The hut was a dark and creepy place. Whoever had occupied it in time immemorial would be surely dead by now, judging by spider webs here and there, by an occasional stain of blood, blackened by age, and like niceties; or else undead, maybe, but, come to think of it, that thought brought little relief. I knew that Olde Kiegaald was lurking somewhere in the woods, and my only hope was that his present errand, be that what it may, was sufficiently elaborate to keep him from sniffing me up.
I have asked myself a number of times now, and to no availwhy at all did I have to come here? Rhetorical as the question is, the answer was simple. Greed, the impetus behind the men's worst blunders, was the cause here, too. The reward for finding the Staff of Jarzzox was six hundred goldredscertainly not an amount one could go about without noticing. Six hundred goldreds could provide you a nice living in the City.
It was the quest for the Staff of Jarzzox that brought me here, then. An old insane witch told me that this half-burned shack in the middle of nowhere was the right place to look. Now, you might ask, why did I believe her? Because it was not the shack itself I was looking for, it was the old forsaken dwelling of Jarzzox. I knew it was somewhere in the vicinity, but to say with a greater degree of certainty was quite a challenge. Now the old woman supplied me with a map; consequently, I elected to waste no time and to start right at the dawn of the next day. So I did, and it was with little adventure that I wrestled my way to the hut. A couple of wildebeests tried to bar me from pursuing my journey, but the Kinde Moone spell never quite failed in being persuasive, I daresay.
Having collected the scarce bits and pieces of knowledge that were available, I arrived at the conclusion that Jarzzox must have been dispatched by one of his amiable allies during the Njiji war. Or else he fled, and God knows where. At any rate, if his Staff was hidden somewhere at all, his abode was certainly the prime suspect. From the physical dimensions of the place, I inferred that it was not large, so the search should not take me long.
And then I heard a noise... the noise, rather. I hurriedly concealed myself in an enormous chest, which stood near the doorright in time, because in an instant two visitors stormed in.
I said visitors, did I not? Well, it is a most appropriate word to use if you are reclining comfortably in a dead man's chest in a dead man's shack; a very warm and welcoming word at that.
While I lay crooked in the trunk, a thought suddenly crossed my mind that I could try and derive profit from my temporary inconvenience by eavesdropping on my late night guests. So I did, lifting the lid slightly and enjoying some breeze. And here's what I heard:
"Say, Geemeny, what was the name of that bloody bounty hunter?" says one of them, his voice low and devoid of emotion.
"Gerard, I trust," says the other one, likely the helper or the page.
"Say we stay here and split his throat open when he comes?" says the first one, his whisper now barely audible; his proposition I don't like intensely, since it is me who's Gerard. It doesn't seem as though he really needs the approval: he clearly sets the rules here.
"If such is your command, Sire," says the thinner voice.
And so it ended. The two just dropped the conversation and sat there breathing quietly. The breathing was so genuinely unnerving that all my sinews got knotted. Clearly there was no way I could escape without these assassins seeing me, and I was not quite in the mood to push my much worn luck any further. So I waited, and thought, and at last I devised a plan which, as I hoped then, at least wasn't unequivocally suicidal.
What was that plan, you might well enquire? What sort of weaselry can possibly keep one alive and sound in a situation as inviting as this?
That you should be appalled by so simple an affair stems, no doubt, from the mere lack of knowledge about the trivia of the City. The page called his master "Sire"this is a form of address only the Servata may employ, and the сourtiers. Clearly, the courtiers had no business here whatsoever at this time of day or at any time of day for that matter; so it followed that the two belonged to the Servata, brute Magi guards of the City. The chief here was undoubtedly the calm one: he, I deduced, was the Demolitarion. The other one, it followed, was the Securitus. Hence I conceived that if I disguised myself as the Master Coordinator, things would go smoothly; it was imperative, however, that the two charming men saw none of my face.
Having thought the routine over, I rose from the chest and said:
"All things shall go into one, and one shall be henceforth split into all. Have you any updates, fellow Servata?" The couple seemed taken aback at first. However, they quickly summoned their courage and replied,
"No; none that you should like to listen to, Master Coordinator."
"Well," says I, "attend to your duties then, and I will attend to mine. Should you wonder what brought me here at this hour, know that it is not the wretched who ask questions, but the forceful".
And so I quit. A moment's delay would in all probability have cost me my life; but that trifling advantage I gave them not.
Assuming the air of Master Coordinator, I walked out of the hut. But the flight, however cunning and decent, was not my idea of the day's worth. The two imbeciles would probably sit in the house for as long as they could without falling asleep; and then, they would almost certainly fall asleep: Keeping conversation was clearly out of question, and what other entertainment could one possibly think of in complete darkness? Quiet breathing was in itself rather exciting an activity, but scarcely enough so to amuse them all night. The Servata were very powerful, but they weren't at all clever. On the other hand, they could also try and hunt me down; and I was not quite in the physical shape for steeplechase. Thus I imitated a sufficiently loud departure and then sneaked back to the shack. In the past, someone helpfully smashed the only mica window here, and so having squatted down I safely resumed my prying. That's what I was able to overhear:
Who the damnedest damn was that? said the Demolitarion. He just sat in the chest while we had our little chat here! Like some bloody Coordinator!
Well maybe he was a Coordinator, Sire, said the Securitus, his voice trembling. After all, his manner of speech... and you know, the way he addressed us, Sire. And that word, "wretched". All quite suggestive.
Listen, you slug, barked (some emotion finally!) the chief, you don't really suppose I can't figure whether the silhouette belongs to an MC or some freak?
Why did you not stop him then, Sire? asked the Securitus, somewhat tentatively. i>'Cause I wish to have my ass in one piece and not blown into smithereens because I misunderstood something, replied the Demolitarion. Quickly now, get up, we have to fetch the scoundrel!
Probably I underestimated the couple after all. I wondered what made the elder one think I was not an authentic Master, but I had no time for inferences. If I didn't hide myself swiftly, mutilation was the brightest perspective I could expect.
... If I didn't hide myself swiftly, mutilation was the brightest perspective I could expect.
But of course, of all the most entangled corners of this wretched forest, Jarzzox had to build his hut here—on by far the cleanest and most transparent meadow of all, where not a heap of leaves was to be found, nor a bird's nest. Clearly, the only thing I could do was climb a tree (provided there was one nearby), preferably the bushiest of all. That I found in an instant and started climbing at once; I rose, finally, to the height where going one more bough upwards would mean challenging squirrels in their tree-climbing skills, and quite possibly falling back to the ground, too. Therefore, hoping I had concealed myself sufficiently well, I decided to watch the shack in the small spyglass I always had on me.
What I observed was undoubtedly the most curious and formidable sight in my whole life. The couple, now having abandoned the house, were undergoing wildest, most grotesque transformationswhat was known as the Assault Shape Morph for the Demolitarion and the Pursuer Shape Morph for the Securitus. The Securitus' eyes, now doubled in size, emitted intense golden glow as forceful as ten lanterns each; his bosom, too, revealed a large golden eye which was revolving randomly in its orbit, illuminating the sceneand the arms, it appeared, were somehow gone. The Demolitarion, in his Assault shape, attached himself (if indeed he is a good word to employ) to the back of Securitus; his arms became large skinny wings, his legs drifting apart and to the back, thus rendering the symbiont more like a centaur in appearance. His head split in two smaller heads, each protruding to the side of Securitus' head and disgorging powerful bursts of flame. In a nutshell, it was quite an ugly sight, and a frightening one at that.
Fortunately for me, the creature decided to explore a direction rather different from the one where I was in hiding, which enabled me to get down after some time, and to get back into the shack. On my way back, though, I quite loudly stumbled into a stone and fell, and knew instantly that the monster was running back to the house. So I rose and threw myself into the dreadful place once again, now frantically looking for the Staff without much hope for finding it, however. I was wrong. After two minutes' worth of search, I found the Staff of Jarzzox under one of the benches. I grasped it and felt the smooth murky power flowing into my veins; and I knew at once that the Servata were now chasing their complete and unequivocal ruin.
I quit the house, and faced the monster straight away. Before the Assault Shape could attack me, I held the Staff out and without really thinking what I was doing produced the mightiest Fire Wave spell ever. The couple fell apart, and I saw now that the horrid entity was but two miserable people, burnt to the bone; I had no pity left for them, though, and I stroke again, this time with the Violent Blow. Whatever was left of the Servata became now tiny bloody bony bits and pieces here and there; everything around me was shattered, broken and thrown apart. The meadow was awash with blood and other liquids, which I bother not to name.
And then, something alien erupted in me, and I grew more fond of the Staff than of my entire being; and I realized clearly that I was not Gerard any longera feeling which mightily amused me...
And I am telling you, folks, this weird man comes in, and says, "one beer". And I says, 'tis one rainy daywhaddaya say? And you know, I hear not a word from him, you believe that? What kind of an odd fellow that, no words and all. Well, I advances him the tankard with the beer and says, what's your name, Gerard, like on that backpack you have? And then there's this start, you know, like I told him that he was standing on his head and all. Quite a start, I tell youhim jumping up and yelling, and all that. That he's not to be called by that stupid name ever again, and things like that. And then, you know what? The whole place goes ablaze at once! My good old place, France's bar, you know? Place where people would come and chat and laugh and stuff. All burnt down, I tell you. By some lunatic. See, the grey hairs? 'Tis not 'cause I'm old, I tell you. That's thanks to that daft idiot. Jarzzox. Jarzzox. Burn in hell.