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Chapter 12: Medicine and Murder

We camp out at Fin’s for a long, monotonous week. While we were retrieving the Scales at the Dragons’ nest, things went exactly like Elen predicted. The week we were gone, we were framed for murder of two of the nine Chairholders. Of the few people who knew we were outside of the city when the murders took place– Chairholder Helios-Lime III –has turned himself in for ‘the crime of accidentally harboring such criminals’, and Gilfri has mysteriously disapeared. According to one of Fin’s many cousins, Anostia, our least-favorite Chairholder has publicly declared his apology for being duped, and basically got off with a slap on the wrist! The city is in an uproar with manhunts for us! Faladel and Silv are in complete agreement that we shouldn’t sneak out in disguise. And they and Fin are busy trying to convince Fin’s family to keep harboring criminals. So I am left with nothing to do but thumb-war Elen and drink her disgusting tonics to try and get rid of my constant headaches. 

I sat in on one of the discussions once, but fell asleep after thirty minutes of nonstop arguing. The dynamics between the two groups in Fin’s huge family is actually pretty interesting, so I blame my passing out on the draught I had taken right before the meeting. Basically, Fin’s family adores him. He is a bit of a protegee in their eyes, and someone who will no doubt bring up their standing in society. Fin hates their guts because they forced him into exploring and didn’t let him have a childhood. Although he enjoys exploring now, he never would have chosen that path for himself in his youth, and still holds a grudge. 

Fin’s family isn’t traditional amongst the Kashan. First of all, it has, like, forty people– counting the many numerous cousins and second counsins. They all live together on the western outskirts of The Light in order to be able to afford enough room for everyone and the cattle. If their home wasn’t so run down, I’d call it a mansion. In its heyday, it might have been one. But the family has been on hard times for a few generations, and their Matriarch, a steadfast woman named Niech, has a difficult time keeping everyone in line. Anostia isn’t even supposed to be talking to us, but she’s small enough to escape the Matriarch’s watchful gaze. She brings us important news, news we can use to formulate plans. We’ve worked out a system, she tells me stories of what’s happening in the city, and I tell her stories of life in Heronmal and of my adventures as a King’s Archer. 

We aren’t prisoners here exactly, but we aren’t allowed out either, and we don’t have much of a say in how things are run. We got them to send lookouts to the Entry Isle, as Fin has taken to calling the place we arrived, so that we’ll know when our friends show up. We have been given our own ancient wing of the manor house to live and sleep in and are provided with free meals, but we are forbidden from talking to most of the family members and are instructed to keep out of sight. Anostia agrees with me that this is udder haberdash, and has shown me how to sneak around the house and the best ways to steal cookies from the kitchens. No wonder she’s Fin’s favorite cousin!

There are two opinions in the family right now, turn in the ‘murderers’, and don’t turn in the ‘murderers’. Most of the first camp’s arguments would be logical if we had actually killed anyone. They can’t risk harboring us, what if we mean people in the family harm as well, how can they trust us, how might this affect attitudes against the Kashan as a whole– that sort of thing. However more and more often it comes down to the first point. Harboring us is a risk, and one that could have serious consequences. However, keeping their golden child out of prison, along with the possible benifits to be reaped if we succeed in proving we were framed, and some quite lucrative trade deals Faladel has offered out of desperation, have kept us in the Matriarch’s favor and out of the hands of law enforcement. 

Honestly though, I’m not sure how much longer this can last. I sigh and roll over on the bed. I’ve been staring at the ceiling for what feels like hours, but the grandfather clock in the corner of the room insists that it’s only just after nine in the morning. Getting up I begin to pace restlessly, still considering our predicament. If we can’t go out, how are we supposed to prove our innocence? Much less, make sure Adamar, Folas, and Valkallyn come through the portal safely, figure out what’s going on with the dragons, and fix whatever is messing with the magic around here. If only I wasn’t feeling so sick, I could sneak out into the forest beyond the city and harvest feathers to make myself and Faladel fake wings. I’d have to find different disguises for Silv, Fin, and Elen, but I’m sure a few fake mustaches and some skin tone shifts would work wonders on them. 

I groan and lean my head against the hidden door in my room. I’m afraid that boredom will kill me faster than these headaches or being executed for a murder I didn’t commit. I hear a knock on my regular door, and Faladel pokes his head around. “May I come in?” 

“Of course, is everything alright?” I ask, a little alarmed by the disappointment on his face. 

“We might have a small problem–” Faladel begins, coming fully into the room.

“Problem?” I prod, plopping myself on my bed and patting the seat beside me so that Faladel will sit down as well. 

“One of the opposition leaders– he goes by the name of Habbernach, I think I might have mentioned him to you before – claimed that there are rumors going around that they will start searching the family homes of those associated with the ‘murderous elves’.” Faladel grimaces as he says our new nickname. And I agree, it could use some work. “Elen’s family has already stated that they will fully comply with any such requests, and are offering their private mechanical soldiers to help with the search.” 

“Mechanical soldiers!?” I exclaim, “I thought those things just helped with household chores.” 

“Most do.” Faladel sighs, “But Elen’s family apparently had helped sponsor an inventor that was making warrior prototypes. He died before he could finish- natural causes.” He adds in, reading my question before I can say it. “So they own the only prototypes. They aren’t that good with firearms, but they can’t be turned away in their search by threats or coin, and they are methodical in everything they do. They’d be perfect for a search effort.”

“So we’re in trouble if we stay here.”

“If the rumors are correct, we’re in trouble if we stay here.” Faladel edits my statement. “If they’re wrong–”

“Faladel,” I interrupt, “If they’re wrong now, it won’t be long until they’re right. We can’t stay here and hope this all blows over. They won’t just ignore two murdered politicians, and nor will they try to find the true culprit unless they have absolute proof we didn’t do it. We can’t just stay here forever waiting for something to happen! We have to go out there, and prove our own innocence!” My voice rises to a near shout, and I feel my throat scrape nastily. I start to cough, and instinctively cover my mouth with my arm. I don’t want Faladel to get sick too. 

“It’s not that easy, Briareth!” Faladel takes a deep breath to calm himself and stares at the grandfather clock that tic-tocs away the time. “I’m doing the best I can, and right now that means making sure we all have a safe space to sleep, food to eat, and time to come up with a plan– one that doesn’t involve collecting hundreds of feathers.” He turns to me, smiling at his ability to read me. My coughing hasn’t stopped, in fact it’s getting rougher, more painful. “Briareth?” Faladel looks at me worriedly, “Are you okay?”

I try to nod, but my body is wracked with another coughing fit. Faladel pounds my back, until it finally ends and I suck in a long breath, putting my arm down. Faladel’s green eyes widen. “Briareth, your arm!” He exclaims, “I’ll go get Elen. What was the last potion she had you drink?” 

I don’t answer, staring at my arm. It is flecked with blood. My blood. I must have coughed it up. My vision starts to swim and my head pounds more than ever. “I don’t think it was the tonic.” I mumble, remembering these symptoms. “Faladel!” I shout after him. He turns, already about to close the door to my room. “It’s not the tonic. I’ve had these symptoms before.”

“What is it then?” Faladel asks, confused and worried. 

“I don’t know, but whatever was in that abandoned cave in the Dragons’ Nest caused it, I’m sure of that.” He frowns, not quite believing me, but not ready to dismiss me either. “While I was trying to leave that room,” I continue, eager to convince him. “I started coughing up blood, then I passed out, and you guys picked me up. Just being around that room was causing me headaches, even after it was emptied out.” Faladel frowns. I can tell he’s now seriously considering the possibility. 

“So whatever was in there, whoever was in there, either caused lasting damage or is somewhere in the city now.” He takes this a completely different direction than I’d been thinking, but I like it.

“Exactly! We need to go out, find them, and get to the bottom of all this nonsense!” I proclaim, jumping off my bed. My head swims slightly at the abrupt motion, but I just go straight to the doorway walking it off. “If we can tie them to Chairholder Helios-Lime III, it will make proving our innocence a lot easier I’m sure!” My mind races ahead of myself– “I’ll go collect the feathers for the fake wings now, shall I?” 

“Not likely.” Faladel says, eyes narrowing. “What we need to do is get you to a professional healer. Face it Briareth, your symptoms are worsening, you can barely walk straight.” I gasp, wondering how he knows. I thought my semblance of balance was pretty good! “You said next was the passing out, right?” Faladel continues taking no notice of my shock. “I don’t want you running around trying to fix all this while you’re sick.” 

I see Elen walking past, holding a small cloth to her head. “Elen!” I beseech her. “Tell Faladel he’s being overly dramatic, will you? He thinks I’m going to pass out at any second.”

“You were literally just coughing up blood.” Faladel points out ruthlessly. 

Elen immediately turns and comes over to us, reaching over Faladel’s shoulder to put a hand to my forehead. “You were coughing up blood? Oh dear…” She looks a little ill. “That’s not good, and Fin and some of his cousins are also beginning to complain of a headache, and I simply don’t have enough camomile to go around.”

“Are you all right?” Faladel looks at her, “You look a little peaky yourself.” 

“Oh I’ll be fine.” Elen waves him away. “My headache isn’t too bad, it’s probably just the stress of all this. I asked Matriarch Niech if we could call for a proper doctor, but she doesn’t want to let any outsiders in. Since I was trained as part of my Exploring education, and not at an official medical school, I don’t have anyone I can trust implicitly. So we’re left with nobody.”

“Not nobody.” I say, “There’s never ‘nobody’. Surely you have some contacts who would put research on a new disease above the law?”

“Not everybody is as obsessed with breaking the rules as you are, Briareth,” Faladel shakes his head, but I see his smile. “Although…” It morphs into a frown. “Would you say this is a unique disease, Elen? Unique enough for it to be noted down in the history of your people?”

Elen blinks. “If you’re thinking what I think you’re thinking, it’s at least worth reaching out. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if it backfires terribly.”

“Wait,” I glance from one of them to the other. “What’s going on here? Who are we reaching out to?”

“A Chronicler.” Faladel’s face is grim. “We need professional help, Mattias Habernloch is likely to know many professionals in his pursuit of knowledge, and we have the continuance of a story that might interest him.”

 Of course, I’m not invited to go see the Chronicler. Faladel says I’m too sick, and should stay in bed. However, with Anostia’s help, I’m one of the first to see him arrive at Fin’s family home. We sit in the high belltower, eating cookies and watching him approach, a disguised Fin and another Kashan in his family escorting the flamboyant Chronicler. He wears the same snowy white hat as last time, and as I peer through a delightful set of lenses that make him appear quite close, I can make out a ruby pendant that has been added to his spectacle of red, black and white robes. Anostia gasps, and snatches the lenses out of my hands. “You never said the Chronicler was a cursed Kashan!” 

“Cursed?” I blink in the bright afternoon light, trying to adjust my perspectives now that he’s far away again.

“That coloring is unmistakable! He’s the Ghost Kashan!” She announces, peering at him through the lenses as he draws closer to the run down house. “People say his whole family is cursed, that’s why they’re all white!” 

“You sure it’s not just how family members all share the same traits?” I interject, “Pale skin seems to be common among Kashans, I’m sure white hair can appear in families too.” I snag another cookie while she’s distracted. For someone who only needs to drink blood, she sure eats a lot of cookies. “He doesn’t appear cursed to me. His coloring doesn’t seem to affect his job at any rate.”

She gasps, and jerks back from the lenses suddenly, her normally pale cheeks slightly pinked. “He winked at me!” She exclaims, “Definitely cursed! No normal Kashan could see us up here!!” I make a grab for the lens, wanting to confirm her story, but by the time I get my hands on them, he’s already inside. 

Anostia and I scramble down from the belltower, barely managing to not get caught by one of the few mechanical servants Fin’s family enjoys. We rush around the back corridors and finally arrive, gasping, at my room. Nobody else is here yet, and I shoo her away before they come. We’re not supposed to be in contact after all. I straighten myself up and even my breathing as I go into my room. It’s insane how much stamina that kid has. Or perhaps I’m just out of shape. 

It isn’t long before I get two visitors. One, the Chronicler Mattias, and another– a Tadhiel who I don’t know. I didn’t see him arrive, perhaps he came in after Mattias?

“I told you this would be worth it!” Mattias declares to the Tadhiel as they step inside. “Isn’t this intriguing? I’m sure the cases here and in the more populated sections in West Light are related. Elen Nerifaren is reporting the exact same symptoms and inability to treat them that plagues the suburbs and the slums!”

“Hmmm…” The Tadhiel– a less than jolly looking man with long wavy brown hair and a form fitting white coat that contains slits in the back for his wings –raises his eyebrows as he observes me sitting on the bed. “He doesn’t look like a murderer, and even less like a sick man.” 

“As the young lady said.” Mattias ushers Elen in. “constant headaches, coughing up blood, nothing too bad as of yet. You said you’ve witnessed worse cases?” 

“Passing out, a complete loss of reading abilities, the worst just fall asleep one day, and never wake up.” The Tadhiel says grimly. “Have you tested his reading?” He looks at Elen who startles noticeably. 

“I-I I’m not sure he could read in the first place, Doctor Alen.” Elen stutters, not sure what to do when put on the spot. “He isn’t from our world after all, and I never thought to check him.” 

Mattias’s look bounces from the medical expert to the ships’ medic, and then back again, before finally settling on me. “Briareth, has your magic been acting wonky by any means? Have you tried to cast any sort of spells recently?”

I blink at him, at all of them, as their attention focuses on me. I reach for my magic, intending to cast a simple orb of light out into the air. It’s the easiest spell I know, it barely requires any effort or concentration. But it doesn’t work. Where my magic should be, there’s nothing. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it earlier! I feel slightly empty, almost lost, is this how Faladel feels all the time? It’s awful… like one of my senses has died. 

“What does this have to do with anything?” Doctor Alen asks gruffly. “Magic? What nonsense are you yabbering about, Mattias?”

“It’s not nonsense,” Elen defends me, “He can turn saltwater sweet! I’ve seen it with my own eyes, but he has mentioned it’s been acting up ever since he arrived.”

“It’s gone now.” I break in, finding my chance. “I just tried a simple spell, nothing happened.“  

“Completely gone?” Mattias presses, and I nod. “When did you last try to use it? I mean, before the test just now.” 

I shrug, not knowing the answer. “It wasn’t working right when I was escaping the Dragons’ Nest, I don’t recall trying to use it after that.”

 He sighs. “Well, good news first.” He laces his long, silver-ringed fingers together. “That almost confirms that your magic is highly similar to our ability to read. Bad news, either your magic is more heavily affected by whatever disease is going around, or you’re a lot further along in the disease than your symptoms would suggest.” 

“I have already passed out once.” I confirm, looking at Doctor Alen “Elen, did you already tell him–”

“They already know all about our trips to the Dragons’ Nest, that weird cave, and how impossible it would have been for us to commit the murders.” Elen smiles at me. “I gave them a brief rundown to explain things.”

“I never doubted you all.” Mattias claims, waving a hand in the air, as if murder charges were as easy to shoo off as flies. 

“Then why didn’t you speak up?” I ask him, honestly curious. 

“Politics my good sir! The narrative has already been decided– elves are evil, and they mean to take down the entire government. Without evidence or at least firsthand accounts, I can’t go against the narrative of the time. I can’t afford to be more of an outcast than I already am, you understand, right?” He widens his bright crimson eyes apologetically. I can’t help but chuckle as he flashes one of them at me in a wink. Serious or silly, his argument makes sense. I like him. Elen doesn’t seem to feel the same. “I understand if you don’t trust me.” He turns to meet her unhappy frown and lifts his broad-brimmed hat to smooth his fingers through his thick white locks. “But I do have valuable information for you. You can at least trust that, no?” A bit of fang flashes in the smile he shoots her.

“You shouldn’t fall for his trickery, he just wants to hear the next part of an interesting story.” Doctor Alen says gruffly. 

“You just want to be the first to solve this medical riddle.” Mattias retorts hotly.

Faladel interrupts their squabbling by knocking on the already open door. “I believe we all have things to discuss, gentlemen?” He conveniently breaks in. Elen looks at him gratefully, but he doesn’t seem to notice. I suddenly remember that I never did get to tease him about all the fine young elven ladies at that ball who were so sad at his leaving. Although that scenario has long since passed, perhaps a new one has arisen? I reach out a hand to my bedside table, and take a swig out of the cup placed on it. I gag, Elen’s latest concoction tastes terrible. I’m still making faces at the putrid flavor as everyone finishes leaving my room and Anostia pokes her head through the secret door. 

“You have magic?” She asks, eyes wide. 

“Had.” I spit, still contourting my mouth to try and get rid of the taste. She offers me some water, and I drink it gratefully. “So, what are they here for? Besides stories and medical discoveries.” She asks, making her way to sit beside me on the bed. I explain everything to her, and she nods, wisely. “So one weird artifact was gone, but they left this one behind?” She pulls a very large set of familiar silver and ruby scales out of her bag.

My water spews all the way across the room, hitting the secret door. “Where did you get that?!” I shout at her, wiping my chin so the water doesn’t drip. 

“Snagged it from your blond friend’s bag.” She says, referring to Faladel. “It certainly doesn’t look like much.” She holds it up, and the rubies sparkle and wink in the light. 

“You really shouldn’t be messing with that, you know.” I scold her, snatching the scales. “It turned a dragon evil! And then drove him mad!” Faladel, the crew and I have worked out a system where nobody holds onto it for more than a day, just in case it can corrupt people too, but… “I’d really hate to see you turn evil.”

“I wouldn’t!” Anostia proclaims. “And I’ll keep it from the evil dragons when they come for it!” 

I chuckle, “Sure you would. But before I can entrust it with you, I have to make sure you won’t fall prey to it. So, your task is to go return it to Faladel’s bag, without him realizing it was ever gone, alright?” She pouts at me, not sure of my sincerity. I grin at her, “What, can’t the Great Anostia even accomplish this tiny feat? Is her greed so great that it consumes not just red velvet cookies, but also magical artifacts?”

“No!” Anostia proclaims instantly enamored by the game. “I, the Great Anostia, will not fall prey to the wiles of this strange metal object! I will return it with no one the wiser!” 

“Thatta girl!” I cheer as she hops off the bed and heads out. I give her five minutes, and then follow her into the secret tunnel, taking a different path down the hidden corridors that line this old stone manor, and head towards a meeting room. Matriarch Niech sits at a large table there, along with the new Tadhiel- doctor Alen, Faladel, Silv, and Elen. There isn’t a seat left for Mattias, but he seems perfectly content sitting crosslegged on a tall kitchen stool. Nobody else, not even the mechanical servants, are in the room. I suspect this is a secret meeting. 

Elen coughs, a thick junky cough, but it quickly stops, and she waves off doctor Alen when he looks over worriedly. “You’re sick.” He says, and it’s more of an accusation than a expression of worry. 

She shrugs helplessly. “I can’t read my notes from two weeks ago, I only just figured it out when you listed symptoms you noticed. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the other’s here, so I just thought it was a cold, or seasonal allergies.” She looks miserable. “To think I was a carrier!”

“Don’t be too hard on yourself.” Mattias says blandly. “I suspect from what you have been telling me there is more to this disease than simple transmission. Doctor Alen, have any of your patients been unable to read at all– before they got sick I mean?”

The Doctor blinks. “No, but what does that have to do with–” 

“Did those that can read best progress quickest with the disease?” Mattias interrupts, smiling. All eyes, including my own from behind the stone, follow the two across the table. 

It takes a minute for the Tadhiel to think about it, but eventually his wings rise as he admits. “Yes, I believe they did. Are you suggesting there is a correlation between reading and disease progression? That the illness is somehow feeding on the literacy?”

“Something like that.” The Chronicler grins, fully enjoying himself now. “And, if you would but allow me to posit something even more ridiculous?”

“Go ahead.” The doctor grumbles. “It’s not like I can stop you anyhow.”

Mattias stretches, and gets up from his seat, his bardic urge for showmanship not allowing him to continue sitting. “First instance of symptoms:” He strides down the table, over to the matriarch, listing things off on his finger, “Briareth can’t do magic reliably once he arrives in our world. These symptoms are steady, but not terrible. Perhaps it is something to do with differences betwixt here and his home world, perhaps it is nothing.” He shrugs easily, denying any seriousness of the effect. “But then” his voice heightens his unnatural white featherless wings spread. “Things get worse. He heads to a mysterious cavern, finds a stranger messing around with a strange device. Suddenly, he is coughing up blood and fainting all over the place. Headaches abound. He goes back to the chairholder’s palace, and it all fades away, like a bad dream.” Again he shrugs, and begins circling the table, wings folded neatly to his back. “The friends head out again, trying to uncover the mysteries of this Nest of Dragons, and when they get there, the cavern is empty. Some in the group suffer headaches, some don’t. Nobody is coughing blood or passing out. The danger here is gone.” I see Faladel’s eyes, all the way across the room, widen slightly as he recognizes the conclusion Mattias is drawing. He saw it earlier, but Mattias goes a step further. “But meanwhile, back in The Light– in it’s western portion specifically– which includes this delightful home– people start experiencing the same symptoms. Those with the best education, the highest literacy, with the most remaining magic in their systems, start to drop left and right!” 

He raises his hands. “The conclusion is obvious my friends. That person, that artifact that caused all this, is–”

I leap back from my crack in the wall as something slams into it, nearly banging my head on the coatrack attached to the stone behind me. I immediately hurry over to the crack, the door has bounced off it from the recoil of being thrown open. “Matriarch Niech!” Cries an unfamiliar hoarse voice. Clearly the owner has been coughing a lot. I peer through the crack again and see an unfamiliar Kashan, dishevled and wet from rain. “I’m so sorry to disturb your private meeting!” He says, dropping a quick apologetic bow to the Matriarch to appease her furious glare. “But we have guards approaching! And they look like they mean business!” “Come on, I was just getting to the good part!” Mattias complains to the stunned crowd. 

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