After leaving the cabin and the old mage, Raphael decided to return to Dargon City. “It’s a port town,” he thought, “and wherever I decide to go next, it will be easier to get there from Dargon City than from out here in the middle of nowhere. Faster, too. Getting to Magnus on foot will still take some time. And while Magnus may hold a cure for Megan, returning home and dealing with Kell may hold the cure. I’ve got two choices — Magnus or home? I wonder if May will let Anam stay at the inn? What am I going to do with you, Anam? I just can’t walk into town with a wolf cub by my side. We gathered enough attention when we were there before that I don’t need any more.”
“I bet Lylle could sneak you in,” Raphael said to the pup. “I’m sure he could. That part is settled, but where do we go next? Do we look for a cure in Magnus, or do we go home?
“Anam? Megan? It would be nice once in a while, if someone else made the decisions.
“Well, let’s go back to Dargon City and decide there. If we walk to Magnus and don’t find a cure, then we’ll have wasted a lot of time. Time that could have been spent travelling home. How does that sound?” Neither Anam nor Megan gave any indication that they heard, and Raphael did not expect any.
Raphael was right when he was sure Lylle could sneak Anam into the city. Lylle was reluctant to say how he could accomplish it, and Raphael didn’t want to press the issue. As long as he could get Anam inside, Raphael was satisfied. Getting Anam inside the city turned out to be easier than talking May into letting him stay in one of her rooms, however.
“You want to keep *what* in my inn?” May yelled.
“Shhh! May, please! I don’t want it known to everyone in town. We’ll only be here for a few days. He’s taken to Megan and he’s too young to leave on his own,” Raphael pleaded.
“I won’t have no wolf in my inn! No, no, and no! I got this place from my mother and she got it from her father and *he* got it from his father, who built it. It’s always been a respectable place and it always will be. I don’t want no pets in my inn.”
“I’ll pay for any damage that he does while we are here,” Raphael said. “Please May, I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Any damages?” May asked.
“Any damages,” Raphael repeated.
“Tell you what, you pay for any *and all* damages that the wolf does and he can stay,” May said giving in. “I’ll even have one of the girls take out all the valuable stuff from the room.”
“Thank you, May.”
“Don’t thank me, yet. Wait ’til you check the weight of your purse before you start thanking me.” May warned. “Now, where is this wolf?”
“In the back alley,” Raphael answered. “I had hoped to bring him in the back way and sneak him past the customers to the room upstairs.”
“Go get it before I change my mind! Bring it to the back room,” she yelled after him. “Wolves in my inn! Next thing you know, I’ll have rats in my kitchen. Hmmmph!” she said, escorting Megan to the back room. Raphael took Anam from Lylle, who had been holding him, and went to the back room.
“May, this is Anam. Anam, this is May,” Raphael said introducing them. Anam stood where he was, leaned forward, and sniffed May’s dress. May looked down at Anam as he leaned farther forward. Just when May thought he would fall on his face, Anam took a step forward. His nose touched her dress and then he licked it. May bent down and scratched behind his ear as Anam sat at her feet and leaned against her.
“He is kind of cute,” she said. “Have a seat!” she ordered Raphael. “We won’t be able to take him upstairs until the customers have either left or gone to bed.” They talked for a few bells as Raphael told May what had happened to him after he had left Dargon City. A maid interrupted to let them know that the inn was empty.
After washing, cleaning, and changing Megan’s clothing, he laid her on the bed. Covering her up, he told her to sleep. Megan closed her eyes as Anam jumped on the bed to sit beside her. Raphael decided that they would be safe enough for him to go out into the city. “I need a break,” he thought. “Nothing personal, Megan, but I need to have some time for me. You’ll be alright, really. I won’t be gone long.”
He was on his way home from the Shattered Spear when a familiar figure caught Raphael’s attention. “It couldn’t be him,” he thought. The figure had moved on and Raphael lost sight of him in the crowd. Raphael moved through the crowd to where he had last seen the man. He got to the spot and looked around, but couldn’t find him anywhere. Just as he was about to give up, he saw the man again. Although Raphael did get a better look, the man slipped down an alley before he could tell for sure who it was. Raphael ran to the alley’s opening and stopped. Cautiously, he peered around the corner and saw a figure standing in the middle of the alley facing the far end. Raphael silently entered the alley.
“It is me, you know,” the man said turning around. Raphael stopped as he realized that it was indeed Kell.
“Is it really him,” he thought. “How is he here and what is he doing here?” suddenly sprang into Raphael’s mind. Other thoughts followed and Raphael dismissed them as he remembered the old man’s advice. “Killing Kell could end the curse,” he thought. There are no sureties in life, the old man had also said.
“Why?” Raphael finally asked. “Why, Kell, after all these years? I still don’t understand why? You loved her, too.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Kell whispered as he lowered his head. “I wanted her to love me, too. I wanted you to feel how I felt. You spent so much time with her and none with me. It hurt!”
“Yes, you were *sooo* sad,” came a voice from the shadows beyond Kell. Raphael saw Kell flinch and cringe at the voice. “What, you don’t remember me?” the man asked Raphael as he stepped out of the shadows. A tall, skinny man stepped into the light.
Raphael recognized Kell’s mentor, Loth, when he stepped out of the shadows. Loth stood straight and tall and moved gracefully. His eyes sparkled in the moonlight. He had long slender fingers with many rings on them, and some fingers even held two rings. He was bald and clean shaven with bags under his eyes. Wrinkles and leathery skin made him appear old and he carried a staff adorned with runes and metal bands. Kell seemed to diminish in his mentor’s shadow.
“Stubborn boy,” Loth scolded Kell, “what did you seek to gain? He will kill you. Is that it? Do you wish to die? Do you not know that even in death I will own you?”
“No, it can’t be,” Kell said softly as he dropped to his knees. Raphael stood amazed at the power Loth held over Kell. He could see that Kell was frightened of Loth and was nothing more than a beaten slave. For the first time, Raphael wondered what really happened during Kell’s apprenticeship. It was then that Raphael remembered the old man’s words about there being a powerful overshadowing presence to the curse. It could only be Loth.
“You’ve finally figured it out, haven’t you,” Loth said as he saw realization gather in Raphael’s eyes. “Such a shame, isn’t it. You thought it was your best friend who was responsible for dear Megan’s condition. And this sniveling idiot on his knees thought he was to blame, too, until I told him the truth. Isn’t that so, worm! It was *I* who twisted Kell’s spell and it was *my* magics that cursed Megan! She *was* such a dear thing.”
Rage exploded in Raphael. As he stepped forward, he saw that Loth had put a tube to his mouth and was pointing it at him. Before he could move out of the way, Kell stepped in front of him. Loth exhaled and Kell took the dart meant for Raphael.
“FOOL!” Loth shouted. “You would throw away everything for this one? Then die! One way or the other, you will still be mine.” Kell collapsed into Raphael’s hands. Raphael cushioned his fall and gently lowered him to the street. “It’s a rather nasty poison,” Loth said matter-of-factly. “I really would love to watch, but I need to conclude some business before –” Loth stopped and smiled at the two of them. “Well — we’ll meet again. Of that, I have no doubt,” Loth said as he faded into the shadows.
“I’ll die soon,” Kell said. “I didn’t want it to happen this way.”
“Kell … ”
“Wait, let me say what I have to say,” Kell coughed. “He told me the truth only a few days after it happened. He was the one that twisted my spell. I’ve lived with that knowledge ever since and it drove me to search for a cure. I found that if one of us dies, the curse might be lifted. Might be lifted. There are no sureties in life, you know.” Kell coughed again and this time blood came with the cough. He convulsed and his body spasmed violently. “I wasn’t strong enough to break his hold on me. I was hoping that I could manipulate you into killing him … ” Kell convulsed again and blood started to flow out of his eyes and ears. He doubled over in pain and screamed. When the pain subsided, Kell looked at Raphael and asked for one last favor. “Kill me. I can’t take this pain. The poison eats away at your insides. It only gets worse. For the friendship we had, kill me,” Kell pleaded and then closed his eyes in pain.
“I’ll always remember the friendship we had,” Raphael said as he watched his friend convulse in pain. His knife was in his hand and he didn’t remember getting it. He set the tip against Kell’s chest. Looking at Kell’s face, his shut eyes, his tightly clenched mouth, Raphael pushed his blade into his chest. The tip slid easily into Kell. Raphael felt his own heart being pierced as his knife struck deeper. Part of Raphael died with his friend.
Some time later, Raphael stood and slipped into the shadows. “It wouldn’t be good for someone to find me here or remember me being here,” Raphael thought. Loth would pay for this. He would pay for Kell’s death, the lost years that their friendship could have had, and most of all he would pay for the curse on Megan. Moving as fast as he could, Raphael hurried back to their room at Spirit’s Haven. If what Kell had said turned out to be true, then Megan would be cured. There were no sureties, Kell had said, he remembered. Realization hit him hard as he remembered the old man. “That had been Kell! Emmet had been Kell! Kell had been the old man!” Hope built up inside Raphael as he got closer to Spirit’s Haven.
Pushing the door open, Raphael entered Spirit’s Haven. There were only a few customers in the inn. Raphael glanced over the room looking for Megan or May. Not seeing either one, Raphael went to the stairs, stopped at the bottom and looked up. There was no one in sight at the top of the stairs. Putting his hand on the bannister, Raphael hesitated. “I don’t know if I can take this,” he thought. “If she’s not cured, I … don’t know.” He started up the stairs slowly and each step seemed an eternity to him. Fear built up as he ascended the stairs. His body trembled and his grip tightened on the bannister.
“This is worse than not knowing!” his mind screamed. Letting go of the bannister, he climbed to the top and walked to their door. His heart beat rapidly as he turned the latch and opened the door. Time seemed to slow as the door opened. He saw the wall, the stand with the wash basin, and his backpack. The door opened further and Raphael saw Megan on the bed with Anam beside her. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was shallow. “She’s just asleep,” he silently hoped. “She’s cured and just sleeping.”
“She’s cured,” he repeated to himself quietly. As he stepped into the room, Anam stood and jumped off the bed to greet him. “Anam didn’t wake her,” he thought. “She’s sleeping soundly — that’s it.” Raphael ignored Anam’s greetings as he approached the bed. “If there is any justice in this world, please, let it be now,” he pleaded. He reached the bed and shook her.
“Megan?” he asked as he shook her. “Megan, wake up,” he told her. Megan’s eyelids fluttered and opened. As he watched them open, two circles of grey burned their image into his mind.
“No!” he said shaking her again. “Megan, no,” he pleaded as his legs collapsed. He grabbed her for support as he dropped to his knees by the bed. “No,” he whispered again as the world suddenly went black.