Demi grunted with satisfaction as he put in the final touches in a protection amulet. Few things in life gave him as much pleasure as the challenge of learning something difficult and be able to try it out in a creation of his own. Why, he had even on occasion forgotten to eat while engrossed in a project!
Demi made a very neat package with his freshly-finished items – perfection was in the details after all – and scratched at his thinning hair. Hmm… Would there be time to visit the Doctor? He had been so busy lately with this project for Don Ricardo that he had barely been out of the workshop…
“Too much work and no play makes Demi a hungry boy…”
Yes, surely it was close to tea-time? Demi considered and dismissed the idea of a bath, instead grabbing at a wet-looking cloth to quickly rub at his face and hands. The sharp sting made him wonder if it had been really water that the cloth had soaked, but on the bright side it was very invigorating!
It hadn’t even occurred to Demi that The Doctor might still have been in his travels until he knocked at the door of The Doctor’s town office. He was greatly relieved when the door opened and The Doctor invited him in and promptly got started on making some tea.
There was a lot of catching up to do on both sides. Demi told The Doctor of how he spent extra time in Kerken Hall under the tutelage of Margaret to not only learn the scrying that would enable them to locate the spirit of the Warden, but had also decided to learn extra useful things like how to make those handy protection amulets and enchant items with ghost-eating powers as was the case with the arrows they had used in the shadowlands.
On his return to Vendig, Demi had had to report to Don Ricardo as he had been the one to sponsor their expedition to Kerker. Instead of reporting on the irregularities of The Doctor’s behaviour, Demi had felt a strange stirring of loyalty and, instead, diverted the conversation to all the good uses he had made of his own time and how much he had learnt, which prompted a special order from Don Ricardo. He wanted spirit-protection items for a small team that he would be sending on a secret assignment. Discretion was paramount.
The Doctor seemed very intrigued by the news and commented on how strange it was that the ghosts around Vendig became physical at night. Shadowlands also have a tendency to spread; what could the ghost protection be intended for? Why the secrecy? Why not contact the churches directly as they usually had all the spirit protection paraphernalia?
As he listened to The Doctor’s erudite thoughts, Demi once again wished that he could be working for this intelligent person, who never begrudged a friend a meal, rather than the stingy Don Ricardo who had refused to pay for the perfectly reasonably priced Wood-spider anti-venom. Yes, the anti-venom and two whole weeks of barely being able to afford anything but gruel… Demi shuddered and made his decision.
“I am heading over to meet Don Ricardo now to deliver his order. If he would happen to be away, I could perhaps have a look and try to find out more about this secret expedition of his.” Demi paused for effect and grinned. “of course, if Don Ricardo would be called away on urgent business, say something medically related like a public health issue, then he would for sure be away from his office when I call with his package.”
When Demi arrived at Don Ricardo’s office, he was properly sorry to have “just missed him” and insisted on waiting as his package was urgent and should be hand-delivered.
A quick browse through the drawers of the desk yielded a scribbled receipt for “services” for Demi’s special order (which Don Ricardo had apparently skimmed a bit from) and a most intriguing letter. The letter was very obviously connected to the secret expedition and mentioned by name five people who should be outfitted to go to the pyramid – the Temple base in Rieherhiem, under the castle. The expedition was apparently by orders of “Marlene” – the Queen herself.
Demi glanced around for anything else that could be relevant and noticed on top of the desk a beautiful instrument – it looked rather like a compass, but made of precious materials.
A fit of coughing from under the window brought Demi back from his gem-encrusted reverie and sent him scurrying to the waiting room just in time before Don Ricardo and The Doctor made their appearance.
“Don Ricardo! What a pleasure it is to see your munificence again!” – Demi bobbed up and down in a series of low bows till a curt nod from the merchant prince signalled that he could stop.
“Well, what is it?”
“You will be most pleased with me! It concerns that thing we discussed…” – Demi cleared his throat while indicating with his eyes The Doctor in his best ‘we are not alone’ exaggerated manner.
“Ah, yes. Thank you Doctor, you may go now.”
As the Doctor left, Demi followed Don Ricardo into his study while praising his own discretion and the virtues or his unparalleled craftsmanship. He presented the package with great flourish.
Don Ricardo served them both a small glass of fine brandy and shrewdly examined the contents of the package. Demi noticed with great interest that the needle of the jewelled compass followed the package.
As he sipped at his brandy, the little tinkerer could not help being mesmerized by the shiny jewels and the strange behaviour. Was it just a pretty thing or could it be connected to the secret expedition? In general it was always wisest to not display too much interest in things, but on the other hand the compass was out in the open, on top of the desk…
“That is such a pretty thing, what is it?” – with a small start of surprise, Demi realised that he had been the one asking that aloud.
Cold calculating eyes ogled him from across the desk while Don Ricardo slowly but deliberately reached for the jewelled compass and placed it inside the top drawer in complete silence.
“You may go now.”
Demi looked down at his unfinished glass of brandy and glanced back at Don Ricardo in a mute appeal.
“You may go now.”
Demi downed the brandy in one swig and composed himself. Soon he was excusing himself out in an ingratiating subservient manner, while inwardly he was seething. Curt greetings, curt dismissals, refusing payment for legitimate items, skimming money off the top, no bonuses for quality work delivered in a timely fashion…
The Doctor was already waiting in their agreed-upon rendezvous location. The two discussed what had been gleamed from the quick search of the office and its implications. The two most interesting things seemed to be that the Queen herself had a vested interest in the outcome of the expedition, and the jewelled compass. A bit of note-comparing on the Occult and their combined Arcane Knowledge helped them decide that the compass was most likely a geomantic compass – an instrument that always points towards essence flows.
A plan began to take shape – could they not somehow hijack the expedition themselves and gain the Queen’s good graces while thwarting Don Ricardo’s plans? If The Doctor could succeed where Don Ricardo did not perhaps the imbalance in power would catapult The Doctor to the top, aided by the Queen’s blessing. The Doctor would make a much more reasonable patron than Don Ricardo, being a seeker of knowledge himself and better able to appreciate good craftsmanship. Also, he could cook!
The best way to achieve their goal would be to obtain whatever the Queen wanted before Don Ricardo’s expedition. The Queen is mostly interested in results and getting things done, the ends justifying the means. Don Ricardo is very new nobility and would not be missed if things would go badly – the perfect combination of rich and expendable for the Queen’s purposes.
Protection and defence against spirits was very apparently necessary, so it would be good to recover the items that Demi had crafted without suspicion falling upon them.
Some inquiries in town revealed that most people who would have been useful in the discreet recovery of items or in obtaining information from within the Queen’s circle were out of town. Maybe some festival or convention was being held?
The Doctor had previously met Koda, Aujaq’s spirit, and suggested that the fastest way to send a message would be to pray to Koda. For that purpose, The Doctor applied himself at making yet another memorable meal, while Demi whittled away to make a most flattering effigy of Koda.
With a tremor of regret, Demi saw his own work and The Doctor’s fragrant meal consumed by flames while they beseeched Koda to hear their prayer and tell Aujaq that help was needed with “something that the Queen considered really important”. They could only hope that Aujaq and his travel companions would return from wherever they had gone and be amenable to help.
In the meantime, there was no point in wasting time. More information was needed! The notes that Demi had perused contained the names of the five members of the secret expedition. One of them was Anders, a specialist in reclaiming “misplaced” items, with a reputation almost as shady as Mal’s and known to frequent the Blue Lady.
Demi and The Doctor whipped up a strongly alcoholic truth serum and, armed with a bottle, headed to the Blue Lady that very evening.
The smells and sounds in the Blue Lady bespoke of indulgence and debauchery and Demi deeply regretted that Hai Long was not in town; he was always good for a nice meal or a good glass of fine wine. With a sigh, Demi watched as The Doctor made whispered arrangements with the beautiful Sayuri. Soon she beckoned them into a private room where she had already taken Anders. The Doctor took the lead.
“Dear Anders, we ask of you only to have some wine and a nice chat with us. In exchange for your time, the lovely Sayuri will entertain you afterward at no cost to yourself. Does that sound fair?”
Sayuri brought the special bottle in and three goblets. The Doctor decided to forego on the wine, whereas Demi trusted on his acquaintance with this particular brew to not lose control of himself – after all, it was his own special recipe! Anders smacked his lips appreciatively at the well rounded flavours – or perhaps at the idea of the entertainment that would follow this appetizer…
Most of the bottle later, and after a lot of small talk, Demi had managed to warm Anders up enough to get all the answers that they could want out of him. It was a most informative meeting…
Apparently, Birgit, “the lady in the tower” was the one who came up with the idea of the expedition. There had already been a lot of prisoners lost in going down into the Temple Base, so now they had people scouring the countryside collecting exotic items to break spells. This time the expedition would be of professionals and would take place in about one month from now as it was only possible to enter the Temple base every full moon. Birgit would be going with this expedition as she was the only one who could read the “old language”, but she would be sent back to prison afterwards. The expedition intends to fill out the map of the Temple; the current unfinished version of the map was being kept by Birgit. The other three member of the expedition were all survivors from previous forays.