Sabine of the Ten Rings: Panacea Panic, Part Four

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below. *** Sabine intended to kill Snakeoil under the cover of darkness. Though her cloak was sized to hold several large knives, the

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. The story continues below.

***

Sabine intended to kill Snakeoil under the cover of darkness. Though her cloak was sized to hold several large knives, the night’s assassination didn’t call for more than a dagger. So, before the booing crowd, she rolled her left cloak sleeve into an improvised buckler and faced Snakeoil with nothing else. The mercenary got only a moment to face the mad alchemist before he charged at her.

Snakeoil threw fast, vicious slashes with his knife. Sabine’s cloak left her slow and clumsy. Their blades clashed as the crowd and Homie the homunculus cheered on their would-be champion. On her next parry, Sabine missed and Snakeoil cut deep into her shoulder.

“Bastard!” Sabine brought a leg up and kneed him square between his legs. Snakeoil shouted, the audience booed her poor sportsmanship, and she dodged backwards to clutch at the wound.

That’s a shanker’s arm, if I’ve ever seen one, Dahkhal said. He probably picked it up in the dungeons.

“Great,” she said through grit teeth. “How do I beat that?”

Preferably get that cloak and mask off for better vision and maneuverability, Dahkhal said. So, your guts, you want them cut out or thrown up?

“She’s thinking about taking the cloak off, master,” Homie said. “Stop her! ”

“Would you quit eavesdropping, you little wooden—”

Snakeoil swung his knife with all his might. Sabine blocked the slash, but the force of the blow threw her back and left her open. The alchemist extended his puppeteering arm toward her stomach, the homunculus pulled a blade of his own from his little felt shirt, and plunged it into Sabine’s stomach. Pain racked her body, and the mercenary fell to her knees, shuddering as she tried to keep back the gorge that rose in her throat. On the edge of hyperventilating, she ripped off her mask and gasped for air.

The crazed alchemist threw open his arms and turned to the cheering crowd. “Does any other fool wish to defy me this day?” He twirled his mustachio. “Only I have the mind, the body, and the will to save our kingdom!”

On her knees, Sabine sucked in breath and was sure she tasted corruption on the air. From within her ring, Dahkhal complained that, of all the ways she could go, he wouldn’t permit her to be killed by a two-bit charlatan. She fought through the pain as she narrowed her eyes at Snakeoil as he faced her .

Knife extended, he asked, “Anything else I can do for your shopping experience today?”

Blood rising and heart hammering, Sabine replied, “How about a free sample?” And she threw herself at him.

Unimpressed, Snakeoil raised his knife, and Sabine drove herself headlong toward it. The agony as it sank home was excruciating, but it closed the distance between them. She reached into his snakeskin vest, took ahold of one of the vials of Inflicta Eternia, and downed its contents.

Snakeoil’s eyes bulged. “Wait a minute… what do you think you’re—”

Her injuries were fatal, the blood loss horrific, but Sabine’s heart just kept beating. Desperate, but untethered from thoughts of self-preservation, she pulled herself from the knife, lunged for the side of the stage, and recovered her dagger.

The crowd’s cheers fell to terrified silence as Sabine drove her weapon into Snakeoil’s half-exposed chest. With an opening, Sabine turned to them and shouted, “It’s a lie! The potion isn’t a cure, it’s an old torture mechanism that just keeps people alive no matter what they’re going through—”

Snakeoil recovered his footing and delivered another thrust into Sabine’s stomach. With the Inflicta Eternia running through both of them, neither gave any ground and they fell to stabbing one another over and over.

The audience, confused, mumbled among themselves. One man toward the back called out, “Why isn’t that considered a cure?”

Sabine opened her mouth to explain, paused, and looked down at her ring as Snakeoil cut and slashed all the while. “Why isn’t that a cure?”

Your immune system gets stuck in its current state. It can’t produce antibodies or mutate up a stronger gene to fight the disease.

“Anti-what?”

Dahkhal groaned. Look, remember the time one of your husbands had to travel across all of time to rescue you? I picked up a lot, that time we were five-hundred years in the future. I just don’t have time to explain it right now.

Sabine raised an eyebrow as she glanced toward her ongoing, almost mechanical knife fight. “I think we have time.”

Another peasant from the crowd yelled, “It’s clear now, they’re witches, I say burn them both!”

Snakeoil’s puppeteering hand seemed to extend involuntarily. “No!” Homie said. “We’ve done nothing wrong, it’s the hermaphrodite who’s going on about genes and antibodies—”

The bulkiest, most aggressive man in the audience called out, “We’ll take the cure for ourselves, and make all of you the anti-bodies!”

And, driven into a confused, angered stupor, the rest of the audience shouted, “Yes, make them anti-bodies!”

Sabine glared first at the puppet and then toward Snakeoil as the two stopped stabbing and the embittered entourage approached. “You’ve been healthy this whole time. If you have an actual cure, you should hand it over.”

“I only figured out the Eternia recipe from old experience,” Snakeoil said. “How are you even still standing? The potion only keeps vitality from bottoming out, what are you drawing from?”

It probably has something to do with that bit of goddess still in you, Dahkhal said. As for him, the cure, like the potion, must already be deep within him. Maybe from his old prison days.

The revelation struck Sabine as she and Snakeoil backed away from the approaching mob toward the salesman’s wagon. If she guessed right, she could save herself and the kingdom from the disease. But the cure turned her stomach, was it really worth it to try? After an instant’s more hesitation, she raised both hands to her mouth and screamed, “I want to buy a lobstrosity!”

The advancing audience was momentarily paralyzed by the sheer oddity of her words . All of them, save for the peasant boy Sabine had passed on her way in. He ran up to her through the crowd with one of the red abominations on a stick. She accepted the skewered creature, and the peasants gasped in horror and disgust as she took a big bite out of the head.

“Sheesh, lady, I was just trying to pull a prank. Don’t actually eat the whole abomination!”

But as Sabine choked down the last bites of crustacean, the corruption in her senses faded. Snakeoil’s years on a prisoner’s diet had granted him an immunity to the pestilence, and now she could share that secret with the whole kingdom.

“This prison ration is the cure!” Sabine stood tall and raised the skewer high in the air. “We don’t need Snakeoil and his preservative, the cure is right here!”

Everyone stared at Sabine in her triumph for a few seconds before one of the cloaked figures said, “But I don’t want to eat prison food.”

Another shouted, “My ancestors would be ashamed if I were caught eating one of those!”

And a third added, “I have the right to choose my own cure, you uppity strumpet!”

Sabine’s jaw fell as she stared out at the mass. Perhaps half had gathered around the child with the lobsters on sticks, but the others looked as angry as ever. “But—but this is an actual cure! He’s just—”

Snakeoil rose and leaned in close to her ear. “Giving them the razzle dazzle they were demanding.” He grit his teeth and continued, “And you just cost me half my business. That Eternia isn’t going to last forever. And if you don’t want me finding you when it passes, I advise you get the hell off my stage.”

What did I tell you? Dahkhal said. These people don’t deserve your pity

Sabine looked out upon the split audience and shared a final glare with Snakeoil. She knew a cure, she could return to Slizzer and get the bar running again. Slizzer was a bitter but reasonable man, he’d ensure anyone who came in got a mouthful of lobster first. But it was clear she couldn’t save those who didn’t want to be saved.

With a sigh, Sabine gave Snakeoil a last halfhearted stab he barely seemed to register. “Don’t ever come near the Stubborn Ass tavern. Not unless you wanna rip out a lot more hearts, because you’ll need a lot more potion.”

—–

Two days later, Sabine recounted this adventure to Slizzer as he painted his tavern’s new regulations on the sign outside.

“I figured it out, but it wasn’t the answer they wanted,” she said. “What am I supposed to take from that?”

“Some people just only want to be saved on their own terms, Red,” Slizzer said. “Can’t torture yourself over those lost souls.” The barkeep looked toward her with something—perhaps not care, perhaps not admiration—but something more than his usual contempt in his eyes. “I think that was good enough to wipe out some of your debt. You’ve had a long day, you got the job done, you want a pint?”

Sabine sighed. “Yes, that sounds good.”

As they turned to go inside, Slizzer asked, “Didn’t you say something about an evil deacon in the zomtree situation too?”

After a brief thought about it, she said, “Huh, I think I did.”

Dahkhal suggested, Maybe they’re part of the same congregation.

“Questions for another day, I think,” Sabine said.

As the two turned back toward the bar, there came a shout of both triumph and agony from up the road.

“Hail Snakeoil, for he has cured me! Not just of the plague, but of death itself! I am well in all things!”

Slizzer and Sabine exchanged a look and squinted out onto the horizon. There, crawling on the last of his unbroken limbs, was Gleeman the Bard. His body shattered, his mouth full of bile, and Inflicta Eternia running through his veins, he dragged himself toward the bar. With a scowl, Slizzer grabbed up a spear leaned against the tavern, plunged it into a bucket at his side, and threw it toward the broken bard. The point landed with a freshly skewered lobster on the end an inch from Gleeman’s face.

“Eat that before you come in,” Slizzer said, “Or I’m putting the next one through your head!”

-The End

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