10. The sum of ale fears

The coach rolled down one street, made a turn, and down another. Mitchell peered out the window as the gate faded from view. The gate that would have taken him off of Krim and back to civilization.

“I’ve got the plague, you know,” he told his captor. She sat silently across from him, just waiting for him to make a move.

Mitchell rubbed his arm. It still hurt where she grabbed him.

There was a sword across her back, but she hadn’t even reached for him. Her hands were the size of dinner plates. She could probably strangle him with one hand.

“I didn’t do anything,” Mitchell said. “I was just trying to get home.”

She didn’t even blink. Just sat there, staring at him.

Mitchell shrank down further into his seat. “I really do have the plague. I can prove it.” He bent down and started taking off his boot.

“Stop that,” she said, and flicked him on his forehead.

He flinched back. “Ouch!”

“You don’t have the plague.”

The coach pulled to a stop. She opened the door and dragged him out. They were in front of an imposing stone building with a tall wrought-iron fence around it. There was a tasteful sign on the gate proclaiming it to be the home of the Armforge Guild.

“Look who I found trying to escape.” The woman warrior shoved Mitchell in front of her and he landed on his knees on the cobblestones in front of a group of armed men.

Michell screamed in pain and collapsed on his side.

“I just tapped him,” said the woman.

Mitchell grabbed his sore knees and rocked slightly on his side. The main was making his eyes water.

“Oh, stop blubbering.” The woman kicked him in the side.

“He’s the one who’s been visiting ever bar asking about the crystal?” said one of the men standing over him.

“Just the bars on Banking Street, but yes. I think he knows something we don’t know.” The woman kicked him again.

The man crouched down in front of Mitchell.

“I know you know who I am,” he said.

Mitchell shook his head.

“You wouldn’t be quaking in fear if you didn’t. Did you find the crystal?”

Mitchell nodded, then shook his head. He didn’t know which was worse. Admit that he’d found the crystal, or pretend he hadn’t?

Norbert had saved his life. It wouldn’t be right to get him in trouble with these monsters. And Donna… he couldn’t risk her safety.

“Your avatar was a good disguise but did you really think you’d be able to hunt in my city without me knowing?”

Was he mad that Mitchell said that Krim residents didn’t have real lives? Did he think the avatar upgrade was a disguise?

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Mitchell bawled.

“You think this was the guy who hired the robbers?” one of the other men asked.

“I don’t know,” said the first, and leaned closer. “”We will torture you until you tell us everything you know, keeping you alive the whole time.”

“I did it, I did it!” Mitchell screamed. Then, almost without him willing it, words started pouring out. “I bought the crystal. It cost me ten golds. And some silver. And some other coins. I don’t know. I didn’t count them. I bought it from Norbert. He wore a top hat. He saved me from the plague. I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Please don’t hurt me.”


“He’s a peddler, works the main square and surrounding areas,” said the woman. “Preys on noobs.” She rocked back on her heels. “If Norbert had it, he would know what it was. And he wouldn’t have sold it for ten golds.”

“He told me it was worth a lot more,” Mitchell sobbed.

The woman scoffed. “If Norbert sold it then it wasn’t worth two coppers.”

“Where’s the crystal now?”

Mitchell looked up at the man, blinking away his tears. “I gave it away. It was a present for a woman I know. A waitress.”

“That could be true. He was asking about a waitress.”

“She collects healing crystals,” Mitchell said.

“What did the crystal look like?”

The pain in Mitchell’s knees had faded to a dull, persistent ache and he pushed himself up to a sitting position.

The man interrogating him straight up and snapped his fingers at one of his guards, who handed him a piece of paper. “Did it look like this?”

Mitchell took the drawing. It was of a crystal, pyramid-shaped, with two cracks in its center.

He shook his head. “Mine was about this size.” He held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “And it was more of an almond shape. Also, it didn’t have any cracks in it.” He sniffed. “She really liked it.”

“Who liked it? Who did you give it to?” The man prodded Mitchell with his foot. “We won’t hurt her. We just want the crystal.”

But Mitchell was done talking. Everyone on Krim was a liar. Norbert had lied to him. Saved him from the plague, and then lied to him about the price of the crystal. It wasn’t the loss of the money that strung the most, but the betrayal. This man was probably lying, too. Lying about not hurting Donna.

“I think this is another dead end,” the woman said. “We’ll catch up with the waitress eventually, whoever she is. We know she works somewhere down on Banking Street. But it doesn’t sound like this is the same crystal.” She tapped her chin. “Norbert might be worth talking to.”

“Fine. Search him, then let him go.”

She pulled Mitchell to his feet and expertly ran her hands over his body and in all his pockets.

“All he’s got is this.” She held up a square of black velvet fabric that the crystal had been wrapped in. “Norbert’s trademark.”

“Sard it!” The man turned and walked back to the guild building.

The woman gave the cloth back to Mitchell. “Off you go.”

He looked at her, then at the other guards still standing around staring at him.

He turned around. He didn’t recognize where he was.

“Well, what are you waiting for? Get out of here.” She glanced at the coach, and back at him. “I’m not giving you a ride.”

“I don’t know the way back.”

“Oh, for…” She pointed back the way they’d come. “Head that way and you’ll see it eventually.” She sighed. “You are a noob, aren’t you? Here.” She dug a silver coin out of her pocket. “Have a couple of beers on me.”

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