Kera rolled out of bed with a long yawn and looked around the room. Rien sat at the small table by the window, reading `The Realities of Myths’.
“It’s about time,” he looked over. “It’s almost noon.”
“Being jailed isn’t as harsh a reality when I’m sleeping,” Kera said. She walked over to the table and sat down on the second chair. “How many times have you read that book now?”
“Thrice,” Rien said. “And I learned something new every time.”
“Doesn’t look like any of it is of much use to us.”
“It’s not,” Rien said. “Most of it is disputed facts disputed once again.”
“We’ve been locked up in this inn for two days now. Let’s do something.”
“It’s dangerous out there.”
“I know,” Kera said, “but I can’t take much more of this. I need to see different walls.”
“All right,” Rien said after a moment of thought. He wasn’t used to this much indoor living either. “I’ll make you a deal. Instead of eating here we’ll go outside of Dargon, hunt and eat there.”
Kera’s eyes brightened. “Let’s go!”
“Get dressed,” Rien stopped her. “I don’t think we need the attention.”
“I was going to anyway!” she stuck her tongue out at him.
“There’s a rabbit,” Kera pointed to a patch of dark grass off the path.
Rien turned his horse to look. “Yes, it is,” he said, spotting the rabbit.
“Aren’t you going to shoot it?” Kera asked.
“No. I got you a bow so you could do it.”
“It was your idea to become my apprentice. How do you expect me to teach you if you don’t do anything?”
Kera pulled out her bow, strung it and took aim at the rabbit.
“Loosen up your arm,” Rien instructed, “and don’t pull back so far. It’s only a rabbit. It won’t take much to kill it.”
Kera loosened up and reaimed. “It’s moving around,” she complained.
“Should I ask it to hold still?”
“Please,” Kera said.
“Just shoot it!”
The arrow passed well to the left of the rabbit and stuck in the ground. The startled animal darted off into the bushes.
“It was too far anyway,” Kera said. “Now what?”
“You retrieve the arrow and either track your prey or go find another.”
“There’s a guy at the market who sells rabbits,” Kera said.
“You find it in the forest and you kill it.”
“Can I do it my way?” Kera asked.
“Go ahead,” Rien answered, “but you’ll have to learn the bow anyway.”
Kera jumped off her horse and started examining the bushes. Ten minutes later she found what she was looking for and returned to Rien. “If there’s anything there, I’ll have it in a minute.”
Rien nodded in anticipation and loaded his crossbow. “Just in case,” he smiled.
Kera got the flint and steel off her horse, scooped up some dry moss and returned to the bush. She cut off some branches for easier access, spread the moss at the entrance to the burrow and lit it. A moment later thick smoke descended into the hole.
“What if there’s more than one exit?” Rien asked.
“Then it will get away. It happens sometimes.”
“Do you know why?”
Kera shrugged. “Just the way it is, I guess. Some rabbits are smarter than others.”
“Rabbits don’t dig their own burrows,” Rien said. “If they find an abandoned one, they tend to move in and depending on what creature built it, there may be multiple exits.”
Kera brushed the smoldering moss aside and prepared for her catch. “All I know is that when they live in burrows they leave scratch marks in the ground, looking for roots.”
“Good method,” Rien said.
Kera proceeded to kneel by the hole a while longer and finally swung her dagger, then triumphantly produced a rabbit.
“Very nice,” Rien approved.
Kera was about to pick up her dagger as a second grey shape appeared at the opening and darted for freedom. She lunged after it, falling across the first rabbit, but managed to grab a leg of the escaping animal. A high pitched squeak indicated the catch.
“Two,” Kera stood up, holding a rabbit by its ears in each hand. “You can cook them.”
“I am sure I can, but I prefer mine raw and yours might get burned in the fire.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Is it fair to ask my apprentice to prepare the catch?” Rien asked.
“I don’t think I want to answer that question,” Kera said. “I suppose I’ll do it. Are you sure you want yours raw?”
“I’ll take it cooked this time,” Rien said.
Kera placed her catch on the ground and started laying a fire pit when Rien suddenly jerked his horse to the side and fired his crossbow into a tree.
A small black creature fell to the ground.
Drawing his long knife and dismounting, Rien approached with Kera behind him. On the ground lay what appeared to be a cross between a bat and a man, no more than four inches tall. A large round hole gaped in its wing and part of its side was torn open.
“I thought I saw something like this yesterday at the inn,” he said, scooping up the creature.
“Is it dead?” Kera asked.
“I imagine so,” Rien said. “See why so much force shouldn’t be used?”
Kera nodded. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. An enchanted creature, I’d imagine.” He pulled open a small pouch he got off the horse and placed the body inside, securely drawing the strings closed. “Go make lunch,” he reminded Kera.
She looked back at the two rabbits by the fire. “I’m not sure I’m all that hungry any more…”
“What happened?” Tsazia demanded of Mija.
“The imp was killed,” he said in a low voice.
“The elf,” he feared to raise his eyes. “The elf shot it.”
The old witch calmly turned to leave. “Get the book back tonight. I will personally see to the elf tomorrow.”
Rien knocked on the door frame to Corambis’ shop and a young dark-haired girl hurried to meet him. “Master Corambis will not be doing readings today,” she said.
“I was told I might find Dyann Taishent here today,” Rien explained.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I was told to permit absolutely no disturbances.” She stepped directly in front of Rien to block his path.
“I got the horses secured!” Kera’s voice sounded outside and a moment later she appeared behind Rien, wrapped in a cloak.
“Kera?” the brown haired girl asked, trying to look around Rien.
“Hi Thuna!” Kera answered and Rien used the distraction to step aside. The two girls embraced as long lost friends and Rien used the opportunity to sneak in through the second door.
“What happened to you?” Thuna asked Kera. “The whole town’s looking for you! Liriss’ guards stopped by to ask about you three times already! If Corambis knew, he’d throw me out on my rump!” She turned to look around the room. “Where’d that man go?”
“He’s inside,” Kera said. “He needs to talk to Taishent badly.”
“Who is he?” Thuna asked.
“My lord and master,” Kera said sarcastically, because he did not seem to be that at all times. “I got caught stealing from him and he made me his apprentice instead of turning me in.” That was pretty much the whole story.
“Are you saying you got lucky or it would have been better in jail?”
Kera smiled. “He’s not all bad. A little demanding at times, but has a better heart than Liriss.”
“Did you know Liriss hired some guy to kill you?” Thuna asked.
“I heard,” Kera admitted. “Hopefully we’ll be leaving town soon.”
“What are they doing in there anyway?” Thuna asked. “Corambis and Taishent have been working on something for three days solid now.”
“Rien, the guy I’m apprenticed to, hired them to translate an old book,” Kera said. “I’m not too clear on it. It’s some magical work. What about you? How did you come around to work for this old geezer?”
“He saved my life last year,” Thuna said. “I was working the corner of Thockmarr Street and Red Avenue, near the marketplace, when this really disgusting geeb comes up to me wanting to roll. I said fine, but then he wanted me to do some completely sickening things to him, so I told him to scrazz off, but he got mad and pulled a blade. He would’ve cut me bad if Corambis hadn’t come by and torched him off. After the man scrazzed, Corambis didn’t want to just leave me on the streets, so he offered to hire me as his assistant — and here I am. He also got me a job at Belisandra’s in exchange for room and board. It’s really not all bad working here; the pay is good, even if there is less excitement.”
“Thuna!” Corambis looked up as Rien shut the door behind himself. “Can I help you, sir?”
Taishent looked up as well. “Why do you make my life miserable?” he complained.
“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” Rien answered, ignoring Taishent’s remark. “I apologize for the intrusion, but I need a consultation with you. I am under the impression that this creature has been following me around…” and with those words, he dumped the contents of the leather pouch onto the Wheel of Life.
The two old men stood up to look at the dead form on the table.
“Defenately a conjured thing,” Taishent said.
“Probably someone’s familiar,” Corambis added.
They broke into an exchange of magical jargon which Rien did not fully comprehend, then turned to face him. “It probably belongs to one of the witches in Maari’s coven,” Taishent said.
“Could it be Maari’s?” Rien asked.
“No, no,” Corambis said. “Familiars are released upon the conjurer’s death. If it was actively watching you, it still belongs to someone.”
“That means the witches want the book,” Rien said. It was half statement and half question.
“Probably,” the two men answered in tandem.
“Then I feel I should offer my services for your protection,” Rien said.
“Most defenately not!” Taishent exclaimed. “You’re far too dangerous to have around!”
It was an insult, but it was also true. Trouble found Rien at least as often as he found it. He thought for a moment, then placed two gold coins on the table. “I want you to hire guards for protection. Your success is very important to me. Good day.”
The last was said very dryly and he left the room before the men could respond.
“Kera,” he called out. “Let’s go.”
Kera sat up on the bed with a loud scream. Next to her Rien stirred at the noise.
Kera sat with her hands covering her face, shaking and when Rien touched her, he realized she was in cold sweat.
“What is it?” he asked again.
“I can see,” Kera whispered. “Everything is red or black, but I can see.” She broke into quiet sobbing.
“It’s all right,” Rien said, pulling her close. “We’ll go see Taishent in the morning.”
“No…let’s go now…please.”
Rien did not move. The development of night vision in Kera was an indication that the disease was steadily progressing and there wouldn’t be much time. There were maybe a few more weeks until physical transformations would become obvious to observers…maybe even days. He thought that he himself had little time and a feeling of helplessness began to set in.
“Rien?” Kera tried to break his embrace. “Can you see me as clearly as I see you?”
He nodded. “I imagine so.”
“And all the furniture in the room?”
He nodded again.
“I’m scared,” Kera whispered and embraced him.
“My night vision is natural,” Rien said, knowing all too well it would make things worse. “I see things in darker shades of their natural color.” He released Kera and got up to light a candle.
Kera tried to follow him, but when the candle was lit, she gasped and covered her eyes.
“I am sorry,” Rien was startled. “I didn’t realize light would hurt you.” He returned with her to the bed and sat down.
After a few seconds Kera removed her hands from her face and looked around the room.
“How does it look?” Rien asked.
“It’s normal,” Kera sighed and turned to face him.
“Your eyes are grey,” Rien said, looking her in the face.
Kera’s eyes watered and she placed her head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Rien stroked her hair, trying to stop her sobbing. After a while Kera relaxed.
“Can we see Taishent tonight?” she asked.
“Come on,” Rien answered, getting up. “Get dressed.”
Taishent grumbled loudly, going to unlock the door. He pulled his robe tightly around himself before pulling open the bolt. What sane man would disturb him at this hour of the night? To his surprise, he was faced with a young couple as he opened the door. His angry expression dissolved in confusion.
“We heard you have a shadow book in your possession,” the young man stated, not waiting for a greeting. “We are ready to offer you a high price fo it.”
“Do you realize what time of the night it is?” Taishent asked gruffly.
“Yes, we do, but our business is urgent,” Alicia responded.
A stiletto flashed in her companion’s hand. “It’s urgent enough that we shall bypass payment,” he finished for her.
“Let’s have the book, old man,” Alicia said producing a dagger of her own. She didn’t intend to use it, but it would be good for appearances’ sake.
As Mija stepped forward, an arrow hit him in his forearm, pinning it to the door frame. Taishent used the distraction to disappear inside. Mija, ignoring the pain of the puncture, with his free hand, pulled out the pearl he intended to use the night before and flung it into the darkness of the street. He had no way of knowing the location the arrow came from, but in this darkness the archer could not be too far away. Mija hoped that between his estimate and the radius of the spell’s effect the problem would be solved.
A bright blue globe quickly filled the middle of the street and exploded, filling the air with crackling noise and an overabundance of light. In the flash both Alicia and Mija saw Rien, with a bow, standing by the wall of Taishent’s house. The power of the explosion threw him against the wall, the half readied arrow flying off, harmlessly falling on the ground.
Alicia, forgetting that she did not intend to kill anyone ran down to where she saw Rien stumble, to challenge him and perhaps, if luck would have it, dispatch him before he had a chance to get up.
Mija attempted to remove his arm and arrow from the door frame, but at that time Taishent stepped back out, drawing a heavy old sword from its sheath, one that he probably used as a young man. Expertly holding the heavy weapon, he warned the young warlock not to stir.
Alicia, in the meantime, stumbled down the street, realizing that she had no way of identifying her target in this darkness and more importantly, probably would not be able to kill him if she could find him, stopped in mid-stride. A noise behind her warned her to turn, but before she could, a sword dug into her side. Alicia grabbed for the wall, to prevent herself from falling, crying out “Wait!” as she had no intention to fight, but the sword struck her a second time, making her drop her dagger and crumble to the ground.
Hearing the scream, Mija again struggled against the arrow holding him, but was hit with the flat of Taishent’s blade. It took the old wizard some effort, but he again readied his weapon and Mija relaxed. Footsteps could be heard in the alley and a moment later Rien and Kera appeared in the light cast from Taishent’s half open door. Rien had his bow in hand and Kera was wiping blood off her sword with a rag.
“Murderer!” Mija lashed out, startling Taishent and tearing his arm off the arrow’s shaft, as he charged at Kera.
Rien took the initiative of Mija’s charge and stepping forward, reduced the young man to an unconscious heap with two deft swings.
“Do you want to kill him?” Kera asked, pausing in the act of putting the rag away.
“No,” Rien said, stepping over the body. Kera remained watching Mija while Rien went up to Taishent.
“For once I can’t say I am disappointed to see you,” the mage uttered.
“What where they after?” Rien asked and then assuming the obvious, quickly added, “the book?”
“I asked you to hire protection,” Rien said.
“Yes, yes,” Taishent answered, “but what good is a mere guard against magic? You were lucky not to get caught in that explosion.”
“A mere guard is better than nothing,” Rien pointed out.
“It’s all beside the point now,” Taishent said. “Why are you here this late?”
“The disease is progressing. Kera can now see in the dark…”
“I haven’t noticed any changes…” Rien said and paused. Perhaps after all this time the old mage had a right to know the truth. “I am half elven,” Rien finally decided to go on. “No one knows how it will effect me.”
“Elven?” Taishent echoed. “Ljosalfar?”
Rien nodded. Very few people knew there were two races in the species and even fewer cared, even though their individual members were very different.
“Well, your case is certainly a special one,” Taishent said, “but you are still a carrier. Come back tomorrow at sunset. I may have news for you then.”
Rien nodded a silent thanks and turned to leave.
“And please take that young man to the guard house,” Taishent added. “I shall stop by there tomorrow morning and give my report.”
“What could he tell us tomorrow that he has not come up with in the last two months?” Kera asked.
“I don’t know,” Rien shrugged. “Apparently he believes he will be able to help…”
The pair were walking down one of the streets of Dargon, not bothering to cover themselves with their cloaks. The darkness and absence of people permitted them a certain freedom they hadn’t had for almost a week and even with the hunting trip the day before, this was a luxury that forced them to slow their pace a number of times.
“Let’s go this way,” Kera pointed to a street leading in the direction away from the inn.
Rien stopped, looking down both streets, then nodded and took the street Kera suggested. Although they were on their way from the guard station to the inn, some freedom and fresh air could do no more than good. At the guard house the guards hassled Rien somewhat over the unconscious body he brought in and asked to be held until Taishent would stop by in the morning, but just then one of the night patrols, headed by Lieutenant Darklen, stopped by and after a discussion of the events of the night, Darklen took down Rien’s name and where he was staying and said that he would visit Taishent personally in the morning.
During all this time Kera nervously paced up and down the street a lock over, jumping at the slightest noise, fearing to encounter one of Liriss’ men or a city guard and for that matter, anyone else who might, by chance take this particular street at this hour of the night.
After what seemed like a half night of pacing, Kera finally decided to sit down by the wall and wait. She knew that Rien would be questioned as to what he was doing with an unconscious, injured person in the middle of the night and why exactly he would want his captive held by the guards, but the amount of time it was taking was beginning to worry her more and more.
She spent her time sitting there thinking about the girl she killed. It struck Kera as the only thing to do at the time it was happening, but on the way to the guard house Rien asked her why she didn’t stop when the girl she was attacking called out a yield. Kera explained that she continued attacking because her opponent did not drop her weapon and backing off could force her to lose the advantage. Yet, in spite of this seemingly sound explanation, Kera now wondered if there was something else. At the time of the attack, Kera thought she felt something different. It was a feeling of great anger and wanting to see her opponent crippled on the ground. She now wondered if this has some relation to the disease and the change in her vision. The whole thought of turning into a four legged beast forced her to break into sobbing again. The development of night vision was the factor that had finally made her realize just how real this was.
Just then something unexpectedly took hold of her shoulder and Kera let out a yelp loud enough to have Rien jump back. Kera looked up and recognizing her companion smiled through her tears. “Sorry. You startled me.”
“Are you all right?” Rien bent down in front of Kera. She tried to pull herself together. “Don’t say `yes’,” Rien added. “I won’t believe you.”
“I’m scared,” Kera said. “It’s stupid. I know I won’t die, but I’m scared. I don’t want to go to the inn. I’m afraid that if I go to sleep, I’ll change…”
“You won’t,” Rien put his arm around her. “Nothing more will happen. We’ll go see Taishent tomorrow and I’m sure he’ll give us a good lead.”
“You don’t believe that any more than I do!” Kera insisted. “He’s a foolish old man. I bet you he hasn’t cast anything in years. He even had to get that old sword to fight with today.”
“Perhaps,” Rien said, “but if we don’t have hope, what use is it for us to fight?”
“Didn’t you tell me a while back to always expect the worst and leave the good things to be pleasant surprises?” Kera asked.
“Sort of makes me a hypocrite, doesn’t it?” Rien asked with a smile and Kera laughed. “And I’ll do it more often if it provokes reactions like this one.”
He helped her up and they left in the direction of the inn, both enjoying the night air.
“How could Taishent help us?” Kera asked again.
“I don’t know,” Rien said. “Your guess is probably as good as mine. I’ve come to learn early on that those who understand magic are usually more able than they appear and if a real need arises, they will be able to do what needs to be done.”
“You think he was holding out on us?” Kera asked.
“Could be,” Rien answered. “Maybe he was. He should certainly have a reason to be grateful now.”
They turned off the street they had taken at the docks and walked up onto an empty pier. Off to the east a red line was cracking along the horizon and the couple stood watching it for a few minutes.
“Come,” Rien finally said. “It will be light soon.”
Kera stood frozen for a moment longer, then reluctantly followed Rien. “Do we have a few more minutes?” she asked, catching up.
“Why?” Rien asked.
“I have something to show you.”
“All right, but let’s hurry.”
Kera led Rien a few blocks down along the docks, then stopped at an empty pier. “We need to go down,” she said.
Together they made their way down a narrow, creaking set of stairs that were in desperate need of repair. It was going to low tide and the sand of the beach was still wet and swamp-like, making Rien glad they had not worn their armor.
Kera guided him beneath the pier to a spot where large rocks could be seen emerging from the water. Something was lying on one of the further ones, just barely sticking out above the lowering water level.
Rien and Kera waded into the cold water until it reached almost to their waists. The shape on the rock was a human body, securely chained down and gagged. The man was dead.
“What a way to die…” Rien sighed. “How did you know he would be here? Who is he?”
“I never saw him before,” Kera said. “I didn’t even know he would be here. This pier belongs to Liriss. These are the blocks. When Liriss wants to dispose of someone slowly, he has them tied down here at low tide and a few hours later they’re dead. I just thought you’d want to see it. Thuna told me something was happening and Liriss was purging his staff. He must be very upset.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Rien nodded. “It’s certainly something to be aware of. Come, now. We need to get back to the inn.”
Taishent opened the door almost immediately after the first knock and stepped outside.
“I found someone who may be able to help you and is willing to try,” Taishent said to Rien and Kera. “Corambis used to be King Haralan’s personal astrologer and has worked with Marcellon Equiville, the High Mage of Baranur…”
Rien begun to say something, but decided to keep his mouth shut.
“…we went to see him today,” Taishent continued. “Marcellon’s daughter, Lauren, married the Duke two weeks ago, you see, so he is currently in Dargon. Anyhow, he said he is willing to see what he can do.”
Rien remained speechless for a bit longer. “Where? When?” he asked with great anticipation.
Taishent could not help but smile at the reaction. “He is expecting you tomorrow morning at the Connall Keep east of here. Take the River Road some five leagues along the Coldwell, then turn east for a league or so more. The road will lead you directly there.”
Rien and Kera remained silent and Taishent chuckled again. “Marcellon is not only a wizard. He is also a physician and a good one at that. If anyone can help you, I am sure he can.”
“I’d like to thank you whether this works out or not,” Rien said finally.
Taishent nodded. “I expect to be done with the book by the end of the week. You may pick up the translation then.”
“Hopefully by then I shall not need it…”