Where there's a Weewoo, there's a way Circulation: 177,117,147 Issue: 319 | 21st day of Storing, Y9
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The Mutant Prince: Part Eight


by maipom

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Chapter Eight: The Sinister Shadings of Zoran Leywark

The gypsy wagon arrived through the perilous swampy wood before dawn the next day. It settled on a grassy plain near the rusty city gates and waited only for its occupants to step out before jerking into motion once more and disappearing into the forest. The sun had not yet risen; the air was foggy and chilly, and it seemed to numb all sound. A cemetery lay in the distant hills, outside the town, hidden now in mist and the shadows of weeping willows. Before Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe could gain a proper view of their surroundings, Basile urged them to follow him. He set off through the open gate as fast as his stiff leg would allow him, and led the way across a cold grey town of cobbled winding streets and innumerable hidden alleys. The houses round the centre of Neovia were mostly small, close together, with thatched roofs and shuttered square windows. Their yards were narrow and insignificant. Properties were all surrounded by tall fences, some of iron, some of old mossy stone or brick.

     Basile moved on without saying a word, looking more nervous the further he progressed. He seemed greatly worried about being noticed; many times he insisted that Tarquinn hurry along even though he was not far behind at all. The prince had the odd suspicion that Basile was against his examining the town for himself, for each time he paused to take in a particular sight -- the looming black clock tower, the public well, the crumpetmonger's premises -- Basile would exclaim, "Come along, then -- hurry!"

     As the group of four were crossing the wide cobbled square before the magnificent turreted City Hall, a stranger called out Basile's name, promptly causing an inexpressible panic in the old Wocky. Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe spotted the caller before the doorstep of a vendor of fabric and upholstery. He was a melancholy, thin grey Kyrii dressed in the drab garments typical of most Neovians: a top hat and a faded black suit coat with the lapels reaching up to his throat. Tucked under his arm were large rolls of shiny, differently coloured fabric he had just purchased, and the receipt lay crumpled in his hand.

     At sight of Basile, the Kyrii neared with a brisk step, and once beside his acquaintance he said in a lifeless, tired tone: "I haven't seen you in a long while, Basile. I've knocked at your door many a time. Where have you been?"

     "Oh, merely rambling through this forsaken land as usual. I'm afraid I have nothing of interest to recount..." Basile said in a constrained voice while taking gradual steps away from the Kyrii, trying to break off the inopportune meeting.

     The Kyrii sighed and glanced briefly at the party that accompanied Basile. He found them uninteresting, and turned his attention back to his friend. "If you have other company now, I understand that you must be off. I merely missed our occasional meetings. I hope you are well?"

     "I'm very well, thank you." Basile said in a tone of anything but one of health. Observing the uncommonly downtrodden disposition of his gloomy friend he was compelled to add politely, "And you?"

     "Oh, I am not too well..." the Kyrii said. "A customer has ordered me to tailor him three full suits by tomorrow afternoon. I've just bought the fabric, and I dare say I shall be up slaving away till I am finished..."

     "That's terrible -- you should have refused to take the job. It is impossible to complete," Basile insisted.

     "No, no. I cannot refuse this customer. It's Mr. Morvay, you see..." the Kyrii sighed dismally. He checked his watch, then said, "I won't obstruct you, Basile, with my sorrows and complaints. It was nice to see you again. Good-bye."

     The Kyrii touched the rim of his hat and walked away, disappearing round a corner.

     Tarquinn opened his mouth to comment, but Basile held a hand up urgently and said, "Come!"

     ~*~

     Basile owned a small, extremely narrow two-storey home in Neovia. His property was hidden in shadow, stuck between two tall crumbling grey houses. The street was secluded and uneven, the cobblestones were smoothed by years of feet treading on them; some of the stones jutted out, making it very easy for pedestrians to trip and fall on their faces. Essentially, this region of town resembled the poor village Philippe lived in, but the buildings here reached higher, had pointed roofs, balconies and turrets, and a foreboding, unwelcoming air. Everything was darker, but that might have been simply because the sun had still not risen. And yet, upon glancing at the empty sky, it seemed impossible that the sun's golden rays could ever really shine down here.

     Basile climbed the narrow front steps of his home and unlocked the door. He ushered Tarquinn, Lella, and Philippe inside, then quickly entered himself, shutting the four of them into tomblike silence. A smell of dust and old wood predominated in the lightless sitting room that opened before them. Basile hobbled round the room, opening shutters, lighting candles, grasping apart any cobwebs he found in corners or hanging suspended from the ceiling. Once it was in the light, the room did not seem ugly at all. It was exceedingly neat and organised. The furniture was expensive real rosewood, the cream carpet spotless -- everything was merely covered in dust. Basile winded up the grandfather clock in the corner, and once it was ticking, he motioned to his guests.

     "Please, sit down," he said, pointing to a pair of armchairs and a couch. "We've had a long ride here, and I must help you refresh yourselves and make you something for breakfast."

     Tarquinn and Philippe gladly sat down, but Lella remained standing. As the prince's main attendant, she felt it her personal duty to serve him in matters such as this. Basile would have none of Lella's interfering (as he called it), and said that as he was the master of this house, and a respected butler in his own right, it was only proper of him alone to serve guests. Lella disagreed, and she and Basile broke into an unexpected argument on the proper running of households and the direction and responsibilities of servants. At last, Philippe halted the disagreement by a loud grumbling of his stomach. Basile and Lella drew a compromise: while Lella made breakfast, Basile would draw a bath for the prince and Philippe, and quickly wash and mend their clothes.

     Lella strode into Basile's small kitchen, ready to make a brilliant meal, but moments later she called out in distress. "But there is no food here at all!"

     "Of course there isn't," Basile grumbled as he led the prince upstairs to the bathroom on the first floor. "My good lady, I am rarely home. You must needs go out and fetch the groceries yourself."

     Lella scowled, but she did not waste a minute; she left for the crumpetmonger's forthwith. In the meantime, Basile readied the bath (which Tarquinn really needed after his adventures), and while the prince was therein occupied, the old Wocky proceeded to wash his clothes, sweep his boots, and mend the tears in his cape and pants. Once clean, Tarquinn called out for Basile to give him his clothes. The Wocky appeared with a pair of drab Neovian attire -- a black suit, scratchy black boots, a dented top hat, and a mauve silk tie. Basile urged the prince to put the clothes on, but in way of explanation he only said that "the clothing will help you to fit in." Tarquinn relented and dressed himself in secret, ordering Basile to place the clothes and hat outside the bathroom door where he could reach them and then to go back downstairs. The prince was embarrassed to let anyone see his hideous hair and hands and arms. As for his awful teeth, they could not easily be concealed, and so all Tarquinn could do was refrain from speaking unless it was necessary.

     True to his excessive, unstoppable vanity, the prince remained in the bathroom for ages, trying all he could to still seem pretty. He filed the claws down (they grew back), tried on a dusty old-fashioned wig Basile had (it was infested with Breeblies), but nothing worked. In the end, all he could do was sharpen his goatee and conceal his choppy hair under his hat. He then said farewell to his downcast image in the bathroom mirror, and opened the door for Philippe.

     "You need to bathe in cologne to get rid of that rustic stench you carry," Tarquinn grumbled, in passing the Kacheek on the landing.

     The sun at last broke over Neovia, bathing the dark rooftops and alleys in pale white light. The choking wet fog largely cleared away, but remnants of it hung about the surrounding forest and the Neovian cemetery. Lella soon returned from shopping and made a breakfast of toast, bacon and eggs, and lavender mint tea. The food and tea were brought out on a large silver tray into the sitting room where Tarquinn and Philippe (now clean and dressed) and Basile waited. Philippe dug into his meal with the typical hearty appetite of a hungry peasant; Tarquinn, depressed, slowly chewed his bacon; and Basile, upon taking a bite of the warm crispy toast, conceded that he had never tasted such a treat before. Lella smiled and sat down on the couch beside the old Wocky. Breakfast was eaten without conversation, and it was over the subsequent tea and biscuits when finally Basile spoke, in a methodical, seemingly rehearsed manner.

     "As you know, the one I brought you here to see is Zoran Leywark. I find, perhaps, it would be wise to know what type of character we are dealing with, and so I will give you a basic description. Here, in Neovia, Leywark is considered a fantastic chemist, potionmaker, and physician. He is a brilliant mind and wit, a perfect and influential citizen, willing to help anyone with a problem. I should mention he is not an original resident, otherwise he probably would be mayor by now. No, Leywark has been living here for scarcely a year. After the dreadful curse which kept Neovia deserted and dead for so long was lifted, Leywark simply appeared, ready to help rebuild the town and restore peace to the needy citizens. It wasn't difficult for him to earn everyone's trust -- the townsfolk were weakened and confused by years of being under the Spirit of Slumber's spell, and they were only too glad to lean on Leywark's strong personality. Before long, in return for his dedication, the mayor and townspeople handed to Leywark the ownership of Neovia's greatest and richest textile factory -- the very one that manufactures the fabric for our signature Neovian curtains, the upholstery for our furniture, all the clothing sold at Prigpants and Swolthy's, and many other odds and ends besides. Alas, in a very short amount of time Leywark became greatly respected and wealthy..." Basile said, pausing to take a sip of tea.

     "You do not agree?" Tarquinn mumbled, his hand placed before his mouth.

     "Pardon?"

     "You do not agree that this Leywark is a brilliant mind and wit?" Tarquinn said, a little more clearly. "From your tone I receive the impression that you harbour some resentment towards him..."

     Basile gazed intently at Tarquinn, like a suspected criminal gazes at his interrogator and wonders whether he ought to tell the truth or give a lie? Basile opted for the middle road. "I find all that Zoran Leywark has done to rebuild Neovia very respectable. As for my harbouring resentment towards him, perhaps, yes... it is true. When he took over the textile factory, he left its former proprietor in the dust, without a Neopoint."

     "Why would he do that?" Lella asked. "I think you painted Leywark to be very generous and helpful."

     Basile muttered something under his breath which he did not care to elaborate on. "Leywark is a mysterious individual, you will see. But let me go on... The former proprietor was penniless; he couldn't pay to keep his mansion up, or even to buy clothes for himself. He begged Leywark to help him somehow, to protect his property, give him a loan or a job or something that could keep him off the streets. Leywark agreed... He took the poor soul's mansion and everything in it, and this is the contract he drove: that Leywark would keep the mansion and the belongings safe and he would give the former proprietor a chance to buy everything back when he made enough Neopoints. But how could the desolate soul do that? He was alone, bereft of friends and supporters... Leywark had taken all he owned and kept him trapped, confined to strive fruitlessly just to regain some of his things. In the end, the former proprietor was forced to slave away sewing buttons onto vests in the very factory he used to own, while the new owner sits in his old house!"

     Basile drunk the rest of his tea in a large gulp and slammed the empty cup down on the table. He shook his head sadly.

     Lella looked down thoughtfully. "This is a most appalling story, but there is one thing I don't understand. Why was the old owner of the textile factory sacked? The mayor and townsfolk couldn't have ruined him for no reason. The old owner must have been a shoddy reprobate, or incompetent somehow..."

     Basile uttered a sound between a laugh and an angered shout. "That is what everyone wants you to think..."

     Tarquinn sighed, unsure about what to say, so instead he ate another jelly-filled tart.

     "And --" Lella added after some thought. "I don't think Leywark did wrong by buying the mansion. The old owner couldn't pay for it anyway, it was bound to be seized."

     Basile twirled his moustache, but said nothing. The grandfather clock chimed suddenly, filling the small house with its heavy brazen clangs -- eight of them.

     Once the echoes died down, Basile sat up straight and announced: "Well, enough of that. Before you go call on Leywark, Tarquinn, there are some vital things you must keep in mind."

     "Yes?" Tarquinn said hesitantly, not liking the serious way he was being stared at.

     "You mustn't tell Leywark anything about yourself!" Basile exhorted. "Not where you live, not your family, don't even give him your real name. You must stick strictly to business. Tell him that you were cursed by Jhudora, and you need a cure. Leywark will know what to do from there."

     Tarquinn blinked. "Why? That is most absurd..."

     "No!" Basile waved his hands fitfully. "Give him a false name. It's most important, but I cannot tell you why..."

     "If you won't explain this to me, how can you expect me to --" Tarquinn began.

     "Listen -- ugh," Basile rubbed his forehead. "Leywark cannot know that you are Tarquinn de Quincy. If he knows he will want to take advantage of you, take advantage of your dire situation and coerce you to something horrible..."

     "My word! Why would he do that?" Tarquinn exclaimed, instantly reminded of Jhudora the Dark Faerie's evil bargain.

     "Because he's greedy!" Basile said. "Don't you see? That scum has got all of Neovia under his control... He tricks the townsfolk into trusting him, he finds out what they need most and offers it to them gladly, but only by drawing up contracts in which the witless souls end up under Leywark's hold. The case of the former proprietor of the textile factory is just the same. I know the truth behind that whole scam! Leywark actually forced the mayor to give him the factory's ownership, and the mayor conceded because the foolish townspeople were enamoured of Leywark. They loved him for rebuilding Neovia and keeping the town safe from ghosts and Werelupes and other evils. If Leywark didn't get that factory he would leave Neovia, and this threat terrified the townsfolk, for without Leywark's brilliant mind, Neovia would still be in shambles."

     "All right," the prince sighed. "I understand this is why you didn't let me put on my own clothes... I will go under a false name."

     "We're coming, too," Lella said, indicating herself and Philippe.

     "No, you are most certainly staying right here!" Basile snapped. "The less visitors to Leywark's mansion, the better. Tarquinn, you must go alone."

     The prince nodded and stood up, but Basile grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back down.

     "Not yet," he said. "It's most impolite to call on one so early in the morning, and besides, we still need to invent an identity for you."

     ~*~

     Tarquinn de Quincy -- or should I say, Mr. Oliver Lockwood -- made his way down Neovia's winding streets in the late hours of the morning, alone, an unprepossessing fellow. He blended in very well with the gloomy surroundings; his only noticeable quirk was the curious way in which he stared at all the street signs and occasionally hovered round corners, as if lost or unsure of which way to turn. Mr. Lockwood, you see, had not been in Neovia for a long time. He was the adventurous son of a cobbler, one Mr. Renault Lockwood of 212 Ebony Alley. The younger Mr. Lockwood had spent the last year abroad, traveling round the world, which would explain the distinctly un-Neovian comportment he donned. Tragically, while in Faerieland, he had made the fatal acquaintance of Jhudora the Dark Faerie, and she, being in a particularly spiteful mood that day because of her goody-goody sisters' meddling in her evil plans, had cursed Mr. Lockwood and left him to writhe on her doorstep. Helpless and horrified, the young Kyrii returned home, and from his father learnt of the good Zoran Leywark, the one whom all of Neovia praised for his virtue and kindness, and the only one who would be able to help lift the curse. And so, this morning Mr. Lockwood was off to ask for Leywark's help. This is the tale Oliver repeated to himself under his breath as he marched onward.

     Leywark's residence was not difficult to find -- the directions Basile had given were precise -- and soon the grand sloping black roof of a giant mansion rose into view. Oliver Lockwood sped up at sight of the noble building at the end of the shady street, and as it appeared fully before him, a deep uncontrollable shuddering overtook his limbs, for -- could it be? -- the very house of his nightmares! Eerily familiar tall turrets edged the enormous structure, and long covered terraces stretched between them, connecting adjacent rooms from the outside. From the many dark windows were fixed flowerpots, but the plants that had grown from them had withered away long ago into dry brown stalks. The white paint of the walls was chipping off, revealing the bare grey stone underneath, and all around the house was a wild unkempt garden, once surely beautiful with its manicured hedges and flower bushes, now choked by weeds and vines crawling out from the nearby swamp.

     Mr. Lockwood stared closely at the silent mansion, which loomed motionless and without life before him, rather like a forgotten crypt. He sighed nervously, straightened his Neovian-style waistcoat and top hat, and neared the giant spiked iron gates. He eased himself through onto the property's front yard and followed the uneven little stone path to the moldering front steps. He knocked on the door, quickly, before he could change his mind and leave. Mr. Lockwood forced himself to breathe calmly, and, while in the process of recounting his tragic personal story to himself again, he was uncommonly surprised by the door suddenly swinging open and a deep, baleful voice intoning, "What is it?"

     A tall, broad-chested silver Lupe stood upon the threshold, dressed in a well-tailored suit of midnight blue. His appearance was exceedingly refined: every claw was perfectly buffed, and each strand of silvery hair on his head was brushed back into one fine coif tied with a band of black silk near the nape of his neck. Still, his wild green eyes and booming voice bespoke a hidden savagery.

     "Who are you?" the Lupe growled, startling Mr. Lockwood into almost yelping out his real name.

     "My name is O-Oliver Lockwood. I request to see Mr. Zoran Leywark."

     The Lupe relaxed his angry expression, and with a sweep of the hand he moved from the door and opened the way into the dark house. "This way," he said, setting off to the right.

     The nervous Mr. Lockwood was taken to a dingy parlour with wide windows facing a nearby unclipped hedge which had grown so large that it obscured all view of the yard beyond. The room itself was dark, the furniture old, ripped, and smelly, and along one wall -- a bookcase, stuffed with dusty leatherbound books and little porcelain figurines. The Lupe directed the guest to a frowsy green armchair, announced that the master would see him soon, and then left.

     Mr. Lockwood should have taken his hat off upon entering the house but was too embarrassed to do so; he figured that Leywark would understand his slight disregard of politesse once he knew the reason behind it. The silent guest pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. His heart still thudded heavily from the shock of the house's familiar aspects. Those figurines upon the bookshelf -- one of them was a Kyrii ballerina, covered in dust, with a leg broken off but glued back on. With a jolt, a strange thought occurred to Mr. Lockwood, like a memory that hadn't been recalled in ages. Hadn't he been the one to break that ballerina's leg? Through a fog he saw himself climbing the shelf (what a silly thing!) and reaching for the figurine that so entranced him. But his clumsy hand had missed its mark and the ballerina spun and fell to the floor, breaking its leg off. And then, someone with a melodic ladylike voice had come and scolded him for being so inquisitive... as though he were a little child.

     Sounds in the hallway signalled someone's arrival, and Mr. Lockwood shook his head. The Lupe had returned, and behind him came a short yellow Krawk.

     "A visitor! Charming! How nice to meet you, Mr. Lockwood, did you say?" the Krawk happily exclaimed with a disarming smile.

     He passed the stony-faced Lupe who had stationed himself by the door, and crossed the room with eager steps. The Krawk stretched out a hand and Mr. Lockwood faintly shook it. It does not go to say that Mr. Lockwood was left speechless, utterly stunned at his acquaintance's character. This smiling, bright-eyed Krawk with a blue rose stuck in his spring green suit's breast pocket was Zoran Leywark, the one whom Basile had so berated? It could hardly be...

     "Are you Mr. Leywark?" Mr. Lockwood asked, doubting his very sight.

     "Yes, of course." The Krawk chuckled, sitting down on a sofa. "It is me whom you came to see, I take it?"

     "Yes, yes..." Mr. Lockwood looked down, folding his handkerchief into tight little halves.

     "Wonderful! May I ask why you came? I believe we have never met, I don't recall seeing your face about town..."

     "Oh, that is because --" Mr. Lockwood paused, trying to remember the foolishness Basile had told him to say in such a case, "-- I have just returned to Neovia after a year or so of traveling the world. My father is a cobbler, you see, and before I go and take up his trade and settle down, I wanted to see all the foreign lands."

     "Most interesting!" Leywark said. "So young you seem, and already you must have experienced so much. Yes, travel greatly brightens one's outlook on life. Especially after years of... darkness."

     Mr. Lockwood stared blankly, and realised Leywark was referring to the curse that had plagued Neovia. The merry little Krawk grinned and sat peacefully, hands folded over a knee. For a moment, for the briefest instant, a sinister shadow seemed to flash across his eyes; but scarcely was it acknowledgeable when it had already disappeared, and all one could see was a clear and honest gaze.

     "Well, well," Leywark addressed his guest once more. "I take it you have something to say to me? Why have you come?"

     "Yes, there is a problem I have..."

     "Would you like me to help? You know that I am always willing to assist my fellow citizens in any way I can. Tell me, what troubles you?"

     Mr. Lockwood slowly explained, but kept the story as short and vague as possible. After he had said all he intended to, he sat frozen, the blood flowing out of his cheeks, writhing in anticipation for Leywark's decisive answer: could he cure the curse or no?

     "What a terrible tale!" the Krawk said, eyes wide. He motioned for Mr. Lockwood to come nearer; his expression was one of earnest compassion. "Come, let me examine what the curse has done so far." Leywark pointed to Mr. Lockwood's top hat, cleverly guessing that therein lied a disfiguration.

     Sighing and nervously glancing at the Lupe by the door, Mr. Lockwood took his hat off and revealed the hideous remains of his long Kyrii locks. Leywark did not show disgust or puzzlement; he looked closely at the curse's effects with the eye of a curious and determined scientist. "And your teeth, I see, are also affected." Leywark stroked his chin, now examining Mr. Lockwood at length. "You are wearing gloves -- are your hands transmogrified as well?"

     "They are," Mr. Lockwood said, swiftly replacing his hat, and then, upon request, pulling off the gloves that hid the monstrous taloned paws his hands had become. Leywark held the hands up, turned them this way and that.

     Finally, he said: "You have a great many rings, at least one on each finger."

     "Yes..." Mr. Lockwood replied weakly. "I have not been able to pull them off since the curse has done this to my hands! Ugh, it pains me to even look at myself. For days I haven't been able to eat or sleep properly, my mind is under constant torment, I feel that I am near madness. This curse is ruining my life. Please, can you help?"

     Leywark released Mr. Lockwood's hands and sat back, stroking his chin again. "I believe I remember the recipe for the potion that will reverse this curse..."

     Mr. Lockwood's eyes watered with hope. "Please! You do?"

     The Krawk nodded slowly, then he snapped his fingers and said: "Gracien."

     The Lupe immediately strode to Leywark's side and bent down to hear his words. Something indistinct was muttered into the Lupe's ear, and he speedily quitted the room to return a few moments later holding a massive clothbound tome. He gave the ancient book to Leywark and wordlessly returned to his post by the door. Leywark motioned for Mr. Lockwood to sit down beside him on the sofa as he began to flip rapidly through the yellowed pages. The book was a collection of potion recipes. It smelt terribly of bitter ink, as it was entirely handwritten, probably by Leywark himself, and so old and used was the book that some pages had come loose and were simply stuck in their proper place with tape or paperclips.

     "No, no, not this one," Leywark muttered, flipping so harshly that some sheets were ripped. At last, he stabbed a page near the end of the book with a finger, exclaiming that he had found it. Mr. Lockwood glanced at the page dubiously, unable to understand the rows and rows of scratchy handwriting.

     "Is it really?" he asked.

     Leywark scanned the page. "Yes, this is the one... Meepit eyes and desiccated Brain Tree bark... yes. This is the cure you need."

     Mr. Lockwood nodded, excitement choking his vocal chords. Still, a vicious doubt kept him from showing his delight. "And this potion will fix everything, permanently, for all time? If I drink this, everything will be... will be as it was?"

     Leywark tore the page out of the book. "Absolutely. You will be rid of the curse completely. I know it will work. Now -- Gracien."

     The Lupe again quickly rushed to Leywark's side, and was handed the loose page.

     "Gather the ingredients listed and have them ready for me in the lab," Leywark instructed.

     Gracien mumbled his understanding, and then walked out of the parlour.

     "The potion takes about one day to make. I will begin the process of stewing the ingredients tonight, and tomorrow, perhaps in the afternoon or early evening, it will be ready for you," Leywark explained with a serene smile.

     "This is stunning news," Mr. Lockwood said. "Forgive me if I do not seem overtly thankful or delighted, but after so many setbacks and disappointments, I feel that I have nearly forgotten how to express joy..."

     "I cannot imagine how horrible this little escapade must have been for you! I'm only too pleased that I can help," Leywark insisted, patting Mr. Lockwood on the knee once. He then closed the heavy book of potions (a cloud of dust flew out from the pages as he slammed it shut) and placed it on a nearby table. Slowly, he turned back to his guest. "As for payment..."

     Mr. Lockwood looked up quickly, feeling a sinking sense of despair. He automatically braced himself for an evil proposition like Jhudora's, but Leywark merely asked how many Neopoints could he pay for the potion? Mr. Lockwood stared, amazed at the question's simplicity and Basile's apparently unfounded suspicion and distrust of Leywark. He did not fully think things through when he uttered, "I don't know -- two million neopoints, perhaps?"

     "Two million?" Leywark blinked, and broke into a surprised chuckle. "You are quite rich for a cobbler's son, eh?"

     After a heavy pause, Mr. Lockwood only said, "Yes... The potion is worth a great deal to me."

     "Mhmm..." Leywark watched his guest closely, as if trying to read his mind. Without breaking his friendly smile, he said, "I would like ten million neopoints for it."

     Normally, this hefty price would not have alarmed Mr. Lockwood -- Neopoints meant little to him. He was the richest nobleman in all Brightvale. However, here he was pretending to be a humble Neovian citizen. He couldn't readily agree to that high price otherwise it would raise suspicion (little did he know, Leywark was already suspicious).

     "I... cannot pay that much," Mr. Lockwood said. "How is four million?"

     Leywark shook his head a little. "Eight million."

     "Five."

     "Seven.

     "Six."

     "Hmm. I suppose that is an agreeable amount." Leywark pondered. "It is a deal, then."

     "Yes."

     "A good deal must be a written deal," Leywark said, standing up. "Do you not agree?"

     "Certainly," Mr. Lockwood answered quietly.

     Leywark walked to a handsome oak cabinet and from a drawer picked out a sheet of yellow parchment, a bottle of ink, and a Weewoo feather quill. He placed these materials on the table before his guest and began to dictate the terms of the contract. It stated that Mr. Oliver Lockwood, son of Renault Lockwood of 212 Ebony Alley, would agree to pay six million Neopoints within thirty days to Zoran Leywark of 10 Blackmire Circle as the price for a special detransmogrification potion. Mr. Lockwood wrote this down messily and with many unsightly blots of ink; he could not write nicely with his hands in the pitiful state they were in.

     "Yes. That looks fine," Leywark said, briefly reading the contract over. He took out a small gold pen from his vest's pocket, gave it to Mr. Lockwood, and said, "Now, sign your name."

     Surely, Mr. Lockwood thought with a shudder as he took the pen, there was a black shadow leaping across the bright brown of Leywark's eyes. The Krawk blinked, then kindly insisted to continue -- sign the paper. There was nothing wrong with the contract, no hidden tricks or traps in between the words. And still, Mr. Lockwood was enveloped in a tumult of emotion, rendering him hardly capable of thinking clearly. Fear, hope, excitement, suspicion, and despair filled his heart, but with a deep breath he wrote his name: Tarqui -- woops! Mr. Lockwood quickly blackened out the mistake and hoped that Leywark had not noticed. He wrote down Oliver Lockwood in big cursive scrawls, explaining the while that he couldn't write nicely because of his deformed hands.

     "That is quite all right. Signatures are rarely legible anyway," Leywark said, his eyes gleaming. "Oh, what is that?" Leywark pointed to a ring, the same ring Fifi had asked about around a century ago (that is how long ago it seemed).

     "It is a signet ring," Mr. Lockwood said blankly.

     "Hmm... " Leywark hovered in place for a moment, thinking, and then, with a new vigour, he insisted that Mr. Lockwood place his seal on the contract as well. Leywark returned to the cabinet and got out sealing wax, which he heated up in the flame of a candle, and then let a few crimson drops fall onto the parchment. Mr. Lockwood, too constricted by his emotions, unthinkingly stamped his seal on the piece of paper. The moment that was done, Leywark snapped up the contract and held it to his chest. He thanked Mr. Lockwood for doing business with him, and assured him kindly that all would be well.

     "Tomorrow you can come in the evening. I will have your potion ready," Leywark said. He motioned with a hand to the door, signalling to Mr. Lockwood that he was dismissed. "The front door, I think you will find. My butler, Gracien, isn't here at the moment and cannot escort you out."

     ~*~

     Leywark and Gracien sat opposite one another in the dark parlour, not too long after Mr. Lockwood had left. The Lupe was stretched out over a large armchair, a tiny tea cup in one hand. Leywark was sitting quietly on the sofa, perusing the contract Mr. Lockwood had written and signed. A curious grin stretched over his face, not at all the innocent and helpful smile he had been displaying earlier. This grin was full of a dark cunning, the grin of a Devilpuss that has spotted its unwary prey. Leywark ran a finger over the now solid wax seal and he chuckled to himself.

     "What are you laughing about?" Gracien asked crudely, taking a sip of tea. His green eyes seemed to glow in the darkness.

     Leywark sighed. "Mr. Oliver Lockwood, the son of a cobbler, is either a daring thief or in connection with the Royal Family of Brightvale."

     Gracien did not understand, and he grumbled his discontent. Leywark explained, for the sheer delight of enlightening the moronic. "This seal, Gracien, is very peculiar. Do look at it." Leywark handed the contract to Gracien, who reached for it from across the table between them. "The signet ring of Mr. Lockwood displays this seal. On it is the coat of arms of the Royal Family of Brightvale. How could that be? Hmm?"

     "He's a liar!" Gracien declared and suddenly the tea cup in his hand cracked and crumbled into dozens of little pieces. The hot tea dripped onto the armchair and the floor.

     "Control yourself," Leywark said, "and give me back the paper before you eat it, you fool."

     "Sorry..." The Lupe batted his wet hand down on the armchair's fabric. A claw got stuck in the material and he ripped at it frantically until the stuffing of the chair flew out. Gracien sighed angrily. "I didn't mean to do that. I can't control myself. The full moon is tomorrow, you know."

     Leywark rolled his eyes. "Nevertheless, I urge you to retain your composure. Paper. Now."

     Gracien gave the contract back with a frown. Leywark scanned it again. "Now, assuming that Mr. Lockwood is not a thief, and that ring is real, one must conclude that he is a member of the family of Hagan the Wise. Now --" Leywark paused to look disdainfully at the Lupe, who was now loudly scraping up the pieces of porcelain, "-- who could he be, I wonder. Gracien? Do you know?"

     Gracien did not respond, just kept muttering under his breath about the irritating waxing moon.

     Leywark continued his soliloquy. "I see here a big black scribble by the signature. Could the dear Mr. Lockwood have been so forgetful as to initially write his real name?" Leywark took out a monocle from his pocket and with it on he carefully examined the crossed-out word and slowly spelt out the letters he saw. "T-A-R-Q-U-- My!" he exclaimed, standing up from the force of the realisation. "Our guest was none other than the First Prince of Brightvale! Tarquinn de Quincy!"

     "What?" Gracien looked up, a little slow on comprehending the meaning of Leywark's words.

     "Dimwit." Leywark sighed, shaking his head. He folded the contract and slipped it underneath his vest. "That Kyrii who just visited us was Tarquinn de Quincy. Does not the name ring a bell in your hollow mental cavity?"

     "Tarquinn!" Gracien shot to his feet, eyes fiery green. "He's that little whelp who escaped, isn't he? Grr, I knew I recognised his smell. I never forget a smell."

     Leywark stroked his chin, thinking. Gracien, meanwhile, paced about the room, shouting angrily incoherent things. "Rrr, how I'd like to sink my teeth into him and his father! What an opportunity! You've denied me the chance to harm any townsfolk because it would interfere with your precious plan, but that Tarquinn isn't really from the town, now is he? Let me have him, at least... please, Krawley..."

     Leywark snapped out of his musings and glared with sudden hatred at the Lupe. His whole form seemed to emanate a chilling aura. "Don't call me that!"

     Gracien's mouth clamped shut, but he still growled.

     "You cannot touch a single soul in this town until I say you can. I assured the foolish mayor that I would protect Neovia from any malicious threats -- including hungry Werelupes -- dear Gracien. How would my trustworthiness sink if suddenly you snapped up a few picknicking townsfolk one Sunday evening? It is of utmost importance to my plan that I am trusted by everyone in town," Leywark said. "Now, when I have Neovia under my control, you and your little Werelupe friends will be free to roam and pick out anybody you want to feast on. That will be your affair. That was our deal. You cannot go back on our deal, don't you remember this pen you signed with?"

     Gracien looked lowly at the gold pen Leywark dangled in his hand, the same pen Tarquinn had used.

     "The Pen of Everlasting Spite, this is," Leywark said. "We have a deal that you will behave yourself until my plan has reached its peak. If you harm a single Neovian citizen without my express permission do you know what will happen? Do you know what the consequence is of breaking a contract signed with this pen?"

     "What? Something terrible, probably, knowing you. My brain will melt and flow out of my ears?" Gracien said sardonically.

     Leywark chuckled and placed the pen into his pocket. "Your soul will be mine to command for eternity."

     "Oh, well... I expected it to be something like that. Your little bewitched toys and things always have such endearing side effects," Gracien said, still attempting scorn, but his voice was tinged this time with apprehension. There was an uneasy silence in the room; one could see the dust particles lazily swirling about in the air. Gracien cleared his throat, and in a more confident tone, directed the conversation to other territory. "What will you do about... err, Tarquinn, then? Will you get him like you plan to get the Neovians?"

     Leywark turned and paced to a window. He leaned against the sill and said, musing, "I'm not sure yet. His appearance here is completely unexpected. We will see."

     Gracien's lips curled into a malicious grin and he continued to pick up the pieces of the broken tea cup.

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Mutant Prince: Part One
» The Mutant Prince: Part Two
» The Mutant Prince: Part Three
» The Mutant Prince: Part Four
» The Mutant Prince: Part Five
» The Mutant Prince: Part Six
» The Mutant Prince: Part Seven
» The Mutant Prince: Part Nine
» The Mutant Prince: Part Ten
» The Mutant Prince: Part Eleven



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