As we reached the base of the High Tower, I noticed that the wind had died down, and that the feeblest of sunlights peeked through the clouds. I wondered why the weather in this village was so ferocious now, as it was not so when we invaded the village that night several months ago. But Alexudo once said, as I remembered it from nine years before, when he was gazing at the window, "Murderous intent makes weather silent."
I stared at the ground. There must have been dozens of differently coloured flowers and strangely shaped leaves, some snaking about on the bricks of both the ground and the building. It was like a majestic garden to be gazed upon from several yards away, like a rainbow captured in the vines' grip.
"How are we supposed to work through all this?" I cried.
"You forget who I am, One-Eye," he snapped, kneeling.
I clicked my tongue angrily at him. Did he think that having one eye was some sort of shame? I lost it when I failed to carry out an order, and I lost it to my master. This was no shame.
"There are nine herbs here that we can use for making healing potions, if brewed correctly," he said.
"And they are?"
"Peacebloom, Silverleaf, Mageroyal, Liferoot, Kingsblood, Goldthorn, Goldclover, Cinderbloom and Twilight Jasmine," he replied, pointing at each respective flower. I recalled some of the names from the ancient books in the mansionís library.
"Goldthorn and Goldclover must be eliminated," I said immediately, "Any golden plant is extremely effective, but not sustainable. Twilight Jasmine's power is too minor for Victoria's condition. I don't know any of the rest."
"That's because they only grow here."
"And that's because I am here," I snapped. He was really getting on my nerves. "Get me a handful of each so that I can get to work," I started rummaging in my bag and taking out six medium-sized vials that Lord Niklaus had given me.
"Oh no, you don't," he said, "I'm coming with you. There's no telling what you can do with these herbs without supervision."
"I'm not a child, you arrogant little-"
"I am personal assistant to the king," he interrupted, throwing his nose in the air again, "If I should command it, you can be arrested immediately."
"And on what charges?"
"Stealing rare herbs from the village."
"I'm not stealing!"
"You are if I don't give you permission to take them."
"I just want to pierce your moley head so that you can deflate and get your feet back on the ground. Your ego is much too big," I said angrily.
"I have no ego, only care for this village."
"Oh, please. Your king is maddening by the day, this ghastly weather, weak citizens ... how do you survive in this rathole?"
"And where do you come from, might I ask?"
"None of your concern."
"And that, my friend, is why I am coming with you if you take those herbs."
"Call me 'friend' one more time and I'll break your nose."
"And then you say I'm the one with the ego."
"Yours is much bigger than mine if you think you can beat me in a fair fight."
"Then what reason would there be for me to fight fairly?"
"Well then, friend, let's get to work, shall we?"
Growling with anger and clutching the vials firmly in my left hand, I focused Ceilos in the right and threw a punch. It caught him off-guard and landed right between his widened eyes, snapping his glasses in two.
"You hit me!" he exclaimed in a high-pitched voice that had me bend forward with laughter, clutching his broken nose and not caring about the halved spectacles lying at his feet. "I'm bleeding!"
"You're such a little wussy!" I said, clutching at the ache in my abs. Finally, I stood up straight again and clapped him on the shoulder, "Come on, Egotist, get me the herbs or I'll tear off your ear."
I watched with a smirk as he searched through the plants one-handed for the herbs that I needed, and placed each in a vial. When he was finished, he got back up with a miserable look on his face, his hand dripping with blood.
"Oh, Spirits," I said, snorting and slapping his hand away. "I didn't even break your nose, you little wusspuss. I just dislocated it."
"Oh, is that so?" he asked sarcastically.
I snorted again. I just could not help myself. He was so pathetic. I reached forward, watching him back away an inch before staying still, clutched his head, pinched his nose between my two thumbs and snapped it to the left and back in place. He shrieked again, and I was half afraid that he might start crying.
"Stay still, damn it!" I hissed. After a moment, he stopped actually moving, but he was still shaking. I took a good look and saw that his nose was now back in place. "There, just get that healed up a little and it'll be as good as new. In the meantime, I'll be working in the inn, should you have the courage to watch me work."
As I turned on my heel and walked away, I heard him mutter 'bitch'.
The Royal Dragon Inn and the High Tower were the only things I knew how to get to in this village, as they were not very far apart. While walking toward the inn, I took my time to observe the village. It was really quite beautiful, and certainly a lot different from what I grew up in.
The roads were hard ground, but small pink and yellow flowers grew in the occasional crack. Children ran among the crowds of adults, throwing balls or simply playing tag. I saw one, particularly mischievous-looking boy leap and grab a melon from atop a pile sitting on a wheel wagon. The owner had been busy talking with a customer at the time, so the deed passed unnoticed.
Most of the buildings around me were shops. The windows were decorated with posters advertising specials, criminals and the occasional missing person. They were mostly colourful. A florist smiled at me as I passed and handed me a daisy with a wink. I took it with a grin and walked on. I saw that, as I walked, more and more of the shop buildings would have a second storey that looked suspiciously like houses. The doors became a little more tattered and the posters less colourful and charming.
I finally reached a three storey, charming-looking building with a large sign bearing an oriental dragon with a majestic face and wings with claws at the ends, and I entered.
The innkeeper, Jonas as I had learned, greeted me pleasantly as I passed the counter and offered me a flagon of mead, but I turned it down and headed upstairs to my room.
I took the parchment and ink from the desk and placed it on the second bunk of my bed before laying the six vials full of flowers on it. I then took the small alchemy kit Lord Niklaus had provided me with, put it in place and then took my own supply of herbs and liquids, as well as a large book on alchemy I had taken from the mansion library.
I worked the whole day and well into the following morning with no results before collapsing on the bed, only to wake up a few hours later and start all over again. I distilled, brewed, cut, crushed, mixed and threw Ceilos beams at each of the end-products, but to no avail. I tested each brew by making a small cut on my palm and watching its effects. Luckily I had brought normal healing potions with me, to counter the strange effects some of my brews had, such as burning, festering or even turning the cut into a small mouth.
I documented everything in a journal I had bought myself upon arriving, so that Lord Niklaus might find some of it useful someday.
By noon, my supply ran out and I hurried to the High Tower to take some more. I had a fairly good memory and was able to get a bigger supply of all six of the different blossoms with me unnoticed.
Two more days I worked, and my nerves ran on an all-time high. If I did not get some result, any result, within one and a half weeks, my life would be just about over. Lord Niklaus would kill me, torture me or - worse - banish me from the mansion. I just would not be able to live through that.
At midnight on the third evening of my stay, I ran out of supplies once more, and returned to the High Tower. This time, my movements did not go unnoticed.
"These herbs do not grow on trees, you know," King Lunarian said, leaning against a nearby tree. "This is the second time that you've stolen these herbs. Where are your results?"
"The reason I do not have results yet is because I keep running out," I snapped before I could stop myself.
I almost apologised, but then I decided that I did not want to. I have only one lord, one lady and two masters. No other people deserve my respect until they had earned it.
"Why don't you ask for Demetri's help?"
"His ego is too big for the room I'm staying in," I said, "I would die within an hour from suffocation."
"I see," he replied. I could see he was mocking thoughtfulness, and was reminded of a teenager younger than myself, one that would be sarcastic even with his superiors simply because he felt like rebelling.
"I am trying, your majesty," I said, "I am using a good source as a base, but it is difficult to work off herbs I do not even remember the names of."
"All the more reason to let Demetri help you," he said, "He is a good kid, Sapphire. He means well. I think he might be a little egotistic around you because you have the time to help Victoria and he does not. How long are you going to stay?"
"Lord Niklaus ordered me to go back there in two weeks' time. That leaves me little more than a week from now," I said.
"Klaus?" a voice said, and only then did I detect the hint of Ceilos in the air, the feeling of it returning after being masked. Demetri leaped from a high branch in another tree nearby. "You work ... for Klaus?"
"Demetri, you don't understand-" Lunarian began.
"Oh, I understand perfectly, your majesty," he interrupted. I wondered how he could show his master so little respect. "She tricked you, didn't she? Has she put some kind of spell on you?"
"Oh, dear Spirits, grow up already!" I said, and just as he made to say something, "If you dare to interrupt me when I'm speaking, I'll move to breaking your limbs."
He kept quiet, but glowered at me.
"I am a maid in Lord Niklaus's mansion," I said calmly, "Lady Victoria is gravely ill. She needs medical attention that he can't give her, because he is working day and night on finding a cure for the Tampered Mark. None of the herbs he has can help make a healing potion powerful enough to delay her power consuming her, which is why he sent me here."
"How can we be sure that you're not lying?"
"You can start by deflating your ego and realising that I am a servant to Lady Victoria, and that I only want to help her," I snapped.
"Demetri, I have been trying to ally with Klaus-"
I walked forward and, instead of slapping or punching him like he thought I would by trying to block it, reached around his head, grabbed his neck so tightly that he could not move, and pushed it downward, forcing him to bow.
"Show some respect to your king," I hissed, and he fell silent.
"I want to help Klaus help Victoria, Demetri," the king continued, "The alliance may prove useful in the future, anyway, and Sapphire being here is a start. He will be a powerful ally."
"What if he's just using you, your majesty?"
"Then at least Victoria will turn out all right," he replied, "I am not jeopardising the country. I know that's what you're thinking, but I'm not. I am trying to form an alliance with Klaus, but at the same time also with the other countries, and while you are training the villagers, I am pushing up the standards of the Academy. We will rise to the top again."
I let the brat's neck go and glared at him, "If you try to stop me from making this potion, you will not live to see another day."
"If you do not help her make it, you will be imprisoned for defying a direct order," King Lunarian added, "Or do you not wish to help Victoria?"
"I - fine," he said, and I noticed the anger in his voice.
This was like breaking an oath to himself, I was sure. He had probably vowed to himself to use all means to get back at Lord Niklaus for tarnishing his village, and now it is expected of him to help the very man he wished dead.
"Meet me at the Royal Dragon tomorrow morning, an hour after dawn," I said, and went back to the inn.
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