Terell poured together the last of the solutions. If his books and speculations were right, he would be able to keep the virus alive for days. Finding a cure would be profitable, but how often would a cure for lycanthropy be needed in a civilized land? To turn a profit he would have to have a disease to cure. If only there was a way to make people get the disease…and of course in sight of profit, there is always a way!
Deep in thought Terell started his walk home. The first thing he needed was a constant source of the virus, then a place to spread it.
By the time Kera came downstairs to breakfast, Rien was already up, waiting for her. To her it seemed he invested far too much trust into a common street thief. At least more than she would. Most people don’t just pick up thieves off the street and hope for the best. It’s not like she had any plans to stab him in the back or anything, but he was still far too trusting.
“I didn’t grow any new body hair last night,” Kera said, slumping down in a chair across from Rien.
“Good morning,” he answered. “I take it you’re late because you stopped to check?”
“I’m used to getting up late, since I do most of my work in the late afternoon and evening.”
“Warriors get up with the chickens,” Rien said, motioning for the innkeep to serve breakfast.
“I was wondering about your sleeping habits,” Kera grinned. “So what do you want me to do first?”
“After breakfast we need to get your equipment and I want a wizard to check you over. Then we will worry about your training.”
“Sorry, I don’t do wizards,” Kera said, looking over what the bar maid placed before her.
“If you want to be apprenticed, you will have to do what I say, especially if it is to save your life.”
Kera’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“I don’t take apprentices so that they foam at the mouth and howl at the moon,” Rien answered calmly.
“Why didn’t you just leave me? Or kill me? I stole from you, hurt you! For God’s sake, I wanted to kill you!”
“That’s not my way,” Rien continued in his calm tone. “I do not kill for pleasure or sport. Life is a right I can neither grant to, nor revoke from an individual.”
“Even in defense of yourself?”
“Defense is different. Yesterday and the day before were different.”
“Your eyes changed color yesterday!” Kera remembered.
Rien’s voice became even quieter. “A gypsy once told me that what you saw happened derives from another duality within me.”
“Like what?” Kera leaned forward, not quite realizing that she was also beginning to whisper.
“It’s nothing that should concern you at the moment,” Rien said. The rest of the meal passed without a word.
“Where is she, old bat?” Cril screamed, throwing the old woman to the ground.
“I don’t know. She never came back…” was the weak response.
This time there was no answer.
“Put her in the blocks,” Cril breathed his anger to the guards.
Kera had become very important to Liriss two days ago, when she made the biggest theft since she started. Apparently that was also enough to have two of Liriss’ men arrested and two more beaten beyond recognition. Whomever that purse belonged to, was seemingly mad about the whole affair. For that matter, so was Liriss.
Cril stepped back to allow the guards to drag out the old maid. “Be you damned!” she hissed as they half carried her out. He restrained himself from the urge to break her neck.
Cril took the time to dress in medium armor before before presenting his information to Liriss. There was no reason to expose one’s self to unnecessary danger. His boss has been known to kill people for as little as saying “good morning”. Naturally those mornings were in no way good. This was another morning that did not seem good to Cril. All he was able to learn was that the girl was last seen leaving the alley with a tall, blond man. Odds are she never even made it inside the building. That was more than reason enough to believe the old chamber maid and believe her he did, but she was going to drown just for a show of force, for the memory of all those before her and all those yet to come…and most of all, for these who may have known the answer to his question and withheld information.
Cril knocked on a door and entered. On the far side of the room stood Liriss, holding a nearly full wine glass, staring out the window in deep thought.
“Sir!” Cril began, but was abruptly interrupted.
“Spare me your excuses. I heard what you did.”
Cril took a single step back in fear.
“The maid is too old to serve properly, but should you lay another hand on any of my staff, no matter how decrepit, you shall be joining them in their fate.”
Cril drew in a breath of relief. Refraining from punishment would not be hard.
Placing the glass on the window sill, Liriss turned around. His harsh features expressed anger. “If you do not locate Kera in a week, don’t bother coming back.”
“Grandfather!” yelled the young girl. “Some big guy wants to see you!”
Rien smiled in spite of his serious visit. There was some innocent, naive quality in children that always produced this reaction.
“Oh, I’m coming!” he heard the wizard’s voice. “Doesn’t anyone know I work at this time?” His soft expression changed at the sight of Rien and Kera. “I don’t want you here and I certainly don’t want her here. Go.”
Rien blocked the closing door with his foot. “You have to help me. You are the only expert on this in town.”
“No,” the wizard insisted. “What I know is only history. I am no alchemist. There are plenty of others who are better equipped to help you. Please, go now.”
There was no arguing with the man and Rien was not about to try. He could always challenge a fighter or a thief, but uninvited pesterance of a mage could be costly. “Just one thing,” he finally asked. “Tell me if she has the disease.”
Unwillingly Taishent pulled out the white orb and taking a step towards Kera, uttered the incantation. A faint green glow illuminated his hand.
Rien looked at the glow with a feeling of helplessness. No explanations needed to be given, but at least now the truth was clearly available. “Thank you,” he said quietly and taking Kera by her arm, lead her away from the door.
“Wait!” Taishent called out. “If you are unable to find help in the city, I hear there is an old woman living deep in the woods south of Dargon. She may be able to help.”
Rien wanted to turn around to thank the man again, but something inside of him urged him to keep going.
In the morning of the following day, Rien returned to visit Terell, who he had not seen since the day of his initial visit. Many changes had taken place in the alchemist’s mind since then.
“I can’t have you running around all the time!” Terell yelled at Rien. “I need you to provide me samples when I need them, not at your leisure!”
“I came here to get a cure, not to be bled into a glass. There is only so much blood I can provide for you.”
Terell paced his lab, glancing at filled and empty glassware. “How can you expect me to find you a cure if I have no samples to study?”
Rien shrugged. “How can I expect to be cured if there is no life fluid in me?”
Grabbing a vial off the shelf, Terell thrust it to Rien. “Drink this. It will relieve your fatigue.”
And indeed it did so. With a single sip Rien collapsed to the floor, spilling the potion and breaking the vial. The sound of breaking glass filled his ears even after darkness filled his eyes.
Kera searched out the scribe’s cart at the market place and carefully approached, searching the crowd for familiar faces. Public appearances like this could be dangerous now.
“Ellis, do you have the book I asked for?” she inquired of the shifty man watching the cart.
He glanced around and motioned her to follow him to the side of an enclosed booth. Shielded by the wall, he produced a book and handed it to Kera.
“The Realities of Myths” read the silver lettering on the cover. Kera flipped it open to reveal the seal of Dargon on the inside. The book immediately snapped shut.
“You stole this from the Duke’s library?” she almost exclaimed.
“You said you only wanted to borrow it for a few days…”
“And Rish Vogel just handed it to you?”
“Well, no…it’s kind of on a secretive loan.”
Hiding the book in the folds of her cloak, Kera thanked Ellis. “I’ll have it back to you in a few days,” she promised.
“No hurry. No one knows what happened to it. Keep it.”
Kera smiled and turned to leave.
“Wait,” Ellis stopped her. “There are a lot of people out there who want to see you dead. Be careful. I heard some men are looking for you. I am sure if you come back now and tell them you were detained, they won’t punish you.”
Pulling the hood of her cloak up, Kera disappeared into the crowd. The decision she was about to make would be very final.
The ringing continued in Rien’s ears even after his sight returned. With great effort he focused his eyes on his surroundings. He was sitting upright, in some laboratory, with his back against a wall. A heavy wool blanket was draped over him. Someone was spilling some liquid down his chin.
“Stop dribbling and drink it,” he heard Kera’s voice and turned his head. His detached thoughts registered a liquid splashing on the blanket.
‘The potion!’ he thought, trying to avoid the glass, but only succeeded in spilling some more of it.
“It’s only water,” he heard Kera’s voice again. “Drink it.”
He did. A minute passed as Rien tried to compose himself. For some reason his body still did not follow the instructions he gave it. ‘What was that damn potion?’
“Terell…” Rien tried to voice his thoughts.
“He’s not here,” Kera’s voice sounded again and he again felt the glass at his mouth and swallowed.
“My clothes…” Rien struggled, realizing the blanket was the only thing he had on.
“Bring me his clothes!” Kera ordered and Rien struggled to look up. A vague shape and running footsteps were the only evidence of another presence.
“You didn’t have any when I found you,” Kera told Rien and gave him another sip of the water.
Rien’s head was beginning to clear and the ringing in his ears subsided. Again he looked around the lab. The most noticeable feature was a body in a pool of blood.
“Who was that?” Rien asked.
“An assistant, I guess,” Kera answered. “He tried to stop me, so I jabbed him a few times.”
Rien tried not to look disapproving. “How long was I here?”
“Today is the 15th of Naia; it’s past sunset.”
“Almost two days…” Rien murmured. “What did that damned idiot do to me?”
“There are a lot of scratches on your right arm,” Kera said cautious not to disclose that her examination had been more thorough than that.
Rien pulled his arm from under the blanket. It barely responded. On it were three deep incisions that still produced traces of blood. “He bled me. Damned idiot!”
Running footsteps again filled the room and a young boy appeared with a bundle of clothes. He carefully handed them to Kera and backed off.
“Are you strong enough to get up?” Kera asked Rien.
He nodded and stood up, clutching the blanket.
“I assume you want me to turn around,” Kera grinned, handing Rien his clothes.
“Up to you,” he answered and let the blanket drop.
Kera instantly spun about to face the wall. “I see you have no problems with modesty.”
“Do you?” Rien asked, starting to dress.
“I might not have had a great childhood, but I did have some social values implanted in me.”
“Oh, those…” Rien said. “Modesty was not a very big thing where I grew up.”
“This might come out a bit foolish, but just where did you grow up?”
“East of here, a very long distance away.”
“Past the mountain range?” Kera insisted.
“Past the mountains,” Rien agreed. “In the forest on the other side.”
“I’ve never even been outside of Dargon,” Kera sighed.
“You may get your chance soon. I just lost all my trust of Terell. Tell me what happened in the last two days.”
Kera leaned against a table, still facing the wall. “I went to see a friend yesterday morning, asking about that book you wanted…”
“Did you get it?” Rien interrupted her.
“It should be on that big table with straps,” Kera answered and continued her story. “He told me to come back in a day, so I returned to the inn to wait for you. I began getting worried by the time it got dark, but decided to wait until morning. In the morning I picked up your book and went back to the inn to see if you were back, but only found that my room had been ransacked. Yours wasn’t touched, so I had all of our stuff moved to an inn down the street. I don’t think anything was taken.
“It was late afternoon by the time I decided to go look for you. You mentioned Terell before you left yesterday, so this shop seemed like a good start. Terell wasn’t here, but his apprentices were. The big one didn’t want to let me see the work area, so I grew suspicious and started a fight with him. I guess all bookworms are weak by nature.”
Kera paused, having finished her story. She waited a moment, then asked. “Are you done yet?”
“One way to find out,” Rien answered.
Kera cautiously turned around. Rien sat on the large table in the middle of the room, legs crossed under him, examining the book she had brought. He was dressed.
“This book belongs to the Duke of Dargon,” Rien accused.
“Uh-huh,” Kera said carefully. “You said it was very important, so I spared no effort.”
“Doesn’t matter either way,” Rien said. “We’ll be dead, should we fail. Liriss is after you, Terell has it in for me, the town guard is probably after us both and with lycanthropy on top of this…seems pretty grim, doesn’t it?”
Kera simply nodded.
“Let’s go get our stuff. We’ll meet Terell here in the morning and be out of town by night fall.”
Kera moved about the room in the bulky field plate. “This is very heavy,” she complained to Rien. “How do you expect me to fight in it?”
“You’ll get used to it,” he said, checking to make sure nothing was left behind. “A horse saddled for the first time is also uncomfortable, but it gets used to carrying both gear and rider.”
“A saddle is probably more comfortable than this,” Kera continued.
“This is only for your protection,” Rien said. “You’ll get used to wearing it and fighting in it or you won’t live very long. Grab your pack and let’s go.”
The innkeeper was the only one up downstairs. He lazily looked at Rien and Kera clanking their way down the stairs. A look of surprise spread on his face. “Leaving so early, sir?” he inquired of Rien.
“One has to get up early to go hunting,” Rien responded.
“Looks like you’re ready to hunt a dragon,” the innkeep laughed.
“A small one,” Rien said and placed some money on the counter. “A deposit for the room,” he said. “We will return.”
“Do you require assistance with your horses?” the innkeep hurried to ask, placing the coins in his pocket.
“Thank you, but no,” Rien answered.
“Then good luck on your hunt!”
“You intend to come back?” Kera asked Rien once outside the inn.
“No, but if we are traced this far, the innkeep’s belief that we will return may delay pursuit,” Rien answered. “I believe in dealing with only one problem at a time.”
“Do you think Liriss will follow us?”
“Might. I’d rather expect the worst and be faced with only pleasant surprises.” He stopped near Kera’s horse. “Get on.”
“Place your left leg in…”
“In armor?” Kera interrupted him.
“Unless you have other means of protection, yes.”
“It looks like it’s going to rain,” Kera said. “The armor might rust.”
“Well maintained armor will not rust from getting wet,” Rien answered. “Get on.”
Kera looked at the horse apprehensively, then grabbing the sides of the saddle and placing her left foot in the stirrup, tried to pull herself up. The horse shifted uncomfortably.
“Don’t pull,” Rien instructed. “Jump up and swing your leg over, just like you do without armor.”
“Yeah, right!” Kera exclaimed and after a moment of preparation did so, landing in the saddle with a grunt. “That hurts!”
“Be glad it wasn’t full plate,” Rien answered, swinging into the saddle of his own horse.
“Does that hurt men too?” Kera asked mockingly.
“Only if they don’t know what they are doing,” Rien answered.
The two made it down to Terell’s laboratory-shop by sunrise. Using the key they took from the store a few hours before, they unlocked the door and walked in. The boy, who they locked in, hurried to the back of the room in fear.
“Give him some food and have him stay in the other room,” Rien instructed Kera, relocking the door behind them.
After Kera left, he started looking over the vials located on the shelves. Things useful on quests were often found in places like this and while not having a lot of experience with magic, Rien felt he could lay a little claim to knowledge of herb lore and simple alchemy…especially if labels were available. By the time Kera returned, four of the vials stood separately on the table.
“What’s this?” she asked, taking a seat across from the door.
“Three of them save lives, the other takes them,” Rien continued rummaging through the shelves. “It’s going to be a long journey. We may need them all.”
Kera nodded slightly. “What are you going to do about Terell?”
“Listen to him. He may have a good reason for what he did.”
“What if he does?”
“Let him continue his work.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
Rien faced Kera. “A reason that I do not find satisfactory does not necessarily have to be bad. When he provides his reason, I’ll make my judgement.”
“And the boy?” Kera asked.
“The child is only an apprentice. He did only what he was told; I can’t blame him for that.”
“Sometimes I wish things were simpler,” Kera sighed.
“The simpler your life, the harder you would have to work to keep it that way,” Rien answered, finally giving up on the rest of Terell’s potions. He sat down, looking at Kera, who turned to face him.
“A maid in Liriss’ chambers told me to be careful of what I wish for. Someday someone may grant it…”
“And you won’t like the results,” Rien finished the famous proverb. “I don’t believe that’s true.”
“What do you mean not true? Do you think it’s not true for everything?”
“I don’t think any of it is true. It depends on who hears your wishes, not what the wishes are.”
Kera opened her mouth to speak, but the sound of a key turning in the door lock forced both her and Rien to take cover behind the furniture in the shop.
A moment later the door opened and someone walked in.
“Kapatil? Baska?” Terell’s voice sounded as the door slammed shut.
Rien permitted the footsteps to get past him, before getting out from behind his cover. Terell spun around and tried to back out, but the door to the laboratory was locked.
“I will give you one chance only to explain your actions,” Rien stated.
Terell’s response was drawing a dagger. “Damn half-breed! I should have killed you two days ago.”
Rien’s eyes flared as he drew his sword.
“Damn bastard half-breed!” Terell muttered again, swinging his dagger. It impacted against Rien’s chest plate, doing no more damage than a light scratch.
Rien thrust his sword forward, flawlessly penetrating the alchemist’s upper chest. He looked on as his victim slid down to the ground, letting out his final breath. With it the truth of the events of the last two days fled forever.
Kera’s hand clamped down on Rien’s shoulder. “Half-breed?”
He shook his head. “An old, evil man.”
Kera looked at the slain body against the wall for a moment. “I guess we’re finished here. Let’s leave before the town guard finds us.”
“We’re not leaving just yet,” Rien walked over to the main door and relocked it. “Right now we need to get some rest.”
“We can’t stay here!” Kera protested. “We’ll be discovered! With him!” She thrust her hand out, pointing to Terell’s body, grimly staring at the arguing pair.
“I will put up a sign that will announce the shop as being closed for the day and at nightfall we will leave town. One day will not steer anyone’s suspicion and we need the rest. At least you do.”
“I have been up for almost two days now,” Kera admitted. “But being in your shoes does not seem like an appealing alternative.”
Rien smiled. “Be ready to leave at dusk.”
Cril and three of his men stepped out of the latest inn to be checked. Doing the work himself made him feel better, since a found trail was quickly lost the day before, due to a subordinate’s negligence. This last visit uncovered a lot more than Cril had hoped to learn. Kera and her new companion left early in the morning on a hunting trip.
There were two clear alternatives–follow them or wait. The wait could be extremely long. Their rooms were paid for a week in advance and Cril had now well under that for a deadline. He looked up and down the street in deep thought. There was no need to test Liriss’ threat by waiting around. To follow would give a better chance of success. That was the only thing he had left to do.
“Spread out,” Cril told his men. “Two armored individuals can’t be hard to find. Ask everyone!”
The guards proceeded in different directions.
Shortly before dusk Rien sat down to speak with Terell’s remaining assistant. The boy sat quietly in a corner, fearing to even bring his eyes up to look at Rien.
“You are afraid of me. Why?”
The boy did his best to regain his posture. “You killed Master Terell…”
“And you are afraid of my companion as well?”
“I saw her kill Kapatil…” the boy whispered.
“Do you think we will kill you?” Rien inquired.
“Yes,” came the barely audible response.
“If you promise to do something for us, I promise we will let you go…”
“You do?” the boy looked up.
Rien nodded. “You must promise not to tell anybody that we were here or what we did and you will be free to go.”
“Really?” the youngster’s eyes looked hopeful.
“But you must promise! And keep that promise…or we will come back and find you.” Rien’s expression was hard. “You will say that some men came and killed everyone and that you were scared and ran away.”
The boy nodded silently, dropping to his knees. “I swear it, Sir!”
Rien waited patiently to stress the moment. “You will leave after we do.” He quickly got up and exited the laboratory.
“What happened?” Kera asked him in the other room.
“I wish I didn’t have to scare him like I did,” Rien admitted. “He looks no older than ten years.”
“Did he agree to keep quiet?”
“I said we’ll come back and find him is he tells anyone… I haven’t seen anyone that scared in along time.”
“If anyone learns of what we’ve done here tonight, I fear we will no longer have to worry about that issue,” Rien said. “Do you need help with your armor?” he tried to change the topic.
“Just a little,” Kera said. “My arms don’t bend backwards.”
At dusk they unlocked all of the doors and set on their way out of Dargon in a strong downpour.