A quick search of the other floors in the tower proved Lethia had been right. We didn’t find much that we could use at all. Quincy and Paulo managed to find some left over firewood that had been kept dry in a shed, as well as a flask of oil. Other than that and the meager supplies we brought with us, we had nothing.
Before I left for Belcliff like we had agreed, Quincy stopped me outside of the barn.
She pulled out her magic bag and reached her entire arm in. I thought she was finally giving me the low level magic items we had agreed on a while back, but then she extracted a medium sized pouch that jingled. My eyes widened at it.
“Gold,” Quincy answered promptly. “About five hundred worth, give or take. This is a fourth of the reward money I received for Lethia.”
“But I don’t need this much!” I protested. I tried to hand the bag back to her, only to have the wizard shove it into my chest firmly.
“Just keep it, Ailuran! I have more gold than I know what to do with. If you don’t want to take the lot of it, just be sure you take enough for a few days worth of supplies. Bribery might also be a good idea. We’ll need to make some connections if we’re going to be left in peace up here.”
“Fine,” I sighed. Then I added, because it seemed relevant and we hadn’t brought it up as a group: “Lethia wanted me to bring back a friend of hers. Some elf named Daedalus.”
Quincy frowned. “Daedalus? Hmm…but is he trustworthy?”
I shrugged. “She seems to think so.”
“Well why does she want him here?”
“She seems to think he can help Hakeem. Maybe even fix things up for us here.”
“Hmm,” Quincy frowned.
I crossed my arms and stepped a little closer, glancing in Lethia’s direction. She was busy cleaning up a one of the empty animal stalls, a focused look on her face. “Quincy, do you remember that weird exchange Paulo and Lethia had before we got here? Something isn’t right.”
She nodded once, glancing at Lethia surreptitiously as well. “Yes. It’s making me uneasy.”
“Keep an eye on them, will you? I’m afraid they’re planning something drastic.”
Quincy raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh! That sounds like concern. I was under the impression you wanted nothing to do with them?”
I glared at her. “Lethia is in a dark place right now, and so is Paulo. Someone saved my life when I was in a similar position. I can’t just sit by and let them ruin their lives, regardless of how I feel about them.”
The other woman took a step back, appraising me for a moment. Then she nodded slowly. “I’m starting to understand why Elmiryn is so attached to you, Nyx.”
I had nothing to say to that, so I left.
I had our supplies before sunset. So as not to raise suspicion, I only purchased the bare minimum for a few days. It would be too obvious if I bought a wagon full of supplies and headed up to Syria’s tower. People would talk. Left with just one task left to do, I slung my bag of provisions over my shoulder and flipped up the hood of the cloak Quincy lent me.
In the waning light, I followed Lethia’s directions, sticking to the shadows and avoiding the main streets whenever possible, and found myself outside of Daedalus’ shop. The elf had been described to me as a tinkerer, but as I looked up at his gold leaf sign, I realized his profession was that of a jeweler. Stepping through the small wooden door, a bell tinkled overhead.
A plump human woman with paling ginger hair pinned up in a frizzy bun and rosy red cheeks smiled at me pleasantly as I approached. She had a ruby necklace in her hands that she seemed to be inspecting with a lens. The shop was neat and well-organized, shiny baubles and precious trinkets gleaming under glass cases that were magicked to shower them in a bright glow.
Instantly, I wondered what these people did for security. Having lived as a thief for a good year of my life, I knew that if I had come across this place, I might’ve been tempted to steal something in order to sell it for food. There were no guards, and I wasn’t even impressed by the lock they had on their door.
Was there anything to barricade the windows with? I wondered as I glanced to check. Hmm. No latches. How odd! Is Belcliff really that honest a city, or is there something I’m missing?
But before I could really start poking around, the woman asked, “Hello! My name is Beryl. Is there something I could help you with, ma’am?”
I jumped and focused on her again. “Oh! Er, yes. I was hoping the owner was in? Daedalus?”
“Why, yes! He’s upstairs right now. Did you have an appointment with him?” She asked with a wrinkled brow as she consulted an open ledger on the counter.
I waved my hand. “N-No! No appointment. Um…a friend sent me. I was wondering if you could take these to him?” I reached into my pocket and pulled out Lethia’s old glasses.
Beryl paled and her eyes went wide.
“Oh!” She exclaimed, her hands flying to her mouth. “Oh my goodness! Wherever did you get these young lady?”
“Can you please just take these to Daedalus? I’m afraid it’s urgent.” I handed the glasses to her, my face tightening. This was such a risky task. What if these people weren’t as good friends with Lethia as the girl seemed to think? All it would take was for one of them to decide my visit was worth a tip to the authorities.
Grimly, I wondered what I was willing to do to ensure that wouldn’t happen.
But to my relief, Beryl took the glasses and hurried up the stairs in the back. As I waited, I took another look around the store. There were all sorts of things in the glass display cases and on the back shelves, but what gave me a start was seeing the metal statues in the corners of the room, including near the front entrance. The statues were unlike anything I’d ever seen before—tall slim elven men with what appeared to be pistols crossed over their armored chests. They were blank faced but seemed to have glass for eyes.
“Strange,” I murmured.
That was when I spotted the ruby necklace Beryl had left on the counter in her rush. Curious, I went to moved in for a closer look.
Before I even came close, the statues sprang to life in a metallic whir of groaning joints and hissing parts. Their eyes flared red as they pointed the pistols square at me and pulled back the hammers.
For the record, it is very unsettling to hear eight different guns cocked at the same time whilst being aimed at your head.
“Stand down!” a smooth, firm voice said.
I whipped around to see a tall elven man with cropped dark hair peppered gray at the temples coming down the final steps of the stairs. For a jeweler, he wore plain cotton clothes, and his face, though thin, was sagging and wrinkled. His neck was even baggy, as if he’d been heavier at one time of his life, but lost all the weight quickly. His electric blue eyes fastened onto me, and they were hard and appraising.
I tensed, but did nothing save to bow my head.
Daedalus was an elf. Elves were in touch with their spiritual essence as therians were, therefor he could sense the Mark that was on my back. I could see the judgmental edge come to his eyes quickly. I felt a dull ache at that, but a part of me, the part that was tired of the constant discrimination of others, bristled against the shame. I was not here for this man to judge. I was only here because Lethia wanted something from him.
The elf held up the glasses in a trembling hand and demanded harshly, “Where did you get this, Marked One?”
I squared my shoulders and frowned at him. “From a friend of yours.”
“A young blond one,” I said, an edge now creeping into my voice. I was tired. I wanted to go home. I did not feel in the mood for this man’s unkindness or his murderous guard statues.
Daedalus eyes widened as he took in what I’d told him. “There could only be one other person who would have these glasses and be as you say,” he said quietly.
I nodded curtly. “Are you still an ally, or will you turn me away?”
He shook his head slowly. “Her mistress did us great harm….”
“I’m not asking about whether you are still loyal to her mistress,” I replied, struggling to keep my patience. “I am asking if you are still loyal to her. She needs your help. Told me to come find you, give you those, and bring you back with me.”
I sighed. “You know where.”
The elf thought hard on this for what felt like ages. Behind him, Beryl fidgeted nervously. Finally the man nodded. “All right. What does she need?”
A small smile of gratitude appeared on my face. “She asked if you could please ride with me up to the tower in your spare part wagon with your tinker tools, a bottle of wine, and some medical supplies.”
His eyebrows rose. “Medical supplies? Is she hurt?”
I shook my head quickly. “No, but one of our group is. I imagine she believes you can help them.”
“What ails this person?”
“He is in a coma, but he is still clinging to life.”
He pursed his lips. “Well there isn’t much I can do for them, then. I’m an herbal healer, not a magical one. I do not have the ability to treat something of that nature.”
I cleared my throat and added. “There…. There is also one other that we have not found yet. We fear they may be injured upon locating them again, so if we could bring enough supplies to treat someone cut or with broken bones, I’d believe that would suffice.”
Daedalus turned to Beryl. “Close the shop early, Beryl. I’ll be leaving right now.”
A short time later and we were on our way back to Syria’s tower. The road was busy heading toward the port city of Reg’Amen, but when we veered off the less beaten path into the mountains, the company thinned and soon we were rumbling along alone with only a lantern and the moon to light the way.
As we rode, I could feel Daedalus’ discomfort sitting next to me on the driver’s seat. I glanced at him now and again, and I could see the sweat on his brow as he fought to avoid looking at me. I didn’t really know what it was like for people to sense my Mark. When I had snuck back to my village to recover some of my family treasures, I had run into my childhood friend Taila. She all but cringed from the sight of me, describing the sensation as some sort of spiritual repulsion. But I had no idea what that really felt like. Marquis acknowledged that he had sensed my Mark too, but he hadn’t displayed any outward signs of discomfort like Taila had.
In a poor attempt at alleviating the tension, I asked, “What year is it?”
The elf blinked, though he still did not look my way. “By Halward’s grace, 3571.”
I stared at him in shock.
3571? That means we’ve been gone over a year!
Then came the question I’d been waiting for.
“What is a Marked Ailuran doing with someone like Lethia Artaud?” Daedalus asked tightly. He cracked the reins, though it was unnecessary. The horse was going as fast as it could already.
I stared ahead as I answered, still dazed by the information I’d just learned. “It was chance. I was travelling with someone else when Lethia’s dog approached us.”
“Argos?” The elven man asked, and I nodded.
“He led us to her, and she begged us to aid her,” I continued. “She wanted to break Syria free. As it turned out, her cause was aligned with me and friend’s, so…we decided to help her.”
Daedalus jaw clenched. “And by the four blasted winds, you succeeded!”
I closed my eyes. “We had no idea it would turn out the way it had!”
“Turn out what way? Horrible? Ha!” The elf snapped, looking at me for the first time just to spare me a brief sharp glare. “Who was this ‘friend’ of yours? What were you two doing, getting involved in matters that had nothing to do with you? Are you a mercenary?”
My lip curled. I could feel my anger rise, despite my inner attempts at calming myself. “No,” I growled out.
“Enough!” I interjected loudly. “I am not bringing you along for you to interrogate me! If you want the whole story, ask Lethia! I, for one, am far too tired to suffer reliving my nightmarish ordeal just for a belligerent old elf who probably wouldn’t believe me anyway!” I slouched and glared into the dark of the night. “So just…leave me in peace!”
Daedalus harrumphed and cracked the reins again. “Peace, she says! As though this elf will have any peace after tonight….” But he asked nothing more of me.
We arrived in silence at Syria’s tower, the horses nickering as we passed the open gate and pulled to a stop just outside of the barn. From where I hopped down off the driver’s seat, I could hear yelling up in the tower.
“Who is that? What is happening?” Daedalus demanded.
I didn’t even answer him as I ran to the tower and rushed inside.
Quincy had her staff out and was nervously facing down Argos in the study, her voice tersely repeating a warning. The dog’s hackles were raised and he paced agitatedly back and forth. Behind the wizard Lethia and Paulo were practically nose-to-nose screaming at each other. In all the noise, I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying at first. Then I started to pick out the words.
“I cannot let you harm the boy, Argos! Do you understand? He is my responsibility! I can’t help Lethia if you insist on this!”
“We made a deal! You said you’d do it! You even threatened me on it. Now you’re changing your mind? You COWARD!”
“Shut up! I have the right to change my mind, lia! You’re the crazy one!”
“What are you all so upset about?” I said loudly, with a bit of vermagus force.
That got everyone’s attention fast. They all stared at me, eyes still lit with intensity.
“A silly altercation,” Quincy said first. “I’m trying to keep this from boiling over. You returned at a good time!”
“Daedalus?” Lethia exclaimed next.
I looked over my shoulder to see the elf staring at the enchantress in amazement. “So it was you!” he breathed.
Lethia hurried forward, brushing past me to hug the tall man. He blinked rapidly before patting her back awkwardly.
“My dear,” he coughed. “It is good to see you are still alive, but I’m afraid I’ll need some kind of an explanation from you!”
Lethia pulled away and held the elf’s shoulders. She smiled grimly. “Yes. Let’s talk outside.” She glared back at Paulo. “I find myself repulsed by the current company!”
With a gesture toward the door, she led Daedalus away to the field. I watched them go until the night swallowed them from sight.
I crossed my arms and looked at Quincy. “So the altercation? What was it about?”
She sighed and fixed Paulo with a withering look. “It appears that Lethia had made a rather grim deal with Paulo…but the boy lost his nerve, thank the gods!”
“I didn’t lose my nerve!” Paulo shot defensively. “I just realized how crazy it all was! I was angry when I said those, those…inseño things! People do all kinds of things when they’re angry!”
“But what?” I snapped, losing my patience. “What did you two make a deal about?”
“Lethia got Paulo to agree to come with us to Syria’s tower if he would…” Quincy paused and shot another dark look at Paulo, and this time the boy had the good sense to hang his head, “If Paulo would cut off one of her arms!”
I reeled, my face tightening in disgust. I glared incredulously at Paulo. “You agreed to WHAT?”
The teenager grumbled at his boots. “I just said I was angry, didn’t I? Coming back to our world was like coming out of a dream! The things I said in that dimension…I realized that wasn’t me!” Which I could’ve believed if he hadn’t added in a rush of petulance: “And it wasn’t as if I was agreeing to kill her! I wasn’t even going to take her dominant arm!”
I advanced on him, fists clenched so tight my bones ached. “That doesn’t make it any better! When are you going to accept responsibility for—” I broke off, my eyes widening.
“Wait a minute,” I breathed. “Was Lethia upset because you wouldn’t cut off one of her arms?”
Paulo frowned and nodded. “Yes! I’m telling you, that lia is crazy!”
Then it all made sense: Daedalus being here, the request for medical supplies, the odd behavior. Lethia wanted to atone for her mistakes by mutilating herself.
She wanted to do something that extreme, and we just let her out of our sight.