Wundrus

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The Scavenger Hunt

The sun had just risen and the cocks had all stopped waking everybody up and ten people stood in a line and shivered in the cold mist of the castle courtyard. They were all nervous as the administrator of the procurer test scavenger hunt prepared to hand out the list of items they were meant to procure. Of the ten there were four women and six men. Of the six men one was Emile Vestabarian, wrapped as usual in his Cloak of Shadows. He was easily the smallest of the competitors. He was at least a foot shorter than the smallest woman and the administrator peered down at him with a certain amount of amusement.

“Well,’ the administrator said, ’I see we have a fine turnout today. Although, to be honest, I thought there might be more of you. I guess word got around that the test would be quite difficult and that must have discouraged a lot of regular folk. But, not to worry, I’m sure one of you will emerge victorious and claim the great honor of becoming the Royal Procurer for the Grand Council. Now, before I hand out the lists, are there any questions?”

One of the men, a stout fellow with a bit of a problem with one of his eyes, stepped forward. “Sir,’ he said, ’Just wondering like. If nobody can get all the items, what then? Will there be another competition?”

“No,’ the administrator replied, ’there’s no time for that. If nobody returns with all the items, well, that would be very disappointing. However, we have ranked these items in terms of what we perceive as the amount of difficulty in obtaining them. A ranking, I might point out, that does not exist on these lists that I will be giving you, so don’t assume that the order of items on the list is the same as the rankings, for it isn’t. No, we have another list that so prioritizes. If nobody comes back with all the items, then we will apply this ranking and he or she that has the best of the treasures, will be the selected one. Do you understand?”

The man who had asked the question obviously didn’t understand but he didn’t want to bias the administrator against him so he kept his mouth shut and just nodded politely.

“Any other questions?’ the administrator asked.

“Do we get to keep the things after the contest?’ asked a rather frumpy looking woman with spectacles.

“No, I’m afraid not’ replied the administrator with disdain. ’The items will become the property of the state. So don’t borrow anything thinking you can return them later to their actual owner. That will not be the case.”

Emile looked up. “Are there any restrictions on how these things are obtained,’ he asked.

“No, there is not. You may buy them, trade for them, find them or even steal them for all I care. Just get the things back here by this time tomorrow. We do ask, however, that you don’t harm anyone during the hunt if at all possible. Remember, you are to be contesting to become the Royal Procurer and in that capacity, you may be asked to do some rather unusual things. All right, I think that’s enough questions. I will now hand you the lists. Don’t run off as soon as you get yours, wait for the command to unfold your lists.”

The administrator took the large satchel he had around his neck and withdrew ten sheets of parchment. He went up and down the line and handed each contestant a folded list. The contestants all shuffled impatiently waiting for him to finish handing them out, burning to get a first look. The administrator stood back when he had finished.

“All right,’ he said in a loud voice, ’you may now look at the lists.”

They all unfolded their lists. They all stood, dumbfounded, as they perused their quest items. As you may remember, the list read like this: That list consisted of: A purple wine-skin, a cord of white pine, a live Grange Snake, two pounds of prime meat, a rock in the shape of a star, two silver spoons, one magical item, an arrow of flame, a tree in a bottle and the tooth of an animal of the wild. One man started to shake his head slowly as he read. Then he crumbled the paper up and tossed it at the feet of the administrator.

“This is ridiculous,’ he growled. ’It’s impossible, nobody can get these things. I’m not sure that some of these things even exist!”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, sir,’ the administrator replied. ’Does that mean you are forsaking your place in the hunt?”

“Of course, I am, I have better things to do with my time than running around on some wild goose chase. I’m a baker and I already have a difficult job. I just thought that this might be an easy way to make some extra coin. But you could get killed trying to get some of this stuff.”

“Yes, that’s quite true. You could. All right then. Does anybody else feel that the task set before you today is too difficult for you?”

One of the women raised her hand. “I have children. I can’t risk my neck on this kind of thing. I’m sorry, but I can’t do it.”

“That’s quite all right my dear. We thought that some of you might find this all too daunting. This isn’t some children’s party game, you know. We’re trying to save the world. Anyone else?” No other hands went up. “All right then, the rest of you, good luck and … say, where did that little fellow go?”

Emile Vestabarian had already left. In fact, he was already halfway down the hill from the castle at this point. There was no reason in his mind that he could see standing about listening to the complaining when there was only twenty-four hours to complete the list. He hadn’t even looked at it for more than the time it took to read the first item.

A purple wine skin. Well, that didn’t seem too difficult. After all he was lodging upstairs at a local seedy tavern under his false name of Horrenz of Gaut. There must be a wine skin of two lying around the bar. He decided to head home first and have a quick meal and look for the skin. When he arrived at the tavern, The Cock and Bull, he went into the main area where the bar was located. Even at this early hour there were one or two customers. It looked like they had been there all night, as one was snoring with his head down and the other was conversing in low tones with the barkeeper, Old Tom.

As he approached, he thought he heard Old Tom saying something about the large number of riff-raff that had descended upon the town lately. Emile hoped that he wasn’t considered to be one of them. He approached the barman.

“Good morning, Tom,’ he said with a bright smile.

“Ah, good morning, Horrenz of Gaut,’ Old Tom replied. ’You’re out of bed at an early hour.”

“Well, you are too, aren’t you?’ Emile said.

“A barman’s day is never over in these times,’ said Tom. ’Why if it wasn’t for my wife spelling me off, I’d never leave here at all. Can I get you anything?”

“As a matter of fact, yes you can. How about something to eat. Some bread and jam, maybe?”

“Coming right up,’ Old Tom said and went into the kitchen.

Emile perused the other man at the bar. He was a rough looking type with a scar across his forehead. Emile could also see he was armed.

“Good day to you, sir,’ Emile said as he waited for his bread.

The man turned and looked him up and down. “Good day,’ he said. “Did I hear the barman right? Are you from Gaut?”

Emile replied slowly. “Er, yes, that’s right. Horrenz of Gaut, that’s me. Born and bred.”

“Well, that’s odd,’ said the man. “I’m from Gaut and I don’t remember you.”

“Well, that’s not surprising. I left there quite a while ago. And it’s quite a large town.”

“It might have been when you lived there, but it’s pretty small now.”

“Hm, must have shrunk I guess,’ Emile said with a forced laugh. At that moment, mercifully, Old Tom returned with a plate of bread. Emile started to eat slowly.

“Something to drink?’ Old Tom asked.

“Ah, yes, that would be good. Some wine please. And can you put it in a skin so I can take it with me? I will be out and about all day.”

“Of course,’ Old Tom replied.

“Oh, and can you make sure the wine skin is purple?’ Emile said.

“Purple?”

“Yes, if possible. Do you have a purple one?”

“Well, they’re mostly made of leather so generally their leather-colored.”

“Could you look?”

The man at the bar turned and looked at Emile. Reaching down into the bag at his feet he pulled out a wine skin. It was purple.

“You mean like this?’ the stranger asked.

“Well, yes, exactly, yes. Would you be willing to part with it?” said Emile, nervously.

“For some information, I might,’ said the man.

“Really? Well, sure, what sort of information are you after?”

“Well, I am looking for someone. Someone who is new to town.”

“Well, I’m new myself, so I don’t know many people here. What does he look like?’ Emile said, getting more nervous now.

“Oh he’s about your height and size. Wears a green cloak sort of like that one you’re wearing there.”

“Really, well that’s a coincidence. What’s his name and why are you looking for him?”

“His name is Emile. Emile Vestabarian and I’m looking for him because he stole something from an employer of mine and he wants it back.” The man stood up and started to reach slowly behind him, apparently fishing for something in his belt.

Emile looked down at his plate. Then in a blur of motion he threw the plate of bread and jam into the man’s face, grabbed the wine skin from his hand and ran from the room with the man on his heels. Reaching the street he raced into an alley. As was his way, and because of his good training at the Thieves Guild, he had prepared for any eventuality, having to escape from his room for instance. He had already sussed out this alley that had a fence at one end with one missing board. It was a hole through which, because of his diminutive stature, he could fit and possibly avoid a pursuer.

The man had almost reached him, being much faster than Emile on his short little legs, but just as he was about to grab him by the scruff of his cloak, Emile disappeared through the fence.

“Damn you!’ the man cried after him, unable to get through the hole and wiping jam from his face with this sleeve. ’I’ll find you, you little rat, you can believe that. I’ll have you soon enough!”

Emile sped through another alley and down a couple of more streets until he reached another discovery that he had made. A small, abandoned shed sitting beside a brick factory that, because of the hard times, had closed down. Inside, Emile sat down on a small stool and caught his breath. He had had the foresight to store some water there and he now drank this down quickly, thirsty from his run and now scared out of his wits.

What could he do now? He couldn’t go back to his room at the tavern. Fortunately, he didn’t have anything of value there. But he was out of money now and it was not very probable that he could leave town and go somewhere else. He looked down at the purple wine skin. Then he took out the list and looked at some of the other items. Tough, but not impossible, he thought. Then he made his decision. He would continue the hunt. It would be more difficult now with someone on his tail, but it would have to be done. Then, hopefully, he would win the hunt and become the Royal Procurer and have all the protection that the position would afford him.

He hung the wine skin from a nail and looked down at the list again. A cord of white pine… he would have to get a cart and horse for that. There was an old woodcutter that lived just outside of the town. He would go there.

About two hours later, a drunken farmer came out of the tavern he had been drinking at to find his horse and cart gone. He cursed and looked both ways down the street before heading off to the constabulary to tell them about it.

Meanwhile, a mile or two from town, Emile was knocking on the door of a small well-kept hut. Father answered the door.

“Yes?’ Father asked.

“Yes, hello. My name is Emile, I have heard that you might have some wood for purchase,’ Emile said.

“Certainly. That’s what I do. I’m a woodcutter. I cut wood and sell it. What sort of wood are you looking for?

“White pine. I need a cord of it,’ Emile said.

“Hm, white pine you say. Well, that’s a fairly rare wood in these parts.,’ Father replied, rubbing his chin. “What are you willing to pay for it?

“I’m not too familiar with wood prices, ’ Emile said, honestly. “But you look like a trustworthy sort.”

“Sure. Sure, I’m trustworthy. How about a gold coin for the cord.’

Now it was going to get tricky, Emile thought. He had no money.

“How about two gold coins?,’ Emile said. “But I won’t be able to pay you until next week.”

Father looked down at the little man. “Next week?”

“Yes, two gold coins but next week. You see I have to provide this wood for an employer of mine and he won’t pay me until he has the wood. Which he will do and then I can pay you. Consider it an investment with the extra gold coin as interest.”

“Three,’ said Father.

“Three?”

“Yes, let’s consider it an investment with two coins of interest.”

Emile had nothing to lose.

“Very well,’ he said. ’You drive a hard bargain.”

Father smiled. He hadn’t been able to sell his white pine for some time because of its cost and it was starting to rot. Better a rabbit down the road than an empty pot now, he thought. Or something to that effect. Besides, it would clear space for other products. A half hour later, Emile was headed back to town with his cord of white pine. So far so good. Emile looked at his list again. He ran down the items and stopped at ‘a rock in the shape of a star’. Why did this seem familiar to him? Somewhere in town he had seen something like this. Then he remembered where.

In the center of the town square sat the church belonging to the local chapter of the Order of The Orange Angel. The building had a bell tower and atop that tower sat the symbol of the order; a cross with a circle in it in which was contained a stone star. The whole thing was carved from stone. He would have to act fast on this one though. Lots of people, particularly the locals, would be familiar with that symbol.

He covered his cart full of wood and detached most of the bridle from the old mare that he had stolen. He let the horse graze in the field behind the factory, hoping that it wouldn’t be noticed in case the theft had been reported. Which it undoubtedly had. What Emile didn’t know was that the farmer who had tried to report the theft was being held for public drunkenness, the assumption being that he had just lost track of the horse and cart in his stupor. This despite his loud and drunken protestations that winded up, in the end, getting him another day in the clink.

While he was walking the horse to the field, Emile spotted a large hole in the ground towards a group of trees. He recognized it right away from the remnants of a shed skin that lay about the rocks over top of the hole. It was the den of a Grange Snake. He bent over and held up one of the masses of old dried skin. This snake wasn’t very old. That suited Emile quite well. Tussling with a full-grown, toothy Grange Snake would be a bit of a challenge, especially for one as vertically challenged as himself.

He eyed the old horse. He didn’t want to harm the well-tempered beast, but he knew that Grange Snakes often killed live-stock for food and if this particular snake sensed that this was an old horse and would be fairly easy to kill, it might be tempted out of its lair.

Emile went back to the shed and collected a piece of rope and a sack and then returned to the field and led the horse towards the hole. He tied the horse to a bush and then positioned himself on the rocks over the hole and, wrapping himself in his Cloak of Shadows, he waited for the serpent to appear.

He had been waiting, silent and still, for about an hour when he heard a rustle in the grass. But it wasn’t coming from the hole. It was coming from the grass behind him. He remained as still as a statue as a four-foot Grange Snake slid over the rocks beside him. It paused for a moment and eyed the horse. Then it looked back directly at Emile from a distance of about ten feet. The Cloak was doing its job though and the snake could see nothing. It turned its attention once more towards the horse and started to slowly make its way over the rocks, it’s long forked tongue flicking in and out, as if it were salivating at the thought of fresh horse meat.

Emile took the rope, in which he had tied a noose knot, and just as stealthily started to creep up on the snake. Emile’s talents as a thief may have been wanting in some areas, but in terms of sneaking ability, he was one of the best.

The rope he had was about five feet long with the knot at one end. The snake had stopped and was studying the horse, who because of her age, had no idea there was danger lurking only a few feet away. Emile waited until the snake rose into its deadly striking posture and as it reared back to thrust out, Emile let the rope fly and the noose caught the snake near the head. The snake thrashed backwards and the horse, aware now that something was going on, pulled heavily on its ground tie with a terrified snort.

The backwards motion of the snake pulled the noose tightly around it and it went into a paroxysm of writhing circular motion in a hopeless attempt to free itself from the rope. It bit at the rope, sinking its fangs into the smooth hemp and it was then that Emile threw himself forward and trapped the snake against the ground with a forked branch he had brought with him. The snake went strangely still and Emile thought for a moment that he had killed it. That wouldn’t do as the list specifically called for a ‘live’ Grange Snake. But as he worked the canvas sack over the deadly viper, he realized it was still alive and when he drew the strings closed on the bag, the snake once again started to thrash about.

Emile took the bag to the shed and then returned to the old horse, let it loose, thanked it profusely and allowed it to wander off to graze on the tender grasses of the field. Then he laid down in the shed for a rest.

He awoke about an hour later with a start. In all the hubbub with the snake he had forgotten the urgency of getting to the church with its stone star.

As quickly as he could, he ran to the church square to discover that he had been right. Even as he stood there, a woman from the group of contestants was trying to get up the eaves in order to climb to the tower. Emile ran to the church door, opened it and went inside. Several locals were inside praying to the large statue of the Orange Angel. It was a fairly incredible statue to behold and Emile stood there in the shadows staring at it for a minute.

“Is this your first experience with our Orange Angel?’ a voice came from behind him, startling him and waking him from his temporary reverie.

Emile looked around to face an older woman dressed in a long, flowing orange robe.

“Um, yes, well, I’ve seen pictures,’ Emile said.

“Not quite the same thing as seeing one of these statues in person, is it? They were each sculpted separately, a different one for every of the orders churches. They were made by the great artisan, Pier Antoverdi.”

“They’re really something,’ Emile replied.

“Are you here to pray, my son?” the old woman asked with a smile. “Or are you new to the order?”

“Um, neither actually. I just came in to tell you that there was someone on your roof.”

“What,’ the old woman said, startled. “On the roof?”

“Yes, I was worried she might fall off so I came in to tell you.”

The old woman turned and went through the door to the outside. Emile could hear her begin to shout up to the would-be thief on the tower. An argument was going on as the woman was refusing to come down. Emile turned and spotted the stairs leading up into the tower. As he climbed the stairs he could hear the commotion still going on outside but now with other voices involved. When he got to the tower, he could see the woman through the slats. She had apparently realized that she wasn’t going to be able to just take the star and was trying to bargain with them about buying it. She wasn’t going to win that negotiation, Emile thought with a smile as he continued up into the tower.

He finally arrived at a portal out onto a sort of widow’s walk that was there for the purpose of working on the outside of the tower if it was in need of repair. He opened the portal and slipped out onto the platform.

The woman was now working her way back down the side of the roof, having failed to negotiate for the star. All of a sudden, she slipped and began to slide down the roof. She attempted to grab onto the stone tiles that lined the roof, but they gave way and now she was hanging off the edge of the roof calling for help. People began to run about looking for some way of protecting her in case she fell. Somebody ran a hay wagon over to the wall and with a cry, the woman dropped down and onto the wagon. The people with whom she had been arguing were now all trying to calm her down and see if she was hurt in any way.

Seizing this moment of distraction, Emile shinnied up the housing of the cross and snapped the stone star from its mount. The old stone artifact was pocked and weakened with age and came away fairly quickly in his hands. He put the star into the bag around his neck and quickly lowered himself down and back to the inside of the tower.

As he walked, whistling a happy tune, out of the front door of the church he was confronted by the old woman in the orange robes.

“Well, that was quite a thing. I can’t imagine what she was thinking. But she seems to be all right, thank The Angel. Are you leaving now?” she asked.

“Yes, I am,’ Emile replied.

“Well, if you’re interested, we’re always open for new friends to join the order.”

“Thanks. But I think I have everything I need right now,’ Emile said. ’But I’ll certainly give it some thought.” And he was on his way.

When he got back to the shed with the stone star, things got a little intense as the Grange Snake had somehow managed to get loose and was trying to burrow a tunnel under one of the walls in order to escape. Fortunately, Emile spotted the errant snake through the window, so he didn’t walk in on him and get a nasty bite on his leg or something. Instead, he waited until the snake was far enough into the burrowing to not hear him come in. Then, as the serpent’s tail disappeared down the hole, he placed a large slab of rock over the top of the hole. The snake only had one avenue for escape after that and Emile waited for him to emerge on the other side of the wall. When the snake’s head finally appeared, pushing its way through the sand, Emile grabbed it behind the head and tossed it back into its sack. Problem solved, although the Grange snake did manage to whip its tail around and leave a nasty mark on Emile’s neck.

After that commotion, Emile had another look at the list and the remaining items that needed to be ‘procured’. He still needed a magical item, two pounds of prime meat, the tooth of a wild animal, two silver spoons and a tree in a bottle. A tree in a bottle. Where on earth does one get a tree in a bottle? Then he remembered Old Oak, a favourite whisky at the Cock and Bull. The whisky was expensive and therefore the rarely consumed alcohol was contained in a dark brown bottle and inside that bottle was a miniature oak tree carved from the same wood that was used to construct the barrels in which the whisky was aged. The tree wasn’t real, of course, as it was just carved out of a piece of the real oak, but it sure looked like a real tree with its painted-on leaves and acorns. The administrator surely couldn’t quarrel with that. Anyway, it didn’t say anywhere that it had to be a real tree or a live tree.

The problem he had was that he couldn’t go back to the Cock and Bull and risk running into the bounty hunter again. And he knew for a fact that that tavern had exclusive rights to sell the whisky in this town. No other tavern was allowed too sell it. No, he would have to find another source. The whisky itself was distilled in a small village in the foothills of the Spine of the world and would take at least a day to get to. Not enough time for that.

It was however a very popular brew among the wealthy and there wasn’t a well-to-do household that didn’t keep a bottle on hand for special occasions. The wealthy part of the town was known as The Heights and was a gated community with guards at stations around the perimeter known for their churlish behaviour and always on the look-out for a way to break the monotony of their duties. Usually at the expense of any poor traveler who happened to be walking the wrong way. The guards would sometimes even drag somebody off the street and thrash them just for the hell of it, even if the pedestrian was outside the gates, just so long as he looked poor enough that he wouldn’t cause a problem with the law.

He would have to wait for dark for that try though as he would need the cover of night to avoid the security. In the meantime, he would track down his magical item. He had briefly thought of giving up his Cloak of Shadows, but the thought of it made him cringe. It was the only piece of good equipment he had, and he was loathe to part with it. Besides, it had been presented to him with great honor. No, he would have to come up with something else. There were a couple of options there. He could go to the local Magicians Guild and somehow convince them to give something up, as he had no money; he could steal something from Anthony’s Cosmoteria, the magic shop in the center of town, or he could try to purloin something directly from a magician’s house.

He decided to visit the Cosmoteria first and see if he couldn’t get a nice five-finger discount from Anthony. So, a short while later he found himself standing outside the shop on Flew Street, with it’s iconic three-bubbles sign, indicating that the store was a purveyor of magical items and potions.

Emile entered the mysterious shop, with its darkened shutters and strange illuminating globes hanging from the rafters. The place smelled very strange; a mixture of burnt toast and incense, but it wasn’t entire unpleasant.

Anthony was apparently in the back as the store was deserted. On one counter, a rack of potions sat beside a bubbling elemental pot that was busy brewing up a new batch of Invulnerability Potions or Love Inducements or such. Emile looked into the pot. It was brown, and things were floating in it that didn’t look very nice. Like someone was boiling a chamber pot.

Emile looked at the potions and was disappointed to find that there was a protective bar locked over the holder that would require a key to gain access. He moved over to a glass case that contained several wands and gloves of magic. But it, too, was locked up.

Then he noticed that just behind the counter was a coat rack fastened to a wall. On the pegs of this rack were several cloaks and a variety of multi-colored hats, each of which undoubtedly carried some sort of protection spell or magic enhancing property. He considered just leaping over the counter and grabbing a hat and dashing off with it, when he heard a voice from behind the curtain to the side.

“Good afternoon,’ said Anthony Periatarius as he entered the shop. “Welcome to Anthony’s Cosmoteria. We are offering a good discount today on all potions and wands. Thirty percent off, in fact, if you are a member of the guild. Are you a member of the Magician’s Guild?”

Anthony Periatarius was about six feet tall and had very long arms and a pair of equally long hands, the fingers of which, if they were any longer, would have looked freakish. As it was, he merely appeared bird-like and he smiled out from under his tall hat of many colors.

“Well, no, not exactly,’ Emile began.

“Ah, I see, well, no matter, I’m sure we can come up with something for you to fit your budget. That’s a marvelous cloak you have on there. A Cloak of Shadows, isn’t it?

“Yes, it is. I have had it for many years, it’s never let me down.”

“May I have a closer look at it?’ Anthony said. ’It looks like the handiwork of Christopher Penn.”

“I’m not sure who made it, it was a gift from a friend.” Emile undid the clasp of the cloak and handed it over.

“Aha, yes, a Penn, no doubt of it. Feel the fine work around the neckline? That’s where the magical inlays are located. Very good craftsmanship. The idea was that by containing the magical property inducers nearer to the clasp, if a portion of the Cloak was torn or somehow lost during use, it would still retain its magical properties. Clever, isn’t it? Would you be willing to part with this? I’d give you a very good price for it, or you could select a number of other items.”

“Oh no, I don’t think I could do that, sir. You see it has great sentimental value to me even beyond its magic.’ Emile said. ’No, I don’t think so.”

“Well, I don’t blame you. I don’t think I would be able to give it up either. Beautiful though.”

At that moment, a large woman wearing a long gray smock and a scarf of a brilliant yellow hue, entered the shop.

“Ah, Magdalena! How nice to see you. It has been too long,’ Anthony said, and then turning to Emile, ’Excuse me for a moment won’t you, I must speak to my old friend for a bit.”

“Certainly,’ replied Emile, ‘I’ll just continue to have a look around.’

“Very good, I’ll just be a minute.”

Emile continued to browse around the shop, pretending to look at this and that, while the other two conversed. He turned things over weren’t locked up, on the watch for something that could be hastily jammed into his trousers.

“So, Magdalena. What can I do for you today? I have some amazing new gloves in from Sommadown. I have a pair that give off such an intense light it can turn night into day. I was almost blinded by them when I took them out of the box.”

“Thank you, but no,’ said the old wizardress. “What I really need is something small and deadly that I can hide about my person in the eventuality that somebody had me at their mercy. I realize it sounds rather drastic, but last weekend I found myself in exactly that situation.”

“Do tell,’ exclaimed Anthony. “That sounds awful.”

“Well, it did have me a bit nervous, to be sure, but I managed to get myself out of the situation. However, I vowed to never be that, um, vulnerable again.”

“Well, let’s see. Come over here to the amulet drawers and I’m sure we can find something that will do.”

Magdalena placed the large carpet bag that she was carrying down on the floor by the counter and accompanied Anthony to the other side of the shop. Emile watched all this with great interest and eyed the bag. Surely it must contain something of magical value. If only he could get close enough to see inside it without drawing too much attention.

As Anthony withdrew several amulets for Magdalena to examine out of the cabinet, they turned their backs momentarily on Emile. This was his opportunity. Feigning interest in a pink glass globe on the counter, Emile prodded the bag with his foot to see if the latch would give way.

Suddenly there was a screech and a mad scrambling sound from within the bag. Magdalena and Anthony spun around, and Magdalena called out ‘Mister Grim!’ and came running over. “What’s going on?’ she cried as she picked up the bag and put it on the counter.

“I’m so sorry,’ Emile said, ’I tripped against it. What’s inside?

“Mister Grim!’ Magdalena repeated.

“Magdalena’s familiar,’ Anthony said. ’Her constant companion.”

Magdalena opened the bag and from within leapt a large orange cat with a bell around its neck. The cat lunged off the counter and sprang across the room.

“No, Mister Grim! Bad cat! Come back here,’ Magdalena cried out. The cat ignored her and leapt up on a small ladder and from there to the top of a shelf, out of reach of the others. Then it proceeded to tear at the packages on top with its claws.

“Ah, no!’ shouted Anthony. ’Don’t do that! That’s very fragile material!”

“Bad cat, bad cat!’ Magdalena shouted. “Come down right away you naughty thing.”

“I’ll have to get a ladder,’ Anthony said, disappearing into the back room. Magdalena stood looking up at Mister Grim, trying to entice him to come down with a piece of cheese from her pocket. To no avail.

Emile looked around him and saw that his opportunity had arrived. Looking down into Magdalena’s bag he spied a golden locket that glowed with a strange reddish light. Reaching in he yanked it out and stuffed it up his sleeve just as Anthony returned carrying the ladder.

“Gosh, I am so sorry for any part I had in all this,’ Emile said.

“Oh, it’s not your fault,’ Magdalena said, as Anthony leant the ladder against the shelves and climbed up. “He’s a very naughty cat sometimes and will get an earful when I get him home.”

“Got him!’ Anthony said and climbed back down with Mister Grim in his arms. Mister Grim promptly gave him a swat in the ear. “Ow!” said Anthony.

“Well, you’ll excuse me,’ said Emile, ’but I must be going.”

“Very well,’ Anthony said, rubbing at his ear. ’Thanks for coming to Anthony’s Cosmoteria. Please come again when there isn’t so much… commotion.”

“I will indeed,’ Emile said, opening the door. “Good day.”

Closing the door behind him, Emile walked off whistling to himself. Nicely done, he thought. And it isn’t even night yet. He decided to go to a tavern and celebrate by spending some of the few small coins he had left on a good meal. After all, he was going to need all the strength and resiliency he could muster for this coming evening and night. And he was getting quite sleepy as well.

Turning down a tree-lined avenue he came across a small shop that served ale and meat. Not exactly a tavern but it had a small court-yard in which had been placed several small tables and chairs. In the center was a small pond with a collection of silver fish in it. Very nice, thought Emile and sat down at one of the tables. He was feeling quite happy with himself right now and as optimistic as he had felt in what seemed like weeks. He ordered a pint of ale and a bowl of stew and a small loaf of bread and enjoyed a very satisfying repast. Then he fell asleep with his head on the table.

When he awoke (it had very nice of the owner not to wake him up despite his snoring) he felt refreshed and was glad to see that it was getting dark. He paid up for his fare and after a brief conversation with the owner about the rich folk of the town, turned down the street and headed for The Heights. The owner had told him that the most well-heeled of the inhabitants of The Heights lived on the eastern edge, near the cliffs. That afforded them the best view out over the lake and a cool breeze during the hot summer months.

Turning towards the lake, Emile found himself looking down a white sandy beach that skirted the wall between the water and The Heights. He made his away along this strand gazing up at the rocky mound at the foot of the wall. It had been well-positioned, this wall, and ended near the natural cliff at the northern end of the lake. You would have to be a monkey to get up there, Emile thought and was about to give up on this approach when he stumbled over what looked like a large metal tube extruding from the wall. It was apparently a storm drain, built to let the waters run out from inside the compound in the event of heavy rains.

Emile crawled down the slope to where the drain emptied out onto the lake. It had been covered over with iron bars, but one of them seemed to be loose and sure enough with a bit of prying it came loose allowing Emile with his slight stature to gain entrance. It certainly looked dark up the drain, but it was dry and with any luck it would allow him to get into The Heights, if he just kept crawling along until he came to the other end. Then, hopefully, he would be able to get out without more bars to stop him at the other end.

He tied his Cloak of Shadows into a bundle and slung it over his back and, getting down on his hands and knees entered the drain pipe. He hadn’t gone very far when he realized that he could see perfectly well. But how could this be? Then he looked down and realized that the light in the tunnel was emanating from Magdalena’s locket that he fastened around his own neck. It was glowing quite brightly, and he could see some twenty yards up the tunnel by its shine.

He was happy to see that there were no rats or other nasty creatures up ahead even though the smell was quite bad. He would be quite the mess by the time he reached the other end, he thought.

Eventually he came to fork in the tunnel and after a bit decided to take the one to the left as it seemed to be the one that would head in the right direction to the housing. A little bit further and the drain stopped and was replaced by a shaft that went up to the surface. There was a metal ladder attached to one wall of the shaft and Emile climbed up it. The shaft ended under what seemed to be an iron grate with hinges on it. Emile pushed up on the grate and with a slight groan it opened slightly.

Emile peered out from under the manhole cover and discovered to his delight that it wasn’t in the middle of a street or under a bright light, but was in fact beside a tree that was growing close to one of the compound walls. He opened the lid a little more and scooted out and under the bushes by the wall. So far so good.

He looked around and spotted two houses towards the end of the wall and close to the cliff side. They looked to be very fancy buildings and were festooned with many windows and balconies. Well, they may have a well-guarded compound, Emile thought, but they couldn’t have provided an easier way into these houses if they had put ladders on the walls.

Emile, under the cover of his Cloak of Shadows, and with the locket off and secured so as not to give him away with its glow, he stood under the balcony of the first great house. Up above, about forty feet or so, he could see another abutment with an open balcony door, the wind catching the curtain there and blowing it in and out. This would be his opening, he thought.

Hoisting himself up to the first balcony he proceeded up the side of the building alternating between other balconies and the vines that grew down the divides. This way he was up to the balcony of the open window in minutes.

Pulling himself up over the rail on that balcony he was surprised to see that the window led into a bedroom and that somebody was asleep in the bed. A young boy by the look of it.

He quietly made his way past the bed and smoothly opened the door to the bedroom a crack and peered out. It was clear, and he could hear laughter from down the corridor and presumably from downstairs where the adults would no doubt be finishing up their supper.

As he rounded the corner to what he hoped were the servants access stairs to this floor, he could hear the voice of the owner of the building, cajoling one of his guests.

“Well, surely, Hanson, you don’t expect me to believe that you were actually once in the guards? The guards that protect this very building?”

“Yes,’ a voice answered. It wasn’t until I had the idea of getting into the architecture field that I actually had the opportunity of making something of myself.”

“And now, here you are, living in the very community you were hired at one time to protect. Well, congratulations, my friend. You certainly have done well for yourself. Come, let’s go into the library and toast your success!”

“By all means,’ the other replied. “Do you still keep a bottle of Old Oak on your shelf?”

“Indeed, I do, indeed I do!” the master of the house replied and Emile smiled as their voices faded away into the depths of the house. Fortuitous, he thought. This couldn’t be going better.

Well, that’s what he thought at the time. When two and a half hours had gone by and the merry-makers downstairs showed no sign of letting up on their prodigious drinking bout, Emile began to get worried. He had been hiding in a small alcove and was beginning to get sore. Not only that, but if this went on much longer, they might run out of Old Oak whisky and where would that leave him? He had already committed too much time to this particular mission and he still had to get the wild animal tooth and the two pounds of prime meat and two silver spoons. Then it occurred to him that he might be able to kill two lizards with one arrow here. He would undoubtedly be able to find two silver spoons in this wealthy mansion. Probably dozens for that matter. Hey, and maybe if he could get down to their larder, he might even be able to pick up the prime meat. He decided to get on the move at once.

He had heard the lady of the house say goodnight to the other guests a while ago and it was just the husband and his crony up now, drinking themselves silly. Emile had had a bit of a scare when the lady came down the hallway to look in on her little boy sleeping in Emile’s escape path. But the lady (quite a beautiful one at that) had just gone in and pulled the blankets covering the boy up a bit and gave him a gentle kiss on the forehead. The boy stirred briefly and then with a mumble drifted back to the land of dreams where he was, no doubt, riding a big horse and jousting with giants.

The lady disappeared into her chamber after that and Emile had nothing since. An old man servant had entered the library to see if his master wanted anything and had been dismissed. No doubt to the relief of the man servant who was very tired and quite fed up with running around fulfilling the whims of the two drinkers. Now, there were just the two revelers left and Emile was free to roam about a bit.

He quietly made his way down the spiral staircase to the main foyer of the house. Keeping as much distance as he could from the library, he snuck into the dining room. The dishes had all been taken away for cleaning and the candles extinguished. Emile gently pulled back the curtain from one of the windows and the moon shining in through the glass illuminated the room just enough for Emile to make his way about.

He spotted a bureau against one wall and started going through the drawers one by one. In a moment he spotted the unmistakable shape of a silverware box. He pulled it out and laid it on top of the bureau and opened it up. There lay a particularly exquisite set of silver utensils that had been polished to a high gloss and gleamed in the moonlight. Emile took two spoons out. He was tempted to take more because he knew how valuable they would be and he, being broke, could make good use of them. The temptation was too much for him, so he removed a set of a knife and fork. This almost proved his undoing as after he replaced the box and started to move towards the door, he dropped the fork and it bounced off the hardwood floor with a clatter. Breathlessly, Emile waited for the door to be thrown open and a servant or the master himself to come in or call the guards.

A few minutes went by and Emile realized that he was safe, so he tiptoed over to the counter and replaced the knife and fork. The two spoons he wrapped in a silk napkin from the drawer and placed into his loot bag. Then he decided to see about the meat. As this was the dining room it followed that the kitchen would not be far off and sure enough, upon passing through a wood-paneled swinging door, he found himself in the kitchen.

There was one candle in a holder burning on the large kitchen table and Emile quickly blew it out and was once again bathed in the sultry glow of the lunar orb. Towards one end of the kitchen there was the large, insulated door of the larder. There the meat would reside, Emile thought as he made his way over to it. But when he reached the door he realized that it was bolted, and a lock driven through the handle. Undoubtedly, the household was protecting itself against the light fingers of its kitchen staff, by making sure there was no access to the expensive meats.

At that moment, Emile heard voices in the main foyer and realized that the master was saying goodnight, in a torrent of slurred goodbyes, to his drinking buddy and after a couple of hearty laughs the door slammed shut and the master returned to the library for a night-cap.

Emile re-entered the dining room and crept down the hall to the library door which was open slightly. Inside he could see the master of the house, a portly fellow with a red lantern where his nose should be, relaxing by the fire, glass in hand. The bottle of Old Oak was sitting on the small table beside the chair. The glow of the flames danced around the otherwise unlit room and Emile could see, through the translucent tinted glass of the bottle, the iconic ‘carved tree’ which made this whisky so special. Especially to him.

It didn’t take long for the geezer to drift off into an alcohol-induced fog and then a steady snore filled the room. Emile opened the door and very slowly made his way over to the chair. He crouched behind it and with one hand steadying himself, he reached around with the other and snatched the bottle with its all-important interior tree off the table and into his bag. Then he retraced his steps and slowly pulled the door closed.

Now he only had to make good his escape and he would be eight tenths of the way to completing the scavenger list. He hadn’t spent too much time worrying about the remaining two items, but now as he made his way back up the stairs to the room of the sleeping child, he began to think about just how difficult acquiring the last two items might be. The tooth of a wild animal? Two pounds of prime meat? Difficult, indeed.

He was about half way across the boy’s room when the child began to stir. No, thought Emile, not now! What was it with him and children interfering with his work? The child was indeed starting to wake up and Emile had to think fast.

“Mother?’ came the tired, sleepy voice of the young boy. ’Is that you?”

In as workable a high falsetto as he could muster, Emile replied, “Yes, yes, my sweet, it’s mother.”

“Is it time to get up for school now?’ the boy asked in his semi-stupor.

“Oh, no, not yet,’ Emile replied and moved over to the side of the bed. “You must go back to sleep, my love, there is still plenty of night left to dream through.”

“Kiss me goodnight then, mother,’ the boy implored. “And pull the blankets around me.”

Emile grimaced and looked over at the child. “Of course, my sweet, here you go,’ he said and pulled the blanket closer around the little boy’s chin.

“And my kiss?’ said the boy, turning on to his side in preparation of returning to sleep.

“Of course, my love, here you go,’ said Emile, and he leant over the boy and gave him a light kiss on the forehead just as he had seen his mother do.

“You smell funny, mother,’ the boy said as he drifted off once more.

Well, you’d smell funny too, Emile thought, if you had travelled here by sewer. He turned and let himself out on to the moonlit balcony, closing the balcony door behind him in case he made too much noise letting himself down the wall vines. A few minutes later he was back by the tree and once more made his way through the storm drain to the beach on the other side of the wall.

He stood for a moment gazing out at the lake which glimmered with the full moon. A soft breeze was making small cat’s paws on the surface of the water and a lone sea bird bobbed about searching for something to eat. This day, with all its excitement. was intoxicating really, thought Emile. I really have found my calling. Even if this contest doesn’t come out in my favour, at the very least I have confirmed my vocation. Then he turned and started the journey back to his shed.

Upon arrival, he looked upon the results of his endeavors of the day with no small amount of pride. Also, he had had an idea on the way back home. The tooth that he had stolen along with the emerald from the Grootly house, was still in his possession and if he cleaned it up a little, he could always claim that it was a wild animal tooth. It definitely wasn’t human and who was to contradict him if he said it was the tooth of a Mongoloose or a Titrat?

He took the tooth out and examined it. It was about an inch and a half long and was probably a fang or similar bone. He rubbed it between his fingers and then poured a small amount of water into a bowl. Then he placed the tooth in it and began to scrub at it.

No sooner had he immersed the fang into the water than it began to tremble. Emile took his hands out of the water and peered down at tooth. It was, indeed, shaking and as he watched, the shaking began to increase, and the bowl of water started to shake violently as well, spilling over the side. Emile jumped back as the bowl of water literally jumped off the table and hit the floor of the shed. The tooth itself rolled out and came to rest in the middle of the shed.

Emile tried to corral the tooth but when he grabbed it with his hand he realized that it had become extremely hot. He dropped it back on to the ground and stepped back to consider what to do about this odd happening. Then the tooth started to split. One side had developed a crack in it and as Emile looked on with amazement, the tooth parted entirely into two and a small, fleshy, squirming bundle was left behind in the puddle of water.

The two halves of the tooth stopped their vibration and the little bundle of what looked like skin, started to move of its own accord. Emile was starting to get a little put off by this strange phenomenon and was truly annoyed that his tooth idea was now ruined. Then he spotted the tiny mouth that had appeared at one end of the tube of flesh. The bundle was expanding and was now a full four or five inches across. The mouth looked like it was trying to open and when it did, Emile almost jumped out of his skin. There emerged from the tube a high, whine, like that of an animal in pain and then two eyes appeared over the mouth.

Emile was beginning to get a bit freaked out by this now and considered running from the shed, but something about this held him to the spot and he couldn’t tear his eyes away from this strange happening.

Now the bundle was expanding even more and much more quickly as well. Small stubs had appeared on the ‘body’ of the thing and Emile realized that they were becoming legs! The whining of the thing had become much lower in pitch as it had become bigger and now it almost resembled a growl. Emile stepped back and opened the door and prepared to flee for his life, as the thing started to sprout ears. This was followed by nose or snout and then finally hair began to appear on the surface of the things ‘skin’.

This had all taken about five minutes. Within two minutes more the thing was beginning to take shape as a four-legged animal about four feet long and three feet high. Another minute passed, and Emile was looking into the face of a full-grown Were-Mort.

In case you have never heard of a Were-Mort it is a seldom-seen animal that mostly resides in Rundersgrip near the mountains. It is sort of a cross between a dog and a large hog. It has the fur coat of a canine and the pug-nosed snout of a wild boar. Amongst its many other attributes was its incredibly ferocious, aggressive behaviour.

When Emile realized what it was that he was confronting, he bolted from the shed. The Were-Mort, apparently mindless up to this point, suddenly gained it’s Were-Mort brain and hurtled out of the shed in pursuit.

When a Were-Mort gets decided in his mind to ‘get you’, it is something that will probably end up with one of you dying. The beast has four incredibly sharp tusks with which it can either destroy rotting logs while searching for the grubs and insects that make up its regular diet, or it can use them to eviscerate any unfortunate soul who has happened to disturb it. Glancing back over his shoulder as he ran, Emile could see the tusks dripping with the saliva of the pursuing creature.

Emile sped towards the brick factory, hoping that he could find a way in and lose the beast and as he drew near he spotted a door. He threw himself through the door and slammed it shut, seconds before the Were-Mort was upon him. For a moment, he thought that he was safe. Then the animal started to throw itself against the door. The thin frame of the old door began to buckle and the door itself started to shatter. Emile looked around and saw nothing with which to defend himself. There were a couple of bricks laying about, but he knew he would never be able to throw them hard enough to cause the animal damage.

The door was beginning to shred now, and Emile could see the edge of the animal’s tusks through that hole that was beginning to grow there. Desperately, Emile looked around. Then he spotted the old brick kiln that was laying open in disuse. He ran over and looked in. There was a chain hanging down through the open door on top of the center of the kiln that was suspended overhead from a beam. Evidently it had been used to lower and raise a platform upon which the baking bricks had been set. There just might be a chance, Emile thought, and he positioned himself in the door of the kiln just as the Were-Mort broke through what was left of the door.

The creature paused and looked about and then spotted Emile and with a roar hurled himself towards our diminutive hero. Emile backed up and waited until the beast was only a few yards away before leaping up and catching the end of the chain. He hauled himself up about ten feet as the Were-Mort entered the kiln and began leaping on its hind legs, trying to get at Emile. It was amazing that, despite the stubby length of the animal’s legs, by pure strength and fury alone, it could leap at least eight feet in the air and was barely missing catching on to Emile’s dangling legs.

Emile scrunched up another few feet to get out of the Were-Mort’s jumping range and then unwrapped his Cloak of Shadows. Timing it so that the beast was in full flight in its leap, he threw the cloak down and the Were-Mort became entangled in it. It fell to the ground with a thud and began to thrash about trying to free itself with enraged growling and roars.

Emile shinnied up the rest of the chain and out onto the top of the kiln closing the top hatch behind him. He would have to act fast. He crossed the wooden beam that supported the chain to a platform on the other side of the factory. There were steps there leading down, and Emile ran down them and over to the kiln. He took hold of the massive iron door grate there and with one heave, slammed it shut on the kiln, trapping the angry Were-Mort that had managed to extricate itself from the cloak and began now to throw itself against the kiln door.

Now what, thought Emile? Then he spotted the kiln oven and was amazed to find that when the factory had closed down they had actually set the coals for what would have been the following day’s brick making that had apparently been interrupted by the decision to end the business altogether.

Emile walked around the kiln, took the box of matches that were on the shelf there and lit the coal fire. It quickly erupted into a formidable blaze and think black smoke started to rise up to the canopy that sent the smoke to the chimney and thus out from the roof.

The heat from the fire was intense and the kiln started to give off a similar heat. Amazing technology, Emile thought as the Were-Mort, realizing that its new life was about to come to a very grisly end, moaned and with a pitiful howl, the beast was killed. Through the grill, Emile could see that the animal was overcome. A sad end to the Cloak of Shadows though, Emile thought. But it could be that its magical properties had spared it from complete immolation.

Emile doused the coals with a few buckets of water from the trough that was positioned a little way away, apparently put there for just such a use. The fire was quickly extinguished but smoke still climbed towards the ceiling from the smoldering ash.

Emilie went back around to the front of the kiln and as he opened the metal door with his cloth-wrapped hands, he was greeted by the most wonderful smell. Looking inside he realized that the flesh of the Were-Mort, known for its savory taste, had roasted almost to perfection. The fur had burnt away, and Emile was confronted by two incredibly well-cooked Mort legs. Why, each one of them must have weighed at least four pounds, Emile thought as the realization that he had just found his prime meat dawned on him. Not only that, but the animal’s mouth was open, and its tusks were exposed. Unfortunately, his Cloak of Shadows, had indeed been destroyed. But it had been the solid nature of the magic cloth that had protected the Were-Mort from being totally destroyed by the fire.

Emile ran back and grabbed his dagger and, returning to the factory, removed an impressive looking tusk from the dead animal’s jaws and carved a massive roast from the hind quarters of the Were-Mort. Then he returned to the shed.

Judging from the angle of the moon, Emile reckoned that it must be about four in the morning, so, exhausted as he was, he went and reined in the mare, attached it to the cart and began to load his items. The Grange Snake had ceased its struggle, but when Emile moved the bag to the cart he could feel its movement and was relieved that it was still alive.

A half an hour later Emile was on his way to the castle with his stuff. He could see that first light was beginning to add a gray ambience to the streets and as he clattered along the cobblestones of the street leading up to the castle, he smiled. He really was quite good at this stuff.

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