Chapter 37:

Chapter 37


The three heroes crept through the castle. Vera led the way, a small orb of light at the end of her staff like a torch. The castle was dark, desolate. The floors would squish uncomfortably with undesirable moisture. As they delved deeper and deeper into the halls, the smell of rot grew more and more pungent. This vile smell of rotting corpses lingered in the air. Blood, mud, and guts smeared across the walls. At first it was more than expected. Dead rats. Disemboweled birds with maggots wriggling in the eye sockets. But as they descended further into the belly of the beast, it only grew worse. Entrails of cattle strewn over the walls like twisted party streamers. Beheaded chickens scattered over the floor. Gutted pigs with their heads on pikes. A morbid display of the fragility of life and the sickness of the mind. Among all of the desecrated livestock was a singular black horse, with a threating promise carved into its side. Its limbs and head were all severed from the body, barely connected with the thinnest pieces of sinew, all pinned to the roof with wooden stakes. The three gagged as they passed it. They dared not think of the implications of its presence, but they all knew who it belonged to. Sure, he was their enemy, but they couldn't help themselves from feeling remorse. A feeling they had to bury when they rounded the next corner. Bodies upon bodies upon bodies. All propped up on the floor and against the walls. All humans. Knights, servants, cooks, all eviscerated and covered in a thick, black sludge. A pulsating mold. Tendrils and tentacles of a disgusting oil. Their skin was gone, consumed by the rot. Muscles shredded and eaten by larvae. Guts resting in their laps. The heroes resisted the urge to vomit. The warm stench of decay filled their respiratory system. All three covered their mouths, plugged their noses, and refused to breathe as they passed, stomping in puddles of mixed muck. Elizabeth gestured that her lab was nearby. They continued their way, but paused when they heard the faintest of voices. They looked up and all around. They couldn't find the source, not until she called again. In the pile of doctors, a plague doctor still lived, gasping for air under her mask, pleading for assistance. Elizabeth immediately sprang into action. Ignoring all self-preservation, she knelt down into the pool of viscera. Gently, she removed her mask. A fair lady, not yet consumed by the plague, but still actively strangled by it.

"Back away..." She wheezed. "You'll become plaguebound... like me..."

"Honey, we're well past that." Elizabeth reassured. "What happened here?"

"Grimwald... It's Grimwald... He did this..."

"We figured."

"He took control of the castle... wouldn't let anyone leave... people started disappearing left and right... anytime we did something he disapproved of... he'd make an example out of us... it wasn't until recently that he went berserk... he slaughtered everyone... laid out their bodies like some twisted display... he even started to feed off of them... I always knew he was a creep... but I didn't think he was this sick in the head..."

"We'll stop him. We've got the ingredients to the cure. We'll keep him from spreading the plague."

"No... Grimwald doesn't spread the plague..." Elizabeth was taken aback. The three looked at each other confused. The plague doctor grabbed Elizabeth's dress and pulled her close. "Grimwald IS the plague..." The doctor let go. She quickly tried to cover her mouth as her cheeks filled with an unseen substance. Suddenly, a group of tentacles burst from her lips and covered her face. She slumped forward. Ooze dripped from the plague doctor's now lifeless body. Resisting the urge to throw up, Elizabeth pulled the others away, rushing through the rest of the castle to enter her lab. The lab was surprisingly clean. All of the mold, spores, and sludge stopped from entering the room as if a barrier kept them from doing so. There were no bugs, no bodies, everything was just how Elizabeth left it. The plague seemingly couldn't enter the space. Isaac stood guard at the doorway. Elizabeth threw her bag onto the counter. She began pulling out each ingredient.

"Vera, why don't you help me."

"Me?" She asked. "But this is your expertise. And I can't do alchemy, I don't do alchemy."

"Oh come on. Don't you really wanna stick it to those councilmen? Being a prodigy in magic is one thing, but becoming a master of everything the CAM has to offer? Now that's how you prove yourself a great leader." Elizabeth encouraged, holding out an alchemist bottle. Vera smiled and took it in her hands.

"Where do we start?" Elizabeth took a large flask and placed it atop a burner. Mixing the sacred vampire blood and the dragon blood, she then diluted it with the sea water. They lit the burner with the dragon's breath and brought the mixture to a boil. The dragon scale was crushed up with the gems and poured into the concoction with a small stir bar. A little magnet got the stir bar spinning and the siren song kept it moving; the vibrations further mixing up and dissolving the solutes. Vera broke up the sunrose lotus and used its petals as a garnish. The brew swirled a dark crimson with the pulse of rings of light.

"I'm gonna be honest guys, that looks more like poison than a potion." Isaac chimed in.

"Yeah, but we're not done yet. We've got one more ingredient." Elizabeth gestured to Vera. The mage tapped her staff gently against the flask. A soft glow radiated out and blanketed over the solution.

"Purify." She whispered. In an instant, the dark, dingy colors of the potion melted away into a robust mix of purple, blue, and pink. A deep violet. Elizabeth let the cure cool before divvying it up between the remaining alchemy bottles. She gave Vera and Isaac bottle each and stuffed the rest in her bag. She then took the little remainder and sucked into three different syringes.

"Hold out your arms." She commanded.

"Wait what?"

"Give me your arms."

"You're not gonna inject us with that crap?!"

"Yeah, I thought you drink potions?!"

"I don't have time to explain what a vaccine is! Give me your arms!"

"Why don't you inject yourself before you inject us?!"

"Because I- I don't- It's not gonna- look just give me your damn arms!" Elizabeth then forcefully took Isaac and Vera's arms (wedging up Isaac's armor as well) and quickly administered the cure. The two jolted back in pain and rubbed their arms, while Elizabeth secretly slipped her designated cure away back into her bag. "There. Now you two will be safe. And when we're done with this, you're gonna give everyone left in Ethros that same shot, got it?"

"You want us to do that to the whole kingdom?! I don't think they'll see us as heroes at that point!"

"Oh cry me a river." Elizabeth walked past them and back out the door. "Come on, let's get this over with."

"I take back what I said." Vera whispered. "This side of her is a pain." Still rubbing her arm as they followed.