The town of Perry has many strange and wonderful denizens but none more odd than Ludwig Patterson. Ludwig ran a small shop selling all kinds of potions and ointments to the general public ranging from cures for gout to, shall we say, revitalises for the older man and in amongst all the paraphernalia hung exquisite jewellery. Rings, bracelets and twisted golden torques glittered in the shadowed recesses of the shop making it look like a fairy grotto from myth. His ability to craft such fine jewellery had led to several commissions from the new rich of the town, the merchants and the clergy.
What he didn’t expect to hear late at night was someone knocking on his back door in the thieves guild code a code he hadn’t heard for many a year.
“Coming, coming! You don’t have to knock the door down!” He wheezed as he shuffled along in his slippers with their oddly curled toes. As he opened the door three small figures bundled in, well to be more correct two small figures and a larger one slung over a shoulder.
“Typical of you Lou the one night I need you to be in one of the bars, you’re at home.” Dannia moaned. “You won’t believe the roundabout route we’ve had to take to get here.”
“Well I do!” Simieon snorted. “Is there anywhere I can put her Lou she’s heavy?”
Ludwig pointed at a strange basket woven chair on wheels in the corner of his workshop. After a little struggle Simieon finally deposited his load.
Ludwig looked down at Dannia with a raised eyebrow and crossed his arms waiting for an explanation. Not that he needed to look down much as he wasn’t that much taller than Dannia. Ludwig was one of the other small people species, who were known in the common tongue as a Gnome. Gnomes like their distant cousins the Dwarfs were short but unlike Dannia’s people they were not in perfect proportion in fact far from it. Their bodies down to their knee and out to their elbows looked like stout muscular humans but from there on they were strangely truncated as if the limbs had never grown from childhood. Ludwig was typical of his people in having a slightly comic wide bulbous nose and a shock of white hair bordering on blond that laid in flowing waves to his shoulders but unfortunately he was bald on top except for a ridge of hair in the centre that stood up like a cocks comb no matter what he did.
His normally cheerful demeanour was unusually stern as he kept his gaze on Dannia.
“Don’t look at me like that Lou I desperately need your help.” She said in the closest she could get to contrition.
“Dannia, you burst in here with a corpse late at night while I’m entertaining no less and you expect me to be pleased to see you and that reprobate of a husband of yours.” Lou snorted pursing his full fleshy lips and scratching his beard which fell in ripples to his portly waist.
“I’m sure there’s a logical explanation cousin. Well is there young lady?” The new voice belonged to another younger Gnome who was leaning casually against the door jam of the living quarters a fine crystal goblet of chilled white wine in his long fingered hand. There was something about the man that Dannia found made her immediately trust him which was unusual for her. His eyes twinkled with an easy humour and had a mouth ready to smile. His frame was muscular and he moved with fluid ease as he came into the room giving Dannia and Simieon a bright cheerful smile.
“I saw you at that party Madam Litotes held. Some of your tricks were amazing. You were with a strong woman if I remember correctly.” Simieon said his eyes wide with admiration. “He and his partner were the evening’s entertainment and his stage magic, what I saw of it, was amazing.”
“Were you a guest, I think I would have remembered you if you were?” The newcomer asked with a voice still carrying the singing lit of Scandia unlike Ludwig who had lost it long ago.
“No I was part of the security team for the party. I didn’t see the whole act because we had to deal with a couple of drunken young bucks that were playing up.” He replied sadly.
“Ah yes I remember that but you should have let Helena deal with them she would have taught them respect.” He laughed easily and Dannia felt the tension easing out of her body.
“Helena?” She asked.
“That would be me, yes.” A vision of every boy’s wet dream had appeared in the doorway her eyes betraying an innocent charm. She was tall this Helena, very tall, standing at over six foot six with long blond hair framing an almost child like face. Her body was strongly muscled but that didn’t take away her femininity, her six clearly delineated muscles in her exposed narrow midriff led to a well rounded rump and powerful legs and above it all swayed two well shaped perfect breasts one of which was exposed by the Grecian robe she was wearing, the nipple covered by a gold clasp affair shaped like a star burst
“Shut your mouth darling you look like a fish gasping for air.” Dannia rebuked him with a rye smile. “Especially as I’m sure you want to keep your wedding tackle.”
Ludwig sighed heavily in a gesture of defeat.
“Cousin may I present my friends Simieon and Dannia Darkhorn, Dannia, Simieon my distant cousin Peer Svenssonn and his friend the Amazon Helena.”
Greetings and handshakes were swapped before Peer spoke again.
“You still haven’t explained what this is all about Dannia and who this young lady is?”
It was Dannia’s turned to sigh as she went about explaining what had occurred. Peer and Ludwig listened intently only stopping the narrative for clarification.
“Hmm.” Peer said as she came to an end. “So you think these cards effect the recipient in some fashion making them become killers for want of a better word.”
“That would not be possible Peer, yes.” Helena said in her Greek accent.
“Oh it’s possible but you would have to break the will of the person first before it became effective. Do you have a card I could look at?” Dannia placed it on the table top for them to see.
“It looks innocuous enough.” Ludwig ventured as Peer passed his hand over it in some sort of bizarre ritual, muttering vague sounding words under his breath. The very air around their heads and around the card began to glow with an aurora of flickering light like that which could be seen in the far north on a winter’s night. While Dannia looked intently at the sickly leprous colours around the card Simieon was trying to touch his and Dannia’s.
“Stop it.” She commanded harshly. “Peer what do these lights mean?”
“They show our basic leanings morally and this card should show a neutral green as it has no intrinsic morality other than that we impose on it.” He tutted tapping his teeth with a finger tip as he dropped into deep thought.
“Has anyone noticed that some of that colour is in the harpists halo thing?” Simieon asked peering at the girl. “There you can see a flash of it as it turns.”
Peer clicked his fingers and the light show vanished.
“The card retains an after glow from the person who it was created for as well as an esoteric one of its own. I suspect the cards are matched to their owner and will trigger only them to action that’s why that young lady was unaffected when she delivered it.” He mused for a moment “But the same hand has ensorcelled both the girl and the card that’s for certain. Let’s wake our sleeping beauty up shall we.” He crossed over to where the girl sat totally oblivious to all around her. “What did you use to put her out?”
“A concoction of Lou’s, the one you made up for me last week Ludwig.”
“Good grief woman how much did you use for heavens sake it was only supposed to make them sleepy not catatonic.” Ludwig turned to Peer and mumbled something in their own language which made Peers eyebrows disappear into his hairline.
“How did you use the tincture, how did you administer it?” Dannia showed him the ring with its sharp needle protrusion underneath. “Injection then it is no wonder it has had such dramatic an effect.”
He looked round a moment at the clutter of the workroom at the plethora of bottles and jars full of unction’s and potions of every colour and viscosity. There were liquids that somehow made you swifter and more agile and others that made you heal quicker, potions that made you stronger and one that made your image shimmer such that people treated you as if you were invisible. Unfortunate all of these miracles that Ludwig had made with utmost care had side effects ranging from chronic wind to muscle ache and nose bleeds. Dannia once had occasion to use a healing potion he had created which though healing and revitalising perfectly left her sneezing for an hour which is of little use when your supposed to be sneaking up on a enemies position.
The little man pulled down a glass retort and held it to the girl’s nose.
“Ludwig when I have removed the potion it must be destroyed straight away can you do that?” Peer asked of his comrade.
“Of course I have acid of sulphate and acid of nitrate for such eventualities.” Ludwig replied grumpily.
“Why don’t you use acid of chloride too and be done with it.” Peer muttered under his breath with a smile before continuing at a more audible level. “Now ladies and gentlemen for your delectation I will try and revive this poor child out of her comatose state. May I have total silence please?”
Dannia found herself warming more and more to the little showman as he began to mutter obscure sounds and making even more obscure patterns with his hand. She stood breathless waiting to see what would happen next. In some respects it was a little of an anticlimax as without any flashes and bangs a vile looking and smelling green black viscous liquid began dripping faster and faster out of her nose and into the retort, it was only when she caught sight of Peers sweating face did she realise how much effort he was expending.
Eventually when the glass vessel was half full of the objectionable liquid and no more was forthcoming from her nasal orifice did her eyes begin to flutter with the first stages of waking up?
“Easy young lady you gave us quite a scare there you know.” Peer said gently as the harpists eyes flicked open to see Ludwig take the retort away.
“What happened? Where am I?” She croaked.
“You were taken ill and passed out. If it wasn’t for these two lovely people it could have been much worse but they had the good sense to bring you to us.” He smiled winningly at the girl as he indicated the Darkhorns with his hand.
“Oh yes I remember, you were telling me how much you enjoyed my music and whether you could hire me for a function you were planning. We said goodbye and I started to walk home and I can’t remember anything else.” She shook her head as if trying to clear it. “Thank you for helping me.”
“It was the least we could do child.” Simieon replied with a silly grin on his face.
Peer held up a sparkling silver and diamond amulet on a chain before the girl’s eyes and began gently swinging it back and fro such that its crystal that dangled played a shimmering light over her eyes.
“We have removed the poison of the spider bite out of your body, as I say you are a very lucky young woman. The blue legged yellow bellied red haired spider from the east’s venom is usually fatal but we got to you in time. Now I need to check your reflexes to make sure there is no permanent damage so I want you to follow the amulet with your eyes. That’s it now don’t worry if you feel tired that’s perfectly normal.” He was spinning the amulet in his fingers as he moved it to and fro throwing a kaleidoscope of colour over her face. Dannia, even though she wasn’t in the direct line, could feel the power of his mesmerism and even had to step on Simieon’s foot, hard, as his eyes began to droop.
“She under a hypnotic spell and should be able to your questions now Dannia.” Peer told her.
“What is your name child?” She asked gently.
“Rene Perdue my lady.” Her voice was slow and a little slurred.
“Do you remember delivering a parcel to a young woman at the Java café on the boulevard?”
“Yes. I remember being surprised who it was as she was once at my school but she didn’t want to talk about it.” The brow creased in thought. “I don’t know why she was so eager for me to leave as all it contained was a sheet of paper and a playing card, perhaps it was from a beau and she didn’t want me to see.”
“Do you remember who it was that gave you the parcel child?” Dannia asked but she was totally unprepared for the violence of the response.
“Please don’t hit me! No I’ll deliver anything just don’t hit me again. I promise to be good!” Then the girl thrashed about screaming as if she was being repeatedly beaten. Peer stepped in and calmed her again with his soothing words.
“I think it will be too risky to try that question again at least not so directly. I wonder what could have happened to cause such a violent reaction.” While he mused Dannia had a sinking feeling she already knew.
“Will you stand up and get undressed please child?” Dannia asked the girl her hand up to forestall any questions.
“Yes my lady. You aren’t going to hurt me are you my lady?” The girl even in her mesmerised state appeared and sounded frightened.
“No child, quite the opposite I just want to check that the poison hasn’t done any damage.” Dannia’s voice was surprisingly gentle and low, it was a voice Simieon had never heard her use before.
The girl was slim but her body was nothing exceptional in the allure stakes but the thin white lines over her breasts and chest started to confirm Dannia’s fears.
“Turn round my dear?” She turned round at Dannia’s command to reveal a back, buttocks and upper legs crisscrossed with the fine scars of her continual savage beatings. Though they were not as savage and puckered as the girl back at the temple of Huron she was certain they were from the same source. “Turn back and open your legs dear. That’s it, that’s fine child don’t be ashamed it’s not your fault.”
Dannia knelt and began to examine the girl’s privates her shoulders tensing up with anger at what she saw.
“Dannia for god sake the child has gone through enough without you poking about in her cu… you know what’s.” Simieon complained just catching himself from using a slang swear word with a quick glance at the towering Amazon beside him.
“Shut up Simieon darling. My child get dressed all is well.” Dannia’s face was red with suppressed rage. When the girl was dressed she nodded toward Peer.
“Go and sit down and rest child. Go to sleep and when you awake you will be rested and feeling well.” Peer told her guiding her back to the chair. Once there her eyes closed and she fell into a deep natural sleep. “She should sleep until late morning now. What did you find friend Dannia that has upset you more than those scars?”
Dannia exploded in rage.
“The bastards have castrated her, circumcised her, whatever! They have cut away her inner lips and Clitoris!” She crashed her fist into a nearby cupboard cracking its wood ignoring the thin trickle of blood that ran down her arm from a cut knuckle she continued. “The bastards have done a neat job this time which is more than I’ll do to them if I catch them.”
“Calm yourself before you do yourself serious damage. When Ludwig has dealt with your hand you can explain how you knew that the girl had been mutilated.”
Dannia nodded and allowed Ludwig to attend to the wound while she took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
“I have heard of this.” Helena said as Ludwig put a stinging potion to Dannia’s hand. “Some peoples in Afric and Indus do this to stop their women being unfaithful, yes. But they are savages, yes, they know no better. They think if their wives get no pleasure they will only pleasure them and not stray, but they do it when girl is a baby and then knows no different.”
“Yes Helena I have heard of this too but I suspect from Dannia’s expression that this was done much later and for a totally different reason.” Peer looked at Dannia for an explanation which she delivered back in the living quarters with a glass of wine in her hand still trembling with un-vented rage as she told of the hit at the school but making sure she didn’t tell Simieon of how she seduced the headmistress after all he might not approve.
“So your new friend at the temple was abused even worse than this child? I suspect that her will was stronger and they had to be harsher to break her spirit. You were right to suspect some form of mental control Dannia and I was right to assume that the will had to be broken to be effective, and that is what they did they broke the will of all these girls. It also explains why all your assassins were young women. But it doesn’t explain why they would do it in the first place.” Peer puzzled as he sipped another glass of wine.
“I’ve been thinking Dannia love.” Simieon offered.
“That’ll be a first.” Dannia quipped but when she saw her husbands face she relented. “Come on darling it must be important.
“Do you remember when Count Louis of Reams was murdered by Nocturne and considering his massive security no one could work out how he did it. It was on that hit his reputation was built.” Dannia could almost hear the cogs and wheels turning in his mind.
“Yes I do but I don’t see what you’re getting at my husband.” She said with a frown.
“He has two teenage daughters and what are the chances they were taught at that school.” He looked around as if expecting applause and looked downcast when he didn’t get anything but stony silence.
After a moment or two of beard scratching and examining wine glasses Peer looked up.
“I think your husband has a point and a possible answer to my question. What a perfect way to kill someone by having their daughters assassinate them. Can you imagine the chaos with the guard not knowing where to look because they wouldn’t even consider it could be a family member especially one so young and innocent?” Peer warmed to his theme. “One thing is for certain you need to inform the authorities of the potential dangers. We have no idea if this ‘Nocturne’ has operated on a few or on many.”
“She can’t Peer, if she does she will be hung. The authorities may turn a blind eye and not be vigorous in some cases of assassination but they can not and would not ignore one if they fell into their hands no matter what the reason.” Ludwig explained. “Especially as she is a free lance and not shall we say accepted by the establishment.”
“I’ll have to investigate this on my own but I’m going to need help. I need a good strong arm and a mage of skill to watch my back and counter any attacks from that quarter. No offence Simieon my husband but I need someone stronger than you.” She said pointedly looking at Peer and Helena over the rim of her glass.
“Peer my good friend that is us, no. I have good strong arms and you have the magic, with Dannia and Simieon we will be unbeatable.” Helena grinned from ear to ear as she slapped the poor gnome off his seat on to the floor with a thump. “Sorry I forget my strength, he’ll be okay when he gets his breath back.”
Peer lay there for a moment before looking up and crying with a loud voice.
“Why me Lord, why me? I’ve been a good gnome so why inflict me with an overgrown child.” He then turned to her and said in a quiet voice. “Can you possibly try and remember not to try and cave my ribs in? It’s only a little thing but I don’t want to die just yet.”
“Of course friend Peer I always try and remember. Now we help the little people yes?” Dannia couldn’t help but laugh though it was probably more a release of stress than really any comic value of the scene but it soon caught on and soon everyone was laughing and that included Peer himself.
“Oh that girl is going to be the death of me. Do you know she saw a palm reader who convinced her we’d pick up someone for our troop from here? That’s why we’re here to find others to join our travelling company of strolling players.” He wiped the tears from his eyes and coughed to recover control. “It seems we have a partnership Lady Dannia, and Simieon of course.” He added as an afterthought. “I think we should start at that school of yours don’t you?”
“I agree Master Peer but we need one more member for our band. We need a clergyman, a priest, a healer as I’ve no intention of confronting Nocturnes army with out divine backup. I dare not ask the Priest at the Temple of Huron, though he would be perfect, as I don’t think he would understand.” She turned to Ludwig and asked if he could think of anyone suitable but the old gnome could only shrug and shake his head.
“Ludwig!?” Peers tone was both amused and questioning.
“No. I know what you are thinking cousin but no.” Ludwig looked decidedly uncomfortable. “It is ages since I have practiced; I don’t think the Gods would listen to me anyway.”
“Oh so that’s why there is a perfectly clean and provisioned shrine in the corner and freshly laundered priest’s robes’ hanging from the back of the door, is it?” Peer asked. “You’ve been catering for the local Gnome families on the quiet so not to get in trouble with the authorities haven’t you? Well haven’t you?”
“Alright dam you I have but that doesn’t mean I want to get involved with this.” He looked at all the eyes staring at him and gave a great sigh of defeat. “Oh very well I’ll get my things.”
“And that includes the armour that you tried to hide behind that sheet when we first came in.” Peer called after him with a chuckle only to get a stream of profanities in return. “Well really Father Ludwig and from a cleric too, I can only apologise ladies.”
“Why it is good to let off, how you say, steam sometimes though I must remember to ask you the meanings of some of those words he is using sometime as I have never heard of them before.” Helena said innocently.
“Believe me you don’t want to know Helena, you know it makes sense.” Simieon replied trying with difficulty to keep a straight face. There came a crash and a loud curse from the workshop. “Especially that one.”
With gales of laughter they trooped outside into the workroom to find Ludwig buried under a frame holding his armour swearing like a trooper. There were limbs protruding out of a ramshackle of armour pieces the sight of which reduced Simieon to a quivering wreck sliding down the wall clutching his ribs with a handkerchief rammed into his mouth in a vain attempt to stop his high pitch squeal of laughter, even Helena couldn’t stop herself laughing till tears ran down her face as she removed the armour to help him up.
“Are you sure you still want him Dannia?” Peer asked wiping the tears from his eyes once again.
“Yes he’ll do, if nothing else he’ll cheer us up. Come on lets help him then we can be off to the school.” Dannia said with a grin feeling far better now than when it all started. At least she wouldn’t be alone from now on but whether one of them was going to be a help or a hindrance would remain to be seen.