(Note: This is not official version and may be removed in the near future. This do not reflect what is read in the podcast version, nor any other version you may encounter. I have preserved the rough form for posterity — or something like that. This novel has since been rewritten.)
The conversation that started was loud enough for everyone to hear. James knew immediately that the person at the door was a soldier. He could hear the gentle rustle of chain mail and the light tapping of the wooden end of a spear on solid ground.
“What?” Darl said.
Great, James thought, just start off with rudeness.
“Sorry to bother you sir,” the soldier said with a voice that gave away his youth, “but old Early from two doors down reported some unusual activity here.”
“What kind of unusual activity?” Darl’s grumpiness increased.
“Magic being used. Old Early is sort of a sensitive man. Knows a lot of things most people don’t that are Blood-less.”
“I see. Well, this is a healer’s shop.”
The soldier was silent for a moment. “So it is.”
“So, magic would not be all that uncommon in a place like this now would it?”
“No sir, I suppose not. Mind if I come in?”
“I do. This is a rather private affair and I prefer not to share it with someone who hasn’t aged enough to grow a beard.”
“I see, sir. I do have the authority.”
“I realize this, but I think it rather rude to impose upon someone who has no desire to share personal information outside of these walls. Would you think it fair and wise for me to show up at your home and start gallivanting into your little private world? Perhaps you’d see it fit to allow me to watch you sleep at night?”
“Forgive me sir. I meant no offense. Just doing my job.”
“None taken, but do work on your manners. Good day.”
Then Darl closed the door and latched it. The old man turned and headed back into the room, a slight grin underneath his beard.
“You learned that bit about manners from me,” Pea said.
“I hope you know that plagiarism is the third cousin of Evil.”
James gave Pea a confused look. “Then who is the second cousin?”
They all had a laugh at that, even Darl. Triska made effort to suppress her laughter, but couldn’t.
When the laughter subsided James became serious; his smile faded away and he waited for everyone to calm down or take a seat in the few chairs around the long wood table before speaking.
“Iliad,” he said, “are you sure she is in one of the towers?”
“How can you be sure?”
“Of all the places that Luthien would or could keep her, the towers are the safest.”
“They’re well guarded,” Darl said. “More so than in Arlin City, and for good reason. The Adul’pur in Arlin City was powerful, but not nearly as powerful as the enchanted gems that protect Teirlin’pur. The Adul’pur could protect little more than the keep and the highest most regions of Arlin City, but with the number of gems that Luthien has fixed in place on each of the towers, it would be impossible to use magic of any sort against the inner city. The walls would be undamaged. Not even a scratch”
“It only makes sense he would put her in the most fortified and hardest to get into place in the entire country.”
“The question is how do we get in.” James let his gaze fall to the rusty wood table, eyeing the scratches and cracks.
“We have a few days at the most before someone really begins to suspect things are out of place. Healers don’t just shut up shop unless it’s a serious emergency.” Darl glanced over to where Bourlinch fidgeted with his binds, tears still streaming from his face. A gag had been put in his mouth so he couldn’t do much more than mumble and sob. “We close up the shop for now.”
“Put up a sign,” Triska said. “James looked bad enough when we came in to require deep healing. Such processes can take a few days, sometimes.”
James looked at his arms. Most of the wounds had healed, some were scabbed. He ached but didn’t feel the horrid pain he had been living with for what felt like ages now.
“I look like I could still use some healing,” he said. “It might work for a little while.”
“Okay,” Pea said, “now that that is solved, how are we going to figure out which tower this girl is held in? We can’t just waltz up and say, ‘gee officer, I’d sure love a tour’.”
“Surveillance. If the girl is in one of the towers, they’ll be bringing food no doubt, or attending to her somehow.”
“Unless she’s already dead,” Darl said.
“No! She’s not dead!” James screamed at Darl.
“It’s possible James, and you damn well know it.”
“She’s not! She can’t be dead. Don’t say that!”
He glared at Darl; Darl glared back. But James refused to lose this match. He fixated his eyes on Darl’s and never faltered, until ultimately Darl looked away.
“So, how do you propose we do this?” Pea said. “It’ll look suspicious if we just all sit around watching.”
“Oh, yes I know this. There are five of us. James, you have to stay behind. It’s too much of a risk to have you walking around.” Iliad took a moment to clear his throat. “Pea should probably stay behind as well. Unfortunately it looks like Littlekind are not all that common here. It may mean nothing, seeing how few Littlekind are found out this far east anyway, but it’s better not to risk suspicion. So, Triska and I will pose as a married couple. Darl, you’ll be Triska’s father.”
Darl grunted. “Yes, I must be very fit to play the old man.”
“Hush,” Triska said, the tears no longer flowing from her face, but her cheeks still glistening.
“There’s a market in the inner city. Well guarded, well policed. It’s a market for the wealthy, generally; at least according to the last few accounts of Teirlin’pur from before this all happened. We’ll go along with the story that we’re in for supplies, living in Nar’koreth.”
“Alright,” Triska said. “What if someone recognizes us?”
“Like who?” James butted in. “The only people who talked to us more than a few moments are miles away or tied up to a chair.” He glanced at Bourlinch. The Daemonkind eyed him with teary eyes and he briefly felt sorry for the crooked man.
She nodded. “Okay.”
“Great,” James said, somewhat saddened by the thought that he would not be a part of it. He desperately wanted to find Laura, to get her home and safe with her parents. If there was one thing he wanted to do more than anything else, it was that.
“You’ll need this,” Pea said, tossing a large faded-brown string-tied bag in Iliad’s general direction.
Iliad caught it effortlessly and said, “What’s this?”
“Bourlinch’s stores I assume.”
“Where did you find it?” James jumped in.
“On the floor.”
“On the floor?” He came close to laughing.
“Well, obviously. You shouldn’t repeat things so much. It indicates a lack of hearing and civility. Besides, only someone illogical and verifiably insane would leave a bag of coins lying on the floor.”
“Spellweavers are crazy.”
Iliad, Triska, and Darl set to preparing for Iliad’s scheme—sharing ideas, information, and the like. Nobody seemed too concerned with James, not in the way that he wanted. The fear of what he had accomplished still loomed in their eyes, and even more so in Pea’s and Darl’s. Iliad gave only a mild indication that he was concerned, but it was enough that James felt trapped by it all. He never would have thought he would possess such power, or would be able to tap into it. And he hated the way that the masks over their eyes failed to hide how they truly felt. They cared for him and that was what made their masks fall away so readily. It wasn’t just that they were scared of what had happened and what could happen, they were scared for what would happen to him. The thought that he couldn’t alleviate those fears made him even more self-conscious. He didn’t know what to do to reassure them. He would never fall prey to evil, not like Luthien or others. His mind was too strong for that. Nothing could turn him from what he knew was right, short of someone actually controlling his mind. That he hoped would never happen.
James didn’t say anything for the next hour, even when Pea tried to open a conversation with him. He just watched as the others prepared for a trip that he wouldn’t be able to take. Yet he understood why, and that understanding allowed him to at least see reason. He didn’t want to be captured by Luthien or by Luthien’s men. He didn’t want to face Luthien at all, in fact, and staying behind while the others did the dirty work meant he would stay safe for the time being.
When the others had left—leaving him, Pea, and the mumbling, crying Bourlinch behind—his mind shifted to concern and fear. He could only hope that they would be safe wherever they ended up. They were walking on a thin line that could waver at any moment. If one thing went wrong it all fell to pieces and there was no way for him to know about it.
He looked outside through the single porthole window above the door. Bending his fingers became a chore, and he sat there flexing in and out. His right hand worked better than the left, but when he touched his left and tried to massage the joints, sharp pains shot up his arm. He examined his left hand, looking at the scars and the scabs, at the joints and the bruises that were now forming. How was Bourlinch able to do what Triska couldn’t? Is it because he is a Spellweaver? Maybe he has skills that Triska never learned. Or is there some other reason for it? Another sharp pain ran up his arm. His left hand was in horrible shape, and he was left handed, always had been and always would be. He could bend the fingers slightly, but the right seemed to work nearly perfectly now.
I wonder if I can still use magic.
James took in a deep breath. He eyed one of the chairs piled up on the side of the room and raised his left hand. He concentrated, pulling up just enough energy to make the chair move, and then he imagined it and let the magic go.
He screamed before he knew what had hit him. The pain was so intense that he didn’t have time to do anything else. His mind sent signals that hadn’t come yet, as if somehow his mind knew beforehand that pain was coming. His skin seared and burned as if his hand was on fire and his bones felt like they were cracking in half, even though neither was really happening. He shut off the magic quickly. The chair fell to the floor, and he only noticed it by sound, completely unaware that he had moved it in the first place. He gripped his left hand with his right in an attempt to ease the pain. Blood pumped at alarming rates, as if his body were trying to fight something that it didn’t realize wasn’t there. His fingers twitched and trembled.
“What happened?” Pea said, alarmed.
“I-I…” he stammered. His whole body shook.
“You shouldn’t be using magic. You’re still weak.”
“S-sorry. I just had to know if I still could.”
“Well if you keep stressing yourself you’ll never be able to use it again.”
Pea only nodded. “Just calm down for a while. Let yourself heal.”
“What if I never heal Pea? What if I can never use magic again? What then?”
“It won’t change anything about who you are.” Pea curled his lip gently. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to put up a lovely, well thought sign about why exactly it is that Bourlinch’s shop will not be open for the next couple of days.”
Pea hopped off of a chair and ambled through the building, rummaging through anything and everything until he found a flat, blank board. Then he set to his plotting. James watched, a bit perplexed by what was going on. Pea used a little magic to carve a very well drawn message in clean cursive font and, before James had a chance to see it, the Littlekind lifted the board, went outside, and came back in empty handed, brushing his hands off in the process.
“There, that should be more than sufficient.”
James leaned back in his chair and tuned out his surroundings. He assumed Pea would give him some time to himself, so he sat there and watched the wall. Then he found himself tired and closed his eyes.
A loud bang on the door woke him. James started and began to topple in his chair and some how managed to catch himself with his foot before falling over. Another loud bang and the wooden door shook. Pea ran forward.
“It’s us,” Darl’s voice boomed at an even angrier tone than when he had left.
Pea unlocked the door and Iliad, Triska, and Darl plowed into the room. A pack was slung over Darl’s shoulder, sagging with the weight of unknown items. A soft, sweet smell wafted into the room. Pea shut the door behind them and locked it.
“Well that was fast,” James said.
“Fast?” Darl had to contain his voice; he was obviously flustered. “We’ve been gone for four hours. Nice touch with the whole ‘gone due to family infection’ thing.” He passed a mild grin in Pea’s direction.
James rubbed his neck. It was sore from resting in an awkward position. “I didn’t realize I’d slept that long.”
“No matter. We’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Naturally I would want the bad news first,” Pea said. “The good news softens the blow.”
Everyone took a seat around the long wooden table, dragging chairs from other parts of the building to do so.
“The bad news is it’s going to take another day or more to figure out which of the towers she’s mostly likely kept in. We watched for about two hours on the northern side, and then I took a twenty minute hike to the southern side just to double check. She could be almost anywhere really.”
“Okay,” Pea said, “that’s not all that bad. What’s the good news then?”
“The good news,” Darl grunted and cleared his through, “is that we think she’s in one of seven towers.”
Iliad started to speak but Darl broke him off.
“Iliad thinks it’s narrowed to four, but unfortunately there’s no way rely on that assertion.”
“Seven towers?” James said with melancholy in his voice. “There are eight towers on the northern side alone.”
“Well that’s not the half of it. Three of the towers are on the southern side.”
“I thought you said you were sure that she was in one of the northern towers,” Pea said inquiringly.
“I did,” Iliad said, irritated.
“I watched the southern side. Three towers showed the same sort of activity as the four we watched in the north. Frequent guard changes and waste disposal.”
“She’s likely in the northern towers though.”
“That may be, but it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility.”
“I’m not sure you understand the meaning of good news,” Pea said sarcastically.
Darl ignored him. “Now, there’s more good news.”
Everyone, even Iliad and Triska, looked at Darl with confused looks.
Darl slung his pack onto the table with a thud and said, “We officially have enough dried fruit to last us for a month. Courtesy of our host, Mr. Bourlinch, who so graciously donated his earnings to the cause.”
“Darl…” Triska trailed off and shook her head.
Pea glared at Darl reproachfully.
Darl shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Sorry.”