All Silverflow masters were given a key to their respective “quarter” at the Academy. The city vowed to provide its masters with the best equipment, the finest materials and any financial assistance they desired to advance their study. And these quarters were the culmination of the city’s providence. Most masters would hole up in their quarters and make the most out of their one-week term. Though, a few masters chose to set up private workshops outside of the Academy for various reasons.
Leaving the greenhouse and entering the academy’s main building, Leo soon found himself at the workshop he had not entered for days. He gave the heavy steel door a push.
It was locked from the other side.
“Who is it?”
He heard the princess’s voice booming from inside.
“Leonardo de Price at your service, Your Highness,” he replied.
There was a moment of silence. He waited for the princess to open the door and let him in. But his anticipation was betrayed when he received another question from the princess.
“Have you found D’Amore?”
It was his turn to stay silent.
“You’re not Price, are you? Who are you really and what do you want?” the princess probed him again.
“It’s really me. I’m the one who made four thousands off your wet handkerchief.”
Another prolonged silence ensued.
“Kindly open this door, please,” he knocked on the door again.
Suddenly, a hand emerged from the wall to his right and grabbed his shoulder. He started and yanked the hand away. Next, a man’s head extruded from the polished granite surface. Its chalk white skin and hair were like that of a sculpture. The head turned a full circle about its disembodied neck and then fixed its blank, white eyes on Leo.
And then, the head retracted and disappeared into the wall. Four burly arms burst forth and grabbed Leo. Before he could comprehend what was going on, the arms pulled him into the wall. Their grip overwhelmed his resistance. At one fell swoop, he was sitting on the floor inside the alchemist’s quarter.
Before him were three red-helm knights, snickering. All three of them wore the same outfit; a chainmail on top and gambeson underneath. Scattered the premise were pieces of their plated armors. The chalk white head belonged to the shortest knight of the trio. It appeared he had put a flour-like powder on his face to make it white.
Near a distillery and by the princess in her skimpy sorceress robe was Katherine. The female knight only wore a gambeson and leather gauntlets. She nodded to greet when her brown eyes met Leo’s.
The princess did not take her eyes off the boiling flasks. She waited for the inventor to get back on his feet and get closer before she, as she would put it, “wasted her breath” on lowlifes like him. The knights nudged him towards the princess. They offered no real explanation on how they pulled him in through the wall.
No, there was no time. Her Highness expected his immediate attendance and she was not in the mood for pleasantry.
“Price, give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw you off the cliff next to Solaris Observatory right now?”
“May I ask how is it going at the church?” he cut in, “It appears to me that you clerics are never happy with anything. Also, to answer that question—”
“It’s a rhetorical question, Price. Don’t answer it.”
“But mine isn’t.”
“The church is fine. We’re happy when people don’t involve our belongings in their sensual fantasies. Now, let’s talk about that frog…”
“Frog? Do you mean the person who bought your handkerchief or…?”
“I mean D’Amore and that toad too if you will. Where can I find them?”
“How come he’s a frog now?”
“Allow me to explain,” one of the knights stepped in.
A few moons ago, they got words that the count had been sighted at Brown’s Boulder. They raided the place and had him cornered in a room on second floor. When they stormed in, he was gone. There remained only traces of cloaking incense, half-burned spell scroll and a piece of copper frog token in a burner.
It was a popular set up for an invisible transformation ritual. All the ingredients necessary for the ritual; the incense, the scroll, and the animal token; were easy to buy and conceal.
“Crooks love this set up”, the princess elaborated, “This scroll transforms them into a small animal and this incense cloaks them from Visionary. The incense is expensive but a frog doesn’t need as much smoke as a man to go undetected.”
She planned on tracking him with a divination ritual called Visionary, three times a day, at random times every day, and send guards to spook him into staying a frog all the time.
“I don’t have time waiting for him to go broke and crawl out of whatever hell hole he’s in, notwithstanding. I want him arrested, now. If you know his whereabouts, speak up and I will reward you more than the sum you can get from selling my underwear.”
The knights and Leo chuckled.
“Fantastic humor, Your Highness, but I’m afraid I cannot appraise your truly exquisite and most intimate item unless you grace me a glimpse of it.”
“I shall permit this request of yours.”
She redid the knot about her waist that seemed to be the only thing holding her sorceress robe from falling apart into a simpler knot. Her soft and pure white hands, the hands of a noblewoman who had never known hardship, handed him one end of the string that would undo her attire in one tug. At this close distance, he could see the color of her flesh through the veil-thin white patches of this revealing outfit. He trusted the same could be said about the orange patches on her private parts but the color made it much harder to discern.
She smiled; a provocative smile.
The male knights faced away at Katherine’s shouting. The female knight watched them to make sure there would be no peeking.
“Wait, you don’t really…?”
“Go ahead. I don’t mind fulfilling your last wish.”
Emanating from these words was the cold of steel. She still smiled; a sinister smile. Her silver eyes looked at him the same way a cat looked at a mouse entering a jar of maple syrup.
The knights giggled. Katherine gave them a smack on the heads to stop them from giggling.
Leo let go of the string, stepped away from Lilia and humbly bowed before the princess.
“You honored me, Your Highness. But I would like to keep my feet on the ground and my name in the history book.”
“How cowardly you are then.”
She pitied him, tightening the knot of her robe to its proper form.
“You really look forward to throw somebody off that cliff, don’t you?”
“No, that privilege is for you only. Everyone deserves the utmost attention to the method with which they are disposed of. For example, D’Amore! I plan to—”
“—I’m not interested—” Leo tried to recuse himself from the details but the princess refused to stop until she finished the example.
“I plan to use a giant bubble of holy water. I’m going to drown that slimy scoundrel in a giant bubble of holy water. How fitting, don’t you think?”
It became apparent to him that this woman just wanted to murder somebody, anybody, to satisfy her sadistic desires. This quickly became one of those situations where, if he did not tread lightly, he could end up in the belly of the neighbor’s pet hydra instead of his own.
“May I remind you that execution without a fair trial is against the law?”
“It’s a rhetorical question. I told you not to answer rhetorical questions.”
There was no question, unless she was talking about the first thing she asked him after the knights spirited him in here.
“Pardon my forgetfulness, Your Highness.”
“You’re forgiven. Now, have you found D’Amore?”
“Pardon my forgetfulness again, Your Highness.”
“I said you’re forgiven—”
“You misunderstood me. I have nothing to report today. There are too many things going on at once, I forgot about your request.”
Her scolding resounded in his ears and bounced back and forth between the walls of his skull.
“You forgot to look for D’Amore but you didn’t forget to sell my handkerchief?”
“That was a joke—”
“I didn’t have your handkerchief. You burned it already. Look, I promise to make him a priority as soon as granny lets me off the hook.”
And it was at this point in the conversation that he was reminded how there were not two but three pet hydras in his life these days. If he could turn into a frog to escape these fanatics, he would.
Then again, frogs cannot fly and he would still go squashed at the foot of that cliff.