This is Part Two of the story. Part One can be found here.
After a few moments, the door opened to reveal a pale face staring at them. The woman was middle-aged, with green eyes dulled by two many nights spent alone but with the company of a bottle, and tattered, poorly-patched clothing. Her hair was straggly, and she missed more than a few teeth. "What do you be wantin'?" she asked, with a voice that was strangely sweet despite her odd accent and rough appearance.
"I, uh..." Harris was at a loss for words. He looked at Kote helplessly, before facing the strange woman once more.
"Pardon my friend," Kote said, abruptly. "He's an idiot with his words at times. He requires medical assistance, as he decided it would be a wondrous idea to break his hand against a stone wall." Harris shot Kote a venomous look at this, and Kote responded by raising an eyebrow in slight confusion.
"Oh," the woman said, apparently mollified with this response. "Be comin' in, den."
Despite a few reservations, Harris nodded, entering the strange home. It was lit by a decent-sized fire roaring in a grated fireplace, and he could make out strange and eerie collections on the shelves that lined the small room. He took a seat at the table in the center of the room when she gestured, still staring at the shrunken heads, jars full of strange powders and liquids, and various other odds and ends organized throughout the room in no seemingly particular order.
"You, too, den," she said, looking at Kote and gesturing at another seat at the table.
"I'd rather study these," Kote said, and Harris was horrified to see him pick up one of the shrunken heads and stare at it, turning it in his hands.
"Kote--" Harris started, but he was interrupted by the strange woman's laughter, which sounded surprisingly clear and cheerful coming from her disfigured face.
"You be an honest one, chil'," she said, and then her voice turned as hard as steel and cold as ice, "but if you don' be puttin' dat down and sittin' down like Kalia tol' you, den you'll be joinin' my collection."
Kote blinked twice, then obediently put down the shrunken head and wordlessly took a seat at the table.
"Dat's bettah," she said, before taking a seat across from Harris. "Now, chil', be lettin' me see dat han'."
Harris offered his hand, and she took it with a surprisingly gentle grip, clicking her tongue sympathetically. "Dat look painful, chil'," she said, "but not terrible. Any doctor can fix dis up, why not go to one o' dem?"
"I...thought you were a doctor."
Again she laughed, a great laugh from her stomach up, and her face seemed to grow ten years younger during the duration of it. "Oh, chil', I be no doctor. I can fix dis up, no problem. But my way be much faster dan any doctor. Who be tellin' you such tall tales, eh? Who be tellin' you dat ol' Kalia is a doctor?"
"No one told us anything," Kote said. "I cast a spell. To find a doctor. It led to you."
She looked at him curiously, studying his long black hair, his blank, emotionless face, his simple but well-kept clothing. "You be a seer, den?" she asked, and Kote shook his head. "Well?"
Kote said nothing, and Kalia's eyes grew frosty. "What, den? Don' come to Kalia's house and be playin' no games, chil'. I asked you a question, I 'spect an answer, do you understan'?"
After years of friendship, the flicker of a frown on Kote's face was as plain to Harris as the sun was at noon on a cloudless day. Kote disliked speaking of his abilities, but Kalia had no way of knowing that.
"I'm a chaos mage," he finally spat out, "you prying bitch."
"Kote!" Harris hissed. "I'm sorry, ma'am, he doesn't mean AHH!" He was cut off by her hand crushing his broken hand with the strength of a vise.
"He mean it, all right," she said. "Don' be lyin' to old Kalia. He be tellin' de truth, and dere's no shame in that. You be lyin', and dere's shame in dat aplenty, do you understan'?"
"Yes, ma'am," he finally squeeked out, and she released his hand. He gasped in release, nursing the wounded appendage.
Kalia wasn't paying attention to the recipient of her crude torture, however. She studied Kote's face silently for a good while, before finally saying, "It not be possible. No chil' your age can understand chaos. No chil' your age can reign it in and use it for his own. It be takin' years of hard work to surrender a bit of yourself to true chaos, and understandin' even a tiny piece of it. And until you can understan' dat, you be no chaos mage at all."
Kote met her gaze, and they stared into each others eyes. Harris looked at each of them, silently, wondering what to do. After over a minute of silence, he finally decided to simply thank the woman and leave with Kote in tow, and as he opened his mouth to say so, Kalia said in an awestruck voice, "By da stars. You be tellin' da whole truth, ain't you?"
Kote nodded. "I prefer not to speak of it."
She, too, nodded. "A small wonder, dat. Dere be more power in actions den in words. I apologize, den, chil', for underestimatin' you." She studied him for another moment, before saying, "Aldough you might not be much of a chil' after all."
She turned to Harris, and, as if nothing had happened, took his hand once more, gently probing it. "It be a bad break. I can fix it, but it be a painful process. Are you sure dis be da route you wanna take?"
Harris swallowed. "I have to be able to use my hand. If it gets crippled...well, it can't get crippled."
"I be seein' a touch of de arcane in you, too, chil'. Not chaos, but order."
"I'm a spinner."
"Ah. Well, den, you be right, you have to be havin' full use of your hands, eh? Very well. I be helpin' you, and I be doin' it for free. Consider it a...gift. And a way for me to be makin' up for insultin' you and your frien'."
She stood, and took a small scrap of leather from a shelf before casually tossing it on a table. Then she opened a large chest resting underneath a different set of shelves and took out a human hand, tinted green and perfectly preserved.
"Da strap is for you to be bitin' on, chil'," she said. "You don't know how much dis be hurtin'." Harris swallowed, and put the piece of rough leather in-between his teeth. It tasted foul, and for a moment he considered that maybe, just maybe, this wasn't the best course of action. But he knew that Kote's magic had led them to this woman, and his magic was trustworthy.
Kalia smoothed out his hand on the table, sending a sharp pain rocketing through Harris' body. Then she took the dead hand and laid it palm-up on top of the wounded teenager's own palm. "Now be de time to start bitin'," she said, raising her hand.
With an impressive amount of force, she brought her hand down and slammed the severed extremity on top of Harris' wounded hand. Harris screamed behind his tightly-grasped teeth, and tried to yank his hand away, but he seemed paralyzed, unable to move. A sickly, greenish light began to irradiate from the hand, and it reminded Harris of plagues, and famines, and countless other horrors in the world before her hand slammed down once more. Now the green light began radiating from Harris' appendage, as well, and the pain that began shooting throughout his body was unimaginable, like something the Dark Lord Asmodeus would inflict on someone on a particularly bad day. Again her hand slammed down, and the light stopped shining from the corpse's hand, but shone twice as brightly from his own, bringing a new level of pain. He struggled to pass out, to die, anything to escape the torment he was in, but his body refused to heed him, and he watched her hand slam down yet again with horror through tear-blurred vision.
And it hurt. It hurt as much as any punch to the hand would hurt. But there was no more of the intense pain, not from the sickly-green light that was no longer shining, or from having a broken hand.
"Dere," she said. "It be done, chil'."
Harris was relieved to see that he had regained the power to move his hand, and he quickly pulled it out from under the macabre remnant that was resting on it before gingerly feeling it with his other hand. No pain. No stiffness. Nothing at all. He hesitantly made a fist, then another, then began flexing his fingers with abandon. "No pain," he said. "It doesn't hurt at all."
"It shouldn'," she said, picking up the hand on the table and throwing it in the fire. "It's gon' be weak for a few hours, den it should be right as rain. Now go. Old Kalia's got more to do den mend de hands of foolish boys."
Harris nodded quickly, and the two friends left the strange house hidden in the middle of the city.
"So what now?" Kote asked, as they passed a city guard riding a majestic horse in full steel barding. It had taken them well over an hour to finally get back to a main street, and the sun was nearing the horizon.
"I honestly don't know," Harris replied. "Almost all of our money was in my backpack, and...well, you know what happened to that."
"You got it stolen."
Harris glared at him. "It wasn't my fault. I had my back turned for less than a minute."
Kote shrugged. "It wasn't not your fault, either. Your bag was packed to the brim. Nice target, ripe for the picking. I would have stolen it too, were I in a thieving mood. You should have kept it on your back."
"I get it!" Harris shouted. "You don't have to keep rubbing it in. Ass." He sighed. "Let's just find an inn. You still have those parts I gave you, right?"
Kote stared at him, his face as blank as ever. "I haven't taken off my backpack. I thought it might get stolen if I did. So, yes, I still have the parts that you gave me when you realized that you packed too much junk for your own bag."
"You really are a horse's ass, Kote. And that's about a three. An annoying three, at that." He considered for a moment. "Probably a two. But a very annoying two."
Harris shrugged in resignation. "We'll find an inn. I'll see if I can't cobble something together with the parts I gave you, even though almost all of my tools are gone. I think I can make a small pistol...maybe. Then, if we can sell that, we'll be on better ground. We won't have nearly enough to even consider applying at the University, but we won't be quite as screwed as we are now."
After a bit of searching they found a room available at The Scarlet Crusader for six imperiums. The room only had one bed, but it did feature two small desks, and each of the teenagers went to work as soon as they entered, Harris taking the few parts and tools he had left and putting them on one desk, and Kote taking out the alchemical supplies he had brought and neatly organizing them on the other.
"Any idea what you're making?" Harris asked. Kote had an odd habit of simply mixing together various reagents just to see what would happen. He claimed that it was the only way to make a truly great discovery.
Kote stared at the small jars and bottles he had. "Alchemist's Fire," he finally said. "It sells." He sighed. "And I suppose we could use the money."
Harris pursed his lips for a moment. Kote was right, of course, but.... "That...might be a bad idea," he finally said.
"Well, say there was an accident? You could burn the inn down."
Kote stared at him. "I don't have accidents."
"Sometimes you do. Less than most people, I'll grant you, but you're hardly perfect. And making something like Alchemist's Fire in an inn during our first day in town...well, that could lead to some rather bad impressions."
"It's not like anyone is going to know, Harris."
"Granted. Most likely no one will. But there's still a chance. And since I spent over half of the coins I had on this room, I'd rather not risk getting kicked out of it."
Kote snorted. "I'd have loved to help pay for the room, but all of my money was in your backpack. Where you insisted it would be safest. Fine." He surveyed his materials once more. "I'll make frost, instead. It doesn't sell as well, but I suppose it'll have to do."
Alchemist's frost was a bluish liquid that held an unnatural coldness. With proper application, it could serve a variety of purposes, such as freezing parts together for a limited time, or providing the fuel for cold-boxes. It also could be used in combat to quite a devastating effect.
"I remember the first time you made Alchemist's fire," Harris said, as he began to use his small powersaw to cut a tube of iron to the size he needed. Sparks began flying, and he was glad that he hadn't stored his goggles in his backpack. "Hemmel was out at the market that day, and you were supposed to be working on...a sunrod, I think. But sure enough, you found one of his recipe books, and couldn't resist.
"It was a sunlamp," Kote broke in.
"Ah, okay. Anyways, you damn near set Hemmel's entire house in flames."
"It probably would have all burned if you weren't there. That was the first time I really saw you spin."
Harris chuckled dryly. "It wasn't very impressive. If the fire brigade had gotten there any later, I would have lost any semblance of control I had. Still...we got a good laugh out of it." He paused for a moment, looking at the alchemist's profile. "I miss your laugh. I used to hear it a lot."
Kote turned his head to face his friend, and Harris saw a shadow of some rare emotion in his eyes. A flicker of fear, perhaps, or maybe a deep, painful longing, something that was strange and alien and almost frightening on his normally abnormally calm face.
"Are you sure?" Kote asked. Harris didn't know how to respond to that, and after barely more than a second, the strange emotion vanished from Kote's face, and the mage shrugged. "I guess I don't really remember."
"Kote...are you having memory problems, now? Maybe the damage was worse than we thought. Maybe we should try and find a doctor. A proper doctor, I mean, not one like...." He set down his powersaw and pointed at his hand.
Kote shook his head. "I remember every birthday I've had, from my--" he stopped and thought for a moment-- "fourth onwards. I remember how many stairs there are in my father's house--seventeen, by the by--how many trees are in front of the school, and how many drinks Father Caffrey usually has at the Fried Frog every night before he goes home to pass out. No one remembers everything, Harris. I guess I've just forgotten most of the times I've laughed." He turned back to the jars in front of him and began carefully measuring a dark gray powder from a small glass tube into a wooden bowl before stoppering the tube again. "As far as things go, it's hardly a loss of any real value."
Harris stared at him for another second longer, sorrow etched deeply on his face, before he reluctantly turned back to his work. They shared no more anecdotes that night.