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Chapter 24: Special Delivery
Alone in his alchemy lab, Tesler steadied the vials in the rack and added a second blood sample to the first. Then, he sat back and waited.
He wasn't expecting much because none of the other mixes produced good results, and this was even less likely to do so. Aija's blood tagged her as a completely different species. No surprise there. However, the alchemist was intrigued to discover it had some of the same abnormalities as Trizryn's. He was pondering those shared mutations when he noticed their samples were not coagulating or breaking apart and dissolving.
Grabbing an instrument that looked like a fancy glass plate on three bronze-sculpted legs, he plucked the vial from the rack and held it beneath the center of the rune-engraved lens. Touching the scrying star's runes adjusted the magnification and transparency enchantments, bringing the tiny ley lines to a focal point that allowed him to see exactly what was happening to the blood cells. "No way ..."
Just to be sure the result wasn't a fluke, he immediately prepped another vial and repeated the test procedure. It produced the same results.
Bewildered, but excited to finally have a match, the alchemist snapped off his goggles and gloves and grabbed his pad to take notes. As he was writing, however, he glanced at the test vial and noticed something else was happening, too. The line where the two blood samples came together burned with a low fizz, until the dead portion of the sample became brighter in color and more fluid.
Not sure what to make of this, the alchemist took another look through the scrying star to see what was happening on the cellular level. There was no mistake about it. The dead blood cells had come back to life … and with a curious new vitality.
Grabbing an empty vial, he mixed a third sample, capped it, and shook it. Almost immediately, the fizzing action began and the congealed dark blood with separated platelets pulled back together into one fresh, crimson fluid.
In astonishment, Tesler rushed to his cold storage chest. He had not cast freeze enchantments directly on any of the earlier blood mixtures, so he grabbed a handful of the vials and put them back under the scrying star, one-by-one. All previous samples of Trizryn's blood that had been mixed with the blood of various elven donors were now fresh and healthy. How was that even possible?
What could revive dead cells like that? And why is the human's blood a better match than the blood of elves? Does human blood possess some kind of magic that …
"No, no, no!" the alchemist scolded himself aloud, hand to forehead. "Trizryn's blood is the primary anomaly, not Aija's. His blood had already decomposed, but all the other blood somehow managed to resurrect it."
Excitement turned into suspicion … then dread. Resurrection?
Tesler took the very first elven blood mixture and put it under the lens again. The dark elf's unusual blood was the only sample that remained in the vial. The donor's blood was gone.
Faced with another impossibility, the alchemist checked a few other failed elven samples with the same results, then put the vial with the human blood-mix back under the lens. Magnifying the view even more, he watched in dismay as Trizryn's blood slowly, but actively, consumed Aija's.
"Blood that lives off of blood," he whispered with confusion. "Trizryn's not dying; he's already dead. He's already dead, but ... fresh blood brings him back to life?"
Trizryn ran down the hall and out of the ruins. The air outside the temple hit his skin like a thin layer of ice—a brutal reminder that he was wet from head to toe in the dead of winter, although underground. But, gritting his teeth, he kept pace with the other elf, climbing over the rocks and columns.
Just outside of the guardian's gate, two scouts were helping the shaken bard make his way down the stairs toward the entrance to the grotto.
"Shei!" A pit grew in the thief-prince's stomach when he saw the blood on his friend's face. "What happened!" He raced up the stone steps two at a time.
"K'tía and Róbynn …" The bard was winded from his ordeal. "They've got K'tía and Róbynn."
"Who's got K'tía and Róbynn?"
Shei slipped and fell, alerting the guardian hydra, which appeared at the bottom of the stairs and roared at him. "Ah! Ahhh! Holy shit!" The bard tried to scramble backwards.
"It's just a hologram! It won't hurt you!" Trizryn grabbed him by the shirt and helped him to his feet again. "Guardian, stand down! Elíbryl álegíl!"
The hydra hissed and growled in warning, but then thinned and stepped aside, obeying the magical command.
"Who's got K'tía and Róbynn?" Trizryn asked again as he hurried the bard past the guardian. "What's happened?"
On level ground, past the frightening hydra, the bard dropped the bundle of gathered belongings at Trizryn's feet. Then, he pulled a package from beneath his shirt and thrust it into the thief's hands.
Shei bent hands-to-knees to catch his breath. "K'tía and I were on our way to warn you. Erys knows you were in Brinnan. He knows you have a human with you, and he's reported you to the Derra Eirlyn."
"I know. They tried to ambush me at the Gate of Min."
Shei squinted at his friend's appearance. "Did someone with a black pen doodle on you while you were napping?"
"Poisoned wound, neutralized," Trizryn explained the black veins marbling his pale skin. "Who's got K'tía and Róbynn?"
"I'm fine! What happened?"
The bard straightened. "K'tía and I went to the Twin Stags to warn you about Erys, but no one was there, not even Róbynn. It was completely empty—or, so we thought. I went upstairs to collect a few things from your room in case you couldn't return, but then Kassí came in, all armored and scary looking. I don't know what the hell has gotten into her, but she said something about smoking you out of hiding and threatened to kill me. So, I ran back downstairs to grab K'tía and leave, but ... Mahntarei was waiting for me at the bottom."
"Mahntarei?" Trizryn was quick to pick up the dropped name. "They put Mahntarei on my trail?"
"He threw that package at me saying it belonged to K'tía. Said you might want to share it with your human."
Trizryn looked down at the package in his hands, but considering who had given it to them, he was afraid to open it. "Mahntarei's got K'tía and Róbynn." Jaw clenched with definition, the rogue-prince snarled and started back toward the cavern stairs.
"Trizryn!" Shei hooked his arm and spun him around. "You can't go back to the Twin Stags. That's exactly what they want you to do."
"They're using my sister as bait!"
"Because they know you'll take it!" Shei nearly collapsed on the thief's shoulder as he paused to catch his breath again.
Trizryn realized the three scouts were looking to him for further instructions. Clapping a hand to the back of Shei's braids in apology for the ordeal he had been through, he looked to the scout who alerted him to Shei's arrival. "Find Reznetha'ir and tell him what's happened."
The scout nodded, jumped over a fallen column, and ran to the temple ruins.
The rogue-prince turned to the second scout. "Take Shei to the anteroom being guarded and get him whatever he needs. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Releasing his friend into the scout's care, he watched them make their way toward the temple before turning to the third scout. "I want to know what he's not telling me."
Eisiden, the auburn-haired elf from the tavern, nodded with a discouraged sigh. "He doesn't know what happened at the Twin Stags before he got there. I didn't want to say anything about it until I had talked to you."
Trizryn folded his arms over the dreaded package.
"The last time I saw Róbynn," Eisiden began, "was when he left me in charge after some girl came to him with an urgent message. He left in a rush with her and the serum box, so I figured it had something to do with you.
"It was business as usual for a few hours after that, but then the city guard came in and started pushing people out, including staff, so they could shut the place down. Kassí was with them, fully-armored and giving orders. She must be working with them as an informant, or something," he apologetically added.
"I just found out she's my summoner."
That silenced the scout for an uncomfortable moment.
"Anyway?" Trizryn impatiently prompted.
"Anyway," Eisiden awkwardly continued, "I left without argument because I didn't want to risk arrest, but I got two more scouts and hid in the upper branches to keep watch on the place the rest of the night. I hoped to catch Róbynn coming home before he walked into a trap, but Shei and a priestess of D'lóron arrived at the tavern first."
"That would be my sister, K'tía."
Eisiden nodded and shifted his stance to match Trizryn's. "Shei broke in before I could get down there and warn him about Kassí. We were trying to come up with a plan about what to do next, but before long, he came crashing through the window, 'round the front bushes, and took off running through Dark Market like his pants were on fire.
"It wouldn't have been wise to get caught helping him, so we shadowed him until we could trip him up outside the city and drag him into the woods. Gave him a bit of a scare until he realized who we were, but he told me what happened inside the tavern and said the girl had gone missing. He thought Róbynn had been taken, too, since the tavern was locked down."
"Róbynn left the tavern to bring me here, but guards could have intercepted him on his way back," Trizryn suggested the unthinkable.
"Or they could have taken him at the tavern after I left to catch up with Shei. Either way, I can't confirm that they have Róbynn, but no one saw him come home. With Kassí setting up camp in the tavern, there's a good chance Shei's right."
Eisiden folded his arms. "He was pretty desperate to see you, so I decided to bring him here just to keep him safe. I know it's a violation to not consult Reznetha'ir first, but—"
"You have my gratitude."
The scout nodded with understanding.
"Gear up with some others and continue to watch the tavern. I'll meet you at the striped rock after the sun sets."
Eisiden nodded again and jogged back toward the exit.
Trizryn looked down at the package in his hands, but then tucked it under his arm and hefted the bundle Shei had been carrying. He jogged back to the temple ruins instead of impulsively running off to the Twin Stags, but the desire to avenge his sister and his friends gnawed at his soul.
When the bard entered the anteroom, he was surprised to see Aija there. Sitting on a bed-mat and looking worried about something, the human gasped at his appearance and came to his side as soon as she recognized him. "Shei! What happened to you?"
"Unappreciative audience." He managed a small smile for her in spite of his fatigue and discomfort. "We meet again, Aija of Winderbury. I am relieved."
Her brow quirked at the bard's cryptic tone as she helped him sit down on her bed-mat. "Relieved? You knew Trizryn was planning to kill me when he took me back to the gate?"
He waved off the accusation. "I didn't think he would go actually through with it."
"Quite a risk you were willing to take with my life."
"I was right, wasn't I?"
"Do you need anything before I leave?" the scout who brought him in asked. "Should I fetch the alchemist?"
"No, I'll be fine, but … a glass of water would be nice."
"Could you bring two pitchers?" Aija asked. After the scout nodded and left, she began rummaging through a small pile of first aid supplies.
"I should have asked for something to eat," the bard muttered with regret and fatigue.
Aija found the leftover rations and passed them to him.
A few minutes later, the scout returned with two pitchers of water and some cups. "Anything else?"
"No, thanks." Shei accepted a cup of water and gulped it down to quench his thirst, just as Trizryn joined them.
"Kassí's got K'tía and Róbynn," the rogue-prince announced. Dropping the collected bundle from his room onto his bed-mat, Trizryn turned his back to them to rip open the package from his sister.
Aija stared at him in bewilderment, then turned to Shei. "Are they okay?"
"I assume K'tía's safe. They wouldn't dare harm her," the bard answered. "Róbynn, however … I have no idea." He lifted the back of his hand to his brow to wipe away some of the blood, but that's when he noticed the human's drenched clothing and hair. "You're wet."
Puzzled, he looked to Trizryn, noticing the same of him for the first time. "You're both wet. What did you do—get tired of throwing insults at each other and start throwing buckets of water, instead?"
The rogue-prince turned back around to face them, tossed the half-opened package to the floor, then ran a hand over his face and head in a gesture of mixed relief and despair. "Well, at least he didn't include any body parts."
"Body parts?" Aija warily asked.
Shei could see that the package contained K'tía's gold-embroidered, blue-velvet veðrkylk from the Temple of D'lóron. It was folded neatly with her pretty brooch clasped at the neck. "The person who took K'tía and Róbynn has a reputation for sometimes shipping people back to their loved ones in … pieces," he quietly informed her, lifting the cloak, half-afraid there was something hidden in it Trizryn missed.
The back of the robe had a long gash in it, but there were no blood stains. "That must have happened when he swiped me across the chest. I had the package in my shirt or he would have sliced me open instead."
For a long, uneasy moment no one said anything more.
Then, angry, but powerless to do anything about it at the moment, Trizryn returned to the bundle on his bed-mat and turned it out to see what his friend had gathered for him.
Shei flexed his stiff and sore fingers, then looked at the mysterious, sanctuary in which he had been deposited. "Dark and spooky, eh? What is this place?"
"A place that doesn't exist," the thief answered.
"Oh. Good. Because for a minute there I thought I'd been dragged into some real ruins guarded by a big, scary, multi-headed monster," the bard irritably retorted.
With a sigh, Trizryn changed his evasive answer. "I can't tell you where you are. It would endanger the camp."
"Fine." Shei accepted that, even if it did nothing to improve his mood. "As long as Kassí and Mahntarei don't know where we are. It's bad enough she turned on us, but to team up with him … She had her sword on my throat! And yet when Mahntarei came after me, she busted his balls for it—had a city guard shoot an arrow that missed him by that much." He demonstrated the small difference between his thumb and forefinger.
"Kassí's my summoner," Trizryn bitterly informed him.
Shei was certain he heard wrong. "What?"
"She's the one who headed the ambush to arrest me at the gate. She's been working for Erys all this time, keeping me under surveillance. Now she's under orders to take me back."
The bard was stunned. "How much has she told him?"
"No way of knowing." The thief began sorting the contents into clothing, weapons, and miscellaneous items. "Did she take anything from my room?" He peeled out of his soggy pants and wrapped his discarded towel around his waist.
Shei didn't know what to say regarding the news about Kassí. He knew it must have been a terrible shock for his friend, but the thief was acting like he didn't want to talk about it right now. There were more important matters at hand. "I don't know, but it was a mess when I arrived. You think she was looking for something?"
"She was looking for something, alright. She just doesn't know what. She's desperate for answers about what I've done to silence the gem, but instead of finding the serum, she may have Róbynn. And that's infinitely worse."
The scout who had brought the water looked to Trizryn to see if he needed anything else. The thief declined, so the scout dismissed himself just as Reznetha'ir came into the room.
"I heard what happened. K'tía and Róbynn are the only hostages?" the camp leader asked, getting right to the point as he shut the door behind the departing scout.
Shei nodded. "I think Kassí let me go to make sure Triz got the message they'd been taken."
"It's a trap," Reznetha'ir concluded in agreement.
Trizryn sifted through the clothing pile for something suitable to change into. "A trap intended for me, so they might let them go if I—"
"Mahntarei didn't want to let me go," Shei interrupted with a grim expression. "He's playing for keeps."
"Fuck Mahntarei," the thief groused, slipping into a dry pair of black pants.
"If you fuck with Mahntarei, he'll kill Róbynn!" the bard angrily reprimanded him, but an arbitrary glance at the human's alarmed expression reminded him to calm down. "They can't touch K'tía, but Róbynn is expendable."
"If they can't touch K'tía, then why did they kidnap her? They both know who she is."
"If they're following orders from Erys, he won't allow anything to happen to the Dheryl-Kana," Reznetha'ir insisted.
"Bullshit! The Dheryl-Kin is single-minded enough to sacrifice her if he thinks it will make an example out of me. People have always been secondary to the law in his court, including his own children."
"They will be expecting you to trade yourself for your sister's safety. We need to do something unexpected. I'll grab some scouts and set up to spring the trap from the inside. You stay here until you can decide how to disarm it from the outside. We'll get Róbynn and K'tía back. But it will be on our terms—not the summoner's," he darkly promised.
"And what if they do a mind-rip on you?"
"You know that I have what I need to prevent that."
"This camp needs you. I'm expendable."
"Not to your sister, you're not! And everyone else needs you for those gates."
"I don't want you or anyone else involved in this!"
Reznetha'ir's frown became deeper as his voice became softer. "I got involved the day they sent you down here—me and every other refugee in this camp." His words hung thick in the air, even after he left and pulled the door shut behind him.
Shei exchanged a troubled look with Trizryn. "He didn't mean that," he apologized for their mutual friend.
"Yes, he did." Bearing the burden of his reprimand, Trizryn shifted his attention to the slashed temple robe on the floor. "And he's right."