Neither of us were in a mood to rush back to our lodgings. We wandered through the empty streets like a couple taking an early morning stroll.
The corpses we’d left lying in the street, blood pooling around them, didn’t figure very much in my thoughts. Neither did the memory of sliding my hand inside Jenny’s underwear (although I certainly intended to have a long hard think about that later). What preoccupied my mind was what I would do next time Jenny decided to rush headlong towards danger.
She had every right to go around kicking wasp nests if she wanted to, but I didn’t particularly want to get stung. And yet, would I be able to back off and leave her to it? That’s what I should do, but part of me wanted her to get in trouble just so I could rescue her. So I could be her hero.
Yes, I realise how idiotic that is. This is what happens when you start to develop feelings for a girl. Stupid shit.
What I needed to do was stop mooning over the pretty girl next to me and start working on a way to get out of this city.
It wasn’t a simple matter of leaving, we had to have somewhere to go. Preferably far away from people. But how would we survive? How would we make money? How would we eat? My stomach rumbled, suggesting I answer the last question first.
We found a bakery and bought some breakfast pastries. It was sweet, yet cheesy. No, not cheesecake. More like a grilled cheese sandwich with whipped cream. It wasn’t bad. Could have used some ketchup.
“What should we say to the others about last night?” asked Jenny through a mouthful of food.
“Nothing. It’ll only freak them out. I’m going to do my best to forget everything. Especially Mama Ivy.” I shuddered at the recollection of the cold stare she gave me before she left.
“I liked her,” said Jenny. “She seemed like a sweet old lady.”
“Are you insane?” It was hard to imagine we were talking about the same person. “Don’t you think it was strange how those men didn’t even try to escape? Once she locked eyes on them, they were done. She bent them to her will, crushed their souls and left them unable to even defend themselves. How is that sweet?”
“Oh,” said Jenny, completely ignoring the magnitude of malevolence I was describing, “do you think she’s some kind of witch?”
“Quite possibly. You should go see if she’s looking for an apprentice.”
Jenny smiled at me. “Careful. I might turn you into a frog.”
I shrugged. “I know some very happy frogs. It isn’t a bad life.”
Neither of us said much on the way to the inn. Perhaps we needed time to process the events of the last few hours and let them filter their way into the part of the brain that locks things up and puts them away.
By the time we got back, fatigue had started to set in. The manager was behind his desk, as usual. Drunk, as usual. Not that I’d ever seen him drinking, but the smell of alcohol was hard to miss. Maybe he had an intravenous drip attached to his leg that I couldn’t see.
A job where you could be wasted the whole time seemed very appealing. If you had no idea what was going on, even bad things wouldn’t affect you. But the thought only lasted for a second. I didn’t want to be detached from life, I wanted to be attached to a life that was enjoyable. Where do you find one of those?
These and other self-involved musings bounced around in my head as I walked up the stairs to the landing, where I was met by a scream.
It was a man’s scream. Not out of fear, or surprise, it was very definitely a scream of pain. And it came from Maurice and Claire’s room. It should be an indicator of just how distracted I was with all my feelings that my reaction was to immediately draw my sword and rush into their room. Clearly, I was not in my right mind.
The first thing I saw was the naked man on the bed. Well, maybe naked is too strong a word. He had no top on and was lying face down, not moving. It took me a second to realise it was Kizwat.
Standing over him, her hand covering her mouth, was Claire. And cowering in the corner, way on the other side of the room, was Maurice.
“What did you to him?” I asked Claire.
“I think he’s okay,” said Claire, not sounding very sure. “I don’t think he’s dead.” She leaned a bit closer. “He’s breathing. A bit.”
I sheathed my sword and approached the prone figure. A sheen of sweat covered his back, which rose and fell confirming that he was indeed still breathing. His eyes were closed.
“I think he just passed out from the pain,” said Claire. “I was working on his arm, trying to focus more on the physical therapy, like you said. Only, it turned out to be a lot harder to get any kind of improvement to the posture, so I gave it a bit of pull.”
“It was horrible,” said Maurice. “She put her knee in his back and nearly yanked his arm out of it’s socket. And then she… twisted.” His eyes were filled with the regret of having seen what can’t be unseen.
This was what I should have been like after the previous night’s events. The utter desolation of innocence lost and the realisation that the world is a dark and terrible place. Although, maybe you can only experience that after you get a girlfriend.
“His arm does look better, though,” said Claire. “Doesn’t it?”
I checked Kizwat’s arm. The elbow was straight and the wrist now pointed in the normal direction. The shoulder still looked a bit misaligned, so I placed my hands on it and after a few seconds there was a click and the awkward-looking ridge flattened.
Kizwat groaned but didn’t wake.
“I think that’s fine,” I said. “You did good. The more painful and unpleasant he found it, the less likely he is to consider it some kind of miracle. Nice work.”
Claire looked over at Maurice, a big smile on her face. Maurice gave me the impression he wouldn’t be asking for a back rub any time soon.
“Where have you two been?” she asked me.
I looked at Jenny, who looked back at me and shrugged.
“It’s a long story. What happened to Flossie and Dudley? Everything okay?”
“I should say so,” said Maurice. “Bedsprings were creaking all night.”
An image flashed in my mind, which I quickly pushed into the compartment of my brain containing the trauma-inducing moments of my life. It was getting quite full.
“We also have something very important to tell you,” said Claire. She signalled Maurice to come closer, which he did. Slowly.
I watched them prepare themselves. This couldn’t be good.
“We were talking to Kizwat,” said Claire, “about his hammer and all that stuff, and we think there’s a way of finding the spike-thing of yours with absolutely no risk.”
“No risk,” echoed Maurice. The both looked at me expectantly.
I nodded. “Great. Anyway, I need to get some sleep. I’ll see you later.” I turned and headed for the door.
I’d almost made it out, too. I stopped and turned around.
“You’re supposed to ask us what we know and so on.” She rolled her hand to suggest the so on part. “Aren’t you curious?”
“It doesn’t matter where the spike is. We aren’t going to get involved.”
“But there’s no risk!”
“No risk,” echoed Maurice.
“There’s no such thing as no risk. There’s always a risk. If you can’t think of any, that means it’s surprise risk, the riskiest risk of all.”
“Ugh, I don’t even know what that means,” said Claire, rolling her eyes. “At least hear us out. Even if you don’t like it, knowledge is power, right? We have information.”
She had a point. “Okay. What?”
Claire immediately went into presentation mode. “As you know, the Sheaf houses all the guild offices. Every guild in the city is located in that one building. It goes down eight floors, and right at the bottom is a vault.”
“Are you planning a heist? Because it sounds like you’re planning a heist.”
“No,” said Claire. “Just listen. The vault is called the Guild Treasury, and all the guilds keep their valuable stuff in there.”
“Still sounds like a heist.”
“No. Be quiet. There is one person in charge of the Treasury, and his name is God.”
I was about to make an interjection, but Claire held up a hand.
“He isn’t a god, that’s just his name. I don’t know why. Anyway, he is trusted by all the guilds and there are two things special about him. First, he’s a visitor, like us. Kizwat doesn’t know exactly how long ago he arrived, but it’s been awhile. And the other thing is his special ability. He’s a truth detector.”
“What, you mean he has a lie detector?”
“No,” said Claire. “Not a lie detector, a truth detector. A lie detector can tell when you’re lying, but if you believe what you’re saying, even if it’s not true, you aren’t lying so you’ll pass. A truth detector can tell when you believe something that isn’t true.”
“How is that possible?” I said, incredulous.
Claire shrugged. “How can you heal people, or make flames come out of your hand.”
She was right, normal logic didn’t really apply. And if it was some kind of magic ability, that certainly made this God guy more interesting, even with the ridiculously pompous moniker.
“Wait,” said Jenny, “you can make flames come out of your hand?” I’d forgotten she’d never seen me do that. “Is there any other stuff I don’t know about?”
“Yes,” I said. She waited for me to continue, but I didn’t. “How does knowing about this guy change anything?”
“Ah,” said Claire smugly. “Visitors, it turns out, are allowed to meet with God as a courtesy. I’m not sure why, he just likes to hear about what’s going on back home or something. And since we’re visitors…” She spread out her hands and raised her eyebrows like she’d just performed a magic trick. “All we need to do is tell him about the spike, he’ll know we’re telling the truth, and chances are if it’s anywhere, it’s in his vault.”
“And you think he’s just going to give it to us?”
“I don’t know,” said Claire, “but it’s worth a try, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think you fully understand what the words ‘no risk’ actually mean.”
“I haven’t got to that part yet,” said Claire. “Since they’ve already seen you with Kizwat at the Sheaf, it’s probably best for you not to come with us.”
It took me a second to understand what she’d said, and I still didn’t believe it. “What?”
“You see? It’s no risk for you. Because you won’t be there.”
I was stunned. “You want to do this by yourselves? Without me?”
“It’s just recon,” said Maurice. “We go in, talk to God. If he doesn’t know anything, we haven’t lost anything.”
The idea of them doing this by themselves did hold a certain appeal. The more independence from me they gained, the better. And if I really wanted to rid myself of the urge to play hero, the best way to do it was not be there.
“Okay,” I said. “You should take Flossie and Dud, too. And Jenny. You should all go.”
“Really?” said Claire, buoyed by my faith in them. “You think we can do it?”
“Sure, but first we’ll need to visit the Municipal Directory.”
Claire nodded even more enthusiastically. “Okay. What stuff do we need to get out?”
“Nothing. I want you to make me a co-signer on all your accounts. That way, when you don’t come back, I get to keep your stuff.”
Now that’s what I call a no-risk plan.