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  • Andrew M. Trauger

BK 3: Chapter Two: Things Best Left Undisturbed

Montpeleón deCorté normally enjoyed the Brewer’s Consortium. He liked to mill about, blending with the visitors as well as the townsfolk, sharing local gossip and hearing tales of political intrigues from faraway places. But this year’s events were soured to him as Cora’s brilliant red hair bobbed within the throngs that filled Penefeld Lawn. Those brief glimpses of scarlet turned his joy into sorrow and bittered the taste of excellent ales. Even after Cora had left the lawn, he loitered still, frowning at the crowds as he leaned against a lighted lamp post.

He remembered the day he first laid eyes on her, those bottomless emerald pools that held so much wonder and exuded so much naivety. It had been early summer, and she had been singing on a bench in Riverwalk Park. She had looked so pitiful, as if she had lost her way. He recalled that magical moment when they had harmonized so beautifully, and the hours alone atop the castle walls as they had gazed up at the constellations. It had been an empyrean evening.

But she was gone from his life, throwing her life away with that mismatched band of freeblades. He could free her of that danger and give her everything she wanted. If only she would see him as a worthy alternative to a gruesome death.

He pushed off the lamp and shuffled down the streets, his gaze never far from his footsteps. Wooing her was impossible. He had been charged not to let the young songsage divert him. Westmeade was his, and with this new responsibility, his tasks well defined, complex, and all-consuming. Besides that, she had rejected him.

But there had to be a way. There was always a way. Everything in his life thus far had been purposed—from being a landless gentleman to his calling with the Nephreqin. Nothing the All-Father did was capricious, and that would include his courtship of Cora. Higher powers guided his life, forming him and preparing him for this moment, which included a heart aching with unrequited love. If he was meant for nothing else, he had been destined to win her over—of that he was certain. She may have refused his betrothal, but Montpeleón deCorté was not a man accustomed to giving up. Despite his orders to the contrary, somewhere within the dictates of the Kedethian Decree was a path to Cora O’Banion. He would find it, and she would someday become his wife.


* * * * * * * * * *


Sir Reginald Hunt, Chief Prosecutor, possessed a near limitless amount of loathing for the Brewer’s Consortium. Much ale begat many drunken rowdies, and drunkenness spawned chaos. He saw it no other way. Inebriated people did stupid, lawless things, and if he didn’t stay one step ahead of the addled masses, there would be no end of the complaints. Stragglers singing at the top of their lungs in the wee hours of the morning, someone banging on the wrong door, groping the wrong woman, insulting the wrong man—the Tower of Truth would be filled to capacity by week’s end.

It always amazed him how a town of five thousand could accommodate twice that number—most of them tipsy—or why the Council wanted to. It was sheer madness. The Consortium would be his undoing; he lost a year of his life each time—

A chill raced up the steely Captain’s spine. It was a sensation he had felt altogether too often in recent months, but one he never expected to feel again…not with the imposter Vincent Schumann gone. Hunt assumed they were done with him.

But the chill had returned.

He stiffened as he scanned the crowds again, this time searching not for drunken sots but for the piercing gaze of a hooded ascetic.

A light touch on his arm made the captain’s breath catch, and a baritone voice rumbled in his ear. “Do not turn around. Do not speak. Walk with me.” The touch guided him down the street.

Hunt’s pulse quickened, and his eyes darted side to side. Right in the middle of a crowded street in broad daylight he was being gently led along by someone he could not turn to see. His training as a military officer said to spin quickly to the left, wrap up the man’s arm, knee his stomach, and end the conflict with a practiced grip on a sensitive pressure point. The whole scenario played out in textbook fashion and could be executed in less than a second.

Gathering his wits, Hunt flinched to execute the maneuver, and his arm pulsed with a sharp but fleeting pain. It was more than a mere touch. Suddenly, the captain felt wrung out like a wet rag relieved of water.

“You know better than that, Hunt,” the voice seethed in his ear. “Walk with compliance…if you intend to walk at all tomorrow.”

“What do you want with me?” Hunt asked, wobbling on his feet as he searched the crowded street for an escape route. Several guards were stationed along the street, and each nodded or signaled “all’s well” as the captain walked by. None showed the slightest hint that anything was amiss.

“There is some unfinished business to attend,” the voice said, “a few loose ends to tie up, wouldn’t you say?”

Hunt remained silent. He could think of a dozen things the Nephreqin might call “unfinished business,” and his name was associated with at least half. Nine Hells, it might even be me!

“The job in Cer Cannaid was a debacle,” the voice continued. “In one sense, that’s only a minor setback. Alikon is on high alert, but we have time. But in another sense, it seems to me that months of planning fell apart rather quickly. It’s as if someone was not cooperating, someone with—perhaps—misguided notions of the Decree.”

A flash of heated guilt shot up Hunt’s collar. There it was again: his interpretation of the Kedethian Decree thrown into his face. The Kedethian people, of whom he proudly claimed lineage, universally understood that the whole of Arelatha was their rightful heritage, even though most other races failed to see this. But the Nephreqin was overrun with fanatics, taking the idea of dominance too far. They were trying to force it rather than allowing the Decree to work itself out.

He met the eyes of every passerby, his anguished look pleading for assistance. Most people returned a smile or a quick salute. A few even stepped aside to allow their captain to pass. Why is no one seeing this? Why does no one notice a hooded figure leading the Captain of the Guard being led around by the arm?

The agent sighed. “Hindsight always reveals what planning fails to foresee. How could we have known that one of our pureblood kinsmen would be so great a disappointment? After such calculated guidance, after so many grandiose promises, you still proved incapable. Or…was it deliberate?”

The chill intensified, and his entire arm went numb. Though an unnatural cold swept through him, sweat beaded on his forehead.

“Why did you install additional guards in the castle?” the assailant hissed. “The plans were to be carried out across the city, yet the freeblades remained in the castle and you…you doubled the patrol. Why?”

A quick splash of relief washed over Hunt. It was a question easily answered. The truth was he loathed the very idea of assassinations as a perversion of justice, and the extra patrols were his attempt to prevent it. He wanted the Company of Dragonslayers captured, but a Nephreqin agent—Master Bray—offered to kill them. When he had discovered the assassination orders in Schumann’s house, Hunt forged new orders to have them attacked inside the Lord’s Castle instead. Then he had doubled the guard to frustrate the assassin and help the freeblades escape. In the end, the extra guards had proved unnecessary—Elric Reichtoven had killed the assassin.

Hunt hoped his answer didn’t reveal the smirk on his lips. “The Council was abreast of the orders, having discovered them quite by accident. I was compelled to heighten security…but it was for show, as I purposely had them patrol the wrong parts of the castle. They were completely ineffective.”

“I see,” the assailant murmured. He fell silent for a time as they walked along, making his next question abrupt. “Where did the freeblades obtain their information in Cer Cannaid?”

Hunt faltered. He had nothing to do with the coup in Cer Cannaid, and certainly not the assassination attempts. Had he known of it, he would have stopped it—killing the duke was unconscionable. Cora’s company was sent to pick up Schumann for questioning, not raid the castle. “I have no idea where they got it.”

The pair neared the Crossroads where the majority of merchant shops were located, and Hunt caught his reflection in a storefront window. His breath caught, for the glass revealed he was alone. No one visible held his arm or led him. The chill deepened and Hunt’s mind grew fuzzy.

“It is no matter, slave. You should rejoice that we still have some use for you. Plans are still in place even if your blunderings have set them back. We expect better from someone with such accolades as you boast. Perhaps accolades are meaningless? Perhaps we could have them removed. We could have ‘other things’ removed as well…”

Driven by dread, the words tumbled from his lips more quickly than Hunt preferred. “There’s no need for that, I assure you. I will obey, my master.”

The chill in Hunt’s arm vanished as the voice receded. “I am not your master. There is a new master in Westmeade. I am not he…but he requires a Watcher, as do you. I am watching you.”

The voice faded with the final words, and Hunt spun around to search the streets for his assailant. But he was alone. The captain replayed the encounter in his mind, and as he recalled the eerie visitation, he wondered if anyone had ever been there. Had the whole thing been implanted in his mind? He felt violated—again—by the very group that he most despised. Again, he was forced into servitude. It was clear where he stood.

Hunt marched straight for his home in The Estates, no longer caring about streets full of drunken revelers. Just when he thought he had been freed of compromising influences, he found himself entangled yet again. When he finally reached his home, he sat motionless in his favorite chair with a tall glass of wine.

But he was too shaken and bothered to drink it. Yet again.

As evening gave way to night, Hunt remained in his chair, his eyes blank as he weighed his options. He could reach no favorable conclusion, and his glass of wine slowly turned as sour as his stomach.

Hunt’s wife, Lilane, a tall, slender woman with angular features, high cheek bones, and perfectly straight, sunshine blonde hair—the epitome of Kedethian stock—stood behind Hunt and rubbed his stress-tightened shoulders.

“My dear,” she said in soothing tones, “you are as taut as a bowstring. What’s bothering you? I haven’t seen you sit so motionless since—well, I’ve never seen you like this.”

Hunt winced. He knew Lilane was trying to ease the tension in his shoulders, but it hurt. “I have a very difficult case, more complicated than any I’ve encountered before.”

“I do wish you would let me help you.”

Hunt bit his bottom lip. Cripe, she’s killing me! “I always appreciate your willingness, Lil, but you know I can’t divulge the details of a case.”

He stood up, mostly to escape her bony fingers. “I need to speak with Reimart.”

“Reggie, it’s well past dark. I doubt the lieutenant would still be awake. Come to bed with me.”

Hunt paused; her offer was tempting. With great effort, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Lil. I have to go.”

The journey back through the mostly vacant streets of Westmeade was more harrowing than even the darkest night of Tarchannen. Every soft breeze elicited a chill in him that resembled the sensation he had felt earlier. That was the issue he couldn’t shake, the sense that clouded his every thought. Someone was watching him. There could be eyes upon him even now. Twice he saw iridescent orbs peering through trees silhouetted against the midnight sky; any other night that would have been a cat, but now he was unsure. A shadowy figure stood leaning against the wall of an empty building, the face indeterminate and obscured. In Hunt’s mind, this “watcher” was everywhere. Distant sounds belonged to him; each face could be his; even the air carried his voice: “I’m watching you.”

Reimart’s house was not far away, but the journey across those few hundred feet drained the captain, as if each step sapped away a day’s worth of energy. His feet grew leaden as his walk turned to shuffle and his head drooped forward onto his chest. The ever-present thought that his watcher was around that corner or behind that hedge gnawed at his mind as a beaver chews through a willow.

He knocked on Reimart’s door. Eyes were everywhere, staring at him, watching his every move.

He rapped on the door again, harder this time. Many sets of eyes. Blue ones, yellow ones, pale white ones, large and unblinking, glaring at him unceasingly, boring holes clean through him. Occasionally, if Hunt turned quickly enough, he caught a glimpse of a pair of thin, beady red eyes.

Hunt pounded on the door, both fists thundering in unison. He thought he might charge after the eyes, his sword sweeping wide to either side in hopes that he could flush out whatever creature so cruelly disturbed his sanity. Or better, he’d run it through Reimart’s foul chest if he didn’t open the rinkin door—

A lock turned, and the door opened slowly to reveal a bleary-eyed lieutenant. “Captain?”

Hunt shouldered past the confused lieutenant and went straight for the liquor cabinet. “Shut the rinkin door, Reimart!” he cried. “Do you want him to come in?”

Reimart scanned his front porch and the small yard leading to the street. “Who? What’s going on, Captain? What’s got into you?” He closed and locked the door, then turned to his captain with raised eyebrow.

Hunt’s breath escaped in quick spurts like he was a caged bull. Visions of Schumann haunted him. Echoes of the watcher’s words caromed off the inside of his skull. He tried to focus, but his eyes darted from one thing to another with no discernable intent. With a jerk, he grabbed a bottle from the cabinet, uncorked it, and turned it back for a long draught.

“Reimart,” he said, clutching the bottle close to his chest, “I think I’m in trouble.”

Reimart didn’t answer right away. He removed a briarwood pipe from a small wooden rack and a supple leather pouch from a nearby glass jar. The room filled with the soothing aroma of vanilla-flavored pipeweed. Reimart filled the bowl of his pipe with the weed and stroked a flickerstick against the table to ignite it. He puffed lightly as he studied the captain. “You look like you’ve been visited by the undead. Is someone chasing you, sir?” Thin white tendrils of smoke curled around his wavy brown hair as he waited for a response.

The captain jerked his head up, as if triggered by the aroma. “No, no one’s chasing me. I am being watched, though, and I suppose I’ve just said too much. That’s the problem. I don’t know. Did you sleep well last night? I did. But I won’t sleep at all tonight. You probably won’t now, since I just brought this on you. But I probably shouldn’t have said that, either. I don’t know anymore.” He set down the bottle and extended a hand. “Give me some of that pipeweed.”

With wary hesitation, the lieutenant passed a spare pipe to his captain. He reached for the leather pouch of vanilla-soaked pipeweed but paused.

Hunt growled. “I said I want a smoke. Give it here.”

Reimart rubbed his chin as a smile curled one corner of his mouth. “Hunt, I’ve got a special pipeweed that I think you’ll like. It should take a little of that edge off your nerves.”

“You aim to kill me?” Hunt cast him a cagey glance.

Reimart recoiled in shock. “What? Nine Hells, Captain! Why would you even think such a thing? Look, this regular stuff is soaked in vanilla oils for flavor. Tastes good and all that. But this other batch is cut from a different weed grown in the Audric jungles, a plant called kanabi. I promise it’ll help you relax. Make you forget your troubles.”

He unlocked and opened a small drawer in a side table, then retrieved a similar leather pouch, smaller and stiff from lack of use. The weed inside was pungent with an acidic overtone, and Hunt shuddered at the aroma. “Where’d you get that nasty stuff?”

“I got it from an Animithe named Tam…he’s from, well, a little bit of everywhere, I guess. Crazy fellow, that one. Long, ratty hair twisted into tiny, dirty braids…gangly walk. But he had nary a care in the world, Hunt. He just didn’t rinkin care.”

“Watch your tongue, Reimart. Don’t use foul language.”

Reimart raised an eyebrow. “Here…let me light this pipe for you.” He stuffed a pinch of kanabi in the pipe, lit it with another flickerstick, and handed the smoking cauldron to the captain. “Draw in deeply, and soon all will be right.”


* * * * * * * * * *


Elric Reichtoven awoke to a head full of cobwebs. He had been hungover before, but this was different. And he drank only two of the pumpkin spice ales…that he could remember. His head pounded and screamed and sloshed, all at once, and his body ached and sweated and smelled of charcoal. This was no hangover. A sharp odor drifted across his nose, like a campfire, but in the fog that surrounded him, he could see little. The ground was hard and smooth like stone, but far too flat. More like…a hardwood floor! I’m still in Cora’s room an’ this ain’t fog at all—it’s smoke!

He sat up and gasped, instantly wishing he hadn’t. Smoke filled his lungs, sending him into fits of coughing that ripped through his chest with stabbing pain. His flesh was tender and blistered and his shirt filled with singed holes. He had no memory of a fire, only that Cora was about to open a large book—

Cora!

Elric scrambled to his knees and crawled about the room, trying to stay below the worst of the smoke cloud that filled the room. His eyes burned, but there was no evidence of an ongoing fire. Outlines of objects in the room remained hidden in the haze; his hands brushed against the side of Cora’s bed a split second before he could see it.

He called out to her, but there was no answer. Confused and concerned, he pressed on. Gotta open the window and let this smoke out. What the rink happened here? Were we attacked?

As he felt along the edge of the bed, images of disaster filled his imagination. The bed had flipped over on its side. The wash basin was turned over, spilling its contents across the floor. Papers—some soaked through—lay scattered about. Elric crawled around the upended bed. “Cora?” A lump formed in his throat, the kind he prayed he’d never feel again.

Using his hands as guides, Elric traced a path around the foot of the bed. The mattress had spilled off the frame and leaned against the far wall. The pungent odor of burnt flesh hung more heavily here. Somewhere on this wall is the window. Got to get it open! Despite poor visibility, Elric righted the mattress and sifted through the charred sheets and blankets. He shoved his shoulder into the bed, causing it to careen and fall back onto its feet with a resounding thud on the hardwood floor. Then he heaved the mattress and remnants of blankets back onto the frame.

His foot struck against an object, throwing his balance. It was a body.

“Cora?” She was warm to the touch and…sticky. Sinking dread pulled Elric to his knees.

“Cora!” Her face felt spongy soft and bubbly, and her hair was matted against the skin. When he lifted his hands, tufts of hair stuck to his palms and effortlessly tore free. Not the gorgeous scarlet hair!

A muted moan at his feet infused him with both hope and urgency. He stepped over Cora and reached for the window. It had shattered outward, and Elric sliced his hand on a broken pane. Cursing the whole scene, he smashed through the rest of the window. Fresh outside air gently wafted in, carried on the early night breeze. Elric grabbed a tattered pillow and rapidly fanned air through the opening, tossing as many blood-laced feathers into the yard below as were flung about the room. When the smoky haze had thinned sufficiently that he could see his surroundings, his stomach twisted into tight knots.

The entire room was covered with black char. Though nothing seemed truly burned, everything was clearly scorched. Cora lay limply on her back against the wall. Her clothes were burned and reduced to rags, the exposed skin blistered and splotchy. Elric leaped over the bed as he spotted the wash basin. He grabbed the pitcher and, ignoring his own pain, sped downstairs to refill it.

Cora hadn’t moved when he returned with a wrapped hand, fresh water, clean towels, and a lit candelabra. He poured water across the worst of her burns—mainly her torso and arms—distributing it as evenly as possible. Weak moans escaped Cora’s singed lips.

“Ha!” The burst of elation escaped Elric’s throat before he could think of an actual word to express his joy. “Yer alive! Thank the Maker!” For two hours, he administered basic field care to Cora’s wounds, making multiple trips downstairs for fresh water.

Cora slipped in and out of consciousness, her feeble moans alternating with periods of death-like stillness. As the smoke thinned, Elric studied the scene with greater clarity. A fire had erupted in Cora’s bedroom, but it appeared to have extinguished quickly. It was hard to tell. All the fabrics were ruined, and the floor bore a scorched ring that centered around—

Elric gasped and backpedaled. In his focus, he had not noticed it before.

In the middle of the blackened floor sat Blanchard’s book, closed and clasped. Nine Hells…

The arcanist’s tome had nearly killed them. Elric stared at the book as he tended Cora’s wounds, one wary eye alert for signs it might jump up and attack him, spew flames across the room, or transform into a dragonspawn.

Cora’s face swelled with tender flesh; her hair curled tightly in darkened rings and broke off with the slightest touch. She would keep most of it, thankfully, but those glorious scarlet locks would be gone.

With closed eyes and uncertain hands, Elric reached for the handlebars of his mustache. He breathed a sharp sigh of relief. Still there.

“I don’t know if this is helpin’ any,” he said over Cora’s semi-conscious form. “I’m doin’ all I know how ‘sides pourin’ some elixirs down yer—” Elric paused and slapped his forehead, which hurt like he had jabbed a leather awl through his skull. Yer a rinkin idiot, Reichtoven.


* * * * * * * * * *


An hour later, Cora sat atop the ruined bed, staring unblinking past her sooty feet at the unblemished tome in the middle of the charred ring on her floor. Elric had explained everything he knew and all he had done. A tattered blanket enwrapped her to the neck, but it did little to stave off chills that swept through her body every few seconds. She glanced at the pile of empty crystalline vials at the foot of the bed. Such a price to restore her health, but once again, Elric had saved her life.

“I c-can’t get w-warm,” she said through chattering teeth.

“I think yer in shock…mebbe jis a bit.”

“Maybe I sh-should have l-left it alone.”

Elric checked the tome for signs of coming to life. Finding it lifeless still, he shrugged. “I dunno. I’da prolly done the same thang.”

“Yeah. P-probably.”

“So, what now? I mean, the room’s a wreck an’ we jis used up all the elixirs.”

Cora frowned with uncertainty. Memories were muddled; she wasn’t sure what she had been doing prior to the incident. “What day is it?”

Elric looked up at the ceiling. “Well…if we didn’t lose no time, like a whole day or nothin’, then I reckon it’s still the thirteenth.”

“First d-day of the Consortium?”

Elric nodded.

“Okay…the Kottings won’t be b-back until after the festival, so we have a few d-days.”

“They ain’t gonna like findin’ all this.”

“They w-won’t,” Cora said. A deep chill shook her frame. “We have to f-fix it.”

“Yeah…ya reckon Cuauhtie’s gonna be jacked at us fer drankin’ all them elixirs? Speakin’ of drankin’, the punkin lager’s still good.” Elric forced a smile when Cora didn’t respond.

She wasn’t in a laughing mood. The book on the floor still carried her name, and it filled her with insatiable curiosity. But also fear. She wanted no part of being owned or claimed by a sentient item. “What’s in that b-book?” she said.

Elric jumped as if snapped out of a daydream. “What? You ain’t openin’ that up again! Don’t make me jerk a knot in yer tail.”

“Why is my n-name on it?”

“Dontcha even think about it.”

“It’s a spellb-book. There’s immense p-power inside.”

“No!” Elric jumped up from his charred chair and scooped the spellbook up from the floor and clutched it close to his chest. A perfect square of non-damaged floor shined out amidst the blackened ring that surrounded it. “Cripe, normally I’m the one doin’ stupid stuff. Leave it be, Cora. I’m takin’ it where it cain’t bug ya no more.”

Cora sighed and turned her attention to the tufts of scarlet clutched in her hands. Despair left her a hollow shell as she contemplated the loss of her hair. “How b-bad is it? Really.”

“Yer gonna need a haircut,” Elric said plainly.

Cora was too tired to cry.


Over the remainder of the week, Cora and Elric thoroughly cleaned her bedroom, but they were nowhere near finished when the Kottings returned. Harold and Velma Kotting displayed remarkable graciousness about the whole affair, though they insisted that everything must be restored, if it took Cora the rest of her life. She was able to remove the black char that blanketed her room by scrubbing everything in ammonia water, but there remained the telltale imprint of a hefty tome on the floor, its outline indelibly etched in the wood grain. Cora paid for the damages that couldn’t be cleaned, and the matter was dropped.

Afterward, Cora visited the most renowned hair stylist in Westmeade. Tears filled her eyes as clumps of scarlet fell to the floor around her chair, some of considerable length. When the stylist was finished, she gave Cora a small handheld mirror and a confident smile. Cora gasped as she viewed her reflection, not from horror but from pleasant surprise. Former waves to the middle of her back now dusted her shoulder in a feathered cut that favored the western styles of Elandra. On the whole, it gave Cora a more mature appearance. More importantly, the angry scar on her neck remained hidden behind the shortened locks. Mother’s going to kill me.

After dinner that evening, Cora flopped out on her bed and penned what she hoped was an encouraging letter to her family in Lorenvale. When she had punctuated the final sentence, she leaned back against the headboard with a bottle of pumpkin lager.

Voices rumbled downstairs as the Kottings talked with a pair of male guests. The country drawl of the one and the thick equatorial accents of the other spread a smile across her face. Elric and Cuauhtérroc were more than allies; they were two of her best friends. She set out a bottle for Elric, then she paused and contemplated a third bottle for the savage.

Elric bounded into the room with an awkward flourish and immediately grabbed up the open bottle. “I knew ya’d save one fer me!”

Cuauhtérroc walked in and pulled up in alarm. “Where ees dees hair?”

“I’m trying something new,” Cora answered.

After an uncomfortably long stare, he shook his head. “You look like dees pretty man.”

Cora raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, when you had your hair cut, you finally did look like a man.”

Elric choked on his lager.

Cora handed Cuauhtérroc the glass. “I’m just kidding with you. Here, I bought something for all of us to share. Let’s celebrate our success.”

Cuauhtérroc eyed the orangey liquid topped by creamy foam with a suspicious glare. “It look like dees poison dreenk.”

Cora rolled her eyes. “Oh, for crying out loud, ale is not poison, you lunk.” Then she paused and gave the most imperceptible of winks to Elric. “But this is not even ale. It’s lager.”

Cuauhtérroc stared at the drink. He sniffed it. “Eet smell good.”

“It is good. It’s made from pumpkins. This is pumpkin spice lager. The sweet nectar of life. Just try it.”

Cuauhtérroc lifted the glass to his lips and sipped, leaving a line of foam on his top lip. He smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he contemplated the auburn drink.

“Dees ees good,” he said at last, then quickly gulped it down.

Elric’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth as if to speak. Cora held up a finger and shook her head, her short hair dancing on her shoulders.

“I have more of that lager, if you want,” she said to the savage.

Cuauhtérroc nodded and extended an eager hand. Elric shrugged and gave him a second bottle, which the savage also drank while Cora discussed their trip back to Cer Cannaid.

As they talked, Cuauhtérroc emptied a third bottle, then a fourth and a fifth. He swayed where he sat, his eyes twitching in one direction while his body leaned in the other. Mumbled gibberish spilled from his mouth, along with a bit of drool. Then he fell forward in a heap.

Elric looked at Cora for a moment and burst out laughing. He tipped his bottle towards the songsage. “Well, ya done got Cuauhtie drunk.”

Cora bit her lip. “I…I didn’t realize he had so many.”

Elric stared at the savage’s limp body and finished off the last of his lager. He stretched as he stood and set the bottle aside. “I reckon I better git.” He ambled for the door and bid Cora a good night.

She frowned at the collapsed hulk of Cuauhtérroc’s body.“He’s going to hate me when he wakes up.”


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