Al’bert sat at a table with Wiz, lazily considering what sort of step he should take next.
“You mentioned your Father,” said Wiz conversationally, stirring some kind of oddly steaming concoction in a mug on the table in front of him with a thin stick. Al’bert didn’t bother to ask what it might be because he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. Al’bert shifted languidly.
“I got a letter from him yesterday morning,” he said, although he was hesitant to relay the contents of the letter, since they brought him a small measure of disturbance.
“Hmn,” said Wiz indifferently, stirring away. The concoction began to spark.
Al’bert looked around at the dive they were currently in. It was a hole in the wall, and not the sort of place that Al’bert had suspected Sangwine to hang around in, but it was only in these lower parts of town that he’d heard any tell of someone who would even vaguely resemble the doomed Prince.
And what stories he had heard! Al’bert couldn’t help but find a sort of humorous delight in the prospect of Sangwine actually fighting for his keep. He’d always been such a stuffy, proper sort. How humiliating it must be. Al’bert smiled.
A young wench with auburn hair and hazel eyes passed by carrying a serving tray and wearing a lacy apron.
“Ah, miss,” called Al’bert, stopping her.
She looked at him.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
He handed her a small, folded parchment and said, “Maybe.”
She gave him a dubious glance, looked slightly annoyed, and went on her way. However, she did pocket the parchment.
The Wiz glanced at Al’bert, sparking concoction briefly forgotten.
“Curiosity killed the cat,” said Al’bert. “And is woman’s greatest weakness.”
“How did your father say things are in Schloeffelonia?” asked Wiz, who had begun poking his concoction with the thin stick instead of stirring it, as it had thickened exceedingly. Al’bert sincerely hoped he didn’t plan to ingest it.
“They’re… different,” said Al’bert cautiously. “Fang has decided it’s time the elven nation goes on the offensive.”
“That’s a different philosophy,” said Wiz.
“Quite,” said Al’bert, and to be honest, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it. The wealth was there, yes, and he supposed with the elven mages at Fang’s disposal the power was there, too. However, Al’bert was a man of feelings, and something about this just felt wrong.
“Has the elven nation ever attacked anyone?” asked Wiz.
“Not that I know of,” said Al’bert. “So I suppose it should take everyone quite unawares.”
“Fang is an adroit fellow, isn’t he,” said Wiz casually as he turned the mug, and the concoction slid out onto the table, maintaining its gelatinous form. Now Al’bert was vaguely disturbed that Wiz might consume it with a fork and knife.
“Yes, he is,” said Al’bert distractedly. The Wiz snapped his fingers, and his forefinger began to glow. He then touched the top of the gelatinous mass with his finger, and it grew animated, folded into itself, then somehow gained an abstract posture. It seemed alive. The conversation died as Al’bert found himself transfixed.
The Wiz glanced at Al’bert and said, “It’s a golem; a lousy one. I never was very good with them.”
He sighed and then smashed it with a spoon.
Al’bert tried not to wince visibly. The clock struck ten, and he stood.
“If you’ll pardon me, I’ve some business to attend to.”
He cast Wiz a brief smile and left the table, exiting the dive to the derelict promenade outside. There was some greenery, roses, growing along a trellis, which were cast silver and blue in the wan moon’s light. It wasn’t exactly a balcony, but more of a high dais, where someone at least tried to bring beauty into this filthy human world. He leaned on a partial railing that surrounded the precipice and breathed, finding his breath was warm enough to create a puff of mist in the night air.
Fang had changed. His father’s letter disturbed him greatly. Fang required all the elven houses to contribute heavily to the war effort, which war Al’bert saw as pointless in the first place. Fang especially leaned on Al’bert’s family, since they were one of the wealthiest in the entire nation, and even though his father made it sound like they were having a fabulous time (most likely due to the possibility of interception), Al’bert could read between the lines. This wasn’t the first time Al’bert wondered if Fang had lost his grip on reason.
Regardless, he would do what he had to in order to keep his family in good standing. That was paramount in importance to the Fromages. Whatever else happened was not his concern, or his liability. He’d just keep telling himself that.
He heard a quiet noise behind him and turned to see the girl with auburn hair standing there, holding the parchment. She looked the very model of dubious.
“Meet me on the balcony at ten?” she asked him, repeating the words of the parchment. “Honestly, that’s the lousiest come-on I’ve ever received.”
“Then why are you here?” he asked.
“The sheer depraved ineptitude drove me to pity,” she said flippantly, although he could tell there was humor underneath her chilly exterior. She was intrigued, and he knew it, even if she wasn’t consciously aware of it yet. She looked around, taking in the roses, the railing, and finally the vast expanse of night sky. He watched each move, expression, and sound she made, cataloguing each automatically, sorting them into subjects, analyzing them individually, putting them back together into a cohesive whole, and he did it all instinctively with split second timing.
This was his talent; taking love and turning it into a mathematical equation.
She stood by the railing and turned to him.
“So what did you want?” she asked him.
He hesitated, furthering the depth of his mystery. She watched him, and he gave her time to take in his good-looks, which at the moment he was shading with a tinge of enigmatic restlessness. Only a tinge, though.
“There’s someone I’m looking for,” he said. “And I think you might be able to help me.”
She said nothing, so he went on.
“An elf,” he said.
“You mean besides you,” she said.
He really wanted to say something sarcastic, but that wouldn’t have worked out the way he wanted, so instead he glanced at her, then looked away, his back to the railing. He took on a subtly tortured countenance and sighed into the night. He heard her move closer, out of curiosity. Her hand touched his arm, and at this he quirked a tiny smile for himself only, since he was looking away and supposedly full of angst.
“Are you alright?” she asked him.
He exhaled and turned to her, moving within the turn to decrease the space between them significantly and put his hand over hers in what should seem like a spontaneous, instinctive action, and fixed her with a meaningful gaze.
“It’s very important that I find him,” he said to her, and then he did it. It was almost like breathing, except within his mind. All he had to do is focus on someone intently, and then release however much of his will he wanted to in order to bring that person under his suggestion. With her, he wanted to use as little as possible, because she wasn’t too horribly dull. However, at the same time, he liked doing it; it was almost addictive. It felt good.
So with his voice there came a tiny twinge, and her breathing increased slightly. He took note.
He squeezed her hand more tightly and moved closer, treating it like an impulsive act, until he was close enough to kiss her.
“Have you met an elf recently?” he asked her quietly, although the timbre of his voice and the movements of his body were in another conversation entirely.
He gave her a sincere, open look, as if he felt this passionately about finding the elf. In actuality, he sort of wanted to take his time finding Sangwine, because finding him would mean figuring out what to do about the killing him problem.
“No,” she said, with an unsure voice, and captured by his sudden affection. “I don’t think so… well, there is this one fellow…”
“Yes?” he asked, and he gazed at her as a prompt to go on while he moved her hand from his arm to his chest.
“He’s beautiful,” she said thoughtfully, and then her eyes looked more solidly at Al’bert. “Like you…”
He smiled at that, making sure to give his smile a touch of humility. Not that he was.
“… except different,” she finished. That part gave Al’bert pause, and he found himself wondering what was so different. It slightly irritated him.
“Go on,” he said, sending her another twinge of glamour in his annoyance.
She sighed languidly, and then she went on.
“I didn’t think he might be an elf, but he was more beautiful than anyone I’ve ever met,” she said, then added with a small pout, “He wouldn’t let me touch him.”
Al’bert’s eyebrows rose, and he took advantage of her faraway look to roll his eyes. Sangwine always was a complete and utter prude. Well, Al’bert didn’t plan on being so foolish.
“He must be mad,” said Al’bert to the girl. “To refuse the touch of a woman so beautiful.”
She looked at his expression for affirmation of his words, and he thought he probably pulled it off. In any case, he didn’t waste any time allowing the seams to show by leaning forward in order to kiss her.
She pulled back at the last instant with a sharp inhale.
“What are you doing?” she asked him suddenly. She looked affronted, but the degree of flush in her cheeks told him she’d be willingly in his arms within the next eight minutes. Seven and a half, if he was really on top of his game.
He abruptly pulled entirely away from her, allowing the chill night air to fill the space between them, and then he went to the railing. He’d play feast or famine. This lass just needed contrast to realize what it is she really wants.
“I don’t know,” he said in a distracted way, and then ran a hand through his hair. He noticed from the corner of his eye that she crossed her arms against the cold. “I’ve been on this quest for so long, sometimes it feels like I’ve lost all reason. Each day is the same, I try to find him, and every night ends with emptiness…”
He went on for a while like this, spouting lines of an angst-ridden man, half of the time not really sure what whatever he was saying meant, but it sounded good. After all, he delivered them like a tortured man opening his soul, and it worked quite well.
By the end of his speech, she was standing at his elbow looking very compassionate. He waited in anticipatory silence for her to speak.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, and he knew it was all downhill from there. One last move.
He turned to face her, allowing the famine to end. She moved in and touched his chest, and then looked up into his face.
“I can help you,” she said. “I’ve spoken with him, I know his name; I know where he lives.”
He took her arms as a feigned impulse and gazed at her with hope, excitement, disbelief, and a couple of other assorted spices tossed in the mélange. Whatever.
“You will?” he asked, knowing full well the answer to this question thirty minutes ago.
She blushed at his proximity, but didn’t object at all as she nodded to him.
He released a breath and allowed them both to fall into the heady trance of anticipation that precedes a kiss. After waiting the precisely perfect amount of time, he kissed her, and was delighted to find she trembled slightly at his touch.