CHAPTER 1: SHE IS A PET HYDRA;
The wagon carrying Leo stopped at the marketplace. In front of him an obsidian pillar stood in the central square where the market streets converged. The polished jet-black beauty absorbed his conscious mind in manners no word could describe.
A horn flared from atop the south-facing stone wall of the Ruby Garden castle, bringing his attention to the sixth moon as its passage over the night sky began.
The guards ceased all patrols and returned to barracks until moonset. Shoppers flocked to the market streets. Eye-catching signs propped up along the gravel pavement, tiptoeing as close as to the busy market street as the law permitted. Bells rang atop the Church of the Spirit calling its most faithful followers for a routine prayer.
In a few more hours, the first Silverflow Council’s daily meeting would begin.
The city’s constitutional body, the Silverflow Council, held these daily meetings to deliberate contemporary issues. A councilor would raise two issues in front of the council. The council would then debate and vote to accept or reject proposed solutions.
Of the thirty-two votes in the council, they needed twenty-two abstains and approves to pass any motion.
There were sixteen masters holding one vote each. These masters were highly regarded scholars and artisans of sixteen professions in Ironheart. They were chosen in a weekly competition held at Silverflow Academy. While the masters were supposed to represent the common people, there was no restriction against nobles or clerics, nor was there any restriction on how many disciplines one could master.
The inventor who held four masters in Medicine, Linguistic, Architecture and Philosophy knew not all men were born equal. Among eighteen councilors of the current term, some held more powers than the others.
One such a person had just walked into the bar as he was deciding on his order. Entered, Lilia Silverflow, the monster who guarded eight votes in the Silverflow council and the throne of the Ruby Garden.
“Geez, I thought a slut wandered in. Such a turn off…”
“Said the loser who has no woman, pet, or even a horse,” she retorted.
“I’m sorry, but do you need money to buy proper clothes? That skimpy outfit of yours makes ragtag looks like a king’s robe.”
“Please ignore him, Yo—uh…Yer Highness. How may I be of assistance tonight?”
The bartender sighed and cut in. His thick West Rufus’s accent prevented him from pronouncing “Your” properly; it came out as something akin to “Yer” instead.
Princess Lilia, albeit visibly agitated, tightened her priestess cassock to hide the revealing white-and-orange court wizard robe underneath and sat down.
It must have been awkward to wear that robe in a room full of male priests. Whoever came up with the robe design for sorceresses in this city must have been a huge pervert.
“I need to see Count D’Amore, is he here?”
So she was looking for Alexander D’Amore, a notorious philander in this city.
The guy had a knack for scandals. His very birth was an unfathomable scandal; the union of Lady D’Amore, a noblewoman in the time the queens of Silverflow still ruled over Ironheart, and a centaur. Centaurs were not real but fact had never stopped D’Amore from bragging the size of his male junk in bars everywhere.
“I beg yer pardon. What make ye think I would know his whereabouts when twice a dozen men didn’t?” the bartender shrugged.
“That sounds like a terri-lot of enraged husbands. It must have been good for business.”
“Ye say, Leo. He had an orgy in my stable yesterday. Since then, my bar has turned into a second guild of a sort for people whose wives, sisters and…hell, mothers and grannies, he fornicated.”
A small bell chimed from a kitchen behind the counter. The bartender took a short pause to deliver Leo’s order and turned to the princess.
She only ordered a glass of water, citing the fact that she had had breakfast in the castle.
“So do you know who else I can talk to? I need…”she gestured Brown to the other end of the counter and whispered something into his ear.
Wide chin lifted up in a grin, the bartender walked to where Leo was.
“Hey, Leo, she wants yer help.”
“She wants what?—”
The inventor almost choked on white bread.
“—back channel sources, that means ye.”
The princess frowned. Leo could tell she too was not keen on the idea.
“You want me to go after the count on the back channels he runs? Sorry, can’t do. I have enough impossible on my list, I don’t need one more.”
“Father Felacia told me you’re missing an ingredient for the cure. I can help you with that.”
She talked about transmutation, a branch of Wizardry and Alchemy. Her assistants at the Observatory discovered a memo on transmutation from the archbishop while they cleaned up the library for her arrival last week.
According to her statement, Dawurry’s adventitious root, one of the key items on the cure’s recipe, was the herb His Excellency studied in the memo.
“Wait, he did a study in Ironheart?”
“Yes, he did, twenty years ago. I thought it would make an interesting topic that combined two areas I’m a master of. Long story short, I managed to transmute common reagents into a powdered form of the root at Alchemist’s Quarter three or four days ago. Testing is underway to verify its medical properties and the results are encouraging so far.”
“Scholarly rant in my tavern, I thought I’ve seen everything,” the bartender muttered and recused from the conversation.
Leo had doubts on the validity of the tale. The archbishop and Dawurry’s root sounded too good to be a mere coincidence. But, he would take whatever chances he was given to end the plague and get the city back on secession from Azeth talk.
He gave her a vial of light purple oil.
“I don’t have enough for a cure sample at the moment. This is all I have with me: Midnight Virgin’s extract; the oil of a flower that lives in the Dark Forest.”
“I never said I could transmute the cure. It would take years and it would be prohibitively expensive. This will do just fine. So, how did you get this?”
“I have a supplier who lives there and she passes away tonight. You might have heard from the news. His “Excellency” had excellently sic a dragon on her.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow. She brought the vial closer to her eyes, shaking the vial slightly as she inspected the liquid inside.
“Are you saying the witch is the supplier?”
“She was selling these through a black market vendor in West Rufus, along with other…disturbing artifacts.”
“She was doing what? What kind of—ah, never mind, I don’t want to know.”
She packed up the vial of Midnight Virgin’s extract in a piece of cloth and put it away under her robe. After that, she washed her hand with water from her glass and disposed of the handkerchief she wiped her hand and the glass with.
“Just so you know. The witch also did divination as a service. Had she been alive, she would have been able to find the count in half an hour for eighty pris with membership discount. That costs about the handkerchief you’ve just thrown away.”
“Membership discount…what in the name of the angels…”
“You think it’s shocking. Wait until you hear about thousands of pris bids on a handkerchief drenched in your bodily fluids. Wonder not, Your Highness, they have the means to tell if the fluid is yours truly or not.”
No matter whom he told this to, he would receive the same reaction: speechless and disgusted. For the princess, she was so disturbed that she drew a decorated rosary from under her white cassock and—in a motion as though kissing the metal object—set the trash bin on fire with magic:
“Inflammable,” she whispered.
And then, a second spell “Cryophilic” to put out the fire.
“A little overreacting, don’t you think? Why does it matter to you if someone out there was jerking off with your handkerchief?”
“You have to ask? This is sexual harassment, plain and simple.”
“Feisty aren’t you now? That makes wonder, what exactly did the count do to you this time? Did he pop your cherry?”
“Vulgar lowlife! That’s none of your business.”