Cold water splashed over me. Jerome put the blue box back into his pocket as I spit out water and shivered. I’d agreed to let him throw water at me to get rid of the mud clinging to my clothes, but he didn’t warn me it would be so cold.
Water stood on the ground in pools and puddles. It had stopped raining but the sky was still overcast. Thunder rumbled in the distance. The storm hadn’t died, just moved.
Elenor dug through the mud, looking for something. Ben shook his hair and sprayed water all around.
“We need to leave before Inline comes to investigate,” said Sally, one hand on the bandages on her arm.
“Devel’s still a day away and all of us are wounded,” said Jerome. “They’ll be searching for us as soon as we reach the city.”
“It should take them a while to realize what happened, shouldn’t it?” I asked.
“No, every member of Inline burns a copy of the Book of Inline, which lets their superiors know where they died and how,” said Sally.
That was an incredibly specific detail, I remarked to myself.
“Would they know we were here, though?” I asked. “In the end, it was Skinner who killed her.”
“They must have only seen Skinner’s face, but they probably knew there were more people here,” said Sally. “Let’s have a look at her.”
We turned to the black-haired woman’s corpse. Her robes were still intact, albeit a little muddy. Skinner had already taken all the gold in her pockets, although I questioned why she had gold coins in the first place.
Weren’t inketts the currency of Fore?
“It’s because Inline works with forces from across Illustair. Gold works in Clef and Epil too, although the exchange rates are terrible and only the wealthiest trade in it,” answered Sally.
“She seems familiar, doesn’t she?” said Jerome.
“Yeah,” said Sally, crouching by the corpse’s face. “Kara Tanner. She ran the May Cray Inn, it’s where I was planning to have us stay, in Devel. Her husband should still be there but it’s probably best to avoid the place for now.”
“All these years Bob thought she was cheating on him,” said Jerome, shaking his head.
“In a way, she was.” Sally stood up. “No books, she must have burned all of them.”
“What about Skinner?” asked Jerome.
I was closest to his remains, so I checked. His body was so charred, I barely recognized him as the murderous psychopath who’d tried to suck the soul out of me. He had some inketts and gold coins in his pocket, as well as some strange smelling cigars and a lighter.
Around his neck hung a necklace with a shiny black orb on it, and I had a hunch why he hadn’t crushed this one. I buried it in the ground.
“Check under him,” said Sally.
I turned him over with my feet. A small leather-bound book peeked from the mud. I picked it up and wiped the mud from the cover.
“What does it say?” asked Sally.
“The title’s too faded, I can’t make out all of it,” I said, squinting my eyes. The lack of light didn’t help. “The author’s first name is Max, and the title says something about ethics and capitalism.”
“Explains his obsession with money,” said Sally.
“What do you mean? He couldn’t have been using it all the time,” I said.
“Magic relies on the user’s personality, their character, who and what they are. It’s why the same book can give two very different results depending on who uses it,” explained Sally. “But it’s a two-way street. The user can change the magic, but the magic can change the user too.”
“Are you saying magic can change your personality?” I asked.
Sally nodded. “Unburnt magic especially. You’ve already felt it, haven’t you? It’s a temporary change, but use it long enough and the changes might stick.”
I eyed the book in my hand. I didn’t find what Sally had said strange at all. Even on Earth, books could leave a mark. I remembered reading several books that made me spend hours staring at ceiling fans, or listening to music in the shower with the lights out. Not every book could do that, not every story had that special something that could make me think about my life in a new way.
But when I found a book like that, the experience stayed with me forever. It was one of my favorite things about reading.
Even when stories ended, they never truly ended.
I threw the book to Sally. I didn’t feel the urge to read it myself. At least not this copy. “Can you sell it in Devel?”
“Probably, although it’ll be hard making it so they can’t trace it back to us,” she replied.
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”
“Yeah, I probably will.”
Elenor walked up to us, tapping a familiar looking walking stick on the ground. “Are we ready to leave?”
“Where are your glasses?” I asked, staring at her empty grey eyes.
“I’ll get new ones in Devel. We need to buy new clothes too.”
We looked at our clothes. Most of them were torn and ripped in several places, either from fighting, falling, or making bandages.
“I need to hide my face better next time, inside and outside cities,” I said. “Those two guys, the ones Skinner made into skeletons, they were looking for me.”
“They were looking for you?” said Elenor.
“They even knew I’d be here. They said something about a boss, probably the guy who sent them after me.”
“Do you know who it could be?” asked Sally.
“I can only think of one person who’d want to keep an eye on me.”
“The guy you’re looking for, the one who stole your book?” asked Elenor.
“So now we need to worry about finding him without being found ourselves,” said Jerome. “That’ll be tough.”
“We’ll figure something out,” I said, staring at the cloudy sky. “The only thing I know for sure is, we’re camping out tonight.”
Author’s Note: And that’s the end of this episode! Thank you so much for reading and please let me know what you thought about it, below!
Part of the joy of being an author is knowing there are real people reading something you put your heart and soul into, so I always appreciate feedback, no matter what form it takes! I especially appreciate if you find any allusions I make (such as to books I don’t name completely) because that gives us a special connection, doesn’t it?
Also, an annoying bug insisted I remind you there is only one chapter on the day an episode ends so see you tomorrow!