He rushed through the night like the wind, covering the distance to Tremon with plenty of time to execute his plans. Before arriving at the apothecary, he made sure to change his face into yet another shape; an angular face with sharp features and exposed cheekbones.
Just as he arrived at the old man’s shop, he saw Asten arrive, hastily fiddling with the lock to let himself inside, eying both sides of the street outside before closing the door behind. Narrowing his eyes, Hamelin decided he would have to investigate what his new minions were so careful about.
Instead of knocking on the door, Hamelin found an upstairs window opened, and used his claws to climb up to the window sill, then leverage himself into the old apothecary’s home. Down below, in the shop, he heard the sound of voices.
“The rumors have spread around town, Grandpa. Old Arden woke up this morning with a freakin’ head on his bed.”
“Good work, lad. He really did it, then, this Halifax… Whatever the hells he is.”
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to serve him? You always said it was important to keep neutral in the struggle between families, and now you’re joining a side?”
“Hush, lad, don’t let me hear you speak such nonsense. What if he heard you?”
“Surely he couldn’t—”
“You know nothing, you fool. An Inverse master is not to be trifled with, ever. If he tells you to serve, you serve, and no two ways about it, hear?”
“You say that, but you’ve never told me what the Inverse even is!” The boy exclaimed, frustration edged into his voice.
“It’s not important for you to know, lad. In fact, it’s best you don’t know, for then it won’t come back to haunt you, as it has haunted me.”
There was a long pause. Hamelin heard the distinct noise of someone drinking in huge gulps. Finding the stairs, he descended without a sound, keeping to the shadows as he kept listening.
“Is it really that bad?” He heard Asten say, his voice timid and low.
“Aye, it is. I’ve only ever met a few Inverse masters, but each and every one of them have been a monster. Indeed, I was surprised to learn that an Inverse master had gone into the employ of a small family in this small town. The ones I have seen would never bend so low as that.”
“Perhaps he wasn’t really an Inverse master, then?” Asten said, a bit of hope in his voice, “And maybe this Halifax isn’t either. Maybe we could—”
“Don’t… say it, Lad. Never speak careless words, hear? No matter what he is, we now owe Halifax a debt that cannot be repaid by mere coin. If you don’t want your head to end up stuck to a bedpost, you better make sure you do as you’re told and keep your bloody mouth shut while doing it.”
“Good advice, old man,” said Hamelin, stepping out of the shadows and into the light, “Words to live by, in fact.”
The old man and Asten both jolted and turned towards him. “Gods above,” the old man said, after remembering to breathe again, “That’s bloody nasty of you, master Halifax.” He did not appear the least bit fazed that this was the third face Hamelin had presented himself with.
“Oh? Do you take issue with me?”
“No, no, I would’nae dare to, Master. I just wish you would spare this old man a heart attack.”
“I see,” Hamelin grinned in a feral manner, “I will take your wish into consideration. As long as I see no reason to suspect your motives, I’ll use the front door — how’s that?”
“Thank you, Master.”
Circling around them, hands behind his back, Hamelin took their measure while keeping them in suspense. Finally, he stopped in front of the apothecary and said, “Well, I take it you’ve heard the news. Are you prepared to honor your end of the bargain, Old Man?”
“Good. Then, for your first task, take this,” Hamelin said and drew out a bottle from his inner pockets. He swiveled it around in front of the old man’s face before continuing, “Take this to all those who were poisoned with Raison, and offer them the same conditions as I gave you. Service to me, in all matters, in return for the antidote.”
“They’ll just be trading one master for another,” Asten said, crossing his arms, despite a warning glare from the old man, “Why should they comply?”
“Because,” said Hamelin stepping in close to Asten, enough that nervous sweat broke out on the young man’s forehead, “I will double their profits within six weeks. Yours as well, of course. I don’t think that’s such a bad deal.”
“You serious?” The old man said, raising an eyebrow, “I don’t mean to be rude, Master, but there’s a limit to how much gold flows through such a small town as Tremon.”
“When I’m finished,” Hamelin said, grinning, “Merchants will flock to this little town for your wares, I assure you.”
The old man and Asten looked at each other, both confusion and a bit of hopeful greed lighting up in their eyes. Snatching the bottle from Hamelin’s hand, the old man said, “It will be done, Master. I’ll convince each and every one of them. Anything else?”
“Yes,” Hamelin took out a small note he had prepared beforehand as well, “Procure all of these materials as quickly as possible. Make use of the other vendors if need be, but get all of it, understood?”
The old man perused the list and raised his eyebrows slightly. “This will take some time, Master…”
“Time is not an issue. Just get it for me.”
“There’s also the issue of costs… I can’t just—”
“With these materials, I will make you a wealthy man, Old Man. Don’t make me second-guess my decision now…”
“Understood, Master. I’ll see it done,” The old man quickly acquiesced and bowed, leaving the shop in a hurry. When Asten made to follow, Hamelin grabbed his arm, holding him in place. The old man turned, as did Asten himself, white in the face.
“I’ve got another task for you, Asten,” Hamelin said, grinning viciously, “One that will convince you not to cross me.”