oh, no, Bella.” Fuery smiled. “You’re in this as much as I am.” He winced at each slam against his door.
“We show our faces, we’re as good as dead.” Hawk added.
“Maybe not mine. I mostly played in the background.” Arabella argued.
“You sure did play around. I bet there are a lot of people down there who are mad at the little angel who ripped them off.” Fuery laughed at Arabella’s scowl. “Getting cold feet? You chose to join me.”
Hawk snorted again. “Not much of a choice. Held at gunpoint, ‘Join me or die!’ you said.”
“What else was I supposed to do with two interfering lovebirds?” Fuery scowled. “I could use you- brawn, looks, and I’ve got the brains.”
Hawk ignored Fuery. “Either choice brought us to the same end.”
“Yeah, great choice,” Arabella cut in coldly. “Do you wanna die now or later?” The doors below folded under the mob.
“Don’t be so down, Bella dear. You chose later, and think of all the fun we had!” Fuery grinned broadly. “Tell me you didn’t enjoy manipulating the people.”
“Watching them squirm,” added Hawk.
“Twisting their words,” Arabella laughed bitterly. “And where has it gotten us? We failed!”
“The gold slipped through our hands,” Hawk said sadly. “Now we’re stuck in this city with a very angry mob- and we’re broke!”
The door of the room burst open. “Master! The mob made it to the first floor.”
“Ah, Bill,” Fuery said lightly.
Bill’s face was flushed, his eyes wide with worry. “The mob got the kitchen staff. It’s only me and Sam left.”
Fuery smiled at the young man, his eyes cold. “Don’t fret, Bill. None of the kitchen staff were ever as loyal to me as you are. Right?”
Bill nodded furiously. “Right, sir!”
“Good. Now, you can go and make sure everything is prepared.” Bill nodded again and left.
“Prepared?” Hawk scoffed.
“What’s the point? We’re all dead!” Arabella moaned, beginning to pace.
“The mob will beat us to death,” Hawk smiled sadistically, watching Arabella walk. “Our broken bodies will be hung from the city walls. And when the ropes fray-”
“I DON’T WANT TO DIE LIKE THAT!” Arabella screamed, sounding desperate. The mob was louder now, banging on the doors to the second floor. They would soon reach the third floor where the three stood.
“There’s some rope in the corner,” Fuery suggested wryly. “And I’m sure there’s enough medicine in the cabinet to be deadly.”
Hawk laughed. “Another great choice, Fuery. Pick your poison, dear.”
“Which one do you choose, dear?” Arabella countered.
“Ooh, feisty. That’s why I followed you in the first place.I love a girl with spirit.” Hawk said, finally rising.
“You love a girl with money,” Fuery corrected.
Bill burst in again. “It’s ready, master!”
“Good,” Fuery smiled, and for the first time the smile reached his eyes.
“What are you up to, Fuery?” Hawk asked suspiciously.
“It’s none of your business,” Fuery headed for the door, slipping his hand into his jacket.
“You made it your business when you decided not to shoot us!” Hawk cried, grabbing Fuery’s shoulder.
In one fluid motion, Fuery pulled the revolver from his pocket, firing it into Hawk’s stomach. “I guess I changed my mind,” Fuery said calmly, watching Hawk crumple. Then to Arabella, “I hope you’re not in the same mind, dear. I’d hate to ruin your pretty face with a bullet.”
“I never liked him anyway.” Arabella smiled coldly. “You were right about the money. That’s all he ever wanted.”
“He’s not the only one.” Opening the door, Fuery called, “Follow me if you’d like, but you can only go so far.” The noise of the mob suddenly increased. “They’ve reached the third level! Quickly!”
Bill led the way with Fuery and Arabella hurrying behind him. The mob’s yells reached a new level. Mounting the stairs, Fuery stopped; looking worried, and turned to Arabella.
“I’m sorry, dear, but you should slow the mob down a bit.” Arabella’s eyes widened as Fuery aimed the revolver at her knee. The gun fired and she collapsed with a scream.
“Come on, Bill,” Fuery commanded. The young man’s eyes remained locked on Arabella’s writhing form. “Focus.” Fuery pulled Bill’s chin until his eyes moved away from Arabella. “Is everything ready?”
“Good.” Fuery hurried up the stairs, locking the door at the top once he and Bill were through. They climbed the spiral staircase, stepping out onto the roof. Thin railings led the way to a red button on a pedestal. Pressing it, Fuery stepped back. The roof opened slowly, revealing a giant deflated balloon. Slowly rising, the balloon filled with air. Beneath it hung a small basket, large enough for one person. Fuery said, “Wait here, Bill, there’s a good boy.”
Bill’s face paled as he saw the basket. “Master?”
“Stay. Here.” Fuery smiled, but his eyes were like ice.
“You’re leaving me?”
“There’s only room for one.”
“But, the mob!”
Fuery laughed. “Yes, I bet they’re coming.”
Bill fell to his knees, terror written across his face. “Master! Don’t leave me to the mob!”
“Did you ever think I would save you over Bella? At least she was pretty!”
Bill’s eyes filled with tears. “I- I have always been loyal!” Fuery merely laughed. “No, please!” Bill lunged at Fuery.
Fuery shoved him, the boy’s weight bending the thin rail. “I don’t need you, boy! I never have!”
Bill tumbled over the rail, managing to catch the edge of the roof with his fingertips. “Please, master,”
Fuery ignored his pleas. With a final cry, Bill slipped, landing broken on the roof below. Fuery turned back to the hot air balloon. A fire burned at the base, filling the balloon with hot air. Already it tugged on the rope that tied it to the house.
“FUERY!” an anguished cry rang out.
Fuery whipped around to see Arabella limping up the steps. “How?” Fuery’s eyes widened in surprise.
“Your ‘faithful’ servant, Sam, let me in. He’s always had a soft spot for women.” Her hair was tangled and pain had twisted her face, chasing away her beauty.
“I see he’s not with you now.” Fuery laughed.
Arabella smiled through the pain. “He volunteered to take my place. The mob’s probably got him by now.” She caught sight of Bill’s broken body. “No room, even for the most loyal?”
“Of course not. I work alone. Always have.” Fuery watched Arabella limp closer. “Are you here to convince me otherwise? Cause there’s only room for one. And I always choose myself over others.”
“No. I’m dying, Fuery.” Arabella was ten feet away, then five feet. “I’ll be joining Hawk soon.”
“Given up? And Hawk said you had spirit.” Fuery laughed. “Well, tell the mob I said hi.” He turned towards the basket, untying the rope and opening the basket door.
“If I’m gonna die, Fuery,” Arabella lunged forward, her arms wrapping around Fuery in a death grip. “I’m taking you with me.”
Shocked, Fuery’s hand slipped from the rope. “No!” he cried, arms reaching desperately for the balloon, which floated away without its master.
Struggling to hold onto Fuery, Arabella’s fist knocked his top hat over the edge, where it floated down, down, down to the mob far below. “I don’t think our landing will be quite so graceful,” Arabella sneered, as she threw herself over the edge, dragging Fuery with her.
“You’re coming with me, Fuery!” Arabella smiled as they fell towards the roof below.