Bitter 261

“I’m afraid Magda is a little fragile these days, poor girl.”

There was soufflé everywhere, but at least Magda’s accident had solved the overeating issue.

Britta followed the Mayor out of the dining room thinking Magda was the least fragile person she’d ever seen, with the bearing of a very calm and resolute firing squad. Somehow, Britta had managed to startle her. Twice.

The first time it was mention of the grimoire, and the second time it was the Mayor’s relationship with Aunt Ginnie. The implication, Britta felt, was that these things were worth looking at more closely.

It was a shame she had rushed off, Britta would have liked to try throwing out a few more salacious comments to see if they passed the Magda test.

The Mayor, on the other hand, didn’t appear perturbed in the least. He strolled back to the library displaying no signs of concern. He even seemed quite carefree and in a good mood.

He held open the library door, smiling as broadly as ever. Britta entered, thinking about how to get him to admit he knew more about the grimoire than he was letting on. As it turned out, he required no prompting in that direction.

“This grimoire you mentioned,” said the Mayor as he closed the door. “It sounds like a very interesting book. Are you any closer to discovering its whereabouts?”

“No closer than I was when I last spoke to you,” said Britta carefully. She was being a hundred percent truthful. She had the book on her then, and she had it on her now.

“I see, I see. Please have a seat.”

Britta sat down in one of the plush high-backed chairs. The Mayor went over to a shelf across the room and pulled out a large book bound in green leather. Britta couldn’t read the title from where she was, but it looked like an impressive tome.

“Magic books are tricky things,” he said. “Very volatile and hard to control. Never work the same way twice, they say.” He opened the tome and presented it to her. “Cigar?”

The inside of the book was hollowed out and filled with cigars.

Britta had never smoked, never had the desire to even try. Of course, there was no risk here of cancer or whatever other disease filling your lungs with smoke might cause. In the digital world not even dying was bad for you.

“No thank you.”

The Mayor continued smiling as he picked one of the cigars. It was the length of a baby’s arm. He placed the book on a side table and clipped the end off the cigar with a small cutter he took from his robe pocket. He placed the tip of the cigar against the large signet ring on his pinkie finger and smoke began to waft from it. He sucked on the other end and the cigar-end glowed red.

A thick, pungent smoke drifted up to the ceiling. It smelled sweet and oddly flowery. She was tempted to try one after all.

“Ahh,” said the Mayor. “That’s better.”

“Is that a magic ring?” she asked him.

“This?” He held up his hand so the fat golden ring glinted in the light. “Only slightly. Magic isn’t something to use too casually. But… a little convenience is worth a little risk.” He took another long puff and sat down in the chair opposite her.

“Are you a mage?” she asked.

“Me? No, no. Not at all. Such things are beyond my abilities. I do like to collect the odd trinket, though. So much easier to let a device take all the risk, hmm?”

Britta nodded, not really knowing what he meant. Was there a risk associated with performing magic? So far, the only risk she’d encountered was a spell not working when she was about to get impaled on the end of a sword.

“Take this grimoire,” said the Mayor. “If the incantation it contains was to go wrong, the book would be destroyed rather than the person casting the spell. Equally, if you were to destroy the book, the spell it contained would no longer be effective.” He took a long drag and blew a perfect smoke ring into the air.

Britta sat there, mildly stunned. If she destroyed the book, it would end the spell on the dwarf? Could it really be that simple? It would be great if that was true, but could she trust anything the Mayor said?

It was just as possible that something terrible would happen and he was trying to manoeuvre her into destroying an item that could be used against him.

“If I destroyed the book, what would happen to the dwarf?”

“I don’t know. If the grimoire is responsible for his condition, I assume he would cease to be possessed. If he was dead before, he would be dead again. But I’m no expert. What I do know is that you should be careful when tampering with powerful forces. A controlled explosion by a certified magic disposal unit is the best option in cases like these. We have one working for the town council to deal with any suspicious objects we find lying around. Adventurers can be surprisingly careless with magic items.”

Britta didn’t doubt it. Throwing out a magic item as soon as you picked up an upgrade was pretty much normal behaviour for a gamer.

“If you’d like to give me the grimoire, I’ll be happy to see it’s disposed of correctly.”

Britta smiled. Now she saw why he was telling her all this. “Thank you. If I decide to do that, I’ll let you know.”

There was a light knock on the door and Frau Magda entered. “There is a messenger here. He says it’s urgent.”

The Mayor rose. “Excuse me for a moment.” He walked out quickly.

Britta remained seated. She was thinking about making a move herself. It had been quite an informative dinner. She’d established that Stan was going to have a completely fair trial, after which he would be found guilty and sentenced to a long time in jail, possibly forever. She had also learned of a possible way to deal with the dead dwarf, although she would need to find a way to corroborate that information before acting on it. Not a bad night’s work.

“Ahem,” coughed Magda. She had made her way from the door to standing next to Britta’s chair.

“Yes?” said Britta, craning her neck up.

“I vish to speak to you. Not here. It isn’t safe. Meet me at this location, tomorrow. Come alone.” She handed Britta a folded piece of paper and then spun around. She left the room without waiting for Britta’s response.

Britta opened the note. It said: The Slit Throat. 12.00 sharp.

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