Asten watched as the master of the Marns family looked up at his new overlord, a small black figure that could have belonged to that of a child. Was it not because Asten knew what kind of monster dwelt in that shape, he would have thought innocent of all evils.
“You want to learn of the other families?” Arden said, still recovering from his brief experience of being choked.
“I take it they will soon be under your thumb as well, then.”
“That is the plan.”
Sighing, Arden Marn gained his feet and took a brief look out on the town he had been a major figure of for over a decade. Now, he was forced to serve at another’s behest.
“The Basons control the gambling den, both the legal and illegal ones,” he finally said, relenting to his newfound role as the subjugated.
“Illegal? What kind of illegal?”
“The violent kind,” Arden said, shaking his head, “They run a small fighting ring with about four or five fighters at a time. No holds barred, no rules, and all the blood you could possibly want.”
“I see… Do you know when the next fight will be?”
“I’m not exactly invited, nowadays,” Arden admitted, “But they usually holds one every month or so. The last one was three weeks ago, so it should be about time.”
“Excellent… And the Duns?”
“They’ll be tough to crack,” Arden said, shaking his head. “Their head is the mistress of the Purple Palace, which is a damn misnomer if I’ve ever heard one. The place is a dirty little shag down by the river, where all the town’s whore ply their trade.”
“Whoring can’t be their only business,” Halifax said, a clawed hand scratching his chin, “I’ve heard you shut off their supply of ale, so how do they keep their patrons in the mood, so to speak?”
“Drugs,” Arden said, baring his teeth. “They’ve got a small-time alchemist, who prepares what they need of aphrodisiacs and other enhancers of the mind. A bloody weasel of a man, who spends his days steeped in debauchery.”
“Ahh, judgment from fellow debaucher,” Halifax said, grinning, “What a world to be alive in…”
“I’ve never like the man,” Arden admitted, gritting his teeth, “And his skill is pathetic. Ouren was supposed to— but that’s no longer an option…”
“Indeed it’s not,” Halifax said, circling around the small desk in the room to stand in front of Arden. “I will deal with both of the families. In the future, you will receive your instructions through Asten here, do you understand?”
Arden looked towards the young apothecary’s apprentice, who himself jolted. He had been watching the play between the nightmare that was Halifax, and the terror he had known as Arden. Both of them seemed like such monsters that the thought of having to instruct one of them made him want to throw up.
“I understand,” said Arden, eying Asten like a cat eying a mouse.
“Good. It’s been nice chatting with you, but I’m afraid our discussion will have to end here. See Asten out for me, will you?”
With those words, and without allowing a reply, “Halifax walked back into the shadow and melted back into it, leaving the three people in the room staring after him in disbelief.
“That’s a bloody monster, that one,” Arden muttered and shook his head.
“Are we really—” Olivio barely got the words out before Arden turned on a dime and smacked his son over the head. “Don’t you dare say a word,” Arden said, hissing, “Or do you want our entire family to be purged? Did you not just experience what that thing did to us?”
Biting on his lip, Olivio got back onto his feet and bowed to his father. “I’m sorry. I’ll keep my tongue.” Turning on Asten, the young man smiled, showing off the red mark on his check.
“My dear friend, Asten, let’s see you home, shall we?”
When did we become dear friends? Asten wanted to ask, but instead he just smiled and thanked Olivio. It was clear that the Marns would do all they could to butter up to Asten, now that he had effectively become the arbiter of their future.
Hamelin enjoyed stepping back into the role as Halifax. Making others squirm in front of his power was invigorating, but using the same tactic on all three families would be boring and inefficient.
If they were all forced to bend due to his new strain, he would be risking them uniting with another to solve a common problem. He needed them to remain divided, even as they all served beneath him.
Leaving them alone was not an option either. He needed complete control for his future plans to be fully realized.
As he traveled through the dark streets of Tremon, the beginning of a plan started to sprout in his mind, and he grinned deviously. Like he had done to the Marns, he would beat the two other families at their own game.
The first step was already prepared, as long as the old apothecary brought back good news. He returned to the shop and waited for the old man. It was not long before the apothecary returned, bringing good news.
“I’ve done it, master Halifax,” he said opening a satchel by his side and revealing its contents, “The others have agreed to your terms, provided you show proof of your claims. I’ve managed to round up most of the materials you asked for, and have been assured that more will be coming within a week’s time.”
“Good,” Hamelin said, picking the items from the satchel and inspecting them each in turn. There was everything he needed to initiate his first plan. “Watch carefully, Old Man. I will only show you once.”
He picked out the herbs and remedies needed for the first product. While heating up the stove, he prepared the materials with slow and exaggerated movements, ensuring that the old apothecary could follow the procedure to the end.
Once he finished, and the distilled liquid had settled within a clear bottle. Hamelin picked it up and grabbed a nearby mug, which he washed off with some water, then put a single drop into the mug. He then filled the mug with water anew, before proffering it to the old man. “Try it.”
With a strange expression on his face, the old man grabbed the bottle and took a small sip, eyes widening as he tasted it. “This…!”
“Good, right?” Hamelin grinned.
“This is…” The old man took another swig of the mug, emptying it completely, “By the gods, I feel ten years younger! But, what is it?”
“This,” Hamlin said, raising the bottle of distilled liquid, “Is a water purifier, which will allow you to drink any water, without having to boil it first. I’ve also added some herbs for taste, and a minor compound that makes the mind more alert.”
“If that’s true…” The old man said, breathlessly, “This is worth a fortune!”
“That’s just the beginning, Old Man,” Hamelin said and laughed, “Prepare to stay up all night, because I have a lot to show you.”