Ack. I forgot to post this yesterday. I mean, I had it queued up, but I didn’t schedule it. So I apologise for this late post! Hopefully you have time to read it over the weekend. Which is when I should be rewriting the story…
The shop whose address was written on the paper Waheed had given me looked more like a library than a shop. Where Waheed’s place was open and sunlight streamed through, this was closed up, any windows were either blackened with tar or blocked by books. Stepping inside felt comfortable, but only because I felt more comfortable in darkness. I felt that normally people would ask why there weren’t more lights around in a dark shop, but not here. Even a small ember was liable to set the whole place ablaze. While the centre of the shop was covered in a dusty, moth eaten carpet that had in a past life been coloured red, the walls were slammed with books. They lined shelves from the floor to the ceiling, no exaggeration, and there were several piles of them standing perhaps a head taller than I was. Scrolls covered the wooden counter before me, such that I only found the bell by looking for the blue glow of Glint. I touched it, and the crystal discharged.
“Please don’t touch that,” a soft voice spoke from somewhere behind the counter. A dark figure approached, and I could tell from his manner of dress that he either charged extravagantly for his wares or he was running a bookshop to keep busy. Though his robes were as drab coloured and plain as anyone from the Schola Arcanum, they were obviously of exceptional quality.
“Hadrian, I presume?”
“Saw the sign above my store, did you?” Hadrian chuckled, easing himself onto a stool I hadn’t seen behind the counter. “Yes, I am he. What service may I perform for you today?”
I waved at the books arrayed around us. “I wouldn’t be here without reason. You seem to be in the business of knowledge.”
“Aye,” he nodded. “We are in Cadameria, are we not? Magic rules here. If you wish to stay in the city, you would do well to acquaint yourself with at least the basic workings of Glintstone and its applications throughout our society. I have a few primers I can recommend, if that is what you wish.”
I leaned closer, and Hadrian, sensing I was about to make a request that not every customer who walked in through his doors would, leaned in as well. The shadows seemed to deepen around us as I whispered, “What I’m interested in isn’t in any primer you can show me, if you catch my drift.”
Hadrian chuckled and leaned back. “That is a dangerous path you walk, my friend.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“They all say the same. And yet, look at Azkag the Necromancer. Buried a thousand years in a tomb with an unbreakable seal.” He stared at a far off wall as he said this, as if remembering. “Still. Azkag was a prolific compiler of the necromantic arts. If you wish to go down that route, remember the lesson his unlife teaches, and be sure to learn the right ones. Too many potential Grand Necromancers repeat history, having learned the wrong lessons.”
“Such a great depository of knowledge this is,” I said, “if the Grand Necromancer’s works are available for purchase. What does the Schola think?”
Hadrian’s face turned into an unpleasant frown, “The Schola Arcanum claims that magic is meant to liberate us, to usher us into a great new age of plenitude and prosperity. They tell us that magic is the key to proper governance, a thriving society and an enlightened government that does the will of the people.”
He shook his head. “No. I believe the same as they. Where we disagree, however, is in the limits the Schola enforces upon the populace. I believe that by limiting how much magic, as well as the kind of magic one is allowed to study, they do Cadameria a great disservice. I also believe they do this,” he snorted here before continuing, “only to maintain their own grip on power.”
“So Cadameria should be ruled by a Grand Necromancer?”
“If they are the most powerful mage in Cadameria? Yes.” He smiled again. “Hence, why the complete writings of Azkag the Necromancer, Kazbaul the Dragon Caller, and even of Mad Magnar Teufelsson, Son of the Daemon, are available for sale. Copies, of course,” he said, attempting to be reassuring and failing, “Magnar wrote his grimoires on the skins of the sacrifices to his father. You can imagine that human skin pages aren’t exactly available in great numbers.”
“Unless one means to make sacrifices to Magnar’s old man,” I joked. “But I am not interested in any of those, sadly.”
Hadrian raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Did you not say that you walked in here because this place sold knowledge?”
I pushed back my cloak, revealing my daggers. “Don’t call it knowledge, then. Call it…intelligence. Call it information. That’s what I’m here for.”
“Assassin,” Hadrian practically hissed the word. “Well. I can’t say none of them have it coming. What do you wish to know?”
“Nothing too original,” I said, covering my daggers again. “Easiest point of entry to the Grand Magus Spire, patrols of the guards and their change schedules, perhaps even the Grand Magus’ itineraries, if you have them. And I’ll pay extra for anything else that might be helpful.” I plopped my pouch down on the table, the gold coins jangling inside them. “Price to be negotiated after I determine the usefulness of my information.”
“And how do I know you’ll pay a fair price after you get it?”
“You wound me, Hadrian. I aim to be one of your most loyal customers. I wouldn’t bite the hand that fed me. And besides,” I smirked. I love this joke. “I’m a killer, not a liar.”
Hadrian snorted, not amused. They never were. He reached under the counter and produced several sheets of parchment, an inkwell and a quill that I could see was tipped with Glintstone. He tapped the tip and laid the quill down on the parchment, and the pen stood upright, dipping itself in the ink bottle, ready to take dictation.
His information was good indeed, if it were all true. I paid him his gold and took the parchment that contained all the information I’d need to memorise. “Thank you, Hadrian. Here’s to a lasting relationship.”
“Before you go…” Hadrian said, stopping me just as I was about to leave. “Whose neck do you intend to sheathe your blades in?”
“Do you sell or buy information?”
“Both,” he said, wincing when he realised his mistake. He immediately pushed a small stack of gold my way. I grinned and took it, and told him who my mark was.
His eyes widened. “Him? If anyone deserves it…wait,” he held up a hand. “Let me give you this one, for however much you may pay me. Take it for free, if nothing else.”
“I’m listening, but I doubt your motive now.”
“If I knew you were going to kill that senile buffoon I’d have given you a discount. Listen closely, then. Go to the Red Light District, and find Alma, the wood elf. She works at the Silk Dragon Tea House. She has carte blanche access to all the Schola, something not even available to the Grand Maguses. Don’t ask me why. It seems she’s their favourite, or something. She may be privy to information I am not.”
I nodded, and placed the stack of gold he had returned to me on the counter. “That’s worth some gold, Hadrian. Thank you.”
“Just kill the gods be damned scoundrel,” he snarled. “You’d be doing Cadameria a great service.”
“The only cause I serve is sitting on your counter,” I replied, and left.
Time to test out Hadrian’s intelligence. I’m no fool, of course. I have no reason to doubt him, but I have no reason to trust him, either. Perhaps this girl Alma might be able to corroborate Hadrian’s information. And she’s in the Red Light District too, which is a bonus. There’s the pouch of spice I bought from Waheed. Maybe I could test it out. No more than a pinch, he said. Well, let’s give it a try.
An idea came to me as I was halfway to the Red Light District. Yes…yes. I was in Cadameria, after all. Magic ruled here. Who was I to naysay it?
Well, that was something. I knew what was rumored to have happened, of course, but Alma told me the whole story when I met up with her again later.
In this respect, Hadrian’s intelligence was good. I found Alma right where he said I would, at the Silk Dragon Tea House in the Red Light District. She was a slender brown haired elf, dressed all in red, and young for an elf – I say in her later seventies, but you never could tell with elves. I could see why some people might want her as a favourite, but she didn’t do anything for me. I chatted her up, and gauged her reaction when I mentioned Lord Vykstra, Grand Magus of the School of Abjuration, current Head Administrator of the city of Cadameria. It was bad – which was good for me. She wrinkled her forehead, turned away, and seemed to withdraw into herself at the mere mention of the name. She refused to give details but as much as she was his favourite, he wasn’t hers. Perfect.
I prodded her for more information, though she was hesitant to give it, unlike Hadrian. There are two kinds of professions in which you need to be able to size up a mark at first glance – mine, and hers. She had my measure the moment I stepped foot inside the teahouse, and knew what I was. Obviously, she didn’t want anything to do with what I had in mind. But I had her measure, too. She knew what men liked and what they wanted, but in terms of security she knew as much as I did of being a seamstress. Though she thought the information she had divulged was harmless, in truth it was exactly what I wanted.
I paid her for her time, and spent the next two weeks preparing, testing Hadrian’s intelligence. All of it was good, and worth every gold piece. The guards moved almost exactly when he said they would, changed when he said they would, played dice and cards right at the spots he had pointed on the parchment he gave me. In the end, I could have snuck my way past them blindfolded. Of course, the Schola Arcanum proper was sure to have magical defenses, alerts and alarms, making forced entry impossible.
And so, the solution was to enter without force.
Alma had seen me before so I couldn’t be the one to pass her the pitcher. I couldn’t be seen by her at all, in fact, even though I had managed a disguise as one of the kitchen’s serving boys. To the untrained eye I looked like any of the other urchins running about obeying the cook’s orders, but as I said Alma had a keen eye, and so I couldn’t be anywhere near her when she walked into the kitchen.
She arrived just as she said she would. Apparently she thought there was no harm in telling me about Lord Vykstra’s habit of sipping on elderberry wine before laying with her. That was information worth a lot of gold to any poisoner, but I suppose she thought I worked more with my blades than with the subtler art of assassination. Good. That means she won’t suspect I had dumped half of Waheed’s bag of spice into the wine before I passed it to another serving boy, who passed it to her. I snuck out of the kitchen and far away from the Schola when I saw her leave the kitchen with the contaminated pitcher. I was going to miss the moment of the kill, but as long as his heart stopped, it didn’t matter to me.
I must confess to not actually knowing what would happen if one takes too much of that time altering spice. For all that Waheed told me it would just give him a case of mild diarrhoea. I had a feeling, though, that if that were the case Waheed would not have insisted that I take ‘a pinch, no more’. It was also magical enough that the Schola would outlaw its use. That told me that whatever happened to Lord Vykstra after ingesting half a bag of the stuff, it wouldn’t be pretty.
The rumors I heard the next morning were terrifying. Everyone had said Lord Vykstra had died of course (died, I noticed the word usage, and not murdered), but the details as to how the Grand Magus met his end was unclear. Some said he had cast a portal and closed it when he was halfway through. Some said he had tried to conjure flowers as a trick but accidentally summoned a giant snake. Some even said that he actually failed to cast his spell – he intended to fly out his window, but forgot to cast the spell, and plunged to his doom. I learned why these tall tales circulated soon enough – the official stance of the Schola as to the Grand Magus’ demise was ‘magical mishap’.
At least I knew the spice overdose worked. Still, I was curious as to what exactly happened, and went to find Alma, who was overlooked in the whole issue despite most likely being the first witness as to what happened. It pays to be everyone’s favourite apparently.
She suspected I had something to do with it immediately, and it took quite some time to assure her that I did not. This wasn’t such a farfetched idea – one as powerful as he had many enemies, of course. I told her I needed to know the truth, if I was to fool my employer into thinking I had done it and thus be able to get the rest of my pay. She believed me, and told me what had happened.
The spice took effect almost as soon as Lord Vykstra drained his first cup. His eyes went wide, his face pale, and he became so unsteady on his feet he was forced to sit down. When Alma went over to ask what was wrong, he didn’t answer. She noticed him sweating, and went into his chambers to fetch a cloth to wipe him down with. She rushed back to him when he heard him scream, and at the sight of the magus she let one out of her own.
I decided the closest rumors got was ‘portal mishap’. From what she described, it sounded like several portals had opened inside the magus’ body. Random body parts started bursting forth from his body, of all kinds – a muscular arm here, a withered leg there, even several heads. All the while the magus was screaming, writhing as he floated in the air, the time traveling properties of the spice running amok inside his Glintstone lined veins. It seemed like hours but was actually more like minutes. When the magic ran out, an unrecognisable mass of flesh made of limbs, appendages and other body parts fell to the floor, unmoving.
Alma didn’t know any more. She grabbed her things and ran straight back to the tea house. I’m guessing that was another reason why she wasn’t a suspect. I paid her for her information, thanked her, and left.
She was actually right about me. I did prefer to stick my daggers in a mark’s heart. But as I said, this was Cadameria, where magic ruled. A little magical assassination helps keep things fresh.
I will be posting the final update to the story on Monday (I’ll try and queue it up early so I don’t mess things up again). Missed the first part? Want to see what prompted this story? Visit the links below!