Katherine sat on the wagon bench next to Leo. She had the reins and a canteen of mead within arm’s reach. She was still in ironclad, even in broad daylight, but she no longer brandished a spear like she had done the night before. Her sharp eyes continually scouted ahead through the narrow slits of her red helm. She did not miss a thing. Not even a faint white line in the grass.
Moon eight was when the inventor and his new bodyguard made it back to the workshop in West Rufus. The trip was uneventful up until they ran into an obstacle about fifty strides from the front door. The wagon halted just before the line. The knight alighted and took the bronze spear from the back of the wagon.
“What’s wrong?” the inventor asked.
“I spot something suspicious. Don’t move,” she commanded.
She probed the white line with her spear. Nothing happened. She stepped closer and looked left and right. Then, she knelt down and touched the white substance on the ground. She eyed the material then brought it closer to her nose.
She sneezed and angrily kicked the dirt in front of her. She stood back, observed the surrounding for a few more seconds before returning to the wagon.
“It’s a magic circle, Leo. There’s a magic circle on your lawn. It doesn’t seem to be a trap but I’ll try to unravel it anyway. Any objection?”
“It is fine. That’s mine. Leave it be.”
He could not see her expression through the helm but her voice suggested a raised eyebrow or two.
“Heh? Are you dabbling in wizardry now? Did you figure out how to let ordinary people use magic?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t need your protection…”
“Hey, hey! Don’t assume I would lose to any second-grade wizard. Sure, not Her Highness or Felacia but I can hold my ground against Graham for a whole ten minutes!” the knight protested.
That implied she would still lose to Father Graham in the end.
Leo ignored the protest and signaled the knight to get on the wagon.
Grumpily, she climbed on and threw herself in the rider’s seat. The weight of her armor caused the bench to creak and the front of the wagon to dip a little. This told him that she was offended but he admitted no fault on his end.
The workshop’s interior appeared tidier than when he left.
The crucible near the fireplace had shrunk back to its normal size. His work table had been shoved to the left side of the room adjacent to the wall. All the notes and sketches he left on the table had been gathered into a single stack and weighed down by a sleeping black cat. Next to the cat was a stone bowl of burning incense. The incense burned with an unusual purple flame and emanated a refreshing lavender scent throughout the room.
Where the baskets of scrap metals usually laid, a new stone slab existed; anchored to the wooden wall by two thick nails. All the scrap metals in the baskets were hung on the stone slab and neatly arranged into rows of increasing dimensions. Upon closer inspection, he discovered the slab was made of lodestone and it attracted metals.
Everything else in his workshop, including various prototypes of his machines and his wardrobe, was nowhere to be found. Instead, he found a large cauldron sitting prominently in the middle of the room.
There, by the cauldron, stood a beautiful noblewoman in a sky blue gown. Her dark silky hair flowed down all the way to her slender waist further accentuated the whiteness of her smooth, flawless skin; like an overflowing river on melting snow at the break of spring.
“Welcome back, inventor. How do I look?” she greeted and swung round, pivoting on her left foot.
Instead of attraction, the inventor felt an intense cold rage burning in his vents. The damn hag was still in his workshop even though she took his money and promised to leave by dawn break. Thankfully, he had considered the possibility and had the knight handle the horses outside. His choice to go in alone and made Katherine camp outside paid off.
“Good. I’m not going to ask where my things are and why you haven’t moved out yet. Just hide this and everything magical quickly. There’s a red helm out there and I don’t want trouble,” the inventor informed while pointing at the cauldron.
“You mean we can’t just kill him and toss his corpse in the river?” the witch asked nonchalantly.
In a blink, the cauldron shrank to the size of a bean before his eyes and disappeared into the witch’s wide brim hat. Then, the hat too shrank and left behind only the white ribbon, which she proceeded to tie her hair with.
“Keep your bloody hands away from my guests and don’t dump corpses in the river I drink from!” the inventor scolded.
“It will just float downstream like the swampweed from the other moon and become someone else’s problem. You won’t taste a thing different. Don’t worry!” she assured.
“Fresh corpses don’t float; they sink to the bottom and stay down there for weeks!” he snapped back.
“Only if you leave the heavy stuff on. Strip him naked and watch him bellying up like every dead fish.”
Amid the argument, a third voice suddenly cut in. It was the red-helm knight who had just entered the workshop from the door behind the inventor.
“What in the name of Tenrid are you discussing!?”