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Monday, August 14, 2006

3.1.6.2. The Red Envelope and the Treasure Map (Part One)


Two months after their escape from Grad, Robert Chandler and his hunting party keep on doing hunting jobs in Borgia. With a new addition, Andreas Marvellini the healer, Robert’s party becomes more active and they can finish their hunts a lot quicker and easier than before. Andreas Marvellini’s good nature and a fair sense of humor also add cheerfulness in their journeys.

There’s still no lead or clue whatsoever of Sheena Mekh’ta’s whereabouts. They don’t know about Sheena’s defeat against Kyflynn’s party. No clues in the taverns either, because Sheena’s party avoided the towns and returned straight to their hideout to regroup with her remaining gang members.

So, here they are, Robert, Carolyn, Chris and Andreas, hunting monsters and criminals for bounty, or simply to help the helpless. Chris’ swordplay is getting better and better, thanks to Robert’s constant training and motivation boost from Andreas. He gradually gains better ground in spars with Robert, now that he mastered Sword Bash and Three-point Chain Strike skill.

One clear day, Robert and Andreas come into the hunters’ guild at Ingvhus, a newly developed town in Borgia that enjoys fast progress because it is located at the trade route and between Arcadia, Borgia, Thyrine and Regia. They are carrying two large sacks. They go directly into the proof collection room, and take out the contents of their sacks - goblin and dire wolf’s heads - on the floor.

The clerks count them, a total of seven goblin’s heads and five dire wolf’s heads, and an ample supply of dire wolf ankle bones. Another clerk scribbles and signs a receipt and hands it to Andreas to be exchanged with money at the cashier. And soon they come out from the guild with a small purse of money. They deposit part of the money in Melchior Safehouse and Warehouse, and bring back the rest for daily use.

They go back to the inn and take a rest for the day before browsing for the next job tomorrow or go to the next city in pursuit and search of Sheena Mekh’ta and her gang.

Carolyn is already there in the inn. As the bookkeeper of the party, she is responsible of managing finances, allowances, and supplies. She is scribbling something in her ledger, as Andreas puts the money in the table in front of her, saying, ‘I can use some money. My staff needs polishing.’

Carolyn says, ‘Of course.’ She counts the money, writes in her ledger, and gives some to Andreas with a smile on her face. That’s how the management work in Robert’s hunting party.

However, the discipline doesn’t work for everyone. Christopher, on the other hand, doesn’t quite follow the routines and do any of those errands except from cleaning his trusty sword Wyrthal. He strolls around the town and looks around for taverns and any place of leisure, to entertain himself in his day off today. His mind is quite disturbed with the fact that her cousin Carolyn gives more attention to Robert and her own tasks than to him. Also, he feels dead bored of hunting monsters without a real challenge since their misadventure in Grad.

He doesn’t face much difficulty in slaying monsters anymore, and now it seems like a daily routine for him. Sometimes he longed for home, but a thought of his father who favors his elder brother more than him blows his longing away.

Chris asks around, and he finally arrives at a tavern in Ingvhus town, called ‘Damor’ΓΌlan’ in ancient Borgian language, and it was more frequently called, ‘The Two Spurs’. It’s a filthy, damp tavern, much like the Golden Ram tavern-inn in Rand, Lore.

Chris goes straight to the bar. The bar keeper is a woman in her forties. She wears a tight dress, which has a broad opening in the front, showing a black butterfly tattoo on top of her breast. Judging from her appearances, some may think she must be quite pretty and attractive in her youth, and assume that she was a tavern maid, then got married with the tavern master and after her husband died, she inherited all his property, tavern and money. As a matter of fact, that kind of assumption is nearly true, except for her appearance. She only tries to look as bitchly attractive and sexy as possible in spite of her obviously plain face.

The bar mistress looks at Chris with interest. But as she notices Chris’ childish behavior, she pretends to look to another direction and busy. Chris didn’t notice that, but as he sits on the bar he feels like the bar mistress ignores him. Chris is upset, and talks with a loud voice to the bar mistress. ‘Excuse me, ma’am. Some service, please.’

The bar mistress responds lazily. ‘Yeah, kiddo. whaddya want?’

‘A bottle of your best ale, for starters.’

‘Ale? A-le? Well, kiddo, you must be new in town, eh? The best drink here is not ale. Ale is for kids and losers. Try our special, Barabus, the drink of champions. Of course, if you’re not tough enough...’

Hearing the name ‘Barabus’ mentioned, all tavern guests start to shout together. ‘Ba-ra-bus! Ba-ra-bus!’ and some even chant about ‘Barabus’ in a poem.

For the toughest amongst us,

For he who tamed a Pegasus,

Just prove yourself to us,

Drink the Barabus

Ale and rum are for fungus,

Nothing than to make a fuss,

If your name is in an opus,

Drink the Barabus

The more Chris looks hesitated, the louder and louder the shouting and chanting becomes. Under the sheer pressure of it, Chris finally says, ‘All right! All right! Barabus it is! Just stop the shouts already! I just want a bit of entertainment for a change.’

The bar mistress starts pouring and mixing, and she seems applying all sorts of liquids she can find into one in a wooden mixing cup. She covers the cup with another cup and starts mixing its contents vigorously and gracefully. The process lasts about a few minutes, and then she pours the mixture into another wooden cup and pushes the cup to Chris. Chris looks into the goblet, and he is astounded to see the color of the so-called ‘Barabus’ drink.

It’s a mixture of yellowish-green-aquamarine liquid with bubbles popping out of it. It looks like a rainbow-colored lava pit. And the smell is strong like any common alchemy potion or some corrosive acid. Chris winces a bit, partly by disgust, partly insecure, and partly afraid.

‘Go on. Drink it,’ says the bar mistress. ‘If you can drink it to the bottom, you don’t have to pay for it.’

Chris reacts at this statement as though he just wakes up from a nightmare upon this prospect and says, ‘Okay, okay!’

He holds the cup with shaky hands. And slowly, hesitantly, he draws it towards his mouth. He frowns with his eyes shut; bearing the strong stench that enters through his nostrils. Then he opens his mouth and let a little amount of liquid from the cup flow into his mouth. Then he lets out a sudden jerk, a shock like someone being poisoned, with his tongue stuck out. The bar mistress laughs loudly.

‘Hahaha! “Barabus” is too strong for ye, kiddo! Five Crowns! Pay it up and get outta here before... ‘

‘WOW! This tastes GREAT!’

The bar mistress didn’t expect that reaction from Chris. Chris goes for a big gulp on his drink, and cleans up his cup with one more.

‘AWESOME! Do you have any more? Make it again!’

The bar mistress is shocked. This little kid said ‘Barabus’ is delicious! She hesitates a little bit, whether to make another cup or not, and then after a long pause she talks,

‘Just one free cup per customer, nosiree!’

‘Aw, man! That’s too bad because I’m just ready for more!’

The bar mistress tries to prevent Chris from drinking Barabus again, for she will suffer more loss if she has to give away more of that most expensive drink for free.

‘Well, er... no need! No need! You’ve proven yourself a champion! A real man! By the way, my name’s Frida, my lad. Well, what do you want to drink now? Some more ale, perhaps?’

Chris answers, ‘Ah, no, thanks. I think I’ll just stroll around the town and ... er, looking at things.’

‘Ah, that’s too bad. You see, our ale is the best in town. No one ever leave this tavern without tasting our ale. Or... ah, perhaps the ‘Barabus’ gave you a kick already?’

‘Oh, no, no, no! By all means, no!’ Says Chris hastily. ‘It’s just... just... the ambience, you know. I think I’ll spend the rest of my day in some quiet, natural place like that nice food stall around the corner ...’ Chris twitches his lips aside, making a strange, stupid smile. At this, Frida only sighs and says,

‘Oh well, if you insist. Just as I began to enjoy this conversation with a handsome man like you.’

‘Thanks for the compliment and the “Barabus”, ma’am. Gotta roll now. Bye!’

Without waiting for an answer, Chris hastily goes out from the tavern. Frida only watches him leave, and after Chris is out, she makes a sign towards the guests. And one of them, an ugly, elderly man wearing shabby clothes with bald patches on his head among his grayish-white hair, approaches the bar. Frida frowns a bit, trying to avoid smelling the stench of that man. But she quickly composes herself again and talks,

‘You see that red-haired lad just now, Angus? He managed to drink my “Barabus” for free. Follow him and do your thing. He’ll be all too easy now.’

‘Oh yea, ma’am! Leave it to ol’ Angus ‘ere! Hak, hak, hak... !’

Angus immediately pulls his hood covering his head, and walks outside the tavern. The way he walks is so weird that one may mistake him with an oversized penguin.

==oOo==

Chris walks hurriedly on the road from the tavern, and as he is at a good distance away, he turns into a narrow alley. And then he throws up. Profusely, as though all the things he ate today also come out with the indigestible part of ‘Barabus’. It seems the ‘Barabus’ effect has started to work on him, and he looks very sick and of course, drunk. It was a good thing that he got out from Frida’s tavern and Frida refused to give him another free batch of that horrible, inhumane, filthy ‘drink of the champions’, or matters would be far worse.

After a long while, after emptying up the contents of his stomach and the ‘Barabus’ in his body, Chris drops himself, sitting on the alleyway a bit away from the vomited stuff on the ground, trying to recover himself, half-conscious and half-sleeping.

People avoid going near him and even turning around if they already got in the alleyway, cursing at Chris and the filth and stench he caused. Only a man approaches him. A thin, hooded man with shabby clothes who walks like a penguin – Angus. Angus shakes Chris and tries to wake him up, yelling,

‘Hey, you! Wake up! WAKE UP!’

But Chris snores instead. He’s already asleep.

Running out of patience, Angus slaps Chris. This time Chris lets out a loud, ‘YEOOW!!!’ and curses, ‘What the hell... ! Who slapped me?’ and seizes and is going to hit the one who did that.

Angus is bewildered and pleads to Chris to release him, saying, ‘It’s me, me! Please release me, mister. I meant ye no harm.’

‘No harm, eh? The slap enough was harmful! At least fer ye!’

‘Please, sir. Please, mercy for this old soul. If I didn’t wake you, you’ll be a sitting duck for all the pickpockets, robbers and ruffians in this town!’

Chris has not recovered from his nausea, and Angus’ stench and filthy appearance only makes it worse. Repulsively, Chris says, ‘What do you want? Leave me! Get you hand off me!’

Angus replies, ‘Hey, easy, easy, lad. I’m no tryin’ ter rob ye or anythin’! Just want ter ask ye a favor... ‘

‘Huh, most likely!’ Chris snorts.

‘And give ye the chance o’ yer lifetime! Hak, hak, hak!’

‘Don’t talk rubbish, filthy old man! I’m leaving!’

Chris tries to get up and leave, but he falls halfway. The Barabus’ effect is still strong within him.

‘Now, now, yeh’re still weak, lad. Just lemme finish me words, an’ I’ll split, dig!?’

Without waiting for Chris’ answer, Angus talks on in a hushed up voice. ‘Now listen ... ‘

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