The witch craved a good story like a drowning man craved air. And she craved, even more, a good scandalous story, especially the one that could ruin someone’s life. Thus, she was eager to hear everything. She reveled in anticipation of the one scandal that would keep the Silverflow heiress off her backside for good.
Thereupon, she was visibly disappointed when the inventor revealed that he had nothing to offer. Not yet at least.
He told her the handkerchief was not paid in advance; it was the reward for the quest. For the time being, he wanted the witch’s divination power to search for Alexander D’Amore and in exchange, he would offer her the handkerchief and any gossip he may obtain from the princess later on.
In other words, he wanted to purchase her service on credit.
The witch stared wide-eyed at him in disbelief. She reiterated the important points, making a dramatic pause at every escalation towards absolute and undeniable cruelty.
“You don’t think she is going to keep her promises…—”
“No, I don’t think she is,” he confirmed with a head shake.
“—And so, to save your own skin, you are selling off your future queen to me—”
“—knowing full well that I am her worst enemy…and therefore, I will no doubt take the opportunity to make it as humiliating as possible, possibly ruining Ironheart’s dignity in the process.”
“Precisely!” he confirmed with a devilish grin.
“You are going to hell for sure,” the witch concluded in a dreary tone.
The inventor shrugged.
“Look at it this way. It was her idea to look for Alex, to begin with. I am merely the middleman. I’ll get my commission not from the princess herself but from the parties that help fulfill her objectives. If she pays me as promised, she will not have to deal with these…unpleasant parties. Else, it is her can of worms and she deserves it.”
The witch nodded understandingly and clapped her hands: “Clever. And what kind of commission are you expecting from me then?”
“Help me make sure she will carry out the council votes as promised,” he stated without missing a beat.
“Heh…plotting something big, aren’t you? Very well, as long as it’s not against me, it shall come to pass.”
“Perfect! Perfect! I will keep the red helm occupied while you consult Tenrid or whatever. You need half an hour, correct?”
“Err…not so fast. There is one trouble on that end: the count is currently protected. Divination magic does not work on him at the moment.”
“What do you mean…protected?”
She deeply exhaled and let out a long sigh.
“Well, you see, the count made a request at my place a while back. He showed up in person with the purest blue lapis I have ever seen and some amazingly aromatic apple ciders. He wanted something to protect himself from prying magic, all the way to eight prism hours for some funny reasons, hmm…something about an orgy and angry clerics.”
She paused to recall the reason but came up blank.
“Meh, that’s just so him, nothing out of the ordinary there.”
The inventor let out an exhausted sigh. The too-good-to-be-true deal was not that good after all.
“I suppose…no use crying over spilled milk now. How much longer will his charm last?”
“A few weeks, maybe more.”
“A few weeks!?” he growled, “Mine lasted only a few moons! Why does his last a few weeks?”
The witch groaned in disdain.
“You spent like…ten pris on your discounted two-prismers made from leftover shards. The stone for his eight-prismer is worth at least three hundred. It is so valuable and so potent that you need a special permit from both the trade guild and the church to even enter the city with one. Like they always say: you get what you paid for.”
The inventor was looking up the ceiling uninterestedly at first. But then he frowned and raised one hand to halt the discussion. Something was amiss indeed. At length, he put his fist beneath his chin and began to think.
“Did you realize something?” the witch asked but received no answer. She crossed her fingers and waited patiently until his lips began to move again.
He lifted his chin. His eyes immediately met hers.
“You shroomed him the charm before the dragon came, right?”
The witch nodded. “Last week, I believe; before I started working full-time on the cure.”
“Brown said Alex had an orgy in his stable the other day. That is, he was in Ironheart after receiving the charm. According to the description, he was naked like pigs at the time and did not sound like he had any trinket on him at all,” the inventor informed.
Without a sound, the witch unraveled the white ribbon on her silky hair. In the next second, her wide brim hat unfolded seemingly from the tiny wrinkles of the white ribbon. Then, from under the pointed hat, a bean-sized cauldron fell out and rapidly expanded in size as it fell. The cauldron abruptly braked the fall by itself and floated only a thumb width above the floor.
The work table and everything in the center also began shrinking. The black cat, though, was bizarrely elongated and morphed into a broomstick. The broomstick flicked all tiny furniture, one by one, up in the air and they flew in shallow arcs into the eternal void under the witch’s hat.
While the inventor was distracted, the witch changed to her usual attire behind his back. She surprised him with a smug when she entered his field of vision in a white blouse, black skirt, and dark purple robe. In her arms was a rolled-up tapestry panel, which she set down upon the newly created open space.
The tapestry was square, one and a half stride each side, and woven with inscriptions and magic circles ready to be used in a ritual. The cauldron then positioned itself at the center, on top of the tapestry.
“I think the amulet might be a trick to deter me from trying. Go outside and keep the red-helm busy for half an hour. I’ll unlock the door when it’s over.”