Chapter 2 is here! It took me a bit longer than I'd hoped, but I'm also pleased so far with how it's turning out. This chapter has also been run through two editors, so it's a touch more polished, as well.
Chapter 1 can be found here, if you need a refresher. I'd actually recommend revisiting it, as it's been tweaked a bit since its original posting. It went through a second round of edits and it's, overall, just a bit cleaner and more dynamic, especially in the character interactions. I hope you enjoy and I'll get to work on Chapter 3 shortly.
Oben was already in a foul mood when he entered the apothecary’s shop.
He was in a foul mood, in no small part, because it was the third shop like it they’d visited this morning. The first two had been no better than spice stores. There were uses for spices, of course, but he had need of other things if they were going to leave in the morning fully prepared for their next job.
This store was larger than the first two and better stocked, at first glance. Shelves lined the walls, filled by glass jars and small clay pots held shut by hempen twine. Others were filled with raw ingredients, including some rarities that might have tempted Oben if he had more coin.
The apothecary approached as he entered. “Do you need something?”
“I’m looking for wound salves," he said.
She gave a practiced smile, wiping her hands on the apron tied around her waist. Bits of onion were left in their wake. She brushed a strand of hair behind her ear, seemingly undisturbed by the stinging scent wafting up from her fingers.
“I have just the thing,” she replied. She walked over to one of the shelves, grabbed a small clay jar and handed it to Oben. “Go ahead and look. It’s my family’s recipe.”
Oben opened the jar and was immediately stricken by a foul and familiar smell. His nose curled.
“This is shit.”
The apothecary gave him a puzzled look.
“What’s your point? Dung is a common bonding agent.”
Oben pushed out a tired breath. “My point, is that nobody who knows what they’re doing uses dung in salves anymore.”
The apothecary crossed her arms. “My salve is the best in Camden! My mother made it before me and my grandfather before her."
Oben raised his eyebrows. "Okay. . ."
She scoffed. “Give me three good reasons why you don’t use dung in salves!”
Oben held up three fingers. “Lockjaw. Festering wounds.” He paused at the third. “I really feel like those should enough.”
Oben shook his head and handed the pot back to her. He’d been hoping he could find someone with a good salve. Something that could save him the time it would take to measure and make his own. It was becoming abundantly clear, however, that he'd have to do it himself.
“I saw crushed onion and garlic mixed in there.”
“And goose fat!” She snapped. “You didn’t notice that though, did you?”
“And goose fat.” Oben nodded. The apothecary gave a satisfied snort, as though his acknowledgment were a victory. “Do you have those as separate ingredients you could sell me?”
She chewed on her cheek for a moment.
“I suppose I could.”
Oben pointed to the salve pot.
“A jar this size of each should be enough.”
“Fine.” The apothecary sighed and rolled her eyes. “Is there anything else?
Oben hesitated, almost certain it wasn't worth asking. “Do you have any healing elixirs?”
The woman laughed mockingly. “Good luck finding those in Camden.”
When they were ready, Oben paid for his goods and headed back outside to rejoin Thaddock and Smalltusk. Smalltusk had wanted to spend more time in town before they departed, so Thaddock had asked if they could tag along.
Oben had agreed, if only to keep an eye on the two of them. The last thing they needed was another run-in with the guards.
“Did you get everything you needed?” Thaddock asked.
“Nearly,” Oben replied. “There’s a few more—”
“Gods, there’s more?” Smalltusk groaned. “How long is this going to take?”
Thaddock rolled his eyes. "He was only in there for a few minutes.”
Smalltusk crossed his arms. “This is the third one of these we’ve visited today! When you add up all those minutes you get lots!”
“You two asked to come with me.” Oben reminded him.
“Yeah . . .” Smalltusk whined. “But only because I wanted a mutton leg.”
“They have those at The Bronze Boar!” Thaddock cried.
“Not the honey-glazed ones!”
“Cock of the fucking gods . . .” Thaddock shook his head and turned to Oben. “Unless you need us for something, I’m going to take this man to go find some meat.”
Smalltusk snorted out a laugh. “Man meat!”
“Fucks sake, Smalltusk . . .”
Oben eyed the pair nervously. “Are you two sure you don’t want me to come?”
Thaddock rolled his eyes. “We don’t need a nursemaid, Oben.” He glanced over at a pair of guards walking past. “You have nothing to worry about so long as they behave.”
Oben frowned and considered protesting but nodded instead. The fight with the guards hadn’t been Thaddock and Smalltusk’s fault. His presence could only do so much to stop bigots from being assholes. Besides, he had work to do.
“Meet us back at The Bronze Boar later!” Smalltusk called, as he and Thaddock started walking off. “My treat again!”
Oben smiled softly and watched as the dwarf and the orc joined the coursing throng of people going about their daily business. It took only a moment for Thaddock’s stout frame to disappear. It took Smalltusk’s hulking shape a moment longer. Soon enough though, Oben was alone.
He took stock of what he still needed.
He’d just bought supplies to make salves and he had refilled his stitching kit earlier that morning. He had linen and spider’s silk for bandages. He'd checked over his surgeon’s tools the previous evening. He had spirits for clearing wounds and to clear his dreams. All the essentials that an adventuring medic might need.
Except for healing elixirs.
His optimistic side hoped the apothecary was exaggerating about his poor chances of finding some. Realistically though, he knew the woman’s sentiment had been more than sour grapes.
Healing elixirs weren’t something any person with a terrible family recipe could brew up. They required the best ingredients, skilled hands, and, most importantly, the infusion of magic. Camden was a town with many amenities, but as far as Oben knew, a wizard wasn’t one of them.
Still, finding one wasn’t out of the question. Traders came through this way from all corners. He’d found stranger things in towns like Camden before - with luck and persistence.
The first few shops were a bust. Hector’s House of Everything didn’t live up to the name and, while he was sorely tempted by the promise of an “endless flask” at an oddity’s store, the price was beyond the reach of his meager purse.
He eventually found himself at the doorstep of a small shop simply called Assortments and More. It was an unassuming place, positioned between a tailor’s and one of Camden’s many general stores. Oben nearly passed it by when he first saw it but decided it couldn’t have any less potential than the other stores that had let him down.
The interior was cramped and dimly lit by a single small window. True to its name, its shelves were a mess of assorted goods. There were moldering books, scrolls, and maps. Moth-bitten tunics and a pair of leather trousers that looked impractically tight. Pewter candlesticks polished to pass for silver and more bits and pieces of jewelry than Oben could count.
“Can I help you?”
Oben turned to greet the voice and found his gaze forced immediately downward. The shop’s proprietor was an ancient-looking halfling. He was small, as his folk tended to be, gnarled, and bald save for a few wisps of snowy white hair clinging defiantly to his scalp.
“I’m hoping so,” Oben told him. “I’m looking for healing elixirs.”
The halfling chuckled. “Here? In Camden?” He spoke slowly. “Don’t aim for the easy target, do you?”
Oben frowned. “I really need these—”
“You don’t have to explain it.” The shopkeeper cut in. “I had my days as an adventurer too, some decades ago, believe it or not.” He reached up a trembling hand to pull open his shirt. The scar of a long-healed puncture wound sat on his wrinkled skin. “I’d be dead too if someone hadn’t force-fed me some wizard’s brew. Nothing better than in an emergency.”
Oben nodded. “Do you have any?”
The halfling’s face scrunched with exertion, as if the act of remembering took effort.
“You know . . .” The shopkeeper stroked his chin. “There’s a chance I might.”
Oben perked up. “Really?”
The shopkeeper nodded, though not without some doubt.
“Let me dig around in the back a little and see what I can find.”
“Take your time!” Oben exclaimed.
The shopkeeper disappeared into his storage room. Oben waited for a moment but started wandering around the shop again when it became clear the halfling wasn’t returning anytime soon.
Oben heard the shop’s front door open. Glancing over, he watched as another human walked inside. He appeared older than Oben, his hair reduced to a gray circlet that wrapped around the sides and back of his head. He wore a well-groomed beard on his face and a set of thick green robes Oben recognized as the garb of a cleric of Gorn.
Oben had never had much to do with that particular god, or his followers, but he still couldn’t help tensing up as the holy man stepped into the dim of the store with searching eyes. Their gazes met and he offered Oben a friendly nod that Oben chose to ignore.
Oben set himself back to the task of looking at nothing. It only made sense, of course, that he stumbled onto something.
As he sifted through the contents of one shelf, wondering how much longer the shopkeeper could possibly be, his hands settled on a small metallic shape. Curious, he pulled it off to examine it.
It was a brass amulet. Its edges were ridged like a minted coin and, though its polish had long since worn away, Oben could make out the graven image of a bull’s head at its center.
“Would you mind if I looked at that?”
Oben turned and found the old cleric standing just a few feet away from him now. His eyes, a piercing shade of blue, were fixed on the amulet as if it were a long-lost treasure. Oben shrugged and handed it over.
“Be my guest.”
The old man muttered a thanks and peered down at the small brass disc, laughing quietly to himself. He reached into his robes and pulled out a necklace chain with a matching amulet.
“Of all the places . . .” He shook his head. “I like to browse little shops like this from time to time, whenever I’m traveling. I never expected to find one of these here.” He turned a warm smile toward Oben. “I don’t know who this belonged to, but I will see it returned to a temple.” He put a hand on Oben’s shoulder. “You’ve truly been a tool of the gods today.”
“Glad to have been of service,” Oben replied dryly, shrugging off the old man’s touch.
The cleric frowned, his face furrowing into a collection of pox-marked wrinkles.
“Have I . . .” He paused and bowed his head. “Forgive me if I’ve offended you, my friend. I only meant to express my gratitude.” He extended his hand. “Please accept my greeting. I am Reed, disciple of Gorn, lord of all—”
“I know who Gorn is,” Oben cut in. “I’m just waiting for the shopkeeper to find something, if you don’t mind.” He shouldered his way past the older man to go and find the shopkeeper. The halfling had to have found something by now.
“You were a cleric once!”
The words stopped Oben cold. His hands balled into fists. He turned back toward the holy man. Reed was staring at him with astonished eyes.
“I didn’t sense it at first.” Reed’s voice was filled with the timber of growing excitement. “But I can feel it now. The embers of godly power inside of you—cooled perhaps, but still there.”
“That’s enough.” Oben growled.
“Please.” Reed put his hands up. “I mean no harm. My order, we are sworn to aid those we meet who need it. I can feel your pain and conflict. Redemption isn’t out of your reach—”
“What makes you think I want it?” Oben snapped.
The older man looked confused. “I—I only meant—”
“You’re all the fucking same!” Oben shouted. “All of you acting like your gods piss rainbows!” Reed stared at him, wide-eyed and dumbfounded. “As if no god ever wronged a mortal! As if they’ve never been unjust or broken their word!”
Reed swallowed, trying to regain his composure. “I can tell you’ve known hardship, my friend, but it’s not for us to judge the will of the gods.”
Oben snorted. “Believe me, cleric.” He all but spat the last word. “I served her will. I served it well. She failed me! Not the other way around.”
“Is everything all right out here?” The shopkeeper called, emerging from the back room.
The inquiry seemed to slip from his mind the moment he saw that his shop was still intact. He raised a small glass vial up into the air, stopped by a cork and filled, at least partially, with a viscous red liquid.
“I found it!” The old halfling grinned. “It’s half-used, but it should still seal up a wound or two!”
Pushing past Reed, Oben marched over to the shopkeeper.
“I’ll take it,” he declared.
The shopkeeper sniffed and itched his nose. “You sure you don’t want to test it out? I have some knives right here at the counter! We could—”
Oben glowered. “I know where to find you if you’re lying.”
The halfling blinked. “Oh—Um, all right then.” He stared anxiously at Oben. “Ten silver pieces, I suppose?”
It was a lot, but not a terrible price for an elixir, even half-used, assuming it was genuine. Such a thing could save one of their lives if Oben’s mending skills failed them.
Oben paid the shopkeeper and added the elixir vial to his traveler’s bag. He thanked the halfling and headed for the door.
“I will be in Camden for some time,” Reed called after him as Oben pulled the shop’s door open. “I’m staying at The Sojourner’s Respite, if you decide you want to talk.”
Oben paused and turned back toward the robed man one final time. There were so many things he wanted to say. Words that had been welling up inside of him for close to two years now. Rants and rages that gnawed at his soul like the teeth of hungry vermin.
They weren’t meant for Reed, though. There was another more deserving of his wrath.
Oben settled for something shorter. “Fuck you."
Reed frowned. Oben could hear the old man sigh as he exited back out onto Camden’s bustling streets.