The Dragon Tongue War Part VII

by Paul Davis

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

Rai chewed on a licorice root. It was said it would calm an upset stomach, though the only thing upsetting Rai’s stomach was the patience demanded. It had been two weeks. A small force had gone to check Lu Tan. A messenger boat was sent to assure the people of Zu everything was okay. Rai spat on the wood floor of his room, salivating from the gnawing and the thought that Bai Ding refused to believe anything Captian Tai Shi had said.

But Rai didn’t need the licorice root to settle an upset stomach. He just liked chewing to settle his nerves. As a young apprentice long ago, first learning the arts of alchemy, he would chew when in class. Otherwise he fidgeted and the instructor often times scolded him. The sage, Quan, would often tell Rai, “An alchemist with unsteady hands is soon an alchemist without hands.” Many other students proved this point. While pouring Rai was always steady. When getting lectured he would start to shake.

Some of the root splintered in his mouth and he spat again, “Bastard. Only reason I stopped shaking is you stopped treating me like a child. Now you’ll probably get eaten by snake men. Better push those shaky-handed alchemists in front of you.” Rai let out a growl, “Sage my spittle.” For good measure, he spat one more time and let out a sigh.

The days were too slow. There was nothing happening, and no one was willing to approach the three men. Tai Shi was with Jung most days, trying to help the broken mind. There were probably elixirs for it, but what was one man to a good explosive? Why waste the tincture?

Outside Rai could hear him. For the past two weeks, it was seemingly the only man capable of speaking with the three, and Rai also put together that no one else must have enjoyed talking to the warrior, because he spent all his time talking to the three men. Tua slammed the door loud enough Rai could hear the wood smack against the wall. The bartender cried out to be more careful.

“Please go to Tai Shi,” Rai muttered over and over again, his eyes closed. But luck was pitted against Rai that day as his door cracked open and the lout shouted as if trying to get Rai’s attention across a full tavern.

“Rai, good news!” Rai’s head started to split in two. His ears simply couldn’t take the man’s bravo. Yet the Bleeding Spear continued to speak, “You can use our potion mixing stuff. I’ll take you when you’re ready.”

The headache went away in an instance. Even the annoyance of this lug was forgotten in an instant. This was the greatest news he had received in several weeks. His mouth must have been ajar, as Tua said, “You’ll catch flies that way. Close your mouth.” But even that asinine comment was forgivable with the news the man brought.

Rai regained his composure and nodded, “Wait downstairs for a few moments. I’ll wash briefly and change then we’ll be off. I need to make more potions and soon.”

Tua bowed, “Will do.” He left, and Rai changed quickly to get to their labs.

The labs were nearly as good as Zu. Rai knew the differences likely had to do with a different in philosophy and procedure, but he still enjoyed his own feelings on the subject. Tinctures and elements lined the wall. There were countless tubes, vials, and other instruments.

An older man stood at the front of the room, wearing long robes. His arms where crossed, hiding any skin. He had a lengthy mustache, each end coming as far down as his collar bone, the white wisps moving in the slightest air movement. His eyes were becoming clouded, but showed signs of being a piercing blue at one time. His head was bald, covered in liver spots. His voice was gentle, “Welcome to our humble facilities. Please make yourself comfortable. Your assistant shall be Yuki. She’s a very capable girl. If you need a resource, ask her and she shall find it for you.”

Rai bowed, “Thank you, but I’m able to find my own elements. I don’t require an assistant. Wouldn’t want to waste your resources like that.”

The elder sighed, “You have our assistant so you’re not wasting our most valuable resources.” There was a curt smile, “Now Yuki, please make sure Rai has what he needs, within reason.” The sage walked off.

A young woman, around Rai’s age, walked up, bowing politely. There was a spring in her step, causing her long, straight hair to bob a little. It was a dark brown, with some chestnut streaks. Her eyes were large and brown, pulling on Rai’s heart. She wasn’t a beautiful woman, but the simple attractiveness was appealing. Aside from her face, she was a very lithe girl, drowning in her robes. “Good afternoon. We have a station prepared for you, and from there you can tell us what ingredients you need, and I will find what you require.”

“I suppose. Show me to where I’m to work.” Rai let out a sigh, but at least his assistant was visually pleasing.

When they reached the work station, it was impressive enough. There were a few parts he wasn’t sure about, and a few he felt were missing, but it would work for what he wanted. Some ingredients were rattled off, and small jars came to him. It was never quite what he was asking for, but the low quality items would be enough. Or so he prayed often to ancestors and spirits it would be.

The tincture couldn’t be cheap. It was the one thing that had to be of high quality. “Yuki, you cannot give me a cheap tincture. I need what I ask for on this. Please. If you have to sneak it, if I’m required to pay for it, I will do what is needed, but I need this tincture.”

“I’ll make sure you get it.” Yuki went off and Rai watched. The sage was away, and the other alchemists were busy at their craft. Yuki looked this way and that, reached up, and knocked a bottle into her sleeve. She was quick to pinch off the sleeve, holding it secretly there until she reached Rai. “Work quickly.” She turned her back to Rai, keeping watch.

He poured quickly, or as quickly as he could, and waited for the titration to take place. When he had all the tincture he would need, he handed it to Yuki and went back to his work. In no time, Yuki was back and the bottle was on the shelf. For several days Rai continued creating his potions, the first two days dedicated to a single recipe which he was making up as he went to deal with the snake men. The other potions were basic corrosive and explosive recipes, simple enough to create from cheap ingredients.

Rai heard a shout from the streets. All the alchemists stopped what they were doing and went outside. There was a woman crying that her husband had fallen into the river and she thought he drowned. After countless moments, he resurfaced. The man stood beside her, soaking wet. His eyes were having difficulty focusing, and his walking was clumsy, requiring his wife’s help. Rai walked up to the man with the corrosive, uncorked the vial, and splashed it in his face.

The human face melted away as the man writhed in pain, and below the face were scaled and fangs. Slit eyes blinked and tried to adjust. Rai pulled his dagger and thrust it into the man’s throat. As the creature died, the man’s skin fell away, leaving only the snake man. More screams came from the docks and Rai ran to the tavern.

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