Chapter 11 : Payment in Tickets

How had things ended up like this?
Comyn watched as a flower bud floated in his tea cup, the petals slowly opening to reveal a red rose of some sort. He had remembered drinking tea with Silicon and thinking it had tasted like a flower, but Comyn had not imagined there might actually be honest to goodness flowers involved. He reached for his cup, wanting to sniff it and see if it smelt like the tea he had had with Silicon, but the girl stopped him.

"Uh- uh- uh-. It's still blooming."
"There is a flower in my tea."
"What a keen observation. You really are a genius alchemist."
"Tch..."

The girl's name was Reine Bridge. She had inherited the entire estate from her parents when they mysteriously died on an outing. Similar yet drastically different circumstances from Comyn and Acair. Their tea party was set on a balcony, basking under the moonlight with only the stars as an additional light source. Sebastienne served their tea and was busy working in the kitchen, transporting herself between the third floor balcony and first floor kitchen with some strange teleportation ability. Comyn couldn't put his finger on how she was able to do it, but she would be there one second and then gone when you blinked.

"Are you hungry, Comyn? Sebastienne, do put on a batch of those strawberry muffins of yours."
"Yes, Milady. Comyn, do you require milk and sugar for your tea?"

He stared down at the cup. The red rose colour was bleeding from the petals and into the hot water, reminding him of a certain girl's hair. How they would take tea together every night. She would have known right away to scoop globs of honey into his cup without even needing to be asked. He thought to bring this up, but resisted.

"No, I'm fine. I'll take it... black."

He didn't like bitter tea, but that suited him just fine. He didn't want to enjoy this tea party any more than he would have enjoyed a tea party with Silicon.

"Suit yourself, Comyn."

He watched as Reine selected four or five sugar cubes. He would learn one day that she hated sugar in her tea and was simply out to spite him. It was working.

"Now then, Comyn. Let us begin with that room that you saw."

Begin? Comyn felt a frown tug at his lips. That was right. It would only be the beginning of their conversation. There was a lot that he needed to know from this girl, like how she had so much information about him. But for now, Comyn decided that the creepy room was a good start.

"Fine. Tell me what it is."
"Eheh. Now where is the fun in that? Don't alchemists like arriving at their own conclusions about the world, rather than being spoon-fed the most widely accepted truth?"

Maybe, but not in this case. Comyn could tell that Reine was toying with him.

"Fine... It reminded me of a researcher's room. What are you researching there?"
"I wouldn't call it researching. We are just dealing with something made imperfectly. "
"What did you make?"
"I've made nothing."
"You're making no sense."
"You're asking the wrong questions."

The smile on her lips was teasing and is thoroughly annoyed Comyn. He didn't like that he felt he was there to play games with her, after all. He wanted answers. Then he could leave. Once again, his curiosity was rooting him in situations that he knew he should avoid. With Silicon, he had risked his life spending time with a mysterious girl for no reason other than curiosity. Now, he was sacrificing his pride. He much preferred being with Silicon, in all regards.

"Okay, fine, let's try it this way. Whose blood was that?"
"Sebastienne's."
"Why was she bleeding so much?"
"Because once she's cut, Sebastienne has a hard time closing her wounds."

A red flag went up. Comyn's eyes widened when he heard the familiar condition described. He corrected his expression, narrowing his eyes and abandoning all former interest in the tea (which was too bitter without honey and losing his attention anyway). Now he pressed questions with a goal in mind.

"Is that room entirely for Sebastienne?"
"Yes. I had it created specifically for her sake."
"How does that room help her?"
"Her body cannot repair its own damage. In that room, I have left her the materials necessary for grafting new skin to patch wounds and creating new blood or tissue to make up for what she has lost."

His stomach knotted at the thought. Creating human skin, human blood, human tissues... it was all disgusting, for one, but also the greatest of all taboos. One of the laws he actually agreed with. Magic was not to be used to create humans. It was not meant to be used to modify the human body. In the terms of religion, this was because humans were children of the Creator and were perfect as they were. In Comyn's own terms, it was because the results of modifying the human body were sick, grotesque, and not necessary.

"Why? Isn't it illegal to modify humans, even sick ones? Why are you dedicating a whole room to that?"

Reine set her tea cup down. She waved a hand and Sebastienne reappeared by the table, picking up the teapot with swift but delicate hands and refilling Reine's cup. She scooped globs of honey from a jar into the cup, but Comyn was no longer interested in the tea. He kept his gaze focused on Reine's face, waiting for her answer.

"There's really nothing illegal about that room at all. Aside, maybe, from how I allow Sebastienne to clean it as she pleases, resulting in it not being the best kept of our rooms."

She picked up the cup and took a sip. Comyn wondered if she was purposefully taking her time as she then added more sugar, pretending to adjust it to her tastes before taking another painfully long sip.

"Sebastienne is not human. I'm sure you understand the implications?"

Comyn stayed quiet. He was still trying to process the fact that Reine had proposed. After his mind wrapped around the concept of Sebastienne not being human he would try to apply it to more thing, but for now it seemed like a lie. A big joke. She looked too human to be anything but. The blonde haired woman stood calmly by the tea table, quietly adding honey to Comyn's tea while he was distracted by his thoughts. He noticed this, reminding him of Silicon. The similar bleeding disorder had made him want to connect Silicon to Sebastienne and get the answers his dead friend had wanted, but now he was hurrying to sever their connection.

"That can't be. She looks just like a person..."
"Person, maybe. Looks like a human, yes. But Sebastienne is not a human being in the same way as you and me."

It was a bit much to process. Comyn was stunned into more silence. Sebastienne looked at him pitiably, lifting his teacup and gently pressing it against his cold fingers until he grabbed it for himself. Her nudging got him to actually drink it, letting the warmth and flavor help calm him down.

"It's very true. I was created by humans through magic."
"Alchemy?"
"No. Magic."

He frowned at what this implied. If she was created through alchemy then it would mean her body was only modified. Magic implied that it had been created entirely from scratch. That was not only illegal, but surely impossible.

"How...?"
"How should I know? I just bought her."
"Bought her?!"

Comyn was no longer drinking the honey flavored tea. In fact, he pushed it away. Disgusted by the fact that Reine had bought anyone, fake human or not.

"That's right. Bought her. And don't give me that look, okay? It's not like I could have just asked for her. If I wanted her to live here then I needed to pay."

Whatever look she was complaining about, Comyn tried to keep it on his face. Reine eventually sighed and frowned at him.

"Regardless of whether or not you like them, those are the facts."

She had a point there, but Comyn still didn't like it. He successfully separated Silicon and Sebastienne, at least. There was just no way he could think that his dead friend had been a fake. He didn't want that to be the truth he brought to her memory.

"So why are you telling me all of this?"

Reine set her cup down again and leaned forward, abandoning her prim and proper manners as she rest her elbow on the tea table and chin on her palm. Her eyes were back to looking dangerous and that smile was far from assuring.

"Alchemists seek to learn of imperfection, then devise ways to solve it. In other words, you are wonderful researchers. Talented at discovering problems and applying knowledge to solutions."
"Yeah... what about it?"
"I need to hire a researcher to learn more about my dear Sebastienne. Learning her faults and finding ways to make them livable."
"So... you're hiring me. Why?"
"Because you are the best suited for this job."

His brows furrowed. It was hard to believe that. Even if Comyn had a bit of a pride problem, he knew that he wasn't the best alchemist. Not suited for this kind of research, surely. It would have been better to ask one of the older alchemists to look into this. If the problem was that Sebastienne seemed to be ill in some regards then maybe a medical alchemist. If they needed to research how she was made and find the roots of the imperfections then a alchemist with research talent would be better.

"I don't know... I could ask Finella or Filib or even Andrew to do that for you. They'd probably be better at this sort of thing than me."
"Mmm... Tempting, but no. It must be you."
"Why me? I don't even know where to start! I've never even heard of fake humans before now!"
"You'll figure it out."
"That doesn't help at all... I'm serious! I don't know anything about this!"
"That's the point of research. You to figure things out, since you did not know them in the first place. Do I need to send you to research about research, Comyn Reid?"
"Geh...!"

Sebastienne stepped in right as Comyn's temper was beginning to flare from frustration, as the insult had pricked a nerve. She took his honey tea and replaced it with a glass of water, setting a lemon on the edge of the cup. Just as suddenly as she had appeared she was gone, then back with a plate of freshly baked muffins. The scent of the warm strawberries baked into the pastry calmed his temper and he snatched one to stuff in his mouth, muting his burning urge to complain.

"I understand that it is a difficult task to take up, Master Comyn, but I would truly appreciate it. As I am right now, my body limits how much I am able to help serve Milady Reine. I need answers to repay her kindness."
"tch... It's not that I don't want to help, okay? I've just got a lot on my plate right now..."

Kind of. His priorities were stealing for the guild's research and pretending that he was over Silicon's death. He wasn't working at the moment, but he wanted to spend his spare time not thinking about Silicon. This research made him think of her and as much as he wanted answers about her, he had to admit that it was painful.

"So I've heard. But I promise, this will be as much to your benefit as it is to mine."
"How so?"
"I pay well, for one. And our interests will likely intersect."
"I have no idea what the hell you're talking about."
"Hmm... How about this."

Reine lifted her gaze from Comyn to the woman beyond him, holding her hand up for Sebastienne to see and lowering all but three fingers.

"Sebastienne. Bring them both."
"Yes, Milady."
"Both...? Of what?"

He did not get an answer. Reine returned to drinking her tea while they waited for Sebastienne. The blonde woman disappeared again, presumably into the mansion, only to suddenly reappear by the table and set two pieces of paper between Comyn and Reine.

"Here you are, Milady."
"They are for Comyn, so shove them in his hands or something."
"Of course."

Sebastienne reached out and gently opened Comyn's hands, then forced the papers into his fist. This made Reine giggle, as she understood Sebastienne was following the order so directly as a mean joke. Comyn was too startled by how forceful she was being to resist.

"What the hell are these?"
"Tickets. You know of theatre, right? A play troupe is coming, as requested by the King himself. They are planning to make an announcement to the entire kingdom and celebrate."
"Celebrate what?"
"That, Comyn, is what going to the theatre performance is for. Finding answers to your questions and doubts."

He did not like the way Reine spoke to him. She always made herself sound superior to him and he always ended up being looked down upon, with no way to get himself on the top again. If she leveled with him and spoon fed the answers, he realized, she would just be making a greater fool of him.

"Why two tickets?"
"I believe that you will want a second witness to verify what you will see there."
" c What do you mean?"
"I mean... You're going to find something there that you may not believe. But something you want. That is the kind of payment that I am able to give you in exchange for service."
"I never agreed to do this research."
"I know you didn't. You're still hesitant, but I believe that this sample of what I can offer will help you change your mind."
".. . Even if I take these, it doesn't mean I'm gonna work for you."
"Very well. Let us consider them bribery for now. Bribes do not always work, but I am hoping this will sway your opinion on the matter."

Comyn nodded and stuffed the tickets into the pocket of his cloak. He didn't like being bribed, but he was curious... What kind of 'payment' could be waiting for him at the theatre? And what was even being announced there? He sighed, admitting to himself that she had successfully caught his curiosity. At least enough to get him to want to check out what was there. Even if he didn't decide similar payments were worth his effort, he could check what she thought was worth working for.

"Fine. When's the play?"
"Tomorrow."
"I'm supposed to steal shit tomorrow."
"I am assuming that this thievery hobby is something you do to cause trouble and gather gems for research? You're an alchemist and I hear that is a popular study topic. I, too, am interested in what value some jewels have for alchemic research. I will give you enough to make up for tonight and tomorrow, and you will share your research with me."
"You're assuming a lot there..."
"I'm assuming correctly, aren't I?"

Comyn blew bubbles into his water to vent some anger. Because yes, she had assumed correctly. And that bothered him as much as her playful inability to answer his questions directly.

"Fine. You're right. I'll bring you a copy of the research."
"Lovely. Sebastienne, please get Comyn a bag of our raw gems."
"Yes, Milady."

Sebastienne disappeared again. When she returned, she had a small velvety bag filled with small jewels. Comyn stared at it in awe and disgust. It was at least two or three pounds in weight. What kind of person was Reine if she could give away that kind of jewelery just for research? Comyn rarely got so many jewels from the castle. The jewels he did steal were just a small portion of his overall haul, cased in useless metals that the alchemists did not need to research anymore.

"You're not going to turn around and rat me out, are you?"
"Would that even be to my advantage, Comyn? You've seen only one room in this mansion, and I'm sure it is indicative of how much I'd hate to have anyone from the castle in here checking my mansion for clues as to who robbed me. No. I am not going to rat you out, unless I have a sudden itch to be imprisoned."
"I will escort you out of the district as a formal guest of Milady. You may borrow a change of clothes to make your appearance appropriate for our cover story."

Comyn didn't want that, but Sebastienne insisted. It was going to be embarrassing to return to the Pub and be dressed up like a doll. Then he'd have no choice but to explain to everyone how he had been thrown off a roof and captured for tea and bargaining...

"I don't want to tell anyone about this. Not right now."
"I know you have a guild you are a part of. I approve of them knowing of our arrangements."
"Well I don't. They'll never let me out again if they know I got caught on my first night."
"So stubborn... fine then. Jump over the wall and parade around like the big and scary thief you are. I'll be upset if you get arrested, though."
"I won't get arrested... geez."
"Your track record for not being caught isn't very favorable at this moment."
"Tch!"

Reine giggled, watching with amusement as Comyn stood up from the table. He had the tickets separate from the jewels, but they were heavier on his mind than the spoils of the night. A witness... He would have to take her word for that, but who would he invite to come with him? What could be so unbelievable to him that he'd need a witness at all? He'd just met a frickin' not-human, for crying out loud... Okay, he was having trouble believing that too. Maybe a witness was a good idea.

"I'm off, then."
"Mmhmm. Come by when you've made up your mind."
"Only if I decide to work for you. Otherwise, forget it."
"Aw, that hurts... but if you insist. I'll have dessert prepared in advance next time."

He did insist. Comyn didn't want to thank Reine for anything, but he had to at least mutter a thank you when Sebastienne gave him an extra muffin,

"For the road. You're a growing boy, you know."
"U, ugh... th... thanks."

Comyn did like Sebastienne's cooking, at least based on what he had of it so far. He climbed to the roof again, claiming it was part of his "thief style", and sat there to eat the muffin in silence. Before he got 'parading around', as Reine called it, he wanted to sort his sorts. That Sebastienne was apparently not human. He was being offered a job to research more about her and help the woman who had stabbed him and helped him all in one night. Her condition reminded him of Silicon, too...

"Cut it out."

He hissed at himself, leaning against the cold chimney again and staring up. She was dead. He couldn't be thinking about her. Comyn closed his eyes, aware of the ache from his stab wound. That was right. His current concerns. The living ones. They were more important. Like how he was going to BS an explanation for this wound that did not make him look bad. And who to invite to the theatre. And if he would even consider Reine's job offer.

Comyn picked himself up and headed back to the pub.