There was nothing but pain. Oh, Brust, not the sun, not the sun… Ezra put her hands over her eyes to block out the light.
“Hey, Lorien,” Katryn said from across the table, “Don’t you have any healing spells for hangovers?”
“Hells no. I can’t heal myself. If I have to suffer, then so do you.”
“I thought elves had a higher tolerance for pain, you baby,” Ezra growled.
In the corner, the mechanical daisy Cory had been making blew apart in a puff of smoke. He began patiently gathering the pieces and reassembling them, his single-minded concentration somehow making Ezra's head hurt worse.
“Hey, Cory,” Katryn said. “Go find us three healing potions. Now.”
“My mouth tastes like cat piss,” Ezra complained.
“How do you know that?” Lorien asked.
“We can’t keep doing this,” Katryn said suddenly.
“What, drinking cat-“
“No, this. Bumming around the Damsel District, rescuing bratty princesses, wasting all our money on cheap ale… We need something different. An adventure, or a quest or something.”
“Quests don’t just fall out of the sky, you know,” Ezra said.
They all waited a moment.
“What are you doing?” Cory asked them.
Sheepish, Katryn said, “It just seemed like something might happen the-“
She was interrupted as a large sign dropped on her head bearing the label, ‘QUEST. HEROES WANTED.’
“Ah,” said Ezra sagely. “There it is.”
“Great,” Katryn wheezed from the ground. “Now could you get this damn thing off of me?”
They arrived at the address, a small, musty shop crammed in between two larger ones. It looked suspiciously like the sort of shop that would vanish when you went back to look for it again. The nature of these shops, incidentally, made it very difficult to return damaged items. Ezra suspected that this was by design.
The five of them entered the shop, the door jingling slightly as Katryn pushed it open. Ezra noted that the door had no bells on it. Magic users had an odd sense of humor.
The inside was dark and dusty, crammed full of strange and half-unidentifiable objects. Ezra took stock of the room, shuddering slightly at bottles filled with various slimes and insects and pausing for a baffling moment to inspect what appeared to be a stuffed duck with a crocodile’s head sewn onto it.
An old man sat cross-legged on the counter, eyes closed and head down.
“Um, sir?” Katryn said hesitantly. “Excuse me?”
He did nothing.
Katryn repeated herself a little louder. Still nothing.
Ezra stepped forward cautiously and poked his forehead. He didn’t move. She reached for a wrist to check his pulse. Suddenly, a hand shot out and grabbed hers.
“Ow! Ow! Ow!” She writhed in pain as he pulled back her index finger.
The others ran forward quickly to separate the two of them. After a brief struggle, they managed to pull Ezra away. She glared at the old man as Katryn tried to smooth things over with him.
“Why have you come to my shop?” he asked in a quavery voice. It was, in fact, the very voice that one would expect a mysterious old man to have. Very convenient, Ezra thought, glaring at him and nursing her hand.
“We saw your sign,” Katryn put in. “We’re heroes.”
“Ah! Why didn’t you say so?”
Ezra had to be restrained by Lorien.
“There was once, in the days of old, a mystic key created by the mighty enchanter Maga Fin, said to possess unique and mysterious powers.”
Ezra frowned. Was it just her, or had soft background music suddenly started playing?
“This key remained hidden for many generations, until some heroes discovered it. Though they tried to wield it, they found that they could not, and so they pawned it off on me. Then a week ago some bastard stole it.” The old man frowned.
The music had stopped. Ezra decided it must have been her imagination.
“Do you know who took it?” Katryn asked.
“An evil sorcerer by the name of Darghzin. He has a castle to the west, in the kingdom of Greenwood. That is where you will find the key. Will you accept this quest?”
“Hold on,” Katryn said, “Greenwood?”
“Little place just north of Horseford…”
“Right, right, I know where it is,” said Katryn with a sigh. “How’s the pay?”
“I can give you five hundred gold upon the delivery of the key.”
“Seven hundred and fifty gold.”
He stuck out his hand and she shook it. There was a faint yellow glow around their hands as the contract was sealed with magic.
Wait, Ezra thought, was that it? Ordinarily, heroes couldn’t be hired without reams of paperwork and thirty questions to make sure that their team fit FHHA standards. Why hadn’t he at least asked for a resume?
Well, it was too late to voice concerns now, after the contract had been sealed. Damn. It would be just their luck if they’d taken on something too dangerous to handle. She glared at the old man suspiciously, vowing to keep a close eye out.
(Next chapter on Tuesday.)