Most of Alyssa’s initial anxiety with returning to Lyria had died down over the past three days. No one had come to arrest her. She hadn’t woken up to find herself dragged out of Tzheitza’s potion shop in chains in the middle of the night. Best of all, she hadn’t heard a single whisper of the Waters Street gang. Decorous, in charge of the majority of the city guard at the moment, had apparently cracked down on them. The Taker hadn’t been found and neither had Octavia, but there had been several very loud raids on known or suspected Waters Street hideouts… and a few public executions.
Which was nice. Alyssa hadn’t worried in the slightest about Waters Street since hearing that news. They had a lot more on their plate to deal with than one person who might have cost them a relatively insignificant amount of money by freeing a few slaves.
For the majority of her time, Alyssa occupied herself with working for Tzheitza again. She wanted a holster or sheath or whatever for the staff. For that, she needed money. And Tzheitza was perfectly happy to have her delivering potions again and even operating the front counter. The potion maker was almost solely concerned with Tenebrael’s feathers and experimenting. She did the bare minimum to keep her shop running.
Alyssa looked up from the angelic information that Tenebrael had finally sent as the door opened. It dragged along the ground, making a nasty scraping noise as it moved. Apparently, some people were coming to replace the door and the window in a few days. Something that couldn’t come soon enough, in Alyssa’s opinion.
The man standing in the doorway was familiar, but it took Alyssa a few moments to remember just where she had seen him last. It finally clicked when he walked up, asking for Tzheitza. Most of the walk-in customers only got nonsense in return. Placebos. This one was no different. It was the man who had gotten the crushed earthworm balm for his bruises. Someone who came in every few weeks with a new life threatening ailment.
“I’m sorry, Tzheitza is a bit busy at the moment. Perhaps I can help you?”
“Oh?” He chuckled. “Has she finally taken on an apprentice?”
“Something like that.” It was true that Tzheitza had taught her a few things, but those few things were all placebo ‘cures’ for people like this. Things that didn’t matter, didn’t do anything, and made people think that they did something, but took a decent amount of time to make.
She had thought that the worst part of the job would end at having to crush up earthworms for bruises.
She had been naive.
The actual worst part was looking at festering wounds. She had seen some that actually required Tzheitza to come out and provide real medical attention. In one case, she had to send some poor girl off to menders, a prospect that had Alyssa shuddering. Potions tended to fix wounds, but magic and menders were required for anything that involved surgery. A potion couldn’t fix a malignant growth and it wouldn’t pull a plate of metal out of someone’s leg.
So, Alyssa hardened her stomach as the man started rolling up his sleeve.
“I’m sure it isn’t anything too bad,” he said with a nervous chuckle. “I was working out in the fields when I found this big black dog. I tried to shoo it, but it nipped at me on its way.” He finished rolling up his sleeve.
Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as Alyssa had feared. Alyssa would have described it as a cut more than a nip, but the little gash on his forearm wasn’t even bleeding much. It was just a relatively straight thin line. The skin surrounding it was bright red. Almost to the point of luminosity. Inflammation, but she didn’t know if that meant infection or natural body healing process. Even if it was the latter, the cut could still be infected. It probably was infected. And if something like rabies existed in this world, he might already be dead and just didn’t know it yet. A vaccine could save a rabies victim if given immediately after infection, but such a thing likely didn’t exist here.
Best to get advice from an expert. “It doesn’t look too bad, but let me see if I can bother Tzheitza before I give you anything for it.”
“Oh. Sure. Don’t mind me,” he said with another chuckle. “I’ll just try not to die before you get back.”
“You don’t have to worry about that at all,” Alyssa said as she stood. His pessimism made her a bit uncomfortable. Was he always like that? Stubbed his toe and thought the world might end? “I’ll be right back.”
Ducking into the back room, Alyssa found Tzheitza right where she always was these days. She didn’t have her white protective gear on today, but she also wasn’t working with those red flasks. Those things made Alyssa a little nervous just being in their presence. They were heavily diluted samples of blood taken from plague victims. Having a demonic plague separated from her by only a thin bit of glass didn’t seem safe at all.
One of Tenebrael’s feathers was in pieces on the workbench. Each about half an inch in length. Tzheitza had a strange set of glasses on that looked like something a jewel appraiser might wear. Lots of little lenses could be flipped up and down over the main glass. Using a pair of forceps, she was combing through one feather piece’s individual fibers.
“Busy?” Alyssa asked, approaching.
“Attempting to discern which individual part of the feather contains the aspect that retards the plague. Given how rare these feathers are likely to be, I need to find the most efficient way of extracting said aspect. I am also planning on sending off a feather to a colleague of mine who specializes in duplicating magical aspects of rare materials with more common items. He has single handedly driven down the cost of a great number of potions, though some things still elude him.”
“Like the stuff for the rejuvenation potion, I assume.”
“Indeed. Did yeh need something?”
Alyssa started to talk until she realized that she had forgotten to ask the man’s name. Ah well. “There’s a man who says he was bitten by a dog. He’s got a small wound that doesn’t look too bad, but I thought I’d ask you first. I don’t know what diseases you have that are transmitted by wild dogs. Does rabies mean anything to you? Or pasteurella?”
Tzheitza looked up from the feather without adjusting her glasses. Her one eye was tinted amber with all the lenses in the way. “Sometimes, yeh open yer mouth and strange noises come out.”
“Oh, that’s rich coming from you.” Although she said that, Alyssa was extremely grateful whenever Tzheitza chose to speak in a relatively normal way. “What did I say that was strange? The diseases?”
“Mhm. Never heard of ‘em.”
“That’s good. Rabies is particularly nasty.” Unless they called rabies the madness disease or something else. But so far, everything had aligned properly with modern Earth vernacular. Diseases probably would too.
Tzheitza carefully placed her glasses onto the worktop, making sure to avoid disturbing the feather pieces. “I suppose I’ll check ‘im out,” she said, not sounding too happy about the prospect. “How bad is it?”
“Not bad. It looks more like a cut than a bite. Long and thin. It wasn’t bleeding much when he showed it, but the skin was clearly broken earlier. There is a bit of inflammation.”
“Mhm,” Tzheitza hummed, pulling two small flasks from a cupboard—not the red plagued ones, but one clear and one a translucent brown. With those and a wad of wool in hand, she headed for the front room.
The… patient? He stood near the broken window, looking at one of the carboys that had its top sliced off. He didn’t have his hands anywhere near the glass edge, he was just leaning over to peer inside. The colored water had all been cleared out, though there was a slight stain on the glass where the water level had been.
Tzheitza cleared her throat, startling him to the point where he almost lost his balance. “Ol’ hodder,” she said upon seeing who he was. “Whatcha wronglike now?”
Alyssa rolled her eyes. A part of her wondered if Tzheitza only talked like that as part of a show. Oz had said that potioneers spoke strangely because they could communicate more effectively in the event that something went wrong. Telling someone in the ‘know’ to add a neutralizing agent to an unstable potion would surely be faster with codewords and profession-specific lingo, but extending that to essentially slurring their daily speech had to be a big joke the whole community was playing on the rest of the world. Tzheitza could speak perfectly normally. Alyssa had heard her plenty of times.
The patient quickly came over and started explaining everything that he had already said to Alyssa. Tzheitza inspected his arm, turning it one way then the other. She was surprisingly gentle with him as she looked him over. Considering that she was irritated at having her research interrupted, Alyssa would have expected her to rush through what was likely a simple non-issue.
But she was spending far more time inspecting the wound than Alyssa would have expected.
“This dog,” Tzheitza said slowly. “‘Twas a largen, mhm?”
“Oh yeah. Big, huge.” He spread out his arms wide, or tried to. Tzheitza still had a grip on his injured arm. “Thick black fur.”
Alyssa narrowed her eyes, getting an odd feeling in the back of her mind.
“Did yeh see its face?”
“No. It was all curled up on the ground. Sleeping. Felt mighty bad about nudging it awake with my hoe.”
“How’d canne see its face but it bit yeh?”
He put a hand to the back of his head, rubbing his hair. “Well, I didn’t see it bite me. Only noticed a few hours later. I didn’t cut myself… so it must’ve been the dog.”
Alyssa stepped closer. “Which field was this?”
“Oh, it would’ve been North-Three… maybe Four. One of the ones next to the path a bit far out. We’re chopping down some of the destroyed crops to make way for new plantings.”
The seemingly continuous field was apparently split into sections. Alyssa had no clue where any part was, though North was a fairly obvious indicator. If it was near the damaged fields, that meant that it would have been along the route that Alyssa had taken to get back to the city.
“Lemme get sommat ready. Sit tight.” She let got of his arm and moved back behind the front counter, casually waving to one of the small private rooms. Having been here plenty of times in the past, he apparently didn’t need any further instructions and promptly went right to the one Alyssa had first seen him in.
Alyssa walked over. He hadn’t closed the door, so she spoke softly to Tzheitza. “Is it anything to be worried over?”
“It definitely wasn’t a tool cut. Magically inclined monsters will often leave a bit of residue behind in attacks. Sometimes harmful. Sometimes not. That red around the cut is a burn I’d associate with a hellhound, though donno what one is doing that close to the city. Might itch a jommy, but probably not deadly.”
Grimacing, Alyssa shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She was pretty sure she knew what one was doing this close. Or, if she didn’t know what it was doing, she knew who that hellhound was. At least Fela hadn’t killed him. That probably would have had the guards burning down the fields to get to her. But… “How did he mistake a hellhound for a dog?”
Tzheitza eyed her for a moment. If she noticed the shifting of Alyssa’s feet, she didn’t say antyhing about it. “Not surprisin’ if he didn’t look at its face. Not a lot of people outside the guild would recognize uncommon monsters anyhow.”
“Still, you’d think he’d notice the muscles on the non-furry parts… or the non-furry parts… or the breasts… or the huge flames coming out of the eyes… or… What?”
Pausing mixing a few ingredients into a creamy paste, Tzheitza raised her unscathed eyebrow. “Yeh know something?”
“Well, I mean, it could just be coincidence, but Irulon and I met a hellhound while we were out. I might have mentioned that we freed a number of monsters while destroying the outpost.”
“And it followed yeh back?”
“She followed us part of the way, but we weren’t exactly waiting up for her.”
Tzheitza let out a long sigh, crossing her arms as she stared at Alyssa. “I thought yeh learned after the goddard fairy.”
“Fela isn’t anything like the fairy! She doesn’t mind control people, for one. And Irulon was fine with it.”
“The Princess might not be thinking properlike. Don’t think I didn’t notice it when she came abouts for yer mimic.” Tzheitza tapped the side of her temple with a finger. “She’s got dragon eyes. And the Black Prince is known for his monsters. Octavia is none better. That whole family is trouble, I tell you.” Scoffing and shaking her head, she grumbled to herself, “Shoulda moved to Davenport ages ago. If only the palace wasn’t my biggest customer.”
“They aren’t that bad,” Alyssa protested. “And the draken are actually pretty nice once you get to know them… if you can ignore the razor sharp teeth.” She still had vivid recollections of Izsha and Musca chomping people to pieces.
“Bah. This ointment is nearly done,” she said, stepping away. “Add a dollop of this.” She held up the flask of brown liquid. “Keep stirring it for five minutes then cast a Flame and hold it in the bowl just above the cream for a count of thirty. I’ll be back shortly.”
“Where are you going?”
“Gotta go tell the guard that they have a hellhound problem in the fields. They can hunt it down themselves or, more likely, hire the guild to do it for them.”
“Wait! You’re going to have her hunted down?”
“‘Course,” Tzheitza said matter-of-factly.
“But… but she hasn’t hurt anyone!”
Tzheitza raised an eyebrow again. Without saying a word, she glanced over to the partitioned room that their patient had taken up temporary residence within.
“She hasn’t seriously hurt anyone,” Alyssa corrected. “Look, let me go talk to her. I’ll tell her that she’s got to leave. Then nobody has to get hurt. Human or monster. I’ve seen her fight. She’s pretty scary.”
“Yer just gonna walked up to a haberin hellhound and tell it to get out?”
“Unless you’ve got a better idea?”
“Tell the guards.”
“A better idea that won’t get her hunted down.” Alyssa shook her head. “It’ll be fine. She knows me. Kasita said that she imprinted on me, or something like it.”
“That was my reaction exactly.”
Tzheitza put a hand to her face and pressed in on her cheeks, as if she could massage away the frustration she undoubtedly felt.
“Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be in any danger, if that is what you’re worried about. And I bet I can find her extremely easily if I bring out a hamburger. She’ll smell it from the opposite side of the city… though maybe I should wait until after dark so that all the farmhands are out of the fields.”
“Yer gonna get yerself killed. At least get me those feathers first.”
“That’s tomorrow, unless I’ve gotten my days mixed up.”
“All the more reason to stay safe.”
“The hellhound isn’t going to hurt me.”
“The guards might.”
“That’s why I’m waiting until nightfall. Less people around means less gets reported to the guards. As long as you don’t go to them.”
Tzheitza sighed. A long, heavy sigh. “This?” she said, picking up the flask of brownish liquid. It had a thick consistency as she poured a dab of it out into the cream, almost like honey. “Is honey.”
“It has several unique and valuable properties. One of which is that it builds up a resistance to certain changes to its environment. By exposing it to flame, we can create an effective burn ointment.” Instead of heading out, she picked up the wire whisk and started mixing it together.
“Does this mean you aren’t going to the guards?”
Tzheitza made a noise. It wasn’t a yes or even an agreeable noise, but it wasn’t a no either. It was a noise of exasperation.
Alyssa took it as a good sign.
After a minute, far less time than she had told Alyssa to mix for, she pulled out one of the spell cards from under the desk. In contrast to Lumen and Irulon, both of whom didn’t even look at their tomes as they selected spells, Tzheitza had to shuffle through the disorganized drawer full of cards. She really needed a filing system if she wasn’t going to put them away in a tome. Alyssa was fairly sure that the only reason she found a Flame card as fast as she did was because there were a lot of them relative to other cards in the drawer.
Her hand remained completely steady as she held the flame a fraction of an inch above the amber-colored cream. The color started to change, turning to a rich earthen brown. Using her free hand, she used the whisk to turn the cream, bringing amber to the surface to be heated. A step of the process she had neglected to mention before almost rushing off.
She kept at it for a minute before flicking her fingers to put out the flame.
“There. Burn ointment. Smear a thin layer over that ol’ hodder’s arm. Bottle the rest and tell him to do the same once every morning until the jar runs out. It’ll cost him four medi. I’ve got to get my gear.”
“Yeh ain’t going off on this habberin idiocy on yer own.”