Master Avorlus reached down and picked the largest stone up with two fingers. It was slightly smaller than his closed fist. He stared at it for a second and it pulsed with light.
“These are all light crystals,” the older mage observed impassively.
“Yes well, since I see that you’re using candles to light your home, I think these will be quite useful to you,” Mahedium replied.
The older man grunted and eyed Mahedium with new interest.
“Yes, these would be quite useful, but worth Elixirs? I don’t believe so. You can’t compare the ability to uplift mere men into Vessels to something that’s a small improvement over a candle,” he remarked scornfully.
“Perhaps, but light crystals don’t kill most the people who try and use them either, and I have other stones,” Mahedium countered.
“So what if you do? I make more than enough money to buy as many crystals as I want by selling Elixirs. Why do I need you?” the older mage replied.
Mahedium didn’t seem concerned by Avorlus’ argument. He leaned back in his chair and appeared to relax.
“You can’t use your potions yourself though. You’re a mage not a Vessel. Are you really satisfied with granting other people power, and not finding ways to make and use magic for yourself?” he asked.
“You’re assuming I don’t know how to make my own spell stones,” Avorlus responded coldly.
Blacknail wasn’t fooled though. The older man was looking less composed and sure of himself now. Mahedium leaned forward and stared hard into the other mage’s eyes.
“I know you can’t, for the same reasons I know you can’t actually buy all the crystals you want. This home is lit by candles instead of magic. Where are all the crystals you’re supposedly buying? I’ll tell you where. They’re tucked away somewhere safe, or hidden about your person in case of an emergency. You’re never going to use them though; they’ll lay there forever. You won’t risk wasting them when you can never be sure you’ll be able to replace them, and thus you’ll never be truly free to use the power that is yours by right,” Mahedium explained with calm intensity.
The younger mage kept up eye contact with the older mage, as he reached down and picked up one of the spell stones on the table. He concealed it in his closed fist, before it burst to life. The light from the crystal was so strong the shadows of the bones in his hand were visible as light blazed out from between his fingers. Then the light died, and Mahedium dropped the used up spell stone onto the table.
“Power that can’t be used as one wishes, is not truly power at all,” he commented dryly.
Avorlus looked away. His teeth were clenched hard together, and he looked unsettled now.
“Very well, I’m listening. What do you propose?” he replied few seconds later in a defeated tone.
“Let us start by being forthright with each other. We could sit here all day making cryptic comments and never accomplish anything. Instead though, let’s put our cards on the table, and see what we have to trade,” Mahedium suggested.
Avorlus coolly eyed the younger mage for a few seconds, but then nodded. Seeing this, Mahedium continued talking.
“I have next to no information on the process of creating Elixirs, and you do. I can show you the basic techniques for creating spell stones however. What would you be willing to trade for it?” he asked.
“Trade? You’re here in my home begging favors from me. I’m an experienced mage and you’re nothing but a young upstart. I might teach you something in exchange for the scraps of knowledge you possess, but that doesn’t make us equals,” Avorlus responded coldly.
The old bald bearded mage then raised a gloved hand to reveal he held a crystal against his palm. Black smoke began to curl and rise menacingly upward from the spell stone. Blacknail really didn’t like the look of that, or the smell. It reminded him of rotten eggs.
Mahedium tensed at the other mage’s actions. His own hand inched towards one of the spell stones concealed up his sleeve.
“I should warn you that I have a rather large force stone tucked up against my skin right now. If you do anything too sudden I might ignite it, and reduce everything in this room to smithereens,” Mahedium told the older mage, as he reached up his sleeve and pulled out a small wand. The end of the rod held a small crystal, and it began to thrum and vibrate.
He didn’t point it at anyone, but he didn’t have to, the message was clear. He wasn’t intimidated by the other mage’s display. Blacknail got ready to draw his own weapon and fight as well. He would have preferred to flee, but the door was guarded and all the windows were too small to squeeze through.
The two mages eyes met, and they stared defiantly at each other. Then Avorlus chuckled, and smiled humorlessly.
“You’re very determined, I see. Good, maybe you’re worth dealing with after all,” he remarked.
Mahedium’s posture relaxed at the other man’s words, but he didn’t put his wand back away. Blacknail continued to stare at the mage’s bodyguard, who was staring right back at him. The hobgoblin wasn’t exactly sure what he was going to do if he actually had to fight this massive human, but that didn’t stop him glaring menacingly.
Avorlus noticed his guest’s hostility and sighed dramatically. He then carefully placed his spell stone on the table in front of him.
“Your turn,” he remarked confidently.
Mahedium gave the older mage a hard stare, but relented a second later. He tucked his wand back into his sleeve, and out of sight.
“I think you’ll find that I’m willing to do practically anything to increase my knowledge of magic. Now, what are you willing to trade for the basic techniques for creating spell stones,” Mahedium asked the other mage.
“As am I, young mage. Over the years I have collected quite a bit of information on the crystal growing process. I’ve never had any luck making it work though; the information is incomplete. There are however a few formulas for spells in there that I’m sure would be of great value to you, though. I will exchange this knowledge for the basic techniques you’ve acquired,” Avorlus offered carefully.
“I would have to look it over before agreeing to anything,” was Mahedium’s answer.
“I will allow you to read a sample of the writings beforehand,” Avorlus told him.
“Acceptable, but there are other areas I’m interested in as well,” the younger mage replied.
Avorlus tensed slightly and leaned backwards. The hostile look from earlier returned to his eyes. Mahedium didn’t seem surprised or concerned though.
“You have nothing valuable enough to trade for my knowledge of Elixirs,” the older man replied coldly.
“So I understand, but I’m not asking for anything like all your knowledge. I simply need to be able to create one specific formula, that which my leader Herad uses. She requires a new source of the Ressertein Elixir, and has tasked me with procuring it for her. Your business would remain undisturbed,” Mahedium explained.
“Do you have anything to offer me for this? If not, then she’ll just have to purchase it from me like everyone else. I’m not afraid of the bandit chiefs,” Avorlus told him coldly.
Mahedium rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and looked off to one side for a second.
“I have some unique Vessel samples you might be interested it. They come from a rather interesting source,” he told the other man.
“They would have to be very interesting indeed.” Avorlus remarked doubtfully.
“Oh, they are. Blacknail would you please remove your hood,” Mahedium asked.
From where he was standing behind his chair the hobgoblin gave the mage a curious look. He didn’t really want to reveal himself in such a plain manner. It wasn’t… fun enough. Everyone was now looking his way, and Avorlus looked caught between curiosity and confusion.
“Now, please,” Mahedium requested impatiently, but with a trace of humor.
Blacknail sighed, but then did as he was told. He flipped his hood down, and then gave the guard across from him a broad toothy smile. The reaction was immediate. Avorlus flinched away from him, and his guard went for his sword.
“Fuck me,” the guard whispered to himself.
This caused Blacknail’s smile to widen. He had won the game, and made the stupid human say something aloud! Mahedium calmly reached into his sleeve and withdrew the small wand again, which he pointed at the guard.
“There’s no need for violence; he’s friendly as long as you are. However, if you attempt to raise your blade against him then he’ll be the least of your worries, because I’ll blast you across the room so fast you won’t know what hit you,” Mahedium told them.
“What is this thing that you’ve brought into my home?” Avorlus asked in shock. His eyes were wide with alarm, and his wrinkled face and grown paler.
Blacknail hissed in annoyance at the man’s tone and words. It was more than a little insulting. The older mage’s hand had also slipped into one of his pockets where it was clenching something. Blacknail was sure it was a weapon or spell stone of some sort.
“It’s a hobgoblin, and also a Vessel. He’s the sample I was talking about before. Introduce yourself Blacknail,” Mahedium said.
“Hello. I promise not to kill you, or other bad things,” Blacknail told them cheerfully.
Avorlus continued to stare in shock at Blacknail; he didn’t seem reassured.
“See? He’s actually a rather nice fellow when you get to know him,” Mahedium added with a smile of his own.
Avorlus turned his attention to the younger mage, and then seemed to relax and regain his composure. He made a waving motion at the guard behind him, and the other man relaxed as well.
“It’s a Vessel you say? Any idea which Elixir?” the older mage asked with obvious interest.
“I’m a he, not an it,” Blacknail told the man with forced smile.
“I have no idea, but the blood work I did was conclusive. I was hoping you could tell us more,” Mahedium answered.
“I must admit to never seeing a non-human vessel before. I’ve heard of them of course, though. Some of the guilds create hunting dogs or warhorses, but they’re the play toys of the high nobility. How did he become a Vessel, and why do you think I will be interested in studying him?” Avorlus asked.
“That’s an interesting question. Blacknail was originally picked up by one of Herad’s men when they liberated him from a caravan, which just happened to have been guarded by a mage.”
“From which guild?” Avorlus asked curiously.
“I’m getting to that. It was before I joined, but Herad actually keeps records of everything she procures and sells. She also had some papers from the merchants themselves. From descriptions of the mage and the records I was able to determine that he was attached to that caravan in order to guard a shipment of materials for his guild; the Purple Hearts,” Mahedium explained.
“I see; the goblin was part of the cargo,” Avorlus whispered to himself, as an excited grin broke out on his wrinkled face.
Blacknail didn’t see, or understand either. What were these mages talking about?
“Indeed, the Purple Heart guild is known for its work on non-human vessels,” Mahedium remarked.
‘Why would they experiment in order to create a goblin Vessel, though?” Avorlus mused.
“Why do the guilds do anything? I’ve heard the Purple Hearts have an elixir for house cats! Goblin Vessels seem sane compared to that,” Mahedium replied with a roll of his eyes.
“True, it was probably just some student’s thesis project, which turned out to be an unexpected success. Was the goblin the only thing of interest from the caravan?” the older mage asked.
“No, when she raided the caravan Herad captured some other wares that I believe were also their work. She didn’t think much of them and neither did any of her buyers, so they were still sitting around her base camp when I joined,” Mahedium remarked.
“You have them, here?” the older gentleman asked with eyes that shone with hunger.
“Of course, naturally I collected everything that even hinted at magic when I joined. At the time though, couldn’t figure out what any of it was, so I dismissed it as useless. With your help though, and knowing that one of the samples is probably an Elixir for Blacknail…” the younger mage explained.
“Reverse engineering an Elixir is not an easy task. The Elixir itself is far more than the sum of its parts; once the mage blood is added it becomes active, and is completely transformed,” Avorlus explained.
“In the same way a crystal is grown from a mineral base and mage’s blood,” Mahedium commented.
Blacknail frowned in frustration as he realized what the mages had just said. You needed mage blood to make Elixirs. That ruined his plan to find out how to make it for himself, and not be reliant on Mahedium for his magic.
“You’re asking for time tested knowledge, in exchange for nothing but possibilities,” their bearded host said.
“True, but I’m only asking for very basic knowledge that costs you nothing. If you’re nearly as good an alchemist as you seem to be you, then you should be able to reverse engineer the Purple Heart’s work. Think about what you would get from that, cutting edge guild research. A brand new unknown Elixir,” Mahedium countered.
Blacknail grinned as an idea occurred to him. Scamp was a mage right? He could just use his blood! The little troublemaker undoubtedly had more blood than he was using anyway.
“You’re playing me like a flute,” Avorlus told the other mage with a dramatic sigh.
“We’re simply engaging in an exchange. You’re losing nothing,” the other mage replied with a smile.
“We’ll see. I agree to both of the deals. I’d like to start as soon as possible. Come back tomorrow morning, and I’ll have a lab set up,” their host told Mahedium.
The other mage nodded, stood up, and then extended a hand. The two men shook, and then after a few brief words one of the guards escorted them out.
They had no more trouble from their hosts on the way out. That was good because Avorlus’ smoke crystal had apparently ended up in Blacknail’s pocket. Blacknail wasn’t sure how; it wasn’t like he wanted the smelly thing.
As Blacknail and Mahedium walked back down the pathway that led to the iron gate and off the property, the hobgoblin considered what had just happened.
Blacknail led the way towards the house where Herad was waiting. Just in case things had gone badly she had brought some men and they were waiting nearby. As they moved onto a deserted street, the hobgoblin heard several people step out of an alley onto the road behind them.
He turned around to get a look at them and saw that they were thugs, like those that could be found all over Daggerpoint. This was the Central District though, and groups of a dozen men such as them were very rare here. Blacknail was too paranoid to think they presence was just a coincidence.
Then one of the men raised a crossbow, and Blacknail’s eyes went wide in alarm. He tackled Mahedium and threw both the mage and himself to the ground, just as a crossbow bolt zoomed past them. They hit the cobblestones hard, and Mahedium grunted in surprise in pain.
“What’s going on?” the mage wheezed.
“Enemies, and a crossbow!” Blacknail hissed angrily, as he scrambled back to his feet. He didn’t like being ambushed. That was his thing; he did the ambushing, not the other way around!
The man with the crossbow began to load it again, and his companions drew their own weapons and rushed towards Blacknail and Mahedium. The hobgoblin immediately began looking for somewhere to run. There was no way he could fight so many humans. He would also probably have to leave Mahedium behind…
As Blacknail was planning his escape, Mahedium pushed himself up onto his knees. Then the mage leveled his staff at the armed thugs racing towards him. The crystal at the end glowed orange, and its power exploded out.
The thugs between Mahedium and the crossbowman were knocked backwards and caught fire. The crossbowman himself was instantly set ablaze. Several of the attackers died instantly, but they were the lucky ones. Screams of pain filled the air as some of the other flaming thugs began flailing around in pain and panic. The smell of roasting meat filled the corpse littered street.
The remaining unharmed attackers stopped and looked stunned, before deciding to make a run for it. They all quickly dashed out of sight. They didn’t want to risk meeting the same fate as their companions. Mahedium was looking at the destruction he had wrought with a satisfied look on his face.
“The question is whether these were Werick’s men, or if Avorlus sent them,” the mage mused aloud.
“Think later! We need to go, now!” Blacknail hissed.
He heard yelling off in the distance. He was pretty sure it was the Governor’s men coming to investigate the disturbance. Quickly, the hobgoblin grabbed Mahedium and began dragging the mage towards Herad and the rest of the band.
Mahedium had surprised him. He was far more clever and dangerous than he usually pretended to be. He acted so clueless sometimes that it was easy to forget all the power he had at his fingertips.
Blacknail wondered if the man was hiding his real self, or if he had simply risen to the occasion. Regardless, the hobgoblin planned to keep an eye on him. If only to make sure they never became enemies, and so he could find out the man’s weaknesses if they ever did.
Book 3 is Out!
The third novel in The Iron Teeth series is now out on Amazon. Please support the author and help promote the book by purchasing and reviewing A Bloody Road. Every review and purchase helps a lot!