Alistair's Cures and Remedies
By request, someone wanted me to drop what I've written on 1d4. If it's not wanted here go ahead and wipe it, I'm not exactly sure what goes down.
1. Werewolf, Slime Girl
"Alistair's Cures and Remedies?"
She gazed at the sign, then looked up. The sky was crystal clear, and surrounding her on the horizon was the sparkling blue of the Feryll Sea. In front of her was.....a pit. Granted, it wasn't just a dirt hole (some nice masonry on the walls, and the canvas cover seemed well made), but either way it wasn't exactly what she was expecting from a mage's residence.
"Well, this is the place, I guess. Hope this was worth my time..."
The lithe redhead stepped down the stairs slowly, and entered the pit, glancing around. The scene resembled one of moderate destruction - books and baubles scattered on the floor, piles of plates and somewhat odorous clothing against a wall, with some casks of water propping up a lab table. The table, in contrast to the rest of the room, was ordered and pristine. Lying on a pile of bedding was a sleeping young man, clad facedown in his breeches and drooling.
"Are you the wizard Alistair?" The sleeper rolled over and muttered something in response. Phanae raised an eyebrow.
"Well, looks like I'll have to do this the hard way." She walked up to the sleeping mage, slowly putting her right arm over his head, and clamping down.
"MRRHRRMRMRR!!" Alistair woke up with a panic as he felt himself being smothered. Phanae lifted him and released; he fell to the ground with a start.
"Good gods what the hell are you doing? Who are you and what are you doing in my tower?"
Phanae rolled her eyes. "If this is a tower, then I'm the bloody queen of Conwey. Are you Alistair of Waynwood?"
"Yeah, that's me. You know, if you're here to buy something, trying to snuff me in my sleep was probably not the best way to introduce yourself." Alistair got off the ground and dusted himself off. "In any case, what can I do for you?"
"Wolfsbane? You're not a born, are you?"
"Nah, got bitten when I was five." Phanae leaned back on the beanbag chair (comfy!), while Alistair sat on a stool jotting notes onto a scrap of parchment.
"Ok, nails and teeth." Sighing, she raised a hand and bared her teeth in a half frown.
"Elongated nails, large canines, ok you're legit. Only a 20% turn should be a decently small dosage."
She shrugged. "I wouldn't be blowing thirty silver on a potion I didn't need," she said, folding her legs. "So you got everything?"
"Yeah, three month supply of wolfsbane over nine doses, twenty quick-rejuvs, ten go-fast hastes, and one blood frenzy. Comes out to two gold eighty silver."
"Two eighty? Oh wow, that would have put me out six back at Freeport."
Alistair smiled, twirling his quill. "Discount potions, no bullshit. Anything else you need, or I'll start brewing right away. It'll take about eight hours."
Phanae shook her head. "Nah, I think I'll hang out on this beach for a bit. Other than the entire 'not a real tower', you've got a good set up here. Can I leave my pack here?"
Alistair was already pulling reagents out of some cabinets. "Yeah sure, long as you don't forget it and all that." He turned around, but she had already run up the stairs towards the beach path.
"I wonder what she'd look like while sunbathing..." He shook his head, and turned back to his table. "Six portions bluewort. What else..."
A shape cut through the water and broke the surface. Phanae shook her locks, and sighed contentedly while treading. It had been a solid six months since she had gone swimming, and the water here was a lot warmer than up at Frostgate. It was times like this she could just lean back and forget her worries, floating on an azure sea and watching the clouds meander by.
Emerging from the water, she sighed and flopped onto the ground, her bare skin burying itself into the sand. Three years of merc work had only given her a single small scar on her left arm, which had healed so quickly she could barely see it. Well, she had only done one moderately dangerous job (killing a not-particularly-strong bandit to recover some gold), the rest being boring escort jobs or 'find this missing person' or 'hunt down some reagants for me'. It suited her perfectly though, she didn't exactly feel like testing herself against dragons or regional warlords.
Hell, even her current contract should have been a cakewalk except for the fact that the Machine City was four months distance away from the regional capital. All she had to do was find a lost brother and bring him home, all expenses paid. Time consuming, but she figured it was reasonably safe and the gold at the end would be enough to get a full set of platemail enchanted.
Aah, the sun was so warm...
Another shape emerged from the water, close to the sleeping form of the young fighter. It moved out of the water, yet never quite...separated. The shimmering form moved closer to the snoring girl and leaned over it; while it observed the girl it slowly began to take shape, a reflection of what it saw.
A few minutes later, what appeared to be a young girl made entirely out of water was lying down next to Phanae, imitating her prone and sleeping form. After a few minutes, it poked her.
Phanae reacted instantly, rolling to her side, leaping up, and reaching for a dagger that..wasn't there. She readied herself for a takedown, then realized there was simply a girl-shaped body of water looking quizzically at her.
"What the hell are you?" Phanae kept her guard up, she had no idea what this thing was or what it's intentions were.
"....At.....heeelll...you?" The watery figure haltingly pronounced, waving its arms in an imitation of Phanae's posture.
She raised an eyebrow. "Do you understand me?" She spoke slowly, pointing at herself.
"Understand.....you....." The figure pointed at her.
"That's a start, I guess. What's your name? My name is Phanae." She exaggerated her gestures as much as possible.
"You....name....Phanae......I....name.....Eila..." Eila mirrored Phanae's gestures.
"Eila, huh? Hmm, Alistair might want to see this..." Phanae gestured to follow. Eila walked slowly, leaving a trail of luminescent water behind her.
At that moment, a muffled THUMP shook the ground on the cliff a bit. Phanae looked up and saw a small amount of black smoke rising from Alistair's erstwhile tower; she began sprinting towards it.
"Yo, Alistair, you alright down there?" Phanae peered into the smoking pit. The canvas had been ripped off its mount and was blown off to the side. Eila stood behind her, confused at the smoke.
"Alistair?" Phanae stepped down the stairs and waved out some of the smoke. The lab table was almost broken in two, with bubbling liquid hissing out of a shattered glass. Alistair was sitting on a stool, staring blankly at the table, his face blackened by the explosion. He turned to Phanae.
"So you know how Wolfsbane is brewed, right?" Phanae nodded. "And you know how the reason it's expensive is that it requires six units of blackvine? Well, I just made a discovery as to what happens when Blackvine comes in contact with an unfinished Blood Frenzy potion."
Her face fell. "So you can't brew the wolfsbane in time....?"
"I can't brew it in time to be useful. Full moon's in ten days and the nearest blackvine arbor is a six day walk from here and what the hell is that?" Alistair stared at Eila, who had followed Phanae down the stairs and was looking around the room.
"It came out of the ocean from here. I was hoping you could tell me; she says her name is Eila."
Alistair stood up, then stumbled a bit and fell onto his bedding. "Rrgh, too much shit to deal with today...."
Phanae poked him. "Looks like he's passed out...what am I going to do about the wolfsbane?"
"Oh that'll be a long story. Here, how about you help me clean up a bit, maybe Alistair can figure out something." She glanced at the collapsed mage. "Not like I have any other choice."
"OK, here's the plan."
Alistair laid a map out on a cabinet top. The presence of the sea slime investigating his bookcase (the reference happened to be in the one textbook he had never bothered opening back at the Academy) was only slightly disconcerting once he had poked and prodded her a bit - Eila seemed more or less completely docile and was picking up words quite quickly. Phanae sat across from him.
"Here's Freeport. While you could hope a ship would be in that would have blackvine on it, it's unlikely, since it's an export from here and I bought my supplies from the last outgoing crate, which left 2 weeks ago."
He pointed at a small seaside mark, then pointed at a jutting piece of land.
"Here's where we are, the Kophis peninsula."
Alistair rolled a bit more of the map open. "And here..." he pointed to a small spot in the middle of the wilderness. "Here's the blackvine arbor. Four days following the coastal road followed by a day overland through the forest will get us there, guy named Travers runs the place, nice fellow. So what's going to happen is, we travel together to the arbor, I'll bring my alchemical supplies and brew it on the spot. Taking the potion 3 days before the full moon should be sufficient."
Phanae looked at the map thoughtfully. "What's in this for you? You'd be going pretty far out of your way..."
The wizard shrugged. "Need another batch of wolfsbane, there's an alchemical supply shop down at Seaguard that I need to check in at, and you're the first customer I've had in about a week. I ditch you and I'll be eating turnips sooner or later."
"What is...turnip?" Eila was flipping through Alistair's 'beginner's spellbook'.
"Turnips are bad, evil pieces of food, Eila. Speaking of whom, what am I going to do with you?" Alistair frowned and looked at the map. "There's no research about how long sea slimes can last outside of water..."
"I ok. Water....." Eila waved her hands a bit. "Need only every four days."
Phanae smiled; the inquisitive young sea-girl was learning language fast. "Well, I'd like to take her with us. She's grown on me a bit."
"Yeah, that's fine with me, I'd like to study her once I get back, figure she'd wander off if we left her here." Alistair rolled up the map. "Pack your stuff, let's leave at dusk."
It was a cloudy day, the sun occasionally poking through and lending a bright haze to the air. The coast of Feryll was as calm as ever, rolling waves lapping against the shoreline. Two figures were walking on the beach, with the third occasionally poking her head out of the water.
"So we're making a left onto a path in about a half mile?" Phanae walked with a purposeful gait, with Alistair trailing to her side.
"Yeah, then we cut inland. There should be a druid's circle a few miles in and we'll be able to camp there for the night." The wizard shifted his pack, he had forgotten how heavy his sets of alchemical weights were.
"You know this region fairly well, then?"
"I did merc scutwork around this region for about four years. No offense to you, of course."
"Nah, it really is scutwork." Phanae sighed. "When you're little you hear the stories about Lynnessa the Aethermage who slew a dragonflight, or the Duke of Hylia besting the Black King in single combat. Then you grow up and you spend ten years hunting down lost relatives or picking plants."
"But isn't it safer that way?" Eila had come out of the water to follow behind them, her shape and language skills having become more distinct and solid.
Alistair grunted noncommitally. "Safe, yes, but crappy pay and ultimately you just feel like someone's go-to bitch. Once I had enough cash to keep from starving and pick up title to a piece of land I walked away as soon as I could."
The fighter raised an eyebrow. "Your tower's land wasn't inherited?"
"Inherited, I fucking wish. The place cost me almost twenty-five hundred gold."
"Yet you were hard up enough to take my two. How'd you manage to buy it?"
"My last merc contract was a little more interesting than the others. I can tell you about it later, it's not a very good marching tale." He glanced at Phanae. "What about you? You're real young, you can't have done that many jobs."
"You'd be surprised how in-demand a 13 year old girl who can throw boulders and break necks would be."
"Well, hidden muscle, at least." She laughed. "There was this one job where I had to pose as some guy's daughter and get myself kidnapped. Full moon hit, the folks that kidnapped me had no idea what they had coming. Made a decent amount there but had to leave the city."
"You ever think of pit fighting? Friend of mine from the academy says it's one of the best ways to get quick cash."
She nodded. "Problem is I probably wouldn't stand a chance unless the full moon was out, and I don't much care for being seen by people while I'm turned."
"Fair enough. Here's the pass." They stopped at a fork on the path; Alistair turned to Eila. "Are you sure you want to follow us? I don't know what happens if you can't get to a water source."
Eila bobbed her head. "I will be fine, please do not worry."
"Couldn't you just conjure some water for her? Thought wizards could do all sorts of things."
"Magical water has different properties from mundane water, I have no idea if or how it would work. But if she says she'll be fine, I'll take her at her word. Let's go."
They smelled the smoke on the trail, it was a jarring contrast to the rather pleasant smell of the wildbloom bushes. Alistair squinted into the distance and cursed.
"That's from the direction of Traver's grove, come on. Get your sword out, Eila, stay back."
The wizard had already dropped his pack and began rummaging through it - after pulling out a small bag and a hand crossbow he took off in the direction of the smoke. Phanae hesitated before grabbing her sword out of her pack and sprinting after him.
Portions of the blackvine grove were belching thick black smoke into the sky. A small hut at the perimeter was on fire, with a group of men waving their weapons in the air. Alistair stopped at the tree line, close enough to hear what was going on.
"Look, you stupid fucking motherfuckers, if you don't get out of my fucking grove I'll fucking kill you and play dollhouse with your fucking body parts."
"We have twelve people here, Travers." The speaker was a powerfully built man holding a massive broadsword. "I don't care how badass a merc you were ten years ago, we gave you three chances to pay your fucking tribute." He pointed his sword at another man, slightly built, wearing a singed shirt and breeches. "All we're doing is exacting our payment in lieu of tribute."
"And each and every time you came I told you to bugger off, so you light up my grove while I'm fishing at the river," Travers sneered, arms folded. "I'm giving you a last warning. Get. The. Fuck. Off. My. Property."
Phanae ran up behind Alistair and went into a crouch next to him. "What's going on?"
"Looks like Travers has some company. Look, see the guy with the staff?" Alistair pointed at a brusque looking man in a robe. "I know that guy by reputation, didn't know he started working for Boss Kiran though."
"Local extortion gang around the area, the Empire Guard should have been keeping tabs on this grove. I'm going to put a bolt in his head, on my move charge."
"Us two, charge against twelve? Are you fucking crazy?"
"Don't worry. Travers just needs an opportunity. If you want any chance of getting your wolfsbane, follow my lead." Alistair loaded his crossbow, sprinkling some red powder onto it and murmuring.
"Ok Travers, we've had enough. Shal, gut him." The large man motioned; a smaller man with a poleaxe stepped forward, grinning in delight. "Make sure you get at his hands first, don't need him casting anything once our antimagic binding is broken."
Travers sighed. "Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way."
At that point, a blistering fireball sprung from Alistair's crossbow, lancing towards his target. His aim was spot in - the flaming bolt struck his enemy in the head, almost ripping it off. A screaming Phanae ran forward, her sword raised high. "Come on you sons of bitches, take on someone your own size!" she roared, her blade glinting in the fire's light.
The poleaxe wielder turned, distracted; Travers took the opportunity to draw a dagger and embed it in the exposed neck. Smiling, he faced the large sword holder, who seemed suddenly less sure of himself. The other man roared, stepping forward and swinging his sword down in a brutal arc, aimed directly at Traver's head. Travers laughed mirthlessly, and raised his hand.
"Cone of disintegration."
"So, Alistair, what can I do for you?"
Travers leaned back in his chair, setting a cup of tea on the table. The chair and table were the only undamaged portions of his hut, strangely immaculate while surrounded by a burnt out hulk.
Alistair sat awkwardly on the fireplace, with Phanae standing across the room wiping down her sword. Eila had brought their packs and was wandering through the burnt vinegrove, dousing some of the embers.
"Well, I was supposed to be brewing a wolfsbane potion for my companion here, but I have no idea if you have any blackvine left."
"The plants are probably all dead, but I have about a bushel's worth in my cellar drying. How much do you need?"
"Just eight units would be enough, brewing 3 months worth." He glanced around. "So what are you going to do now? You had a pretty good setup here, man."
"Well it's not a total loss, I had harvested a third of the field already." Travers sipped his tea. "But first what I'm going to do is glue together whatever pieces of those bumfuck thugs there are left and send the golem against Kiran, just to make him shit his pants."
Phanae looked up. "You're a necromancer?"
"No, my rather fetching werelady, just a magician with too much time on his hands." Travers shrugged. "After I blow Kiran into little itty bitty bloody body parts I can maybe plant some harubell, prices for that have shot up recently."
"That reminds me. Hey, Eila!" Alistair motioned for the slime-girl to enter. "Do you know anything about sea slimes, Travers?"
The other wizard looked at Eila, then drank some more tea. "Nope. Can she talk?"
"Yes, I can speak, sir." Eila bowed a bit.
"Well, that's interesting. This might be something for you to present to the Guild come next spring, Alistair." Travers got up. "In any case, here, help yourself to the blackvine in my cellar, see if you can get that potion brewed. I'm going to go fishing."
Phanae choked a bit. "You just made like eight people explode in a bloody mess, your farm burned down, and you're going *fishing*?"
"Yep. I'll see you guys later."
After Travers had left, Phanae glanced at the remaining wizard. "You know some pretty odd people, Alistair."
"Yeah, you'll get to know some too if you make merc work a living. Anyway, you're really not bad at all at it. That left side cut on the guy with the morningstar, did you learn that from a master?"
Phanae blushed a bit. "No, I kind of...self taught myself how to use a sword. I learned early just to pretend it was a really long claw."
"That's impressive, you could easily get cushy bodyguard work if you strut your stuff in front of some royalty. Anyway, look into it, I've got some brewing to do." Alistair got up, dusted off his shirt, and stepped outside to get his pack. Phanae watched him leave, with Eila watching her.
"I wonder..." the young fighter murmurred. Eila looked at her with a puzzled expression; Phanae smiled warmly. "Nothing for you to worry about, dear."
The bustling market at Seaguard was a quick contrast to the serene quiet of the country. All manner of men and wise beasts wandered up and down the lanes, examining piles of foods, reagents, and various sundries piled up in the stalls. At one stall, a wizard had just finished writing out an order, handing it to the man behind the counter.
"You got that, right? The Kophis Peninsula. Not the Kophan, I don't need my steelflower roots showing up halfway around the world."
"Damn it Alistair, that was only one mistake, we know this time."
"Just making sure, Jackal. Here's a third of the payment, I'll pay the other two on delivery."
"Everything looks in order, guess we'll see you again in two months?"
"Yeah, thanks for the stuff." Alistair pocketed his quill and shook the man's hand, then left. A few stalls over, Phanae and Eila were leaning over a small display case.
"This is a topaz, and this is a garnet." Phanae was holding small gemstones to the light.
Eila pointed at the topaz. "So you can tell the difference because the light looks a different way?"
"Well yeah, but that's not too reliable, there are ways to fake it. Oh, Alistair." The wizard had walked up next to them.
"So did you book passage yet?"
"Yeah, 2 weeks on the Blackwind to Crowhame and the Machine City's a direct line from there." She placed the gems back in the display. "You got everything you needed?"
"Yeah, I'm all set, gonna head back and restock my cabinets. Got some repair work to do before I can open up again for business."
Phanae laughed lightly. "You know, I've never tasted a wolfsbane potion that had a cherry flavor."
Alistair chuckled a bit. "Well, I figured a sweet flavor for a sweet girl would be appropriate. In any case, it was nice doing business with you, Phanae."
Phanae shook the outstretched hand, then, on a whim, leaned in and kissed Alistair on the cheek. "Likewise, Alistair of the Waynwood." She smiled, then turned to Eila. "Ok Eila, you be good now, alright? I'll be back to visit once this contract is done."
"I'll miss you, Phanae."
"Don't worry." Phanae patted Eila on the head. "I'll be back before you know it, Alistair has the best potion prices this side of the Undermarket. I'll see you guys later." With that, Phanae smiled again, clapped Alistair on the shoulder, and walked away.
"Alistair?" Eila looked at the wizard quizzically.
"Yeah? Oh, right. We'd best be off too, Eila." He stared at the receding redhead, then shook his head. "Four more months, hm..."
True to their word, the bandit party was waiting for them at the foot of the Iron Pass, its trail twisting off into the inhospitable Ares range. The four hunters were spotted at a distance; the largest figure among the bandits spotted them and hailed.
"Don't do anything stupid over there. Come down here and we'll parley."
Wudao turned to Alistair. "Think we should trust them? I could probably put arrows into a couple at this range before the rest escaped."
The younger wizard shook his head at the ranger. "If they want to parley we'll do it. We were hired to get back the cargo, and if possible I'd rather not have bodies to deal with."
"Might not be a good idea, kid." Siegfried loosened his warhammer slightly. "If you want to play it safe, we kill them from here, find the stolen goods, and get back without a scratch. This feels like an ambush."
The last hunter shook her head. "If they were going to ambush us they had plenty of opportunities to do so on the way here. I didn't see any signs of the sort." Kyris glanced at Alistair uneasily, then looked back at the bandits in the distance. "They still outnumber us, though. If they really want a parley we'll need them to agree to stay back. This is your call, Alistair."
The wizard wore a grim expression. "We'll hear them out. They didn't pull off any tricks on the way here, they don't deserve to be killed like cattle."
The voice boomed from below. "Well? Are we fighting or talking?"
Siegfried raised his voice in reply. "We're on our way. Don't send any more than two. Alistair, you're with me, you two stay back and get ready if something happens."
Even Siegfried was taken aback at the size of the bandit leader. The tough old fighter was dwarfed by the size of the minotaurus; her battle axe alone was as tall as he was. At nearly nine feet tall she was almost twice Alistair's size.
As female minotaurii go, she was a fine example. Thickly muscled and powerfully built, with a more or less human body standing on colossal hooves, her head featuring two curled back horns decorated with runes. Her long brown tresses (mane?) was at least four feet long. Alistair swallowed uneasily; Siegfried was a skilled and experienced fighter, but experience would mean little when his enemy swung a battle axe heavier than he was.
The parley ground was a small, recently cleared meadow, stumps littered between patchy grass. The minotaurus sat on a stump and motioned for Siegfried to do the same; she unslung her axe and placed it on the ground. Siegfried left his on his back - Alistair simply stood near Siegfried. "Well, minotaur, we'll hear you out. We know you stole Duke Hathaway's cargo, you know we're here to recover it. You going to give it to us, no fuss?"
She snorted. "Firstly, human, I have a name. Lily. It would be most kind if you referred to me as such. And I'm not sure if you're taking me for a fool if you think I'd give up my bargaining chips that easily."
Alistair raised an eyebrow - Lily was remarkably erudite for a bandit, let alone a minotaurus bandit. Siegfried was at a loss of words for a moment, then shook his head. "Alright then, Lily, what's the point of this parley if you're not going to run off or give us the cargo? We could have just saved our time and slaughtered you all from the trees."
"In the eyes of Gods and Beasts, I request Single combat."
Alistair started at that. While duels had never gone out of vogue, they were rarely used except for in trivial circumstances, and never over matters of import. To propose a duel here...
The fighter placed a hand to his temple. "Why in blazes would we agree to single combat? What would we have to gain? There's no way a bunch of low scum bandits would agree to terms, and nothing prevents them from just running off with the cargo while we duel for an hour."
"Do you believe I hadn't already thought of that expediency?" Lily drew a piece of parchment from her vest and unrolled it. "Here. This is the contract that they've all agreed to and that I've signed."
Siegfried handed it to Alistair to read. "So if we win, we'll take your head and the cargo but let your bandit friends scatter. If we lose, you'll spare our dueler and you'll leave a third of the cargo in exchange for us letting you escape into the Ares."
Lily nodded. "As it is written, so it shall be. Mine and my compatriot's signature on that contract binds us to it by blood and fire, if you agree." She smiled grimly. "I understand my head is worth a good amount at Wheatvale."
Alistair frowned. "I must confer with the other members of our group. We'll send our champion to you in ten minutes."
The minotaurus got up. "I will be waiting."
"You can't be serious, Alistair," Kyris spoke as she rummaged through her pack. "You tell us Siegfried wouldn't stand a chance, what the hell are you going to do? Unless you've somehow turned into an Order Battlemage that minotaur will just bat you."
Alistair shook his head. "Siegfried's platemail isn't enchanted, and that minotaur has a colossal reach. There's no way he'd be able to get into fighting range without getting cut in half."
Siegfried was standing, his back to a tree. "Well, lad, why not send one of the other two? Put enough arrows in anything and it'll go down soon enough, if only from blood loss."
Wudao concurred. "The big bitch might be huge and tough but a barbed arrow into the neck would finish her off. All I'd have to do is dance around and wait for it to bleed out."
Alistair shook his head again, wrapping a bolt in potion-soaked threads. "Have any of you researched minotaurii extensively? When provoked into a rage, they go off - if she charges any of you, that's it, you're done."
Kyris had pulled a small vial out of her pack and closed it abruptly. "So what the hell are you going to do? Minotaur skin is supposed to be magic resistant, your fireballs and force bolts won't do anything at all."
"I know." Alistair locked his crossbow's bolt rack in place, then stuffed a scroll into his robes. "I have other things I can do. Look, just give me that clumsiness poison and I can do this."
The ranger handed him the vial, which was an odd purplish color. "I really hope you know what you're doing. None of us came out here to carry your mangled body back to town and to only get a third of this job."
"If I didn't think I'd have a shot at this, I'd just have us all bum rush her right now. But I'd rather do things the clean way." Alistair quickly drank a potion, then began muttering a minor spell, causing the air to shimmer.
"Guilty conscience or just misplaced chivalry?" Wudao sighed. "Whatever. You recruited us for this job, this is on you no matter how it turns out."
Siegfried closed his eyes. "Enough. It's been ten minutes, sign the contract."
Lily laughed at the shorter, robed man, who cradled a small crossbow between his hands. "I was expecting either that plate warrior or a storm of arrows. They really sent you to fight me?"
Alistair shrugged, then placed the duelling contract on a nearby stump. "Lily, was it? Let's get to this."
"As you wish. For the glory of the clanhome!" She grabbed her axe one handed from the ground and raised it overhead, rushing at the wizard, who smiled and didn't move. The minotaurus swung the axe in a massive, crushing arc, where it proceeded to move through the wizard and embed itself into the ground.
Alistair had already flanked her, leaving an illusion behind whilst under a camoflauge spell. He raised his crossbow and fired the first bolt.
"You bloody coward, fight as a beast!" Lily roared, feeling but ignoring the impact of a tiny crossbow bolt scratching her arm. Scenting the path the wizard took, she charged again in the direction of the wizard.
Alistair leapt backwards as the axe flew down in a brutal sweep. He knew she was fast, but was still caught flatfooted. "Blindspray!"
Light erupted from his hand, showering the area in intensely bright sparks, which hovered in the air. Lily roared again, closing her eyes and listening for footfalls. She leapt forward, slamming her axe down and planting it into a stump.
"Bloody hell," Alistair muttered, winching another bolt into his crossbow. "Deafening Shock!"
The sound of a earth-splitting thunderclap erupted, loud enough to cause the onlooking hunters 250 yards away to wince. Lily was knocked off balance, landing on her side. Alistair took the opportunity to fire another bolt, which punched into the minotaur's right calf.
"You scum sucking bastard!" The minotaur's voice was filled with fury. "I'll fucking gut you and the rest of you worthless wizard types!" Lily leapt up, reached down, and tore a tree stump out of the ground, throwing it in Alistair's general direction.
Alistair was winching his crossbow again, but had not anticipated the minotaur throwing the stump. He attempted to leap out of the way, but his left shoulder was caught in a sickening crack, sending the wizard spinning to the ground, his crossbow having taken most of the impact of the thrown tree stump and crumpling. He rolled into a crouch, but the minotaur had already closed distance, the bright sparklights having faded.
"No more tricks, little wizard." Lily reached down and grabbed the wizard by the neck, lifting him clear off the ground, his left arm dangling uselessly at his side. Her other arm pulled her axe up and held it to Alistair's temple. "Do you concede?"
"I......" Alistair brought his right hand up in a flash and snapped his fingers. "...div..ine...hock..."
A fiery blast struck Lily, blowing the minotaur fifteen feet away and catching parts of her hair on fire. Alistair fell to the ground, dazed; the shock was the only spell he had learned how to cast without yelling the words, and he knew it was just blind luck the spell had managed to work. He drew the last bolt from his robe, got up, and sprinted towards the minotaurs form.
The minotaur was already standing; her axe was too far away to grab but she knew she would be able to break the wizard's neck with her bare hands. She slammed her fists together, roared, and charged the wizard, her head down and her fists ready to make a crushing overhand slam.
Alistair leapt forward, diving to the ground; as Lily passed over him, screaming in rage, he drew his hand back and punched it into the minotaur's leg, being rewarded by getting kicked in the head and being slammed into a nearby stump.
The minotaur had tripped over him; she hadn't expected such a foolhardy move from such a small and scrawny man. He was coughing up blood, barely able to move, lying against a stump with his arms limp at his side. She stood, retrieved her axe, and lowered it to Alistair's neck.
"Human. I am willing to spare your life. Do. You. Concede?"
Alistair muttered something inaudible. Lily drew her axe lengthwise and leaned in. "What was that?"
"Nothing....nothing much. But... I do not concede." Alistair coughed a bit. "Because I have won."
Lily roared again, furious. "If that's how you wish to end your life, so be it." She raised her axe...
"False fucking death, Alistair? You used a potion you learned out of a joke book?" Kyris sat in the back of the wayn, her chin on her hands.
They were travelling back to the duchy of Hathaway, with a cart and horse procured from a local farmer. As agreed by the duelling contract, the remaining bandits had confirmed the 'death' of their leader and scattered up the Iron Pass, leaving the duke's precious cargo behind. Siegfried was driving the horse, with the two rangers, the unconscious minotaurus, the goods, and the wizard in the back. Alistair was bound up in bandages; the fight had broken most of his bones. "I'll need to work on that potion a bit. A few more seconds of delayed action and I'd be dead."
"That was a good thought though, lad, mixing it in its blood." Siegfried called from the front of the wayn, "You think the minotaur will be worth more as a live capture?"
Wudao was leaned back on a bale of straw. He had purchased the 'carriage', as he was the only one with money to spare. "I'm sure of it. There's not much to do with a head except put it on a stake, but a captive minotaurus is a useful pit fighter."
Kyris smiled a bit. "As long as we get the two fifty from this job I'll be happy. I'd rather feel that gold in my bag and getting Alistair patched up first before dealing with anything else."
"Awww, so you do care." Alistair coughed a bit; Kyris punched him lightly on the shoulder as he winced.
"We're not all heartless buggers like Wudao here. Like the priests of Rahdan say, every person you kill will judge you alongside the gods when the time comes."
Wudao laughed. "Alistair here was just thinking with his balls instead of his brains, and he took his chops. That minotaurus is a looker, but not worth getting my head beaten in. As long as the job gets done, it all works out in the end, eh?"
"Look, I'm sorry, Alistair, but we don't take live captures."
Alistair scratched his head. After he was patched up by the temple clerics, Wudao, Siegfried, and Kyris went out on the town after they had returned Duke Hathaway's cargo - after splitting the gold they all ran off, telling him that "since he captured the bounty, he should deal with the turn in". So instead of being inside the halls of the castle, drinking and carousing at the pleasure of the local Duc, he was standing outside a dingy stable outside the walls, talking to a representative of the local bounty head office.
The minotaurus, bound to a post, was now awake. She was staring at the two sullenly.
"You have got to be kidding me. Every single bounty poster I've ever seen, ever, says 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' Since when did the Imperial Hunter's office change policy?"
"If you haven't noticed, we're a thousand miles away from the Imperial Capital, here. We don't have a prison that can handle half-beasts like that minotaurus. We don't have the men to deal with them. You can either kill it yourself and claim the bounty, or I'll call an executioner to kill it and you two will split the gold."
"...fine. Fine. Gods, alright. Come back in the morning and I'll have it done."
"Understood, and good capture, by the way. Must have been a hell of a fight." The rep glanced at the minotaurus, then left.
Alistair turned to Lily, drawing a steel dagger from his robes. He crouched down to look her in the eyes, and stared for a few minutes while she looked darkly at him. Finally, she spoke.
"Well? Are you going to fucking do it? I'm worth more dead than alive, so do it already. You won the duel, you sneaky fucker, get it over with."
Alistair remained silent. Lily glared, and raised her voice.
"Fucking do it! I sacrificed myself out there so that my boys out there could escape, I know I'm on fucking borrowed time! I can't return to the clanhome after this, so fucking kill me already! Do it, you stupid son of a bitch!"
Alistair leaned back. "You know, that was a good fight we had out there."
"FUCKING KILL ME ALREADY!" Lily had tears welling up in her eyes. "Is this your fucking idea of torture? So I don't know when I'll be dead? You're going to keep me on tenterhooks and not grant me a clean death? You disgusting, fucking bastard of a wizard."
Alistair got up abruptly. His hand drew the dagger back, and drew it in a forward slash...
The hempen weave that had bound Lily to the post was sliced neatly through. Lily stared at her hands blankly, then looked up at Alistair. "....I don't understand..."
Alistair tossed the dagger to the ground, his back to the minotaurus. "You don't deserve to be butchered. Get out of here."
Lily stood to her nine foot height and crouched, picking up the dagger. "...I could kill you where you stand, wizard."
Alistair turned to face her and spread his hands. "Then do it. Otherwise, get out of here. Follow the side roads and you'll be outside the guard perimeter in a few minutes."
Lily stared wordlessly at him, then quietly left through the side door.
"Alistair's Cures and Remedies?"
She gazed at the sign, then looked up. The sky was a bit cloudy, but surrounding her on the horizon was the sparkling blue of the Feryll Sea. In front of her was.....a pit. Granted, it wasn't just a dirt hole, it had masonry walls and a canvas cover, but either way it wasn't exactly what she was expecting from a wizard's residence.
Lily's musings were interrupted, when a young woman who appeared to be made entirely out of water rose out of the staircase to greet her. "Hello, miss, welcome to the wizard Alistair's tower. I am Eila, can I take down your request?"
She was a bit startled at the sudden presence. "I don't have a request in particular, I just need to talk to the wizard."
From the pit emerged the very same wizard she had dueled in that meadow a couple of years ago. A little older, a bit more facial hair, but it was unmistakably him.
"You remember who I am, of course."
Alistair raised an eyebrow at the minotaurus. "Here's someone I thought I'd never see again. Are you going to beg me to kill you again or something?"
Lily laughed, a melodic lilt carrying through the air. "I think I have something better, Alistair, the trickster wizard." She tossed her axe down on the ground and went to a knee, the horns on her head level with Alistair's shoulder.
"Two years ago I was disgraced in battle and lost a duel; the disgrace rising from not the defeat, but my actions taken immediately afterward. I failed to carry out the sacred battle code of the Taurii, and I am here today to rectify this."
Alistair stared blankly at the weapon on the ground. "This isn't what I think it is...."
"By the code of battle I live by, I now fulfill my duty. For sparing my life, Alistair, the son-of-a-bitch trickster wizard..." Lily smiled warmly, brushing her hair out of her face, "I swear my loyalty and my blade to you, as well as everything I have to offer, if you would have me."
Alistair blinked, then shook his head. "Do you really need to do this?"
Lily stood solemnly, her arms at her side. "For my honor, I do."
Alistair sighed. "Alright, alright, fine, I accept. Despite me not having any money or any way to pay you or anything for you to do, sure."
Lily grinned, then reached down to lightly hug the wizard, her large breasts pressing against his collar. "I will give you no cause to regret this."
Alistair nodded. "As long as you don't call me master. That would be, just a bit creepy."
2.5. A night's interlude
"Second season, 53rd day, Imperial Year 206."
Night had fallen on the small coastal promontory, where a wizard was sitting on a small chair on a beach, a pair of glowing spheres hovering above him, casting a flickering light. He held a book in his left hand, his right hand on his chin, with a quill held in his mouth. Alistair frowned at the date; had time really passed that quickly? And he still hadn't gotten any significant progress done on getting his tower built. Maybe he should have invested more in advertising. He began to write.
"Note to self: Print more flyers to put up around Freeport."
He glanced up. The sea was calm, waves smaller than a feyborn gently rolling onto the sand and receding. The night sky was reflected in the water; mirror images of the twin moons, the astral blade, and the trampling ox were clearly visible.
"Send Lily to town for some more meat."
He had underestimated how much the minotaurus ate a day. He usually went to a nearby farm when he felt like eating eggs or a chicken, but after Lily had eaten almost twelve chickens in four days old lady Hayworth had to turn him down. Oh well. Having the strapping girl around helped his concentration when brewing potions, he figured. And for some reason she had taken to cooking breakfast for him in the morning; her hearty eggs and sausage breakfasts were superb. Though she refused to serve beef.
"To contemplate: Alistair's Cures, Remedies, and Bed and Breakfast."
Though he supposed, guests probably wouldn't take well to seeing a slime girl wandering the vicinity. Or a gigantic minotaurus on her daily morning exercise regimen of lifting half-ton granite blocks. Or having to sleep in an open pit. Or dealing with the various sundry mercenaries and adventurers looking for top-off potions. He scratched out the last line, then looked out at the coast.
He smiled. There was Eila, sleeping in that water inlet Lily had dug out of the sand. He had no idea that Eila drifted off in the current each night and had to swim her way back to his tower; Lily had found out one morning and dug a 'small' (small in minotaur terms, he supposed) pit of calm water for her to sleep in at night. She looked peaceful, rocking back and forth as the waves rolled over her on the surface. Lily herself was sleeping in a pup tent - the small nook where Alistair slept was too small for her to curl up in.
Man. He really had to get this tower built properly. Here he was, a wizard, with two erstwhile apprentices/lackeys/retainers, and they were sleeping out in the open.
"Maybe I should get back to merc work for a bit and at least get a floor of the tower done."
"I thought you hated scutwork."
Alistair fell out of his chair; a pair of hands came over his eyes. "Guess who."
"Royal assassin sent to kill me."
"Do I *sound* like one of those types?"
"Cocktease werewolf looking for more cheap potions and possibly laughs at my expense."
"Pfft." Phanae released him and spun him around. She was wearing one of those Machine City outfits, a leather vest over an elaborately woven top, with heavy denim breeches held in place by a small rope, which she was in the process of undoing. "If you somehow think I'm a cocktease, I'll let you take me right now."
"Oh no." Alistair dusted the sand off his pants. "I'd at least prefer to think I'm not building a harem of personal sex slaves out here."
"Pity, I was in the mood." Phanae sat down on the sand across from him. "Who's the minotaurus?"
"Girl named Lily. Met her back in my merc days, she showed up one day wanting to work for me." Alistair shrugged. "All these people have it in their minds that all wizards are fabulously wealthy and powerful and can freely dole out gold, favors, whatever. Christ, look at me, I don't even have a roof over my head."
"That's actually a part of why I'm back here so soon, Alistair." Phanae drew her legs up to her chin. "While I was at the machine city, I caught wind of a big contract out. Big. I'm talking," she moved two fingers up about a foot apart, "something a royal would put out for a regicide, or something."
"I think I've heard of this. Something about an heirloom that was supposed to house an imprisoned sand spirit, or something?"
"Not a sand spirit, a djinni. Sounds like that children's tale, you know?"
"Don't tell me it grants wishes." Alistair had picked up a piece of driftwood and was idly scratching the sand. "The Artificer's Guild would have been all over that shit if it did."
"I'm not sure, exactly. I doubt it does anything that strong, but it must do something. You want me to tell you how much the contract for recovery is worth?"
At that, Alistair jabbed the stick into the sand. "Are you fucking joking." Fifty thousand gold was quite literally a king's ransom; it was enough to raise a decently sized castle and pay a garrison for a year.
Phanae turned her hands up. "Hey, that's all I know. Problem is, this contract's limited only to class A guild mercs, which is why I couldn't get a hand on a copy myself. Otherwise I'd be all over that." She sighed. "I don't suppose you know any from your old days."
Alistair frowned. "Siegfried's working bodyguard duty for some merchant at the Imperial City, pretty sure he's retired. I haven't heard from Gil in years. Wudao might be up for it, but if I know him he's already on the contract."
Phanae stuck her tongue out. "Bleh, it was worth a shot. In any case, Alistair, how about I cut you a deal?"
The redhead pulled out a large purse and opened it. It was bulging with golden ducats. "400 gold, fresh from that contract I was on when I first met you."
"What's your point?"
"I want a deal. I'll help you build a section of your tower with this cash, if you agree to provide me with potions indefinitely and let me live here."
Alistair blinked. "You want to live here?"
"Since I'd be coming back here regularly for potions, yeah. I told you my sob story. It'd be nice to have a place I could call home, and I'd rather not live in an open pit."
The wizard picked up his book and leafed through a few pages, re-reading prior observations, half of which were essentially complaints about how he was living in a hole in the ground. "I'll have to limit you to a hundred gold's worth of raw material a year."
Phanae smiled. "That's fine, I'm not looking to put you out of business. Is it a deal?" She stuck out her hand. The wizard grasped it.
Wudao knew he was probably done for.
He had tracked the stolen heirloom and found it in the possession of a trading ship's captain, about to depart from Crowhame. He had to pay good money for the information, some bribery here, a knife to the throat there, and all he had to do at that point was buy the passenger cabin for the trip to Navarro, and steal the thing from the captain some time along the way.
What he hadn't counted on was the entire possession bit. Apparently, djinni could read and manipulate minds. The captain (obviously possessed) had taunted him with this information, dangling an old amulet in front of him and laughing as his men stripped the ranger of all his gear and threw him overboard.
He had been floating face up on the Feryll Sea for almost a day now. The current was swift, but he was fairly sure he was being carried farther away from land. There wasn't much to it, really - breathe in quickly, exhale slowly, and you could keep floating more or less forever. Until you died of thirst, of course. Or until a kraken ate you.
The ranger closed his eyes and muttered under his breath. "Figures I'd end my career as a bloated corpse on a beach somewhere." That fifty thousand gold he had less than a foot away. Gods, if only he had been on his guard the entire time instead of sleeping in his cabin. If only he had called in some backup to just kill the captain at the harbor, instead of trying to take the whole bounty for himself. Hell, he could have just set the ship on fire and knifed the captain in the mayhem. Instead, he had to be clever. Clev-fucking-er.
He opened his eyes again. The current was moving faster, and the sun seemed to have gone a few arcs off its apex. Well, it won't be long now...
"Oy, Wudao. You awake?"
The ranger opened his eyes and blinked. He seemed to be lying on a padded mat, tucked into a sheet. Above him, an unfamiliar ceiling, what appeared to be a canvas cover crisscrossed with circles and symbols illuminated by some flickering candlelight. The air smelled like burnt herbs. That voice was familar.
Oh hells. He recognized the voice. Alistair of the Waynwood, wizard that never made it in the academy and couldn't cut it as a merc. Last time he saw him he was turning in his ID to the guild - if he remembered right the guy never bothered taking any of the dirtier jobs, just ones where he wouldn't have to get his hands dirty. Total waste of talent, the guy was reasonably clever, but he was way too soft to be in the business.
He coughed. "Alistair, what are you doing in hell?"
"Very funny, Wudao. You're in my tower." The wizard sat at his bedside, idly flipping through a notebook.
Wudao blinked, then tried to get up. Mistake. He fell back onto the mat with a groan. "Ok, so why am I not dead? There was no fucking way I washed up anywhere, I was out in the middle of the ocean."
"You would be if Eila hadn't found you. You were about thirty miles offshore, Eila scented you and dragged you in last week." He glanced up. "Figure another day or two and it would have been a done deal."
"You're telling me this Eila can swim sixty miles without a sweat, and I've been here a full week." Wudao laughed haltingly. "Now I know I'm dead, you were a bit righteous but you were never full of shit."
"You'll figure it out when you see her. Either way, you were in rough shape, you'll have to thank the girls in the morning. They nursed your washed-up ass till you stopped looking like a corpse." Alistair closed his book. "So what the hell were you doing, man? I knew you were doing something big, but I figured a guy like you could handle anything that got thrown at you, not get yourself drowned."
Oh, if he only knew. "Looks like I got in over my head this time, Alistair. Where exactly are we, anyway?"
"My tower on the Kophis Peninsula, about twenty-five miles south of Freeport."
"Freeport?" He had drifted almost two hundred miles. "I don't suppose there would be a ship bound for Navarro weighing anchor any time soon."
"No, and you're not in any shape for that long a journey. You'll be on your ass for at least another two weeks." Alistair got up and tossed the ranger a small satchel. "This washed up the other day, I'm fairly sure it's yours. Get some sleep, eh? Lily will have breakfast in the morning."
"I'll owe you one, Alistair." Wudao closed his eyes, his back still ached. "Assuming I'll be able to get started again. The cursed bastards took all my gear."
"Don't even worry about that. Get some sleep." Alistair blew out the nearest candle. "I'll have Phanae wake you up in the morning."
Alistair, Wizard of the Waynwood: 24 year old wizard, dropout from the High Academy, former Class B mercenary. 5'9", 165lb. In the process of constructing a tower at the tip of a short promontory - the Kophis Peninsula, surrounded on 3 sides by beach coast and the Feryll sea. Said 'tower' consists of basement with canvas cover, with piles of granite blocks and wood stacked up nearby for use in future construction. Alistair runs a discount alchemist's shop as a business, selling potions and sundries. Talented alchemist, knowledgable in herblore, less so talented in combat and other forms of magic. Preferred weapon: Crossbow
Eila, Borne of Feryll: 8 month old sea slime, appears as a short-haired young girl made entirely out of water wearing a summer dress. Spawned off the coast of Kophis when Alistair installed a magic field detector improperly, causing a local spike. First counters Phanae, learns Common, grows and matures rapidly. Requires water at a minimum of every four days to maintain form, sleeps in water to regenerate. Alistair has been teaching her rudiments of alchemy and spellcrafting, she currently works as his assistant. Preferred weapon: None, cannot fight.
Phanae Hothis: 17 year old mercenary, 20% werewolf (normal human form when not under the full moon, partial werewolf transformation when under the full moon, retains full sentience, reticent to be around other people while transformed, prefers taking wolfsbane to avoid the transform), Class C mercenary. 5'7", 130lb. Mercenary fighter with unusual strength for her frame due to werewolf characteristics. Formerly a wanderer, purchased a permanent room in Alistair's tower, drops in and out every so often between mercenary jobs to rest, relax, pick up potions. Fierce fighter, quick and lithe. Preferred weapon: Longsword
Lily of Taurii Clanhome: 26 year old minotaurus (upper body and torso human, large cloven feet and legs, runed horns on head), former bandit leader. 8'10", 360lb. Left the clanhome after disputes with elders, made her way in the outside world as a successful highwayman until captured. After escaping, returned to the clanhome for a year or two, then left again in order to atone for violations of the Taurii battle code. Pledged her axe to Alistair's service, currently works as his 'guard', in reality spends her days napping on the beach, swimming, doing odd jobs. Titanic fighter, frenzies when provoked, unmatched strength. Preferred weapon: 6 foot Greataxe
Wudao, the Iron Storm: 29 year old ranger, Class A mercenary. 5'10", 150lb. Jaded sword-for-hire, worked with Alistair on a few contracts in the past. Highly experienced with blade and arrow, lightning fast. Preferred weapon: Shortbow
Siegfried Rodrek: 41 year old fighter, former Class A mercenary. 5'6", 210lb. Older warrior, veteran of the Blackwind conflict, retired after a particularly unpleasant contract. Wears a full set of heavy plate. Preferred weapon: 60 pound War Hammer
Tyris Greenfield: 22 year old ranger, Class B mercenary. 5'8", 120lb. Preferred weapon: Rapier
Travers, the Blackheart: 44 year old wizard. 5'11", 180lb. Former court mage for many of several smaller royal Houses, gained the 'Blackheart' moniker for obliterating an enemy held village instead of capturing it. Deadly battlemage. Preferred weapon: Evocative magic
It was an incongruous sight at first glance, Wudao supposed. Five people having a picnic out on a clear and sunny day, except one of them was nine feet tall and going through her second chicken. Another was 'drinking' sugared water, if you considered sticking a liquid hand into the goblet and sucking out all the water drinking. The roast chicken was still damned good though, some of the best he'd ever had. Suppose it made up for the diet of milk and porridge that the minotaurus (why was she here? and where did she learn how to cook?) spoonfed him over the past few days.
Alistair put down his fork. "So what's your plan, Wudao? It's at least a month for transit from here to Navarro. Think you can pick up the trail?"
"Nah, I'm done with this one. Gonna head back to the guildhall at Lindentree and pick myself back up." Wudao drained his glass of water. "I need to outfit myself again, so I'll be out of the real mercwork business until I can afford another Highsong bow."
Phanae coughed out some chicken. "Those things are worth almost a thousand gold each and are only made on commission. You really had one?"
Wudao gave the redhead a look. "I've been doing this kind of work for a long time. The bigger the jobs you do, the better you have to be, and the better your gear has to be. Unless you feel like getting put down when you get in over your head."
The werewolf nodded. "Just wish I could have seen it. Each one is supposed to be a work of art."
Lily glanced up from her chicken. "Weapons aren't meant to be art. You judge a weapon on how well it kills."
Wudao smiled. "The Highsong I had was great at both. Nothing can be done about it now, though." He glanced around the table, then pulled a scroll of parchment out of his robes. "Since I'm ditching the job, I don't really have a use for this contract. Alistair, did you ever re-register at the mercenary's guild?"
Alistair raised a hand. "I'm out of the business, Wudao. I have my shop now."
Wudao glanced at Lily, who was drinking water out of a gallon jug. "I don't suppose you ever applied to the guild." The minotaurus shook her head.
"I'm an active member." Phanae drew a small card from her vest and placed it on the table. "Class C as of last winter."
"Class C? Better than nothing at least. Here." Wudao pushed the scroll across the table. "All yours now, if you want it. Or toss it in the ocean if you don't. Either way." The ranger stood up from the table. "I'll repay the favor as soon as I can, Alistair, but I'm not used to hanging around the same place for so long. I'll see you all later. Thanks for helping me out."
Alistair raised an eyebrow. "Well, if you insist. Later."
The ranger picked up his small satchel and began walking down the road. Lily stared after him, then turned to Alistair.
"Guy's kind of a prick, you know."
Alistair shrugged. "Bit brusque, but you have to be if you want to be a successful mercenary. Part of the reason why I got out." He looked at Phanae, who was reading the contract. "Phanae."
The weregirl looked up. "Hm?"
"That's a class A contract and you just said you're a class C. Don't tell me you're going to pursue it."
Phanae laughed. "I'd be a pretty sad excuse for a mercenary if I didn't take an opportunity for fifty thousand gold." She brushed her hair back. "I pick this one up, I can retire for life."
Alistair and Lily exchanged a look, and Alistair shook his head. "Look. Wudao has been doing this work for as long as I've known him, and he got thrown off the job and gave up. Do you really think you have a chance?"
"Wudao wasn't prepared, but thanks to him I am." Phanae smiled, and put the contract inside her vest. "Don't worry about me. A girl can take care of herself."
Eila spoke for the first time. "I don't think you can do this on your own, Phanae. Maybe you should take along some help? You would have to split the bounty, but it would be safer."
The redhead sighed. "Look, you're not going to dissuade me from this. If I didn't do my best to try for the gold, I'd be spending years just regretting my choice." She looked at Alistair. "I can't run a shop like you or do much else. This is my ticket, and I've got to take it."
Alistair nodded. "I understand. Tell me what you need in terms of what I can mix up, and you can get on it within a couple of days."
"Finally, someone who gets it." Phanae drained her goblet of water and stood up. "I'll write up a list."
"Got company, Alistair." Lily poked her head down into the pit. "They say they're from the High Wizard's Association? There are three of them."
Alistair closed his notebook and stood from his desk, the lotus-stems could wait. "I paid my bloody dues, what do they want?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "You're the wizard, you should all have some idea what each other's thinking." She turned around. "Yes, yes, he's right here."
There were three figures in grey robes standing outside Alistair's pit, the first instantly recognizable to the wizard walking out of the pit. "Mellitus. Haven't seen you since the last meet and greet. What's the occasion?"
The bearded man's face held no mirth as he handed over a roll of parchment. "We got contacted by Central. Read this."
Alistair unfurled the parchment.
TO BE ISSUED TO ALL REGIONAL WIZARD'S ASSOCIATIONS ON EAST TIRAN
THIS IS A HIGH EDICT ISSUED BY IMPERATOR MAGE-GENERAL ARGO REGARDING: WALLED CITY NAVARRO
IT HAS COME TO THE ATTENTION OF THE IMPERIAL COUNCIL THAT NAVARRO HAS FALLEN INCOMMUNICADO. WE HAVE LOST CONTACT WITH THE NAVARRO MAGETOWER AND TRADE CARAVANS HAVE NOT RETURNED.
IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE COMMISSIONED CORPS OF MERCENARIES IT IS DECREED THAT ALL WIZARDS IN GOOD STANDING IN ALL REGIONAL SECTORS DEPLOY TO NAVARRO FOR A CLASS A INVESTIGATIVE EXPEDITION
A STAGING AREA IS BEING CONSTRUCTED ON THE COAST ROAD OUTSIDE NAVARRO AT COORDINATES 19.55/82.01 ALL WIZARDS ARE INSTRUCTED TO ARRIVE PRIOR TO THIRD TURN OF THE MOON
He glanced up. "What the fuck? What's going on at Navarro?"
The woman standing next to Mellitus folded her arms. "That's the point, we have no idea. Two scout teams haven't returned, we're the third up. If we don't return, Constantine will probably order in the regular army."
The minotaurus spoke up. "Alistair...Phanae left for Navarro six weeks ago; she should have got there since the last fullmoon."
"I know." Alistair had a hard gaze. "Will it just be us four from this area?"
Mellitus nodded. "We already visited Traver's grove but he was nowhere to be found. You, me, Saya here, and Duboc, we're going to follow the coast road up."
"Right." Eila had come out of the pit and was standing next to Lily; he turned to them. "You two want to stay here? This is none of your business, I'm perfectly fine with you guys holding the fort till I get back."
"You kidding, Alistair?" Lily drew her greataxe. "I haven't been keeping this sharp for nothing."
Eila looked at the group of wizards. "It would be nice to see textbook spellcasting in effect, and we'll be near the ocean the whole time."
Alistair put a hand on his head. "This won't end well."