The Blood Alchemist: The Witch’s Tower – THANE (Chapter 2)

Several hundred yards away from the town gates, Messovia’s largest and most popular tavern was opening for the day. At mid-morning, the tavern wasn’t expecting that much of visitors. Except for a handful of patrons who stayed during the night and a couple of early drinkers, it was all but empty.

Sitting in the corner of the tavern was a man draped in cloak of multiple fabrics consisting of canvas, wool, and a kind of leather that looked like it was made from a reptile’s skin. Put together, the cloak looked as if it was originally taken from separate coats and assembled in a hurry. Because of the dismal quality of his cloak, his inner clothing was more visible. Sporting a leather jerkin, vambraces, and gloves, black canvas trousers, and heavy boots, his appearance would remind any townsfolk in Messovia of a mercenary or an adventurer. Add to that the assemblage of potion bottles, rolled maps, and various weapons safely tucked into his belt, and he looked out of place. Fortunately for the owner, the regular patrons who liked to start fights against newcomers, especially those who stuck out like a sore thumb, were still too drunk to come into his tavern.

It wasn’t unusual for those kind of people to pass by Messovia. After all, it was a seaside town. While it’s not exactly a large and popular port, it was a thriving fishing village. If not for the absurd taxes the nobles imposed on Messovia, it would have been far richer than it was now. But having most of its produce taken directly to Konigstadt without enough compensation, fisherfolk only had enough to scrape by. Hence, the only people who could make a decent living in Messovia were merchants who sell products sent back by big cities like Konigstadt, and of course, tavern owners and innkeepers.

The tavern owner clearly couldn’t help but give the patron a side glance, a look that betrayed distrust and worry, yet unable to say anything.

The man arrived in the early hours of the day, even before the headless messenger stumbled into the gates of Messovia, bearing the bad news that would shake the whole continent in a few days time. Unlike the rest of the townsfolk and the visiting drunkards, though, he was one of the few who didn’t bother to look at the commotion outside.

For hours, he had drank there quietly, ordering an assortment of drinks. He even purchased the most expensive one in the house. It was as if he was trying to taste them all. That in itself was already unusual, but not as unusual as seeing a rugged man rifling through the pages of an ancient leather-bound book.

Ever since he arrived, he was absorbed in that book. He never even paid attention when the drunks scrambled outside after hearing the housewives clashing their pans to wake up the townspeople, announcing the arrival of the soldier He stayed put, and ordered another drink. Then another. Then another. The tavern owner clearly showed resentment of being unable to witness the grim scene at the town gates firsthand by slamming the bottles in front of him. But the man only gave him another pouch of silver coins without a word.

That seemed to improve the tavern owner’s mood a little bit, but not his suspicion.

The man didn’t care. As long as he would give him whatever drink he requested and leave him in peace, then everything was good. There was no need to resort into anything.

After all, he was still trying to adjust to his new life as a free man after a decade of wrongful imprisonment. And the last thing he needed was to draw suspicion.

As such, he closed the book and headed towards the counter. Behind it was the bar owner, drying the glasses with towels, and looking at him rather apprehensively.

He gave him his friendliest smile.


Thane knew his long silvery hair could draw curious looks as northern folks were rarely seen in the southern territories, but there was nothing he could do about it. If he was an old man, there was no need to be bothered about it but he was merely in his thirtieth summer. The long, tortuous years he had spent in prison turned his hair into silver, and it would probably take him as long to regrew it into its original black color.

As such, he decided what kind of identity to adapt the moment he set foot in the Black Rocks a few days ago.

“That was all that you have, yes?” Thane asked the tavern owner as he sat in the stool directly in front of him.

“The liquor?” said the tavern owner apprehensively, a sturdily-built middle aged man with a cut on his upper lip. “Yes. We gave you all of the regulars and specials that we have—sir.”

He added the last word slowly. Thane assumed he was either being sarcastic or genuinely unsure of how to address him.

Well, he couldn’t blame him. After all, he grabbed whatever clothes he could from the merchant’s house that he passed by earlier. To avoid being recognized as the thief, he tore some of the clothes and hastily reassembled it before wearing them. The only possessions he actually owned was the bag which contained weapons, potion bottles, and other objects he brought with him from prison. Then, at the bottom was a heap of gold and silver coins that he took during the commotion in the citadel.

Of course, he needed to change his prison clothes right away. It wouldn’t take long before the news of the mass breakout would spread throughout the southern territories. If an imperial soldier would recognize him as one of the escaped convicts, he would have a hard time getting away. There was no need to get into a skirmish with them. That can wait.

Thane nodded and leaned back a little, eyeing the tavern owner up and down. He noticed the man taking a small step back as he did, all the while staring at him.

“Is that so? I’ve heard that the liquor in Messovia were the best and most varied,” he said. “After all, it’s the port where many smugglers across the Veridian go since there’s no blue goblins loitering around here, if you know what I mean.”

He raised his two eyebrows conspiratorially.

“Of course, I know what you mean,” said the tavern owner, laughing nervously. “But those are very rare and expensive commodities, sir. However, with the right price, I can let them go.”

At that, Thane laughed. That seemed to put the owner at ease, finally. He put down the glass he had been cleaning for the last several minutes or so, then picked up another one. “You should have said so earlier. Then I wouldn’t have had to bother you with your cleaning anymore. Say—“

He looked around the empty tavern and then back to the owner.

“What was that commotion earlier?” he said. “I heard there was someone who died at the gate, but I was so deep into my textbook that I didn’t bother to stand up just yet. Was it true?”

The owner’s face contorted in grimace, before nodding.

“Ah, yes. The imperial soldier,” said the tavern owner. Thane’s eyes knitted in curiosity. “He didn’t actually die at the gates, but he was already dead when he arrived. Beheaded. It was terrible. They saw him riding a horse at sunrise, so they thought he was alive and had a death’s wish by coming alone into a town in the southern territories. But, it turns out, he was already dead for days. Whether he rode a horse and was killed on his way or he was already a headless corpse and was hoisted onto the animal, it was all everyone could talk about.”

Thane threw a glance towards the door, as if he was looking at the direction of the gates. Then shook his head. “That was terrible.”

“Indeed, it was,” said the owner. “But it wasn’t even the worst part.”

True to his words, the owner grabbed another bottle from beneath the counter. Thane saw that it was a new one, with a label that he hadn’t seen before. Pleased, he pushed the mug towards the owner and dropped him another silver pouch. The owner took it quickly and happily, before pouring him a drink.

“There’s something worse than a headless corpse riding a horse at dawn?” he said in a tone of incredulity.

“Yes, there is,” the owner said. “It so happens that the soldier was carrying a message about a mass breakout in Vanhofgard. And, if the message was to be believed, it’s likely that most of the prisoners escaped and the guards including the warden all died.”

Thane feigned a look of surprise, before bringing the mug to his lips. “That’s terrible.”

“Indeed!” the bar owner said. Thane pushed the mug back for another drink, and the owner continued chatting away. He knew it wouldn’t take long for the news to spread to the mainland, but the matter of how it reached here was unexpected. He had assumed that people would learn about the mass breakout either by an escaped guard or prisoners wrecking havoc in towns, but he didn’t expect it to be announced by a dead, not to mention, mutilated messenger.

Had they reached the mainland before him and already occupied some of the seaside towns? Thane asked himself between drinks. It’s the most likely.

However, it seemed the bar owner noticed him going quiet that Thane felt him staring at him with rousing suspicion again. Thane put down his mug and shook his head, before saying quietly but loud enough for the owner to hear. “It was really true what they said, the southern territories are dangerous.”

“What was that?” the bar owner asked him with creased forehead.

Thane immediately shook his head and feigned a frightened look. “Nothing. I mean, I’ve always heard that the southern territories are dangerous back when I was at the university. Not that it’s less dangerous than Konigstadt.”

“University? Konigstadt?” the owner said. “You are a scholar, I presume?”

He nodded. “Yes.”

“But what is it about Konigstadt? Why did you say Konigstadt is less dangerous than say, Messovia?” the owner said with a mixture of incredulity and amusement.

Raising his eyes to meet the owner, he gave a sheepish smile. Knowing how deep the hatred the townsfolk had against the capital city and everyone in it, Thane knew how to earn the trust of people like them.

“Well, you see, as soon as I have left the university and traveled south to start my scholarly journey, I immediately visited the famed city of Konigstadt. It was luxurious, yes, but it was also where I was first robbed.”

“Robbed?” the owner asked.

“As you can see, I don’t look like a scholar in any manner whatsoever in my current state. This wasn’t how I left the university,” he said. “I was robbed a few times since I left, but it was in Konigstadt that I lost most of my valuables. They took everything, except for some they thought were no use.”

Thane saw the owner taking a quick glance on the silver on his hand and knew what he was thinking.

“I had to take every odd job I get in each town I pass by to continue my journey. It wasn’t easy. Fortunately, some wealthy fool gave me a lot of money just for translating a book of runes in Opula. I don’t want to get robbed again, so I decided to flush it all away at any chance I get,” Thane said. It was a story he rehearsed so many times in his head, even while he was still in a canoe on the way to the mainland from Vanhofgard. He looked at his clothes and shrugged. “And of course, a better set of clothes.”

The owner was quiet for a while, before breaking into a hearty laughter. Thane laughed with him.

“I see, I see. Then I’m glad you’re flushing all your hard-earned money in my tavern, and not someplace else,” the owner said. “So, where you off to?”

Thane’s cold eyes met the owner’s gleaming ones. There was no way his question was only thrown towards him out of genuine curiosity, but rather picking information that he could either sell or use himself. When he didn’t respond right away, the smile on the owner’s face faded. But then, Thane gave him another well-rehearsed grin and a shake of his head.

“Eh, maybe to the east,” he said.

The information was enough not to trigger suspicion from the owner that he had been lying all this time, and enough for him to get valuable intel he could pass off to other customers, such as bandits who were on a hunt for foolish foreigners. He saw him nodding satisfactorily, as he finished cleaning the glasses on the counter.

Thane decided it was the perfect moment to ask what he came for in the first place. Clasping his hands, he looked at the bar owner expectantly. “On that regard, though, do you happen to know about the Witch’s Tower? There is something I needed to retrieve from that place.”

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