Even though the three of them were tired from the long day's journey, they decided that the best course of action was to get their map or maps first, before finding lodging for the night. Penthus wasn't the greatest city in Republikos, but if they weren't careful, getting lost would still be quite easy. After asking around to a couple of people, they figured that the shop run by a Carter O'Grapher was the place they sought and that it was only a couple of streets over.
When they'd reach the shop Sheik held out a hand blocking the way of Queen Jazabel and Sir Greystone. "While we go about asking about these maps, I feel I should be the one talking. This is my quest, and I don't want to have your less social qualities interfering with this." Pulling the list of those chosen by destiny to represent the elements out of the hidden pocket they'd put it in yesterday afternoon while dressing, Sheik continued, "Once we have what we need, you may give any warning or threat that you deem necessary; just remember what I suggested earlier. Is this an acceptable compromise?"
Both Sheik and Greystone looked to the Night Queen as she considered their proposal. After a moment, she smiled and nodded her ascent. "Very well, I'll let you do all the talking. But may I pay for all that we purchase today? I'm quite wealthy and never get to spend my money."
Nodding, Sheik smiled kindly to their new friend. "That seems fair; in fact, if you want, you can pay for most everything on this journey if you're so desperate for a chance to spend your riches."
Jazabel and Sheik both laughed genially at this. "Maybe," she said, still smiling. "We'll see how long this quest of yours takes." And with an extended hand, she motioned for Sheik to enter the shop before herself and Greystone. Taking the invitation, Sheik stepped through the shop's main door which was just a curtain with a map of Bolfodier stitched into it.
The interior of the shop was quite bare. A single counter spanned the length of the store, behind which was another doorway closed off by another curtain. Sheik supposed that that was where the owner made his maps. Standing at the counter was a young man, barely out of boyhood, dressed as some sort of page, undoubtedly fetching something for his master. Behind the counter was a slightly stooped man Sheik guessed to be in his late sixties or early seventies. Most of his hair was gone and the few strands that remained were at the back and sides of his head and white. His face was lined with the years he'd experienced, but Sheik thought that many of those lines were from laughter.
"-ou are, James," he said as he handed a rolled-up map to the young man. "Tell Magistrate Huffleclaw, that will lead her to her family's lost diadem."
"Thank you, Master O'Grapher," the boy said with a quick bow. "I'm sure that she's quite grateful as well and will send you the payment you agreed upon once she returns with her family's treasure." With another bow, he was running out the door to deliver the map clutched in his hand.
Chuckling slightly, Mr. O'Grapher turned to Sheik and their companions. "Hello! And what can I do for you fine folks today?" he asked with a friendly smile.
"We're looking to have a map or maps made," Sheik said. "And we were told that the maps you make are especially helpful when looking for things or people that are particularly difficult to find."
Sheik thought that they were being perfectly friendly, but by the time they'd finished talking, the smile on his face had turned into a frown. "I may be able to make such maps," he said flatly. "But if, and that's a big if, I do, there's a steep price to pay and a contract that requires you to tell me what or who you're looking for and why. The why is important, because if I don't agree, I don't make the map."
Wanting to appear unphased by his conditions, Sheik nodded as they placed the list on the counter. "That seems reasonable." Sliding the list to the man, they continued, "I need a map or maps that will lead me to the five names on that list. I seek them because I'm on a quest to restore magic in Bolfodier to its full potential and attempt to reverse the damage done by the time of the Taint. And I need their help to do so. As for money, we have lots, and I will sign any contract that you wish." Looking to his stoic expression, Sheik hoped this would be enough.
Fidgeting restlessly as they awaited the proprietor's response, Sheik saw the smirk pull the right corner of his mouth up. Taking a clear, circular piece of glass or crystal from his pocket, he examined the names on the list. "What's your name? And what compels you to try and reverse the damages done by the Taint?"
"My name is Sheik Visagar. And what compels me is family obligation: my ancestor started the Taint, and ever since we've been trying to undo its effects," they answered. "Do my answers suffice?"
"They do," he said, his stoic expression once again back on his face. "But now we must discuss payment. I can make you a singular map that leads to these people, or I can make you five individual ones. The single one is going to cost you the price of three individual maps because of the complexity of the magic involved. And with this type of map, there's more than just a monetary price to pay. A price that you will be bound by blood and magic to pay." Pulling a larger than normal sheet of paper from under the counter out, he placed it on the counter and turned it to Sheik. "Read this carefully before we begin to discuss the material price."
Taking the paper, Sheik turned to Queen Jazabel. "Since you're paying you should read this also." Holding the paper between them, Sheik began to read the contract. It seemed fairly standard: no giving the map(s) away, burn them once finished with them, tell nobody of the maps without being asked. Looking to the section on price, is where Sheik found discomfort. Their map of Bolfodier alone would cost close to two hundred gold marks. But what really distressed them was the magical price, as the contract called it. Having to pay a single one of these was bad enough, let alone the three times that having a single map made would cost. Giving an internal shudder at the thought, they turned to see what Jazabel thought of the magical price.
But where they'd hoped to see outrage, Sheik only saw amusement. And then she was giggling. The Night Queen, the fearsome leader of the Ladies of the Night was giggling at having read the contract and the magical price within. When she saw Sheik's dismay, she stilled herself and adopted a neutral face. Turning to Mr. O'Grapher, she asked, "Excuse me, about the magical price. I'm paying for my friend's map, so do I have to pay the magical price, or since they commissioned it, do they have to pay it? Or can we split?"
Giving her a once over, Carter O'Grapher said, "If you're paying the material price, you should be the one to pay the magical price. But, if you're wanting to split or have one of you pay it in full, I won't complain. So long as it's paid, I don't really care."
Turning back to them, Sheik saw a quizzical eyebrow raised. "As you said, this is your quest, Sheik. And I know that you will not trust anyone but yourself with that map, so I really think that you need to at least provide a third of the magical price required. Sacrifices must be made on any quest for it to succeed. This is just one of the sacrifices that you'll be asked to make on our quest. Besides, it's not that bad. Who cares if he's a perverted, old man? You're never going to see him again, and whoever is involved in your fantasy will never see him. Have a little fun," she teased before leaning in conspiratorially. "Who knows, maybe when Cascie hears of this part of your journey, she just may try to imitate what you wrote."
The teasing wink that she gave them was not necessary, nor was Sir Greystone's silent laughter over Jazabel's shoulder as he tried to hide what he was doing. Knowing it in their bones that they'd regret this, Sheik heaved a loud, defeated sigh. "Fine. One, I'll do one, Jazabel. You said you would pay, so you can pay the rest and let your secret fantasies be read by this pervert and whoever he decides to share them with."
"Now, now; there's no need for name calling. I don't read these, nor do I share them. If it were up to me, this wouldn't even be part of the contract; but the wizard who created the spell probably was what you're accusing me of being. I just happened upon his journal one day when I was a boy and tried it out. I knew I had a gold mine when it worked, so I hid the journal in a safe place and started my business. I did read some of these when I was younger, but I don't even look at them these days, not for nearly forty years." The look of antagonism on his face was palpable. It was clearly not his first or hundred and first time explaining this. But this part of his job was clearly his least favourite. But the fact that he didn't look at these bits of required magic did make Sheik feel the slightest bit better.
Once again sighing in frustration, Sheik turned to the shop's owner. "Very well, Mr. O'Grapher. Do we need to have this all to you before the map is made, or can you get started and when we come to pick it up give you the payments then?"
Shaking his head, the old man said, "I just need your signatures on the contract, and half of the gold." Pulling out an old feather quill and ink well from under the counter, he held the quill out to Sheik. Taking it and dipping it into the ink, Sheik was about to sign when he said, "Once you sign, there'll be no going back. The magic will force you to write down your fantasies. I'm sorry that it has to be this way."
As they signed, Sheik felt a welling within them to write what they had long fantasied about. Grabbing their own wrist to stop themself from shaking in an attempt to start writing immediately, Sheik placed the pen back in the ink well and waited to see how the Night Queen would react. Seeing the look on the map maker's face as he looked at their hand, did not inspire confidence though. For it seemed he was most intrigued by how strong the urge to put pen to paper had immediately gripped them.
Sheik watched Jazabel's hands as she signed in the hopes that her hand too would start to shake as it longed to write her deepest fantasies. But when no such shaking occurred, they turned back to Carter O'Grapher with an accusatory look. "Why?" they asked as they held up their hand. "Why does my hand shake in anticipation of the disgusting task it must now perform while hers doesn't so much as twitch? What have you done to me, map maker?"
The man just stared at them for a moment before raising his hands defensively. "I didn't do anything. As with all magic, the strength with which it unleashes in people varies. Truthfully, I've only seen about a dozen people have the same response to signing as you and they all had one thing in common: they longed for the things the map led to with all their being. Your friend doesn't have the same passion for this quest you're on as you do, that's why she isn't trembling with the need to write everything down."
Satisfied, but still not happy with their predicament, Sheik nodded. Watching her, Sheik saw the Night Queen sign something to Greystone before he walked out of the shop. Seeing the confusion on both of their faces, she explained, "He's fetching my money from the horses." And no sooner had she said that that Sir Greystone returned to the shop, a large and heavy looking drawstring pouch in his hand. Taking the pouch, Queen Jazabel walked to the table and dropped it with a loud thud and the clinking of coins. Pulling out four large, gold coins she placed them on the counter between herself and the map maker. "I believe that four gold crowns should be more than enough to cover our tab, plus some." Sheik and Carter O'Grapher looked upon the golden coins with disbelieving awe. "I just have one question, Mr. O'Grapher." When he didn't take his eyes off the money on his counter, Jazabel slammed her hand on it and seemed to break his trance. When his gaze returned to her, she repeated, "Just one question: the wizard who devised this method, did the journal have his name?"
"Name?" he asked, clearly still dazed by the money. "Ah-Ah Nam-Name. Yes-Yes of course. The journal claimed to be the property of Manto Hino."
Having never heard the name before in their vast research, Sheik was shocked to see Jazabel's reaction. The queen had stiffened like a board and her gaze upon the shopkeeper had intensified from the playful relaxed that she'd exuded the entire time inside the shop, to the deadly seriousness that she used to threaten Lady Mai-la in a heartbeat. She had clearly heard the name before, and her interest in this man had just increased a hundredfold if the intense look in her eyes was anything to go by. Seemingly forcing herself to relax, Queen Jazabel nodded and said, "Thank you Mr. O'Grapher. We'll let you get started on our map while we go about precuring the magical payment. As they said, Sheik is struggling with containing themself and we've waited a long time for this quest to begin."
And without waiting for his reply, she ushered Sheik and Sir Greystone out of the shop and back to their horses. Slightly perturbed by the abrupt exit, Sheik made to ask her what was wrong but Jazabel cut off any attempt at conversation made by either of them. Taking the lead at a brisk trot, she led them to a local inn and tavern about a dozen blocks from the shop. Paying for three rooms, they brought their things inside before going to sleep since it was nearly the time they'd gotten up the previous afternoon.
Woken by someone shaking their shoulder, Sheik saw that the moon shone bright through the window and that the Night Queen stood over their bed, a candle in hand. "I'm sorry for waking you, Sheik, but I thought you'd want an explanation for my reaction to the name Manto Hino."
Trying to cover themself and rub their eyes at the same time, Sheik, once again grabbed their wrist to stop it from writing. Yawning, they said with little to hide the annoyance in their voice, "It could have waited until morning. I don't like being seen without my clothes on, Your Darkness. It makes me uncomfortable."
Seeming to recognize her mistake, Jazabel blushed brightly as her eyes widened in realization. Turning around she said, "Dark spirits, I'm sorry; I forget that I can't just rush to you whenever I please. I'm so used to Ladies of the Night being unable to turn me away and our constant state of undress, that I forget that the rest of the world is quite hung up about all that. I'll just be outside; let me know when you're comfortably dressed." Walking away, she put the candle down on the desk on the other side of the room and exited.
Heaving a sigh, Sheik got up and set about dressing themself in a robe from the room's closet, before tying their hair up. This was made slightly harder by the shaking in their hand, but within a few minutes, they opened the door for Queen Jazabel to enter. "While I am curious, Jazabel, I just figured you knew the name from somewhere," Sheik said as they made their way back over to the bed and sat down.
Sitting down on the opposite side, the Night Queen responded, "I did; although, everyone seemed to guess that. Are you saying that you didn't recognize the name Manto Hino?"
Confused by this conversation and its apparent importance to her, Sheik shook their head. "No. Should I have?"
"I trust you've heard of Teressa the Gentle and Slac Hino."
"Who hasn't? Teressa was one of Lilith's original chosen few gifted with magic and Slac Hino ruled over Gothtor and led to its eventual downfall all because he wanted to get into bed with his sister." Now even more confused, by the apparent need for a history lesson that most children are taught by the age of ten.
"My father's rolling in his grave, hearing you describe him that way, but yes. Manto Hino is a descendant of one, and ancestor to the other," she revealed. "And she was no mere wizard, she was the first damelin."
Sheik gasped at this. Thoughts of sleep and the burning need to write all but forgotten as they looked to the Night Queen with a keen interest. "Manto Hino was the first damelin?"
Nodding with a smile that hinted at the fact she knew that she had Sheik's attention, Jazabel said, "Yes, she was. Have you ever met a damelin before?" Sheik shook their head in response, and was about to ask if she had, but Jazabel seemed to expect this as she continued. "I have; I've met two in fact. My Aunt Sabrina was one, although not many people knew that. The other, is a different story. It was about a hundred and fifty years ago, and I'd come to a small village near the northern boarder of Vanus. Truthfully, I was really just there because I wanted to scare some kids into listening to their parents." She gave a small laugh at the memory. "It's not easy being one of the most hated and feared people in the world, but I've developed ways to cope. My parents would be mortified to hear that half the time I go out into the world, it's just so that I can scare people and laugh at their fear, but they'd relax once they knew it was so that I could play the role of palpable boogeyman for everyone." She looked off wistfully and Sheik thought they saw a tear roll down her cheek.
With a seemingly fake cough that Sheik supposed was to hide the fact that she was wiping the tear away, Jazabel continued, "It was a little before dusk and I announced myself in a grand fashion. The town gathered in fright; the script was basically the same as it always was. Most people know that Ladies of the Night can see the darkness in people, few people know that I, as their queen, can interpret this darkness. When I look at people, I can see what acts exactly darken their souls. Most people look the same: couple of lies they regret telling, maybe a fight or two, anger at someone they can't or won't take it out on. This town was not really different, with one exception: there was a man who'd been raping his daughter since she was ten. And whenever I find someone like that, I make a point of making an example of them. But that's when the damelin showed herself.
"She looked me in the eye, not a trace of fear in her, and marched up to me so that she was right in my face. It's refreshing to be the one having to back down from a confrontation. I felt my fingers getting cold and the hair on the back of my neck rise as from nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck the ground no more than a couple feet behind me. This girl had the audacity to smile at my surprise as the cold in my fingers seemed to spread over my body. 'Leave and never return, Your Darkness, and you might just live.' I couldn't believe I'd just been threatened, let alone the actual fear it instilled in me. And so I left, but not without confirming and outing her as a damelin.
"Strictly speaking, damelins aren't more powerful than I am, but having one as an enemy is beyond idiotic that even the most stupid people in the world would know to not get on their bad side. And I'm anything but stupid."
Sheik gazed at her in awe. Here was possibly one of the few people in all of Bolfodier that could put the fear of Hados into all, and she'd said that this random woman, a damelin, had done the same to her. They couldn't ever think of a time in their life of research that such an event had been catalogued for the annals of history. If they didn't know Jazabel as they did, Sheik would have thought it was a bad joke; sure, the Night Queen got scared by some random woman, and 'gullible' was written on the ceiling too. But Sheik did know Jazabel, and that she'd been scared, and was happy about it. "You want Manto Hino's journal, don't you?" they asked after a moment's thought to absorb the purpose of the story. "You want to have a damelin as a Lady of the Night."
"Soooooo badly," she said. "But magic won't let me. Ladies of the Night can't be gifted with magic. Our connection to the Night is a form of magic, so for one of us to be gifted with another form is impossible. Pandora was an obvious exception based on the prophecies she carved into her Tomb, but I feel that was more her being the first rather than an actually gift of magic. But if I could, I'd have my next life be a damelin. Sadly, when Lilith gave humanity magic, she placed certain restraints so no individual could wield such vast amounts of power to be nearly a goddess. Not even her own children are exempt from this fundamental rule of magic."
Their initial interest in learning about the first damelin now faded, sleepiness began to once again creep its way into Sheik's mind, as did the burning need to write the damned fantasy so that they could get the map. Raising their hand to stifle the yawn clawing at their throat, Sheik said, "This is all very fascinating Jazabel, but I must really get back to bed. We can continue this tomorrow if you wish to continue talking about damelins, but I'm very tired and not accustom to such long days. Part of being friends is knowing each other's boundaries, and one of mine is getting enough sleep."
"Yes, of course," Jazabel said. Standing herself up, she fetched the candle that still sat on the table. "Sorry again for waking you. It's good that you're here to help me navigate these obvious rules to friendship, otherwise our journey might be much more hostile than it needs to be." Opening the door, she whispered, "G'night."
Undoing their hair and throwing the robe off themself, Sheik flopped back onto the bed. Closing their eyes, they tried to ignore the shaking in their hand that was the magic compelling them to write their fantasy. But after a half an hour of tossing and turning, Sheik knew that this burning desire in their hand could no longer be ignored. Sighing internally while groaning externally, they got out of bed, put the robe back on and walked to the desk where they struck a match and lit a candle.
Pulling the sheets of paper left by the inn closer, Sheik took the pen and hovered it over the paper. Screaming that they shouldn't be doing this in their head, Sheik gave another sigh before lowering the pen to the page. They didn't know what to expect, let alone what to write, so they were pleasantly surprised that as soon as the pen released ink onto the page, a wave of magic overtook them.
Sheik couldn't remember much, only flashes, as the pen fell out of their hand and the mid-dawn's light was streaming in through the windows. Rubbing the kink from their neck and the tightness from their hand, Sheik saw that pages were strewn about them. Picking them up, they were slightly horrified to see that the six pages that were on the floor were written on both sides in their small, loopy script. Dreading the answer, they peeked at the underside of the page in front of them and found, just as they'd feared, it was covered in their writing as well. Thirteen. Thirteen and two-thirds, to be precise; that was how much they had written.
It was with a morbid curiosity that Sheik looked at each page, trying to determine the order of them all. And, try as hard as they could, Jazabel's suggestion that Cascie might perform some of this would not leave their head and compelled them to read all thirteen and two-third pages. A blush, from both embarrassment and arousal, wouldn't leave Sheik's face from halfway down the first page until the very end. And when they felt the growing wetness between their legs, as Cascie held them to the wall on page five, Sheik knew how much they hated themself on a fundamental level.
It wasn't until there was a knock on the door that Sheik realized how late it was. Judging by the angle the sunlight was coming through the window, they guessed it was less than two hours until midday. Tying the robe around them a little tighter, Sheik went to the door and opened it a crack, revealing both Queen Jazabel and Sir Greystone. "I'm sorry, I lost track of time. Give me a few minutes to get dressed and then we can go." Not waiting for them to answer before closing the door, Sheik immediately began to rush around the room in an effort to dress as quickly as possible. Five minutes later, they were dressed with their hair adequately up, and their fantasy safely tucked away in their bag.
Opening the door, Sheik tried to avoid eye contact with either of their companions, without making it seem like that's what they were doing. They failed miserably if the smirk, followed by a few quick signs and then another smirk and quiet laugh, was anything to go by. It took all of their strength of will to keep from demanding that not another sound or sign be given, or that the Night Queen translate the conversation for them. Sheik wasn't sure what they thought would be the worst option, but managed to still their tongue until they were about halfway back to the mapmaker's shop.
Still trying to avoid her eyes, which Sheik feared would be full of mirth and satisfied teasing, they asked Jazabel, "You have your half of the magical price, right?"
Sheik saw her smile as she tapped the hem of her dress at her chest, that revealed her generous cleavage. "I've taken a page from your book and hidden them among my underclothes."
Doubting her, Sheik finally looking into the woman's eyes only to be struck by the giddy mirth there. "While that does keep them safe, it seems impractical for them to be so intricately hidden when we need to hand them over in a few minutes," they said. "While I'm sure this Carter O'Grapher, whether he's a perverted old man or not, would love to have a beautiful woman such as yourself start to strip to near nudity in his private shop to retrieve a written sexual fantasy, I feel the result of his seeing your underclothes marking you as the Night Queen could potentially cause him to keel over before we've even gotten the map. So, please tell me you're joking when you say such a thing."
Greystone gave a laugh at this, while signing something to his queen. But when he saw the cold look in her eye, his laughter died at once, but his hands began to urgently sign something. "Still your hands, Greystone!" she said coolly, and his hands seemed to freeze mid-sign. "I'm your Queen, and I will not be made fun of in such a way." There was an uneasy pause between them, as they had stopped in the street as this conversation had escalated. But that tension faded as Jazabel gave a small laugh and pulled the Lord of the Night to herself. "You're as perverted as that old man, dear. What would Selene say if she heard you claiming you'd be first in line to see me strip?" she asked in a whisper loud enough for Sheik to hear. And before he could answer her, she said, "I don't want to know the answer to that, joke or not. When this is over, I'm going to insist until you give in that you two finally be married." With a motherly kiss to his cheek, she turned back to Sheik as she reached into her dress and cleavage and produced a couple folded pieces of paper. "See, no stripping and potentially killing perverted old men required."
Nodding, Sheik envied the simpleness that seemed to be the Night Queen's fantasies. "And you got both fantasies written on just two sheets of paper?" they asked, unable to hide the jealousy in their voice.
"I did," she said with a smile and a nod. Reaching her hand once again into her generous bosom, Jazabel hid her desires away from prying eyes.
Once again, Sheik had to slightly frown at the outdated blackblood dress that she wore; it was so outdated that its mere presence drew many looks from the crowd in the streets. "Perhaps, once we have our map, we should get you a few new dresses. You're drawing too much attention wearing that out in public and not being part of some historical re-enactment."
Finally seeming to notice the quizzical looks from the townsfolk that they were passing on the way to the mapmaker's shop, the Night Queen gave both herself and most of the women around them a look of deep appraisal. After a moment, she clutched at the skirt of her dress as if she were a child. "This belonged to my grandmother," she said, seemingly more to herself than either Sheik or Greystone. "But, maybe it's for the best."
"It is," Sheik said, a little more callously than they intended. Softening their voice minutely, they continued, "The dress is lovely, but it stands out too much. Keep it, if it holds a sentimental value, but your wardrobe does need to be updated slightly."
Having arrived at the shop, Jazabel simply nodded her consent without a word as she held the curtain door aside for Sheik and Greystone to enter before bringing up the rear. Like the day before, Carter O'Grapher seemed to be finishing up with a customer. This one was a girl barely out of her adolescence who seemed to be buying a map to the forest on the outskirts of town. "Thanks again, Mr. O'Grapher," she said with much enthusiasm. "Jocasta and I have been planning this trip with the boys for weeks and she swore she packed the map, but you know how blind she gets whenever Odie is around."
The both of them laughed at this, as if it was some inside joke, before the old mapmaker waved the girl away. "She's been like that since he came to town years ago," he said with another chuckle. "You folks enjoy yourselves, and tell your father I said hi, Electra!"
"I'm sure he says it back," the girl Electra stated as she turned to leave. "Bye, Mr. O'Grapher; and thanks again for the map!"
The old man smiled as he waved to her, but once she was out the door, his smile disappeared. It was replaced by a grim determination. Sheik would have thought that given how much gold Jazabel had given the man the previous day, that he'd be overjoyed to see them again. "Your Darkness," he said with a slight bow to Jazabel.
Looking to the Night Queen in accusation, Sheik was about to start yelling at her when she raised her hands defensively. "I've no idea what he's talking about?" Turning to the man, she asked in a very good impression of someone not who she was, "What did you call me, and why?"
"Please do not play dumb with me, Your Darkness. I'm too old for such theatrics. You are the Night Queen, Queen Jazabel Kanta, are you not?" Sheik had thought that such an accusation would have the accuser in such a state of panic as to literally cause them to shake given the Night Queen's reputation. But, instead, they found the man to be quite at ease.
"I am," Jazabel confirmed, before turning a cold glare to the mapmaker. "But I seem to be at a very rare moment of disadvantage: how is it that you came to such a conclusion?" she asked with the threat in her voice palpable.
"I had the misfortune to meet you once before, back when I was a boy. I thought I recognized your voice and face yesterday, but since it's been over sixty-five years, it took me a moment to remember. But, your clearly centuries old dress and your bank being so massive that to drop four gold crowns without batting an eye were very helpful clues," he explained.
"It would seem a change to my wardrobe would be most helpful," the Night Queen said as she looked to Sheik, before turning the full weight of her glare onto Carter O'Grapher, causing him to shrink slightly in fear. "But since my identity is out in the open… I have need to ask you a few questions. And if I feel like I'm being lied to, or having the truth withheld, your living remains will not be found until my successor's successor has died of old age. And we Queens of the Night live for a very, very long time. Do I make myself clear?"
The old mapmaker nodded in hurried, jerking nods; the fear that Sheik had initially thought would be present in his voice was now clearly in his every move. "Y-Ye-Yes, Your Darkness," the old man said with a frightened bow that made him seem to be controlled as if some life-sized marionette.
As Sheik watched with horrified fascination, Jazabel deliberately stalked closer to the counter and the shop's proprietor, her heeled boots clacking ominously around the small shop. "To business first, is our map ready?"
Shaking his head, Carter O'Grapher said simply, "No." But when he saw all three of them look to him with glares that ranged from mildly infuriated to deadly, he was quick to explain. "I need the fantasies you wrote, that's where the magic comes from. At least, that's always been my interpretation of everything. I burn the pages you wrote your fantasies on and use the ash as part of the ink. The greater you desire the fantasy, and the more you desire the location on the map, the clearer it will lead you to that which you seek. I assume that you have these fantasies with you," he asked, looking to both Queen Jazabel and Sheik. Holding out his hand in a slightly impatient manner, he said, "Give them to me, and I shall make your map."
Pulling the terrifyingly embarrassing number of pages from their bag, Sheik tried to hide their humiliation from the others as they stepped forward to give the mapmaker the apparent ink to make the map. Forcing themself to look the man in the eye, as if they were challenging him to say something about the sheer number of pages, was a mistake. For in those eyes, there was no challenge, but a surprise as he gazed upon the thick stack they handed. "Not a word" they growled at him through gritted teeth.
As Jazabel once again removed her fantasies from her cleavage, Sheik once again forced themself not to stare at her as her breasts jiggled back into place. "Be quick, map maker; there is still much we must discuss," she said, placing her smaller pile of pages onto the thirteen from Sheik.
Carter nodded stiffly as he grabbed the pages and made for the back room. The three of them waited in silence as the faint voice of the old man drifted back to them, too muted to understand what he was saying. When he was apparently finished, the louder whirring and droning of a contraption the likes of which Sheik had never heard before startled them. They looked to Jazabel to see if she had any ideas as to what was going on. Sir Greystone seemed to have a similar thought process as he was signing to the Night Queen.
When she saw that Sheik was about to ask the same question as Greystone, she answered both of them. "It's a Metalian paper press. I'm surprised to find one in Republikos of all places. It's lik-"
The mechanical whirling had stopped and Carter O'Grapher had returned, placing the map before them. As one, Sheik, Greystone and Jazabel leaned in to look over the map. When they saw a series of coloured blotches scattered around the edges of it, Sheik gave a little gasp. "That concludes our business," he said forcefully. "Now, please leave my shop and never return."
Picking up the map and carefully putting it in their bag, Sheik turned to leave, but was stopped by their companion's words. "I still have questions for you, and you will answer them." Her voice had that deadly quality to it again, as if any of her next words would summon a horde of creatures of the night to devour whoever she wished whole. Mr. O'Grapher swallowed audibly as he tried to get away from her. "Am I the first Lady of the Night that you've sold a map to?"
Sheik thought it was odd to ask such a question, when they had first heard of him from a Lady of the Night. Fearfully looking into her eyes, the old mapmaker shook his head. "No. To my knowledge you're the first Lady of the Night that has ever bought a map from me, regular or like the one I just presented you with."
Jazabel just stared at him for a moment, before she nodded her head. "Very well, what about selling maps that lead to places associated with us? Have you ever given a map to anyone that plots the location of a Lady of the Night or one of our strongholds?"
Again, he shook his head. "Not to my knowledge, no. It's very rare that people seek you out, at least from my experience. About fifteen years ago, I did have a man ask me to make him a map that led to a place he called Pădurea Nopții. When I asked him what that was and he said it was a place where the Ladies of the Night gathered, I refused to make it for him as I was not foolish enough to risk incurring your wrath."
This information seemed to genuinely catch Queen Jazabel off guard, if the stunned look on her face and the silence that followed was anything to go by. Nobody moved in fear of rising the Night Queen from her thoughts until the squawk of a raven flying in and landing on her shoulder made them all jump. As she regained herself, Jazabel looked to the bird on her shoulder. "Thank you, Cadel." Returning her gaze to Carter she said, "We're going to circle back to that in a moment, but before we do, I have one last prepared question for you. You recently sold a map that led to the Tomb of Malbain; I want to know why the woman who bought that map said she wanted it."
Clearly confused, the mapmaker licked his lips, as if trying to not have his mouth go dry from the nerves he was clearly feeling at being so thoroughly interrogated by the queen of the Ladies of the Night. "It wasn't a woman that commissioned that map." As his three customers looked upon him with a suspicious glare that demanded further elaboration, the mapmaker audibly swallowed. "It was an old man by the name of Antonius Sofia III. He said this Malbain was his ancestor and that he wanted to locate the treasures within the tomb to grow his family's wealth."
Sheik watched as Jazabel turned to Greystone and begun to sign at him. The Lord of the Night, just shrugged as he signed a quick reply to whatever it was the queen had said. "Not so fast," she said as she blindly reached out and grabbed the shopkeeper with her left arm. "I'm not done questioning you. And I have not been pleased with your answers so far, so choose your words carefully as you tell me the truth, Carter O'Grapher." The old man flinched at every word, trembling under the palpable menace the Night Queen's words carried. "Tell me about this man who tried to have you make a map to Pădurea Nopții. His name, what he looked like, and why he wanted that map. And how did he respond when you refused him?"
"It was over a decade and a half ago, I-"
"I don't care if it was thirty decades ago, I want the answers to my questions!" Sheik hoped to never have the Night Queen speak to them in such a voice, witnessing it directed at an innocent man was terrifying enough. It was almost scarier as she was threatening him because he was nothing to her; Lady Mai-la Lee, or Sheik themself had been threatened by Queen Jazabel but there was something that almost protected them from her wrath because they were known to her. Carter O'Grapher had no such protection.
And it seemed that he knew that as he scrambled to answer her. "Ah… ah, name… his name was… ah… his name was… Vincent Charrington. He was about as tall as Mr. Visagar there, about my age at the time. I mean-what I mean to say is-is that we looked to be about the same age, so he'd be about my age now, if he's still alive. He said that he was friends with a Lady of the Night when they were kids and he wanted to see her again. Although, I don't think that that was the real reason; looking back I felt he was lying, and that was part of why I refused him. When I told him that I wouldn't make the map, he got a little upset, tried to argue me into making it anyway. He even offered to pay me triple so that I'd 'just make the stupid map'. That's it, I swear." The look he gave clearly hoped his answers had sufficed. But then his eyes widened. "OH! I just remembered: he had this weird sword. I mean it was a regular sword, but the hilt was different than any sword I've ever seen, except one. The pommel was carved out to look like a red cross, rather than being the standard slab of metal. I've only seen it once before, and that sword belonged to a Crusader."
The raven, Cadel, that sat on Jazabel's shoulder gave a loud, angry caw at the mention of the Crusaders. She shushed the bird by petting its chest. "I don't like this either, but we can't do anything about it right now," she said to the bird. Turning back to the old man, Jazabel said, "Just one more thing, and then we'll be on our way, and never return." Carter nodded, clearly eager to have the three of them leave his shop. "Manto Hino's journal, I want it." When he didn't do anything, she clarified, "NOW!"
Faster than Sheik would have thought him capable of, the mapmaker ran to the back room and came back a moment later, a weathered, old leather journal in his hands. Placing it on the counter between them, he said, "Take it, it's yours!"
Picking it up reverently, Jazabel held the journal to herself tightly. Once again reaching into her chest, Jazabel produced another two gold crowns. Placing them on the counter and sliding them to Carter, she smiled and said, "Thank you again, Mr. O'Grapher. For your troubles and silence." And without waiting for his reply, she turned and ushered Sheik and Greystone out of the store.
But as they left the store, the smile left the Night Queen's face. Looking to their friend, Sheik thought they saw fear and worry cross her face. "Do you want to talk about it?" they asked as they began to make their way back to the inn.
"Not here," she said. Scanning the crowd, Jazabel got a restless edge to her voice. "Too many people; we'll talk once we're on the road again." And with a slight nod, the bird on her shoulder took to wing overhead.