“Moralie!” Simon knelt down and held Moralie in his arms. He felt her skin and found it to be quite hot. “She’s got a fever. We need to get her to a hospital quick.”
Rafe had half a mind to slit the witch’s throat, but she knew that she couldn’t get any information out of her that way. She looked at the other patrons in the shop and saw that they were frightened; some of them angry that their favorite hostess was being accosted, but were too afraid to get involved. It occurred to Rafe that maybe Mai was being possessed by dark magic spell. She looked at the crow on Mai’s shoulder and saw that it was staring at her with intense hatred. It had to be how the witch was controlling this poor girl.
“Rafe,” Simon said urgently. Moralie was growing weaker by the second.
Knowing she had to make a decision, Rafe took her blade away from Mai’s neck. Mai gave her a wicked grin. “You will tell us what you’ve done and you will do it now.”
“You are in no place to make demands,” Mai said. “The only way to save your friend is to allow me to leave with the wizard. Let me take him and I will give you the cure.”
Rafe looked at Zeke and saw that he stood there looking like a depressed rag doll. He was in no condition to fend for himself. He was under the witch’s spell as long as he was in her presence. There was no way that she could afford to lose Zeke now. He was the only wizard that she was able to find. Something happened to the rest of the wizards. It was a very deliberate plot to hinder her quest to find the Alta Stone.
“No deal,” Rafe said. She reached out and shook Mai violently. “I don’t have time to play this game. Tell me what I need to save Moralie or I will find ways to make you talk!”
“This girl is merely a vessel,” Mai said. “Would you risk hurting her to get to me?”
Rafe’s thoughts were confirmed. She regretted drawing the innocent girl’s blood.
“You’re running out of time, girl.” The witch let a laugh escape her lips. The crow blinked at Rafe and let out a hiss.
Rafe decided that it was time to end this. She reached out and grabbed the crow and snapped its neck. The crow let out a whisper, “Death will befall you all,” before it died in her hands. Mai shivered and fell to the floor. A white fog spilled out of her mouth and floated into the air, dissolving as it rose. The dark witch was gone. She wasn’t able to get the information she needed to save Moralie, but she knew that she wasn’t going to get it from the witch.
She looked over to Zeke and saw that he had fallen to his knees. He was holding and shaking his head. She knew that the spell on him was wearing off. “Zeke, are you alright?” He looked up at her and nodded his head. “Good, I need your help.”
Simon picked up Moralie and carried her in his arms. Her skin was pale white which gave the illusion that she was cold, but Simon knew otherwise.
“What happened?” Zeke asked. He walked over to them and touched Moralie’s arm. He felt how hot she was. “Ouch!”
Rafe turned to the other patrons and asked, “Where is the hospital from here?” An old man stood up and gave her directions. She thanked him and asked someone to look after Mai. She led her team out of the shop towards the hospital.
Lyssa, the dark witch recoiled from the crystal ball as it emitted a bright pulse of purple light. This signaled that her connection with the young shop girl had been severed. She cursed that interloper that killed her master’s precious bird. It had been acting as a conduit for her power; now it was dead. She was going to have to try something else to reach the young wizard. She was going to have to report her failure to her master. He did not like to be disappointed. Who did? She tried to come up with a positive spin for the situation. One of the Delsani party was close to death and wasn’t expected to make a recovery. The spell she used had a ninety-five percent death rate.
She picked up the crystal ball from the pedestal and brought it down to a nearby table. She set it in a small nest made of scarves. She chanted a spell that would connect her to her master. An image of a field appeared. Her master’s face, shrouded in a black cloak, appeared in the crystal ball. He looked content. He had crumbs lining his lips. It appeared that she had caught him in the middle of lunch.
“Your Darkness, I have a report,” Lyssa said.
“Well, report,” said the dark man.
“The wizard still lives. I’m sorry, master.” She bowed her head and begged for forgiveness. “Though one of the party is fatally ill. I wasn’t expecting her to eat what was meant for the wizard.”
“Yes, I can see how that would be hard to predict,” the Dark One said. “We must take care not to make such mistakes again.” He paused to wipe the crumbs off of his face. He didn’t want to admit that he was a bit embarrassed that he was seen that way, but what was he to do? “Maybe a more direct approach is needed. Is the party still in town?”
“They are looking for a hospital as we speak.” She wondered what she could do to get another shot at the wizard. She could just possess another person, but they would be on guard for anyone carrying a crow. Maybe she would have to travel to Pimeria herself to deal with the wizard.
“I’m thinking that you might need to travel to Pimeria and take care of the wizard yourself,” the Dark One said.
“Of course, master.”
“And while you’re there, make sure that you try the bread from the shop named Paco’s; it’s to die for.” A sweet smile appeared on his lips before the image disappeared from view.
That call could have gone worse, Lyssa thought. He didn’t appear to be upset with her at all. And that smile? She couldn’t recall a moment when she had ever seen him smile. He must have been in a really good mood. She was grateful. Now she had to make travel arrangements to get to Pimeria before the party left. She supposed that they wouldn’t be too quick to leave their dying friend. She was going to count on it.
Lyssa left the table and stared to look around her small hut in the woods for a buggy guide. It would tell her when the next buggy would arrive to take her to Pimeria and other places. It wasn’t very often that she left her hut. She was a bit anti-social and a recluse, but would occasionally leave to get essentials like ingredients for spells and groceries.
She found the guide and saw that she had fifteen minutes to get ready. She had to change out of her drab robes and into something more pleasing to the eye. She had a limited amount of outfits at her disposal. Since she didn’t go out that often, no one would know the last time she wore anything. She decided on a nice white and gold dress. It brought out the green in her eyes.
Once the dress was chosen, she had to worry about her make up. She was no longer the most beautiful woman she had been fifty years ago. She had to admit that she hadn’t aged too gracefully. Her face was wrinkled, her hair was shaggy and gray, her cheeks sunken in. She needed a lot of help than fifteen minutes could provide. She decided that she would just recite a spell that would allow her to look like she did when she was twenty-five.
When all of the preparations were done, she left the hut looking like a million gold coins. She waited patiently by the side of the road for the next public buggy to come. She just hoped the wizard was still in Pimeria when she got there.
The afternoon sun soon became the evening sun. Rafe and the others were able to find the hospital. It was small two story building with a limited staff of healers. They were able to get a room for Moralie to stay in. Rafe, Simon, and Zeke sat in the waiting area hoping for the best.
“I have never seen someone look so sick before,” Zeke said. “She almost looked like she was already dead.” Simon and Rafe nodded their heads in silence. Neither one of them had said a word since they got there. This was making Zeke feel uneasy. He hated long silences. He had tried several times to start a conversation and it just fell flat. He desperately wanted someone else to say something.
Zeke wanted to stay out of his head for a bit. He wasn’t coping with any of this right now. The more he thought about it, the more it creeped him out that someone was out to get him. What happened to Moralie was supposed to happen to him. If she hadn’t taken his bread bowl, it would have been him lying in the hospital instead of her. She had saved his life possibly at the expense of hers.
Why is someone after me, he thought. What made him so special? He was just a wizard’s apprentice. He did nothing to no one. He always minded his own business, kept his nose clean. Why was this happening to him?
The door to Moralie’s door opened and a man wearing a long white jacket stepped out. He was tall with long brown hair that ended with ringlets, a long beard that was braided. He was wearing thick black glasses. He didn’t look like the rest of the healers who were all clean shaven and older. This guy looked to be in his mid-forties and a bit of a rebel. He approached them and sighed. This did not look good.
“Well, my team and I have finished examining Ms. Grey and came to the conclusion that she has been in contact with a highly fatal curse,” the healer said.
“Curse?” Rafe asked. She clinched her fists. “Which one?”
“The Reaper’s Curse.” He let out a long sigh. “That one has a high kill rate and only the most skilled sorcerer could conjure it.”
“But it’s curable, right?” Simon asked desperately.
The healer’s face did not indicate good news. “Anything is possible, but this one is pretty hard to beat.” He saw their saddened faces and felt just as horrible about delivering this news. There wasn’t anything he could do to give them hope, which was something they really needed. “I’m sorry for your loss. Please feel free to stay as long as you like. If you need anything, just call one of the nurses.” He bowed to them and then walked away awkwardly. He always hated that part, but he couldn’t stand to see their faces anymore. Death is a nasty business.
Rafe led the others into Moralie’s room. She saw that Moralie was lying in a bed that looked more like a coffin than a bed. Moralie’s complexion looked worse than it did earlier that day. Her skin was so white it almost looked translucent. Her veins were visible and raised. Some nurses had left the room after straightening up the room. Rafe and Simon sat on either side of the bed and looked forlornly at their dying friend. Rafe took Moralie’s left hand and felt how warm it was. She held it gently and caressed it.
Zeke watched this and felt terrible. This is my fault, he thought. If only he had insisted on eating that bread bowl instead of her, she would be standing there, not him. He wished that he could trade her places. He had only known Moralie for this one day, but Rafe and Simon knew her for a long time, he gathered. Their suffering more than outweighed his. He wished that there was something that he could do, a spell that he could cast, or a potion he could make… That was when he got the idea to look in his master’s book.
He took his backpack off and pulled the big purple book out. He had remembered that Gresar had written several recipes for potions in the back of the book. It was possible that he would have something in there for the Reaper’s Curse. He frantically flipped through the pages as he searched for the right section.
Rafe and Simon looked over at Zeke and were curious as to what he was doing. They didn’t communicate their curiosity, they just watched. It wasn’t until Zeke shouted, “Ah-ha!” that they perked up and inquired what was going on.
Zeke found what he needed and grinned cheesily. “I know how we can save her!”