Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 15.



Once I was satisfied Fayrel (who insisted he introduce himself before I left) was going to be stable enough I sought out a healer and paid him a Steel Shield for his services up front. Technically it is their duty to help anyone hurt or ill, but I have always found that it didn’t harm anything to provide some incentive just in case. While he worked his trade I excused myself to return to my own.

The place was fairly clean all things considered, magically speaking that it. This was more than a little peculiar, seeing as how Lillian had a talent for it. There was the expected faint traces that had been around so long they had almost etched themselves into the building itself. Magic has a way of doing that, I had seen some older places that had been home to powerful practitioners for so long and who were so active the very ground would echo with raw energy. Lillian’s home didn’t have the same feeling to it, nor did I expect it to. But there should have been more than a few remaining threads.

It didn’t add up right, as I tried to make sense of everything. Especially when I factored in what Fayrel had told me. The thugs who had forced their way inside had destroyed everything in their path as they hunted for something. I didn’t have enough to go on to pinpoint exactly what they were after or even if it was more than a single item. But my intuition told me that if they had fled so fast that I could believably bet they hadn’t located what they looked for.

If that was true, then maybe my luck was starting to turn around. Two bits of good fortune would be a welcome gift indeed. Fayrel had told me that since they had taken in his grandson Latham, that Lillian had been letting him sleep in her room and she had only used it to sew in or do other things when she had the time. Instead she had taken to sleeping in a chair and working as much as she could. She had also moved what few belongings she had into a small alcove in the wall that had never been filled in. Lillian had always laughed at how handy the storage space had been since someone had neglected to complete their job when the place was constructed.

Thinking about the poor little boy bothered me on so many levels. It was hard not to keep Latham from my mind; I suppose it was the fear that he might share a similar situation that I once had. The kid had already lost a mother he had never known, then his father and now his grandmother was gone. On top of it all, he had to witness his grandfather be violently victimized in his own home, someplace he had to have finally felt safe. Now his grandfather was fighting a different kind of fight and here a strange man was saying his aunt might never come back or be the same.

Latham was still cowering at Fayrel’s side when I left the two with the healer in the back room. He had finally stopped crying but in place of the tears terror had permitted only trembling and silence to remain. I could remember enough to relate, only time would tell how he would decide to deal with it. The boy couldn’t have been more than six or seven; a far cry from being old enough to make any choice on how it would shape it. He also wouldn’t have the physical ability to act on how it might leave him feeling for a few more years either. That kind of pain leaves its own kind of wounds, and it would only get worse before it got better.

Gritting my teeth I tried to lock such thoughts away, they were distracting me from keeping my focus on where I needed it. The heart can be a source of complication sometimes when cold logic would be more beneficial. But at least the desire to do something for a boy who could not would help drive me when logic was spent. Stubbornness can provide the steam needed to tackle things that otherwise our minds might retreat from. Regardless of how unwise or foolhardy they may be.

Lillian’s little cache cupboard was right where Fayrel had directed me. However, as I set myself into examining it a puzzle began buzzing about in my brain. The evidence of arcane energy was even more removed here at the heart of her personal possessions. There was no conceivable explanation that I could come up with that would make any sense. If no where else, her private things should all bear her distinct scent. But almost nothing did, quite the opposite actually.

One by one I started analyzing everything. Lillian didn’t have much, but what she did have was a variety of things. Things were there that ranged all the way down to tiny trinkets and up to curiously well-crafted clothes. She must have spent a fair share of time and effort in making her own eye-catching attire. It probably helped her bring in bigger tips which she benefited from, and it was also not a stretch to conclude that she also may have been able to make use of her magic to aid her.

Frustrated I found that everything I examined was too diminished to offer up any usable scent or traceable imprint. Grief and irritation began to braid together to become a growl as I sent whatever was in my hand flying. This was once more getting me nowhere! All the potential promise that had been presented to me previously was turning to an ash-like taste in my mouth. This was impossible, my brain tried to tell me; a dead end in fact. But the rest of me was already too furious to listen to anything.

There was no way that anyone who had any arcane ability could have avoided leaving some evidence of its use. Just living inside these walls Lillian had left a legacy of her presence. Any time she weaved a working of magic or shaped a spell would have left its mark here. But there was just so little left that everywhere I looked I could hardly believe Lillian could have lived her. There just wasn’t an ample supply of signs that I could see, and when it came to magic I had always been able to see its touch.

It was like being blind…

The single thought froze me in place as if I was something made of stone. It resonated through me with a ripple and everything became still. That was what I was missing, I could feel it. It didn’t make sense from a rational standpoint but I was certain of it. At every turn I had been running into a lack of clues. But there absence was a tale tell clue of its own.

Following along that train of thought I started looking for the one thing that had the absolute least speck of being touched by magic. My eyes fell on a single object and a torrent of excitement gripped me enough that I nearly cheered aloud. It was an innocent enough looking item on its own, but of all those there it was completely devoid of any element of enchantment.

Holding it up the light it looked harmless enough; a simple piece of crudely polished amber held by short length of finely braided cord. It wasn’t any priceless creation from a jeweler’s hand by any means. But it could easily be the kind of ambiguous ‘art’ that some less than wealthy worker might try to tip a lovely lady with. Be it an attempt to garner favor from a drunk or a kindly gesture from someone attempting to show gratitude it was something easily dismissed.

Where had it come from though? There had to be some kind of trail I could follow. There had to be some reason why this one object was so untouched. And I aimed to find it. I was going to teach someone the true meaning of ‘being hounded.’ No matter the cost, this ambiguous amulet of amber was going to be the key I needed to lead me back to something tangible. It had to be connected to what was happening, and above all it had to have had a source. If there was a source then there would be a trail, regardless of how hidden it might be. And there was little that could compare to a hard headed SpellHound when they get on the hunt.

Now I just needed to find someone who could point in a useful direction, a person with particular experience in peculiar items. Specifically speaking; I needed the kind of individual capable of recognizing more about my curious little clue and willing to tell me. The only contact that I could think of to fit the bill was my gremlin neighbor. He had a way of dismantling even magically made objects – a skill that I currently placed an increasing regard on.

The promise of anything that could lead me further towards unraveling things filled me with hope. But I had to restrain myself before I rushed off; I owed it to Fayrel to check on him first. I also found that I needed to make sure Latham wasn’t going to become an orphan anytime soon as well. Color me concerned, I confess.

Remarkably I caught the healer as he was just on his way out the door. Even more impressive was the gesture he gave me in response when I reached for my pocket. It was the empty hand held forward that universally meant that additional money wasn’t necessary. Guess I didn’t need to tell him to keep the change then.

“That man certainly has a gift,” Fayrel announced as I entered the room. There was a noticeable return of spirit to his tone that prompted a smile from me. It was immediately greeted with a similar grin in reply. “He wouldn’t permit me to pay him either, not sure I could have anyway. I suppose I have you to think for that?”

I affirmed his assumption with a short nod and tried not to make any overly emphasized gesture out of it. Some men could have their pride damaged by an act of generosity, and by my accounting Fayrel had been through enough. I’d like to spare him some measure of his self-respect if I could.

“You weren’t in any condition to be asked to be patient, so I figured I would remove any potential issues that might have presented a source of hesitation,” I explained. “That way we could expedite you getting the emergency aid needed without having to worry over anything. If you’d prefer we can think of it as a loan, although I would like to think of it as me repaying a debt. I was just paid for a case that resulted in me being in part to blame for your daughter being placed in bindings.”

“If you were speaking in earnest earlier, then you are also answerable for her being shown mercy,” Fayrel challenged. “Or is that not correct?” The old man had me there, I had to admit. Thankfully, though, he didn’t seem to be getting too angry talking about it. Actually, he seemed quite calm and understanding. It was as bright a blessing as a moon at midnight, and I sighed in appreciation of it.

“Listen,” the word came out a little more awkwardly than I intended and I noticed how nervous I must sound. Clumsily I tried to keep the conversation moving. The longer I let the quiet grow, the harder it might be to say what had crossed my mind. And I preferred to take care of this now before I took my leave.

“There are things I need to follow up on and look into,” I told them. “The trail is already growing cold as we speak but there is one last subject I would see to before I go. Please, take no offense; it would be my honor to leave you with some support to ease your shoulders of burden for awhile. If you’ll permit me to, I’d like to offer you a Silver Sigil to make use of as you see fit. It is not my intention to insult you in any way, but I can’t imagine it is going to be easy for you to care for the two of you without Lillian’s earnings. At least that may provide you some time until you can manage on your own…”

The air felt horribly heavy as Fayrel raised a hand to implore me to give him a moment. His movements held no hurry to them; his body simply had a slow tranquil quality that could snare your attention easier than anything rushed of forceful. Yet the gesture refused to yield to anything other then a response of respect. And I politely provided it by falling silent in short order.

A single sigh combined with closed eyes highlighted the tiniest trail of a tear along his cheek. I didn’t dare interrupt, waiting instead for him to break the silence. When he did it was with the kind of unguarded aspect men rarely display in public. And for some it is likewise seldom seen privately either.

“It isn’t something a man of my years cares to confess,” he spoke softly. “But you are not wrong in your assessment of matters; without the steady supply of coin she provided things would become impossible rather immediately. Once my strength returned to me I could still earn my keep by getting a hammer and saw to hand again. Although, I haven’t had to for a fair stretch since Lillian often took her mother’s counsel and pressured me to hang them up.

A man may have his pride, but the true judge of his character is in whether or not he can swallow it when it may be prudent to do so.” Fayrel opened his eyes once more and I found myself looking into orbs of deepest brown. They didn’t hold within them any hint of weakness. The strength of an ageless old oak was written there as bold as could be in sharp contrast.

“For all that you have done and offer to do – I extend to you the gratitude of an old man,” he declared with dignity. “But mark my words and here them well, son; in any capacity I have available to me, I will repay your kindness shown here today.”

“Of that, I have little doubt,” I replied. “However I would prefer to part as friends, if we may. That would be payment enough to appease me. You, Master Fayrel, are a remarkable individual. You’re the kind of man that other’s are proud to be able to proclaim that they know well and speak of fondly. And any man who can bring an arm up in defense of a woman or child I would like to call friend.”

“Then farewell, my friend,” he said finally. He looked on with gentle warmth as I turned to slip back out the doorway before wishing me one last spar of support.  “May you find what you need and accomplish what you aim to. If you survive to see peaceful days again soon, pay me and the boy a visit if you’re able. We would welcome the company of a good friend from time to time.”

You have my word on that,” I agreed happily. Then I departed, with pockets a little lighter and feeling a piece more merry. It was time to see me a gremlin again. How often can people say they visited a gremlin twice in one day? And were happy to do so? Maybe I am just a little odd like that, but I was smiling all the same.