Zeke and Simon reached Room 215 and set their belongings down on their respective beds. Zeke chose the one next to the window so that he could gaze at the town below. There were people lighting the lanterns on the street, illuminating the night. Zeke was in awe of the simple town life. He spent most of his time inside the shop in Valora. Very rarely did he step outside to engage in the village life. This quest was a big deal for him.
Simon took his cape off and breathed a sigh of relief. He didn’t realize how heavy it was. He wondered if this was the equivalent of a woman taking off her bra. He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “Zeke, what do you want to do tonight?”
“I’m still really sore from that fight this morning,” Zeke said, taking stock of his body. “I think I’ll stay in and order room service.” He jumped on the bed and laid down. His muscles appreciated this choice.
“Oh come on, that’s boring!” Simon said. “We should go out, get something to eat, and then check out the town.” He walked over to Zeke’s bed and stared down at him. “Please?”
“No, I’m tired and sore and…”
“And a wuss,” Simon added.
Zeke sat up in anger. “I am not a wuss! I’m just tired…”
“And a wuss.” Simon poked at Zeke’s tired and achy left arm. Zeke insisted that he wasn’t a wuss. “Prove it. Come out with me.”
“I know that you’re trying to peer pressure me into going out because you have low self-esteem and are too afraid to go out and do things on your own.” Zeke gave Simon a mischievous grin. If Simon was going to play this game, Zeke was going to make sure that he regretted it. “But baby birds gotta fly away from the nest sometime. Mommy isn’t going to be around forever.” Zeke was delighted to see that this had irritated Simon.
“I have great self esteem!” Simon said. He flexed his muscles. “And who needs self-esteem when you’ve got arms like these?”
“Then go out by yourself and have a great time!” Zeke laid back down and placed his hands behind his head.
Zeke and Simon stared at each other awkwardly for a few minutes. They were having a test of wills. Zeke was sure that he was winning until Simon started to smile his toothy smile. This disarmed Zeke and made him doubt his resolve. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue looking at him when he was trying to smile. Why was he so bad at it? Zeke rolled his eyes and let out a frustrated sigh.
“Fine, I’ll go out with you.”
Simon perked up and yanked Zeke off the bed. “I knew you would! Let’s get some grub and then we could go to that bordello!”
“I don’t think I want to do that,” Zeke said. He didn’t like the idea of being around that many women who only wanted to have their way with him. He didn’t have any experience with women other than letting them think that they are right all the time. Gresar kept him busy that he didn’t have room for romancing women. He wasn’t even sure if he liked women.
“Now who’s the scaredy cat?” Simon said. “Oh that’s right, you’re a virgin! Well after tonight… oh ho ho!” He clapped his hands and laughed.
“Ugh.” Zeke suddenly felt a pit in his stomach as he thought that the night could only get worse from here.
Zeke and Simon found a nice noodle shop and ate their fill. They hadn’t eaten anything since Pimeria and brought their appetites. When they finished their third bowl of noodles, they decided that they had enough. The waitress tried to entice them with dessert, but they declined. They didn’t want to think about food again for the next two days. The waitress left to tally up their bill.
“So, are you ready to party?” Simon asked with crooked smile on his lips.
“I’m ready to go back to the inn and rest.” Zeke patted his full belly and leaned back in his chair. He needed to stretch and let the food settle in his stomach. “After all that fighting business earlier today, I’m beat.” He looked at Simon and saw that he wasn’t liking that answer. “What?”
“I’m still thinking about getting you laid,” Simon said.
“Well, stop it!” Zeke leaned forward and whispered. “It’s creepy.”
Simon laughed while Zeke blushed. “Don’t feel bad. This is supposed to be a boys’ night out. We go to the bordello, meet some ladies, have a little fun… eh?”
The idea repulsed Zeke. “You can do that if you want, but I’m not coming.”
“You aren’t now, but if you’re lucky, you will be later!” Simon laughed at his little joke. “Come on, kid!”
“I don’t see why my getting laid is so important to you.”
“It would give me an excuse to play around, too,” Simon admitted. He sighed loudly. “But I understand if you don’t want to go. We’ll just do something else.” He was looking forward to meeting some women, but he supposed that Zeke just wasn’t ready for that kind of action.
After the waitress brought them their bill, Zeke and Simon paid it and left the shop. Simon didn’t want to go back to the inn right away. He wanted to have some fun with Zeke, but was unsure of the right way to bond with him. He tried to remember what the innkeeper had said was here in town. Didn’t she say that there was a bathhouse around here somewhere?
“What would you say to a nice dip in a pool?”
Zeke glanced at Simon and wondered what he was up to. Sure, a dip in the pool sounded nice, but he was sure that Simon was going to suggest that there was a pool at the bordello where they would be surrounded by beautiful women. That was not the kind of action he was looking for.
“What kind of pool?” Zeke asked, curious.
“There’s a bathhouse around here somewhere. I think we should check it out. Are you up for it?” Simon looked at Zeke, asking him to trust him. The young wizard scanned his face for any sign of treachery and found none. Zeke nodded his head. “Outstanding. We’re going to have a great time!”
Simon and Zeke headed off towards the center of the town. They asked a local where the bathhouse was located. Once they received the directions, they made a beeline to their destination.
They arrived at a large black stone building that stuck out amongst the surrounding beige buildings and huts. It looked like that it was hand-hewn from the stone that lay just beneath the sandy ground. It appeared to be old and weathered from the outside; they could only imagine what the inside looked like.
They reached the front glass door and cautiously pushed it to be allowed in. The inside didn’t match the outside at all. The black stone walls were sleek and polished. The floor matched the walls and had a thin red carpet trail that led to the front desk. The air was slightly humid and warm. It had to be from the hot springs.
A black woman sitting at the front desk stood up and greeted them. She beckoned to them and smiled. “Don’t be shy. Come on in!” Simon and Zeke sped walked to the front desk and bowed to her. She was wearing a black and white uniform along with a name tag that read ‘Ingrid’. “Welcome to Whitechapel Hot Springs! How are you gentlemen this evening?”
“Tired,” Simon and Zeke said in unison.
Ingrid offered them a grand smile. “You’re going to be so relaxed in a moment. Now, we are a full service bathhouse where you can receive a massage, hot stone treatment, manicure, pedicure, acupunture…” She read the looks on their faces to see if they might perk up at any of the things she was mentioning. They did not perk up. She just offered another award winning smile. “But it looks like you’re here for the hot springs.” Their faces lit up at the mention of the springs. It’s always the springs with the tourists. “The price for ninety minutes is going to be thirty pankos.” She watched as Simon and Zeke opened their pouches and took out their gold and silver pieces and counted out the amount requested. She collected the money and deposited it in a steel box. “Thank you. Here are your towels. Follow this hallway back and the men’s spa in on the right. Don’t even think about sneaking over to the women’s spa.” She frowned as she said this. “We’ll be watching.” Her face turned pleasant again. “Enjoy and thank you for choosing Whitechapel Hot Springs!”
Simon and Zeke bowed again and followed Ingrid’s directions to the men’s spa. There was a room where people could leave their belongings in closets. Simon picked the third closet in the third row. He was happy that he found it empty. He began to undress and place his clothes inside it.
Zeke undressed nearby. He was so happy to be out of his dingy clothes. He made a mental note to find better clothes in the morning; he wanted to look like a wizard, not like a shabby stable boy, which his current outfit denoted.
Zeke undressed down to his underwear and began to walk towards the pool. Simon just happened to be looking at him and grabbed him by the arm.
“What?” Zeke asked. Simon pointed to a sign. It listed the rules of the pool area, mostly no running, no diving, and the last bit said no underwear allowed. He did a double take at this. “No underwear? But…”
“Rules is rules!” Simon said as he stripped out of his underwear. He closed his closet and stretched. “Man, it’s good to be free!”
Zeke blushed as he begrudgingly took his underwear off. He covered himself with his hands as he followed Simon to the pool. Simon commented that Zeke’s modesty was unfounded because he had been naked when they met. Zeke had forgotten about that. He still felt better hiding himself.
As they reached the pool, they noticed that they had the place to themselves. Zeke relaxed a bit knowing that he wasn’t going to have to share with other naked men.
The pool was well lit with glowing stones at the bottom. The steam rose from the water and created a fine mist above the pool. The water was the perfect temperature, not too hot, just right.
Simon and Zeke found it easy to slip right in. Their muscles began to relax the instant they hit the water. They let out collective sighs of relief as they swam. They floated on the surface and let the worries of the past two days slip away. This was bliss. Zeke didn’t want to leave this place.
Simon and Zeke sat in the pool in silence for a moment. Zeke’s thoughts wandered to what the quest was actually about. Why were they looking for the Alta Stone? What did it do? Why did the Dark One want it? Why did Rafe want it? Why do they need him? He wanted to ask Rafe these questions, but she was so enigmatic; she kept things close to her chest. He surmised that she would not give that information freely. Zeke looked at Simon and wondered if he would tell him things he needed to know.
Simon caught Zeke looking at him and raised an eyebrow. “Is there something on my face?”
“No…” Zeke, suddenly self-conscious, looked away. “I have some questions I’d like to ask you.”
“I have some answers I’d like to give you.” Simon chuckled as he sent some warm water Zeke’s way.
“Why are we looking for the Alta Stone?”
Simon sat up and stared at Zeke. He looked like he had been taken by surprise. Zeke could see that Simon was carefully constructing his answer.
“We’ve been dispatched by the Oracle of Vernai to seek it out. She said that darkness is coming to the world and if we don’t retrieve the Alta Stone, all will be lost.” Simon’s look was stark, like he was upset that Zeke had asked him about the quest.
Zeke wanted more information, but he was hesitant to ask. He gulped as he realized how scary Simon was being at this minute. Should he push it?
“What does the stone do?”
“I’m not exactly sure.” Simon’s eyes shifted forth and back from Zeke and the door to the changing room. “The Oracle made it seem like it was highly dangerous and to be handled with care.” He knew what question was coming up next and he dreaded it.
“Alright, that doesn’t tell me much, but I suppose it will do for now,” Zeke said. He noticed how uncomfortable Simon was getting. He had one more question and he needed to ask it.
“Why did Rafe push so hard for me to join the quest? It was apparent that you needed a wizard and I suppose any one would do.” He waited for Simon’s response. Another question came to mind. “What are you expecting me to do?”
Simon burped and patted his stomach. Zeke’s last question was the one that he was dreading. He tried not to let his awkwardness show, but he supposed by the look on Zeke’s face that he was failing. This was the question that Rafe did not want him to answer. He couldn’t very well tell him that he didn’t know, but he couldn’t tell him the truth either. He had to find a way to stall him. Fortunately, the answer presented itself when three men walked into the room. Thank the gods!
“I don’t think we should talk about it here,” Simon whispered.
Zeke sighed and cursed at the old men in his mind. He wondered if Simon actually planned to answer his question in the first place. He would just have to ask him again later. Or maybe ask Moralie. The problem with that was that Moralie seemed to be quite close to Rafe. He might have an even harder time getting information from her.
The three old men made it to the pool and stepped in cautiously. They looked at Simon and Zeke and smiled. “Nice night for a bath, right?” one of them asked. Simon and Zeke simply nodded. “Yes, a very nice night.” When all three of them were in, they all sighed in unison. They walked to different corners of the pool and sat down.
At first Zeke didn’t think anything about this. The men were having a spirited conversation about how nice the night was and what their wives were doing tonight. Zeke thought that it was highly agreeable for them to be talking about their lives in the town. But then the conversation stopped suddenly and a feeling that they were no longer safe set in. He glanced at Simon and saw that he was feeling the same way.
Simon felt that something about these men wasn’t quite right. He signaled to Zeke that it was time to leave. He stood up and stretched. “Well, gentlemen, it’s been great and all, but it’s time for us to get to bed. Zeke?”
“Coming!” Zeke stood up and proceeded to walk to the steps. The three men stood up and gave them an icy glare. “You guys have a nice night.”
The three men closed in on them, blocking the exit to the pool. Simon and Zeke’s thoughts were confirmed that they were no longer safe.
A mysterious fog rolled in and covered them. Zeke and Simon knew that this was no ordinary fog; it was charged with dark magical energy. As the fog covered the three men, their faces began to contort and twist while they approached. The two adventurers braced themselves for an attack. Zeke didn’t like the idea of fighting old men, but he wasn’t above it.