We spent the night behind the rock on the hill, rotating watches to avoid getting ambushed by the guards. I didn’t have any nightmares this time, which was a pleasant surprise.
“What’s this about me being Moxy’s apprentice?” I asked Elenor.
Everyone else had gone foraging for food while I stayed back to look after her. It was still early in the morning and the sun wasn’t out yet. I was rubbing Alver juice around her wound while Sally went to clean the cloth that we’d wrapped around it.
“We can hide your empty cheeks and neck from most people by wrapping you up, but Sally’s team would notice your lack of signs eventually, so I needed an explanation. The easiest one to give was that you were raised by Moxy like I was, and she didn’t make you burn the Book of Sett, or the Book of Bitany, or whichever book the Bitanists of Fore make the poor burn to get a free meal at their temples. I had to tell them you were a Humanist though, so keep that in mind,” said Elenor.
So that’s why I didn’t need to hide my face around them.
“Then why do I have to hide my face around other people? Can’t I just say I was raised by Moxy.”
“Because most people don’t know Moxy, or if they do, they don’t respect her. It may have worked in Sett, but not in Chart or any of the other cities we have to go to now.”
“What was so special about Sett?” I felt like I already knew the answer.
“Because it’s the only city controlled by the Side Party, who don’t think believing in the god One instead of the goddess Bit is grounds for execution.”
Of course. The party that just threw all of Chart into chaos is also the most respectful of religious minorities.
“Wait, then why are you hanging around uncovered? What if people find out you’re a Humanist?”
She smiled. “I’ll be fine. Most people who look at me don’t think I’m a heretic or whatever. They just think I can’t read because I’m blind.”
Sally appeared in the distance, holding a wet cloth.
“That’s not to say most people are mean,” Elenor continued. “I really wouldn’t be able to read if I hadn’t met Moxy. She had this special book that you didn’t need to see to read, and after I burned my first book, I could use magic to read the rest.”
“Your magic is pretty amazing,” I said.
“So is yours,” said Sally as she reached us on top of the hill. “Ben’s still gushing over it, despite the unpleasant side-effects.”
“I already apologized, alright?” I said.
“You didn’t need to. You can’t help a little personality warping with unburnt magic. However, yours is the worst case I’ve ever seen.” Sally smirked.
“That’s not my fault!”
“Hey, I never said it was. It isn’t a bad thing either, since it makes your magic more effective.”
“Does it really?” Sounded like bullshit to me.
“Depends on how you think unburnt magic works. Since unburnt magic can’t manifest outside your body, is a change of personality a sign of how strong your magic is, or does changing your personality make the internal manifestations of unburnt magic stronger? Personally, I think it doesn’t matter. Even if it doesn’t make your magic stronger, it does at least show how powerful it is.”
Unburnt magic doesn’t work outside my body – that was good to know. The Cannon helped me treat Elenor’s wounds, but it couldn’t heal her directly. Would burnt magic let me do that?
Judging by how Ben thought I’d burnt The Tempest after using it for so long, I guessed the way to burn a book was to let it flip all the way to the start. I considered burning The Cannon but I recalled the conversation I’d had with Ben last night. To get the benefits of burning The Cannon, I’d have to throw away the ability to treat wounds the way I’d treated Elenor’s.
I decided to wait. I still didn’t know enough about magic and didn’t want to mess anything up. For now, I’d make do with unburnt magic.
I also had to be careful with the third slot on my shelf. The books I had now didn’t improve my fighting abilities, so I needed one that did. I needed a book like the one Demetrius must have used to defeat me the day he stole the House of Wisdom.
Could I use The Cannon or The Tempest to fight? Maybe. I needed to practice using them, first.
“How are we planning to get to Devel, now that Ben and I can sort of walk on our own?” asked Elenor.
“As long as Val’s magic keeps you two in shape, we can afford to circle around the city. It should be safe to go onto the road after the first rest-stop but I don’t want to risk it. We should aim for the second rest-stop and try to stick to flat ground for as long as possible,” replied Sally.
“How will we find our way without the road?” I asked.
“Jerome’s great with directions. He’s got this weird invention, and one of those high-clearance maps from his militia days. I never get lost when I’m with him,” said Sally.
“He was in the militia?” asked Elenor. “I thought he just made weapons for them.”
“He started out in the Fighter’s Guild, if you can believe it. He was a genius with the spear, but when he joined the F3 militia, they made him guard the Fiddler’s Guild in Bass, and ever since then, he’s been making exploding torches and collapsing boxes.”
I stared at the black-haired blue-eyed woman sitting in front of me as she told us about her friend’s past. The burns – or signs, as Elenor and the others called them – on her cheeks were shaped like water droplets. Her red, leather shirt seemed strange and itchy, but it looked great with her black trousers.
She’d taken first shift last night saying she needed to sharpen the pickaxe peeking over her head, but she was probably just being responsible as always.
“How did the two of you meet?” I asked.
“We’re not together.”
“No, I didn’t mean –”
“I’m just messing with ya,” said Sally with a chuckle. “We met in Devel during a guild assignment. The client needed a fiddler and a fighter, and there were no teams with that composition in the city at the time. The assignment went well and the two of us got along, so we formalized the team when we got back. Team assignments pay way more than individual ones, so it was something we were both looking to do anyway.”
The guilds sounded like great places to find contacts in this world. I’d been interested in the guilds for a while and this was the perfect opportunity to get some info.
“Can anyone join a guild?” I asked.
“If you can pass the test, yes,” said Sally. “But they only hold their tests once a year.”
“When’s the next one?”
“For the F3 Guilds, it’s usually the thirty-first of December.”
“What’s the date today?”
“Yesterday was the twelfth, I think, so today should be the thirteenth.”
“Of which month?”
“Right, of course,” I said. “Sorry, I’m bad with time.”
Sally laughed. “It’s okay. We’ve got a saying back at the guild: time is fake. One of the smarter things us muscle-brains have come up with, that’s for sure.”
I smiled politely while considering the information she’d given me.
I had considered hiring some finders in Sett and Chart to keep a look out for Demetrius in those cities, but the money Moxy had given us wasn’t enough to cover it. If I could earn some quick inketts in Devel before we left, I could maybe hire one there, or at least put out a reward for information.
“Oh, but if you’re looking to join one, the Healer’s Guild should be holding its tests in a week or two. You can give it a go once we reach Bendeck,” said Sally.
That wouldn’t help me look for him on the way, but it would be useful after I contacted Henry, Moxy’s tip for finding the next Wonder. The thought reminded me of how much further I still had to go. We were still two cities away from the capital, and even that would only help me begin my search.
After Ben and Jerome returned, we ate the berries and fruits they had collected, and helped Elenor to her feet. She could walk at a leisurely pace with the help of her stick but she set the pace for the rest of us.
We left the hill and began making our way to Devel.