Sabine of the Ten Rings: Panacea Panic, Part Two

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here. *** Sabine guided Slizzer’s mustang northeast to the port town of Candoc. Occasionally there rode or walked other travelers, those who rejected the requisite cloak and

To read the previous adventures of Sabine, click here.

***

Sabine guided Slizzer’s mustang northeast to the port town of Candoc. Occasionally there rode or walked other travelers, those who rejected the requisite cloak and mask were bent over bushes, losing their lunches.

Around the fifth time Sabine witnessed it, she reigned the horse over to a messenger in a berry patch. “Um, excuse me, sir?”

Having disgorged his stomach’s contents, the hazy-eyed man wiped bile from his mustache and looked up. “Eh?”

“I uh… see you aren’t wearing a mask,” Sabine said. “Have you been to see the alchemist Snakeoil?”

A smile spread across his weary face. “Oh yes, I have. You must be headed to see him now. He does such excellent work.”

His sheer lack of self-awareness left Sabine briefly silent before she asked, “You sure about that?”

“What, this?” He referred to the bush he’d just soiled. “Common side effects include lingering symptoms. They can last for up to three weeks.”

And you thought I wasn’t fit to rule over these idiots, Dahkhal said. I guess I should have just been scamming them all instead, then no one would have even looked the other way!

Sabine urged the horse forward, determined yet confounded as ever. She knew she was close when the rank stench of aged peanut oil and dying trout greeted her nostrils. The mercenary hadn’t cared for fish much when she was a princess. And even that tolerance was quashed with her sixth marriage.

On her right ring finger was a band of pink coral and a great, milky white pearl. The ring was gifted by Nautius, Prince of the Man-Atees. When Dahkhal moved his villainous operations to the cursed island of Malvado Muy Grande, his malevolent presence had subverted and angered the local sea life. Prince Nautius, the fastest, strongest swimmer in his clan, broke into the watery tunnels beneath Dahkhal’s fortress at an impressive seven and a half miles per hour.

Sabine had reached a point of complacency when she married Nautius. She tried to be a good wife to him, and his blubber kept her warm at night, but she never grew too attached. When Dahkhal returned and killed Nautius by entrapping him in a tuna net, she had been horrified, but hardly surprised. Yet, since that day everything from salmon to fishy sticks left a bad taste in her mouth.

“Oi, you on the horse,” called a street vendor. “Wanna buy a lobstrosity?”

Sabine gagged within her mask. Lobsters were a separate matter, the creeping insects of the ocean. Oh, she’d eaten some questionable things since becoming a vagabond, but damn it, she was a princess in another life. No lobster would pass her lips, she swore it.

She slowed Slizzer’s horse as it approached the center of town, where a great crowd gathered. At least as great of a crowd as could be managed with everyone a spear’s length away from one another. In the center of the gathering was a large, wooden carriage, opened in the back to reveal a collapsible curtained stage, currently folded out. Over the top hung a banner that proclaimed, “Snakeoil, the Magnificent Alchemist!” Sabine slid through the crowd of excited onlookers and, with some effort, found an open spot to watch the proceedings. If the messenger and Gleeman were right about this man, she wouldn’t have to assassinate him. And – maybe – just maybe, she could be rid of her sweaty cloak and mask.

Out from behind the curtains peeked a tiny figure. Sabine frowned in confusion as the rest of the crowd cheered ever louder and the thing, not even two feet of it visible, slowly crept into view. Once it stood before the curtain, Sabine made out its small cotton garb and wooden flesh. The puppet raised both hands as high as he could and then lowered them in a gentle motion. The chatter of the audience died down.

“Hello there, everyone!” The marionette spoke with a grating falsetto. “It’s me, Homie the Homunculus!”

With voices in unison, the crowd cheered, “Hi Homie!”

“I know you’re all excited to see Snakeoil,” the small one said. “But he still needs a few more minutes to prepare. In the meantime, he asked me to welcome today’s special guest endorsement! So, lords and ladies, put your hands together for his holiness, Deacon Struct!”

The crowd clapped and whooped as a tall, thin man in a black monk’s robe stepped up to the makeshift stage. He wasn’t young by any means, but his face was unlined and his hair, though white, was full and strong.

At his appearance, Sabine flinched involuntarily. “Do… do we know him?”

I can’t see anything under the glove, Dahkhal said.

“I think he spoke at one of my weddings. He was a friend of Wallon’s family.”

Wallon, the husband you suffocated with a pillow just before I came to nab you?

“Yeah. Him.” Sabine squinted her eyes as the deacon cast a gaze over the crowd. For just a moment, their eyes met, and Sabine swore she saw some minute change in his expression. But that was impossible. There was no way he’d recognize Sabine in her mask, and even less chance he remembered whatever history they might have.

Struct turned his attention to the curtain to say, “Thank you, my Homie,” and then looked out over the crowd. “I know this is a frightening time for us all. And that is why, in this time of fear and doubt, the gods have sent an answer to our prayers.”

Dahkhal scoffed. Isn’t asking a clergyman his professional opinion on a disease like asking a surgeon for an exorcism?

“Shut up,” Sabine said. “I should hear this.”

Get me fifty ccs of leaches stat, and my bone saw! We’ll cut that demon out no matter how many lobotomies it takes!

Sabine shook her left hand to silence Dahkhal as she focused on the deacon’s words.

“I’ve prayed for a cure just like the rest of you, and it seems the gods have brought us our hero. A man who picked apart what this illness is and is here to put you all back together. And so let us give thanks to the one, the only, the magnificent, Snakeoil!”

Out from behind the curtain the esteemed alchemist stepped. Candoc’s savior wore a black and yellow robe of many smooth snakeskins stitched together, cinched only with a belt, so as to expose his hairy chest. His bright shock of blonde hair was pulled back into a high topknot, and a grand mustachio crossed his upper lip. The assembled crowd whooped and cheered as he took a bow. It was time to work some alchemy.

To Be Continued…

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