A/N: Thanks so much to all the readers who stuck with me, kept sending me emails, kept pushing, prodding, and badgering. I owe you so much. This year has been full of schoolwork, trouble with friends, etc. It's nice to get back in the sync of things, and I promise this story will pick up the pace. Thanks so much for reading, and I promise that the next update will not take so long! I've been making changes to my story, so if you haven't already, I suggest you re-read chapters 27-30 again. I've been editing most of the chapters here and there, but nothing big enough for my readers to feel obligated to reread the whole story. In the last four chapters, however, there were some key plot changes that affect the outcome of the story. So skim and critique, and let me know what you think of all the changes!
Stick in there, and most definitely review…its what makes me want to write again!
Love to all my readers that are still here,
The centaur section of town was…there was only one word for it…disgusting. The streets were covered in filth; the hovels were dusty and disheveled. There was nothing neat and orderly about the place, and centaurs, drunk with ale from the tavern, roamed the streets in a dangerous manner. Maria and Teresa did not travel the center of the road, rather, they stayed off to the side and as hidden as possible.
"We'll never find him in this din," Teresa whispered fiercely.
It was true. A fight was breaking out on the street and loud roars were emerging from the chaos.
"Shall we ask someone?" Maria said dryly. Teresa laughed nervously. But her expression changed.
A centaur was stumbling towards where they were crouching behind a rubbish heap. He began retching violently before stopping, still smacking his lips and taking sips from his mug. The contents of the cup spilled down his beard and onto his hairy chest, and the creature grunted several times before burping.
Maria's mind worked quickly as she stepped out from behind the pile.
"Excuse me, could you tell me where to find Blackblood?"
Teresa was motioning frantically.
The centaur peered at her through blurry eyes. "Eh?"
"Blackblood," Maria repeated.
"Whatchoo want wif him?"
"I…He's my auntie." Maria wanted to laugh, but managed to keep a straight face. Teresa ducked her head.
The stupid, drunk beast looked confused, and rightly so. "Ah, I see. Right over there, the hut with the big chimmelelly…"
But before Maria could start over, the centaur grabbed her arm and peered hard into her face. Her heart raced as he searched her face. Finally the filthy creature let go and sat back, chuckling as he took another swig of ale. "You look jes' like 'im!"
Maria fought to hold back her look of disgust, and barely managed before signaling for Teresa.
Teresa dashed out from her hiding spot when Maria motioned her, and they both set off towards the hut that the centaur indicated.
"Will ya look at that!" the intoxicated creature told his wooden mug. "Blackblood's got himself two 'ickle identeecal nieces!"
This was very funny, and the centaur commenced to laugh until he had to vomit once again.
"Blackblood!" Maria shouted as she entered the dark and dirty hut, searching in the dim light for his form. Something moved in the corner, and she jumped back and slammed into Teresa, who was right behind her.
"Sorry," she murmured before saying aloud, "Blackblood, are you in here?"
"What do ye want, wench?" he groaned from the corner. He had apparently been asleep or sick.
"My uncle sends me. He wants to know how to disable the amulet. Just…just in case."
The fires and lights outside the hut were reflected in Blackblood's narrowed eyes. It was almost impossible to see him, only his form in the shadows. Maria stared harder in an attempt to distinguish him from the background.
"You're uncle needs no counter spell for the weapon. He only intends harm upon the merfolk." His voice was heavy with suspicion.
Maria paused. "But, what if something goes wrong? What if…what if for some reason we need to counter the curse?"
"Bah, girl, get away. No one's gonna need to counter the curse. Its gold, you see?"
Maria bent down until she thought her face might be even with his (she couldn't be sure in the dim light). "Where do your loyalties lie?"
She saw the glisten of his teeth as he smiled evilly. "Wherever benefits me most."
Maria drew back and nodded with understanding. She could play this game. "Teresa, see if you might find a lamp to light, and we'll get down to business."
"And perhaps this?" Teresa said, dropping a gold chain that had been around her neck into the growing pile at Blackblood's hooves.
His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the small mountain of jewels, coins, and trimmings the girls had unearthed. "I don't think that's quite enough to make me tell you anything." He sat back, enjoying his power.
"Has my uncle ever offered you more than this?" Maria asked with curiosity. "Because if I'm not very well mistaken, you were promised pay after this whole thing was over."
"What of it?" Blackblood asked.
"What if he's dead?" Teresa said, catching onto Maria's game.
Maria inched closer to him and said sweetly. "We'll pay you now, with no strings attached, right after you tell us how to disable the amulet. Then, you'll get even more money from my uncle. That seems to me like it might satisfy all of your loyalties." She said this with great sarcasm, but the centaur didn't seem to notice.
There was a long pause in which Maria and Blackblood stared at each other without blinking…a contest of wills, of riches, of cunning. After what seemed like an eternity of searching the beast's face for clues, and finding nothing, he gave his answer.