I told the others I’d seen Demetrius in the city, and that he was the person I was chasing. I told Sally what he looked like, and she told the guards to not let him leave. She also asked her contacts in the underground to keep an eye out for him at the unofficial entryways. Elenor and Ben tried to find him using their magic, but they gave up after sweeping the town twice. Jerome pulled out a strange box, cranked a dial, and pronounced that nobody in the city met the description I’d given him.
By early afternoon, I accepted that Demetrius had gotten away again. I cursed for five minutes straight, before calming down. It was a miracle that I ran into him again in the first place, and the plan to follow the Wonders was still feasible. I had to keep moving, and keep my ears to the ground.
At the same time, I was keeping an eye on Ben, still unsure if he was related to the Ben I’d met before. There was a nagging suspicion in the back of my head, perhaps unbridled paranoia, that kept urging me to investigate further, to get to the bottom of whatever was going on. But I didn’t want to do it in front of other people. I had to talk to him alone.
I also had to talk to Elenor about magic. Having gotten a taste of her magic, I couldn’t hold back much longer – I needed to know how to use it! I wouldn’t be able to find Demetrius without learning magic, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to defeat him and retrieve the House of Wisdom without it either.
Between the search for Ben, and the subsequent search for Demetrius, our original plans had been ruined. It would be very difficult to reach the rest-stop on the way to Chart before nightfall. On the other hand, our inability to leave Sett was becoming infuriating. Ironically, despite the scarred Ben’s intervention, it seemed like we would be staying in Sett longer than even we had originally anticipated.
Although to be fair, he had only wanted us out of Sett for one evening. That was something I still didn’t understand, because Sally asked around and found nothing out of the ordinary had happened save for the Raxxer attack that we had gotten caught up in anyways. Was that the thing he was running away from? Didn’t seem like it.
In fact, why hadn’t Sally noticed any similarities between this Ben and the scarred Ben? She was there, she saw both of them. He even knew her name! There were so many things that I couldn’t figure out, and I could only begin to make sense of them once we were out of the city, away from prying eyes and curious ears. But it seemed like we weren’t going to leave the city today either!
“We could travel through the night,” said Elenor.
“Monsters and bandits are more active at night, and the road isn’t very well lit so we could get lost,” said Sally.
“It’s fine, just keep following me,” said Elenor. Sally considered it with a hand on her chin.
“We can use one of my groundbreaking inventions too!” said Jerome.
“Let’s not,” said Sally.
“Don’t worry, this one is revolutionary. I should have it here somewhere,” said Jerome as he dug into his pockets. “There we go!” He pulled out a large metal coil. I instantly had my misgivings.
Sally stepped between Jerome and the rest of us with her pickaxe drawn. “Jerome, you have a bag of inventions that actually work, please stick to them, alright?”
“Alright,” said Jerome. “Just let me test this out.” There was a crackling sound as sparks danced around the coil, and lit up the rings in intermittent bursts of blue and yellow.
“What are you gonna call this one, old man?” said Ben, the only one who wasn’t on edge.
“The Sun Rod!” said Jerome. Sparks flew to the top of the coil, which began to glow blue, yellow, and red. A high-pitched hiss pierced the air, growing more furious by the second, like a kettle agonizing over tardy tea pouring.
“Jerome, that thing is going to blow!” Sally yelled.
“Nonsense,” said Jerome. He waved the coil haphazardly close to his face. “It’s harmless. Look!” He touched the tip of the coil.
Jerome recoiled. The coil hit the floor, and flashed before the hiss and the light both faded. I released the breath I didn’t know I was holding, and Elenor’s hand, which I also didn’t know I was holding. The ground around the coil shone brightly. We were in the Collar’s part of town, just outside the gates, and the passersby reacted with fright and curiosity.
But mostly fright.
“We better go,” said Sally. She put her pickaxe behind her back, and grabbed Ben’s hand.
Jerome scooped up his coil while nursing his finger, and Elenor and I followed.
“With some slight modifications, I can –”
“No, Jerome,” said Sally. “We leave tomorrow, early morning.”
“No,” said Elenor. “We leave right now.”
“You trust his Sun Rod?”
“No.” Elenor tapped her stick. “I trust my magic.”
“I think we should leave today, too,” I said. “Demetrius must have already left the city, which means he must be headed towards the next town.”
“I guess that is the point of this adventure,” said Sally. She sighed. “Fine, we’ll be counting on you to lead the way at night.” She faced Ben. “We’ll be counting on you too.”
He lowered his head. “I don’t wanna go.”
“Ben, don’t you dare start this again!” said Sally.
“Now Sally, don’t scold him like that. His hesitation is understandable,” said Jerome.
“But they’re the first clients we’ve had in months!”
I wonder why, I thought to myself.
“All the more reason to make sure Ben is on the same page.” Jerome looked Ben in the eye. “Ben, I know the past month has been hard on you, but we need to move on. Your master was like an elder brother to me. I had a rough childhood, and an even rougher adulthood, and it was Postick who gave me a new life, a new reason to live! His passing hurt me immensely, and I would do anything to bring him back. But you know what he was like. He wouldn’t want us moping around after he was gone, would he?”
Ben shook his head, his eyes still hidden from view.
“You remember what he liked to say whenever anyone worried about his health?” asked Jerome.
“The meaning of life is that it stops,” replied Ben.
“But it never stops because there is no meaning of life.”
“Exactly!” exclaimed Jerome.
I’d read the original saying before. It was a quote from a book by an author who loved turning his characters into bugs. It was a depressing quote, the kind one would expect from a modernist with too much culture on his hands.
I liked this version better.
“Okay…” said Ben. He still didn’t look up, but began walking down the street.