Ithican couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t even lie down. He rubbed at his shoulders which were sore from constantly being pulled taunt by stress. Every time he tried to relax he’d get jabbed by what felt like an adrenaline rush. The constant tax on his system had ruined any chance he had at having an appetite and he was starting to drop weight that he couldn’t afford to lose. Growling in frustration Ithican raked his hands through his hair and paced the small inn room once more.
“I can’t think clearly.” Ithican muttered to himself.
Walking over to the sink he filled it hot water. Ithican soaked his forearms in basin hoping that the water would help sooth his nerves. The hot water did what it could, but Ithican quickly discovered that his problems need a stronger solution.
Drying his hands by pulling them through his hair Ithican walked back over to his pack. He rummaged through it till he found what he was looking for. Ithican sat down on the bed cross legged with his back against the wall. For a full five minutes he just stared at the object in his hand.
The crystal vial was filled with a silver liquid that somehow swirled with a full rainbow of colours. Ithican’s heart raced just looking at it. He remembered the first time he’d seen the eerie liquid with surprising clarity considering the circumstances. Ithican would never forget his forced decent into neparine addiction, no matter how hard he tried.
“Janic.” Ithican hissed.
It was a name that Ithican wished he’d never learnt. It was hard to believe at the moment that he’d been clear of both the man and his drugs for almost three years. Ithican had only been out of Evergladrida for month when they’d first met. Ithican had been trying to live in the woods, but the coming of his first true winter had forced him into one of the Human cities.
In his first month of exile he had taken the horse the Elves had offered him and ridden her hard to put as much distance between himself and his past as he could. He had no idea what a drastic difference even a few hundred miles could make in the severity of winter.
As far as Ithican could tell the Human part of Nuearth was a horrid landscape that was devoid of life. The trees had no leaves, the grass was dry, and the rivers and lakes grew cruel sheets of ice that kept him and the horse from the water below. He wasn’t completely ignorant of the season, he realized that eventually life would come back to the forests. It was just that he’d never encountered it personally.
Once in town he had been forced to sell the horse, being unable to afford to feed them both. Things went down hill from there quickly. When Janic found him Ithican was hiding in the alley behind Janic’s home and business. The Elf was shivering from a combination of cold and the encounter he’d just had with a group of drunk Humans.
Janic stepped out into the alley cursing and muttering angrily to himself. Ithican hadn’t expected anyone to come out of the back doors and found himself trapped in the blind alley. He backed up against the stone wall and prayed that the Human wouldn’t notice him. At first Janic was too preoccupied to notice anything, but eventually he looked in Ithican’s direction.
“Hello there.” Janic greeted with a cautious smile.
“Leave me alone,” Ithican snarled. “I’m not hurting anyone.”
“I didn’t say you were,” Janic said softly “on the contrary it looks like someone’s been hurting you.”
“Just go away.” Ithican replied licking the blood off his lips in an attempt to hide it.
“My name’s Janic. What’s yours?”
Ithican didn’t answer right away. No one had asked him for his name since he’d left home. He wasn’t even a hundred percent sure that he remembered it.
“I’m sure you don’t want me just calling you ‘Elf’.” Janic joked.
“That’s better.” Janic smiled brightly again. His teeth looked almost sharp. “What are doing out here?”
“That I can see.” Janic looked the miserable Elf over for a minute. “I want to help you, Ithican.”
“Not all Humans are heartless. You look half starved to death, and you’re certainly not dressed for winter. It will probably snow tonight.”
“I...I’ve never seen snow before.”
“Never?” Janic asked, although he didn’t seem very surprised. “Well, it’s cold and wet. All the more reason to come inside, there’s plenty of food, and perhaps we can clean up some of those cuts of yours.”
“I don’t have anything of value to give you.”
“I didn’t ask for anything.”
Janic opened the back door and stood to one side. Ithican didn’t move, except for the shivering that he couldn’t control. He looked up at the threatening sky that was crowded with storm clouds and down at the dirty frozen puddles in the alley. Another night in the elements might kill him, and despite all that had happened he hadn’t completely given up on living just yet. Hesitantly he took Janic’s offer of hospitality.
The inside of the house was like nothing Ithican had ever seen. It had a lot of little rooms and hallways. There were stairs everywhere and everything was decorated in deep warm colours. Ithican followed Janic closely afraid he’d get lost. Near what had to be the front of the building they passed a set of double doors through which Ithican could hear many voices.
“That’s my business.” Janic explained.
“A bar?” Ithican asked nervously.
“More of a lounge. Don’t worry we’re going straight to the kitchen so you won’t have to deal with any of the ‘customers’.”
It had been so long since Ithican had eaten a hot meal that he was afraid that his stomach might not be able to handle it. Janic had offered him some brandy, but he had politely refused. Janic watched peacefully while the Elf ate. When it looked like Ithican was finished he brought him into a cozy study and gave him a warm cup of tea.
“How old are you, Ithican?” Janic asked suddenly.
“I’ll be forty-nine in a month.”
“Really? So young, you could pass for seventy something. You might want to consider starting to lie about your age.”
“No one takes the young seriously in the Human world, Ithican. Trust me, start telling people you’re at least seventy-five.”
Ithican just shrugged. He drank some of the warm liquid Janic had offered him and instantly regretted doing so. Human tea was bitter with an unpleasant aftertaste.
“Can you read and write?” Janic asked with an amused smile.
“And mathematics? I hear that the Elves take great pride in their education.”
“I’ve had nearly twenty years schooling.” Ithican admitted shyly.
“That’s a very rare gift in this world.” Janic said seriously. “Most Humans have forgotten the importance of such things. If you don’t mind me asking where are you from?”
“Evergladrida.” Ithican answered quietly.
“That’s about as far south as it gets. How long have you been away from there?”
“About a month.” Ithican really didn’t want to talk about this, but he was getting very tired in the warm room and it was affecting his judgment.
“Interesting.” Janic muttered. “Do you have family anywhere around here?”
“I don’t have family anywhere.” Ithican answered sleepily.
“Hmm...” Janic was quiet for a while. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be keeping you awake with my curiosity. Come, follow me.”
Ithican put down the half drunk cup of tea and struggled to his feet. Janic lead him back through the maze of the large multi story house. They went upstairs and into a small room that held a bed with a nightstand. On the far wall was a large mirror. Ithican stared at the disheveled Elf looking back at him from behind the glass.
“Recognize him?” Janic asked softly.
“Not really.” Ithican admitted.
Ithican turned away from his reflection. Janic had been right, he could easily be seventy-five. Considering how many years the last two months had taken off his life he decided he might as well be that age. He was a little surprised that his hair was still jet black, he felt that it should have some white in it by now.
Janic guided him over to the bed and practically forced him to lay down. Ithican felt like someone had poured lead into his blood he was so weary. Janic pulled off Ithican’s shoes, and the strap that held the Tarrin dagger to his ankle. Ithican would have protested but this was the first time he’d been in a bed in a long time.
“Thank you for helping me.”
“It’s my privilege.” Janic flashed Ithican another sharp toothed smile. “I’ll be right back, I have to get something.”
Ithican didn’t even wonder about Janic’s last words. He rolled over on his side and stared at the candle flame on the nightstand. He was so comfortable he had to remind himself to keep breathing. Janic must have been back in a hurry because Ithican was still awake when he came in.
He had a glass vial with him and a syringe. Ithican felt a quick flash of fear, but found he was far to groggy to sit up. Janic drew a small amount of the liquid into the needle and put the vial down on the night stand. Ithican looked at the bottle but didn’t recognize the contents. It was a silvery liquid that shimmered with strange colours. Janic reached down with a cold touch and brushed Ithican’s inky hair away from his neck.
“Wait...” Ithican protested weakly. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t worry, relax.” Janic said calmly, although he had obviously thought Ithican was sleeping. He picked up the vial again and doubled the dose.
“What is that?”
“It’s nothing, just a pain reliever.”
“No...I don’t need it...” Ithican insisted, fighting to stay awake. “...please...”
Ithican quickly found that he had no choice. Janic tangled his hand in Ithican’s hair and gently pulled his head back. Ithican swallowed convulsively as the needle sunk into his jugular like a serpent’s tooth. When Janic pushed the liquid into his blood Ithican gripped the edge of the bed tightly.
The silver liquid almost felt slippery in his veins as it quickly coursed through his system. It coated his nerves with an insulation that calmed them instantly. Breathing almost became too much of a labour to be bothered with and his heart slowed down to match the new rhythm. Any aches or pain he may have had melted as butter would in the summer sun. Ithican’s hold on the bed slowly loosened as he slipped out of consciousness.
“Sleep well, Ithican. Tomorrow’s a busy day.”
Ithican woke violently the next morning, terrified to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings. He jumped out of bed and took a moment to remember the previous evening. Janic must have been keeping a close eye on his room because he came in shortly after Ithican woke. Ithican backed into the far corner and glared accusingly at Janic.
“Good morning, Ithican.”
“What did you do to me, Human?!”
“I helped you, remember? You were dying in my alley.”
“What did you put in my blood?” Ithican growled.
“Oh that,” Janic shrugged “how do you feel?”
Ithican was brought up short by the question. He noticed for the first time that he wasn’t in any pain. After his run in with the drunken Humans he should be, at the very least, extremely sore. However he felt refreshed for the first time in a long time. Even the brand mark in his chest, which had been searing with uncontrolled infection, no long bothered him.
“I...I feel better.” Ithican admitted.
“Then what are you complaining about?” Janic smiled. “I told you to trust me.”
“Ouch, don’t call me ‘Sir’. I may be a century older, but that sounds so slavish. Please, call me ‘Janic’.”
“All right, Janic.”
“Much better. Come on, we’ll get you cleaned up a bit, then I’ve got some people I want you to meet, and perhaps even a job for you.”
Ithican followed Janic silently, ashamed of having second guessed the only Human who had ever shown any interest in his welfare. While Ithican took a much needed bath Janic had everything the Elf owned cleaned and repaired, which really didn’t amount to very much work.
After breakfast Janic lead Ithican back to the large double doors that he had noticed the night before. He really had no desire to met anyone. However being clean and well fed made him open to just about any of Janic’s suggestions.
“Now don’t be nervous,” Janic said opening one of the doors “these are my friends which makes them yours as well. Except for maybe Cyan, but he hates everyone equally so it really doesn’t matter.”
When Ithican first stepped into the room he hardly noticed the handful of people that were stretched out on the couches in one corner. It was a large room with many levels in the floor and low walls scattered around to make various areas seem more private. The whole place was decorated in deep rich colours and gold gilding. The thick purple carpet gave way to blood red walls with muted lamps set into alcoves.
The lamps held Ithican’s attention for a while. It was the first time he’d been this close to something that worked off an electricity spell. None of the furniture quite matched and yet it all fit in. There were couches, all manor of plush chairs, and low set tables of various shapes. One corner held nothing more than a large mound of velvet pillows.
“Welcome to the Dragon’s Den, Ithican.” Janic said proudly pointing at the far wall which had a large serpent like Dragon with silver horns painted on it.
They walked over to the haphazard collection of people in the corner. They were all richly dressed, like Janic himself. There were five men and three women all just lounging on the couches in shared silence. They were pretty indifferent to Janic’s and Ithican’s approach. One of the men had dyed his short hair a deep blue. He looked up at Ithican with red rimmed eyes, and lazily curled his lip in an attempt at a sneer.
“So this is your latest charity case, eh Janic? I swear, where do you find these cre...”
“Behave, Cyan.” Janic warned. “Everyone this is Ithican, Ithican this is everyone.”
“Not everyone,” one of the women protested “where’s Warrsen?”
Ithican could actually feel Janic’s blood pressure rise at the sound of the name. Ithican was feeling ill at ease enough as it was without adding Janic’s palpable anger. The whole place reeked of strange scents, but as far as he knew this was what every Human establishment smelt like. He’d heard plenty of stories about how unpleasant and unclean they were.
“Warrsen is no longer with us, don’t mention him again.” Janic finally answered through grit teeth. “What are you all doing today?”
“Recovering.” A red haired man giggled.
“Yeah, you missed a Hell of an evening, Janic.”
“I had business to attend to.” Janic snapped. “Someone has to keep this place profitable.”
“We work just as hard as you do, Janic.” Cyan retorted mockingly.
“And I love you all for it.” Janic said sweetly forcing a smile. “Just make sure that everything keeps running smoothly, and you keep yourselves out of trouble.”
“What about Warrsen’s end of the business?”
“I’ve got that covered.” Janic said brightly with an instant change in mood. “Come on, Ithican.”
Ithican followed Janic wordlessly. The pack of Humans snickered as he left and exchanged some unforgivable words about his heritage in hushed tones that they probably didn’t think he could hear. Ithican did his best to ignore them but Janic turned and noticed how flushed he was. Janic stopped at the doors and raised his voice to his friends.
“I might not be able to hear you, but he can.” Janic snarled. “Elves hear and see just about everything.”
“Is that a fact?” Cyan muttered under his breath “you pompous mother fu...”
“It is a fact.” Ithican interrupted. “And you shouldn’t talk about Janic’s mother like that, I’m sure they’re just friends.”
Cyan’s suddenly scarlet skin clashed painfully with his blue hair. Janic laughed along with the others. The Humans on the couch were silenced by a murderous glare from Cyan. Although their eyes remained on the verge of tears with mirth.
Ithican’s heart raced painfully as he hurriedly followed Janic out of the Dragon’s Den. He shouldn’t have said that, but he simply couldn’t help himself. Janic made his way downstairs with Ithican close to his heels. They came to a room with a large desk over flowing with papers and ledgers.
“I need help from someone good in mathematics.” Janic said walking over to the desk. “Think you can assist me?”
“I believe so. What do you need?”
“Actually, what I’m really looking for is a faithful accountant. The last one made a bit of a mess of my business. I need you to try and fix it.”
Janic opened one of the large ledgers that was covered in neatly printed number. Ithican walked up to the desk and leafed through the text. There were two different handwritings in the book. It looked like one person entered the numbers and another applied the formulas and addition to them for the totals. Ithican stopped every once and a while and ran his slender finger down one of the columns of numbers.
“Someone’s been stealing from you.” Ithican noted.
“Is it that obvious?”
“Yes.” Ithican answered flipping a few more pages. “And he just gets sloppier as time passes. How long did he work for you?”
“Ouch. He really has made a mess of things.”
“If it’s one thing I can’t stand, Ithican, it’s thieves.” Janic growled. “Actually I don’t mind the ones who have the courage to break in here, that takes a kind of ‘caution to the wind’ attitude that I can admire. It’s the ones that befriend me that really upset me. I despise being betrayed.”
“Can you figure out how much he took?”
“That depends if the originally entered numbers are right.”
“I put those there myself. But I must admit that I can’t do anything else with numbers other than basic addition and as you can see there’s a lot more involved in my records.”
“In that case, yes I can work it out. Although two years of records is a lot to go through. It might takes some time.”
“Do you have anywhere else to be?”
“Then take all the time you need. I can assure you I’ll make it worth the effort.”
“You’ve done so much for me all ready.”
“Don’t even think twice about it.” Janic said brightly. “Look, I’ve got some meetings that I can’t miss.”
“I’ll be fine here.”
“Perfect. I’ll see you later.”
Ithican sat down at the desk and started to hunt out the oldest record ledger. Janic watched him for a moment with an amused smile. Before he left he cleared his throat to get Ithican’s attention. Ithican looked up expectantly.
“If you don’t mind I’m gong to lock the door.”
“I don’t like being locked in places.” Ithican said quickly.
“I know how much the Elves dislike this sort of thing, but it’s for your protection. Just until everyone gets used to the idea of having you around. Locks can keep people out as well as in.”
“You mean Cyan.”
“Don’t worry too much about him, he’s actually quite harmless.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything to him.”
“You have every right to defend who you are.” Janic looked at the young Elf paternally. “There’s no shame in being Elven, Ithican. Don’t let anyone ever tell you differently.”
“Then why am I treated worse than a dog everywhere I go?” Ithican said bitterly.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Us Humans are jealous.”
“Jealous? Of what? Elves are practically second class citizens.”
“Only because we tell you that you are.” Janic said seriously. “You have the power to become so much more, Ithican.”
“No one will ever give me that chance.”
Janic had spent more time with his business partners than he thought he would and didn’t get back to Ithican till later that night. He hoped that the Elf hadn’t panicked at being locked inside too long. However when he opened the door Ithican was in the exact same place he’d left him.
Elves were famous for their sticky attention spans. Get them interested in something and they work on it to the exclusion of all distraction. They seemed to easily forget their surroundings. Despite his easily triggered senses Ithican didn’t even notice Janic enter the room.
Janic kept his presents a secret for a moment. He watched Ithican write, fascinated by his quick light pace. When it came to displays of finely tuned motor skills there was nothing like watching an Elf.
Ithican jumped slightly and looked around. Janic noted that the Elf had a way of looking around like he never knew where he was. After Ithican figured out that he was in Janic’s house he looked up and smiled at the Human.
“What time is it?” Ithican asked.
“Later than I’d like.” Janic replied vaguely. “Sorry about leaving you here.”
“I kept busy. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything to do.”
“Looks like you made good progress.”
Janic walked over and looked at the red script Ithican had been scrawling everywhere. The Elf’s handwriting was so slanted and fancy that Janic had a hard time reading it at first. Compared to Warrsen’s and his own text Ithican’s script was nothing short of beautiful. Admiring the red notes Janic suddenly thought of something else the Elf could do for him.
“Actually I’m close to being done,” Ithican said pointing to the three ledgers he had left “there wasn’t as much work here as I thought.”
“Yeah, the first ye...”
Ithican suddenly froze. Janic watched confused as Ithican stared at the closed door sniffing at the air like a dog. He looked at Janic and said something in a voice so low the Human had no hope of hearing it.
Ithican made a noise of frustration and motioned Janic closer. Janic shrugged and humored the Elf.
“Cyan’s out there.” Ithican whispered.
“Really?” Janic smiled and looked back at the shut door.
“He’s walked past now.” Ithican informed keeping a wary eye on the door.
“How could you tell it was him?”
“He smells different than the others.”
“Like...” Ithican tried to find a way to describe it to a Human “like licorice.”
“What?!” Janic hissed. His expression lost all its mirth and his face flushed with blood. Janic grabbed Ithican’s upper arm. “Did you say ‘licorice’, as in the candy?”
“Are you sure?”
Ithican nodded quickly and tried to free himself from Janic’s grip which was quickly becoming painful. Janic wasn’t paying any attention to his discomfort. He was too busy thinking furiously, Ithican could almost hear the thoughts.
“Could be a coincidence...” Janic muttered to himself. “Do any of the others smell like that?”
“Not that I noticed.” Ithican replied. “Please, Janic, let me go.”
“Sorry.” Janic said distractedly and released his grip. “If that little weasel...”
“I don’t understand.” Ithican interrupted.
Janic looked at Ithican critically. “Don’t tell anyone about this, Ithican.”
“You’re assuming someone would listen to me in the first place.”
“True. Come on, it’s late, I’ll take you upstairs.”
“I’m not tired.” Ithican said quickly.
“Then we’ll go to the kitchen.”
Not wanting to argue with Janic a second time Ithican followed him to the kitchen. Janic was obviously furious about something as he stalked the halls. Every once in a while he’d growl and spit some random obscenity. Ithican didn’t understand what was wrong, but it didn’t feel like a good idea to ask questions.
“Stay here.” Janic ordered.
Ithican stayed in the lavish dinning room. He could hear Janic tinkering about in the kitchen in the next room. He hoped that Janic wasn’t bring back anything for him to eat, his stomach hurt too much to eat. A few times he heard a dish break as if it had been violently thrown against the far wall. Ithican briefly considered leaving, but he had nowhere to go and Janic didn’t seem to be angry at him.
It didn’t take Janic too long to come back out in the dinning room. He brought with him two empty mugs and a steel pitcher. He placed them on the table and went over to a cabinet and pulled out a glass bottle of amber liquid. He sat down and wordlessly invited Ithican to do the same.
Janic took a deep breath and smiled brightly showing off his sharp teeth. He poured a steaming hot liquid out of the steel pitcher into the two mugs. Ithican really didn’t care for Human drinks, found them too bitter, but he’d felt chilled for the past few hours and the heat sounded inviting if nothing else. He reached out and randomly took one of the mugs.
“Whiskey?” Janic offered opening the glass bottle.
Ithican shook his head.
“No? I didn’t think so, but I thought I’d offer anyway.” Janic poured a healthy dose of the alcohol into his own drink. He took a deep pull at it and seemed to relax a bit.
Ithican cautiously followed suite. He found the hot drink surprisingly sweet and gratefully drank more. It hit his frozen stomach and warmed it instantly.
“Good, isn’t it?” Janic asked. “Better with alcohol though.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“I must apologize for losing my temper, I have to admit I can be irrational at times.”
“That’s okay.” Ithican said complacently.
“So how are the numbers?”
“What?” Ithican asked confused. “Oh, right...numbers. Actually...I found something interesting...”
“Go on.” Janic encouraged after Ithican stopped.
“Sorry, I’m having trouble focusing.” Ithican shook his head. “Anyway, it would seem that he was perfectly honest for almost a year and a half.”
“Yes...the first miscalculation looked more like an honest mistake than anything else...”
“And when I didn’t catch it he got bolder.” Janic said to himself. “Six months ago, that was about the time...”
“Most likely...” Ithican continued haltingly. He pushed his drink away and reached up to rubbed at his temples. “...had a partn...”
“You all right, Ithican?” Janic asked with mock concern.
“I’m...I...don’t feel so well.”
Janic watched calmly as Ithican got up from the table. He looked like he was going to be sick. He pressed one hand against his stomach and griped the back of the chair with the other. When breathing became difficult he found that struggling for breath and balance at the same time took too much coordination. Janic waited patiently for the Elf to lose the fight. After Ithican hit the floor Janic drained the rest of his own drink.
“I told you this stuff is better with alcohol...it neutralizes the drugs.”
Coming back into reality was like trying to swim up from the depths of a murky lake. Ithican couldn’t see the surface, but his instinct told him it was near. Getting there was a completely different story. He tried simply opening his eyes, but the lead in his system wouldn’t allow it.
Just let me drown, it’s not so terrible.
A hot hand slipped itself under his shoulder blades and forced him to sit up. Before Ithican could figure out what was going on a glass was pressed against his lips. He suddenly found himself in true danger of drowning and swallowed the thick ginger tasting liquid unwillingly.
The hand that had brought him up quickly forced him back down. Ithican cried out in confusion and then screamed as his muscles tightened around his bones with nearly enough force to crack them. He fought against someone who was holding him down to keep him from arching his back too violently.
It was several minutes before the racking muscle spasms subsided. The second he was free Ithican sat up quivering from the shock and panting heavily for breath. He reached up and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. Ithican stared at the bright red blood and thick purple liquid that was now smeared across his hand.
“Sorry about that.” A soft voice apologized. “I thought I’d lost you.”
Ithican looked warily at the Human sitting in a chair next to his bed.
“’Janic’,” the man provided “remember?”
Ithican thought about it for a moment and then nodded. Janic smiled warmly and handed him a small towel. Ithican took it and rubbed off the blood that dripped from his nose and the rest of the spicy purple liquid he’d tried to spit out.
“What happened?” Ithican asked in a scratchy voice.
“I was hoping to ask you the same thing.” Janic admitted. “Are you prone to this sort of thing?”
“Prone to what?”
“I guess I pushed you too hard, can’t expect you to recover from all you’ve been through with just a hot meal and a night of sleep.”
“What was that purple stuff?”
“Ithican, you’ve been out for two days, I didn’t know what else to do.”
“Yes. I gave you a powerful muscle stimulant, a last resort in this kind of case. I thought it would snap you out of your spell, which I’m glad to see that it has.”
Ithican looked around the small room trying to reset his bearings. If he didn’t know any better he would have sworn he’d been drugged rather than simply feinted. However he clearly remembered that he and Janic had been drinking from the same pitcher. He reached up to rub his sore shoulders and noticed that crook of his elbow was extremely tender. Examining the spot he found it bruised with four needle tracks over the veins.
“God...Janic, what are you doing to me?”
“It’s for your benefit, Ithican.” Janic said defensively. “Those tracks are from that pain reliever that help you sleep so well the first night.”
“I was unconscious, what did I need a pain reliever for?”
“You were screaming, it was the only thing that calmed you down. I thought you were going to have a seizure. Who’s Lla...”
“Please,” Ithican interrupted quickly “I’m sure you mean well, Janic, but you have to stop using Human medicine on me. It’s too harsh.”
“You Elves are just afraid of anything man made, but don’t worry it’s perfectly safe. Just like electricity, which can do great thing to make life easier.”
“Electricity can also be used to torture.” Ithican pointed out bitterly.
“True, in the wrong hands. But ask yourself this simple question: what do I have to gain from hurting you? Nothing. On the other hand, if I can earn your trust...”
Janic left the sentence open. Ithican looked over at the window which was covered in delicate ice crystals. Soft white clumps like dandelion seeds drifted silently by the insulated plek-glass. It took Ithican a second to figure out that he was seeing snow for the first time. He looked up at the roof and back at Janic.
“You have my trust.”
“Excellent!” Janic crowed. He reached over to the nightstand and picked up a needle that was already full with a silver rainbow.
“But no more injections.” Ithican added firmly. “I’ll handle the pain on my own.”
Janic studied Ithican for a moment and then smirked at some private joke. He set the needle back down and took his hand away from it. Ithican involuntarily flinched when Janic placed his hand on his shoulder.
“Have it your way.” Janic agreed. “But you don’t have to handle anything on your own, I’ll help you.”
“Thank you, I don’t think I’ll every be able to repay you.”
“You’ve already done more for me that you know.”
It must have been late in the day when Janic had woken Ithican because the sun had quickly set. Janic had left him alone a few hours ago after someone Ithican hadn’t seen before came and whispered a message to him. A message that Ithican could hear clearly. Had he not been so stressed at the time Ithican may have been amused by how much the Humans underestimated his senses.
“We’re not hundred percent sure yet,” the man hissed “but it looks like you might be right about him.”
For a moment Ithican had feared that they were talking about him. However when Janic got the news he looked at the Elf with what Ithican could only describe as pride. It was unsettling, and Janic quickly picked up on Ithican’s discomfort.
“Relax, Ithican. If what I suspect is true, turns out to actually be fact you’ll be greatly rewarded.”
“And if it isn’t true?”
“Then there will have been no harm done in the first place.” Janic laughed. “Either way you’re safe.”
“Right,” Ithican said darkly “safe behind a locked door.”
“If it makes you feel any better, and you think you can take care of yourself, I’ll leave it unlocked. You’re free to roam the house if you wish, you’re no prisoner here. But if I were you I’d avoid the Den, I’d be lying if I said you were safe there without me around.”
It did make Ithican feel better to know that he could leave if he wanted to. Although it really didn’t make any difference. He had decided not to roam the house, in fact he wasn’t in any kind of condition to do so. He laid in bed with his stomach churning. Extended stretches of fever punctuated by flashes of chill kept him from keeping both feet planted firmly in reality and he’d slipped frequently into a bizarre state of Daymares.
Sitting up Ithican shook his head violently to cast off thoughts of his previous life. He had found that even the most pleasant memories now felt more like a dagger being twisted in his chest. He picked up the Tarrin that was sitting on the nightstand next to the needle.
Ithican turned the weapon over in his hands. It was really nothing more than a toy because he had never had the audacity to use it against a Human, and he’d never found the courage to use it against himself. Although he’d lost faith in any religion it was still impossible to free himself from the fear he had of the consequences associated with suicide.
There was hardly an Elf alive that didn’t believe that to take one’s own life was to trap yourself in a nightmare forever, stuck In Between. More reasonable Elves theorized that it was the Humans who had instilled the idea into their Elven servants to prevent them from trying to seek freedom in death.
Still Ithican decided he couldn’t take that chance. He didn’t know what to do with the rest of his life, let alone the rest of eternity. Placing the Tarrin back down on the stand he picked up the needle. It really was beautiful to look at. He stared at the swirling rainbow for nearly an hour, mesmerized by its shimmer.
A sudden sweep of chill snapped Ithican out of his reverie. He put the needle back in its place next to the Tarrin. He was in pain and knew that the liquid could spare him, but he found that he didn’t have the courage to end his suffering that way either.
“Or perhaps I simply don’t deserve peace.”
Ithican sighed and stood up. He paced about for a while trying to generate some heat. The cold that had struck him this time had not been quickly replaced by fever as it had before. He rubbed at his forearms as if suddenly afraid that his blood would freeze solid. Ithican was about to call for Janic when he realized that there probably a room somewhere that would have a fireplace.
Stepping out of his room for the first time on his own Ithican looked around warily for other inhabitants. The hall was empty and so was the staircase. He went down to the first floor and closed his eyes. Concentrating on scent and sound he discovered a lot of things his senses didn’t understand.
Ithican stopped and opened his eyes once more. There was too much stimulus in the strange house to find a fire that way. Reverting to less skilled means he simply started wandering about the large house. Janic’s place was even more impressive than Ithican had first thought.
His curiosity tried to tell him to keep nosing about, but when he found a warm study with a roaring fire the rest of him demanded that he stay here. It was one of the few times in his life that good sense had won over curiosity.
He stood in front of the bright fire and stared at the flame despite the damage it was doing to his keen sight. Ithican hadn’t been in the study long when the scent of licorice filled the air. He didn’t move as he heard the door open and close.
“Why if it isn’t the new house pet.” Cyan’s voice cut through the silence.
Ithican ignored the bait, however he did turn around to keep an eye on the Human.
“What are you doing down here, Elf?”
“Nothing that concerns you, Human.”
Cyan narrowed his brown eyes. Ithican shifted his weight so he could move out of the way quickly if Cyan decided to attack. A smug smile spread across Cyan’s thin lips, but he didn’t come any closer.
“We both know that fire isn’t going to do anything to help that chill of yours.” Cyan said in his mocking tone.
“That innocent act might work on Janic,” Cyan snapped “but it doesn’t fool me. I know what you are. Your type can’t be trusted.”
Ithican didn’t know how Cyan had found out about his exile, but it was obvious that he had. He subconsciously rubbed at the burn mark despite the fact that it hurt to do so.
“Janic’s willing to give me a second chance.” Ithican said defensively.
“There are no second chances. You’re worse than any of us, once you get a taste of that stuff there’s no turning back.”
“I have no taste for blood!” Ithican cried. “It was an accident, I could have saved her!”
“’Blood’?” Cyan asked momentarily confused. “What are you talk...”
“Cyan!” Janic’s voice caused Cyan to jump guiltily.
“Jani...” Cyan started.
“What are you doing in here?” Janic growled. “You should be in the Den, we don’t close for another three hours.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with this Elf, Janic!”
“Don’t worry about him. Ithican is my responsibility.”
“He puts us all at risk!” Cyan snapped. “Just look at him, he’s crazy!”
Janic looked over at Ithican and had to admit that Cyan had a point. The Elf had backed into the corner, staring at the floor with unfocused glittering eyes. Ithican raked his violently trembling hands through his shiny hair repetitively. He seemed suddenly oblivious to the Human presents in the room and muttered incomprehensively to himself.
“Get back to work, Cyan.” Janic instructed. “I’ll take care of this.”
“You need to put him back out in the alley where you found him!”
“There’s nothing wrong with him that I can’t fix.”
“You overestimate your power, Janic.” Cyan sneered. “Elves are like glass- once you break it there’s no fixing it, and the shattered pieces are far more dangerous than the whole.”
“Just leave! I’ll deal with you later.”
Cyan didn’t like the tone with which Janic had said those words. He shook off his nerves and shot a venomous glare at the muttering Elf before leaving. Janic smiled to himself and just watched Ithican for a moment. The Elf had taken to the neparine like a fish to water. He’d only been on it for three days, and off it less than twenty-four hours, yet he was all ready suffering withdrawal like he’d been addicted for a year.
“Ithican.” Janic called softly.
It took a moment for Ithican to respond, but he eventually looked up. His tearful emerald eyes searched Janic pleadingly. Janic experienced a strange pang of emotion that he didn’t understand because he’d never genuinely felt sorry for anyone before. He quickly shook off the feeling.
“Calm down.” Janic purred. “It’s going to be all right, Ithican.”
“I can’t take this.” Ithican whispered. “Please, Janic, help me.”
“I’m going to. Come on, I’ll take you back up to your room.”
Ithican hesitated, but did as he was told. Back upstairs Ithican sat down on the bed and Janic instantly pulled a blanket up around his shoulders. Ithican found that it didn’t help and was starting to believe what Cyan had said about the fire. The chill didn’t really seem to be coming from any exposure.
“What you need is some sleep.”
“I can’t. It’s too painful.”
“I have just the thing for that.”
“You can’t fix this.” Ithican muttered as he rubbed at his heart. “I can’t escape...the nightmares...”
Janic sighed. Cyan was right, there was something seriously wrong with this one. The neparine was practically a good thing for him, at least he seemed halfway stable when it was in his veins. Janic reaching into nightstand and pulled out the needle Ithican had refused earlier.
“Janic, that’s not the answer.” Ithican said seeing what Janic was up to.
“Then what is, Ithican?” Janic asked simply. “Perhaps in time we can stop this, but for now... This will put a stop to the nightmares so you can at least begin to heal.”
“Really.” Janic smiled, he could see Ithican thinking about it. “What do you have to lose?”
Ithican didn’t give Janic an answer because he didn’t have one. Janic encouraged Ithican to lay down. Ithican didn’t struggle when Janic took his wrist to stretch is arm out, but he did turn away, unwilling to watch. Janic bit down on his lower lip to keep from smiling too broadly at how easily the Elf had been snared.
Janic pushed more of the silver liquid into Ithican’s blood than necessary. He knew he was dangerously close to overdosing the thin creature, but he truly did want to ensure that Ithican felt no pain. It worked perfectly. Constantly on the edge of exhaustion the release from physical and mental discomfort quickly started to put him to sleep.
“I can’t figure it out.” Ithican said drowsily while staring at nothing.
“Figure out what?”
“Did he think he was doing me a favour?” Ithican asked no one in a far away voice “...or was this the cruelest punishment he could think of?”
“Who are you talking about?”
“Father?” Janic asked nervously.
“...Evergladrida’s High Judge of Elves...”
Two hours later when the Dragon’s Den was starting to close down for the night, or rather day, Janic went back up stairs to make sure Ithican was still comfortable. He was pleased to find the Elf curled up on his side sleeping like a newborn. Relaxed in unconsciousness without the stress of his heavy heart gleaming in his eyes he looked much closer to his young years.
Janic wondered if what Ithican had said about his birth right was true. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that he was the High Judge’s son, but if he was what was someone of such high breeding doing stumbling around in the Human world? Janic knew the Wetland Elves had no true government. The Judge was the closet thing they had to a leader, and sons often followed in their father’s career.
Janic reached down and gently brushed Ithican’s inky hair away from his face. He tucked the long silken strands behind the Elf’s strangely pointed ear. Janic could suddenly see why people used to capture Elves. It was like having a tamed wild animal as a pet. They brought a certain feral beauty into the house, like containing a part of Nature, a piece of innocents.
“Have you ever been truly lied to, Ithican?” Janic asked softly. “Somehow I doubt that you have been before now, ‘Prince’ of Evergladrida.”
Smiling paternally at the Elf Janic smoothed out his midnight hair once more. Despite the heavy does of drugs in his system Ithican stirred and rolled over onto his back. For the first time Janic noticed the yellow and red watery stain on the left breast of Ithican’s shirt.
Janic unbuttoned Ithican’s shirt and found that it was sticking to an infected wound. Dipping his fingers into the brandy he was driking he rubbed away some of the leaking lymph and blood. Janic smiled brightly, he had discovered a mark that helped start explain a few things.
Leaving Ithican Janic walked down stairs, confidant that everything was working out perfectly. He had thought that things were starting to go down hill for the Dragon’s Den, but the Elf had changed things or at least was going to. Janic stepped up behind Cyan who was ushering the last of the customers out into the frozen predawn street.
“Don’t sneak up on me Janic.” Cyan snarled. “Have you dumped that Elf out into the snow yet?”
“Want to come into my office, and we can talk about this?”
“’Want’? ‘Office’?” Cyan asked suspiciously.
“Just come with me into the study. I’ve found something intresting that I think you’ll want to know about.”
Cyan looked around at the others, but none of them would make any eye contact with him. He snarled at them and followed Janic back to the study. Janic pulled out a bottle of clear liquor and two glasses. Cyan refused the drink.
“Where’s the Elf, Janic?”
“Upstairs, sleeping peacefully.”
“I can’t believe you’re keeping that miserable Swamp Rat.” Cyan grumbled. “He’s completely out of his mind.”
“He’s fine.” Janic insisted. “It’s a sign from above that he was sulking in the alley at just the right time. He’s been doing a great job so far. I never knew how useful Elves could be. He just has a few issues to work out.”
“An Elf is a dangerous pet.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Janic laughed. “He’s just like any other stray dog, you housebreak them, teach them the rules, and then you have a loyal companion, better than any well bred animal because they remember being out on the street.”
“I just don’t understand why we even need to take the risk. Why do we need him?”
“Because of people like Warrsen. Think about it, the Elf’s got nowhere else to go, no amount of stealing from me would ever get him anywhere, and he’s smart enough to know that. He’s so young I’ll practically be able to raise him myself. And he has some unique talents that I can use to my advantage.”
“Talents or not, he’s a Unicorn Rider, I’m sure of it.”
“Oh, that’s my fault. I started him on the neparine the night I found him.” Janic chuckled. “He doesn’t even know it yet.”
“What?! How could he not know?”
“He’s from Evergladrida, that place is so isolated that they know nothing of the outside world other than vague fairy tales. They’re not even really accepted by the other Elven sub-races. It was actually the Forest Elves that coined the term ‘Swamp Rat’. He doesn’t know about neparine because they don’t use any synthetic chemicals in their medicine...or recreation.”
“But why did you do it in the first place? That’s a dangerous drug, not to mention expensive. We don’t deal with anything so heavy here, and for a good reason.”
“It’s just a little added insurance against runaways.” Janic’s smile faded.
“He won’t get very far without me.”
“But if he doesn’t know about his dependanc...”
“When the time is right, he’ll learn.” Janic replied with a shrug.
“Well, I’d teach him that lesson soon if I were you. Although I don’t think that’s any way to breed loyalty.”
Cyan turned away to leave and didn’t see the expression of pure hate that suddenly twisted Janic’s expression. Janic lashed out and grabbed Cyan’s collar and jerked him back. Cyan cried out in shock as Janic sunk a needle deep into his side. The bright blue fluid that Janic forced into his belly worked fast. Cyan fought against its paralyzing affects but found himself helpless to stop it. A cold smile touched Janic’s lips as Cyan collapsed.
“It’s not Ithican’s loyalty that I’m worried about right now.”
When Ithican woke it was still night. He sat up and looked around trying once again to get his bearings. He reasoned that it was probably dark ‘again’ rather than ‘still’. He didn’t mind the lost time, as far as he was concerned he had nothing useful to do with it anyway.
Getting up and walking over the window Ithican had to admit that whatever Janic was giving him it made him feel better. It wasn’t just a physical relief either. He was finding that he no longer had the mental energy to obsess over everything he’d lost. Ithican could feel the irreparable damage the silver drug was doing to his memory. He turned and looked at the large mirror hanging on the wall.
“I’d love to be able to truthfully say that I don’t recognize you.” Ithican sighed. “That I don’t know who you are, what you’ve done...”
Ithican’s reflection glared at him spitefully and then turned away in disgust. Ithican brought his attention back to the window. He could feel the bitter cold of the night just by looking at the white landscape. It was as if someone had drained the colour out of the world. Even the sky was an unsettling gray instead of its usual black velvet studded in stars.
Driven by a sudden thirst Ithican left the window and went downstairs. Like the night before the rest of the house seemed deserted. He wandered around for a while trying to find the kitchen. Ithican still wasn’t used to the way Human houses were separated into lots of closed in rooms. He eventually found what he was looking for and with a little difficulty he even managed to figure out how to work the running water.
It wasn’t until Ithican tried to find his way back upstairs that he realized how many passageways the house had, and how similar they all looked. The only thing Ithican knew for a fact he could find was the Dragon’s Den because it was so noisy, but he had no desire to go there. Going in the opposite direction he opened doors at random hoping to find a set of stairs.
Behind an unusually heavy door Ithican came across a stair well. However these steps went down instead of up. Ithican didn’t know that there was another level under the ground floor. He hadn’t even really thought that it was possible. When you live in the Wetlands, you don’t build basements.
This time good sense had no chance of winning over curiosity. Ithican walked down the stone steps cautiously. His eyes easily adjusted to the dimly lit stair well. Everything down here was hewn of stone and in stark contrast the lavishly decorated house above.
At the bottom of the stairs was another thick door. Ithican’s stomach turned slightly at the heavy dank air that had settled in the basement. It smelt heavily of fear, but with his own heart suddenly racing Ithican figured it was just his own irrational phobia of being underground. It was a fear he had always been determined to get over, although he’d never quite conquered it. He shook off the feeling and put his hand on the metal door handle.
Ithican started to question his own fool hardiness, but before he could really second guess what he was doing he opened the door. The nauseating mingled scents of blood, sweat, and urine struck Ithican’s senses harder than a kick from a race horse. He gasped violently, only making matters worse.
The over powering stench actually caused his vision to swim. Ithican gripped the door frame to keep his balance and wrapped his free hand around his stomach to keep from retching. When everything finally settled and stopped reeling Ithican was left dizzy.
Looking into the room he didn’t understand what he was seeing at first. The previous shock dulled his mind and he stared at the ghastly vision without full comprehension. It was a man, or had been at some point in time, mercifully now it was nothing more than lifeless flesh.
He was tethered by oozing wrists to a bar suspended high above his head. Congealed blood bordering on black jellied his skin at the places where someone had roughly abused and tattered his tan hide. The sweat that had rolled down his taunt skin had since dried into intricate white patterns of salty lace. The deep purple that stained the cyanic blue lips sharply reminded Ithican of the pain a small dose of the muscle stimulant had caused him.
If Ithican had been told he’d spent an hour with his eyes locked on the mutilated corpse he would not be surprised. Time and everything else around him seemed to stand deathly still. He didn’t recognize the victim, but that didn’t remove any of the horror.
When Ithican finally turned his eyes away from the body they fell on the tools that had slowly pried the life away from it. His skin turned to ice at the sight of the gleaming instruments that had been created for no other purpose than to force suffering on any creature unfortunate enough to be constructed of flesh and bone.
Who ever had used them had cleaned the cruel implements as if they had been planning to eat with them later. They shone brightly on a neatly folded white towel. Ithican felt that the sight might have been less of a shock if the tools were still covered in blood. This way they just seemed ready for use again.
Tearing his gaze away from the table Ithican started to come to his senses and realized that the longer he stayed here the greater his chances became of being the next victim. Trying to regain enough control to move Ithican closed his eyes tightly, which always had the effect of sharpening the rest of his abilities.
With his sight blocked his ears picked up on the soft sound of uncontrolled weeping. Ithican snapped his eyes open and noticed for the first time the door set into the wall to his right.
“Janic?” Ithican called in a shaken voice. “Is that you? What’s happening?”
Whoever was behind the door did not respond. Ithican hesitated and looked back up the stairs, but found he couldn’t just leave. Although certain that it was a bad idea Ithican moved over to the door and cautiously opened it. It led to another room that was completely devoid of furniture of any kind. The only thing the room held was a man sitting against the far corner. He had his face hidden in his hand and his knees tucked tightly to his chest.
“Cyan?” Ithican asked seeing the blue hair. “Are y...”
Ithican stopped cold when Cyan jerked his head up. Cyan’s eyes were dilated to the point of appearing black. He hadn’t answered any of Ithican’s calls because he’d been gagged so tightly that the corners of his mouth were seeping blood into the white cloth. Cyan put his hands up to defend himself against a non-existent attack, displaying the fact that his wrist were tied as well.
So much had happened so quickly that Ithican didn’t have time to understand what he’d gotten himself in the middle of. His quick paced thinking only led him to one conclusion, and that was that he had to help Cyan. When Ithican approached him Cyan tried to force himself further into the corner. His dark eyes roamed the room wildly, like he was following something Ithican couldn’t see.
The knot holding Cyan’s wrist together was a simplistic one and Ithican was able to easily free him. Cyan reached up and clawed at the twisted binding that kept him silent. With a show of strength that made Ithican nervous Cyan simply tore the cloth apart.
Cyan pitched forward onto his hands and knees and spat out what looked like a bright green hard candy. The subtle scent of licorice that always surrounded the Human suddenly filled the room with its pungent odour. He spat violently a few more times and looked around with slightly unfocused eyes. Cyan suddenly screamed and dug his nails into his own shoulder and tore at it till it bled.
Ithican started to back away slowly keeping his eyes on the Human. It had never even occurred to him that Cyan might not be safe to release. He had seemed so helpless a few seconds ago. Cyan stopped digging at his shoulder and slammed his palm down on the stone floor like he was crushing a bug.
“Take that, damn rat!” Cyan crowed triumphantly. He laughed till he was in tears.
Ithican was halfway back to the door when Cyan finally noticed him. Cyan leapt to his feet and stared at the Elf in disbelief. Cyan shook his head and looked again. He smiled and licked the green from his lips, looking for all the world like a lizard.
“You’re a strange looking Dragon.” Cyan said looking at Ithican.
“What? I’m not a Dragon.”
Cyan didn’t seem to hear Ithican. He took an unsteady step closer. Ithican knew he should run, but like being stuck in a nightmare he found he couldn’t move. Cyan looked down at his own forearm and cried out in terror. Just as he had done to his shoulder he now tore at the skin of his arm.
“Cyan, stop that!”
Ithican instinctively went to try and stop Cyan from mutilating himself. Cyan drew back and snarled at Ithican like an animal. His teeth were stained bright green. He stopped clawing at his heavily bleeding arm and glared at Ithican accusingly.
“Why are you doing this to me?!” Cyan cried angrily.
“I haven’t done anything!”
“You’re giving me scales like your own!” Cyan snarled holding up his hand which had nothing but normal skin on it. “Make this stop!”
Cyan didn’t give Ithican a chance to follow through on the demand. Ithican ducked as Cyan swung violently at him. Turning swiftly Ithican headed towards the nearest door. Unlike the other one this one was securely locked. Ithican stepped to the side causing Cyan to slam into the closed door instead of into his prey.
Ithican dropped to his hands and knees to avoid being grabbed by the suddenly insane Human. Swiping at the air where the Elf had been seconds before Cyan ended up hitting the door so hard Ithican could hear him break a bone in his hand. Cyan howled with rage and went to attack with his fingers held like claws.
Wasting no time Ithican scrambled towards the open door. He’d never encountered anyone this determined to kill him before. When he came to the next room he froze at the gory sight that remained strung up in the center of the room. The delay was a costly one and he quickly felt Cyan’s licorice breath behind him. Without thought as to which direction to run Ithican dashed into the room.
Coming to the table Ithican randomly snatched one of the sharp tools to arm himself against the madman. However when he looked down and saw the ultra-steel weapon in his hand he dropped it instantly. He couldn’t bear the though of killing again, not even in self defense.
Cyan didn’t notice or care that he was facing an opponent that refused to draw blood. Like a bear chasing after a rabbit the pair crashed around the stone room. As panic watered down his blood Ithican forgot about the stairs that led back into the house and used all his concentration to simply keep one step ahead of Cyan.
Ithican was quicker than Cyan, but in the enclosed space the Human had the advantage. Eventually Ithican made a wrong move and cornered himself. There was no look of triumph in Cyan’s slightly unfocused eyes as he approached. Ithican realized that, for whatever reason, Cyan had no idea what he was doing.
Cyan grabbed Ithican’s collar and jerked him out of the corner. Ithican struggled to pull away, but knew that once caught he had little chance. He watched like a passive observer as Cyan pulled back his broken hand to strike. Ithican didn’t even notice the third hand that entered the fray.
Cyan however yelped in surprise as someone wrapped their hand around his wrist. He whipped around to face the new enemy, which proved to be a deadly mistake. Janic had a knife in his free hand and he buried into Cyan stomach. Cyan gasped sharply and stood frozen while Janic enjoyed the expression of shock on his face. When he’d had enough Janic ripped the razor sharp blade up until it met with the Cyan’s sternum.
Slipping off the bloody steel Cyan fell back to the floor. Ithican wanted more than anything to close his eyes and block out what had just happened. However he found himself unable to even turn away. Cyan scratched weakly at the stone floor until the blood loss claimed his life.
Ithican stared down at Cyan’s vacant expression and then up at bright, almost mirthful, fire that lit Janic’s eyes. Finding himself in a room with two corpses and a murder Ithican couldn’t control the bile rising at the back of his throat. He retched against an empty stomach until shock slammed his system against the threshold of his endurance and he passed out.
“If you’re going to live here, we’re going to have to work on that weak stomach of yours.”
Ithican woke with a fever sever enough to make him wish he was back out in the frozen forest. He fought to convince himself that what he had seen was nothing more than another demented nightmare. However the scent of blood had left a residue at the back of his throat that he could still taste over the bile. Pretending that what had happened wasn’t real would be admitting to insanity.
Adrenaline crystallized in Ithican’s rushing blood when he tried to sit up only to discover his wrist restrained above his head. With his imagination set in overdrive the cool cloth that was pressed against his forehead became as painful as any intentional torture. Ithican cried out and thrashed to break the unwelcome contact. The back of his mind heard soothing words, but he couldn’t get a firm enough grip on reality to understand them.
Realizing that the Elf was never going to calm down on his own Janic took the wet cloth he’d been using to break Ithican’s fever and dosed it a clear liquid from a dark glass bottle. Janic held Ithican down till he was forced to take a breath through the almond scented rag. Instantly intoxicated Ithican relaxed physically and mentally.
“That’s better.” Janic purred. “No one’s hurting you, Ithican. I want you to understand that. Come on, open your eyes, I want to talk.”
Ithican obediently opened his bright emerald eyes and after fighting for focus he glared at Janic. With his quivering nerves calmed his fear was quickly replaced by anger.
“We have nothing to talk about, Human.” Ithican snapped. He yanked at the soft silk that kept him tethered to the bed rail.
Janic sighed heavily. He sat down on the bed next to Ithican as if he was visiting a sick friend in the hospital. Janic reached down and gently brushed his fingertips across Ithican’s cheek bone and up into his hair where he absently traced the cut curve of the Elf’s pointed ear.
“Don’t touch me unless you plan to kill me.” Ithican growled, pulling away as best he could.
“Relax, Ithican, this isn’t anything like that.” Janic smiled sympathetically and took his hand away. “Although I can see why you’d fear that. You’re a handsome Elf, Ithican, but say that in the same way that I’d say a horse is beautiful, or perhaps ‘Unicorn’ would make a better analogy.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ithican asked while trying to control the dizzying effects of the almond vapor. “I don’t understand.”
“It’s simple, I’m after your undivided loyalty. I’ve invested a lot of time and quite a bit of money into you, and I’ve been very impressed by your work so far. You were right about Cyan.”
“What are you talking about? I don’t even know him!”
“And you never will,” Janic chuckled “but you told me what he smelt like. I couldn’t pick up on it myself and I’m sure he didn’t realize the deadly perfume he wore.”
“The licorice? It’s just candy.”
“No, no it wasn’t. What you smelt was a drug called marzindreniline, better known as Dragon Rock. I won’t go into details, but it is a powerful hallucinogen and very sought after.”
“Hallucinogen...” Ithican muttered to himself. “That’s what was wrong with Cyan.”
“That’s right,” Janic laughed “he was seeing things would probably turn your hair white.”
“Why would anyone want to do that to themselves? He was terrified out of his mind!”
“Well, he was overdosing to the extreme. It’s a dangerous thing to mess with. The smallest chip of it can caused extraordinary visions for hours, usually pleasant ones.
It is an amazing drug, it really is, and worth thousands a gram. However, it is also extremely difficult to make and expensive to produce. I didn’t know this before I met you, but Cyan knows, well knew, how to make it. And Warrsen...”
“...provided the funding.” Ithican finished in a horrified whisper.
“Exactly! They were starting a side business at my expense, while living under my roof!” Janic sneered. “Apparently they had everything set, and were about to make their move into distributing in Nueyark, far from here. Warrsen left first. Cyan knew that eventually I’d find out that he’d been stealing, and that naturally I’d send him to go find the little rat. They almost got away with it! I was going to send Cyan the second you figured out how much Warrsen had taken. That brings us to our current situation...”
“None of that has anything to do with me! If anything I helped you.”
“That you did, I would have never figured it out on my own. You’ve proven yourself to be immensely useful in so many ways. I tied you here because I feared that after you’d seen Warrsen’s body and Cyan’s death that you’d bolt without letting me explain.”
“There is no explanation that will make me see you as anything other than a cold-blooded murderer!”
“That’s fine, I deserve the title...unlike someone I know.” Janic smirked. “But I still can’t just let you leave.”
“What good will I be to you if you have to keep me chained here?” Ithican protested desperately.
“None, but the whole point of this little exercise is to keep me from having to do that. Here’s how it is going to work. All you have to do is stay here for the next twenty-four hours. If after that time you still want to leave, then you’re free to go.”
“I can’t imagine anything that would make me want to stay after this.” Ithican spat angrily. “I trusted you!”
“That was your first mistake, never trust a Human.”
“It won’t happen again.” Ithican snarled.
“Look, I’m sorry we have to go through this, it’s a hard lesson to learn. I like you, and I still want to help you. It’s a dangerous, cold world out there, I can protect you...”
“I don’t care, I’m not staying here. Nothing in the next twenty-four hours is going to change that.”
“I think you’ll be surprised by how much is going to change in the next few hours. You’re going to find that there is something that you can only get from me, and you’re going to miss it dearly.”
Janic pulled out the crystal vial from his shirt pocket and shook it gently. Ithican watched the colours spin wildly with his eyes reflecting the betrayal he felt. Suddenly understanding what Janic had been doing to him Ithican felt withdrawal set in instantly. Real or imagined, he whimpered as his heart fluttered in response to his fever diving into chill like a bird plunging into the open sea.
“What have you addicted me to?” Ithican groaned.
“It’s Unicorn Juice.” Janic replied coolly.
“Sliver Lady, Rainbow Ride, Dragon Tears...”
“Those words don’t mean anything to me!” Ithican cried as panic started to overcome the calming drugs that had been forced on him.
“That doesn’t surprise me.” Janic shrugged. “It’s neparine. Very rare in the Elven part of the world, but it is the drug of choice around here. Most powerful pain reliever known, it also happens to be the most addictive substance ever created.”
“Any drug can be fought.” Ithican said defiantly.
“That just shows how little you know about drugs.” Janic chuckled. “But you’re right, neparine can be fought. However, you’re not strong enough, mentally or physically.” A lupine grin spread across Janic’s aristocratic face. “Besides, do you really want to fight it? It would mean being in pain again, and more importanly it would mean being back out on the icy street. Do you really want to be out on your own again?”
Ithican didn’t answer, not even in his own mind. Janic placed the vial of neparine down on the nightstand and a fresh needle next to it. Ithican looked away. He didn’t fight the crystal tears that slipped from his unfocused eyes. At one point in time he would have gladly given his loyalty to Janic, but to have it stolen from him reminded Ithican too much of the fate of his ancestors.
“The decision is yours, Ithican.” Janic whispered. “What do you want?”
“I just want to go home.”
“You are home.”
It didn’t take twenty-four hours for Ithican to find himself deep in the mysterious agony of withdrawal. He laid in bed with his flesh screaming for what his mind would not concede to give. In an attempt to force him into quenching his own thirst Ithican’s body tore at itself as effectively as Cyan had ripped at his own skin.
The spikes of fever and troughs of chill scrambled his thinking, clouding his every thought. At times he fought hard simply to keep from losing his name forever. If Ithican was learning any lesson from this it was ‘be careful what you wish for’. He had wanted to forget himself so badly before this. Now he found that the cost of such a desire was far too high a price to pay. If he lost himself now, he’d lose his freedom.
Ithican jerked violently at the strong silk bindings and screamed in a delusional combination of fear, pain, and rage. Ithican quickly exhausted himself and gave up on trying to keep control, allowing as his trembling nerves and laboured breathing to go unchecked.
He had been here for hours, and if anyone else in the house could hear him they were pretending not to notice. Ithican’s cries were reduced to a low whimpering as he realized that he couldn’t think of a living soul who would come to his aid even if they knew he was suffering.
Hearing the strain of hysteria in the Elf’s near musical cry Janic decided not to wait until the time limit was up to offer Ithican release. Part of Janic feared that Ithican would prove stronger than he looked and pull through the withdrawal, the other half worried that the pain would prove too much for the young Elf to handle. If he didn’t get Ithican when he was right at the breaking point he’d lose the Elf to either recovery or insanity.
Janic came into the room, locking the door after himself. He looked down at Ithican with a sad smile. Ithican grit his teeth against a wave of nausea as Janic sat down next to him. Retrieving a clean cloth Janic ripped open Ithican’s soaked shirt and rubbed his taunt body down as he would a horse after a hard ride.
“I hate to see you like this, Ithican.”
“Don’t you dare...” Ithican panted “don’t you dare pretend to care about me.”
“Now be fair, I brought you under my wing, I saved your life more than once. Even before he tried to kill you Cyan wanted you thrown back out on the street. I’ve kept you fed, warm, and protected.”
“Then help me once more.” Ithican whispered pleadingly.
Janic smiled broadly exposing his sharp teeth. He reached over and picked up the silver vial.
“No, that’s not what I meant...” Ithican protested weakly. “Help me get off the neparine, help me and... I’ll stay.”
Janic thought about the offer for a moment. He looked at the frost covered window and then back down at the Elf who was regarding him with frightened tear bright eyes.
“No.” Janic answered shaking his head. “You’ll be just like a bird, and you’ll bolt at the first sign of spring. I don’t think we’re ready to trust each other yet.”
“You don’t deserve my trust, or anyone else’s!”
Ithican instantly regretted his words. Janic’s face flushed in anger. He slammed his palm down on Ithican’s infected chest and pressed against it mercilessly. Ithican’s eyes rolled back and he screamed the way he should have when he first received the branding.
Janic took his hand away and snatched the Tarrin dagger that still lay on the table. With a careless motion he slice through the silk that held Ithican down. Janic discarded the weapon and used both hands to haul the light framed Elf out of bed. He dragged Ithican across the room and threw him to the floor in front of the mirror.
“Look at yourself!” Janic demanded. He grabbed Ithican’s wet hair and forced him to look at the reflective surface. “You think you’re better than me? I know what brought you into my alley! I hear you at night, innocent men don’t have nightmares the way you do!”
“I am innocent!”
“If the Elves don’t believe you, why should I?!” Janic hissed. He released Ithican in disgust. “At least I have the courage to admit to my sins!”
“I was trying to help her!” Ithican cried. He tried to stand but Janic kept him on his knees facing the mirror.
“Your intentions mean nothing, her life was cut short by your deliberate actions.” Janic had regained his composure and spoke calmly. “She was robbed of a natural death, and in Elven society that is the base definition of murder.”
“No...it wasn’t against her will..” Ithican shook his head, which only made his mind spin faster. “She was in so much pain, she wanted me to try anything...regardless of the results...”
Janic made a sound of mock horror and smiled triumphantly. “That’s even worse...”
“She just wanted to end her suffering!” Ithican snapped defensively.
“Ithican, we have a word for that in the Human world...”
Janic trailed off letting Ithican put the pieces together. At first Ithican didn’t understand what the Human was talking about. When he did figure out what Janic was getting at he was pitched into fit of dry heaves that left him breathless.
“No, it...” Ithican panted “it wasn’t...”
“Suicide?” Janic offered coldly.
“I don’t know what else to call it.” Janic paused and chuckled. “Now you can see why your father was in such a difficult position. He could either brand you a murderer, or condemn her for taking her own life. Not an easy choice.”
“He made the right one.” Ithican snarled.
“You think so? You think his decision to exile you proved anything? I think we both know that you’re incapable of truly taking a life. You’re no murderer. You couldn’t even kill Cyan in self defense.”
“I...he...” Ithican stuttered.
“I just hope for Llandra’s sake that what the Elves believe about suicide isn’t true.”
Ithican weld his eyes closed trying to block out at least some of the stimulus so that he could have half a chance at thinking straight. With his eyes closed he could smell the sharp sting of poison that dripped from the dagger he’d just heard Janic unsheathe.
Acting on impulse Ithican lunged forward, throwing himself shoulder first into the large mirror, which shattered noisily. Before Ithican could even think about stopping himself, and far too quickly for Janic to physically stop him, Ithican grabbed one of the large shards of the broken mirror. Ithican whipped around and drove the jagged glass into Janic’s vulnerable stomach.
Ithican released his hold on the glass weapon and recoiled from the impaled Human. Janic was on the floor before he had a chance to cry out in shock and sudden pain. Ithican backed into the corner and watched horrified as Janic attempted to ripped the gory mirror out of his flesh. Ithican had not done the kind of damage that it would have taken to be instantly fatal.
After yanking out a piece of the glass Janic wrapped his arms around the seeping wound and screamed in pure agony. He writhed onto his side and panted heavily against the pain in a failed attempt to escape it. Recovering somewhat Ithican crawled back over and knelt over the Human. He picked up the poisoned dagger that Janic had dropped, and raised it above his head with a quaking hand.
Ithican held the knife over Janic for a full minute before letting it drop harmlessly to the floor, unable to finish what he had started. He had been trying to prove to himself that he was perfectly capable of murder, and had failed. Ithican pulled Janic’s hands away from the wound to stanch the flow himself only to find that Janic had broken off a piece of the glass in his stomach while trying to remove it.
Ithican tried desperately to pulled out the rest of the sharp glass, but Janic’s hot slippery blood made it impossible. Janic whimpered pitifully as Ithican continued to torture him by trying to save his life.
“Mercy!” Janic cried.
Ithican jerked away from Janic and raked his blood soaked hands through his already sweat drenched hair. He didn’t know what to do, he couldn’t stop the bleeding. Janic was dying slowly, and was asking for mercy, but Ithican didn’t have the courage to strike him again. Looking around desperately for help Ithican spotted the answer gleaming in its crystal prison on the nightstand.
It took Ithican several tries to get to his feet. Filling the sharp needle from the vial was not easy. The adrenaline in his blood made the neparine withdrawal worse and he trembled violently. After what felt like a lifetime he managed to draw the iridescent silver into the needle.
When Ithican turned back to his victim, however, he found that Janic was already dead. He did not have the same fears that the Elves possessed and had ended what was left of his life with the discarded poisoned dagger. His eyes were fixed sightlessly on the ceiling and the pool of blood he was laying in was starting to turn black.
Ithican stared at the dead Human with a numb mind. Although he had only physically harmed Janic, he suddenly saw himself as the catalyst that had led to the other two deaths as well. He had finally become the criminal he’d been marked as, worse yet he had discovered that may have condemned Llandra to a fate worse than what had happened here. Slowly taking his eyes off Janic he looked down at the needle in his hand.
Ithican was not particularly proud of what happened next...
Four years later the thought of Janic still caused Ithican’s skin to slick with cold sweat. Still sitting on the inn bed he turned the vial of neparine over in his hands. He’d been staring at the bottle for hours, lost in a memory that never seemed to fade. Like everything else it was part of a past that there was no sense in trying to escape.
He had already tried when he’d taken the needle intended for Janic himself. Even if he had known that he’d already been through the worst of the withdrawal Ithican knew that he still wouldn’t have been able to stay clean that day. He had needed the stabilizing drug to escape more than just the horror of his actions. To be caught with Human blood on his hands would mean a lifetime locked in a cage.
Even under the influence of the neparine, or maybe because of it, Ithican had almost waited for someone to come looking for Janic. He reasoned that he would not survive long in a Human prison, one of the other inmates would certainly slaughter him, or maybe even one of the guards.
In the end it was the survival instinct that had been bred so effectively into the Elven race that caused Ithican to wash his hands as best he could and run. He’d had the foresight to steal some from Janic, including a horse and a green winter cloak. After all that had happened a little theft seemed secondary.
The neparine addiction proved to be expensive, but somehow he always managed to find a way. Shortly after leaving the Dragon’s Den Ithican found that there was good money to be made in illegal sport fighting. He never drew much blood on any of his opponents, he won by maneuvering them into surrender. However he was fully aware that he had to win every fight he entered lest it be his last.
The Tarrin proved itself a faithful defense against heavier Human, and at times Dwarven, weapons. Ithican had championed in so many Tarrin Games at home that the Humans running the operation quickly learned that he couldn’t be defeated by conventional means. It was about that time that Ithican started finding himself in fights involving more than one enemy at a time, and not always in the ring.
Leaving before someone discovered a combination that could best him Ithican kept traveling north. The weather got worse, but the neparine kept him from noticing. Not that it didn’t bring other terrors upon him. It came to the point where it was doing just as much harm as good and he became desperate to stop. Eventually Ithican lost count of the number of times he’d tried to give up the neparine. Half the time he’d simply wake up with an empty needle embedded in a vein.
How he managed to survive the journey all the way up to Unibar was something that even Ithican himself didn’t understand. Later he had taken a look at a map and was stunned by the distance he’d traveled, made even more impressive by the fact that he’d lost the horse somewhere along the way. A good majority of the trip was still a mystery to him.
When Halgard and his two friends found him Ithican had only been away from Janic for two months, which had felt more like two years. The night before there had been a terrible ice storm and Ithican was too weak to avoid being caught. When Halgard pressed the steel blade against his throat Ithican was fully prepared to die, even looking forward to it.
That was about the time that Sam had decided to step in.
For reasons that still weren’t entirely clear to Ithican Sam had been prepared to fight against three to one odds for him. In the end it wasn’t necessary and Halgard and his friends had been run off merely by the thief’s confidence. Without hesitation Sam had reached down and physically helped Ithican up out of the snow.
Ithican shuddered as he remembered how close he had come to sinking his Tarrin blade into Sam’s heart for interfering. As much as Ithican hated to admit it the only thing that had spared his future friend was pure exhaustion on his part. If he’d had the strength left in him he probably would have murdered Sam on the spot for saving his life.
Now Ithican found himself at his wits end because he couldn’t quite seem to return the favour. Of coarse Ithican knew that Sam had never expected to get anything for his actions. Even at first glance it had to have been painfully obvious that Ithican could only bring him nothing but trouble. Luckily Ithican quickly found that Sam lived life for trouble.
“You must be happy, Sam.” Ithican sighed to no one. “Because you’re in it deep this time.”
Ithican’s strained flesh and tired mind begged him to stop this foolishness and just seek the release he held in his hand. Before they were able to convince him to give in Ithican threw the fragile bottle at the far wall and shattered it. The iridescent stain slipped slowly down the wall like a dying slug.
Ithican shut his eyes against the sting of hot tears. He would have never gotten off the neparine without Sam’s help, and no matter how much he wanted to he wasn’t going to betray his trust by starting it again. He would simply have to find another way to calm down enough to figure out what to do next. There was only one problem, and it was what had driven him this far already.
“How am I supposed to defend someone who isn’t even being given the courtesy of a trial?”