You cut one guy’s face off and all of a sudden people look at you strangely. You’d think that the Duke’s personal guard would be made of sterner stuff. I’m sure they’ve done all manner of depraved things in service of their lord and master the Duke. Who are they to look askance at me for one defacing? It wasn’t like the guy didn’t deserve it. Everyone deserves it. Justified or not (it isn’t) Bolbec and Cavnas are eyeballing me like a dangerous forest cat. Finchley would occasionally grin at me like we shared some private joke. The other guy whose name I don’t know and never says anything was the same. I guess I can take comfort in that.
Eedraxis’s . . . compound I’ll call it, was much the same, the tree looked a little more sickly and burned perhaps and there was some manner of glowing weather-vane thing sticking out the top of the main building but otherwise it looked like the same madman’s workshop was I visited almost two years ago looking for poisons. I think that if I had found a normal black market alchemist instead of this lunatic things would be much different now. I made a lot of mistakes in those early days. With a reliable source of drugs and poison I think I could have handled my business much neater and more quickly. The Duke would probably be dead by now. Maybe I should learn alchemy myself. You know, in my spare time.
While the compound itself was the same the surrounding area was much different. There was a large bonfire nearby and a roped off area with several wagons. Big wagons. Big wagons heavily laden with junk. It was as random as collection of junk as you’d ever want to lay eyes on. There were a couple of ruffians listlessly guarding the piles and up “front” was a battered table where a dozen or so people were queued up to hand over their junk. Manning the table was a brawny scruffy looking fellow who looked like a lumberjack but was dressed like a prosperous merchant. He had on a tight cap that was pushing out a mass of hair at the edges like a reverse muffin. With him was a female gnome with eyes that bulged out like those of a tree lizard and who had an extra joint between the elbow and the wrist. I haven’t seen a lot of gnomes but I don’t think they’re supposed to look that pale and glistening. Kind of like a slug’s flesh. Brawny was examining whatever the people brought up to him and the gnomette was freaking everyone out with her weirdness and then handing them a couple bricks of wandermeal.
If you don’t know what wandermeal is consider yourself lucky. It’s an edible rock made of flour and water with some other surprises. It keeps for months without spoiling. People say that it was invented in the Shire but that is utter bullshit. Shirefolk would never create a foodstuff so terrible. The best wandermeal is bland and tasteless. The worse has all kinds of flavors. Fun fact about wandermeal, it fills you up but it has little to no nutrition in it – if that’s all you eat you have zero energy and eventually you die for malnutrition. The scheme playing out was as simple as it was obvious – the war is starting to make things scare so come trade all your worldly possessions for a couple handfuls of what is technically food. An alchemist can turn out wandermeal by the basketload easily.
The ruffians by the wagons looked over incuriously as I headed for Eedraxis’s cottage but bustling out from the front door (inasmuch as the random collection of wood and iron can be said to have a front) was the gatekeeper – a Kostelos man dressed in the motley of a renegade. He was a tall fellow with a tall hat that made him seem even bigger, although he was skinny as an elf-maiden. He had a hatchet on his belt that his hand strayed to touch for comfort every few moments. When he pointed at the table and its two odd inhabitants his arm wasn’t quite straight – like it had a little crook in it from being broken and not healing correctly.
“No one is allowed inside, if you want to sell something you go over there.”
“Oh I’m not here to sell anything, I just want to chat with my old pal. He used to get very upset if people came around here, looks like he got over that huh? Commerce can do wonderful things for people’s attitude. Some say that war profiteering is bad but look what it’s done for Eedraxis and his social anxiety. Marvelous isn’t it?”
“Eedraxis isn’t seeing anyone.”
I moved to walk past him “I’m sure he’ll be happy to see me.”
Put his non-crooked arm out to block me “No one is allowed in.”
I gave him a cool look “Take your hand off me sir.”
The Duke’s guards weren’t right there with me but they were nearby, and they look like some bad men if you don’t know better like I do. The Kostelos man looked at them nervously but he didn’t back down. He did draw his hand off me though.
“I can’t let you in.”
I snapped my fingers “Hey, I know you don’t I? You’re Grey Horse right? You’d skulk around on the edge of town selling phony charms and potions? I remember Augrim talking about what a disgrace you were.” I chuckled “Man did he want to kill you. The whores used to talk about you too, you’re the one with the dick that . . .”
“No one calls me Grey Horse anymore, my name is Sartorious now.”
“Wow, that’s about as un-Kostelos a name as you can conjure up now it’s it? Decided to join the winning side huh? Good luck with that. Look Sartorious, I don’t want to get into a while thing with you here, can you just go inside and ask Eedraxis if he wants to see me? I’ll just stay here and wait. Maybe I’ll check out those junk wagons, perhaps there’s something I’d be interested in buying.”
He seemed dubious but I convinced him with my winsome smile. I can winsome as fuck you know. A moment after he went inside I turned to the Ducal Guards and gave them wink before disguising myself as the merchant woodsman and going inside myself. The inside of the complex had been altered radically – I get the feeling that Eedraxis is constantly changing the place up to facilitate whatever crazy stuff he’s working on. I’m sure he’s got body parts he’s trying to reanimate in there somewhere. I didn’t see Eedraxis but I did see a couple more weird looking gnomes – I didn’t get a good look but I could swear that I saw one that had a carapace like a beetle. I give wizards a hard time (and rightfully so) but alchemists are into some pretty freaky shit as well. Let us not forget that Eedraxis was chased out of Graltontown for kidnapping and experimenting on dwarves.
Grey Horse was surprised by the appearance of whoever it was I appeared like and was about to say something when I grabbed one of the many flasks of bubbling shit the gnomes were working on and hurled it into a small fire that was in the middle of the room. It exploded into a cloud of choking vapor because what else was it going to do – explosions and poison are what alchemy is all about. That and addictive drugs and graverobbing and turning people into weird bugs. I held my breath and covered my eyes and knocked over more stuff until the place was well on fire. When I finally ran out noxious smoke was pouring out of Eedraxis’s hut. But it wasn’t going up into the air, it was creeping along the ground like animal. It was pretty strange. Bolbec and Cavnas had their swords out as I ran over to them and started coughing like an old man.
“What happened? What’s going on?”
Eye burning eventually I was able to speak “Wrong house. I think my friend lives north of here.”