“Poison, eh? I’d thought you would be a little more imaginative than that, seeing as you came all the way here to find me. Go pick some hemlock if you want poison.”
The old man gnawed on his straw, but Hamelin could see the challenge in his eyes. The old coot wanted to see what Hamelin could do. Not wishing to disappoint, Hamelin raised his hand and began listing items.
“Two handfuls of Bertrin, five bushels of Harrow’s Gaze, a flask of water, one cup of Masely, and a final sprinkle of Temantin.”
“That won’t make poison, ya blockhead,” the old man said and snorted.
“No,” Hamelin conceded, “But it will cure the ailment you’re trying to treat by chewing on that straw of Nikkot Grass.”
That finally got the reaction that Hamelin was looking for. The old man darted to his feet and grabbed Hamelin by his collar, lifting him up and pushing him into the store front. The old man’s breath was raspy and desperate as he looked into Hamelin’s eyes for any sign of deceit.
“Again, I’ll warn you not to get so close,” Hamelin said, very calmly, claws reformed and ready for the kill. With the sharp points, he gently pricked the old man’s leathery skin.
The old man ignored the deadly instruments at his throat and spoke in a hoarse whisper, “If you speak anything but the truth, I’ll have your guts for dinner.”
“Or maybe I’ll feast on your blood,” Hamelin sneered, increasing the pressure on the old man’s throat until a drop of blood ran down his claw.
“Is it real? Can you cure Raison Poisoning?”
“If that is what you call it, then yes.”
Now it was Hamelin’s time to narrow his eyes. “If I prove it too you, and cure you, what do I get in return?”
The old man chewed on his straw, the depth of his thought reflected in his eyes. “I’ll give ya all my damn stock, if that’s what you want.”
“And the Finiger?”
Spitting out the straw, the old man growled, “Sure, that too. Now prove it!”
Grinning, Hamelin tapped the old man’s hands, reminding him that he could do nothing while being held up in the air. Reluctantly, the old man released Hamelin back onto the ground. His eyes, though, never left his prey.
Ignoring the stare, Hamelin sauntered into the shop and picked out all the items he had listed, using his sense of smell to locate them, then pointed to the stove and distiller in the backroom. “Do you mind?”
“Be my guest,” the old man said, although his voice was anything but inviting.
Hamelin shrugged off the chilly atmosphere and walked up to the distiller. Using the nearby firewood, he lit up the charcoal in the stove. While the charcoal was heating into embers, Hamelin used a mortar and pestle to crush the stem of the Bertrin, a herbal flower with two white leaves.
Once he was satisfied with the texture, he dropped the Bertrin into the cup of Masely, which was a rather rough alcohol, making sure to keep stirring the mixture until he combined it with water. Once the mixture was ready, he put it onto the heated stove and waited for it to simmer.
While the liquid was boiling, he stripped the five bushels of Harrow’s Gaze of their leaves, throwing the stems aside. He then dropped the leaves into the mixture as soon as the first vapor began to rise and then stirred.
Finally, once the mixture was boiling, he took it off the heat and let the whole thing cool down for a few minutes, before sprinkling in the Temantin. He then put it back on the stove and applied the distiller.
During all of his work, the old man was scrutinizing his every move, sometimes nodding along, seemingly without noticing the gesture himself. After a few minutes of waiting, the distilled liquid was more or less ready, although it had to cool off a bit before consumption.
“Did you get all that?” Hamelin said, showing his teeth.
“It all seemed rather normal,” the old man said, shrugging, “I saw nothing remarkable.”
“Of course you didn’t,” Hamelin said, grasping the finished liquid and raising it up to his face, “Since it lacks the most important ingredient.”
With those words, he reformed his claws and, with one swipe, opened the vein on his wrist. The old man jumped back in surprise, then just stared in surprise as Hamelin let two drops of his blood fall into the mixture.
The liquid fizzed as it came into contact with Hamelin’s blood, and had soon turned an oozy purple from the combination. Shaking it up, while grinning at the old man’s dumb expression, Hamelin completed the tonic.
“Here you go,” he said, smiling innocently, “One antidote to Raison poisoning for you.”
Tentatively, the old man reached out and grabbed the antidote, shaking it a little as he peered into the glass. Suspicion painted on his face, he tilted his head to look at Hamelin and said, “How can I be sure you aren’t feeding me an even worse poison?”
“Don’t you know the effects of your own supply?” Hamelin replied, appearing as if bored by the whole conversation. In truth, he was reveling in the act of dissembling, an art he had not had an opportunity to perform since his unfortunate demise.
“I know all of the items you used were restorative, but none of them have the ability to counteract poison. What I don’t know is what the hells your blood is made of.”
Hamelin smiled, teeth flashing. Before, his blood had been relatively ordinary, but now it was infused with his Leash. He had basically just handed the old man a bottle of diluted disease.
“If you’re not willing to use it, then hand it back,” Hamelin said, proffering his opened hand, “I’m not about to let you analyze my work.”
Gritting his teeth, the old man sniffed the flask carefully, then tilted his head backwards and took a small sip. The next moment, he threw the whole thing into his mouth, swallowing in one big gulp.
Eyes shining, Hamelin felt it when his primary strain made contact with the old man’s body. Although he sensed the disease attempting to form the same connection as he had to Wither, he soon felt the strain being rebuffed.
Although it would have been a nice surprise, had he been able to dominate the old man’s mind, it had not been his primary purpose. The strain soon found a more susceptible target: the poison.
The cells affected by the poison had less resistance than the rest of the old man’s body, and were ripe targets for the disease. Hamelin had been able to smell how compatible this particular poison was with his primary strain, and had used that knowledge to concoct a remedy that would not only rid the old man of the poison, but also extract it for his own use.
The way his primary strain began feasting on the poison was proof that his suspicions had been spot on.
Meanwhile, the old man coughed and doubled over. Afraid the man was going to spill his stomach all over the floor, along with the remaining antidote, Hamelin closed in like lightning and grabbed the old man’s jaw. With an iron grip, he held the mouth closed, growling with effort.
Desperate, the old man’s eyes rolled around in their sockets, trying to focus on Hamelin while pain shot through his body. Ultimately, as the battle between poison and disease intensified, the old man’s consciousness gave in, and his eyes glazed over.
Very carefully, Hamelin lowered the man onto the floor. He could not allow anything to happen to the old man while the primary strain was doing its work. The battle was violent, but swift. Ultimately, no matter how great a poison it was, it was unable to contest with Hamelin’s Leash.
Barely a minute passed, before it was over. Hamelin’s disease consumed the poison, and thereby reformed itself. With his hand over the old man’s mouth, Hamelin called on the disease to return to him.
Like a dog, the disease obeyed his call. Using the old man’s mouth as an exit, the newly formed sub-strain escaped and returned to its owner. Once he had retrieved the disease, Hamelin sat down on the floor beside the old man and began to incorporate the new sub-strain into his own body.
With his eyes closed, he let the sub-strain meet with the Leash from whence it came, and in their clash, establish the hierarchy. A sub-strain could not be superior to the primary strain, otherwise the foundation of his withermancy would crumble.
It was always a danger, when adopting new sub-strains, but his Leash was a perfect product of his many years of meticulous research into mutagens and their resulting strains. Furthermore, he had created the mutagen to fit perfectly with his body, without relying on an outside template, like he had done in his former life.
With these factors, there was no way a stray sub-strain could overpower him. Indeed, it was barely a challenge. The new strain cowered before his Leash, and the hierarchy was smoothly established.
Opening his eyes, Hamelin looked around at the defenseless store, and the many herbs and remedies all around him.
“Well,” he said, grinning, “I guess it’s time for me to receive payment for my good deed.”