Alieahsha woke up fresh in the morning, and the first thought she had was; there were only two days left to go before she arrived at the house of terror and met the woman who inhabited it.
Inbus was still sleeping soundly beside her, so she left him and tiptoed out of the room. Nifty was nowhere to be seen. She went down the many flights of steps that led to the lobby of the inn.
She could see an assistant nodding off at the counter, but apart from that, everything was deserted. There were no breakfasters eating breakfast in the restaurant part of the inn, nor even any drinkers drinking in the tavern part of it. The innkeeper was nowhere to be seen.
Alieahsha crept back up the stairs, then stopped in front of one of the doors. Maybe there would be someone in there who could tell her where everyone was? She opened the door, and instantly recoiled at the stench of magic emanating from it. It positively reeked!
When she had gotten her bearings, Alieahsha peered back inside, taking it all in. There were two tables, each parallel to each other, on different sides of the room. There were two bowls on each table, and each bowl was a different colour. Alieahsha looked closely at the one closest to her, and found that there was a liquid inside it. It was a shimmery yellow, liquid one moment and lumpy the next. There were chairs at each table, and in the one furthest from her there sat an old man with a balding head with his back to her. He was absent-mindedly fiddling with what was in the bowl, muttering something or other.
Alieahsha realized with a start that this type of place was outlawed in Uirda.
Not only was it for magicians only, but it was also a place where vile experiments took place. She was lucky she had only stumbled into one which was experimenting with liquids.
Alieahsha stumbled away from the room, closing the door softly. She quickly ran to the next, intending to tell the people in room 10 what was going on in room 9.
But as soon as Alieahsha opened the door and the stench of magic hit her, she knew that the people in room 10 were no better.
Room 11, then, she thought determinedly. Alieahsha tentatively opened the door of the room, expecting to be blasted with the reek of magic, but to her relief, there was none. It was the innkeeper’s room, she could see, for there were many spare keys hung up on chains by the door. There were labels for each one, and she wasn’t surprised to see there was a key for Room 12, too. Interestingly, there was a key for Room 13, but Alieahsha had no time to wonder what it was about.
She rushed in, already planning what to say in her head about the people in rooms 9 and 10, but, to her horror, she stumbled upon something much worse.
There were four people, this time, sitting at a long table. In a corner stood the innkeeper himself, supervising the whole show. The magicians at the table were tipping vials of who-knows-what into bubbly, frothy mixtures of what seemed like potions and drinking them. Once every few seconds one of the potions would blow up, and make Alieahsha’s hair stand on end. The whiff of magic that she got from the door was already worse than that of the other rooms’. In one corner sat Nifty, apparently strapped to a chair. Alieahsha watched, wondering what they were doing with Nifty.
In a few seconds, Alieahsha’s query was answered. One of the magicians got up out of his chair and started walking towards Nifty, a vial in his hand. It was green and sloppy, and looked gooey, too. The magician tipped up Nifty’s head and poured the potion in. Nifty didn’t resist, just drank. Alieahsha feared that he would start changing.
Sure enough, Nifty started changing. One moment he was green, the next, yellow. One of the magicians at the table turned around, and, seeing Nifty, laughed cruelly. “Ah, I see that one didn’t go well.”
The magician who had tipped the potion into Nifty’s mouth laughed too. “He’s more turning into a colour-ball than invisible.”
“Just throw that one out: he’s bad. And that, me friends, is what we call a failed experiment!”
“Or a lab-rat.”
Two harsh barks of laughter came from the other side of the room. From a hidden door came a burly man, bigger than Big Rob. He grabbed Nifty by the arm and dragged him into the door, chair and all. Out came another man, replacing Nifty. He was strapped to a chair exactly like him, and was placed in the exact same spot. After about two minutes, another magician stood up, vial in hand. This time there was a purple, frothy liquid in it.
“Lets see how this one goes, eh, fellas?” the magician holding the vial chuckled. The man in the chair whimpered.
Before she could hear anymore, Alieahsha backed away, heart in mouth. She ran out of the room, heart beating madly. She felt like retching, but kept it in for the sake of Inbus.
She burst into the room, half expecting Inbus to be snatched away by the horrible inhabitants of the inn. Luckily, he was still there, snoring away on his mat by the bed. He sat up upon Alieahsha’s arrival, blinking sleepily. He stretched lazily.
“‘ello, there. Bit early ta be up.”
Alieahsha sighed in relief. He was alive. They were both very lucky that they hadn’t been snatched away in their sleep. “We have to go,” Alieahsha gasped, panting madly.
“Why?” Inbus asked unhappily. “We’ve paid for a day an’ a half’s stay! An’ we’ve got a room!”
“We just have to. Don’t argue with me, Inbus. Know your place.”
“Yes, Lady.” He was humbled by this.
“Quick! Don’t worry about your things, if you even have anything at all.”
“Why the rush, m’lady? We’ve paid for our stay, don’t worry. The innkeeper’s not out ta get us.” Inbus chuckled at the thought. “Wouldn’t it be funny: the innkeeper running towards us, arms outstretched...”
“No, it would not be funny,” Alieahsha said, knowing full well what Inbus was joking about could come true any second now.
“Fine, fine, don’t joke. Spend yer days an’ unhappy fella unlike me. Hey, where’s Nifty?”
Alieahsha turned away at the thought. “Somewhere. He’s somewhere. Now lets go. He’ll find us, I’m sure.”
“If you say so,” Inbus shrugged, and got up. Alieahsha was already halfway out the door before he had even started moving.
“Hurry!” Alieahsha whispered. “Do not make a sound while you’re at it.”
Inbus shrugged noncommittally. “Coming.”
They raced through to the bottom floor. Finding that the counter-man was still asleep, they raced past him, too. They found their cart, and Alieahsha made a confused Inbus drive the cart.
“Away, as far as you can.”
“Why?” Inbus asked, saddling up the horses.
“Quickly! The horses wouldn’t mind if they weren’t saddled up properly!”
“Fine. You do it, then.” Inbus stopped saddling up the horses and stood there, arms crossed.
“Oh, you,” huffed Alieahsha. She proceeded to make a mess of saddling the horses, which made Inbus laugh. “We don’t have time for this, Inbus,” Alieahsha reminded him.
Inbus quickly saddled up the horses (properly, this time) and they were on their way.
Alieahsha let the calm rocking motion of the horses slow down the flurry of her thoughts. She had just figured out one thing: when she had first shook hands with the innkeeper, she had felt a spark. Now she knew that the spark meant magic, and no wonder she had felt it! That man had been using the magic for vile deeds.
“So,” Inbus said from the front of the cart. “You ready to tell me why we left Nifty behind now?”
The first thing Alieahsha noticed was that Inbus had dropped his accent. The second thing she noticed was that the tone of his voice was different, and the words he was saying were more serious. The final thing Alieahsha noticed was that Inbus was no longer joking. He seemed more mature.
“Are you going to tell me why you went through the miraculous transformation?” Alieahsha retorted. “You are using a different tone of voice. And you aren’t joking.”
“Must I joke?”
“See? Your words are different. You speak like one of a high caste. You’ve lost your accent.”
“Must I have an accent?”
“For the whole time I’ve known you, Inbus, you’ve had an accent. Why have you suddenly changed?”
He sighed. They trundled on for fifteen more minutes before Inbus replied. “I have no idea. One minute, I’m me. The next, I’m this regal type aristocrat. It’s happened twice. And this is the second. The first happened when I was nothing but a small bairn. Well, maybe not that young. Maybe seven or eight. I was sitting in Tildon’s office, minding her belongings and polishing her shoes, when suddenly a change came over me. I had been angry at her for locking me in there, for I knew I wasn’t actually minding her things, and so I shook and I raged until a fire rose up inside me. Then suddenly my thoughts were more advanced. I felt like I was higher than I really was. I felt like ... I was the king. It was quite disconcerting, actually.”
“And you changed?” Alieahsha asked.
“I did,” Inbus agreed. He turned around momentarily, his bright eyes searching her face. “What do you think of me now?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”
“Absolutely nothing.” Alieahsha grinned. “What were you expecting?”
“Awe at my extreme powers?” Inbus turned back around.
“You have powers? Inbus. What did I tell you about magic? It’s no good.” Alieahsha stared sternly at him, though she knew he could not see her.
“I really have no idea what it is, Alieahsha.”
“You know my name.”
“Yep! It ain’t that hard to know, yer know. You are kind of the heir to Uirda. Just saying.”
“Your accent is back,” Alieahsha observed.
“Mmmmm. Must say it is. So, question time.” Alieahsha knew that he was grinning. “Why are we leavin’ poor Nifty?”
“I’m afraid ...” Alieahsha’s mind flashed back to what she had seen. She sighed. “Something very, very bad happened.”
“You got trapped by Big Rob fer some spon-tay-noose reason?”
“If he trapped me, it wouldn’t have been very spontaneous. Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, that Nifty ... I’m not sure he’s alive.”
“Alive? Of course he’s alive! What could have happened to him?” Inbus gave a short laugh. “I’m pretty sure he’s alive, alright.”
“But then again, when you say you’re ‘pretty sure’, you don’t really know what are the happenings in the B&B. The thing is...” Alieahsha took a deep breath and plunged into her account of what she had seen.
At the end of it, Inbus took a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. After twenty seconds of taking deep breaths, he said: “Are ye sure that’s what happen’d?”
“Yes. My eyes do not deceive me, even at the best of times.” Alieahsha was sure that was what had happened.
“So if what you say is true, and there are illegal experiment stations in a dowdy inn, then we must tell someone. I’m not suggesting that what you say isn’t true, I’m going to trust you that it is, but still, I have to be careful. You are also suggesting that my good friend, Nifty, is...” Inbus put is head in his hands, and a tear trickled through it. This was the first time that he had let his emotions run wild.
“Your accent, it’s gone again,” Alieahsha said awkwardly.
“It is. Do I care? No, I do not. As long as I’m still alive, unlike...” Inbus shook his head and wiped his face. “It will not do if I keep dwelling on these things. You are right, my accent is gone. It had only happened once before, long ago, then once just then, and now it’s happening again? It can’t be right. There is something really odd about this.”
“Is it that odd, or is it just a coincidence?”
“Coincidences like this ...” Inbus shook his head grudgingly. “It might be, but I’m not entirely sure it is.”
Alieahsha didn’t know what to say, or do. She just sat there, bouncing along in the cart that she was now so used to. The day went on, and nothing eventful happened, except for them passing a cow, which Alieahsha thought was strange and odd. Soon, the day finished, though they didn’t stop the cart and rest. They just kept going on and on, onwards in the seemingly endless journey to Tildon’s house.