Things calmed down over the course of a few days. The city had been attacked by monsters, but everyone was pretty much back to normal as soon as three days later. At least, Alyssa assumed things were normal. Having only been in the city for less than a day before the attack, she couldn’t be entirely sure.
People in the streets were going about their business. They passed hither and thither, without much hurry. No one was scared to be out on the streets. If anything, they were calmer than before the attack. Which might have something to do with the overabundance of guards stationed around. Alyssa really hadn’t been out to the north side of the city before the attack, but up here, guards patrolled every street and every alley at all hours of the day. No one wanted a stray goblin to pop out of some hiding hole and go on a rampage against civilians who couldn’t defend themselves. With the wall still damaged, it was conceivable that more monsters could sneak in as well. Hence the guards.
Alyssa doubted it. But then, she knew that the monsters had been mind controlled. An individual goblin or troll would likely flee from the city rather than try to get inside. At least, she would flee if all alone. Maybe they wouldn’t. They would be foolish not to, but maybe they couldn’t think so intelligently. The goblins she had seen hadn’t looked all that intelligent, after all.
Reconstruction efforts were ongoing. Or rather, they were clearing away rubble from what little was left of the wall. The damage was more than just a hole or two. Almost half of the wall between the towers had collapsed entirely. Which seemed awfully weak to Alyssa. What good was a wall if a troll could plow through it easier than the Kool-Aid Man. Guards stood around, both to watch for stray goblins and to watch the workers. All of whom were in chains.
Most weren’t human. Some might have been, but they could just as easily be monsters that looked human at a first glance. If they were human, Alyssa didn’t know why they were slaves. There wasn’t a correlation with skin tone as might have been expected back on Earth. Maybe they were from that country north of the desert that she had heard about. Maybe they were heretics or criminals. Maybe the pharaoh or other nobles just didn’t like them. Whatever put them in chains, they weren’t alone in their toiling. A majority of the slaves were undoubtedly inhuman. One larger troll, maybe even a female of the species, hefted a massive chunk of wall onto a horse-drawn cart. Not far away, a lizard much like Rizk was moving rubble as well. There were a few things that Alyssa couldn’t put a name to also toiling under the watchful eyes of the guards.
Shaking her head, Alyssa turned away from the wall. The trolls had certainly done a number on it, but it hadn’t all been them. Three houses right near the wall had been effectively turned to powder. Several more, all in a nice straight line, had large holes torn through them. Right in the front of it all, in the center of the destruction, someone had erected a small monument. Just a little ziggurat about waist high.
Someone had drawn Tenebrael’s eye tattoo in dark black paint on the top surface. A monument to her protection.
Alyssa couldn’t help but scoff.
Not a single person had been hurt when the wall and houses exploded. Apparently all thanks to Tenebrael. Of course, no one asked why she didn’t bother protecting anyone else who had died that evening. Either the soldiers dying or the random people who had wound up with the poor fortune to come across a troll or goblin in the city. Ugh. It pissed her off. They saw miracles where they wanted to see miracles and ignored everything else as simply the way things had to be.
A part of her just wanted to jump on top of the little ziggurat and shout out that Tenebrael had been the one to destroy the buildings and that the only reason she hadn’t hurt anyone was because she literally couldn’t. Angels were forbidden from harming humans.
But she also didn’t want to be labeled as a heretic or associated with the country to the north, apparently populated entirely by heretics. Especially not after an attack on the city. She would probably wind up crucified. Literally.
Gritting her teeth, she walked on until she found her destination. A large white-grey tent that had been set up just outside the wall. Not like a camping tent. More like the tents around sporting events. Except with walls. A rest and organization area for the guards monitoring the wall’s cleanup. She doubted the slaves got much rest. But she nodded to the guard outside the tent, biting her tongue regarding her actual feelings on the whole reconstruction process.
He held up a hand. “Hold. What’s your business here?”
“Potion delivery from Tzheitza. I should be expected.”
“Let her in,” a voice called from inside the tent.
The guard pressed his lips together but didn’t argue. He pushed aside the strip of cloth that served as the door for the tent, allowing her access.
Giving him another nod, Alyssa walked inside.
It wasn’t a large space, being a tent, but it was empty enough that it wasn’t crowded. Several seats were set about the place, mostly around a large keg. She wasn’t sure if it held alcohol or water or something else entirely, but two guards had their helmets off, quietly talking near it. Alyssa ignored them, heading straight for the desk in the back and the woman hunched over papers.
The woman brushed her long ponytail back over her shoulder. She started to say something before looking up, but paused as soon as she met Alyssa’s eyes. “You again? I thought you were a traveler, not a delivery girl. Hope you’re not here telling me about another assault.”
“No. And not my intended profession, I assure you.”
“Needed the money huh?”
“Not really,” Alyssa said as she unslung a large leather bag from her shoulder. It was a specially designed bag just for carrying large amounts of potions. The exterior was somewhat hard, providing some protection from mild impacts. The inside was divided up into tons of compartments, each varying in size. Some were large for holding the orbs Tzheitza had used as weapons. Some were small for thinner vials. The bag kept any glass from knocking against any other bit of glass. A good thing too. Some of the potions she had for delivery weren’t exactly safe sounding, even if she didn’t know the exact effects. “I’ve got twelve dissolution orbs, three explosive flames, eight consolidants, and two anti-sleep aids.” As she spoke, she set each of the orbs and vials down on the desk in a neat little row. “Tzheitza would like to inform you that she is not responsible for any injuries, health problems, or deaths that may arise from misusing the potions. Also, you shouldn’t take two of the sleep aids in a row. Get at least one full night of sleep between doses.”
“Only three explosives?”
“She’s in the process of making more,” Alyssa said robotically. This wasn’t the first time she had to explain a lack of potions today. “Unfortunately, some of her mixed compounds were damaged in the attack.” Which wasn’t true at all. Tzheitza’s store had come out entirely untouched. It was the potionmaker’s injuries that were delaying the potion making. “Nothing catastrophic, but she is having to remake them from raw materials. It is taking a bit longer than expected. Tzheitza is willing to allow a deferred payment until the rest of the explosive flames have been completed.”
“I see. Well, this should be enough to get started clearing away larger portions of the damaged wall. I swear, whoever originally designed this section intended for it to be brittle garbage. No wonder the trolls had such an easy time breaking through it.”
Alyssa blinked. That sounded interesting. Leaning forward, she asked, “Do you suspect it was just incompetence? Or intentional sabotage?”
“That’s for the masons to decide. I’m just in charge of keeping order. And,” she waved a hand at her desk, “dangerous materials, of course.”
“Ah. I see.” Reaching back into the bag, she pulled out a slip of paper. “I need your signet confirming that we have delivered the potions present and that you will be deferring payment until the remainder can be delivered.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbled, snatching the paper from Alyssa’s fingers. After looking over it for a moment, she nodded. The tent wasn’t in need of any lighting. Sunlight hitting the white-grey walls was enough to illuminate the interior well enough to read even small text. However, there was a small candle on the desk. One made from brilliant red wax. She grabbed the handle of the little brass tray and tilted it to the side. Some of the liquid wax poured off the side, pooling on the sheet of paper. She waited a moment, letting it partially cool before curling her fingers and pressing her ring into the soft wax. “There you go. Please tell Tzheitza to hurry with those explosives. I miss my office.”
“Will do,” Alyssa said as she looked over the wax seal, making sure that it was well and visible. Two horns crossing each other with a sword down the middle. She might have said that it looked demonic, except for the captain’s name. Oxart. Maybe the horns were supposed to be those of an ox. Either way, it looked fine to her. Since the wax was still soft, she placed it carefully in a special hard box made specifically for storing these kind of receipts. “I’ll be on my way then.”
“You two!” Oxart barked out as Alyssa left the tent. “Go find mason Manuel. Let him know his potions have arrived.”
Alyssa didn’t pay them any attention as they bustled off to some other section of the working area. She didn’t really care about the wall building efforts. In fact, the less she thought about it, the better. Slaves. Really, she should have expected it. This was a medieval society and she had already seen the elven slaves around the city and the whole state of the Waterhole. Some part of her had hoped that those owners were in some way criminals, not the governing body. At the very least, she hoped that the slaves were criminals. Violent criminals at that. Someone, monster or not, who had merely been caught loitering shouldn’t have to work hard labor.
Ah well. Nothing she could do about it. Trying to free the slaves would just end up with her in chains next to them. A few gang members was one thing. Fighting the city wouldn’t work out half as well. Ultimately, Alyssa had to look out for herself first and foremost. Maybe Tenebrael could get her out of a spot of trouble, but she wasn’t about to count on it. If anything, that angel would show up ten years down the line, offering to free her in return for complete loyalty. After ten years of hard labor and who knew what else as a slave, Alyssa might even be completely willing to accept it.
No. In this world, she had to look out for herself and could only rely on herself. Best to not stick her nose in things that she couldn’t change anyway.
Deliveries finished for the day, she headed straight back to Tzheitza’s potion shop. It had been a nice place to stay for the past few days. A bit… foul smelling. Hopefully nothing that would affect her health. Bottles and jars lined the walls. Up in the front windows were some large glass carboys of varying shapes and sizes, all filled with liquid in a variety of colors. Apparently it was just colored water. No magical potion at all. They were purely for attracting customers. The shelves were also mostly fakes. A few were real here and there, but the glass bottles, orbs, and vials were just for show. With them just sitting out, they were too easy to steal.
Though anyone willing to steal from Tzheitza might as well toss themselves off the top of Brechen Overlook. The woman was scary when she was in a poor temper.
The real valuable items were either in the back room or behind the counter. The wall directly behind the counter was covered in jars and containers. Unmixed potion reagents. The counter wasn’t so much a sales kiosk as it was a preparation area. There were extremely precise scales, mortar and pestles—apparently it was too much of a pain to draw out the spell cards for Grind compared to just crushing whatever needed crushing by hand—measuring devices, squeezing devices, and a little magical burner that somewhat resembled the Bunsen burners in high school chemistry class.
When a customer came in to request a simple, easy potion, she would mix it right there at the counter. Some potions apparently required time, maybe they had to sit over a low flame for a few hours or remain open-topped under the moonlight for a full night, as ridiculous as that might sound. In those cases, the customer would have to return later. But anything quick could be made right in front of their eyes.
Behind that wall, the back room was somewhat similar. It had measuring instruments and reagents. The big difference was the scale. Being a well-known potioneer, Tzheitza often got bulk contracts from the guild or the city or even just traveling merchants. As such, she needed a place to mass produce her potions. That was what the back room was for.
Tzheitza was off in one of the side rooms when Alyssa entered the shop. Little private rooms partitioned off from the rest of the shop floor with fancy wood and glass windows. A customer was inside the room with her, sleeve of his shirt rolled up as she smeared some brownish gunk over his skin. Not wanting to interrupt, Alyssa headed into the back room and dropped off the potion bag. With a sigh, she sank into one of the chairs and pulled out her notebook.
Just a little notebook she had started some time ago. It contained notes on just about anything she thought might be important to keep track of. Things about the world, about monsters, about magic, and a few miscellaneous items as well. It also had her list. She had finally sat down and wrote one out.
1. Clean water and food.
a. Magic to replace the above list items?
b. Magic for self defense.
c. Magic to defend against angels.
d. Magic to get home.
Before making the list, she had gone all harried thinking about every little thing that she needed. When she actually got around to making the list, it turned out to be much smaller than she had expected. Of course, this was only what she absolutely needed. There were several side items that were more or less just desires. Potion making, for instance. Maybe adding some entertainment wouldn’t be bad. She was stuck here. She would not mope about it. Nothing would get done if she did. But constantly working, even if it was to get home, would wind up with Alyssa driving herself insane.
But what did people do for fun in a medieval society? Drank a lot, probably. They visited whorehouses like the Waterhole. What else? Croquet? Maybe there were some A Knight’s Tale style jousting tournaments. That might be fun to watch. Plays, maybe?
That got her wondering how receptive the society here would be to fiction. Would people enjoy Shakespeare? Harry Potter? The Pirates of Penzance? Obviously, she couldn’t recite the works of Shakespeare word for word, but she knew the plots and could probably fill in the gaps with her own made up nonsense. Gilbert and Sullivan, she could probably sing every line from half their works, but composing the music would be well beyond her. Did a medieval society have orchestras and bands? Maybe once she got her phone back, she could—
Alyssa shook her head. Before anything else, especially entertainment, she needed to get the first four items of her list out of the way. At the very least. Technically, here with Tzheitza, she had food and shelter. Maybe even money. There was just a small problem. Delivering potions took up far too much of each day.
The front door jingled as it opened. It had a little bell suspended above it to warn of any customers, just like a modern business might. Alyssa couldn’t be sure if someone had come or if the customer had gone, but Tzheitza’s heavy footsteps made their way to the back door soon enough. She threw it open, took one look at Alyssa, sighed, and took a seat in another of the chairs with a pained groan as she rubbed at her stomach.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Alyssa asked. “Don’t need to heal up a little more?”
“‘Sfine,” she mumbled out, closing her eyes.
“What were you putting on that customer’s arm? He didn’t dress like he could afford your healing potion. Wouldn’t that help?”
“Oil o’ Earthworm. Nothindo.”
“Oil of Earthworm,” Alyssa repeated slowly. “As in actual earthworms?”
“Boil n’ mash. Plus olive oil and a splash of wine. Slather on bruises or cuts. It ain’t gonna do anything ‘cept make people think it does something.”
Alyssa pulled back her lip in disgust. Why would she even make it if it didn’t help? Well, the placebo effect was well documented as working for several things, even things it shouldn’t work for. Still, selling a cure in good conscience knowing it was worthless?
Well, if the guy thought it worked and was happy with his purchase, she couldn’t really argue against that.
Pressing her lips together, Alyssa considered not saying what she was about to say. But ultimately, this was taking up far too much time. “I think I’m going to quit,” she said.
“Quit!” Tzheitza snapped her head up. “Whatcha wronglike? Need more pay?”
“No, no. I’ve seen how much you’re selling the potions for and think I’m getting a fair amount for delivering them, but that is the problem. When I offered to help you out, I was kind of maybe thinking that you might teach me how to make potions, not just spend all day half lost running around the city because I don’t know my way around. There are things I need to do. And in three days—” assuming the attack on the city hadn’t disrupted matters, “—I’m not going to be able to deliver things anyway. I’ve got an… appointment.”
“Work until then! I canne deliver while injured.”
“I’m sure you could hire someone from the guild. Or just a random person out on the streets,” she added, thinking back to the people she had spotted loitering around Waters Street.
“Guild means gold,” she said, basically admitting that she was underpaying Alyssa. Though it didn’t really matter. Alyssa still had a sack full of money. “Need trust too.”
“You trust me? We only met a few days ago.”
“Ah, but we fought together. Builds trust. Then ye could have left me to die there, come back to the shop, looted the entire place.” She smiled for a moment. Just a moment. That smile quickly turned to a scowl. “Though if ye leave, mayhaps that blasted mimic’ll leave too. Where’s it now?”
“Uh…” The last time Alyssa had seen Kasita had been… when… breakfast? She had definitely been there, though she hadn’t eaten. In fact, Alyssa hadn’t seen Kasita eat anything since meeting her. After breakfast, Alyssa had gone off to deliver things and had only just returned.
“I swear I’ll burn down this whole shop.” Without leaving her chair, she reached up to the nearby mantle and pulled off a piece of paper. A spell card.
“Now now,” Alyssa said, trying to placate the woman. “I’m sure there’s no need to go that far. Kasita is probably somewhere around. Maybe sleeping.” Maybe avoiding you, she didn’t say.
“Maybe cracking a choking gas orb to kill us both. Ye shouldn’t defend her.”
“She saved our lives.” Twice, in Alyssa’s case, though she wasn’t about to mention the first time. At least twice now, Tzheitza had casually tried to kill Kasita. Both times by slamming a knife through the mimic’s chest. She had just been chopping vegetables when Kasita walked by. In the next instant, Kasita had a dagger sticking out of her chest. To Alyssa, it looked more like reflexes or instinct than a deliberate attempt on the mimic’s life. Not that Tzheitza had apologized.
Still, it made Alyssa extremely wary of telling the potioneer about her helping several monsters escape the city. Especially given that Rizk was likely not half as accepting of humans as the others. Her story at the moment was simply that she had almost been sold to a whorehouse and that she and Kasita managed to escape. It was close enough to the truth.
Tzheitza whispered under her breath. “Flame.” The card in her hands pulsed with a red light and vanished. Just as when Alyssa had used the spell, a small candle-like flame appeared at the tips of her fingers. Reaching down to the fire pit beneath the mantle, she set some of the kindling aflame. Once fully burning, she reached over and set a larger log on top of the burning pile of kindling. “Your nosee monster destroyed half the district too,” she said in a soft voice.
That was another sore spot. It didn’t matter how many times she argued that there were two of them and that her ‘friend’ had helped them find Bercilak and had been trying to stop the other one. Of course, it didn’t help that Alyssa couldn’t identify them. What was she supposed to say? That one of the two angels destroying the city had been Tenebrael? That would never go over well.
Rather than start up that argument again, Alyssa stared into the burning wood. “Tzheitza, can you light a fire without magic?”
“Huh? ‘Course I can. Easy as mixing—”
“Without potions too. No magic. No potions. No stealing fire from your neighbors’ already lit candles or whatever.”
The potioneer tilter her head, frowning. “What are you saying?”
“Just a moment,” Alyssa said with a sigh. Standing up from her chair, she quickly moved to her room. As it turned out, almost every building that was a shop was also a home, either on a second floor or simply behind the main storefront. Tzheitza’s potion shop was no different, though it was quite a bit larger than most other homes given her affluence. Alyssa had her own private room complete with lighting. Though it hadn’t originally been a bedroom, but a storage room.
All the lights in jars that she had seen were not actually magic spells. They were potions. Mildly expensive enough that most homes didn’t use them, but still cheaper than keeping an area lit through candle power alone. Candles were nearly worthless, she had discovered. They lit up hardly anything without a ton of them and they ran down extremely quick relative to their cost. It was effectively Terry Pratchet’s boot theory. Poor people bought candles because they were individually cheaper. Rich people bought the magical potion lights because they could afford them. But in ten years’ time, someone using candles would have run through a thousand candles trying to keep the same space lit.
Of course, that was the reason most homes were dark after sunset. They didn’t want to waste their precious candles on nothing and would rather sleep through the darkness than try to stay awake.
It didn’t take long to find her fire striker. A long black rod with a short handle and a separate bit of metal to smack against it attached by a string. Not very impressive. To her. To others… She quickly took it back to Tzheitza.
“This,” Alyssa said, entering the room and holding up the rod, “is a striker. Bits of metal. Nothing magical about them. But if I smack them together—” She did so, sending a shower of sparks into the air over the fireplace. “—you can make sparks. Sparks that can catch bits of kindling on fire with a little luck and effort.” Being in possession of a lighter and matches, Alyssa considered showing them off as well. But one thing at a time.
“No magic?” Tzheitza asked, all but confirming that she hadn’t ever seen such a thing before.
“None. Just sparks. Surely you’ve seen a blacksmith making sparks as he hammers away at metal, right? Same thing here except handheld and easily carry—”
A chime from the front door bell interrupted Alyssa. She had arrived just before dark and Tzheitza didn’t accept new customers once night fell. Looking over, she raised an eyebrow.
“Tzhei? You around?” a voice called from the main room.
Tzheitza’s expression immediately darkened. “Ozheim,” she grumbled. “Dirty haberin traitor half-blood cheat devo—”
“Maybe we should see what he wants?” Alyssa said, more to cut off the potioneer’s diatribe of insults than because she wanted to speak to Oz. If he asked her for payment, she might have a few insults of her own. She had thought he had died in the attack until yesterday during a delivery to the guild. He hadn’t been present, but she had asked Laria, the guild’s scribe, about him. Surprise surprise to have found out he had not only survived, but brought in quite the bounty of ears as well.
As far as she was concerned, he had broken his contract by not showing up the morning after as agreed upon.
Tzheitza grumbled under her breath. More insults, probably. On her way to the door, she grabbed an orb from one of the tables. Not one of the nice healing potions. It was a sickly green color.
Swallowing her worry that it might actually get used, Alyssa followed after Tzheitza into the main room.