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“The river. It flows through my mind as it does my fingers. The water beneath my thoughts. The current directs my mind to memories without my control. River of time, river of life, guide my memory to that dark moment.”
Venkat Darkrider sits on the summit of a small mountain. The first snow of the year falls lazily around him. The remnants of an Elven temple surround him and partly shield his lithe body from the freezing gusts. None of this aware to him, however. He is deep within the type of concentration Half-Elves call “Mindkeep”. The detective takes a small breath and continues. His rags continue to be covered in a thin later of frost.
“Where are you?” His mind focuses on small details: the trail of blood leading out the window. The twisted branches and snatches of clothes torn on the thorny brambles. Then her face. Cold, like a porcelain doll. His blonde human secretary, fully nude, and murdered by the well. Focus. As a detective his abilities in “Mindkeep” are essential. He lets the river of his mind push him further downstream, into darker waters. Broken ribs, a dagger in her chest, signs of poison under her finger nails. Just a glance at the scene gives him enough details for his dreams to render in high definition while in “Mindkeep”.
Darkrider opens his eyes.
“That”s it. It must be that man.”
He gently picks up his revolver crossbow and examines it lovingly.
“Looks like you”re a little low on bolts, my friend. No need to worry about money now. All we will need is one.”
He holds a red bolt with a wan smile on his lips.
“Next in line!” Tetsubow Valjean nearly roars with his lion-like voice. His scarred feline face ripples with impatience as another villager steps up to receive his monthly dose of medicine. His frustration comes less from the sleepy and crippled townsfolk, but more from the gradually increasing hold of the cursed disease. Each year it gets worse, Tetsubow thinks to himself. The man can barely make it to the medicine counter, when just last month he was a healthy blacksmith praised for his skill. The symptoms seem to be speeding up. His medicine isn”t enough. Even his prolific skills wont save the town from this blight.
“Next please!” He tries to be a little more polite this time. His wife has entered the clinic. At the sight of her his nerves seem to calm and his worries dissolve instantly. He hands over a glass bottle of glowing blue liquid to another hobbling villager. His wife puts a hand on his shoulder and caresses his ear. She can”t see him. She never could. He knows that if somehow she could see again, that she would be disgusted by his chemically marred skin.
“Honey, is that all for today?” her voice is like the rhythm of bells.
“Just one more.”
As Testubow looks up a stranger enters the clinic. She is stunningly beautiful, the type of beauty found in a wild beast or a deadly flower. Her poisonous looks are accented by a single spear of bone for a hand – the stinger to the pretty bee, the spider in the center of a magnificent web. The Woren knows enough from his time in prison that this woman is nothing but danger. As he gives away his last potion and starts to close up the shop the woman simply stares at him playfully.
“I don”t want any trouble, ma”am.” Tetsubow grunts with contained anger.
“Ma”am?” the woman lets out a high pitched but sonorous laugh. “Ma”am? I haven”t been called that in all my life. Try “deadly”, try “please no don”t kill me”, or maybe “god, why me?” but never “ma”am” or “miss”.”
Tetsubow guides his wife to a room behind the counter for safety.
“Or you could always just call me Gumpaler,” at this the mysterious woman jumps at Tetsubow. She is like a flash in the air – a human dart with her piercing bone arm aimed directly for the Woren”s face. However, all of Tetsubow”s years in prison tempered him into an unflinching warrior. In a moment of muscle-memory, he flings the woman to the ground, his cheek cut deeply from a near miss of the woman”s knife.
“Pity, I meant to stab out your eye,” Gumpaler taunts. “Now make this easy for me and hand over the Golden Weed. The panacea for all ailments. I know you have it.”
“I know nothing of what you say, you wild idiot!” with a sly flick of the wrist Tetsubow now holds a deadly vial of explosive pills. He readies his aim when the door flies open with a crash.
“You killed my secretary, you burnt beast. Now, I have one last message to you, from her.” Darkrider takes aim at the Woren with his crossbow.
Somewhere in the attic a squeak of laughter is unheard. A small imp of a man watches from a hole in the ceiling. His eye eagerly awaits the well-planned violence to commence.