One simple truth I’ve found is that everyone needs help, even a professional. I’d been lost on my contract for longer than I’d care to relate, and all my efforts got me nowhere. I had no other option but my last resort.
I stood outside the storefront next to the cursed mirror that was the source of my headache and just took a moment. It was a very plain sort of place, very much like the man who owned it, if I was being honest. Still, he was my friend and I’d never known anyone more knowledgeable.
I looked down from the sign shaped like an impaled wolf’s head to the sign that read “cock egg disposal- 1 gram”. I shook my head, lifted up the mirror, and awkwardly opened the door and walked inside.
I sighed in exasperation as the man begged me once again to take the contract he was offering. “What did you do?” I asked, not bothering to hide the impatience I was currently experiencing.
He stopped halfway through his plea, “Wha…? What makes you think I did anything?”
I was so focused on my response I paid very little attention when my front door opened. “If a vila is trying to kill you, then it must be due to your actions.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, the woman just snapped. I’m afraid she’s mad.”
My counterpoint was interrupted before it began when a very familiar voice with a heavy northern accent spoke up from the entrance, “I’d listen it I were you, lad. Trust me, Evit here has first-hand experience with vila.”
The attention of the two of us was drawn to the massive red-haired man by the door. He was standing next to what looked like a large mirror facing away from us. “And who are you, now?” my perspective client asked.
He tried to take off his hat, only to find it missing. Failing that, he gave an awkward, but polite bow, “Shadden O’kaine, witch hunter at your service.”
“What are you doing here?”
“I am wondering about that, myself,” I added. “Not a social visit, I presume?” He shrugged, “You know, same old thing. I need a little help.”
“I suppose you’re seeking assistance regarding your missing hat,” I replied, knowing full well that wasn’t the case.
He chuckled lightly, “No, a vodyanoi got it. I may not’ve gotten it back, but I got that thing’s life. Fair trade, eh?”
The other man in my shop was clearly upset by the direction of our discourse, “… so I still have that problem?”
Shadden answered before I could, “My mate Evit, here is too polite to tell you to sod off, but I know that’s where this is going. Just stay away from her, or maybe apologize. Either way, we’re not killing that vila because you pissed her off.”
The man looked incensed at this treatment, “How dare you! That creature tried to kill me, and not only are blaming me for it but you’re leaving me to my fate.”
I nodded, “Correct. Perhaps you’ll have more care in selecting your romantic partners in future.”
His glare only intensified, but he left the shop without another word, carefully stepping around my imposing guest. When he was gone, my fellow witch hunter said, “Seems you’re still doing the cock egg thing. It’s strange, I always thought making other people pay for your breakfast was a little… dishonest for a man o’ your integrity.”
“Repeatedly explaining that roosters don’t lay eggs was growing tiresome, particularly when those I’m explaining to weren’t listening. I found it far easier to charge a pittance and be done with it all.”
He nodded, “I should’ve thought of that. Last week, a farmer came to me with a salamander, said it came out of his fire and he was terrified it would burn his hovel to the ground.”
“I don’t imagine that conversation went well, considering you’ve apparently yet to learn tact.”
My friend leaned against my doorway and lightly shrugged, “I just told him where baby salamanders really come from, and now I have a new pet.”
A slightly muffled male voice came from the frame, “Are you going to keep with the small chatter all day, or can we take care of my little problem now?” Shadden sighed loudly, “I suppose we can take a look.” He then lifted the frame and turned it towards me. It was a mirror, as any other but instead of showing a reflection of the two of us, the reflection was of a heavyset man in a clearly expensive bathrobe. “Count Torren Sald, this is my friend and colleague Evit Merriman.”
The nobleman in the mirror nodded, “Mr. Merriman, I’ve heard of you. Strange, I thought you’d be taller.”
Shadden replied, “I did tell you he was very short, didn’t I, lad?”
“It’s just that I didn’t think he was that short. You are rather tall.”
“Are you quite done?” I asked, more than weary of that rather redundant conversation.
The man outside the mirror chuckled in amusement, “Yeah, it’s this again. How many times have we had this exact chat?”
I didn’t answer, instead moving on by inspecting the mirror frame. It was made of brass, with strange, foreign stylings and an unfamiliar, flowing script. To me, it looked Qasani, but I was far from an expert on such things. “Hmm… where did you obtain this, Your Grace?”
“It came from a luxury import store in the capitol. I can’t remember the name, but the proprietor was Andaverian.”
The other witch hunter continued where his client left off, “I’ve already investigated that angle, mate. It was just some salesman who didn’t know what he had.”
“I suppose you’ve tried the standard counter-curses?”
“Of course, I’m not an amateur. You do have yourself a better book collection, though.”
The count spoke up in exasperation, if not proper rage, “A book collection?! That’s why you brought me all this way?”
Due to my offence, Shadden answered in my defence, “Evit Merriman is hands-down the most knowledgeable man in the world on magical matters. Don’t worry about him, mate, he’s just mad about being passed around.”
“Passed around?” I asked. “From whom did you obtain this contract?” “I still have friends in the Ministry, one of them passed me Count Mirror.”
Count Sald continued the conversation with a defensive tone in his voice. “My wife and I assumed the ‘Ministry of Preternatural Affairs’ would be able to handle the situation. It seems quite ‘preternatural’, does it not?”
“You’re first mistake was going to the Ministry, lad,” my colleague replied with bitter amusement. “They wouldn’t know ‘preternatural’ if a werewolf walked up and clawed their eyes out. I should know, I used to work for them.”
Before that discussion could continue any further, I felt the need to move it in a more productive direction. “Would you kindly move him to the basement? I’ll be down in a moment.”
As instructed, the man easily lifted the heavy mirror and carried it out from the storefront into the back rooms. When they had gone, I changed the ‘cock eggs’ sign around, locked my door, and pulled my iron key out of the pocket concealed in my hat.
From there, I went upstairs to my bedroom. I removed the silver key from where it was concealed beneath the floorboards. With both required keys, I met Shadden where he waited patiently with the cursed mirror. Count Sald looked at the massive, practically impenetrable iron vault door with a look of palpable wonder. “Very impressive, Mr. Merriman. It must have cost you a great deal.”
“Indeed it did, would that it wasn’t necessary.” I inserted both keys into their keyholes and turned them simultaneously, opening the intricate lock. When I opened the door with great effort, Shadden lifted up the mirror, and the three of us entered my vault of confiscated magic. “As you can see, security is an imperative.”
My guests looked around at the various magical objects and texts I kept securely locked away. The witch hunter caught sight of the disembodied head made of brass kept on the shelf nearest the door. “The brazen head’s a new one.”
“Yes, I obtained it four months ago, confiscated from a street swindler. Ironically, it was the only real magic in his possession, and he only used it for decoration.”
“You ever use it? Having any yes or no question answered could be quite the boon, know what I mean?”
I sighed, “You’re correct, it would be quite useful. However, such a compromise would make further compromises that much easier. You and I have both seen what happens to those that follow that particular path.
“Speaking of which…” I retrieved the book I’d set aside for him. The black leather cover read “Mortuus Libro”. “I obtained this from a rather inept necromancer last week. You still need a copy, don’t you?” He took it from my hands and started to page through it, “Aye, it should help. Thanks.”
During that time, I was going through the books on my bookshelves, looking for one particular volume. Eventually, I found my one and only text regarding Qasani magic, a text I was informed was entitled “Kitab Aljini”. I brought it over to the mirror and started paging through it.
I checked each and every page very carefully, looking over the translated foreign script. Comparing the writings to the markings on the mirror frame didn’t help in the slightest way, leaving me wishing dearly that the man who translated the book was still alive.
“Find anything there, friend?” Shadden asked after more than enough time.
“No. It most definitely is Qasani magic, and very much beyond my expertise.”
“So what now?” the client asked. “A ship all the way to Qasan?”
“There is one other person I could take you to before we get that far. You will be free, Your Grace, don’t worry.”
My fellow witch hunter asked, “So we leave right away, as usual? I brought a carriage; I know how you feel about trains.”
“Good, thank you. A train wouldn’t be able to take us where we need to go, even if I were ever inclined to ride one.”
The large man lifted the mirror yet again and carried it out of the vault. While he was taking it outside, I hid both keys in their usual places. I walked outside and met Shadden standing outside of the now-open carriage. “Do you need help with that?” I asked motioning to the mirror and the cart.
“You know I put it in there in the first place without help, right?”
“I figured as much. I am also capable of such a feat, but just because neither of us need assistance doesn’t mean it’s not polite to offer.”
After a short moment of thought, he nodded. “Alright, get in. I’ll pass him up to you.”
I did as instructed, and the two of us up the mirror in the carriage and laid it down to prevent it from falling. “How long is this journey going to take?” the man inside asked impatiently.
“We will arrive midmorning tomorrow.”
“And where are we going?”
“We’ll be consulting a friend of mine. She knows more about magic than anyone in all the world. She’ll know what to do.”
He nodded, looking very much unconvinced—I assumed because my assurances were almost identical to what Shadden said about me. Still the man said nothing, so I climbed to the front, almost tripping on one of a pair of saddles inexplicably among the provisions packed inside. When I sat down next to my friend, he asked, “So where, exactly are we going?”
“West, the Low Road, specifically. I’ll guide you from there.”
The man nodded and flicked the reins, sending us underway. We made our way through the city streets slowly as pedestrians parted. “So who’s that girl we’re going to?”
“She’s rather unique, and she’s hardly what I’d call a ‘girl’.”
“Well, I know you wouldn’t. It’s not ‘polite’.”
I merely acknowledged the comment with a simple nod and allowed us to slip into silence. That silence only lasted a few moments, however as I had a curiosity of my own. “Why are there two saddles back there?”
“I felt the need to be prepared. Queer things happen when the two of us work together.”
“That’s because I make careful plans, whereas you seem to delight in ruining them.”
He spoke up defensively, although with a distinct lack of hostility, “Hey now! That is unfair, that is.”
I chuckled at the memory of the sheer number of times that very set of circumstances had occurred, and provided an example. “Remember Alsburg?”
He looked at the sky distantly in an attempt to recall, “You know what… I actually don’t.”
“I’m not surprized, a redcap dropped a stone bust on your head from two storeys up. You were unconscious for three days.”
“I could tell plenty of embarrassing stories about you, too. You remember how you got that scar over your lip?” I replied with a hearty laugh, “Yes! You gave it to me, and in case you’ve forgotten that story doesn’t cast you in such a good light either.”
He began laughing with me, “I know, but I just love that one so much.”
The two of us laughed together for some time, but eventually we fell into a comfortable silence. We went straight through the heart of the city and through the other side and before long we were racing though the countryside. The leaves had shed their usual greens in favour of the yellows and oranges and reds of autumn.
After the sun had set, we stopped by the roadside so that both the horses and ourselves could get the rest and food we sorely needed. As the carriage motion ceased, the count’s voice rose up from the back, “We can’t be there already. It’s too dark.”
I climbed in the back to where the mirror was kept. I said to its occupant, “We need to stop for the night, Your Grace.”
“We’ll get there faster if we keep going.”
“Impatient, are you?” my fellow witch hunter replied.
“It may have escaped your notice, but I’ve been trapped in this mirror for weeks!”
“So what’s a few more hours, eh lad?”
I interrupted the response, stopping the argument before it even began. “The horses need to rest, Your Grace. We will be leaving at first light.”
Neither Shadden nor I waited for his reply before grabbing what supplies we required and leaving the carriage. We started setting up a rough camp a short distance away. “I can’t believe your sticking to the whole ‘your grace’ stuff, mate,” he said. “I know you hate the nobs as much as I do.” “That much is true, but much of my customer base consists of the nobility, and their propensity for gossip means that one must be careful not to offend them.”
“You say that, but they still come running to me when they need something.”
I began the process of removing the horses from the cart and tying them to a nearby tree. “Perhaps you’re correct, the needs of our clients are urgent enough that they always will come to us. Still, that is no reason our interactions with them need to unpleasant.”
“I may not be all proper all the time, but I’m always pleasant to my clients.”
“True enough, but without etiquette, your noble clients won’t find your attitude pleasant, friendly though it may be.”
He chuckled bitterly, “And for those particular clients, I don’t really care about their ‘positive business experience’. At least we don’t just let them to their fate, like Verya.”
“I haven’t heard from her in quite some time. Have you heard anything?”
“Dead by vampire last year, sadly.”
I shook my head in dismay, “Every year more witch hunters are lost. It’s tragic.”
“Aye. One of these days I feel like it’s going to be one of us mentioned in passing.” He took out a wineskin and two cups from the bag provisions. After he poured both, we raised the cups, “For Verya Timbel,” he began.
“And Corith Yelt,” I continued.
“And Wolsa Xander.”
“We’ll see you when the Beyond becomes the here and now,” Shadden finished, prompting us to drink the wine in the only tradition that witch hunters had ever passed from one to the next.
After a moment for the Toast of the Fallen to sink in, Shadden shook his head, “I can’t believe our list ever got that long. There’s more to come isn’t there? Makes you wonder who’s next…”
“You’re not thinking about retiring, are you? I thought this day would never come.”
The man gave a loud laugh that seemed to contain mirth and despair simultaneously, “You know me, I’d get bored if I didn’t have any nasties trying to kill me.”
“That’s because you, my friend, are positively mad.”
“I don’t see you quitting anytime soon.”
I let out a chuckle, “I never claimed to anything resembling well-adjusted.”
“Aye. Good thing there are madmen like us to keep everyone else safe.”
“Indeed. Remember that horrendous song Enden used to sing?” He chuckled distantly “I used to tell him his voice was so bad he could he could get a goblin to leave its house of its own choosing. Well, we got drunk and tried it one time.”
“Did it work?”
The man snickered, barely able to contain the laughter welled up inside him, “I don’t know, we got arrested for trespassing. Apparently, we broke into the house across the street. That woman was pissed.”
The two of us laughed until we both ran out of breath and laughed again. When that laughter died down, my friend asked, “I don’t really know the Low Road that well, is this a safe place to camp?”
“This road is rarely travelled, that’s why it’s referred to as the Low Road. Here I would be far more concerned about bears or wolves.”
“Yeah, I know what’s out here: bears, wolves, and spriggans. So we sleep in shifts?”
“A wise plan, and since it was yours you won’t object to taking the first shift.” Without waiting for an answer, I reclined and put my hat over my eyes.
“I remember this, you know.”
“No you won’t.”
When I didn’t hear a response for a few seconds I didn’t think one was forthcoming, but he replied, “You win this round, Merriman. You win this round.”
That was the last thing I heard before gently slipping away into total unconsciousness. In fact, barely any time seemed to pass at all until I was shaken awake by Shadden. With barely a word between us, we changed places. A few peaceful hours passed before dawn finally broke.
I shook my fellow witch hunter awake, “I suppose it’s time to go, then” he said, weary from the sudden awakening.
We packed up the camp quickly and quietly. In mere minutes, the carriage was underway once again on the lonely Low Road. Hours passed and the sun grew higher in the sky until we reached a narrow, seemingly nondescript trail.
“So that’s the place?” my colleague asked.
“Correct. We’ll need to stop the carriage here and carry the mirror for some distance.”
Upon stopping, the two of us unloaded the cursed thing from the cart. “So we’re finally here. It took us long enough,” the aristocratic man inside said impatiently.
“Not quite yet, Your Grace. We still have a walk ahead of us.”
“Then let’s get going. I need to get out of this thing at once.”
Shadden predictably spoke up, “Don’t worry, lad, that’s why we’re here. Now if you could stop talking, we’ll actually do that.”
Count Sald glared at the man, but said nothing, allowing the two of us to heft the heavy mirror and start our hike. With the wind blowing through the trees, the multi-coloured leaves fell like raindrops.
As time passed, our efforts grew more strenuous until the chill of the autumn air grew hot and beads of perspiration grew on our foreheads. “Are we stopping anytime soon?” Shadden asked, out of breath.
“We’re almost there,” I replied, even more physically exhausted.
Although I’d said we were near to our destination, it certainly didn’t feel true as we were travelling. It was seemingly hours before the trees started to clear, revealing a lake preternaturally placid, as if the wind meant nothing to it. Between breaths, I instructed Shadden, “We need to set him down facing the lake.”
After we did so and I took a moment to catch my breath, I called out across the water, “Lady of the Lake, I, Evit of the family Merriman call to you!” In response to my call, the once-still water rippled and rose up in an unnatural column. Before long, that column reshaped into a distinctly feminine shape until it formed into a beautiful, fair haired woman. She walked over the water towards where we were waiting.
“So you’ve summoned me again,” she said, in an almost musical voice before looking at the mirror next to me. She didn’t spare a second glace for the man within, however, as her attention was drawn to my fellow witch hunter beside me. “And who have you brought before me this time?”
He tried once again to remove his missing hat, “The name’s Shadden O’kaine m’lady.”
“A witch hunter?”
Coldly, she turned her attention back to me, “I suppose you’ve come to me for assistance once again.” “Correct.” I answered, before motioning to the mirror, “I was hoping you would know something about this mirror. It seems to be Qasani magic.”
She inspected the frame, all while the count inside watched impatiently. “So can you get me out of here Madam… of the Lake?”
The Lady didn’t answer right away, instead continuing to read the strange script. When she did answer, she was primarily addressing me, “I can’t, not on my own. The counter-curse requires ‘a union of the magic of the waves, the magic of the land, and the magic of the skies’. With those components I should be able to end the curse.”
I nodded thoughtfully, carefully considering those reagents, “‘The magic of the waves’ should be no trouble for the likes of you, Lady.”
Shadden added, “Vila hair might work for ‘the magic of the skies’.”
“That’s an oddly specific example. Harpy feathers might serve the same purpose.”
“Yeah, but harpies might be hard to find and we are near Venhollow, aren’t we?”
I shook my head vigorously, “No, no, no, I am not going back there. If that is your plan, then you will be going.”
The man laughed lightly, “Still avoiding that place, are you?”
“Considering the danger, can you truly blame me?”
“Not even a little. I’ll meet your old lady friend if you’re too scared. Now, how about ‘the magic of the land’? Boggart teeth?”
The voice of the Lady interrupted our considerations, “Due to their otherworldly nature, that will not work.”
“So nothing from Alphiem… that makes pucas, spriggans, and kobolds equally unsuitable,” I added. After even more consideration, I asked, “Would the hand of a hanged man serve?”
“Magically prepared, yes I believe so.”
I nodded and turned to my friend, “If you get the hair from Venhollow, I will return to my shop and retrieve the hand.”
“What about Count Mirror, here?”
The Lady of the Lake answered him, “I can watch over him during that time.”
Shadden nodded in gratitude, “You have my thanks, m’lady.”
He waited for a response, but when none was forthcoming, he rather awkwardly said, “Well… good day to you then.”
After he left, I was going to say my own farewells, but the angry expression on her visage disarmed me, “Nimue…”
Her glare intensified, but she remained silent. “I’m afraid I’m unaware of the source of your anger.”
“I don’t mind when you bring your clients to me, but did you consider the risk to me when you brought a witch hunter here?”
“I would trust him with my life. In fact, I quite literally have on more than one occasion.”
Her expression didn’t soften in the slightest way, “It’s not your life you’re gambling with this time, Evit.”
“If it was in any way a gamble, I wouldn’t have brought him.”
“Are you so sure it’s not a gamble?”
I would have argued in defence of my friend, but something in her tone suggested that she was aware of something I was not. “What does that mean?” I asked, still with a hint of anger.
“You don’t truly know what that man is, do you? Of course not, I suspect that neither does he.” “Can you elaborate?”
She sighed loudly, “It would serve no purpose, what’s been done cannot be undone.” She walked back into the centre of the lake and said simply, “Good day Evit, I await your return as well as Shadden’s,” before turning back into bure water and falling back below the waves with a splash.
When calm was restored, the count asked, “Do I pretend I didn’t hear all that?”
Instead of answering that awkwardly tactless query, I simply said, “I will be returning as soon as I can.”
The walk back to the cart should have been rather relaxing after the immense it too to take the mirror in the other direction. Still, the conclusion to my conversation with Nimue was fresh in my mind, making enjoying the hike an impossible endeavour. She sounded certain in her conviction that Shadden was a threat, but I was completely certain he harboured no ill intent.
That line of thinking only seemed to grow worse when I met him on the trail. “So… a ‘friend’, you say?” he asked with a lecherous leer in his voice.
I sighed, both because I expected this topic and from the relief of having something else to focus on. “Yes, a friend, not a lover as I know you’re going to ask next.”
“You’re right, I was going to ask that.”
“How could I have known?” I asked with a hint of good-natured sarcasm.
“Oh, there’s no way you could’ve. I’m truly impressed with your insight, mate.”
After some time with a silence that I found distinctly uncomfortable, the man asked, “So what was that about?”
I considered whether or not to relay what the Lady said about him, but I saw no positive outcome to such a thing, and I trusted him implicitly. “The Lady is quite… secretive, and she was rather upset that I brought a fellow witch hunter to see her.”
The larger man nodded distantly, “Yeah, makes sense. Half the witch hunters I know would just kill her outright.”
It was at that moment that we reached our carriage. The both of us began saddling up our individual horses and prepared for our differing journeys. After we mounted, my friend said, “I’d wish you good luck, but who needs luck?” “I don’t need luck, both generally and because all I’m doing is retrieving something from my shop. Believe me when I say that you will need the luck far more than I.”
“I have too much skill to need luck.” For some reason beyond my understanding, that was how he chose to end that conversation. He rode away thereafter, leaving me to ride away in the other direction.
The ride back to Blackwatch was far more brief than the journey in the other direction, due to the unencumbered nature of the mount. I was able to make it back to my shop without stopping, although it was night-time when I did. I turned the key and attempted to open the door, only to find it inexplicably locked.
I was completely certain that I left the door locked, therefore I drew my firearm and very carefully crept inside. I searched from room to room looking for an intruder, but I found no such thing. Afterwards, I searched meticulously for any other disruption, which I found rather quickly. The mummified hand I had come to my home to find was missing. In its place was left a small card with a sigil of a crow and the address, “822 King Marth St.”.
It was inescapably clear to me that a trap waited for me at that address. However, it was impossible for me to ignore it, as not only did I require what was stolen, but also because the mere fact that it was the only thing taken meant that the thieves were very knowledgeable. The last thing I wanted was a warlock free to work his mischief with a tool stolen from my store.
I was able to find my way to the address with very little trouble. Indeed, I’d been in that very high-class neighbourhood quite recently. Just like all of the other buildings around it, the place was a lavish mansion surrounded by high walls. The only distinguishing characteristic of the structure was the twin statues of crows atop the gateway.
I very cautiously advanced on the front entrance and tried to look through the windows, but the curtains were all closed. I hid around the corner and slowly, softly tried the door, only for it to swing wide without protest.
I took a deep breath and carefully crept inside to a large, exquisite foyer decorated with fine velvet drapery of a violet colour and several fine paintings of crows. In the centre waited a stone pedestal holding the mummified hand I sought. I called out to the seemingly uninhabited room, “To whomever is waiting inside, you can come out now! I’m aware of this trap you’ve set!”
A middle-aged, bearded man with a black-feathered violet robe walked out from upstairs. He held a glass full of liquor. He seemed very disinterested in his armed visitor, “I should’ve known you wouldn’t be taken unaware, Mr. Merriman. Would you care for a glass of brandy?”
I aimed my gun at the man’s chest, “It would be rather foolish of me to accept, considering that you lured me here for an unknown purpose.”
Unfazed, he chuckled and sat down at a nearby end table, “So instead you would just shoot me, and then never learn said purpose.”
“That is precisely why I haven’t shot you, so speak quickly.”
“Shooting me would be rather unwise.” He motioned behind me with his glass, “Take a look at the door frame, would you?”
As instructed, I turned around and inspected the door frame. It was surrounded by familiar runic symbols. It took some time for me to translate them without reference texts, but I still managed to succeed. My heart sank as I read, “It places an enchantment on whomever enters. Specifically…”
“…a geas,” the man finished. “This one in particular prohibits you from harming the Brotherhood of the Crow. So if you shoot me, you die as well.”
I sighed heavily and returned my weapon to its holster. “The covens with names are always the worst…” I mused bitterly.
The anonymous warlock glared, the first expression that had crossed his visage since our discourse began. “How dare you mistake the Brotherhood for a mere ‘coven’. You’re speaking of a fraternity of the most elite in all of Blackwatch, whose roots go all the way back to the city’s founding.”
“I fail to see how that matters. It’s a coven of warlocks like any other.”
He continued as though I made no comment at all, “The location of this city, in fact the building where we now stand, was home to a druidic circle dedicated to, and granted power by a goddess we know as the Crow Maiden. The city now known as Blackwatch grew around that circle, with it shaping it to our will.
“So you see, Mr. Merriman, you’ve already lost. We’ve been watching you for some time. We knew you would come—we know everything you do before you even know you need to do it. Even if you could fight against us would serve no purpose.”
Aside from the obvious threat of the curse upon me, my instincts were telling me I was in grave danger. I was stepping very carefully towards the pedestal that held my original goal. “To what end have you been observing me? What is the purpose of this meeting?”
“The answer to both is rather simple,” he sharply whistled, summoning armed guards from the nearby side doors, “ending your threat.”
As soon as he snapped his fingers, I grabbed the mummified hand and made a frantic retreat as gunshots rang out behind me. I hardly felt the impact of the bullet as I mounted the horse that awaited me and rode at a full gallop down the deserted streets.
My pace didn’t slow until very nearly an hour later. I didn’t want to stop even that close to the city, but my injury sorely needed tending. Fortunately for me, there was both a clean entry and exit wound in my shoulder. It was a simple task to clean and close the bulletholes and continue on my way. Weary and wounded, I greatly desired a rest, but I was quite unwilling to risk discovery by stopping until morning.
I rode without sparing my horse until I finally reached Loch Nimue just in time to see the morning sun rise over the water. As I expected, Shadden was already waiting with his mount peacefully grazing nearby. “Everything went well, I trust?” I asked.
He held up a lock of very nearly white hair, “Very. I’d say that one fancies me, she does.”
“I would be very careful in that case. She tends to get… overly attached.”
The man shrugged idly, “She is a vila.”
Considering his proclivities, I felt the need to caution him more strongly, but he interrupted my efforts by calling out over the lake, “Lady of the Lake, I, Shadden of the family O’kaine call to you!”
We waited for a short time, but the waters of remained placid. “She doesn’t like me, does she?”
“It seems not. Lady of the Lake, I, Evit of the family Merriman call to you!” When the first ripple crossed the lake, Shadden spoke up with clear frustration, “Oh, come on! ‘Of the family Merriman’ isn’t even really true.”
“It an incantation. It doesn’t need to be technically true.”
As soon as Nimue reached the shore, she asked without emotion, “You have the spell components, I presume?”
Shadden held up the hair as I retrieved the hand. The Lady took both items in one hand and the mirror frame in the other. She closed her eyes and chanted in a harsh, strange language. A glow emanated from her hands and grew brighter until it climaxed in a blinding flash.
From inside the mirror, Count Sald looked over himself in disbelief. “Umm…?”
Shadden answered the man’s unspoken question, “Try stepping out of it, lad.”
Very reluctantly, he took a single step into the outside world. A moment of pure relief crossed over his countenance before he turned his attention to Shadden, “If you call me ‘lad’ one more time…”
He sighed, “You’re right, thank you Mr. O’kaine, and you Mr. Merriman, and especially you madam. So… what are we to do about this accursed thing.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Shadden answered before drawing his gun and shooting it, causing it to shatter completely.
The noble had a nervous look on his face, “That’s seven years’ bad luck for you, sir.”
My friend shrugged, “I’ll survive.”
I sighed and shook my head in resignation, “Can you please not shoot magic we don’t even understand? You could’ve gotten yourself trapped, or worse killed us all.”
“Nothing bad happened. You worry too much, friend.”
The count spoke up, “Since I’ve been trapped in a mirror for weeks, I’ll be stretching my legs. Good day all of you.”
When he was a sufficient distance down the path, Shadden said, “So I guess I owe you one, mate.”
“That implies that we’ve been keeping track. But as it turns out, I do require your assistance rather badly…”