It took Liam less time than he’d thought to find the church. The building stood out completely from the surrounding plain wooden structures, matching quite closely the building they had fought around in the village. Though this one was larger, he noted. Not to mention, the collection of people bustling in and out helped to give the game away. He pushed his way through the light crowd until he was stood in front of the door. Gritting his teeth, and clenching his injured hand, he stepped across the threshold. Nope. Hadn’t burst into flame this time either. He must be doing something right. He tracked across the crowds inside, looking for the man that was described to him.
Liam crashed out of the building, and into the still quiet streets of the village. He made a beeline for the church, moving as fast as his prodigious dexterity could carry him. He was met at the door by the priest, who had been up tending to some of the wounded and heard the racket as Liam approached.
“What is it?”
He looked panicked, a new expression that Liam didn’t have time to savour. He was in too much trouble for that. He held out his hand, and spoke simply,
“What, how-? No, no matter. Come, quickly.”
The two moved fast through the hall, to the altar at the far back. Alistair indicated for Liam to place his arm on the stone surface, and pulled up his sleeve. He grimaced, and his hands began to glow with life mana.
“You came as soon as you realised?”
“I realised pretty fucking quick- Ah!”
“The progression is halted. You are lucky I was awake. It had almost reached your heart.”
“Yeah, I know. I know. Thanks.”
Liam slumped against the side of the altar, his eyes drifting shut, then snapping wide open again with the priests next question.
“So, now that the immediate concern is over, how did this happen? We need to get this under control, and fast, if it is contagious.”
“Shit, the scroll- I left it there!”
Seeing the priests look as he staggered to his feet, he continued.
“We picked up a scroll in the barrow. Damn, poor bastard must have been got and didn’t know what had happened until it was too late…”
“One of your mercenary guards?”
“Yeah. He was holding on to the thing for dear life. Frankly, I was just teaching him a bit of a lesson about thievery, but… this is way more than I planned on.”
Liam shook his head.
“Come on, we need to lock that room down.”
Alistair nodded, and followed him back out of the church. Heads were poking out of doors and windows, roused by the noise of Liam’s flight to the church. Alistair’s presence waved them off - it was either church business, or someone injured needing care. They reached the house the guard had been bunked in almost as fast as Liam had left it. The family that lived there had been taken out by the golem attack, so the remaining mercenaries were posted in the building until they had recovered. One of them was at the door Liam had crashed out of, stopped from entering by Liam and Alistair calling out to him in unison.
“What? I heard noise in Connor’s room, I figured-”
“Nothing for you to be concerned about. This is church business now.”
The man stepped back, hands raised.
“Alright, alright. Is- Is Connor alright though?”
“We need to attend to that. Return to your room, and if anyone else attempts to enter after us, tell them what we told you.”
He nodded, and shrugged, already turning back around. He wasn’t about to step in between a priest and his work, not if he felt like getting any work ever again. The two of them watched him leave, then entered the room. It remained as Liam had left it - Connor propped against the wall, glaring daggers at the two of them, with the scroll half unrolled in the middle of the floor. Liam breathed a sigh of relief, and pointed to the scroll.
“That. I touched it, and the damn thing went for me.”
Alistair nodded, and crouched down beside it, ignoring the injured Connor for the time being. A cursed item being in the village was a far greater concern than the injuries of one man. He waved a hand over it, a glow of mana leaving a trail in the air above the object. He muttered a few words of prayer, seeking his centre as he cast one of the more potent detection spells he knew. The edges of his mouth turned down with disgust.
“Hells. This damn thing… I can’t identify its source. Or its action. I believe I can contain it, but I cannot exorcise the item completely. This will need to be taken to a bishop.”
“You don’t know anything at all about it?”
“Nothing. Apart from the fact it is unlikely to kill immediately.”
He pointed at the still paralysed form of Connor, and raised an eyebrow.
“Do you mind telling me what happened here?”
“Yeah, after we’ve sorted this. He’ll be fine, just a mild poison. Alright, if you can contain it, I’ll bring it with me. Do you think someone in the Barony would be able to break it, or at least identify it?”
“Perhaps… Perhaps… At least, they would know who to send you to. Very well, I shall do my best to assemble a containment vessel, however.”
He stood, and turned to face Liam. Liam felt like the taller man was trying to intimidate him, which seemed bizarre when he continued to speak.
“You will need to assure me that no one will enter this room while I work. I will need to return to the church and make preparations.”
Liam nodded, seeing no reason to push any points when he was getting what he wanted.
“Alright. I’ll keep guard.”
“And get that man back into bed. Byrne will not be happy about this violence, you realise.”
“Yeah, I plan to be long gone before he finds out. So, you know, if you could keep this on the down low until we’re out of town..?”
Alistair sighed, and threw up his hands.
“It truly is never a dull moment… Very well, I will neglect to inform him until noon tomorrow. Now, I have work to do.”
The two parted ways, Liam remaining behind to watched the door. He clenched and unclenched his hand, still stinging from the curses burn.
Liam set his eyes upon the man who was described to him. Or at least, who he thought was the man described. These priests all looked the same, with the same outfit and same expressions. He shrugged, and walked over.
“Are you Bishop Golston?”
The older man turned, his hunched posture muted by a friendly and welcoming smile.
“No, my child, the bishop is busy attending to services in-”
His expression dropped when he saw Liam. In particular, when he saw Liam’s attire and scarring.
“Please leave this place.”
Liam sighed. He’d been expecting this, just, well, not so quickly. He held his hands up in surrender.
“I’m afraid I can’t. I have need of the church’s aid. Dire need.”
The older priest narrowed his eyes at Liam, but didn’t interrupt him. Liam took that as a good sign, and patted his pocket.
“I carry with me a cursed item - a powerful curse, if the last priest I spoke to is any judge. He told me that he could not exorcise it, but a bishop-”
“Ah yes, of course a Rogue would only come to use when they require Uld’s grace in achieving riches. Tell me, was this plundered from the tomb of a great mage? Or was it pilfered from one of our own coffers?”
“Neither, actually. It was…”
He looked around, and frowned. This room was too crowded for this sort of discussion.
“Look, suffice to say that I have guild proof of a bounty, and this scroll was recovered in relationship to that. And the bounty was posted on someone that leads me to be very concerned as to the contents of this scroll.”
A little bit of a lie mixed in there - he didn’t actually have any proof until the cart of bodies arrived. But, he didn’t have much else to work with at the moment. He mentally crossed his fingers as the old priest mulled this over, before sighing.
“Very well. You may have an audience with the bishop, if they believe what you told me. But I cannot promise any good will come of your meeting.”
Well, that was about as good an answer as Liam could hope for. He followed the man through to the back of the church, and into a small corridor. He was sat in a chair outside a door, and fixed with a stern expression from the priest.
“We will wait here, until such a time as the bishop emerges. They will decide, then, what is to be done with you.”
Damn his luck, he thought. Why did things always have to be more painful than they needed to be?
“Honestly, I didn’t expect there to be baths at all here, let alone ones that, well, refreshing!”
“Humans have a reputation for being unclean, but the Southspur empire take pride in their cleanliness. A bathhouse is often one of the first luxuries provided in any new settlement.”
“Humans eh? You got a- Ah, never mind. Too public.”
Leah and Cassandra were walking back from the bath house, hair drying in the evening breeze. They still needed to stop off in the shops they had made orders at before heading to the inn they had planned on meeting at, but there was plenty of time left. The shops tended to close and open late, due to the nature of the population, and Cassandra had assured Leah that the notes she had provided also worked as a receipt of sale - once the shop owner had picked up the gold, the item was theirs, and if they failed to deliver on it, it would be on their shoulders. So, the two were ambling along, taking a more scenic route to pass the time. Though, as scenic as any routes got in the town. It was really quite dreary. Aside from a few boxes of flowers placed on windowsills, there was little to no decoration apparent. The streets were clean, though unpaved, and there wasn’t much to look at. Fortunately, they at least had plenty to talk about. Or at least, Leah had lots of questions to ask. Her time was running out, though, as they approached the first shop on their journey, the shop Leah’s gear was waiting in. Leah took the lead this time, eager to get her hands on her new equipment.
“Is it ready? Were there any problems?”
She hadn’t felt the excitement about the sword, the only thing she was really interested in, on the journey over, but as soon as she was in its presence again, she had to know everything she could about it. She thought she should be worried about that, but her submind didn’t seem concerned, so she brushed it aside for the time being, and let the excitement take over. Cassandra seemed to be appreciative of her feelings about this, and that was a good thing in her books. The shop keeper, entering again from the back of the shop, smiled at their entrance.
“Ah, yes, one moment please.”
He disappeared once more into the back of the shop, and returned with a pack, and a scabbarded sword which Leah immediately recognised. She felt her heart race as she thought of uncovering the secrets it held, and questioned again why exactly it was she was so happy to see it. Still, she would have her answers soon.
“I took the liberty of loading all the accoutrements into the pack, though naturally, the sword itself would not fit. The scabbard, consider it a gift for taking this blade off my hands. It has sat for too long, gathering dust, and the item never arrived with one of its own. It does not match the beauty of the blade, but it will suffice for now.”
He was right. The dull leather did not match the beauty of the handle that emerged from it. Nor did the simple belt the scabbard was attached to. Leah didn’t care. She reached out and picked up the sword - her sword, she reminded herself. She lost herself for a moment simply staring at the handle, fighting back to urge to look into it right here and now, but she didn’t know what would happen if the shop keeper found out he had inadvertently been fleeced of a rare item. Cassandra trapped her on the shoulder, and she looked around to see her smiling.
“I know you’re excited, but don’t forget the pack. That wasn’t cheap either.”
Leah nodded absentmindedly, and shouldered the bag alongside her current, borrowed one. The weight difference had her off balance, but she wasn’t bothered for now. She just wanted to get somewhere private where she could look into what she had obtained in detail. She turned to leave, and Cassandra shook her head, still smiling, and followed.
She said over her shoulder to the shop keeper, who returned the smile, though with a hint of something else. Maybe he was thinking he had missed out on something, but by now it was too late - money had changed hands, and it would be his head if he tried to get the rapier back. They left the shop, and Leah set off immediately in the direction of the inn they would be staying at. Cassandra grabbed her shoulder.
“Ah, ah, ah. You have your new toy, I still need to pick up mine.”
“Ugh, fine. But hurry up!”
She shook her head, and led Leah off, retracing their steps to all the shops they had visited previously. She was happy to see Leah had taken an interest in something martial - she had been worried the girl was going to go plainly into magic. And if she was going to mix and match, the rapier would be a perfect weapon, regardless of what properties it held. Light, not requiring much strength to use effectively, scaling well with the elves natural propensity for dexterity. It was almost as if they had been blessed. At each shop, Leah urged Cassandra to hurry, which did begin to grate on her nerves eventually. Excitement was one thing, but now she was just being impatient. She snapped on the second to last shop.
“Leah, I swear, if you ask me again to hurry, I will take that from you and break it over my knee.”
“No! Ok, ok, fine. Sorry.”
“I’m happy to see you’re excited, but seriously girl. If you want, we can train tomorrow, but lets get our business finished before we do anything that might bring more trouble down on our heads. You do remember that the sword is basically an unknown, right?”
That took the edge off of Leah’s excitement. She touched the hilt of the blade, now at her waist, and frowned, looking down at it. She hadn’t considered the potential dangers of looking into such an unknown item. Could there be a risk? Cassandra tried to ease her concerns.
“Its probably fine - probably - but, uh, things of that nature, they tend to do some crazy things. A sword, probably going to do what you’d expect, but if anything crazy happens, I’d rather be as prepared as I can be, wouldn’t you?”
“I guess that makes sense. Damn, I feel like an idiot. I got so caught up in wanting to know about it… Do you think it could be doing something to my head?”
Cassandra shook her head, looking at the sword.
“Nah. I’m no expert, but I do know a few things about psychomancy. And its not giving off any mana. If you want to make any kind of magical effect, you need to use mana, and that thing is currently dead as a doornail.”
Leah should have thought of that too. She needed to get her head on straight. Maybe once she knew what this sword was all about, she would calm down a little. As if waiting for her thoughts, she felt her submind prodding and probing at her mind, its soothing presence washing over her and pushing away some of the keen interest she held. She still wanted to know about it, but it wasn’t a burning desire any longer. Whatever it was that held a grip on her, it was eased. She knew it wasn’t a mental presence - that would have been obvious to her newly acquired expertise - but her knowledge of other mental matters was impeded by a lack of other knowledge skills. She hazarded a guess, with what she did know, that it could possibly be a factor of her Magalyte Technology knowledge skill combined with her Doll body. If the two both provoked an interest in this item, and they combined… It was all conjecture. The fact remained that she wasn’t being attacked right now.
When she activated it, if she could, she would make sure to have Liam on standby to monitor her, just in case there was a mental contagion involved with the weapon. She remembered stories of sentient weapons, and she had no foundation of knowledge on how to judge herself against something like that. You know, if they even existed. She cut off her train of thought - they were moving again, and she was getting nowhere with her guessing. The only thing to do would be to take another risk. She didn’t know if she could live with herself if she left this an unknown forever.
The two arrived at the inn shortly before Liam. He bore a look of irritation, hands in his pockets as he approached them. Cassandra was the first to greet him.
“Well, you look like you’ve had a productive day. Anything we can help with?”
“Nah. No offence, but I think it might make things worse. I should have it sorted tomorrow, though. So, we’ll have two things to celebrate then.”
Leah cut in. Liam and Cassandra gave her a look.
“Uh, yeah. You’re gonna be an official adventurer, and therefore officially part of our party. That calls for a celebration if ever there is one.”
“And we’ll be getting our drinks on the cheap because its your first day, so this cheapskate naturally wants to cash in on that.”
“Oh, no, you aren’t getting me drunk again.”
Liam slapped her on the back, his foul mood alleviated already.
“Don’t you worry. We’ll be getting drunk right alongside you this time. And there’s no way you are slipping out of it either. Once the guildies in town find out theres a newb party being held, its going to be swamped with people.”
Leah groaned, tilting her head back to the sky. It was rapidly becoming dark as they stood around outside, and both Liam and Cassandra noticed how tired they were after their long day. Liam especially, seeing as he had been up early that morning preparing their departure. Cass yawned, and gestured to the door.
“Maybe we should get our rooms sorted, and catch each other up?”
“Makes sense to me. But you’re paying.”
“Oh hells no, I already paid out a fortune today, gearing up Leah when we realised you shorted her.”
Cassandra gave him a dirty look.
“Seriously, 20 gold for a full adventurers set? Are you a lunatic, or just trying to get her killed?”
Liam looked shocked, and took in what Leah was carrying for the first time, his eyes drawn straight to the sword.
“Cass. Cass, Cass, Cass. How much did you spend. Seriously.”
“Enough. And she’ll not want for anything but armour for now.”
Liam groaned, and shook his head.
“Whatever. We’ll discuss this later. Let’s get sorted first.”
He turned to Leah.
“I’m disappointed in you for not stopping her.”
“Hey, she wanted to buy me nice things, who am I to say no to that?”
They were apparently not the only ones looking for rooms in the inn. The inn keeper shook his head sadly.
“Only one, I’m afraid. And I’m only selling that you ‘cos I know you’ll get me in good with the guild.”
“Only selling that to us?”
Cassandra leaned across the bar, and glared at the man, who held his hands up in submission.
“Nothing against you, miss, but my other customers, well, you know how funny people can be about…”
He pointed to his ear, and gave an apologetic smile. Cassandra grunted in disgust, and looked around the room. True to his word, people were either avoiding her gaze, or glaring right on back. Leah followed her gaze around the room, and pulled her cloak in a little tighter. She had faced down undead of all shades, including a shade, bizarre mental apparitions and even the intense gaze of Byrne, but she never felt as ill at ease as she did in this room. The level of hostility towards them was palpable.
“Maybe we should find another-”
“Fuck no. We’re paying for this room, and we’ll enjoy our nights rest. Good thing we weren’t planning on celebrating tonight after all, Liam.”
Liam returned the inn keepers apologetic smile, and took their key.
“Well, we’ll be out of your hair soon. Oh, and uh… if you want that recommendation, you’re going to want to work on your hospitality. Because the guild doesn’t take kindly to its affiliates running… hostile environments.”
The innkeeper nodded, and the three set off for their room, not wanting to risk taking a load off in the unwelcoming atmosphere of the public room. They found their room, and entered, Liam locking the door behind them. It was a fairly wide room, though only with a single bed and table as furnishings. A window, letting in the last dregs of light from outside, opened up onto a small alley behind the building. It was as bare as what Leah had come to expect in this town, and she found herself unable to wait to leave. But before that, she had something she had been looking forward to all evening. She dumped her packs in a corner, and settled down on the floor beside the bed, unhooking her scabbard to rest the sword across her legs. Liam and Cassandra both took notice.
“Ah, this… extravagance. Why exactly did you pick up such a fancy sword, Cass?”
“Leah wanted it, so I bought it.”
“And thats it, is it? Pretty expensive for a romantic-”
He wasn’t quick enough to dodge her strike. She had seen that one coming a mile off.
“You baited me, you witch.”
“I did, and you fell for it. Anyway, no, its not just a ‘romantic’ gift, as you wrongly guessed. Leah?”
Too busy examining her new acquisition to pay attention to the comrades ribbing, she looked up at the mention of her name.
“Hmm? Oh, right. Yeah, its uh.”
She lowered her voice.
“It’s a magalyte weapon. 95% certain.”
Liam looked sceptical, and bent down to take a closer look at the sword across her knees.
“Are you sure about that? It looks fancy alright, but I don’t see anything special-”
Not wanting to go through the rigmarole of trying to convince him with words, she instead set to work proving it with actions. She slipped into her mind scape while Liam was mid sentence, where she found herself kneeling in much the same position, a facsimile of the sword resting across her knees. She knew from her knowledge skill that nearly all magalyte technology required certain prerequisites to activate - what these ones were, she didn’t know, but she felt confident she met them. As for how to do so, that was another issue. The thing didn’t exactly come with an instruction manual, but she had experience and knowledge with working her own body. A sword couldn’t be that much more complex.
It turns out it was. She sat for minutes in her mind scape, running through ideas. She tried to reach out to it mentally, but that failed immediately. Which also ruled out any likelihood of the sword mentally affecting her. Connections were two way, as she discovered just the other day. She had no physical connection to it, other than touch, so she had no way of directly interfacing with whatever systems the sword had internally. Running her mana over it as she did when she learnt mana detection also drew a blank for her. She was running out of ideas fast, and began to wonder if she even had the right compatibility for it, when a blindingly simple idea came over her. She felt along the sword’s hilt for what she was looking for, and her mind slowed as it caught up to her physical actions. Then, she found it. The pommel twisted slightly, the clicked into a new position. All at once, she felt a rush of knowledge.