Tzheitza glared at Cid.
Which, if Alyssa was being honest, was exactly what she had expected. They hadn’t even made it inside the building and she could already see Tzheitza standing behind the counter, eying them. She had a customer standing on the other side of the counter, waiting for her to mix up some concoction that was likely pure charlatan nonsense like her earthworm balm. He had his back to them and hadn’t seen Cid yet. Not wanting him to make a scene, Alyssa dragged him off around the side of the building. There was a side entrance that led directly into the store rooms, but Tzheitza kept them locked and Alyssa didn’t have a key. Still, it was a good place to stash Cid for the moment.
“Stay here. Don’t go anywhere.” Alyssa started back toward the front, only to pause. “Or do. That would solve one of my problems.”
“I won’t move a muscle,” Cid said, flashing his dental horror show of a smile, though it wasn’t quite as glee filled as the ones she had seen on him when they first met. “Please hurry back.”
Under other circumstances, she might have had reservations about leaving Cid right outside the place where she spent her nights. However, he had already mentioned knowing about the potion shop. If he had plans to break in and slit her throat in the middle of the night, he wouldn’t have needed to show up in person. Similarly, if he couldn’t get inside because of some protections over the shop that Alyssa didn’t know about, he would still be out of luck because there was no way that she would allow him to sleep in the same building as her. If he really needed a place to sleep, there was an alley not far from the potion shop that he could have. For some reason, she doubted it would be the first time he slept in an alley.
Moving back around to the front, Alyssa opened the door and walked right up to the counter. She gave the man a slight nod of her head. He was a fairly well-to-do sort, nothing like Cid at all, but not someone she had seen before. “Tzheitza,” she said with another nod to the potioneer behind the counter. “Almost finished with what you are doing?” Thankfully, she was weighing already crushed powder. That meant that she had to be nearly finished. Probably. At least, most of the times when Alyssa watched, the crushed powder on the scales meant the end. If it was going to take even a mild amount of time, she probably would have offered the customer a seat.
“With this?” She gestured to her brass scales as she added just a little more powder to one side. The needle on the scale didn’t move at all as far as Alyssa could tell, but it apparently satisfied Tzheitza. She locked the scales, picked up the plate of powder, and dumped it all into a larger mixing bowl. “Just about.” Taking a wire tool that resembled a kitchen whisk, she started stirring the powder, turning it into a thick paste.
Curious as to the actual process, Alyssa stood around watching for a moment as Tzheitza finished some final mixing. As soon as she finished mixing the powder with whatever else had been in the bowl, she grabbed it by hand and placed it on an empty spot on the counter. She used her hands to roll it into a long thin clay-like strip of medicine—or whatever it was. Once it was about the diameter of a pencil, and about as long as one, she placed it on top of a small wooden board set into the counter top with little metal grooves in it like some kind of washboard. The strip of medicinal clay went perpendicular to the grooves. Sandwiching the medicine with a handheld version of the board, Tzheitza grabbed the handles and started sliding it back and forth.
In no time at all, she pulled the handheld board off, revealing little balls of the medicine. About twenty in total. One for each groove. With a brush of her hand, they rolled down the grooves into a little removable receptacle, which she picked up and dumped the pills down the mouth of a glass bottle. She sealed it up with a stopper and held it out to the customer.
“One every morning after ye wake up. If yer rash ain’t fading away after half the bottle, come back and see me again.”
“Thank you Tzhei,” the man said, accepting the bottle with a shaking hand. He dug into a small leather pouch and pulled out a gold altus. Alyssa couldn’t help but raise her eyebrows at that. Most over-the-counter concoctions were considerably less expensive. Tzheitza didn’t even accept it right away, hesitating before reaching out to take it. “You’re a real life saver!”
“Yep,” Tzheitza said without conviction as she pocketed the gold piece. “Take care of yourself, Zhadoj.”
“Oh I will. I’m just glad you’re around for when I can’t.” He chuckled as he walked out, which Tzheitza weakly echoed. “I’ll see you soon!”
“I hope not,” Tzheitza mumbled as soon as the door closed behind him.
Alyssa, watching him walk off through the windows, asked, “Someone you know?”
“He comes in once a month with some new problem, constantly thinkin’ he’s about to die. Never anythin’ serious, but…”
“Huh. So hypochondriacs existed even back… now, I guess.”
Which was kind of odd to think about. While Tzheitza had that blue potion that literally fixed her broken bones just by pouring it on, the materials that went into creating it were extraordinarily rare. A potion maker had relatively easy enough access so that she had about three of those orbs in storage. Well, two and a half after using some that night. Most people were stuck healing naturally or visiting surgeons. Or chiurgeons, as Tzheitza called them. As far as Alyssa could tell, everything Tzheitza made for customers was all for the placebo effect. “Those pills you made were… nothing again?”
“Not this time.”
“Oh?” Well, maybe she was wrong. “What does it do?”
“It is a bulk-forming agent designed to clear the body of… everythin’.”
“Huh.” Alyssa wasn’t quite sure she got it. She hadn’t seen Tzheitza use something as barbaric as leeches, but this was ultimately a medieval society. With magic. Those pills could easily have been something terrible designed to send the taker into cold sweats and induce vomiting to try to ‘clear the body of everything’.
Alyssa just shook her head, deciding she didn’t want to know. “I need… help? Or maybe advice.”
“Yer askin’ the wrong woman.”
“Relationship advice. Never been in one that hasn’t ended poorly. Yer gonna have to ask someone else about your boyfriend.”
“My boy—” Alyssa gagged, throwing up a bit in her mouth. “No. No. Absolutely not. That thing was not my boyfriend.”
“Oh. Good. Only caught a looksee. Didn’t look too… clean. But didn’t want to say anythin’ about yer tastes.”
Ugh. Why would she even think that? He was a disgusting piece of filth that probably deserved to be locked in the darkest dungeon for the rest of his life. Of course, Tzheitza probably didn’t get a good enough look at him and even if she had, she probably wouldn’t recognize him or know of his crimes. Hell, half of his crimes might not even be actual crimes around here. While she had learned a little, especially about blasphemy, Alyssa still didn’t have a full grasp on the legal workings of Lyria.
“No. No. Nothing like that. He is, or was, a member of the Waters Street gang.”
Tzheitza, who had been cleaning up the mess of making those pills, stilled. “Ye roundaboutin’ a hooligan on my home? Friends with a monster and a malefactor?”
“No!” Alyssa had no idea what a malefactor was, but that was par for the course with Tzheitza. It couldn’t be anything good, that was for sure. “That scum tried to sell me to a whore house. I objected. Violently. Killing the proprietor and a guard as well as freeing some of the ‘merchandise’ as Cid put it. I almost killed him then and again today, but he said something that made me hesitate.
“Apparently, the Waters Street gang is after me because of that aforementioned merchandise. He showed up looking like he had been tortured and complaining about his criminal friend being in trouble—wanting help to get him out of that trouble.” She took a quick minute to explain the circumstances of her meeting Cid a little more thoroughly. She skipped over a few things. Namely freeing the monsters, save for Kasita, and the purple cloak. Most of it, Tzheitza already knew. But Alyssa hadn’t said everything back when she had first asked.
Tzheitza took a deep breath and tossed a cleaning rag onto the counter, knocking over a few sealed jars. She didn’t bother to pick them up. At least they hadn’t rolled off and broken against the floor. “And ye what, wanna save this malefactor Bacco?”
“Honestly? No. Both of them can rot in… in Tenebrael’s embrace or whatever. But if a gang is after me, I need to do something.”
“Ask the Knights. I’m retired.”
“I highly doubt I have the money to hire them. Not for a job to wipe out a whole gang. I don’t know exactly how big this gang is, but that’s why I brought Cid along.” He had said that Svotty got replaced almost immediately. If that was true, they probably had a fairly sizable organization. “I just need… I don’t know what I need. That’s why I came to ask you. And Kasita, she probably knows at least a little about the gang. Where is she?”
Tzheitza first narrowed her eyes, then rolled her eyes with a shrug, all before sighing. “Your pet. Not mine. I’m just waitin’ for her to screw up enough to be worth the effort of killin’.”
“And I’m sure she won’t do anything worthy of raising your ire,” Alyssa said in a raised tone of voice. “And if she can hear me, I would appreciate her coming out.” She waited a moment before calling out, “Kasita? Kasita!”
No response. No shimmer of an object turning into a person. Just silence in the well lit pharmacy.
“Huh. I wonder where she went.”
“Hope to throw itself down the Black Pit.”
Alyssa didn’t know what that was, but it probably wasn’t anything good. “She did save our lives and she hasn’t done anything bad in the week she’s been here. I don’t know why…” Sighing, she shook her head. “I heard about the First City. But that was thousands of years ago. Isn’t it time to let up a bit?”
Tzheitza’s face twisted to a scowl as she slammed her fists on the counter. The little brass weights jumped on the scales, landing with a clatter. “I’ll let up when they stop killing my friends at Pandora.”
A tug pulled at Alyssa’s stomach. She had forgotten completely about the Fortress of Pandora. Built to defend against incursions from monsters. If there wasn’t any aggression from the monsters, there would be no need to build the place. The fact that the place even existed was proof that the hatred for monsters was not wholly unwarranted.
And friends? That sounded personal. Tzheitza had her eyes downcast, staring at the scales with shaking fists. Definitely not something to bring up now. Maybe later when the potioneer was in a better mood. Though really, how much did Alyssa really need to know? It was clear just from the look on Tzheitza’s face and her words. Someone she had cared for died defending the fortress. Any names that would be mentioned would be meaningless to Alyssa.
Hoping that Kasita would stay hidden for at least a few more minutes, she tried changing the subject. “Sorry for bringing up bad memories,” she said in a quiet voice, waiting a few moments before speaking to give Tzheitza time for her thoughts. “But I do need help with the gang. I’ll go find Oz if you don’t want to, but I would like your help interrogating Cid. I’m new to the city so I don’t know what all I should ask about.”
Tzheitza scoffed at the mention of Oz, but didn’t otherwise interrupt Alyssa. “Fetch the malefactor.” She cracked her knuckles in the most intimidating manner. It was straight out of Hollywood with her scowl and glare. Even the lighting of the room made her look ominous.
Not needing telling twice, Alyssa nodded her head and ran right out of the potion shop without bothering to tell Tzheitza that Cid was waiting around the side of the building. Even if she had mentioned it, Tzheitza probably didn’t want a malefactor in her personal rooms. The main shop room was probably bad enough.
Cid had stayed right where Alyssa had left him. Though not in the position she had left him. He was leaning against the door at an awkward angle. Trying to listen in? There shouldn’t be anyone on the other side of the door. It was the storage room. Not even the storage-room-turned-Alyssa’s-bedroom where Kasita might be hanging out. He was definitely too far away to have overheard her conversation with Tzheitza.
Just a light clearing of her throat made him jump the height of the door frame. Really. If he was so worried about her sneaking up on him, why hadn’t he faced the other way, toward the front of the shop, before putting his ear to the door. Shaking her head, Alyssa nodded back toward the front entrance. “Come on. Though I’d think carefully about what I’m going to say if I were you. Tzheitza might just kill you. And the only reason I’d stop her is because I want to kill you myself.”
His cracked lips curled back. “Maybe I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Should have thought about that beforehand. Too late now. You’re not running off.” Alyssa rested her hand on the holster at her side. If he actually did run off, she probably wouldn’t shoot him. As it was, she had already killed more than enough people for several people’s lifetimes in the last month alone. One of which had been out of pure anger, though a court might have declared it self-defense back on Earth. All the others had been legitimate self-defense, but still.
It weighed on her mind. Pretty much every night. Tenebrael’s comments about her being a reaper didn’t help either. She assuaged her conscience with the knowledge that all of them had deserved it. Pretty much every night, she started to question whether or not the common thieves on Earth or Svotty’s guard had actually deserved it. She squelched those thoughts the second they arose. There were no therapists here. Or, if there were, they probably weren’t very good and she couldn’t exactly go tell them that the deity they worshiped had kidnapped her. For her own peace of mind, the people she had killed absolutely needed to have deserved it.
And while Cid definitely did deserve it just as much as Svotty, Alyssa didn’t want to get in the habit of going around killing all her problems. It was too… permanent. She couldn’t. Not if she wanted to be able to look her parents and brother in the eyes when she finally got back.
All her worrying was for naught. Cid followed along behind her without a single complaint. As soon as they made it inside, Tzheitza shunted him off into one of the… Alyssa wanted to call it a waiting room, but that wasn’t accurate. There were three little cubicles partitioned off from the main shop floor with wooden doors that were used to treat customers over a moderate period of time. If someone needed their hand soaking in a vat of goop for an hour, they went into one of the cubicles. The other day, someone had some earthworm balm applied to a bruise in one.
Now, Cid was practically thrown into one of the seats. There were glass windows in the doors, but Tzheitza hit a small button on the frame. A thick black smog rolled out of an opened hatch, filling the space between the two panes of glass to the point where nothing could be seen on the other side. Though there was still one of those glowing jars of light, the room still felt like a dark cave.
From her apron, Tzheitza started pulling out items. A vial of black liquid. Some metal tool akin to pliers. A glass jar filled with squirming worms—actual leeches? Every time she set another one on the small counter built into the wall, Cid’s eyes widened. With each light clack of a jar hitting wood, muscles in his neck and shoulders twitched. By the time she had finished, there were a dozen tools, potions, and who-knew-whats all lined up in tidy rows.
“Now,” she said slowly. “Who are yeh?”
“C-Cid. I’m Cid. And…” he swallowed with a glance toward the counter. “I really don’t think any of those are necessary.”
Humming, Tzheitza ran a finger over the rim of one of the bottles. Cid leaned about as far as he could without falling out of the chair. It was like some old-timey horror movie. Didn’t torture not even work anyway because the torturee would say anything to get it to stop? Did Cid even need to be tortured? He had shown up on his own to offer information or… to get help with Bacco. Torturing him seemed wholly unnecessary.
But Alyssa didn’t say anything. First of all, there wasn’t any real torture going on. At least not yet. Just the threat of it. Secondly, she didn’t want to undermine Tzheitza’s authority or give Cid a reason to lie as he would know that the torture was only a threat. She just stood to the side, keeping her face as impassive as possible.
“I hear ye like sellin’ young ladies to the gangs.”
Cid’s wide eyes flicked to Alyssa for just an instant. “Selling? Why I… That’s just… I prefer to think of it as assisting newcomers to the city with finding permanent lodgings and even meaningful employment. If I happen to earn a small finder’s compensation on the side, well, we all have to eat.”
“A regular good Samaritan,” Tzheitza said with a sarcastic chuckle.
Which just made Alyssa blink. While she had never read it, she was almost positive that a good Samaritan was a phrase that came from the bible. The very same bible that this world almost certainly did not have a copy of lying about. But, after thinking for a moment, she dismissed the phrase as not important. They all spoke English. If that wasn’t something to get hung up about, neither was a metaphor.
Instead, she focused as Tzheitza started her questioning.