The ship listed suddenly, which caused the desk top scrape across the floor of the cabin, which knocked over the ink well, which spilled ink all over the parchment, which caused the old man to curse loudly, which caused Ordim to jump up and rush in and ask what was wrong.
A young Halfling, Ordim had come to associate the old man’s cursing as his queue to fix one thing or another. It seemed at times to be all he did under his apprenticeship.
“No, that isn’t entirely true,” he thought to himself. He had come to notice his natural proclivity with the elements had begun to sprout under the tutorage of the old man. “The old man… what was his name any? Did he ever say? Does it matter?”Ordim’s thoughts were scattered from the sudden confusion, he focused again as he looked around the room accessing the situation. About the same instance he saw what had happened the old man spoke to him.
“Ordim, fetch me some more parchment!”
Ordim fretted a moment before he weakly answered “We are all out Sir. That is the last of it until we reach port in a day or so. You can have the other side of the bit that I have if you would like.” He began to turn around to fetch the used parchment but was interrupted.
“And mix your silly limericks with important magical research? HA! You are still so naïve my apprentice. No, I will wait to get a fresh stack in port, and perhaps I’ll find a less aggravating apprentice as well.”
The words cut through Ordim as he collected what was left of his pride and tried to rebuild it. “It is alliteration…”
“I don’t rightly care what it is, it is silly and a waste of time. Now then, let us see how you are progressing before we retire for the evening.”
A slight grin crossed Ordim’s face as he perked up and set about clearing his mind and practicing the spell he had been taught recently. He set his feet apart to brace himself against the rocking of the ship and began to murmur the words he was taught. In his hands a small spark of lightning formed and popped and crackled.
“Good, good, now grow it just a bit more.” The old man watched and listened to the movements and words, waiting to jump on any imperfection but finding none.
As the spark began to grow brighter and larger the ship listed once again and Ordim slipped just a bit, his arms flying up on instinct to grab onto something. This simple ingrained action would have normally kept him solid, but instead, lightning in hand, it sent the spark directly into his chest, where it spread across his body and left him with tiny wisps of smoke curling off him, his hair standing on end in a display that would make a peacock jealous.
Ordim took a deep breath and turned his eyes towards the old man, awaiting the scolding he expected to be building up. Instead the old man inspect Ordim from top to bottom and let out an uncharacteristic laugh that shock his old frame. Ordim Blinked, had the old man gone mad?
“Aren’t you just a sight? Go on Ordim clean yourself up and get some rest, we’ll practice some more in the morning.” The old man continue to laugh, which sent a smile across Ordim’s face.
The few times the old man laughed or smile always excited him. It felt like they were fewer in frequency of late. Work on the ship was hard, and Ordim was ill prepared for it. While he excelled in most areas of his apprenticeship, his general ship work was far from acceptable to the rest of the crew. He had heard the whispers that he’d be dropped off at the next port, replaced for someone who could pull their weight around the ship, why did the old man need an apprentice anyway? The thoughts danced around his head as he lay down, he wouldn’t let it happen, not at all. No matter what he had to do, he would continue on to his destination and learn as much as he could.
The sounds of cargo being unloaded from the ship awoke Ordim. Clearing his eyes he looked around the small room, blinking his eyes to clear the sleepiness from them. A twinge of guilt passed over him as he set about getting ready as he knew he should be up on deck helping. The feeling passed when he remembered how many times he had been chased off for messing up a knot and causing a bundle of crates to come tumbling down, or the time he had been tasked to burn over the port marks on the crates and missed one. A shiver wracked his small frame as he remembered the crew hanging him up on the deck while the crew burned his toe hairs off. “It took all year just to get them back in some form” Ordim thought to himself in a grumble.
The port was busy, they were almost always busy, except the tiny ones they used to resupply on long voyages. Merchants haggled with crew members, taxmen inspected over crates and not so secretly took bribes to pass over some. Speaking with a tall Elven man, Ordim spotted his teacher in the crowd and set out to join him.
“Ah young Ordim, you finally have chosen to awaken and join us this day!” The old man gave a chuckle as he motioned for Ordim to join him as he dismissed the Elven man with a smile and nod.
“Morning Master, shall I gather up our supplies?” His voice took on a bright tone. Ordim always enjoyed dealing with the local merchants and gathering up the supplies they needed for his training, seeing the odds and ends unique to each port they visited.
“Yes, yes you’ll get your chance in just a moment, first I need to introduce you to someone who’ll be spending some time with us on the next voyage.” The old man turn a bit and called over to a young Elven looking man who was talking with a group of sailors. The man nodded in response, spoke a few words that caused the sailors to erupt in laughter and then joined Ordim and the old man.
“Ordim, this is Vulred Kelro, He’ll be joining us for at least the next leg of our journey.”
Vulred stood tall amongst the old man and Halfling, his features not perfectly Elven but could pass all but an indepth inspection. If he was half blood, it was from many generations ago, his clothing was sharp and well maintained, the fabrics all expensive and elaborate. He carried himself with an air of dignity and grace while maintaining and approachable smile and warmth to his voice.
“Ah is this young Master Ordim I hear so much about?” Vulred looked down upon Ordim with appraising eyes, a grin crossing his face.
“A pleasure, Master Vulred.” Ordim offered out his hand in greeting, which was promptly accepted and shook.
“Perhaps you can catch me up on what you’ve been taught while we sail? The magical arts around here are… lacking to my taste” Vulred glanced between Ordim and the old man, his eyebrow raised up as he questioned them both. The old man grinned wide and nodded in agreement. “Plenty of time for that, first let me get Ordim set off on his tasks and I’ll assist in getting you squared away in the cabin.” The old man reached into his robes and drew out a rather large purse of silvers and a note scrawled with writing.
“Here is the list and your funds, if you see anything else of worth that you think might be interesting there is some spare silvers as well.” As the old man handed over the list and funds a thought crossed his mind. “Oh, and why not pick up something special for dessert to take with us, we’ll be having a special meal tonight.”
Ordim’s face light up in joy, sweets were rarely part of the supply list. Rushing off down the docks he stopped and patted himself down. “My quill!” Ordim grumbled as he turned to return to the ship. Brightened by the prospect of shopping and a dessert he playfully wandered around the crates and balanced himself on the edge of the dock, away from the main walkway, dipping in and out of view of the workers. He approached the ship and was slowing down to wander behind a maze like stack of crates when he overheard the sailors who had been speaking with Vulred earlier.
“A much finer lass than that ‘ling the old man has now, sounds like he knows his way around a ship too.”
“Aye, don’t think we’ll be having to burn off his toe hairs anytime soon”
The group gave a good laugh and continued on.
“One last night with the ‘ling then he’ll be out of our hair”
“Should just leave early tonight and leave em here, no reason to make a big deal of it.”
“The old man feels sorry for him, can’t say how or why, no one else does that’s for sure”
Ordim felt a heavy weight in his gut, he couldn’t move, and the world slowed to a stop as the words hit him. A fountain of emotions erupted inside him, fear, pain, horror, panic, shame; the rumors he had heard were true, not just talk. Panic took control as he hurried back down the dock and into the streets of the city. “I have to find a way to fix this, one way or another”.
Strange smells seemed to sweep across the shop in irregular intervals. Sealed jars of all shapes and sizes held ingredients ranging from the mundane to the unidentifiable. One particular jar of clear liquid held what looked like a clump of jelly that would slowly undulate, changing shape and seeming to move around as if it had a mind of its own. Ordim tapped the jar with his finger, cause the jelly to retreat to the other side of the jar in a flash of color. The flurry of activity and the reaction both startled and entertained Ordim, who gave out a giggle at this accomplishment. The joy was cut short as a throaty cough signaled dissatisfaction at the Halfling playing with the merchandise.
“Sorry!” The words were second nature at this point.
Ordim slowly took in the rest of the shop. It had looked like a tiny hole in the wall from the outside, a nook in the alley that he had almost passed by until he saw the alchemy components in the window. So far he had found everything he had needed to get, except for a dessert and a fix for his problem of being replaced. Thoughts ranged from simply throwing him overboard if he could find some leverage, to the complex plots of framings and blackmail.
“I might have a solution to your problem little one… but the price may be high.” A sickly laugh turned quickly into a dry cough as the shop keeper fought to catch his breath. Old and showing every year upon his face and skin, the man must have been nearly a hundred years old. Ordim knew few humans lived this long and was impressed. The old man was only about seventy years old and complained daily about wanted to never work again, to live out his days “Enjoying what little time I have left”.
“What do you mean?” Confused and concerned, Ordim stammered out his response.
“There is a poison here in this shop, undetectable when mixed with the spices used by the local bakers. It eats away at the mind of the victim, killing all who are not treated quickly. Of course, you’ll have that with you already… won’t you?”
Ordim’s eyes narrowed at the thought, “Could it be that simple?”
“And what is the treatment?”
“Tobacco, fresh smoked tobacco. A pipe right after eating should reduce or prevent the effects all together.” With that, the shop keep reached under the counter and brought out a small box. He tipped it forward to Ordim could see the roughly carved pipe, a small shallow tin, and a small vial of what looked like ground up spices. “Just sprinkle it on top of any baked good from the market and it will be undetectable.” A toothless smile fell upon Ordim as he placed his silver pouch on the counter and took hold of the box.
A small figure wandered through the busy market clutching a box in his hands. It stopped to talk with a merchant for a moment before accepting a lumpy bag which it set on top of the box. The figure then made its way quickly towards the docks as the merchant went back to calling out to the crowd, “Muffins! Fresh hot muffins!”
The scent of sulfur drifted through the cabin as Ordim struck a match and attempted to light the pipe clenched tightly between his teeth. He had seen so many of the elders in his village puffing contently on them but never partook before this night, when it mattered most.
“I’m not sure what I’m more disappointed about with you Ordim, the fact that you felt you needed to use a match and not your magic to light that, or that you’ve taken up the pipe at such a young age…” The old man sighed as the last words left his lips. “You did manage to find what looks like the most amazing desserts though, so at least it is not all that bad.” A grin crossed his face a reached over and plucked a particularly plump muffin from the center of the table.
Vulred nodded his agreement as he reached over and took what looked to be the smallest of the bunch. “Back home the bakers made the most amazing chocolate icing to cover the muffins, almost cupcake like at that point.” He snickered to himself as he took a bite, his face brightening into a smile as he exclaimed, “Fantastic!”
Ordim’s face flushed red as he puffed nervously on the pipe, thick plumes of smoke collecting around his head that dispersed when he let out a cough. Collecting himself, he reached slowly across the table and selected a muffin. He knew what had to be done, he was told the pipe would protect him but he couldn’t stop his nervousness from showing so pronounced. He slowly bit into the muffin, a wave of flavor washed over his tongue. Spices, what must have been half a tome of known spices mixed together to form a spectrum of flavor that stretched from bitter to sweet and back again. The amazing taste almost made him forget about terrible secret that lay beneath the surface.
“Ordim, come now, I’ve never seen you, or any Halfling for that matter, take their time with such an amazing dessert!” The old man nearly broke into laughter. Vulred and the old man both seemed to gobble down their muffin as Ordim took bites between each puff of his pipe.
“The muffinsmith said that I should be warry, the local spices have been known to be dangerous to Truefolk that find themselves allergic to them!” The lie rolled off his tongue easier than he thought.
Vulred’s eyes opened wide with glee as he chortled, “And you believed them? I’m pretty sure I’ve heard every baker say the same thing to keep wandering Halfling hands off their goods!” He broke into a belly laugh that seemed to last forever. As he started to catch his breath, his eyes took on a quick bloodshot, his face turned from a lively red to a morbid purple while his breathing turned from deep to raspy. He looked to try to say something but was cut short as his lifeless body fell to the side, his eyes rolled up into his head.
The old man passed much easier. Like a candle being snuffed quickly, he simply fell forward onto the table, his body limp. Ordim’s hands began to tremble and sweat. He gripped the pipe tightly and puffed away as his eyesight began to collapse into the center until only a tiny pinprick of light could be seen. He suddenly had the sensation of falling but he never hit the ground. The sound of rushing air surround him but he could see nothing, gain no sense of location. His mind seemed to melt, mixing together and solidifying in new and strange ways.
The last thing he remembered was all the spells he had learned. What once was just a collection of scraps and notes coalesced into a clear image of knowledge. Like water, it poured over him, flowed into him and incorporated itself into his very being. While all the elements now danced around him, it was the water of knowledge that coursed in his veins that sang the loudest and clearest. Then the world went black.
“Ordim! Ordim wake up! What happened here!” The sailor shook the limp body of the Halfling, trying his best to wake him. A few others joined him in the cabin, eyeing the scene with caution. They checked the bodies of the old man and Vulred for signs of life. Finding none, they gave a solemn shake of their head back to the sailor still shaking Ordim. “Ordim, the Arkati won’t even be able to save you if you don’t wake up and tell me what happened in here!”
Ordim’s body twitched painfully and his eyes shot open.
“Murderous men make marvelous moist muffins mixing mostly mocha!”
Like angry hornets funneling out of their nest, the words forced themselves out of Ordim against his will. He struggled to control himself, but his body resisted, twisting his form and sending waves of pain shooting through his body. For the first time, he wondered if the price was in fact too high.
“I’m not saying that I wouldn’t believe him if he said it was safe, or more importantly, if it was valuable…” The sailor trailed off for a second, his eyes glazing up as his mind raced to find the words he was searching for. Frustrated that he couldn’t find any more eloquent way to put it, he blurted out “I just don’t trust the Halfling”.
A grunt of agreement rose up from his partner, who followed up with “Aye. Since finding him lay’n there twitching and spitting that gibberish he ain’t been the same. It’s always muffins this and muffins that. Any more muffins and they damn well might think us the bloody Spitfire!”
“I thought that was tarts?”
“It don’t right matter if its muffins or tarts, we ain’t the Spitfire is we?”
“I suppose we ain’t, but he’s kept us from making some costly mistakes with that last load of spoils we took. If all it takes is some muffins and to leave him alone in his room, I’ll leave him alone and learn to bake myself. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
“’That’s what I’m trying to tell you’ , you ain’t just trying to tell me, you bring it up every time we finish up and have a moment to rest. It’s all you ever tell anymore. I’m starting to right think you’re scared of the little magician!”
The sailor’s face burnt bright red with embarrassment. He was about to launch into a passionate defensive tirade but was interrupted by another fellow shipmate rushing up with an armful of loot he’d procured.
“Look at all this stuff ‘ere mates!” The sound of clattering metal rang out as he let loose his arms, sending a load of various candleholders, jewelry bits and other various small metal items tumbled into a pile at his feet. “Took it all from their ‘temple’ I did. Funny thing though,” The looter knelt down and fished around in the pile until he found what he was looking for and continued “Shaman had this strange little box on him, hidden as if it was the most important thing.” A small plain tanik box, once painted a bright red but now flaked and dull, sat upon the looter’s hand for all to see.
The partner snickered “Give it over to this one, he’ll take it to the little waggler to have it checked out for ya, he loves doing it!” The declaration was met with a haymaker from the sailor, knocking the partner square off his seat and tumbling to the ground, where the sailor pounced on him and continued to pummel on him.
Staring at the box with renewed interest, the looter quietly spoke to himself, “I wonder what the waggler would want with a little box of cards?”