Sabine of the Ten Rings: Panacea Panic, Part One

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. *** At midday in early spring, a bard in raiment of radiant purples and golds stumbled to the door of The Stubborn Ass tavern. The journey

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here.

***

At midday in early spring, a bard in raiment of radiant purples and golds stumbled to the door of The Stubborn Ass tavern. The journey of Gleeman the Bard had been a long one, with a bad cough and long bouts squatting among the pines, but he didn’t care. He’d come to deliver the good news, and all would be grateful to him for it.

Gleeman threw open the tavern door and called, “Rejoice, my friends! For at last—”

A blunt-tipped spear flew across the inn and struck the bard square in the face. He stumbled and fell backward in a daze.

Behind the bar stood Slizzer, the inn’s host, covered from head to toe in black robes and a crow-pointed plague mask. He pulled out a second blunted spear and yelled, “Nobody’s allowed inside without the proper coveralls!” Indeed, all of the half-dozen other bodies in the nearly empty tavern were similarly garbed.

Gleeman the Bard slowly shook the stars from his eyes and came back to his feet. “But— but that’s just it, my friend.” The smile, minus a pair of teeth, returned to his face. “I bring word from the great alchemist Snakeoil, a cure has been found!” Just after his proclamation, Gleeman turned his head and heaved a terrible trio of sneezes.

The disease that ran all across Serekson was only known as “the pestilence,” until the Order of the Hindsighted decided who was to blame for its proliferation. The sickness had seeped into nearly every facet of daily life. Strict new edicts adjured everyone to stand one spear’s length away from one another. Plague masks and robes sold like hotcakes. And teachers, out of work with the universities empty, were dispatched to teach the serfs how to tell time so they would know how long to wash their hands. Indeed, if Gleeman’s words were true, it would be a great boon for the kingdom.

But ever the skeptic and cynic, Slizzer raised an eyebrow within his mask. “And what, boy? Have you come to beg for gold to buy this great panacea?”

“I have purchased and took it back in Baylen.” Between every other word, Gleeman took in a strong, wet sniffle. “And even now it works its wonders.”

“I think you should ask for a refund,” Slizzer said.

“Nonsense,” Gleeman said. “These are just seasonal allergies.” The bard turned his head and a viscous black stream of vomit gushed from his mouth. When every glare in the tavern settled upon him, he said, “That’s funny, pickled smelt usually sits so well with me.”

“All right, that’s enough.” Slizzer beat one fist against the bar. “I’ll give a short stack of hay to the first man to throw him out of the inn!”

As incontinence was one of the most bemoaned symptoms of the pestilence, hay, moss, and poetry books were at a premium for their use in the privy. So half the patrons were fast on their feet to take hold of Gleeman and toss him into the nearest ditch. Still, Slizzer tapped on the bar with anxiety. He might not have been a doctor, but as a bartender, knowing when people were sick was an essential part of the profession. The required spear and mask rule cost him a lot of business, but if some charlatan was about to stroll into town, selling a cure that didn’t work, he may not have any customers left. Baylen was two days out from The Stubborn Ass, one if the journey was on a fast horse. That wasn’t much time before a new problem could be on his doorstep.

“As for the rest of you.” Slizzer’s address only barely registered to his three remaining patrons. “You’re all mercs, right? Who wants a job?”

None of his remaining patrons so much as acknowledged him. However, within the mind and under the breath of his shortest, skinniest, scrappiest customer in the center of the bar, an argument took place.

Just take the job, you can’t pay with IOU’s forever.

“I’m not taking this one,” Sabine said. “I’m not killing a doctor.”

He’s not even a real medic, he’s an alchemist! We’re not talking about a thaumaturgist or an evoker here. Alchemy is a pseudo-science. At best.

“Edmund was an alchemist and he whipped you like a mule.”

Oh yes, your seventh husband figured out you can blow things up if you mix enough sulfur and charcoal. Truly, what a brilliant mind he had.

Slizzer narrowed his gaze and tried to ignore the girl again in an argument with her jewelry. “What about you, Kilgore?” He settled his look on a burly fellow near the fireplace. “Another doctor coming to town? You hate it when people encroach on your turf.”

Doctor Kilgore, the Pain Physician, snarled back, “Everyone’s encroaching on my turf these days.” Indeed, his mood had been especially foul since the proliferation of plague masks had robbed his gimmicky costume of its uniqueness. “But this cesspool is even emptier than usual. You can’t afford my prices.”

All I’m saying is if anyone in the field had figured that stupid Philosopher’s Stone thing out, I wouldn’t have bothered with resurrective immortality. Dahkhal said. But it can’t be done. It’s bunk, like everything else they do.

Sabine pulled off the ring that housed Dahkhal the jellyfish and tapped it hard and fast against the table. “You just can’t figure out when to quit.”

Ow, ow, ow, you know I’m right!

The bartender gritted his teeth and looked toward the thin, lanky man two tables down from the one he was ignoring. “What about you, Hlessi?”

The two great furry ears that poked out of the top of Hlessi’s plague mask turned down. “Do you know what doctors do to my people, Slizzer?”

The barkeep turned away. “All right, all right, I don’t need to know—”

“Don’t you? Don’t you!? Oh Frith, I’m hyperventilating!” Hlessi pulled off his plague mask and took in a few deep breaths through his adorable rabbit nose. “My sister—my twenty-sixth sister, they used her to test this noblewoman’s pregnancy—”

“Put your damned mask back on!” Slizzer chucked another of his spears, but being one of the fleet-footed rabbit folk, Hlessi dodged without difficulty. Frightened, he began a frenzied hop out of the establishment. Still embittered, Slizzer drew another spear and threw it in his direction.

Fine then, prove me wrong, Dahkhal said. Go pick a fight with this alchemist. If all his chalk drawings and beakers actually cause you bodily harm, I’ll admit your seventh husband wasn’t a complete waste of breath.

“I’ll show you a waste of breath!” As she spoke, Sabine raised her hand and the ring high in the air. The timing was just perfect for Slizzer’s latest blunted spear to smash square into the ring, knock it from her grasp, and make Dahkhal shout in agony.

With all other options exhausted, Slizzer groaned in disgust, turned to the only raised hand in the room, and declared, “That’ll have to do. Red, you’re going out and killing that charlatan for me.”

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