The inventor’s face stiffened. His expression was one of utter horror as he screeched:
“You want me to go after the count on the back channels he controls? That’s crazy talk! Nobody in their right mind would accept this job. Not even as a ploy to scam you of your advance!”
“Is it really that difficult?” she asked.
“Difficult? Ha! I’m saying this aloud so that his underlings won’t shiv me when I walk out of that door! Good riddance, princess! Some of us don’t have red-helm knights guarding him day and night…”
Having listened to his excuses, the princess raised her hand to interrupt his rambling and made her offer.
“Father Felacia told me you’re missing an ingredient for the cure. I can help you with that. I’ll also give you my council votes for one motion of your choice. Whether to grant red-helm guard protections or expand your budget, I can make it happen,” she said.
The inventor frowned.
These unbelievably favorable terms made Leo wonder the plight behind her desperation. His instinct told him to probe deeper into her proposal and find out how much she was willing to give up. He gestured for the bartender to give them some privacy and crossed his fingers.
“I’m listening…” he said.
In the simplest terms possible, she explained to him the idea behind 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 information, Dawurry’s adventitious root, one of the key items on the cure’s recipe, was the herb the archbishop studied in the memo.
The inventor listened to the explanation in disbelief. The archbishop and Dawurry’s root sounded too good to be a mere coincidence. He did not know enough Wizardry to comprehend half of what she was saying. But, the idea of transmuting common reagents into a powdered form of individual aspects and mixing them to achieve the same effect as the original herb sounded plausible.
Next, she showed him a vial of dark grey powder.
“This is all I can give you for now: Dawurry’s adventitious root essence; the transmuted imitation of the herb according to His Excellency’s memo. This is not the herb you want for the cure but it should serve as a proof of concept,” she said and put the vial on the counter.
She gestured with her head and gave him permission to take it.
“I’ll take a look,” he gave her an affirming nod and accepted the vial.
Then, the inventor handed the bartender a paper receipt to withdraw the deposit from the tavern’s icebox. He gave the princess three Midnight Virgin’s stems from the dull brown leather pouch and returned the pouch to the bartender who wrote him a new receipt on the spot.
Being frozen in the icebox for so long, they felt cold and slightly brittle. But, the unique texture, soft to touch and smooth like the skin of a maiden, could still be picked up by her fingers. She brought the stem closer to her eyes. The semi-transparent body scattered candlelight like precious gems.
“Fascinating…How did you get this?” she put the stem down and asked.
“I have a supplier who used to live in the forest. You might have heard from the news. His Excellency had excellently sicced a dragon on her.”
She raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Are you saying the witch is the supplier?” she asked, suspiciously eyeing the stems again.
“You see, she was selling these through various black market vendors in West Rufus, along with other…disturbing artifacts,” he explained.
“She was doing what? What kind of—ah, never mind, I don’t want to know.”
“Better that you don’t,” the inventor nodded.
She packed the bundle of Midnight Virgin’s stems in a piece of cloth and put it 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.
Leo observed her actions in amusement. His lips curled up in a smug and he told her:
“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 two pris after membership discount. That handkerchief you just threw away can easily fund two hundred divinations!”
Her eyes widened.
“Membership discount…what in the name of the angels…” she murmured.
“Four hundred pris for a handkerchief drenched in your bodily fluids at the auction house, Your Highness! Wonder not! They have the means to tell if the fluid was yours truly or not,” the inventor mused.
His hands wiped invisible handkerchiefs along the princess’s feminine curves in slow and suggestive motions. His hands did not touch her skin but the suggestion caused the princess to freeze up. Her expression was no doubt one of disgust.
“Vulgar lowlife! Get your filthy hands off me!” she finally snapped at him. Her hand gripped the pectoral cross and brought it in front of him. Her face was red with anger.
At that instance, something hard hit him from behind. The black metal surface of a frying pan tapped his nose twice and when he heard the voice of the bartender, he knew he had gone too far.