Where am I?
Yorrin pondered the question as he regained consciousness, but no answer was immediately forthcoming.
His head pounded. His eyes fluttered open, revealing a hazy world of blurred colors and shapes. Aromatic smoke filled his nose. As his senses returned, he realized that his body ached all over, not just his head.
The room slowly took shape as his vision cleared. He was sitting in a wooden chair. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sitting slumped in the chair, but it was long enough for his back to ache. His wrists and ankles hurt. He tried to wiggle his fingers, but his hands felt numb. He realized, through the fog that seemed to settle over his thoughts, that his hands were tied behind him. His ankles were tied to the legs of the chair.
“Awake already?” the voice was gravelly with age, tinged with a Ruskan accent. “Good.”
Yorrin blinked, and tilted his head towards the voice.
Stasik, his rapidly clearing mind placed the man’s name immediately. It helped make further connections, as well. Stasik’s Curiosities. I followed Borthul here, and he… blew magic dust in my face?
“You cast a spell on me,” Yorrin said. Or at least he tried to. His tongue felt thick in his mouth, and the words came out slurred.
“Not exactly,” Stasik said. He gave an indignant snort. “Is not Thaumaturgy. Not sorcery or witchcraft. A simple alchemical trick, only.”
“Alchemical?” Yorrin growled. How is that not sorcery? He blew some dust in my face and it did all this. Sure sounds like black magic to me.
“Nevermind, it is not important,” Stasik said. “What is important is this: You will answer my questions.”
“Will I?” Yorrin frowned, but internally he was smirking. If you want information out of someone, listening to what they ask you is nearly as good as getting them to answer the reverse. And it’s a hell of a lot easier.
“You will, or the consequences, they will not be pleasant,” Stasik said. “You ask me about Thaumati symbols.”
“I did,” Yorrin said.
His head was beginning to clear. They were still in the curio shop. The tools of Stasik’s sorcery lay around them everywhere. More importantly, Yorrin spotted Olivenco’s blade resting on a nearby table. Two of his daggers were there with it. He missed my boot dagger, old fool. Not that I can reach it.
“Why did you ask me this?”
“Figured you might know something about it. Curio shop and all. Judging from your reaction, seems like I was right.”
Yorrin wiggled his fingers behind his back. They tingled painfully. He groped at his belt. He kept a thin, sharp piece of iron—little more than a wire—hidden inside the belt leather. If he could just reach it…
“Of course I know of the Thaumati!” Stasik said. “What do you know of them, that is question.”
Yorrin tilted his head. “Not much. I look like I’d know anything about heathen black magic to you?”
“Possibly,” Stasik said. “Men, they are not always as they first appear.”
“If I knew, I wouldn’t have come looking for an expert,” Yorrin said. “I was hoping you could enlighten me.”
“I will not,” Stasik said.
Will not, he said. Not can not. Yorrin felt a fingertip hook over his belt, and he tugged, trying to get to the slender razor-edged tool. “Alright, well, I have no idea where that leaves us.”
Stasik leaned in, glaring. “Who sent you?” he growled, his voice full of gravel.
Yorrin felt the seam in his belt, where the blade was hidden. He clawed at it awkwardly, maintaining steady eye contact with Stasik’s glower. “Nobody,” he said.
“I do not believe you,” Stasik said. “The timing, it is—no. You lie. You followed Borthul here, da?”
“Borthul?” Yorrin asked, furrowing his brow. “What kinda name is that?”
He felt a stinging pain as he opened one of his fingertips. That was good. It meant he’d found the blade. Now I just need to get a grip on the damn thing. He probed around it, trying to find its corners.
Stasik turned around, grumbling. He approached one of the worktables, the one with a strange assortment of delicate glass vessels filled with all sorts of strange materials. Liquids, pastes, dusts, some even looked like stoppered vials of smoke. And he says he’s not a sorcerer?
Yorrin found some small purchase on the dull side of the blade and began the delicate process of extracting it. He could only hope Stasik would take his sweet time, whatever he was doing over there.
“You followed him here,” Stasik said without looking back. He rummaged through the table’s contents. “From where? Church site? You were watching, no?”
“No idea what you’re talking about,” Yorrin said. He was just barely getting the blade out of the belt when, to his chagrin, Stasik turned back around suddenly.
He was holding a small vial of yellowish liquid in one hand, and a slender iron needle in the other. The stopper of the vial looked to be some sort of porous material, and he slid the needle through it easily.
“You will speak soon enough,” Stasik said. “You were waiting for the new priestess. But you did not count on her to have so many allies. So now, what? You hope to use me against them? Against Borthul? You made a grave mistake, coming here. You will tell me what I want, about your masters. And if I am very satisfied, there is small chance you will still live when we are done.”
Wait a minute… “You’re confused,” Yorrin said. “I haven’t got any masters. In fact—”
“No more lies,” Stasik said. He drew the needle back out of the vial. Its tip glistened in the dim lamplight, and Yorrin felt a pit in his stomach.
No more fucking about, Yorrin thought to himself. “Wait!” he said. “Hold on.”
“No. First, you learn why I am not to be—”
“Stop, you god-damned wizard!” Yorrin said. “Yes, I followed Borthul here. I work with Alaina, idiot. She doesn’t completely trust him. Neither does Aleksandr—that’s the leader of those allies you mentioned. We thought—I came here to make sure Borthul wasn’t secretly in cahoots with the Thaumati.”
Stasik paused. He blinked, mouth hanging open. “What?”
“You heard me,” Yorrin said. “I came here to see if maybe you were part of this cult or whatever it is we’re looking for.”
Stasik’s slack jaw snapped shut, and he narrowed his eyes. “Lies,” he said.
Yorrin did his best to shrug despite his bonds. “No, they’re not. You could check it all out for yourself, if you like. Name’s Yorrin. I traveled up with Aleksandr and Alaina. And Bear, and Prudence, and Dylan. And the Taraam boys. And that Cassaline fop Giancarlo and his men. And Borthul the Great, as he insists we call him. Alaina said his real name’s Bartholomew.”
Stasik clenched his teeth. He carefully placed the vial and the needle down on the worktable. “Perhaps,” he said. Yorrin could tell he spoke grudgingly. “You tell the truth. Or it is a very elaborate lie. I am not sure.”
“You’re a friend of Borthul’s, and you’re not a Thaumati expert, then what are you, exactly?
“An old colleague of his,” Stasik said. “He came to me to find out if I had heard of this Thaumati cult he is looking for.”
“And? Have you?”
“I am not sure I should tell you,” Stasik said, frowning.
“You can always kill me after, if it makes you feel better,” Yorrin offered.
“Da,” Stasik said. He nodded absently, as if considering the option’s merits.
Yorrin tried to maneuver the the slender blade between the rope binding his wrists. With any luck this old codger will realize this is all a misunderstanding, but if he doesn’t… Yorrin did not intend to die quietly, without fighting to his last breath.
“I have suspected that there is a Thaumati cult operating within Yerevan,” Stasik said. “For some time. I did not see his corpse, but I heard the stories of what was done to the old priest. The thought that it might be Thaumati occurred to me.”
“But you haven’t seen them personally,” Yorrin said. Damn.
“No,” Stasik said. He drew his lips in a pensive line and exhaled through his nose.
“So you were no help at all to Borthul. Or me. Waste of time.”
“I helped Borthul,” Stasik said, indignant. “I provided to him some tools, that he might better find this cult. I am not so sure I should be helping you, however.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Yorrin said. “You want to go check out my story with Borthul, feel free. I’ve got nothing to hide… and it’s not like I’m going anywhere.”
Stasik seemed to seriously consider the suggestion. After a long moment of silence, he shook his head. “With the tools I gave him, Borthul will be gone for some time. I am thinking…” Stasik frowned. “Your story, it is true. A lie would be cleaner, more compelling. You would get something out of me.”
“Yeah,” Yorrin said. “To be honest, I’m thinking the same about you. Looks like we’re both on the same side, here. And neither of us know much of use.”
Stasik shrugged. “Da,” he said. “Perhaps is so.”
“You gonna let me out, then?” Yorrin tucked the blade into his palm.
Stasik nodded. He shuffled around Yorrin and untied the rope. Yorrin reached down and untied his left ankle. Stasik took a step back, one hand going beneath his coat, as if grabbing a hidden weapon.
He probably has some kind of magic dust in there. Yorrin finished untying his ankles, and he lurched up out of the chair. His feet tingled as blood flowed back into them. He discreetly tucked the blade into his belt and then rubbed his wrists to get feeling back into them as well.
“That could’ve gone better,” Yorrin said.
“Da,” Stasik agreed. “You are annoying little man.”
Yorrin didn’t bother sniping back at the heathen wizard. He crossed the room and picked up Olivenco’s sword—my sword—off the table. He sheathed it and collected his daggers. He headed for the door.
“You have nothing to say?” Stasik growled.
Yorrin glanced back at him. “Not really,” he said. “You already told me everything you know. And if we need anything from you, I know where to find you.”
Stasik glowered at him, and Yorrin walked out of the curio shop without another backward glance.